” BIG MACCA – LACKADAISICAL……..BUT MAGICAL…..”

Good full forwards come packaged in a variety of shapes and forms.

You have the athletic type who has explosive pace off the mark. He’s able to lead into space, take chest and diving marks not too far from goal – and convert with unerring accuracy…….

Or the player with a sixth sense; slightly-built, almost frail-looking. He can lull his opponent into a false sense of security…….. Until he sneaks away and repeatedly finds his own space, taking easy marks. At the end of the day it staggers you to learn that he’s snagged half a dozen ‘sausages’……

There’s the burly, seemingly overweight, stay-at-home customer, who out-bodies the full back and pulls down big ‘grabs’ in the square; showing a surprising turn of speed when required. He never misses with those ‘clutch’ shots in the vital moments ……..

And the under-sized ‘decoy’, lightning on the lead and with an innate understanding of his role in attack. He opens up the forward line and allows the ‘monsters’ to drop into the goal-mouth…..

Then there’s blokes like Neale McMonigle………..

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‘Big Macca’ was an O & M star in the late-eighties/early-nineties. He was the spearhead in some fine Rovers sides, and a prolific goal-kicker, despite being variously panned by the critics as lazy, unpredictable, moody and ultra-casual .IMG_4078

But the boy could play. As a self-acknowledged member of the ‘Macca Fan Club’, I once attempted a thumb-nail sketch of a day in the life of a football enigma:

“It is an hour before an important match, and the Rovers rooms are abuzz with activity. Balls are being flipped around , hamstrings stretched, players yapping with nervous excitement, skipping and jumping; supporters offering encouragement..

Beneath his number 18 locker, Neale McMonigle sits impassively, munching slowly on a P.K ( he even chews slowly !). You wonder whether he is psyching himself up, or contemplating how the first leg of the double went.

The forward line is Macca’s podium. He will lead with a pace that belies his tall, angular stature and hoof a 60-metre drop-punt through the ‘big sticks’; will move around the square, seemingly with the sulks, position himself in front of a pack, then throw himself forward in a dead-set ‘stage’.

He can hold out an opponent with one hand and balance a miraculous mark with the other. A snap goal, which can come from nothing, will have the fans raving one minute. The next, he is leaning on the post yarning to the goal-umpire, as play swings further afield.IMG_4066

A miss from a set-shot can be equally as frustrating. Then, with hands on hips, he will look skyward and saunter back to the square; privately querying God’s injustice to full-forwards.

He can never really come to terms with umpires who fail to protect forwards, upfield players who ignore his leads, and niggling defenders. Apart from that, he acknowledges, footy’s not a bad game………..

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We catch up for a yap late last week, before I slip down to watch training. Meanwhile, outside, the long-awaited storm has arrived, and the rain’s bucketing down.

“No way known I’d be training in these conditions,” the big fellah says. “I used to ring Laurie (Burt) and say: ‘Mate, I’m snowed under at work. Sorry, I can’t make it.’ “

Training, and a penchant for fitness, was never on his list of priorities. “I often used cricket-practice as an excuse to get out of a bit of pre-season work. I know ‘Burty’ was a wake up to me, but I didn’t want to burn out ! ………“

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I still have visions of Neale’s dad, ‘Long John’ McMonigle, dominating the big-man duels in his 52-game stint with the Rovers.

Clad in the long-sleeved number 24 jumper, the quiet, wavy-haired gentle giant was a vital cog in Bob Rose’s plans. ‘Rosey’ believed his ruck star – one of three Glenrowan players he recruited for his first premiership side – could have played League football, but for his attachment to the bush.IMG_4077

Neale didn’t see John play, and says he’s never elaborated much on his career, other than to once admit that St.Kilda were pretty keen on him…… And that he became well-known for thumping the footy well clear of the centre bounce.

“Apparently he belted the pill so far one day, that his team-mate at centre half forward took it on the full, and the umpie unwittingly paid the mark,” Neale says……..

‘Macca’ won a WJFL Medal, playing with Junior Magpies, then graduated to the Rovers Thirds. The next season, aged 18, he was lining up in the O & M Grand Final, in just his fourth senior game.

“I was pretty raw. Fair dinkum; after Daryl Smith’s pre-match speech the hairs on my neck were standing on end. They picked me at centre half forward, with instructions to just run my opponent around.”IMG_4076

“It worked out alright too, because I was able to ‘snag’ three and we knocked over the warm favourites Benalla, who’d won 15 on the trot.”

Neale played just a handful of senior games the following season, and was then surprisingly lured out to North Wangaratta in 1980.

“I spent the next five years there…….It was probably too early to leave the Rovers, but they’re the sort of decisions you make when you’re a young bloke,” he reflects.

Jason Gorman recalls McMonigle’s first stint with the O & K Hawks: “Robbie Hickmott, Luke Norman, me and my brother all lived near the North ground. We were in our early teens and would ride our bikes there, just to watch ‘Macca’ pulling down his skyscraper marks.”

“There was a strong wind blowing down the ground one game, and he stayed at one end all day. Took about 30 marks. You could hear the opposition yelling out: ‘Don’t kick it near ‘Macca’…….”

He won North’s B & F in 1980, ‘82 and ‘83, and also shared the 1983 Baker Medal . There’s no doubt he had now blossomed into the star he was expected to be, despite his seemingly lackadaisical approach to the game.

So he was talked into returning to the Findlay Oval in 1985. As the Hawks made a charge to the finals, McMonigle was one of their key weapons. His tally of 84 goals during the home-and-away rounds included ‘bags’ of 11 and 10.IMG_4073

He added another 10 in the first two finals, and needed just six goals in the Prelim against Albury to top the magical 100.

“I remember glancing at the honour board on the Thursday night before that game, and thinking: ‘Heck, I don’t deserve to be up there as a Centurion alongside the great Steve Norman’. As it turned out, we lost the Prelim, and I finished up with 98.”

After he followed with another 60 goals in 1986, the Northerners came knocking, and appointed him playing-coach for two seasons.

That was an experience he savoured, but at the end of it, he succumbed to the wiles of Laurie Burt, who convinced him to again pull on the Rovers guernsey.

He didn’t need his arm to be twisted: “I was looking forward to playing under Laurie. He was a coach before his time, such was his knowledge of the game and its tactics.”

“He’d fill our brains with so much info at his game-eve meetings, I’d have to go home and relax with a few beers. I often dragged a couple of the boys along for a drink, too.”

The Hawks batted deep into the finals in 1989 and ‘90, but by 1991, had a superbly-balanced side which rightfully assumed flag favouritism from early in the season.

Never at any stage, though, did Neale ‘stress out’ about his footy. He was about as laid-back as you could be; kicking back with an ale or two and laying a few bets was his way of taking his mind off the game.

“Old Jack Prendergast knew I liked a punt. At the breaks he’d come up to me and say something like: ‘What’d you back in the Third at Caulfield, ‘Macca’……’Number 2 Jack. How’d it go.’ ….’You lucky bugger, it got up by a nose’. “

Neale played his part in the Hawks’ dominant 1991 season by winning the Doug Strang Medal. They recovered from a shock Second Semi-Final defeat to Yarrawonga to blitz the Pigeons in the Grand Final.

At three-quarter time it was feasible that Yarra could still win the game, but ‘Macca’ had other ideas, as he slammed through a 50m drop-punt in the opening minute of the final term. He kicked 4 goals in the last quarter, to finish with seven – and a season tally of 88.IMG_4069

Two of his premiership team-mates, ‘Gormo’ and ‘Hicky’ had been entranced by his high-marking at North Wang a decade earlier.

After 105 games – and 377 goals – with the Rovers, Neale accepted the job as captain-coach of O & K debutants Rutherglen.

“We were near the bottom, at 1-4 after five games. An official said to me one night: “The Committee want to speak to you after training. I thought: ‘Shit, they’re pressing the panic button a bit early here.’ I said: ‘Look, have a bit of faith. Stick with me. And remember: It’s my way or the Highway’.”IMG_4072

Fittingly, on the siren in the final home-and away game, Neale took a mark and slotted a goal to put the ‘Glen into their first finals series.

After two years with Rutherglen, he spent his final year as a player back at North Wangaratta in 1994. He’d chalked up 150-odd games in three stretches at Sentinel Park.

After helping Mark Kilner at Greta for a couple of seasons, he coached King Valley for two seasons, then led Glenrowan in 2007-08.

“I enjoyed playing a part in the development of young kids in the four clubs I was at,” he says. “I regarded it as an honour when each of them approached me to coach.”

‘Macca’s’ most recent sporting involvement was watching his daughters play Netball at Tarrawingee. He and Helen have four girls – Rachelle, Brooke, Kelly and Sarah.

He still follows the footy from a distance, but reckons they’d have  left him  for dead if he’d had to put in the work they do these days. “I just wasn’t made that way,” says ‘Big Macca’…………………..IMG_4074

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‘DAN McCARTHY…INSPIRED BY THE RACING GAME…..’

*  It was fate that drew Gai Waterhouse into racing: “There was a spot available with Dad when my Uncle died. I started by working in the office and clocking horses . But I found an excuse to leave the office all the time, and go down to the horses. I knew that’s where I wanted to be…..”

* Lee Freedman was 27, with plenty of faith in himself and his brothers, but little else: “We bought some stables; put down fifteen or twenty grand or something, and borrowed the rest. Then I went to see the racecourse manager and told him we needed to train there……”

* Colin Hayes was a 12 year-old at Semaphore, an Adelaide beachside suburb. He would save 25 cents, which would enable him to spend an hour at a riding school: “ I used to sit there and dream about owning and training my own horses…”

* Hal Hoysted was part of a racing dynasty. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been successful trainers – as had several uncles. When he hung up his jockey’s silks, he became a stable foreman. Then, after gaining enough experience, he launched into a 60-odd year career as a trainer……….

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Dan McCarthy doesn’t pretend that he’ll reach the status of any of the above training legends. But he has something in common – he’s inherited a passion for the racing game that consumes him.

“I never visualised myself doing anything else,” he says. “When racing’s in your blood it’s a disease interrupted only by death. You can’t shake it ! “IMG_3942

His foothold in the industry has been enhanced in recent times, as his small stable has won several important races. He’s also forged a strong relationship with prominent owner-breeder, David Strain, whose horses such as Ashlor, Ashtrain, Blazing Ash and Ashrad have achieved success.

Dan’s hopeful that Ashlor can propel him to his dream of training a Group 1 winner…………

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He grew up around horses on the family property at Flowerdale.

“Dad ( Brendan) built up what was the biggest band of broodmares in Victoria over a ten-year period. At one stage he had about 700 horses; most on agistment, but a fair chunk of them were his own.”

“He was a great personality – a real story-teller – whose love for horses began as a teen-ager in Kyneton. He used to tell us that he acted as the resident S.P bookie at the Marist Brothers College he went to.”

When the McCarthys moved to Tallarook. Brendan Snr would travel down to operate his Insurance Brokerage in Melbourne, whilst also running the Stud Farm. Luckily, the eight kids were all willing helpers.

He became President of the Victorian Bloodhorse Breeders Association at one stage, and was a committeeman at Moonee Valley Race Club.

Brendan McCarthy died early last year, but his racing legacy continues through the VOBIS scheme. He and a colleague reasoned that the Victorian racing industry needed some sort of incentive for owners and breeders.

“They travelled the world off their own bat, looking at various schemes. When they made their presentation, Racing Victoria threw their support behind it. It’s a massive thing now.” Dan says.

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Dan’s other sporting love is footy. When he was rounding off his education at Assumption College he was a member of the First 18 squad for three years, alongside future stars like Brownlow Medallist Shane Crawford, Richmond’s Chris Smith and North Melbourne’s Simon Wood.

“I was as keen as mustard. But I couldn’t crack it for a game in the illustrious First 18.”

When he left school and spent a year working on the family Stud Farm, he played a season with Nagambie, but had to put his footy career on hold when he joined forces with his older brother Brendan, who was training at Caulfield.  At 21, he became the youngest-ever licensed trainer in the State.

“We usually had about 30 horses in work, and Saturdays were always taken up,” he says.

Dan and Perri married in 1998 and settled in Wangaratta. He brought five horses up here, to have as a bit of a hobby whilst undertaking an Electrical Apprenticeship: “I thought it’d be handy to have something to fall back on if things got a bit quiet with the training. But we were lucky enough to have 20-odd winners the first year.”

One of his best performers around that time was Another Timah. He had a half-share in him and the rest was owned by a few family members. “At the end of its career it had won 18 races; including wins in Melbourne and placings in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. He was a really good horse, and carried us through for a while.”

“But potentially the best we had was Le Rivet, which was broken down when we got hold of him. Three vets inspected him and told us he wouldn’t race again.”

“We bought him for $500. He won six races in his first preparation, and ended up collecting around $200,000 in stake-money, which was a bit of money in those days. He was placed three times in Melbourne. It was really rewarding to achieve that sort of a result against the odds.”

Eventually, Le Rivet’s career ended when he again broke down, but Dan was nominated for the Fred Hoysted Award for Training Excellence, for his effort in reviving the gelding’s career.

Spondee, which won eight races in the early 2000’s and Stash of Gold, which had nine wins, were a couple of others to bring success to the stable.IMG_4058

But wins have come along at fairly regular intervals over the years, and his last three seasons have been fruitful. Especially with Ashlor beginning to reveal its obvious potential.IMG_4051

After an impressive win at Moonee Valley last October, the stable-star was set for the lucrative Winterbottom Stakes at Ascot.

“It was a big challenge, taking him over to Perth. Normally plane expenses for that journey can be about $15-20,000, but W.A Racing paid for the trip over. When you nominate they’ll only do that if they think the horse is a genuine chance. And besides, they provided a $6,000 rebate to cover expenses.”

“W.A Racing were really good to deal with, and it was a marvellous experience. He got caught at the front of the pack doing a lot of work early, but then, when they turned into the home straight, he was in front. He faded a bit, to finish sixth, but overall, it was a terrific run in a million-dollar race.”

Ashlor followed that up with another good win at the Valley in late December. With 11 wins from 27 starts and accumulated stake-money of over $600,000, Dan’s confident that the five year-old gelding can keep improving……….

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When I tracked him down last week, this ‘Racing-Man’ was spearing drop-punt passes towards eager youngsters at College’s training session.

He’s a thick-set fellah with the physique of an old ruckman/forward. Since his kids started coming through the Junior League, he’s been fully invested. He had charge of College’s Under 14’s for four years and is in his second season sharing the Under 16’s coaching with Peter Harvey.

I suggest that, with his co-coach’s renowned reputation for ‘white-line fever’ he’d be spending a lot of his time trying to keep ‘Harv’ in check.

“Nah, he’s pretty calm. I’m the one who goes ‘off’ a bit,” he says.

Dan coached his sons Harrison and Alex to Under 14 flags at College. Harrison went on to be part of the Rovers’ Thirds premiership last year, and is now at uni, playing Amateur footy with Old Scotch U.19’s.  Alex made his Thirds debut with the Hawks a fortnight ago.IMG_4040

Third son Will is now coming through at College, whilst the baby of the family, Holly, is a budding Netballer.

I’m intrigued to learn, in hindsight, how Dan and Perri became so deeply entwined with the Greta Football/Netball Club.

“Well, Perri had a couple of seasons of Netball with the Rovers, not long after we arrived up here,” Dan tells me.

“It had been more than a decade since I’d played footy at Nagambie, but I got itchy feet, and joined Greta in 2002. I played there for the next 11 years; chalked up 150-odd games and finally hung up the boots when I was 40.”

“Perri eventually joined me out there. She won 5 Netball Best & Fairests, 2 O & K Medals and a couple of premierships.”

“We really enjoyed it at Greta. I served on the committee for a few years, and was Vice-President…..Terrific people……”

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Dan has a team of 12 horses in work at present, and reckons that’s just about perfect for him. Four of them are running at Caulfield tomorrow, in what will be a hectic day.

“You’ve just got to be careful not to take on too many,” he says. ” We’ve got a few syndicates involved now, which is great. And if they can have some fun, and get something out of it, I’m rapt for them. I suppose if you had the right team around you, you could possibly handle up to twenty.”

At the moment, though, the principal of McCarthy Racing, father-of-four, part-time Electrician and College Football Club co-coach is handling things just nicely………IMG_4053

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THE ALL-ROUNDER, THE IMPORT, AND THE COACH WHO STAYED

The Wangaratta Football Club has existed, in some shape or form, for more than 128 years.

Its history reveals stunning highs, cataclysmic lows, and the usual dramas and controversies that beset all sporting organisations.

A handful of the game’s greats have worn the Black and White……There have been characters, rascals and undesirables – and people of great devotion and unswerving loyalty.

In short, there has been a smorgasbord of personalities.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of three such ‘characters’, who turned out for the Pies in the early days of the 20th century……..

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  THE ALL-ROUNDER

Charles Bernard Meadway was 20 when he made his way into Wangaratta’s O & M side during the 1899 season. For most of the next 16 years he would prove to be one of the team’s stars – when he was available.

He was born in Dunedin (N.Z) and his family moved to Australia six years later. The Meadways resided in Bendigo, before eventually settling in Wangaratta.

His sporting career ran parallel, in some respects, to that of the legendary Bill Hickey, who is regarded as possibly the town’s finest all-round sportsman.

But Bernie wasn’t far behind. A brilliant cricketer, he was the WDCA’s leading wicket-taker on four occasions, and hit four WDCA centuries. His ‘hands’ of 130, 150* and 143 indicated that he was partial to a decent stint at the crease.

But his stand-out knock came in 1907/08 when he hammered 210* for Wangaratta against Oxley. It remains the fourth-highest individual WDCA score. For good measure, in the same match, he took 11 wickets.

Later that season, he was selected in a Victorian Country Cricket team, which played a match against the Melbourne Cricket Club at the M.C.G.

Years earlier, on the eve of the 1902 footy season, Bernie appeared set for a lengthy absence from the sporting arena when he enlisted to fight in the Boer War. Fortunately, a month later, peace prevailed and he returned to the playing ranks.

During the early 1900’s Wangaratta alternated between the O & M.F.A and the Ovens and King District Association. After playing his part in an O & K flag in 1905, it was announced that Meadway had made his last appearance, as he would soon be playing with Carlton.IMG_4046

But, after just one game with the Blues, he was back with Wangaratta, and helped them to another flag.

Collingwood lured Bernie down for a run the following season. Reports filtered back that he had been constantly mentioned for his brilliant play in his VFL games. But inevitably, the boy from the bush returned home after three games.

It was the sport of Trap-Shooting that captured his attention and prompted lengthy absences from the Wangaratta side.

His effort of ‘grassing 23 sparrows in a row, and 108 birds without a miss, gave Meadway a world-record in 1907.

‘He used ballistic powder and a beautiful Clarborough and Johnstone gun,’ stated the Chronicle. But in a sombre message, which would have caused some heart-ache to Wangaratta fans, they reported that he intended to retire from football to concentrate on Sparrow-Shooting.

This, however, proved a fallacy. Bernie continued to combine his shooting excellence with regular cricket and football appearances.

After one exciting victory in 1912, a supporter rushed into verse to laud the performance of the Wangaratta side:

“Come let us join together, boys, and sing to all a song.

Of how we play at football and roll the ball along,

Of how we beat Moyhu, who thought they were too strong –

When we’re playing to be Premiers.

“Gil Ebbott is our rover, boys, for ever on the ball.

He can travel with the best of them- the daddy of them all.

When Meddy runs at a man, then someone’s sure to fall.

When we’re playing to be Premiers………….”

Bernie Meadway was 36 years old, and still single, when he played his last game for Wangaratta, during the 1915 season. He enlisted with the AIF and joined the Remount Unit in the deserts of the Middle East.

He returned from the Great War in 1919, to become a successful businessman and continue his shooting career. He won the first of his six Australian Championships in 1920, and competed on three occasions against the world’s best at Monte Carlo……….

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THE ‘FLY-BY-NIGHTER

Bernie Meadway, in his handful of games in 1915, would have no doubt made the acquaintance of Albert Hezikiah (Vernon) Bradbury, who was one of the most ‘colourful’ identities ever to be lured to the Wangaratta Football Club.

Bradbury was a flamboyant midfielder/forward, who made three appearances with St.Kilda before being lured to Footscray in 1910, aged 20.IMG_4047

The Footscray  Advertiser reported in 1914 that: ‘The football Oval was the stage from which Banbury kept crowds entranced with his wizardry.’ . ‘He marked, feinted and twisted with a nonchalance that often left his opponents flat-footed and humiliated. There are few footballing dodges of which he is not the master……’

The champion, whose favoured position was centre half forward, once hit the post seven times in a match against Port Melbourne in 1912 – a record which still stands.

He was a star in Footscray’s 1913 premiership victory, but was one of 5 players sacked by the Club when they played abysmally in the 1914 Grand Final. It had been alleged that more money changed hands in that game than any other in the VFA’s history.

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Footscray’s 1913 VFA Premiership team. Vernon Banbury is far right, middle row.

So, when Wangaratta were looking to bolster their ranks upon being re-admitted to the O & M, they sought the services of the mercurial star, who had become available – and reportedly amenable to the lure of a ‘quid’.

The spectre of War hung over the O & M in 1915. There was some conjecture as to whether matches should continue whilst fighting raged overseas, but nevertheless,  the season rolled on.

The Magpies chalked up a handful of wins – and a draw against the all-powerful Rutherglen. But their most exciting victory came in a heart-stopper against contenders Albury.

With minutes remaining, Edwards kicked a goal to bring Wang within a point. The sides drew level, then Banbury, displaying his great skills, evaded several opponents to snap the winning behind.

He had been a more than handy player with Wangaratta, but, upon the abandonment of the O & M at season’s end, because of the War, he returned to the city.

Vernon found his way back to Footscray, and featured in their successive VFA flags of 1919 and ‘20. He resigned briefly during the latter season when supporters accused him of playing ‘dead’.

By now his life was in disarray, and his reputation as a playboy had cast him as a controversial figure. Overlooked for the 1922 Grand Final, which Footscray lost to Port Melbourne, he was subsequently disqualified for life by the VFA, for the attempted bribery of Port players.

The erratic career of Vernon Banbury took another turn when, in a defiant gesture towards the VFA, the Footscray Football Club bestowed Life Membership upon him at their next Annual Meeting.

Eighty-two years later, in 2010, he was admitted to the Western Bulldogs’ Hall of Fame………

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THE COACH WHO STAYED……

Matt O’Donohue was Banbury’s team-mate, and another of the Footscray players who had become embroiled in the bribery scandal that emanated from their 1922 Grand Final loss.

It was alleged that the lightly-built rover and Bulldog vice-captain had offered an on-field bribe to a Port Melbourne opponent, George Ogilvie. It came as a shock to Footscray fans, who had come to love and respect the local lad. Thankfully, the charge was not sustained.IMG_3836

But O’Donohue had already decided to move on. He accepted a coaching appointment with Wangaratta, and was introduced to a welcoming crowd at the club’s March 1923 Annual Meeting.

He proved an inspiring leader, and introduced a slick, systematic, running game, with an emphasis on handball, which troubled all sides.

His own form was quite outstanding, although he was to come in for his share of rough treatment during the season.

Unfortunately, for O’Donohue’s coaching aspirations, he ran slap-bang into the fabled St.Patrick’s line-up.  ‘The Green Machine’, in the midst of a Golden Era, proved too strong for Wang in the 1923 Grand Final and triumphed by 17 points.

After the Pies  finished runners-up again the following season, he handed over the coaching reins to Percy ‘Oily’ Rowe in 1925, but continued to be one of the ‘big guns’ in a team which boasted stars on every line.

He and big ‘Oily’ proved a lethal ruck/rover combination and played a major part in Wangaratta snaring their first O & M flag. Fighting back from a sizeable quarter-time deficit, they out-pointed Hume Weir by 21 points .IMG_4043

O’Donohue’s class at the fall of the ball was recognised the following season, when he was selected to rove to Rowe in the O & M’s representative clash against the VFL at the Albury Sportsground.

His swansong game with the ‘Pies came in their resounding 14-goal defeat at the hands of St.Pat’s. It was his fourth successive O & M Grand Final, and  a sad farewell for the veteran.

He sated his sporting urges by playing cricket and golf, but continued to follow the fortunes of the footy club with a keen interest.

Arthur Callender, the respected administrator who had engineered Matt’s move to Wangaratta, had become a close confidant, and coaxed him into becoming his off-sider in some of the sporting organisations with which he was involved.

At one stage Matt was concurrently Secretary of the Athletic, Turf and Speed-Coursing Clubs, whilst Callender held the role of President.

When the outbreak of World War II forced the disbandment of the Carnival in 1940, it terminated O’Donohue’s reign as Secretary. He had held the position for 17 years, and had become renowned for his contribution to sport in Wangaratta……….

 

*With assistance from ‘UNLEASHED’, the Western Bulldogs’ History”

‘THE WIRY, TOUGH AND TALENTED NEVILLE POLLARD….’

Our footy post-mortems were often held at the Sale-Yards, around 6.30am on foggy, crisp Monday mornings. Still  a touch seedy after a week-end of playing, celebrating or commiserating, we’d conduct a thorough review before  the Sheep Market rudely interrupted us.

He was a precociously talented utility player who’d taken on a job as captain-coach at the ripe old age of 20…… I was his coaching adversary; a plodder, reaching the end of my tether………..

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Forty-odd years on, I again catch up with Neville Pollard.

He’s had a rough time of it lately, has old ‘Nifty’. Nearly five months ago he was diagnosed with a rare fungal infection behind the left eye.

Two corneal transplants failed to rectify the problem; nor did a series of injections. His surgeon put forward a few scenarios of further treatment. One of them – the most radical – included removing the eye.

“I decided that was the most risk-free way to go. So they whipped it out a fortnight ago,” he says.

I’m sure he welcomes changing the subject when I suggest having a yarn about his lengthy, varied, 400-game footy career………

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The Pollards were domiciled at Buln Buln, in the heart of Gippsland dairy country, when nine year-old Nev debuted with the local Thirds.

He later made the odd appearance with the seniors, but, going on 15 – and mid-way through the season – moved over to play with Drouin in the stronger West Gippsland League.

He finished the year with their Thirds, who were pipped by a point in the Grand Final, then booted 72 goals with the seniors the following season, to win the League goal-kicking award.

Under the VFL’s old zoning system, Drouin was part of Hawthorn’s territory. The Hawks helped themselves to a host of players from this lucrative recruiting area, including, of course, the famous Ablett family.

Neville had played alongside Geoff Ablett in the Drouin Thirds side, and also received an invitation to train ‘down town’.

But, in the meantime, his parents Arthur and Ruby, sold their farm and re-located to Bobinawarrah. He was momentarily out of Hawthorn’s clutches…….

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“Pollard was one of the few players I went out of my way to recruit when I was coach,” says Wangaratta Rovers legend Neville Hogan.

“I remember heading out Milawa-way to see him early in 1973, then bringing him to training a couple of times, as he still didn’t have a licence.”

“Gee he could play. He came to us as a full forward, but we started him in the back pocket because we wanted to fit him into the side.”

“There’s always conjecture about whether this bloke or that would have played League footy. Sometimes it boils down to being at the right club at the right time. But I think Neville would have given it a really good shot………..”

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He was a touch under 6 foot and as adaptable as they come. Proving himself ultra-capable down back, Hogan swung him into attack at one stage of the 1974 Grand Final. He booted two quick goals, to put the game completely out of Yarrawonga’s reach.IMG_4035

Andrew Scott recalls the coach’s plea to his side at three quarter-time of a soggy ‘75 decider against North Albury: “We led by 5 points in a real tight one, and ‘Hogan’s last words were: ‘Make sure you bring the ball to ground at all times.’ “IMG_4036

“In the opening minutes of the last quarter, Pollard’s caught off balance and brings down a spectacular one-hander across the half-back line, completely contrary to the coach’s instructions. It might have been one of those things that inspired us because we went away to win by 19 points.”

Scott and Pollard were members of the O & M team which trounced the VFA by 56 points that year.

“We played 18 a-side in the first half and reverted to the VFA’s version of 16 a-side in the second. I was playing on the wing and was supposed to go off at half-time, but Billy Sammon (our coach) decided to keep me on for the rest of the game. It was a terrific experience,” Neville recalls.

At season’s end, North Melbourne invited several potential recruits to play in a practice game at Arden Street. Hawthorn’s three-year hold on Pollard had expired and the Roos chief, Ron Joseph was keen to get hold of him.

“I’ve only got vague memories of the practice match,” he says, “.. but I do recall Scotty driving me down and getting pulled up for speeding. He was a cop at the time, and managed to talk his way out of it in convincing fashion.”

The Rovers were half-expecting to lose the youngster to North. He’d played three stellar seasons; featured in two flags….. But to their dismay, he accepted a coaching appointment at Milawa in 1976.

“I had a lot of mates out there, but may have been a bit naive taking the job on so young. In hindsight, I still don’t know whether I did the right thing,” Nev says.

“We were a young side; not over-tall, but they gave everything. I’d like to think I was honest and approachable as a coach, but it was tough……. I had to be an amateur psychologist, doctor and mentor besides concentrating on my own game.”IMG_4032

Milawa had won just three games the previous season, but again became a force under Pollard, and eventually ‘bombed out’ in the Preliminary Final.

They reached the Prelim in three of the first four years,  plunged to the bottom, then recovered to reach successive Grand Finals in his seven seasons in charge.IMG_4038

He was their dynamo, and took out the O & K’s Baker Medal ( as well as the club B & F ) in 1978 and 1980. Some old-time Demons rate him their best-ever player.

The last of his 141 games with the club was in the ‘Bloodbath’ Grand Final of 1982.

“We were 19 points up at half-time against Chiltern, and looked to be travelling well. But we just got hunted. At one stage there was talk of calling the game off. It was the worst match I’ve ever been involved in.”

In the end, the Swans ran away to win by 74 points. Neville was one of several who appeared at the resultant Tribunal hearing the following week and was quizzed about  one incident.

“I told them I’d got belted from behind. They gave the bloke one week…… I couldn’t believe it.”

“I decided to have another crack with the Rovers the next year. It wasn’t because of what happened in the Grand Final…..I just wanted to test myself back in the higher standard before I got too old.”

“I’d thought about coming in a couple of years earlier, but I suppose I got a bit stubborn and decided to stay.”

At 27, Neville was probably a better-equipped player than in his previous incarnation with the Hawks. He enjoyed stints in the midfield and on-ball and took out Best & Fairests in 1983 and ‘84.

A regular selection in the O & M side, he was voted the League’s best in a Country Championship semi-final clash against Ballarat. He lined up in the centre, alongside another old Drouin boy, Gary Ablett, who started on the wing.IMG_4033

That year,1983,  signified Pollard’s return to the top, as he also finished runner-up in the Morris Medal.

Again emphasising his versatility, he kicked 10 goals from centre half forward, in a memorable match against Albury  three years later.

His old mate Andrew Scott also booted 10 that day. They still debate the merit of their respective performances.

“Well, I kicked 10.7 and Scotty, who wasn’t fit enough to move out of the goal-square was gifted a handful. I reckon he touched a couple of my shots on the line !” he says.

After 13 years in the livestock game, Neville and Judy bought a property at Tocumwal and moved over with the four kids – Krystal, Carly, Elise and Ash. It signalled the end of his 139-game career with the Hawks.

“I’d fully intended to play with ‘Toc’, but on the first night of training only about eight fellahs turned up. It didn’t get much better for the next couple of weeks.”

“ Laurie Burt kept in touch and was keen for me to travel over and keep playing for the Rovers. I said: ‘Look, just reject the first clearance application. We’ll see how it goes.’ “

But he decided to stick it out . Tocumwal endured a gloomy, winless season and didn’t fare much better in in the next. Neville picked up successive B & F’s, however, and continued to star, as the Bloods began to gain momentum.

They thrived under the leadership of rugged Stuart Roe, who had come across from Shepparton to coach.

He took them to Grand Finals in 1989 and ‘90. They took the next step in 1991, after Philip Nicholson had succeeded Roe.  Pollard was part of a lethal half back line at this stage, and picked up his third flag when he starred in the Bloods’ premiership win over arch rivals Finley.IMG_4034

He continued to serve Tocumwal long after his glittering career had drawn to a close. ‘Nifty’ was 38 when he decided to pull the pin in 1992, but then spent seven years as Chairman of Selectors and six years as coach of the Thirds.

One of his biggest thrills in football came twenty years later, when fleet-footed Ash burst onto the scene in the first of his 40 senior games with the Rovers.

‘Nifty’ – O & K Hall of Famer, veteran of Buln Buln, Drouin, Wang Rovers, Milawa and Tocumwal – would be tickled pink if the young bloke again donned the Brown and Gold.

“All you can do is hope,” he says “…..but he might have left his run a bit late……”IMG_4039

‘FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD’…..

Lance Oswald, who passed away last Wednesday, is rated by many local experts as Wangaratta’s finest football product.  

‘On Reflection’ caught up with the old champ just on four years ago. This was his story……:

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He’s rising 79 and has been ensconced in the sleepy Murray River town of Strathmerton for over 50 years. Life is just as he wants it – peaceful, idyllic and ‘far from the madding crowds’

He spent six years in the ‘big smoke’. More than enough time to earn recognition as the best centreman in Victoria – and probably Australia.

Occasionally his mind drifts back to where it all started………   ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Lance Oswald was a South Wanderer.

The Oswalds resided in Greta Road, which meant that, in accordance with the prevailing Wangaratta Junior League rules of the late 40’s, he was zoned to the Green and Golds.

Picking up kicks was never a problem for the curly-hairphoto 2ed footy ‘nut’. He was 13 when he played in the first of two flags for the Wanderers. A year later he was the League Best & Fairest.

He seems chuffed when I start to reel off a list of his premiership team-mates . “There were a few good kids in those sides. Some of them turned out to be pretty handy players,too”, he says.

But none of them came remotely close to matching the achievements of the prodigiously talented Oswald.

In one of the early rounds of the 1953 season, he was selected to make his senior debut for Wangaratta against the Rovers. He was just 16.

The ‘Pies were fresh from winning their fourth straight O &M flag and it was a fairly hard side to break into. He only played one more senior game that year, but consolidated his senior spot in 1954.

The fabulous ‘Holten Era’ was drawing to an end, and I asked Lance how he rated the former Collingwood star ……”Good coach…excellent tactician…But gee, he was tight. Wouldn’t shout if a shark bit him !”

Holten urged Oswald, who, by now, was attracting plenty of attention from League clubs, that he should put on a bit of beef before he headed to Melbourne.

He’d kicked 17 goals as a rover-forward during the 1955 finals, including seven in a best-afield performance, as North Albury overpowered the ‘Pies in the last quarter of the Grand Final.

As clubs circled him, he swayed towards playing with Essendon. But Holten warned him…”Look, you’d be competing with Hutchinson, Clarke and Burgess for a roving spot. Don’t go there”.

Mac was keen to entice him to his old club and took him down for a practice match. He started in the Reserves curtain-raiser, then was whisked off the ground and played in the main game, under an assumed name. He starred, but was happy to return home, much to the chagrin of Collingwood officials.

After St.Kilda coach Alan Killigrew had trekked up the Hume Highway to visit him three or four times, Lance agreed to play the opening round game of 1957, against South Melbourne, on match permits, as the O & M season didn’t get underway until the following week.

It was a promising debut, and he was named in the side again, but Wangaratta put the foot down and told him he was going nowhere.

By now he was the complete player. Strongly-built for a rover ( 5’10 and 12 stone), he could sniff a goal, was an accurate kick and had a fierce attack on the footy.

If anyone still had a ‘knock’ on him, Oswald put paid to those doubts with a dominant season. He kicked 90 goals, to win the League goal-kicking award, featured in the O & M’s Country Championship triumph, and shared the Morris Medal with Myrtleford full back, Neil Currie.

And he played a starring role in the Magpies thrilling two-point win over Albury in a gripping photo 3Grand Final. Wang had kicked only six goals to three-quarter time and trailed the Tigers by 27 points.

They gradually closed the gap, and with a minute remaining, Lance snapped a miracle goal to give them the lead for the first time in the game. It was his 73rd, and last game for Wang.

What a note to leave on !

He was an apprentice at Jack Cox Engineering and St.Kilda arranged for his indentures to be transferred to Melbourne firm, Phoenix Engineering, as he settled in at the Junction Oval.

Lance and his wife Dot coped with severe bouts of homesickness. “We went home pretty regularly the first season. I suppose we improved as time went on, but Dot still hated the place”, he recalls.

After 10 years in the wilderness, the Saints were on the move and hit the jackpot with recruiting. The place became a bit of an Ovens and Murray haven. Brian McCarthy and Peter Clancy (Yarrawonga), Geoff Feehan (Wodonga), Ian ‘Doggy’ Rowlands ((Wangaratta) and, briefly, Les Gregory (Rovers) all wore the Red,White and Black guernsey.

Lance was a more than handy rover-forward in his first three seasons, but his career took off when he was moved into the centre.

The team’s strong defence and improved depth allowed him to roam the field and pick up kicks at will. In an era when centreman rarely moved away from the cricket pitch area, he was an exception. He had a big tank and could run all day.

By 1960 he was an automatic choice in the Victorian side and narrowly missed an All-Australian blazer in 1961, after performing superbly at the National Carnival in Brisbane.

He gained some consolation by winning his second successive St.Kilda Best and Fairest in ’61 and helping the team into the finals for the first time in 22 years.

He almost swung the semi in St.Kilda’s favour with an inspirational third quarter, as they pegged back a big lead to get within a couple of points. They eventually fell nine points short.

Although starting to feel the effects of some niggling ankle injuries, Lance was still playing at his top in 1963 and again starred when the Saints bowed out in another semi.

He and Dot packed the kids in the car the next week and headed up to visit his mum, who was living in Strathmerton.

She must have worded up the locals.They paid him a surprise visit , escorted him down to the footy ground to show him the facilities – and offered him the coaching job. “Give us a couple of weeks to think about it”, was his reply.

They were only a few miles out of ‘Strathy’, on the way back to the city, when Lance rang back and accepted the position.

So, after 107 games, 102 goals and four Interstate appearances, Lance Oswald’s League career was over.

He was offered employment at the Kraft Cheese factory, coached Strathmerton to a Murray League premiership in 1964 and, all-up, led them for nine seasons. He finally hung up his boots at the age of 37, after 210 games with ‘Strathy’.

It was a lifestyle choice that he never regretted and was an ideal place, he and Dot reckoned, to bring up their three kids.

He was at the J.C.Lowe Oval last Saturday, to watch his grandson Scott play for Yarrawonga, against Wangaratta. He had, he says, mixed feelings about the result, as he always keeps an eye on the fortunes of his old club.

It has been an incredible football journey for the St.Kilda Hall of Famer and Team of the Century member and a man who some experts rate as the greatest of all Magpies.

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