‘AND NOW, THE TIME HAS COME…..’

It’s the pinnacle of the season tomorrow; the culmination of a year’s hard work………

The WDCA Grand Final has provided a catalogue of upsets, controversies, brilliant performances, dramatic collapses and – dare I say it – rain interruptions.

My memories hark back to the fifties, when Dad and his brothers left you in no doubt they were playing for ‘sheep stations’, as they prepared for the ‘Big One’….. But for decades before that, tempers flared and emotions boiled when rivals fought for the flag.

Here is a selection of  games that fostered a tradition which has spanned 123 years…….

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1896/97 : Wangaratta v Exelsior.

“……At 9/68 on the first day, these were anything but cheering figures that greeted the Wangaratta skipper, as he strode out to join McCallum, in one of the most eventful partnerships ever seen on the Wangaratta ground.

He had a ‘grim smile’ and one of the onlookers remarked…..”what if the last two were to make a century ?”

The batsmen played with verve and judgement. Clarke was content to play a steady game, but Mac hit ‘bloomin hard’ and ‘ bloomin often’.

Hickey came on and clean-bowled McCallum and the innings closed for 137.

Exelsior’s reply began well the following week, but soon they slumped. Their hopes were revived by Joe Bath, as they edged ever closer to the Wangaratta total.

But Joe had the unpleasant experience of having his wicket put down by the Wang keeper.

He played a splendid and plucky innings – never giving a chance. He was very knocked about, but had the consolation of knowing that he received his wounds and spilt his blood in a most stubborn fight.

The ray of light that had started to glow in the breast of Wangaratta now burst into the sunshine of splendid victory as Jimmy Tough, the last man in, knocked the ball into Len Docker’s hands.IMG_4021

While the ball was in the air, even the boldest held their breath, but when its career was stopped, the Wang supporters manifested their delight in no uncertain terms……”

Wangaratta 137 defeated Exelsior 130…..

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1928/29 : Wangaratta v East Wangaratta.

“Scarcely in the history of the WDCA have there been two stauncher rivals than the Grand Final combatants, who met at Oxley.

Wangaratta managed 136, with their premier batsman Alec Fraser registering 36, to be the main obstacle to the much-vaunted East Wang pace attack.

East gained a slender advantage by posting 158. Clem Fisher was his usual obstinate self in an innings of control, but it was the slow bowler Tom Nolan, with 8/48, who took the honours for Wangaratta.

Wang could manage only 99 in their second innings, after Harry Fisher had taken 6/5. So East needed 79 to take out the premiership.IMG_4022

They still needed 9 runs when last pair Cliff Pratt and Bill McCormick were at the crease.

Easts supporters urged them along all the way, as they inched their way to a famous win…..”

East Wangaratta 158 and 9/79 defeated Wangaratta 136 and 99.

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1933/34: Footballers v. Wangaratta.

“It was a most riveting game, dominated by the slow bowlers.

Wangaratta’s score of 87 saw them take a 1-run advantage over Footballers, who wouldn’t have reached their total of 86, but for a fine contribution from Arch Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s 7/44 wrecked Wangaratta’s second innings, but they reached 97.

Footballers, having given themselves a definite chance of taking the honours, were then bundled out for 65.

Don Young did the damage. He bowled remarkably well, flighting and turning the ball in a manner that made him nigh unplayable. Young finished with 6/29…..”

Wangaratta 87 and 97 defeated Footballers 86 and 65.

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1935/36: Footballers v. Eldorado.

“This was one of the most memorable of all Grand Finals, principally for the numerous batting records which were created along the way.

On the first day, Arch Wilkinson and Bernie Izard put on 245 for the first wicket. Resuming on Day 2, Charlie Heavey and Frank Archman carried on the awesome performance, and added 287 for the third wicket.IMG_0828

The score at the end of the day was 8/634.

The first four batsmen scored centuries or over: Izard 100, Wilkinson 154, Heavey 187 and Archman 112.

Eldorado were to be congratulated for the wonderful way they stuck to their task.

Footballers declared after two days batting and Eldorado set out on their Herculean task. Several batsmen got a start, but the lower order failed badly and they were all out for 126.

In their second innings, Eldorado had compiled 5/196 when play was mercifully concluded……”

Footballers 8/634 defeated Eldorado 126 and 5/196.

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1957/58: Magpies v Bruck.

“The week preceding the Grand Final was chock-full of drama.

Magpies, in their third year in the competition, had staged a withering run after the Christmas break,  sneaking into the four at the death-knock, at the expense of unlucky Moyhu Gold.

They defeated Rovers Brown in a fiery semi-final clash, which saw three of their players – Jack McDonald, Peter Larkins and captain John Holloway – reported by umpire Bill Daly, for disputing an LBW decision against Graham Kerr.

All of them escaped with a reprimand, and were able to take their place in the Grand Final.

Bruck, led by Mac Holten, were the favourites going into the game, and they battled hard to contain Magpies to a score of 170. Jack Isles, with a handy 32, was the main thorn in Bruck’s side.

Bruck were always in contention, but were unable to gain the upper hand against some superb bowling from Jack McDonald, who finished with 8/67.

Bruck, at stages appeared to be on the verge of victory, but fell agonisingly short, by six runs……”

Magpies 170 defeated Bruck 164.

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1959/60: Rovers v Bruck

“Chasing their second successive flag, Rovers pacemen Jim Horne and Jim Chapman cut a swathe through the Bruck batting line-up to dismiss them for a paltry 90.

The swing of Horne (4/36) and the fire of Chapman (3/30) had given the Hawks the ascendency, but Bruck hit back well to have Rovers 5/14 at one stage, then 6/64 at stumps on the first day.

Jack Beeby (7/45) was the wrecker, as Rovers limped to a four-run lead, thanks to a lone hand of 50 from Len Hill.

Bruck were sailing along well, at 5/106 in the second ‘dig’, but collapsed dramatically to be all out for 115.

Chapman, Len Hill and Bob Rose shared the spoils for the Hawks.

Rovers had some anxious moments in pursuit of 113, and slumped to 5/74.

On a wicket which was affected by overnight rain, the feature of the day was the batting display of Fred Booth, who was 31* when Rovers claimed victory. It was only in the last hour that the Hawks put the match beyond doubt………”img_4025.jpg

Rovers 94 and 6/114 defeated Bruck 90 and 115.

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1986/87: City Colts v Corowa.

“Corowa made history by reaching their first WDCA Final.

And although they were given a hammering by City Colts, local fans were soon to become used to the Border team winning their way through to the Grand Final.

Corowa could only muster 141, as Maurie Braden and Mick Lappin did the damage. Colts, who were also relative newcomers to the finals stage, gave themselves a fair chance. But this was one game where their batting line-up rose to the occasion.

Led by teen-ager Scott Clayton (146*), they amassed a huge 414, with Maurie Braden (97), Russell Harris (76) and John Hill (32) joining the action.

Rod Lane, who was to join Carlton the following season, toiled manfully to finish with 6/100……..”IMG_4026

City Colts 414 defeated Corowa 141.

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2001/02: Wangaratta-Magpies v Rovers-United.

“One of the great WDCA Grand Finals went right down to the wire, in a low-scoring encounter.

Magpie star Duane Kerwin held his side’s innings together with a fine undefeated 73, to guide them to a respectable total of 151 after they had slumped to 5/55. Hawk speedmen Adam Booth, Peter Harvey and Trevor Anderson shared the bowling honours with three wickets apiece.

Rovers-United, 2/18 overnight, had slumped to 4/24 the next morning. Dogged right-hand opener Anthony Lawler then stepped up and proved the unlikely hero for the Hawks.

Recalled to the side after the unavailability of Peter Tossol, Lawler’s 61 was an innings of patience and defiance.

Even so, the Hawks still needed 12 runs for victory when the last pair, Peter Harvey and Adam Booth came together.IMG_4027

It was Harvey who hit the winning runs to take Rovers-United to a dramatic victory, despite the lion-hearted effort of ‘Pies quickie Tim Sheldon, who finished with 6/34……..”

Rovers-United 9/153 defeated Wangaratta-Magpies 151.

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2011/12: City Colts v Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

“City Colts suffered Grand Final pain for the 4th consecutive year, after losing a nail-biting clash with Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

The Lakers caused one of the upsets of the season, at the most appropriate time, with a Marcus Hargreaves spell on the opening day proving the catalyst to their four-wicket win.

Hargreaves took 5/47 in a 24-over spell, to help restrict Colts to 177 off 75 overs. Colts flew away to a good start, with openers Jeremy Carr and Nick Norris crafting a 40-run stand. It was left to veterans Scott Clayton and Justin Solimo to steady the ship, but the going was slow.

Luckily, the tail wagged, to push the score to 177.

In reply, the Lakers also found difficulty in breaking the shackles, but Daniel Athanitis (33), Lee Fraser (34) and Dwayne Duxson kept them within reach of a competitive total.

But they still needed 33 off 8 overs when Fraser was dismissed, and youngster Paddy Martin strode to the crease.IMG_4029

Whereas the batting over the two days had been circumspect, Martin cleared the field with some excellent hitting. Nineteen balls later, the game was over. Martin’s quickfire 26 and Duxson’s dogged, unbeaten 39 had taken the Lakers to their first WDCA flag……”

Yarrawonga-Mulwala 6/179 defeated City Colts 177

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2018/19: City Colts v Yarrawonga-Magpies.

“Who will write the next chapter in the WDCA Grand Final story……?”

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“THE FIXER…………”

It’s nudging 3am when nature calls after a hectic Boxing Day.

An eery tranquility  pervades the air , but as I grope and stumble down the pitch-black hallway on this routine visit to the ‘throne’, there’s plenty happening outside. I detect loud voices and laughter. The ‘stragglers’ of a 40th Birthday party are in vintage form………

There’s Pooch, Tav, Rolls, Jack, Juice, Lloyder, Andy, Dougy, Roscoe, Rourkey, Fixer and a few others. They’ve turned the clock back twenty-plus years , to document scarcely-believable stories of their youth.

I just manage to pick up the one about ‘Juice’, whose forgettable career as a student concluded one mid-term, when he announced to his class-mates: “F….. it, I’ve had this joint.” He climbed out the window of the Year-11 classroom and never again darkened the doors of Galen College.

He was hell-bent on becoming a truckie, like his old man, and still reckons he’s at peace with the world when he’s behind the wheel of a Heavy-Rigid Transport. Occasionally he  reflects on the  good old days when, for a time, he was a demon quickie and a long-striding left-footer in the Brown and Gold.

Funny, all of the revellers went through the Rovers Thirds, yet their careers diverged. A couple became stars, one travelled the world plying his trade as a Farrier. Some, such as ‘Fixer’, succumbed to football  wanderlust…………
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‘Fixer’ doesn’t recall the last time he stayed at our humble abode. Moira was up and about early one Sunday when she spotted a pair of legs poking out the door of our White Toyota Bus, parked in the Carport.

On closer inspection, the body was comatose, but at least, still breathing. She let him be. Turns out ‘Fixer’ had lost his way during the night and ‘camped’ in the most convenient place he could find.
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There are a few theories as to how Rohan Graham came to inherit his nickname.

The most plausible is that he wrote to the Brisbane Courier-Mail’s ‘Agony-Aunt’- type columnist, ‘The Fixer’, detailing how a callous taxi-driver had driven off with his wallet. The episode had, he said, left him virtually penniless.

Sympathetic to his demise, ‘The Fixer’ contacted the taxi company, which sent him $250 to tide him over.

Not a bad result, joked a few of his mates, who reckoned he probably ‘did a runner’ on the taxi-driver !
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I caught up with a fair portion of ‘Ro’s’ early footy. Firstly with Tigers, the Murray Bushrangers, and occasionally, the Rovers Thirds. He was strong, versatile and possessive of a handy skill-set.

And his out-going personality provided a healthy balance to the many introverts that junior coaches find so difficult to prise out of their shells.

In short, he was a talent. Good enough, in fact, to represent Vic.Country in successive Under-18 Teal Cups, alongside future AFL stars Nathan Brown, Steve King, Adam Houlihan and Michael Braun.

He was vice-captain at the second Carnival, and, I suggest, his name must surely have been mentioned in draft discussions.

“Nah,” he says. “I was realistic enough to know that I was an inch too small and a yard too slow.”

Three or four clubs spoke to him, but that’s about it, he added. He and fellow Bushie Mark Goodey hastened to talk down their prospects to enquiring friends. There was plenty of excitement at the High School , though, as there were a couple of other boys also in contention, come Draft Day.

He winces now when he reflects on the prank he and ‘Goodser’ played on one lad, who had been letting a few kids know that he was a fair chance of being drafted.

They popped down to a Public Phone box and ‘Ro’, doing his best impersonation of a Melbourne official, rang the High, asking to speak to one of their pupils (let’s call him ‘Smithy’).

“He’s not available at the moment. Is there any message ?”

“I’ll ring back later, but would you mind telling him that he’s been drafted by the Melbourne Football Club.”

The pair arrived back at school just in time to hear the announcement over the P.A system, of ‘Smithy’s’ good fortune, and how proud the school was of his achievement.

‘Smithy’ was being swamped with young well-wishers when they spotted him. ‘Ro’s’ not too sure whether he ever overcame the disappointment of being ‘skewered’, but thinks he would have eventually narrowed down the two culprits.
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Rohan was invited to do a pre-season with Footscray, then found his way to Williamstown, where he impressed coach Mervyn Keane. But a succession of niggling injuries only allowed him to figure in a handful of games.

So half-way through the 1997 season, he landed back home. He had made his senior debut with the Hawks the previous September, when he was surprisingly slotted into the Preliminary Final side.

“I thought at the time: How good’s this ? First game a Prelim. Maybe a flag in my second ?,” he says.

But it wasn’t to be. The Hawks led by three points at half-time, but were blown away by Albury, who kicked nine goals to nil in the third, and went on to win by 34 points.

He produced some terrific form in the latter parts of 1997, and was a star in ‘98. A young Hawk side, against the odds, battled their way into the finals, only to go down by seven points, to Albury in a riveting First-Semi.

That night, after several consoling drinks, a few of the boys discovered, to their consternation, that the pub was closing at 10pm. No surprise there……. It was Sunday night, after all.

So they jumped into a car that a mate had so graciously loaned them, and headed to Crown Casino for a few hours, arriving home in time for Mad Monday. “Thank goodness we made it back. We thought at one stage, someone had knocked the car off from Crown. It’s just that we couldn’t remember what colour it was,” Rohan says.
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It was time to spread his wings, he thought, so he embarked on a trip to Brisbane, and signed with powerhouse club, Morningside.

The Surfer’s Paradise Demons were his next stop, followed by the Beenleigh Buffaloes, a club which was also home to former Hawks’ Robbie Panozzo and Brett Saunders, and another ex- Thirds player, Pete Rourke.

Out of the blue one year, came  a coaching offer from Sydney AFL club, East Coast Eagles. It was a plum appointment for a lad still in his late 20’s.

“I loved the challenge of coaching, particularly on match-day,” Rohan says. “The tactical side of things turns me on. I probably don’t get as excited about the rest of the coaching package.”

In his three seasons at the helm, the highlight obviously came in 2006, when East Coast went through the home-and-away rounds undefeated, and convincingly won the major Semi-Final.

It had been the driest Sydney year on record, but the drought broke on Grand Final day, with conditions at Sydney’s Henson Park more suited to water-polo than football.

Pennant Hills kicked 5.20 to defeat the Eagles – 7.6 – by two points.

“It was a shocker of a day. We were just overwhelmed by the conditions,” Rohan recalls.

He coached Eastern Suburbs/ UNSW Reserves for a season, during which he also took charge of a Sydney FL rep team which defeated Canberra. (“First time we’d beaten ’em for 128 years, they told me”).

But after coaching for  two years at another SAFL club, North Shore, he decided it was time to change tack and think about his future. He re-located to Melbourne.

His last season as a player was spent with Strathmore, in the Essendon Football League, which boasts more than its fair share of ex-AFL imports.

Rohan crossed paths with a few of them that year, with positive results.

“I was switched to full back one day, to try and curtail Simon Minton-Connell, the former Swan and Bulldog, who was doing plenty of damage against us. He’d already booted 8 by half-way through the second quarter. I managed to keep him to another six for the day. Not a bad effort, I thought.”

“When we shook hands after the game, I said: ‘You’d have probably kicked a few more if you could mark overhead.”

“ ‘I dunno, mate. I’m pretty happy with my 14’, he said. “

Rohan coached Strathmore Thirds after he’d hung up his boots, then worked on the recruiting staff at his beloved Melbourne for three years. He’s highly regarded by the Demons, who would have liked him to continue.

But he thought he’d better start devoting a bit more time to the family – wife Anna and baby Ava. And besides, things are busy in his job with a Road Construction firm.

There’s no doubt about ‘The Fixer’. He can keep you entertained for hours with his endless endless repertoire of  stories from a varied sporting life………….

‘PETER HARVEY…………AND THAT IMAGINARY WHITE LINE……’

For such a convivial bloke, the darker side of Peter Harvey had a habit of manifesting itself on the sporting field.

Over-officious umpires, ‘arsey’ batsmen, unsympathetic wickets and clumsy fieldsmen often felt the ire of this left-arm paceman, whose volcanic outbursts could enliven the dullest of Saturday afternoons.

He’s always maintained a glass half-full approach to life, has ‘Harv’, but once he crossed that white line, he tended to believe that the sporting gods were conspiring against him.

And while we’re on the subject of his grudges, don’t even mention footy selectors. Those hardhearted bastards deprived him of a spot in three Premiership sides………

Team-mates and opponents alike have a favourite yarn about ‘Harv’. He even tells a few against himself………..Like the time he was spending a cricket season on the tiny island of Jersey – just off the English coast:

He was enduring another one of those ‘nearly’ days; as the ball regularly just whistled past the outside edge of the bat. The lucky batsman was a veteran, Colin Graham, reputedly the best and fastest bowler that the island has produced.

“I was having a bit of a sook and ruing my misfortune, as he kept playing and missing. Then I got one through him and rattled the stumps. He stood at the crease for a few seconds and stared me down: ‘That’s what happens when you pitch the fooken thing up, lad.’………“

‘Harv’ inherited his sporting genes from his dad Bill, who was a handy footballer and basketballer.

Nowadays the old fellah shows poultry, with quite a deal of success. I noticed Bill at one of their events earlier this year. The exhibitors were mingling socially, thermos flasks and picnic lunches laid out, whilst the freshly washed and manicured birds clucked in the background.

I couldn’t help thinking that there’d be no hope of ‘Harv’ following down Bill’s path. If one of the chooks was getting cantankerous he’d just as likely wring it’s neck !…………..
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Even though it’s years since I’ve seen him bowl, the vision of his approach to the crease is still firmly implanted in my mind. He would have carefully measured out his 20-metre run-up, tinkered pedantically with some minor field adjustments, and methodically worked up a shine on the Kookaburra, on his superbly-tailored creams.

At a stretch, you’d call it a rhythmic approach. His left-arm pumped furiously and there was a skip in his final delivery stride; his eyeballs focused on their target from behind a technically-perfect, uplifted right arm………

It had been the same, really, from the first time young Pete began wheeling them down as a 12 year-old for United in the WDCA’s Under 16 competition.

His ambition had been to play senior WDCA cricket and O & M footy for the Rovers – and that’s what eventually happened.

In the meantime, like all kids who show promise, there had been oodles of opportunities to refine his obvious talent. Every summer week-end was consumed by cricket – WDCA games on Saturday, the Social competition, North-East Colts or other rep fixtures on Sundays.

‘Harv’s’ first full senior WDCA season in 1985/86 had been promising enough. After a few tidy hauls, he got to open the bowling in the Final against Rovers – a match which gave him a fair indication that cricket’s not all bells and whistles.

United lost the toss, and Rovers piled up a mammoth 414, to virtually seal the game. The youngster contributed a wicket-less 23 overs, and his opening partner Graeme McMillan a marathon 45 of the 143 overs that United sent down.

Two seasons later, he was representing the North-East in a State-wide Under 21 competition when, over several post-match drinks, a plan was hatched to play some cricket in England.

“Rod Barton, Scott Kay and Andrew Killeen from Albury, were also playing in that side, and we decided to head over some time in the future,” he recalls.

‘Harv’ had broken into the Rovers senior footy side earlier that year, and was a handy contributor up forward. Most of the players were of his vintage, and shared a unique spirit, as they shaped more and more like premiership contenders.

When the Grand Final side was named, he was squeezed out. The Hawks ran away from Lavington to clinch the ‘88 flag. For ‘Harv’, it still remains his greatest disappointment in sport. ( “Come to think of it”, he says,” being named as an emergency in the 1993 and ‘94 Grand Finals runs pretty close.” )

A few months later, at Bendigo Country Week, in mid-January 1989, a seemingly innocuous error of judgement brought down the full force of officialdom upon Pete and his team-mate Scott Clayton.

I’ll let him take up the story : “……..We were ‘winding down’, late one night, as exhuberant youngsters do, when we unhinged a fire-extinguisher off the wall of the motel-room.

One of the boys,’Chewy’ Brezac, was sleeping peacefully and we thought we’d wake him up by giving him a little squirt……”

“We didn’t realise you couldn’t turn the thing off automatically, no matter how hard we tried. There was foam everywhere – on beds, walls, ceiling, bathroom, toilet…… “

“The Motel Manager was aghast at the damage we caused. So were we. The situation became worse when the media got hold of it. ‘Country Calamity – Axe May Fall’, was the headline in one paper.”

“The WDCA was threatened with expulsion; we were made to look lower than a snake’s belly….……..I’ve treated fire extinguishers with suspicion ever since……”

Stern correspondence was still being relayed between the Bendigo and Wangaratta Associations when he flew off to England to play for Huddersfield League club, Paddock.

He relished the opportunity to have up to four games a week if he desired. It proved a marvellous experience, highlighted by plenty of wickets, laughs and refreshments.

Despite an offer to try out with the 2nd XI of County club Sussex, Pete decided to base himself in Greece and tour Europe the following season. He did intend to spend some time playing in Denmark, but instead, after a break, landed in the delightful tax-free haven of Jersey.

He twigged immediately, he says, that he was in for a good time when he was handed his cap on the eve of his debut. The club’s crest depicted a Pint of beer leaning against a Palm Tree……….
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In his absence, his old club, United, had merged with their arch rivals, Rovers. They’d fallen short in recent times, but consoled themselves that: “ All will be well soon. ‘Harv’s’ coming back.”

He took no time to settle back into life at the City Oval. Rovers-United were developing a good young side and he was skipper – and the leader of their attack – when they took out successive flags in 1995/96 and ‘96/97.

There was little doubt that he was a much better bowler after his European Odyssey, as he emphasised by performing well on a couple of Melbourne Country Week trips.

‘Harv’ reckons he was playing his best season of football in 1994. A broken thumb stalled it though, and by the time he was fit again, the Rovers line-up was settled. He had to watch from  he sidelines, as the Hawks completed their unbeaten season.

There was some consolation three years later, when, along with a few old Rovers mates, he shared in North Wangaratta’s 1997 O & K win over Greta.

Undeniably, his favourite cricket moment came in a tense WDCA Final against Wang-Magpies in 2001/02. He had taken 3/33 (giving him 44 wickets for the season) to limit the Pies to 151. But the Hawks proceeded to lose wickets at regular intervals.

They were 9/140 when ‘Harv’ was joined by his opening bowling partner Adam Booth. Amidst high drama, the pair scrounged the runs to secure a memorable victory.

He continued to rack up the wickets – totalling 509 in his 22-year A-Grade career – until a torn hamstring, incurred whilst ten-pin bowling with his kids, brought about his ultimate demise.

On the footy front, he coached the Rovers Reserves for two years, was an assistant with the Thirds for three, and  helped run the bench out at Greta for several years.

‘Harv’ loves reminiscing. Tall stories flow and laughter permeates when he gets together with old team-mates.

And he’s always the butt of plenty of ‘piss-taking’ from blokes who’ve taken their fair share from him, and want to ensure that he doesn’t get too far ahead of himself…….