'THE HORSEMAN……..'

Peter McIntyre occasionally re-lives the moment that could have made him an eternal favourite with football’s trivia buffs:

It’s March 22, 1991. He has lined up at full forward for Adelaide in their inaugural AFL match, in front of a pulsating, hugely parochial crowd of 44,902, at Football Park.

The Crows sweep the ball away from the congestion in mid-field; he manoeuvres his 6’4”, 90kg frame away from Hawthorn’s leech-like defensive colossus, Chris Langford, who over-corrects and is free-kicked for interference.

Pete figures that this relatively easy conversion from 30 metres will send the fans into raptures. He deliberates for some time , lines up for what will be Adelaide’s first-ever major…………then kicks into the man-on-the-mark……………

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Hang on, I’m getting ahead of the story here, as we sit, reminiscing, at the back of his Ussher’s Drive residence.

Pete, his wife Georgie and son James, are in the midst of packing, prior to heading back to Adelaide. They’ll miss Wang, he says, but their daughter Grace is attending Uni over there. Jimmy, who has enjoyed a break-out cricket season this year, is bound for Sacred Heart College. Basically, for family and business reasons the move seems appropriate.

Anyway, he’ll be making regular visits back, to his property at Milawa Park, and overseeing his business concerns. They’ll keep in touch, he assures me……….

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Pete hails from deep in Riverina-country – Deniliquin -the home of such sporting icons as Test cricketers Adam Gilchrist and Simon O’Donnell, former Victorian left-hander Laurie Harper, Hall-of Fame jockey Roy Higgins, and footballers Leo Barry, Sam Lloyd and Todd Marshall.

His dad, Barry, was a local legend of sorts, being lured down to St. Kilda in 1958, as an opportunist forward. He played in the Saints’ Night Premiership side that year, alongside the elusive Billy Young, a former Coleman Medallist.

Like so many boys from the bush, he couldn’t quite settle in to the city, and after 11 games, headed home to his ‘Deni’ dairy farm. He coached the locals for some time, and later took over the Thirds coaching, guiding some talented kids who were to form the nucleus of a successful ‘Rams’ era.

With just one team in a town of Deni’s size, Barry felt some good kids were slipping through the system, so he, along with mates Tommy Todd, Bernie O’Connor and Worner Tasker decided to form the Deniliquin Rovers.

That’s where Pete cut his teeth. He, like his four siblings, was a sporting crank.

“Summer Saturday’s, for instance, I’d ride the bike into town for junior cricket in the morning, watch mum playing tennis for a while, then play senior cricket in the arvo. In winter we’d be following mum and dad to the footy.”

He came through the ranks, made his senior debut at 16, and played in successive Grand Finals, under his dad’s coaching.. “We lost both of them. The Rovers still haven’t won a flag,” he says.

It was the era of zoning. Geelong cast their net and lured a host of likely Riverina lads ( 19 year-old Pete included ) to Kardinia Park.

“Even though I was earmarked for the Thirds, I ended up being elevated to train with the Senior List and played 15 or so games in the Reserves”, he says. “That meant training with the senior list. I still remember my first night. I just threw my bag into the first vacant locker I saw and started stripping. I’m buck naked when Mark Jackson barges in, grabs my bag out of his locker and hurls it across the room. That was my introduction to the inimitable ‘Jacko’.”

“After about Round 5, we were asked to attend a Players’ Meeting at a Geelong Motel. I just tagged along; then Mick Turner gets up in front of the group and says: ‘Hands up those of you who think John Devine can’t coach…..I could tell by the mood of the meeting that he’d lost the players.”

“It was all an eye-opener for a boy from the country. Really, I was just a big kid with a bit of ability, but I had no idea. Thinking back, I should have stayed, but at the end of the year I headed back home and spent a couple of seasons with Deniliquin, under a good mate, Greg Danckert.”

Pete played in the Murray League rep side with Rob Hawkins (Jack’s uncle), who had returned to Finley after several years at South Adelaide.

“Apparently John Reid, the South coach, rang Rob and asked whether there were any kids he’d seen who might be worth approaching. Rob put him onto me and Darren Jackson, a big goal-kicker from Finley.”

“So the day after my 21st Birthday party, we’ve packed up and headed over to Adelaide. We didn’t have a clue what to expect, but might have hoped for more than just one win in the first year.”

In 1989 South improved marginally, picking up six wins. But they got on a roll in the latter part of 1990.

“One Thursday night, about four weeks before the finals, we walked off the training track, to be greeted with the news that the club was insolvent. The supporters got to work rattling tins and the like. The players developed a terrific camaraderie through it all. We hit top form, snuck into the finals by half a game, and thrashed Norwood, before North Adelaide stitched us up in the First Semi.”

Adelaide Football Club had been granted an AFL license, which prompted an extensive search for talent, as they combed through the SANFL for likely types. They compiled a list of 100 players, which was gradually pruned, until the Final List for 1991 was announced.

McIntyre found his name included among this elite band of players – the cream of South Australian footy. Wall-to-wall media coverage and unprecedented interest ensued, particularly in the lead-up to the opening round.

He wasn’t confident of being selected, but gun spearhead Scott Hodges – a walk-up starter – was embroiled in a contract dispute with the new entity. He still hadn’t signed when the team was announced. So Pete was named at full forward for the clash against an imposing Hawthorn combination, which was at the height of its power…………..

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It was a memorable night for the Crows, and their band of supporters, who anticipated a spirited performance from their side, but expected the Hawks to draw away when the crunch came.

The home team were on their way to a conclusive win – by 86 points. Early on, McIntyre began to gain the upper hand on Chris Langford, booting the second goal of the night.

Just after half-time he’d kicked his fourth……..”I thought, shit, I’m a chance to get a bag of 6 or 7 here. Then Graeme Cornes sent the runner out, and I was off until ten minutes before the end of the game.”

“He told me later, he thought I was looking a bit tired. Geez, I was rearing to go. He was a good coach, Cornesy; highly intelligent, thought outside the square, but sometimes he outsmarted himself.”

Pete played 13 games in ‘91, alternating between the Crows and South Adelaide. South were enjoying a great run, and finished minor premiers, before going out in straight sets.

The following year he tore a thigh muscle in the opening AFL round and endured a horror run, struggling in vain to return to fitness. Unfortunately, his injuries cost him a place in the NSW State of Origin side, which played the Vics at the MCG.

“Being a Deni boy, that would have been fantastic, to run out on the ‘G’ wearing the NSW jumper. But at the end of the season I’d had enough. I resigned from the Crows and told them I was going to concentrate on playing for South.”

“I regret that, in hindsight. I had probably my best SANFL season in ‘93, represented South Australia against the West, and kicked 79 goals in 14 games. Adelaide were starting to build something, and I reckon I could have contributed.”

Pete’s always maintained a keen interest in the neddies. He harks back briefly , to his early cricket days with Deni RSL, when a team-mate Greg Higgins – a more-than-handy all-rounder – would shout between overs, from the depths of fine-leg, such comments as : “What won the third leg of the Quaddie?”

He also reckons a day at the Adelaide Oval may have planted the seed for his future involvement with the Racing Game :

“It was a match the SANFL put together – City v Country. I was first emergency for Country, so I thought I’d wander down and invest in a treble – $21, I think I outlaid. It was Colin Hayes’ last chance to win an Adelaide Cup. The first two legs got up and, thank goodness, the Hayes horse I’d backed came home too. Seven and a half grand it was worth.”

“I invested it wisely ! Went to the Horse Sales the next day and bought two weanlings; sent one home to dad’s farm and later sold it for $20,000. I think that’s what got me going on the horses………”

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After nine seasons and 133 games with South Adelaide, the McIntyre’s moved to Echuca. Pete’s playing career with the Murray Bombers was ill-fated, though. In his third game he copped a knee injury which terminated his career.

The rest of his season was confined to using his footy expertise on the bench, as playing-coach Simon Eishold guided the Murray Bombers to a flag.

He worked as a rep for Sunbeam, selling agricultural equipment, then had a stint as secretary of Echuca Race Club.

This led to a short spell as the Racing Manager for leading city trainer David Hall, and a year as the Secretary at Benalla.

Country racing was being re-structured at the time, and he took on the role as Secretary-Manager of the merged Benalla, Towong, Wodonga and Wangaratta Race Clubs.

The merge was dismantled after some time, and Pete took a redundancy, had a re-think and invested in a property – Milawa Park. There were early ups and downs, but he’s now completely absorbed in what he regards as his dream job.

“I’ve always thought I’ve had an eye for a good horse. Basically, I buy 5-6 month-old weanlings, grow them out ( it’s essential to have fertile soil to grow good horses ) and sell them. To put it in plain language, I’m a grass farmer, and my crop are horses.”

“You’ve got to rely on your intuition, picking out the characteristics, like pedigree, temperament, athleticism, desire…… I spent six years as an assistant with the Murray Bushrangers ( loved it there ) and what I’m doing is not unlike how the top recruiters pick out a talented 16 year-old footballer,” he says.

“A few horses which are going around now, like Bondeiger, Charossa, Gytrash, Benz, Ice Ghost and Jericho Missile, have come through this selection process.”

“We’ve had a fair bit of success. I bought Derby runner-up Bundeiger, for instance, for $10,000 and sold for $75,000. I’m always on the look-out to refine the ‘art’ of selecting the right horse.”

Pete tells me a lady who compiled a history of the McIntyre’s, advised him his branch of the family became predominantly Butchers, Carpenters and Horsemen.”

“Have a guess what two of my brothers were.”

“One was a butcher, another’s a Carpenter.”

“I’m the Horseman………..”

'ROBBIE REMINISCES………'

Rob Worthington’s excitement levels used to rise, around this time of the year.

He’d focus his attention on Wangaratta’s Country Week Cricket campaigns, and begin to assess player availability, the possible composition of the teams and the numerous other jobs that would facilitate the smooth functioning of the trips.

For almost 20 years Robbie was the ‘Backroom General’. He’d play a central role in a hectic whirl of WDCA representative fixtures, which included North-East Ensign Cup, Mac Holten Shield and Bendigo and Melbourne Country Weeks.

He became almost synonymous with the competition’s pursuit of success at the higher level. Scores and scores of players – many of them on the verge of outstanding careers – passed through his hands, and vouched for his enthusiasm and attention to detail.

Even now, more than a decade since his playing career wound down and he decided to hand over the reins, he’s still an avid follower of local cricket…………

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Rob learned the ropes at St.Mary’s Cricket Club, in Dandenong.

He rose through the ranks, from Under 16’s to A-Grade, making his mark as a fast-medium new-ball bowler and handy middle-order left-hand bat. The highlight of his twenty years of senior cricket in his home town, he reckons, was his first flag, on Dandy’s Shepley Oval, in 1971/72.

The Saints were a power club in the D.C.A, and he was to figure in another three premierships among a total of eight Grand Final appearances.

The last pennant came in 1986/87 – a fitting farewell from the club which had previously honoured him with Life Membership for his on and off-field services.

Two months later, he and wife Di – and their two kids – landed in Wangaratta. A steady stream of local cricketers ( me included ) beat a path to the door of the business they had acquired, West End Lotto, in a bid to lure the newcomer to their respective clubs.

Smooth-talking Bruck official Andy Walker secured his services. Robbie’s halcyon days had now passed him by, as he was rising 35, but he was to prove a more-than handy back-up to the new-ball combination of Russell Robbins, Steve Harries and the redoubtable Brian Fisher…………….

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His first Bendigo Country Week campaign was less than memorable……..”After being fortunate enough to get 3 wickets on the first day, I opened the bowling on the second and had a couple of wickets in my first two overs, then did a hammy. That meant I was in charge of the score-book for the rest of the Week,” he recalls.

“But I really enjoyed the experience. Playing in the city, you just didn’t get to savour that type of thing. There’s rep cricket, of course, but nothing to match a Country Week tour.”

Twangy hamstrings started to plague him, and he had to manage his body……and reduce his pace. He made one more trip to Bendigo as a player, then took over as Manager.

He’d been helping out with the Under 21 North-East Colts teams, and many of those lads formed the nucleus of the youth-orientated Bendigo squad.

At the time, a close-knit, happy-go-lucky group of youngsters were coming through, and they thought the world of Rob, who admits there was always a fair bit of revelry; but occasionally a few stern words, just to keep them in check.

One player recalls the pep-talk that he’d usually deliver on the eve of the opening Bendigo Country Week game …..: ‘Righto fellahs, it might be alright to have a few beers one night. But if you follow that up with another, it’s bad news…..It’s the cumulative effect that knocks you. Take it from me, you’ll struggle to last the Week’.”

“We ‘stitched’ Robbie up after the final game one year, though. He found himself in three different ‘schools’. Resultantly, it must have been a herculean effort to lift his head off the pillow the following morning. He wiped off the Vegemite that someone had pasted in his ears whilst he was sound asleep, and, right on the knocker of 7.30am, performed his final task for the week:

“This is Rob Worthington, reporting for 3NE, with the Bendigo Country Week match report…….”

“With admirable poise, he signed off and said : ‘Whadd’ya think boys. How’d I go over ?…..”

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Players like Leigh Hansen, Ash Gilbert, Shane Welch, Paul and Nathan Broster, Darren Petersen, Barry McCormick, Simon Hill and Jordan Wood were among the ‘younger breed’ of rep players of this era who went on to perform well in Victorian Premier Cricket, or its equivalent.

Two other highly-promising youngsters – Jaden Burns and Chris Tidd – both lost their lives whilst still playing Under- 21 rep cricket. Rob was keen to perpetuate their memory. For the past 27 years the WDCA’s outstanding young player has received the Award named in their honour.

Wangaratta won the B-Group title in 1994, but undoubtedly his most cherished moment at Bendigo was the A-Group crown they took out in 1999.

After being set a meagre 142 for victory against Kyabram, the match looked to be out of their reach when they’d slumped to 9/125. An 18-run last wicket stand between the match-hero, Ian Rundell and number 11, Chris Kenny, got them over the line, amidst raucous celebrations.

Much to Rob’s chagrin, the WDCA elected to bypass Bendigo Country Week the following year. He’d been Manager for 11 years, and regarded the experience that youngsters gained as ‘priceless’ for their development. He was rapt that the Association eventually decided to renew its link with Bendigo in 2017.

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After a lengthy spell with Bruck, he was considering retirement in his mid-forties, when he was approached to join Wang-Magpies, a move which elongated his career by several years, and provided him with a raft of cricketing thrills.

Not least of these were premierships in 1993/94 and 2003/04. The latter was of special significance, as the ‘Pies had come from 7th spot in mid-January, just fell into the four, then hit peak form at the right time.

They blasted through the highly-touted Corowa line-up for 93. Rob’s son Mark had grabbed the vital wicket of danger-man Rod Lane for 11, and from then on it was a procession. Mark took 3/22 off 15 overs, to share the bowling honours, and his ‘old man’ tied up an end, with 0/13 off 7. Wang-Magpies knocked off the required runs for the loss of four wickets.

Rob reckons watching his son emerge as a talented quick – and playing alongside him – was about as good as it gets.

He continued playing, on and off, until he finally hung up the boots, aged 58, and began following Mark’s District career, at Footscray and Geelong………

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Throughout the nineties, he’d been helping out with the North-East Cup team, and making regular trips to Melbourne to watch an occasional Country Week game. This morphed into him being a key component of the touring party.

He couldn’t think of a better way of spending his annual Leave ; one week at Bendigo and another at Melbourne. He became the off-sider to Managers Joe Pilkington, Graeme Kerr and Gary Lidgerwood, and would order Lunches, help with hit-ups, give rub-downs, score, drive the Bus and perform a myriad of other tasks.

He was even pressed into action, and made his Melbourne CW debut in 2004, aged 52, when a series of circumstances left the side in a pickle. “It was one of those weeks that you dread,” Rob says. “There were three wash-outs, and in the one completed game, four run-outs cost us victory.”

“Whatever happened though, you felt every bit a part of the team as the players. It was a great way to get to know blokes you played with and against. I saw some fellahs who were the toughest of competitors on the field, but when you socialised with them they were terrific.”

I ask him to pluck out some of the best rep players he saw in his two decades of involvement. It’s no surprise that he immediately plumps for the revered Barry Grant……

“He was as passionate about cricket as anyone I’ve met ( still is ) and he rose to the occasion in rep cricket. Some of the knocks he played in Melbourne, and in Ensign Cup matches, were terrific.”

“Rod Lane was a man of few words, but was a fine competitor and captain for many years…..There were few better all-round players than ‘Rocket’.”

“And the inimitable Darren Petersen…….Once he got going the runs came in a hurry. He treated the bowling with a minimum of respect, and was an excitement machine.”

“Of course there were the veterans like Brian Fisher, Gary Lidgerwood and ‘Psycho’ Carroll, and the other stars – Duane Kerwin, Rod Newton, Darren Grant, Paul Miegel, Ian Rundell and Jon Shaw…….”

In fact, whilst glancing through his extensive cricketing records, I come across a couple of teams he selected, comprising the star rep players from his time. He’s at pains to point out that it was purely subjective. Some had almost passed their peak when he arrived on the scene….some made only brief appearances before moving on…..others were just making their way in the game……..

I hope you don’t mind, Rob, if I publish your ‘Representative Teams From 1990-2008’……

TEAM No. 1

Barry Grant.

Darren Petersen.

Paul Broster.

Shane Welch.

Rod Newton.

Darren Grant.

Paul Miegel ( Wicket-Keeper )

Rod Lane.

Duane Kerwin.

Jon Shaw.

Ian Rundell.

Rod Gulliver.

TEAM No. 2.

Anthony Carroll.

Peter Tossol.

Simon Hill.

Joe Wilson.

Luke Norman.

Aiden Ryan.

Glenn Cousins. ( Wicket- Keeper )

Paul Lavis.

Ross Hill.

Gary Lidgerwood.

Brian Fisher.

Adam Booth.

Unlucky to miss: Jeremy Carr, Shane Norman, Craig Henwood. Andrew Wilson, Jon Townsend, Mark Higgs, Ashley Gilbert, Colin Smith, Michael Keenes, Peter Harvey, Andrew Hill, Mark Worthington, Chris Jones, David Diffey, Wayne Newton, Mick Lappin, David Lane.

Footnote: Rob Worthington’s contribution to representative cricket was acknowledged in 2004, when he was installed as a Life Member of the WDCA…..

FAREWELL TO A PAIR OF STAR DEFENDERS…..

The famed hostility between the Magpies and Hawks had just reached its zenith when Bernie Killeen and Bob Atkinson made their way into Ovens and Murray football.

They were to become sterling defenders for their respective clubs.

Killeen, the high-marking , long-kicking left-footer, held down a key position spot for most of his 13 years with Wangaratta. ‘Akky’, wearing the Number 33 of his beloved Wangaratta Rovers was a back flank specialist, uncompromising, hard-hitting and renowned for his clearing dashes upfield.

Both passed away in the past week or so, after lengthy illnesses……………

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Bernie Killeen returned home from St.Patrick’s College Sale in 1956 and walked straight into the Wangaratta side. He was just 17.

Dame Fortune shone upon him, as the Magpies were in the throes of developing a powerful line-up . His form was solid enough to hold his spot in the side and bask in the glory of the ‘57 Grand Final, alongside such experienced team-mates as coach Jack McDonald, Bill Comensoli, Graeme Woods and the veteran ‘Hop’ McCormick.

It was an unforgettable day for Killeen, who was named on a half-forward flank. Wangaratta came from the clouds, thanks to a last-minute goal from champion rover Lance Oswald, to overcome Albury by two points.

This early taste of success would have given Bernie an inkling that that it was to be a forerunner of things to come.

Fate intervened. Four years later, a debilitating knee injury struck him down. He spent most of 1961 on the sidelines, and could only watch on as the ‘Pies scored a huge win over Benalla in the Grand Final.

Killeen fully recovered, and reached his peak in 1963, when was rated among the finest centre half backs in the competition. He took out Wangaratta’s Best & Fairest Award and the Chronicle Trophy, and represented the O & M against South-West League.

Perhaps his most memorable performance came in the 1964 Second Semi-Final, when he was like the Rock of Gibralter in the key defence position, pulling down 19 towering marks against the Rovers. It was a bad-tempered match, with the ‘Pies pulling off an upset, to march into the Grand Final.

A fortnight later, when the teams again tangled, Killeen found himself matched up at the opening bounce by Hawk coach Ken Boyd, whose intent was to niggle, and put the star off his game.

Boyd later moved into defence, but as the match progressed, Bernie found himself continually out of the play. The Rovers’ strategy was obviously to prevent him from ‘cutting them off at the pass’ as he’d done so effectively in the Semi.

Wang fell short by 23 points – the first of three successive heart-breaking Grand Final losses.

Bernie Killeen was a model of consistency over 13 seasons and 226 senior games with Wangaratta. He was installed as a Life Member of the ‘Pies in 1966…………

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As an angry, milling group of players swapped punches in the second quarter of the 1972 Ovens and Murray Grand Final, one of the central figures in the melee slumped to the turf.

His face was splattered in blood……. He tried in vain to resist the efforts of trainers, who were trying to escort him off the ground….. Eventually, sanity prevailed.

It was always going to be Bob Atkinson’s last game in Brown and Gold. But it wasn’t supposed to finish so abruptly ! At least, when he’d gathered his equilibrium after the game, his team-mates consoled him with the news that he’d added a sixth premiership to his collection……………

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‘Akky’ arrived at the City Oval in 1959 – a product of the South Wanderers. If there seemed to be a touch of maturity about the swarthy apprentice Motor Mechanic, it was understandable. During the last of his four years with the Junior League Club he’d already announced his engagement, to Fran, his future wife.

Young footballers of the modern era wouldn’t be so accepting of the patience that he displayed, as it took the best part of five years before he was able to nail down a permanent senior spot.

Maybe it was the proliferation of talent at the Club that saw the youngster deprived of opportunities…… Bob Rose may possibly have felt that he’d developed bad habits that needed rectifying…….like continually trying to dodge and weave around opponents.

Whatever the reason, Rose was unable to tailor a suitable role for him.

After making his senior debut in 1960, he’d played 49 Reserves, and just 26 Senior games.

His rejuvenation came in 1963, when Ken Boyd inherited a side bereft of many of its stars. His challenge to the younger guys was to place their stamp on the Club. In ‘Akky’, he found a player who relished responsibility, and jumped at the opportunity of shutting down dangerous opposition’s forwards.

‘Boydie’ also admired his aggressiveness and spirit. He urged him to attack the ball……..”And if anyone happens to get in your road, just bowl ‘em over,” he said. The re-born back flanker didn’t need too much convincing, and responded by finishing runner-up to Neville Hogan in the B & F.

This ‘Vigilante’ of the backline had some handy sidekicks in ‘Bugs’ Kelly, Lennie Greskie and Norm Bussell who were all football desperadoes.

The Rovers won 15 games straight in 1964, before hitting a road-block. They dropped the next four matches and were seemingly on the road to nowhere. That they were able to recover, and take out the flag was a tribute to Boyd and the character of his players.

They repeated the dose in 1965, again taking down Wangaratta in a tense encounter. The fierce opening of the Grand Final was highlighted by an all-in brawl, which saw a few Magpies nursing tender spots. Twice, in the dying stages, Wang had chances to win the game, but they fell short by three points.

The Hawks remained there or thereabouts for the next three years, including contesting the 1967 Grand Final.

But Bob had an itch to coach, and when lowly King Valley came knocking in 1969, he accepted their offer. The Valley had finished last, with just two wins, the previous season. They’d never won a flag.

‘Akky’s’ arrival coincided with the construction of the Lake William Hovell Project. Several handy recruits landed on their doorstep almost overnight.

It enabled them to sneak into the finals in his first year. But 1970 was to provide Valley supporters with their finest hour.

After thrashing Milawa in the final round, they went to the top of the ladder, but their confidence was eroded when the Demons turned the tables in the Second Semi.

The Valley made no mistake in the Grand Final. It’s handy when you have a full forward like Ray Hooper, who boots 11 of your 14 goals. Hooper, a burly left-footer, was a star, as was his fellow Dam worker Tony Crapper.

‘Akky’ was inspirational, and with the scent of a premiership in his nostrils, drove his players in the last half. His old Rovers team-mate Barry Sullivan also held sway in the ruck, as King Valley stormed to a 34-point victory………

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Bob returned ‘home’ to the Rovers, and lent his experience to a youthful side, under the coaching of Neville Hogan. The following year he was appointed vice-captain.

“It was probably the best thing that happened for his footy at that stage of his career, as he got fully involved,” recalls Hogan. “The discipline he showed provided a great example to our young players.”

One of those was Terry Bartel, who was a fellow car-salesman at West City Autos. ‘Akky’ once recounted the story about Bartel telling him he couldn’t be bothered driving to Yerong Creek to represent the Ovens & Murray in an Inter-League game:

“I’m probably going to be sitting in a forward pocket all day. I don’t reckon the other pricks will give me a run on the ball,” said Bartel.

“You never let anyone down. Jump in that car and get up there,” I told him. “I’d give my left Knacker to play in one of those games. You don’t know how lucky you are.”

“And, you know, the little bastard’s gone up and kicked 9 goals……..”

Bob capped a fine 1971 season by finishing fifth in the B & F and playing a key role in the Rovers’ 19-point premiership victory over Yarrawonga. He’d lost none of his venom, and at a critical part of the game upended Pigeon ruckman, the formidable Jimmy Forsyth.

‘Akky’ lived ‘by the sword’. He knew that retribution might come one day, and when big Jim flattened him twelve months later in his swansong game, the 1972 Grand Final, he accepted that as part of footy.

After such a hesitant start, he’d made a huge impression at the Rovers. He’d played 175 senior games, figured in four senior and one Reserves flag, was a Life Member, and had earned a reputation as one of its finest-ever defenders.

He succumbed to the temptation of coming out of retirement two years later, when he played several games with Tarrawingee.

Finally, though, ‘Akky’ decided it was time to pull the pin……………

A LIFETIME PASSION FOR MOTOR SPORT

Jeff Whitten and his wife Betty are among the first people I run into when I arrive at the cricket each Saturday.

Understandably so….considering that three of their grandsons are an integral part of Rovers-United-Bruck’s A-Grade side. As each of them have grown up with a bat and a shiny red Kookaburra in their hands , I presumed that Jeff was also something of a fanatic.

“Not really,” he says. “I come along to support the boys and their mates, but I’ve never really understood the intricacies of cricket. Motor sport is my passion.”

For as long as he can remember, anything that’s propelled by a Motor has sparked his enthusiasm. It’s even prompted him to write two books, and co-author another, with his son Pete.

That’s a labour of love !… I suggest having a yarn about his involvement in the Sport, but he initially baulks at the prospect……. doesn’t want to be seen as ‘blowing his bags’, he explains. A few days later I’m out at his home, surrounded by a treasure trove of Memorabilia and North-Eastern Car Club scrap-books…………

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As a lad who was drawn to anything relating to cars, Jeff’s interest was obviously piqued by the tales of the characters who abounded in post-war Wangaratta. In that swashbuckling era, risks were taken, and blind eyes turned.

…..Like the time local legend, Bill Higgins, accepted a wager that he could drive his 1922 Bentley Tourer along the Murphy Street footpath, from Callander’s (now the Post Office) to Snadden’s Corner (Hollywood’s). He won the bet, but in the process, was rebuked by the constabulary, with a warning not to attempt similar acts of audacity……

…….What about the celebrated record attempt, undertaken in the late forties by two Wangaratta personalities, Ted Gray and Jack Cox. Here’s a condensed version of the story that Jeff recounts in one of his publications:

A group of men had been chatting in a local hotel when the conversation turned to how fast a car could travel from Wangaratta to Melbourne. Ted Gray drained the last drop of ale from his glass, planted it on the bar and told the small group in a confident tone: “I’ll do it in less than two hours.”

A boast became a bet, and hundreds of pounds changed hands during the next few days. Speculation raged around town. On the day of the attempt Wangaratta’s taxi fleet did a roaring trade, shuttling people to the ‘S’ Bend just south of Glenrowan, for 2 shillings a time. Many spectators thought the Alfa Romeo may fail to negotiate the sharp turn over the railway line. Visions of a wrecked car, hurtling over and over, were probably foremost in the minds of those who were waiting there.

That evening, more than 1,000 people lined Murphy Street as Gray, the Australian Land Speed Record Holder, and his passenger Jack Cox, a Faithfull Street engineer, sat waiting in the Alfa Romeo. The moment the Post Office clock struck 5.30 the Alfa’s engine roared and the pair took off, accompanied by the cheering of the crowd. All along the route, thousands stood in the darkness, shuddering with cold, and expectation.

Telephones ran hot, as people sought updates. In many places the Alfa, with Gray at the wheel, exceeded 110 miles per hour, while Cox hung on for dear life. The car clipped the railing on the sharp bridge over the river at Seymour, but sped on and recorded 112mph over Pretty Sally.

The railway-gate keeper at Tallarook had been bribed, to make sure that he kept the gates open at a certain time.

With misty rain falling, Gray spent much of the trip peering over the top of the windscreen, ensuring he wouldn’t tangle with cars and transports that hadn’t yet turned on their tail-lights. It enabled him to reach Bell Street, Coburg, in record time.

The trip from Bell Street to the Melbourne GPO took six and a quarter minutes. The pair pulled up in front of the Post Office exactly one hour and 59 minutes after leaving Wangaratta.

Jack Cox climbed out of the car, knees still shaking, while Ted Gray acknowledged the cheers of the crowd………..

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A few years later, 10 year-old Jeff Whitten gazed longingly across at the Common, fronting Greta Road. He lived close-handy, in Ryan Avenue, and was following the progress of construction of Wangaratta’s first motor racing-track on the old Aerodrome site.

It was 1953, and the newly-formed North-Eastern Car Club had approached the Council to grade the Airstrip, and carve out a track, which would enable them to conduct car and motor-bike racing.

Jeff’s dad, Bill, was the local Estate Officer, in charge of the construction, upkeep and collection of rentals of the rapidly-expanding Commission Homes in Yarrunga. It was a demanding job, which offered little time for relaxation – certainly not, in his opinion, for mindless pursuits such as watching cars belting around a dusty dirt track.

“So I never got around to attending a Meeting at the old Aerodrome,” Jeff says. “They say it was an interesting course, which could be either very dusty, or – if it rained – very muddy. After four years the Club decided to take up an offer to move out to the Tarrawingee Recreation Reserve.”

By now he was dead-set keen to witness the action, but there was one problem. He was still some time away from getting his licence; meetings were held on Sundays, and his family, being strictly religious, were pedantic in their observance of the Sabbath.

Thus, if he couldn’t pick up a ride, he’d have to jump on his bike and make the seven-mile trek out to Tarra.

And that’s what happened when he excitedly pedalled out to the first meeting, on a sweltering November day in 1957.

He recalled the scenario many years later:

“All roads leading to Tarrawingee were choked with traffic, and volunteers had a difficult job manning the gates, controlling the parking and feeding the hungry hordes…..The crowd exceeded 7,500, but there were many others who slipped in through the hessian-lined fences for free.”

“There was a (then) Australian record 28 races on the day, for sedans, sports cars, and racing cars; a calendar of events previously unheard of. One hundred and forty cars were listed on the program.”

“It was such a huge success that the North Eastern Car Club decided to run two meetings per year. Well-known names like Lex Davidson, Alan Moffatt, Bob Jane, Norm Beechey and Peter Brock subsequently competed on the 2km track, which received approval from driver’s and spectators alike.”

“One of the features became the final race of the day: ‘The Butcher’s Picnic’, when anyone, in any sort of vehicle could enter. For instance, Minis raced against Cooper Jags.”

Jeff’s first car was a Morris Minor Convertible, which he later traded in for a 1957 Morris Minor 1000. He could now make the trip via the Ovens Highway in style.

But, he says, the work required by Club members to maintain the earth and oil-based track, and erect safety barriers and fences, stretched their resources to the limit:

“The continued maintenance of the track meant more working-bees and expenses and a decrease in enthusiasm by members. Sadly, the track succumbed to the inevitable. It couldn’t compete with the new bitumen-sealed tracks like Hume Weir, and, of course Winton, which had opened in 1961……”

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After seven action-packed years, the Tarra circuit eventually bowed out in 1965, and the NECC decided to focus its attention on Rallying and Trials. Jeff joined the Club seven months later.

He’d been reading about Car Trials that the Club was conducting in the area: “I remember sitting in my Morris Minor one Sunday morning, watching as cars in a Trial left Spargo’s Service Station in Parfitt Road. I thought to myself: ‘I’d like to get involved’. “

Soon after, he volunteered to help out on a Control for the North-Eastern Rally. Other controls followed. When he competed in his first event, an Autumn Trial, driving his Mini DeLuxe, he and his navigator, Roger Wood, were able to finish outright Fifth. He was hooked…….

The Club also conducted a series of Trials Schools – short Sunday afternoon navigational exercises which covered 80 to 100 miles.

“They were great events for encouraging beginners, and I was lucky enough in my initial year with the Club, to win the trophy for First Outright Navigator. It was the start of my long association with Trials and Rallying.”

“I was also interested in directing Club Rallies. There are many tales to be told of finding impassable roads, getting bogged regularly and arriving home late at night after getting stuck in the bush.”

“The sixties and seventies were our Golden Years of Rallying. The turning-point came, though, when the Government decreed that we weren’t allowed to enter softwood forests. We used to have a Rally every second week-end back in that era, “ Jeff says.

But the NECC remains strong. Their Headquarters – and Club-House – are still out at Tarrawingee. Membership remains at about 240. Jeff has had four different stints as President. He, Betty and Peter are Life Members of the Club.

Jeff produced ‘From Sump Oil To Dust’, a history of the first 50 years of the North Eastern Car Club, released in 2008. Another publication ‘A Rock and a Hard Place’, details the history of the Barjarg Motor Racing Circuit.

He and Pete, who is equally-besotted with the sport, co-produced ‘How to start Rallying – (An Australian guide to the world’s most spectacular Sport)’.

Jeff Whitten’s 64-year association with one of Australia’s oldest Car Clubs shows no signs of abating. His contribution to Rallying was recognised with an Australia Sports Medal in 2000, and induction to the Australian Rally Hall of Fame in 2015.

Next February, he and Pete will also be presented with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport’s ‘2019 CAMS Service Award (Media) for long-term distinguished service to motor sport.

Just reward for a life-time of devotion…………

'ENIGMATIC CAREY , A STAR OF THE DEPRESSION ERA…'

Wangaratta’s rise to sporting prominence during the Depression era coincided with the flourishing careers of a handful of champions.

Not many of them, though, could match the feats of curly-haired Herbert Wesley Carey, a dynamic footballer, explosive all-round cricketer and enigmatic personality……..

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Carey’s parents transplanted their large family to Wangaratta from Devon Meadows (near Cranbourne) in the late twenties.His dad, Walter. like so many of his generation, had tried his hand at anything; from Gold-Mining, to tobacco-growing, to Carpentry. It was whilst panning for gold that he incurred syenite poisoning in his knee, which left him with a stiff leg for the remainder of his life.

With nine kids ( he and wife Margaret lost another son, Walter Steane, in his infancy ) he found that Building was the most appropriate way to sustain the family. The boys – George, Fred, Bill, Bert and Stan – possessed a variety of skills, but Bert became his principal helper.

The Carey’s would go on to construct many houses in the West End area, including a couple in Steane Street, which was named after the second Christian names of Walter and the baby son they’d lost.

Wangaratta Football Club happened upon a recruiting bonanza when the Carey gang hit town. The five boys all played together at various times. When former Hawthorn player Dermott O’Brien quit as coach mid-way through their first season, 1929, the adaptable Fred was appointed in his place.

One of the key players at his disposal was Bert, who was equally at home whilst on the ball or up forward.

Bert stood 5’10” and weighed 75kg, and had already sampled VFL football, having played five games with Fitzroy. But, at periods over the next nine years, he would prove well-nigh unstoppable in the Black and White guernsey.

He gave Magpie fans an early sample of his brilliance when he booted 13 goals in their 92-point thrashing of Rutherglen.

Bert signalled his cricketing ability in his first WDCA game with newly-formed East Wangaratta, finishing with figures of 5/8 and 6/1 and producing a belligerent innings of 85 against Footballers.

A left-arm bowler of considerable pace, he could swing the ball both ways (sometimes too much) and proved a more than handy batsman in the middle-order. Little wonder, with Bert in the side complementing the redoubtable Fisher brothers, they became a power. After a one-wicket win in the 1928/29 decider, East again took out the flag the following year.

Carey teamed with Brookfield speedsters Ken and Harry Kneebone to form a lethal new-ball combination in representative cricket.

His first Country Week, in 1929, was a raging success. He captured 20 wickets at an average of 5.6, including successive hauls of 7/21 and 5/39. He was to become a cornerstone of the Wangaratta attack, and produced some astonishing performances.

In his best individual effort, in 1933, he snared 6/11, 5/39, 5/24, 4/57 and made an undefeated 40, following this with 4/67 in the Final, which Wangaratta duly won.

His wicket-taking record over nine trips to Melbourne (1929-’37) has never been bettered, and was a factor in Wangaratta’s tally of 21 wins, 4 losses and 7 draws over that period.

In a move which inflamed tensions between the rival clubs, Bert switched from East Wang to Wangaratta in 1933/34, and was able to add another two premierships to his collection, giving him five WDCA flags in total……..

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Carey’s uncanny goal-kicking skills made him a vital part of Wangaratta’s football success. He was averaging in excess of five goals per game in 1930, before he was shut down in a vital clash against West Albury. The ‘Pies lost the game, but he bounced back with hauls of 8 and 11 against Rutherglen and Corowa.

Wangaratta had incurred a financial loss of 275 pounds, after also covering the 50 pound debt of sister club, Rovers. There were concerns about the club’s ability to field two teams, so they decided to affiliate just one side in the Ovens and King League.

They comfortably won the 1931 Grand Final. Carey capped a fine season by kicking his 85th goal – a new O & K record – which was boosted by an incredible 21 goals in one match, out of a team total of 25.32. It still remains the highest individual score by a Wangaratta player.

The’Pies’ second successive O & K flag in ’32 prompted an invitation to return to the Ovens and Murray League. Much to the chagrin of the O & K, who claimed that they were again being ‘used’, Wang duly re-affiliated.

Not only that, they re-asserted their dominance, and were sitting on top of the ladder, unbeaten after five matches.

And they did it without Bert Carey, who had been lured down to Hawthorn. He booted five goals against St.Kilda in the opening VFL round and followed it with another ‘bag’ of five against North Melbourne.

He had 16 goals in six games before advising the Mayblooms that he was returning home to Wangaratta.

This was the icing on the cake for the ‘Pies. But despite finishing atop the ladder, they fell to Border United in the Second Semi Final.

They bounced back in scintillating fashion, booting 20.10 to Corowa’s 8.4 in the Prelim, with the double-pronged forward targets, Len Nolan (10) and Bert Carey (8) having a field-day.

The following week Wangaratta lined up against Border United in the Grand Final. The teams were evenly-matched, but Border took a 16-point lead into the final term.

Nolan, Bill Brown and Carey soon had the opposition defence under pressure, and with two minutes to play, Wang had gone to a seven-point lead. A Border goal lifted the hopes of the favourites, but time ran out and Wangaratta hung on to win a classic by one point.

It was a triumph for the Carey family, as coach Fred (the Morris Medallist) had led from the front and Bert, with three goals, again illustrated what a big-game player he was……

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Controversy seemed to dog Bert Carey, despite his star status as a player. No more so than when he was included in the Wangaratta side late in the 1936 season. He’d been missing for most of the year, having decided to take up umpiring.

Two players, Jim Gorman and Len Irving, refused to play alongside him. He had, they said, taken the place of a team-mate who’d helped the side into the ‘four’.

Wangaratta subsequently reported them to the League. Their argument was that there had been a shortage of players when Carey was selected, and: “he had been ready to go umpiring when asked to play against Rutherglen.”

After a lengthy delegates meeting, Irving and Gorman were disqualified for the remainder of the 1936 season for their refusal to play.

Carey proved more than handy in the ensuing finals series. Wangaratta fell to Rutherglen in the Second semi, but bounced back to kick 18.20 to 11.11 against Wodonga in the Prelim.

The old-timer showed his worth by snagging seven majors, as the Bulldogs found it difficult to counter he and the burly Charlie Heavey up forward.

In another gripping Grand Final, Wangaratta turned the tables on Rutherglen, to take out their third O & M flag. It was a contest of the highest order, as Wang, despite kicking poorly in the final term, held on to win by 20 points.

Bert Carey had just turned 32 when Hawthorn called on him in the early rounds of 1937. Playing in the centre, he proved his class in four games. But injuries prevailed, and mid-way through the season he again returned to Wangaratta.

This was to be his swansong. After a handful of games the career of Bert Carey was over. He had played 104 games and booted 423 goals for the ‘Pies……