‘A CHAMP OF FOOTBALL’S GOLDEN ERA……’

Fifty-nine years after he last graced the Albury Sportsground, Jack Jones is still a revered figure at Tigerland.

He’s remembered for the part he played in a Golden Era of Ovens and Murray football …..when VFL champions in their prime, were lured by attractive financial packages and the opportunity to coach in the best country competition in the land.

Billy Stephen vacated the job as Fitzroy’s playing-coach to take over at Yarrawonga;  Bobby Rose (“Mr.Football”) rejected a rich offer from East Perth, preferring instead to throw in his lot with Wangaratta Rovers. His Collingwood team-mate Des Healey headed to Wodonga; Sturt’s dual Magarey Medallist and All-Australian, Len Fitzgerald opted to take charge at Benalla. The brilliant Jimmy Deane, also a dual winner of the Magarey, shocked South Adelaide when he moved to Myrtleford…………

And Jones, who had been a key figure in a decade of Essendon dominance, was persuaded to ‘pull up stumps’ in the big smoke and bring his growing family to the relative serenity of Albury.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

You may have heard the yarn about Jack passing through Albury one week-end late in 1954. As they hunted around for somewhere to prop for the night, he noticed a vacancy at a small  Bed & Breakfast, and suggested to his wife Mary that it might might suit them.

“It belonged to Jack Adams, who was tied up with the Albury Football Club, and recognised me straight away. Instead of staying at the B & B, he invited us to share the hospitality of  his family home.”

“The conversation naturally turned to footy, and Jack happened to mention that there was a coaching position available.”

A couple of weeks later, back home in Melbourne, he received a deputation from a couple of Albury officials. He’d already been approached by Moe, but, thanks to the contact he’d had with Jack Adams, was leaning towards Albury.

“I’d been getting the standard rate for a League player, which was, if I remember rightly, 8 quid a game. The Tigers’ offered 25 pounds per week.”

“I decided to take the job on.”…………….

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Jack Jones was just eight when he tagged along with his dad, a fervent Essendon supporter, to watch Dick Reynolds make his debut against Footscray in 1934.

The dream of wearing the Red and Black was, if not already embedded in the youngster’s psyche, re-inforced from that moment on.

He played his junior footy with Ascot Vale CYMS. Perfectly-built and with plenty of pace for a lad who was a touch over 6 foot, the next step would naturally have been to Windy Hill.

But at 19 he was called up to serve in the Army, and was to spend the next 22 months exposed to the atrocities of World War II, in the jungles of New Guinea and Bougainville.

“It was outrageous, the war,” he once said. “No-one wins a bloody war. “ Of his company, 91 were killed, 197 wounded. “I was just lucky. The bullet or shrapnel just didn’t have my name on it.”

Jack had to wait another four months for a boat to take him home after peace had been declared.

He walked straight into Essendon’s senior line-up in 1946 and was never dropped. Versatility was his greatest asset.

In the early days he’d line up on a forward flank, then take an occasional ‘chop-out’ in the ruck. But he could be swung into key positions and shine with his high marking and long kicking. And with his pace, he was even used on a wing.

So the dream that began to form all those years ago, came to fruition when he ran out behind his coach, hero and triple Brownlow Medallist Dick Reynolds, in the 1946 Grand Final.

Jack was a reserve in that Premiership side, but was in the familiar role of centre half forward when Carlton’s Brownlow Medallist Bert Deacon picked him up in the 1947 decider.

The Bombers had 30 shots to the Blues’ 21, and were pipped by a point.

Essendon famously kicked 7.27 in the 1948 Grand Final, to dramatically tie with Melbourne (10.9). Spearhead Bill Brittingham, with 2.12, shouldered some of the blame for their woeful inaccuracy, but the Bombers just couldn’t find the big sticks.

The Demons comfortably won the replay.

Jack had a front row seat to the ‘John Coleman Show’ for the next few years. The arrival of the champion full forward put the icing on the cake, as the brilliant Bombers clinched the 1949 and ‘50 flags. And his absence, through suspension, for the ‘51 Grand Final, is blamed for their 11-point loss to Geelong.

After 175 games  (133 of those consecutive), Jack Jones pulled down the curtain on his storied VFL career at the end of the 1954 season. He’d played in seven Grand Finals, for three flags, was adjudged Essendon’s best utility player in 1946, ‘47, ‘49 and ‘54, and the Best Clubman of 1953.

He had, one report said ‘….thrilled supporters with his marking and  open play on the half forward line, and had been one of the fastest big men in the game, as well as taking a fair share of the ruckwork………..’

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Jack shifted his family to Albury early in 1955, and landed a job at Rupert Hines’ Butchery, opposite the Albion Hotel.

The Tigers, under their new leader (wearing the number 24 that he’d made famous at Essendon, and the number of his army battalion) were tipped to be the big improvers. But after a solid opening-round win, they dropped their next five matches, to be in dire straits.

“I’d been playing at centre half back, but the selectors suggested I shift to centre half forward,” Jack recalls. “It was one of the moves that worked. We won 10 of the next 12 games.”

“We needed to win the last game and rely on another couple of results going our way to sneak into the finals, but it wasn’t to be.”  ( Albury belted eventual runners-up, Wangaratta by 65 points, yet finished outside the ‘four’, with a percentage of 146.3, by far the best in the competition.)

“We had a very good side. I reckon we could have won it had we got in,” he says.

But there were to be no hiccups the following year. They lost just two games, en route to dismantling North Albury in both the second-semi and Grand Final.

It was a side that contained stars of the calibre of Lance Mann (who’d returned from Essendon), Dr.John Stoney ( a Bendigo 10,000 winner), ex-State rep Jimmy Robison, Leon Pain, Keith Thomas, and big ruckmen Barry Takle and John Ziebarth.

At 18, David Tighe was in his football infancy, and lined up on the flank, alongside Jones. He witnessed at first-hand the influence that he could have on a game.

“He was a prolific mark – nearly unbeatable in the air up here. I saw Jack mark six consecutive kick-outs from Neil Currie (the long-kicking Myrtleford full back), one day. He sent each one of them over his head. I think he ended up with seven goals for the game.”

“Jack was not only a big playing influence . He was a great leader; an outstanding  person,” David recalls.

Jones saved some of his finest football for the big occasions, and was the Tigers’ best in the two lead-up finals which preceded their 1957 Grand Final clash with Wangaratta.

It was a flag they should have won. Leading by 27 points at three quarter-time, the margin had been whittled down to less than a kick with a minute remaining.

“The fellah we had tagging Lance Oswald had done a great job – had kept him to three kicks for the day. Suddenly Oswald broke free and bobbed up in the pocket. He’s snapped the winning goal in the dying seconds,” Jack recalls.

Jones’s four goals in the Grand Final gave him 59 for the year. He followed up with another 49 in 1958, also finishing fifth in the Morris Medal. The season finished in disappointment, however, when Albury lost a gripping, sodden Prelim Final to Wodonga by four points.

He suffered a broken jaw mid-way through his final season with the Tigers (1959). “I wanted to get back out on the ground after a couple of weeks, but (Dr.John) Stoney wouldn’t have a bar of it, “ he says.

Jack had played 75 games and booted 171 goals in his five seasons at Albury. He played in O & M Country Championship-winning teams of 1955 and ’57.

He coached Kergunyah in 1960, then joined the Albury Umpires Board for a couple of years, before he and Mary and their growing family returned to Melbourne.

He spent 35 years with Gilbertson’s Meats, managing and doing financial planning for some of their 85 shops. That, and raising their six kids – Lynne, Peter, Brian, Tony, John and Anne-Marie – kept Jack and Mary busy.

Sons Tony and John both made an impact in football. John’s a member of the VAFA Hall of Fame, captained the Vic Amateurs and he and Tony also represented the VCFL in rep fixtures.

Jack, of course, became a familiar figure at Windy Hill during his retirement years, conducting guided tours for supporters and acting as an Ambassador for the Club.

He doesn’t do so much of that now. After all, he turned 93 on Cup Day last year, but he still attends all of the Bombers’ matches in Melbourne. And he wouldn’t dream of missing an Anzac Day march, to honour his fallen, and long departed Army comrades.

He and Mary celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last week, and were doted on by their 11 grandkids and 6 (soon to be 8) great-grandkids.

Colin Joss, he says, offered to fly him up for an Albury function a couple of years ago, but it clashed with something he’d been helping out with at Essendon.

“Albury still holds a special place in my heart,” says this  Tiger Team of the Century captain, Bomber Hall of Famer and true Legend of the game…………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL………’

You’ve heard the story about the kid who used to plonk a rubbish-bin in a forward pocket at the Showgrounds. He’d drill 70 or 80 kicks at it, then drag it over to the other pocket and repeat the exercise.

Became a triple Geelong Premiership hero,  Norm Smith Medallist and media darling. They dubbed him ‘Stevie J’.

………. And the larrikin with loads of talent and spunk. North Melbourne officials lobbed at Myrtleford’s McNamara Reserve one night, whisked him off the training track and named him in their side the following Saturday.

Lou Richards was a fan and handed him a moniker that stuck. From then on he was ‘Slammin’ Sam’ Kekovich.

…………Sam played in the ‘Roos’ first Premiership with a hulking fellah from Tarrawingee, who made his name at the Wangaratta Rovers.  North’s talent scouts came up to a Grand Final to cast an eye over another lad- Johnny Byrne –  but were so impressed with the ruckwork of Michael Nolan that they signed the pair of them.

‘The Galloping Gasometer’ was to become a VFL cult hero.

………….Richmond recruiters took an immediate shine to Doug Strang when they saw him playing for East Albury in 1930. They thought they may as well invite his likely-looking brother Gordon down as well. In just his second game Doug kicked a lazy 14 goals and Gordon (‘Cocker’) dominated at the other end.

They figured in the Tigers’ Premiership victory the following year, alongside another O & M champ Maurie Hunter, who was by now a star of the game.

…………..A tall, blonde lad from Corowa-Rutherglen was just 16 when he booted 12 goals against Myrtleford in 1987. He was destined for the top, the experts proclaimed.

John Longmire had a striking physique, athleticism and an attitude beyond his tender years. Three seasons after his O & M debut he won the Coleman Medal and North Melbourne’s best and fairest. Subsequent coaching success with Sydney has added further lustre to ‘Horse’s’ burgeoning  resume’.

………….Fitzroy lured a star forward from Albury in the mid-thirties. Exasperated by his wayward kicking, they experimented with him at centre half back. Such was his dominance in the new position that Denis ‘Dinny’ Ryan took out the 1936 Brownlow Medal…………..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

It’s O & M  Hall of Fame time. Since its introduction in 2005 more than 60 champions have been duly honoured.

But who is the greatest home-grown product of them all ?

I’ve touched on a few, but the list of stars is as long as your arm. For argument’s sake, I’ll throw in a few more of the 350-odd who have ventured to the ‘big time’………Lance Oswald, Bert Mills, Don Ross, Daniel Cross, Percy ‘Oily’ Rowe, Fred Hiskins, Brett Kirk, Joel Smith, Daniel Bradshaw, Dennis Carroll, Fraser Gehrig, Dinny Kelleher, Ben Matthews, Lance Mann, Les (Salty) Parish, Norm Bussell and Jimmy Sandral.

And some, like Robbie Walker, Stan Sargeant, Brian Gilchrist,  Neville Hogan, ‘Curly’ Hanlon and Dennis Sandral  didn’t find the urge to leave home, yet are right up there when the experts compile a list of the ‘Best from the Bush’……….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

But there’ll be no argument about the Best-Ever.

Haydn Bunton won Brownlow Medals in his first and second years at Fitzroy – and  another, three years later.  Scribes of the thirties lauded the precocious talent of the lad from Albury, who had been forced to stand out of the game for a year. It was alleged that Fitzroy had paid him an illegal sign-on fee and thereby flouted the Coulter Law.

His brilliance had originally come to the attention of talent scouts when he starred for the O & M against a combined VFL team in 1928. He was still 16, but already exhibited wondrous skills.

Some years after his retirement, Haydn reflected on his early days and his entry to senior football:

“…..By the time I was 13, my two elder brothers George and Cleaver were playing for Albury and my younger brother Wally was already showing promise of doing the same.

That year – 1924 – I played football for the Albury School on Fridays and for Albury in the Ovens and Murray League on Saturdays.

In my last year at school I captained the school cricket team and hit 805 runs at an average of 201 and took 43 wickets. I’ve often been asked why I gave up cricket after only one District season with Fitzroy.

At times I wonder myself. I could get runs, but I was always a pretty stodgy bat. I had the chance. In 1927 I was chosen in the Riverina team to play Country Week in Sydney and made 3 centuries.

The next season I again got among the runs with 4 more centuries. Bill Ponsford came to see me at Albury and asked me to play for St.Kilda. I would have gone, but my mother was against my doing so.

In fact, when I did leave Albury to go to Melbourne to play football in 1930 it was still against my mother’s wishes. My father only agreed when he saw how keen I was.

It was around 1928 that the turmoil in my life began. For four years I’d been playing football with Albury………Four Buntons were in the Albury team. George was centre half forward and Wally centre half back. Cleaver took the knocks and the coach Bobbie Barnes, and I picked them up.

When I’d won the Best & Fairest for the team for three years -1926,’27 and ’28 – we played against a visiting Essendon side. Frank Maher, the State rover, was opposed to me. I had the better of him all day. At the time I thought I was king of the world. When I look back, though, I realise Frank was near the end of his time after a brilliant career. His legs weren’t as youthful as mine.

In 1929 the pressure was really on. Eleven Victorian clubs – all except Collingwood – came after me. They sent their men with all sorts of propositions, and they laid on the charm with a trowel.

It was pretty flattering and mighty bewildering. It would have been a game son who got a big head with my dad. In fact, his stern advice to me when I eventually left to play in Melbourne, was: “If you get swollen-headed don’t come back to this house. I want no son of mine to become too big for his boots.”

Looking back now, I almost blush with embarrassment when I think of how I arrived in Melbourne – a typical hick from the sticks’. My felt hat was dinted in four places, I wore a navy blue suit, the coat cut high at the back, the trousers almost bell-bottomed, cut-away double-breasted waistcoat, butcher blue shirt – and 4 shillings in my pocket when I stepped on to Spencer Street station.

Carlton officials were supposed to meet me. They were never at the station -although they claimed they were. I went straight to the head office of New Zealand Loan and asked for the manager. “Has my transfer been arranged to here from Albury, sir?” I asked. “What transfer, Bunton ?” was his staggering reply. I told him that Carlton had arranged it.

He rocked me again with his reply: ” I know nothing of any transfer, Bunton. In any case, we don’t transfer professional footballers.”

That was that. I was out of a job. I went out and immediately rang Tom Coles, the Fitzroy secretary. He got me a job straight away, working with Chandler’s, the hardware merchants. I signed there and then with Fitzroy…….”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Because he was forced out of League football for a year, Haydn caught a train back to Albury each week-end of the 1930 season, to play for West Albury.

Then, almost from the time of his League debut, he became a celebrity.  In 119 games with Fitzroy, he kicked 307 goals, was twice their leading goal-kicker, twice club captain and was captain-coach for a year.

In 1938 he transferred to Subiaco, where he dominated the WAFL, winning three Sandover Medals in his four years in the west.

Haydn settled in Adelaide in 1945 and played his final season with Port Adelaide. He then went on to become a League umpire and, finally, a League coach with North Adelaide in 1947 and ’48.

He suffered serious injuries when his car veered off a road near Adelaide and hit a tree in 1955. The colourful life of the legendary Haydn Bunton was over at just 44 years of age………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MANNIE……THE GOLDEN GREEK…

I don’t know Colin Joss. But I’ve heard enough to understand that he must have a great love for football and, more particularly, the Albury Tigers.

He passed through the gate at the Rovers’ last home game, willingly forking out $50 for a raffle ticket and cheerily engaging in conversation. Seems an amiable enough bloke.

In the eyes of the majority of the  football public he’s unfairly portrayed as a faceless behind-the-scenes man who pulls the strings and deemed responsible for stockpiling a glittering array of well-nigh unbeatable football talent.

The same fellah is there at 8-30/ 9.00 each match-day filling up water bottles for the Albury thirds and helping out where he can.

Obviously, he’s been wonderfully successful in business and you hear of stories of his company’s generosity, even towards a couple of other struggling O & M clubs.

Good luck to him. Nine other clubs would love to have someone like him. The Tigers have obviously benefited greatly from his business acumen and, I would guess, his wise counsel.

There can never be enough of it in footy clubs, where sometimes decisions are made on the run, and with consequences which can have a negative effect for a number of years.

The influence of Colin Joss reminds me of a man who made a monumental contribution to the Wangaratta Rovers more than 60 years ago

His name was Emanuel Cochineas……………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Mannie knew nothing about the intricacies of football. In fact, it’s doubtful if he ever fondled the oval Sherrin.

Born to an impoverished family, in 1899, on the tiny Greek island of Kythera, he was sponsored by an uncle and migrated to Australia in the summer of 1914.

Work became his passion and he gravitated to the hospitality trade, firstly with his uncle at Warwick and in nearby towns, before he moved to Sydney.

He toiled for long, painstaking hours as a waiter for 5 bob a week in the harbour city and saved every penny he could. It gave him the means to re-locate to Wangaratta in 1928 and open a cafe’ in Murphy Street, where Flynn’s Menswear now stands.

Renowned for selling the best fish and chips in town, Mannie became a successful and quite affluent businessman. Language difficulties were a minor inhibition to him. More importantly, he knew how to deal with people and was the person everybody wanted to have a yarn to when they called into ‘Cochineas Cafe’.

His friendship  with a couple of super-keen Hawks who operated a nearby business inevitably led to him taking an interest in the Rovers.

A slight involvement soon became a love-affair and he was drafted onto the committee.

Those making the big decisions relied heavily on his shrewd financial nous and business clout.

Many of the club’s fundraising ideas were suggested by Mannie. One which proved extremely lucrative over more than six decades was the weekly horse sweep. Modern-day Hawks probably recall investing in the ‘swindle’ as recently as three years ago.

But in the early fifties it was an illegal operation and the ‘Sweep Draw’ would be alternated each Thursday night, so as to throw the constabulary off the scent. Cochineas Cafe was one such venue and, in clandestine fashion, the draw would be held out in the back kitchen, whilst Mannie kept nit at the front of the shop.

When the Rovers sought entry to the O &M in 1950, he provided the financial guarantee. Despite his minimal football background he became extremely well-versed in its politics and fought tooth-and-nail for the cause of the Club.

Despite his standing in the community, he would take on some of the least-glamorous tasks and on match-day he fulfilled the role of ‘Bag-Man’ on the gate. His familiarity with the supporters and repartee was entertainment itself.

When the Hawks were casting around for a high-profile coach, Mannie stunned them with the suggestion that it may possible to lure the great Bob Rose. He was not only a key figure in landing one of football’s great coups, he paved the way for Rose to set up a Sports store in one of the properties he owned in Murphy Street, at a favourable rental.

Mannie became concerned, however, that it might be a bit out of the way, so he helped Bob to purchase the existing sports store, owned by Alex Sinclair, right in the middle of town.

It was a selfless gesture, as he sacrificed a sure-fire opportunity of a tidy profit, to ensure that the club’s new leader would have the best opportunity of success.

And Mannie was on hand , with his flash black Pontiac to drive Rose and other Rovers officials hundreds of miles in pursuit of potential recruits.

The Rovers were confronted by Council red-tape when they were trying to establish their new home at the Cricket Ground. Mannie insisted that this was a load of nonsense and urged that they investigate purchasing some land off Murdoch Road, to establish their new headquarters.

He took them out there to sell his dream. Perched on a fence railing and gesticulating excitedly in typical Mediterranean fashion, he had everyone entranced by the prospect of this piece of dirt being transformed into a fashionable oval.

The move almost came to fruition, but Council’s belated leniency brought about a favourable resolution. His greatest dream was realised five years later when a premiership flag was fluttering from the flagpole at the Cricket Ground.

Mannie’s family moved away from Wangaratta as they grew up and he eventually moved to Sydney to be with them.

It was a hell of a wrench to leave his old mates at the Rovers and he missed his footy.

He would drive out to the edge of Botany Bay on a Saturday afternoon to find a better radio signal, as he would try to pick up 3NE’s broadcast of the Hawks’ matches.

It was there, at a tense moment of a semi-final, that he suffered a stroke that laid him low for some time.

He did recover slightly and maintained his regular radio contact with the Rovers each Saturday, before passing away a couple of years later, at the age of 75.

HAVE BOOTS WILL TRAVEL

One of my boyhood dreams was to be a sporting nomad…….shuffling between towns, finding a job, playing a season of footy and cricket here and there, meeting a new set of mates , then moving on……

A sort of : “Have bat and footy boots / will travel “, existence, I mused.

It worked well for a while – until homesickness set in……

But I had a yarn to a bloke the other day who certainly didn’t let the pull of home deter him from his youthful wanderings. They lasted 14 years and included stints with 10 football clubs. Finally, with a growing family he decided to put down his roots in Wangaratta.

But even then, the career of Jack Gannon, one of sport’s most durable all-rounders was still gathering momentum……..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

When I mention the name ‘Jack Gannon’, you probably invoke thoughts of the long-time Glazier ferrying around town in his white Toyota Hi-Ace……You probably recall the earnest, veteran runner, straining valiantly for the line in a distance event at the local Carnival…..

Or the wisened old football identity, answering the call of an O & K club to take over their coaching job…….

Some of you may be able to hark back to the classy, speedy, lean utility player who was at the helm of two Ovens and Murray clubs during the eighties…….

But only the most observant will attest to the fast bowler with the fluent action who fired out a Pakistani batsman with 10 Test centuries to his name, in an international match…

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A native of Corryong, his parents moved to Albury when they sold the family farm. Jack’s first club was Lavington (pre-O & M days), who won the Tallangatta League seniors and Reserves premierships whilst he was with them.

He headed down to Benalla at the end of one school year to holiday on his uncle’s farm and ended up getting a job and staying for three years. In the first two, and still in his teens, he played in flags with Tatong.

” Ken Roberts, who was my opening bowling partner at Winton-Molyullah, was the footy coach of Benalla at the time. He invited me to have a run with the Demons. It was my first taste of major-league football and I loved the season I played there, ” Jack recalled.

Then it was back to AIMG_0855lbury, where he was snapped up by the Tigers. He fitted nicely into one of the O & M’s stronger sides and played mainly on a wing, where he earned inter-league selection against the South-West League.

Jack made some pretty good mates at Tigerland and a few of them decided to head around Australia. The ultimate aim was to play a bit of footy on their travels and when they reached Darwin the four of them – Jack, Daryl Bakes, Geoff Boyle and Gary Plummer – saddled up with Waratahs.

“The heat was stifling. Our fitness had dropped off a bit whilst we were away and our first training session nearly killed us. But it was good footy and we were lucky enough to play in a flag .”

When he got back to Albury, Jack decided to get serious about his football. The first thing he did was to ‘ditch’ the grog. “I had my last beer at the age of 21”, he said

He had spent three seasons with Albury and was now in the top flight of O & M players. Keen to explore the option of coaching, he moved to Whitton, in the Riverina, as assistant-coach to Tom Doolan. It’s a tiny town, about 14 miles from Leeton, but proved a good launching-pad for him.

This led to a three-year appointment at Farrer League club, Temora, followed by two years as coach of Leeton.

“Footy in the Riverina was of a high standard in those days and people supported it to the hilt. They were memorable sporting times for me and I made lifelong friendships “, Jack says.

What’s more, he’d met and married, Sharon – a Temora girl – so things couldn’t be better. In his time up north he had represented the VCFL, South West, Riverina and Farrer Leagues, and had played seven games for NSW.

At this stage I digress, to ask him about his cricket career, which really blossomed when he was in the Riverina.

“I’d played with St.Patrick’s in Albury as a bowling all-rounder. When I started coaching I got keen on lifting weights and found that my bowling improved, too. I started to hit the ‘keeper’s gloves a bit harder and the wickets came more regularly”.

“The O’Farrell Cup is a pretty big deal up there and I played plenty of cricket”.

A look at the record books shows that Jack won selection in the NSW Country team which met the touring Pakistanis at Griffith, in 1983. Earlier in the season he’d played against the ACT at Albury.

He made an early breakthrough in the international game when he bowled ‘Paki’ opener Mudassar Nazar in his opening overs.

“I had Mohsin Khan, who went on to make a ‘ton’, dropped by the ‘keeper on 4, then little Quasim Omar popped one up just out of reach of the cover fielder. No excuses though. I could have had ‘three for’, but finished with about 1/40”.

It was Jack’s last game of cricket. He had suggested to Sharon that he wouldn’t mind having another crack at O & M footy, so they moved south. Yarrawonga, who had won the wooden-spoon the previous year, appointed him coach.

They returned to finals action, but lost a nail-biter to Myrtleford, to bow out in the Elimination Final.

He then received an approach from Wangaratta to take over their coaching position in 1985, and spent three years in the role. He played in a variety of positions – ruck-roving, mid-field, often lining up at centre half forward to exploit slow-moving key defenders.

The ‘Pies reached the finals in one of those years, but generally, Jack found it tough going. He continued on at the ‘Pies for another two years, under his successor Ray Card, and finished with 94 games in the Black and White guernsey.

Jack had started running during the off-seasons, under the auspices of that old athletics guru, Bernie Grealy, mainly to get fit for football. But, like a lot of those who take up the sport, he found it addictive.

In no time he was competing on the pro-running circuit. He won 16 or-so races, including the 800m, 200m and veterans 300m at the local Carnival – and ran in two Wangaratta Gift IMG_0854finals in a career which only finished 3 years ago, when he broke his hip.

The Murray Bushrangers snapped him up as a strength and conditioning coach in the early 2000’s. He enjoyed the half-dozen years he was there, because the kids really wanted to improve themselves.

That’s what Jack’s all about. He loves coaching, whether it be a young footballer who comes to him for advice on running technique, or a beginner with plenty of talent, but obvious flaws.

Greg O’Keeffe, who has been running alongside -and against- Jack for nigh-on 30 years, reckons hIMG_0857e can’t help himself.

“He’ll see young kids come down to the track, analyse their style and in no time he’s pulling them aside, suggesting ways they can improve,” Greg said.

It was the same with football. He had four stints as a coach in the Ovens and King League when clubs approached him.

He was in charge at Glenrowan from 1999-2001, Tarrawingee (2002-2003), King Valley (2007) and came to the rescue of the Kelly Tigers again in 2012.

Somewhere in there, he also coached Junior League club Tigers for a season.

“I love seeing young sports-people develop. That’s the great thing about coaching,” he says.

Jack’s son Sean has carved out a fine footy career with West Preston-Lakeside, where he has won 3 B & F’s and is the current club captain. His daughters Simone (King Valley) and Monique (Glenrowan) faced off against each other in thisIMG_0856 year’s O & K B-Grade Netball Grand Final.

His life has been sport and if you consider the 423 games of football he played, the 17 years he coached and the 30-odd years he’s been involved in athletics, Jack Gannon has left a remarkable stamp in several spheres.

THE GREAT ‘L.J.’

The wounds inflicted by a vicious global war, which had torn nations apart and wreaked untold damage, were still tender in late 1945. Now it was time for communities to rediscover their sporting obsession.

The Ovens and Murray competition had been in recess since 1940. Wangaratta re-joined, along with six other teams. It was almost a case of starting from scratch, as recruiting got under way and the search for a coach began.

Eventually, in early March of 1946, the Pies announced the appointment of one of the game’s legends- Laurie Nash – as their captain-coach. His salary of 12 pounds per week was regarded as an astronomical sum in those days, but the opportunity to play with the ‘Great L.J’ excited many of the youngsters in the town.

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Nash is acknowledged through the ages as one of the finest and most controversial Australian sportsmen ever produced. Born in Tasmania, he played two games of Test cricket, despite never having appeared in the Sheffield Shield competition.

His 10 wickets at an average of 12.80 per wicket and 30 runs at an average of 15 make you wonder why he wasn’t a regular Test player, but he reportedly faced opposition from the cricket establishment for his poor attitude towards authority. This led fellow cricketer Keith Miller to write that the persistent non-selection of Nash was “the greatest waste of talent in Australian cricket history”.

The reasons given for the apparent bias against Nash included his reputation for blunt speech and his abrasive personality, which included sledging.

He was probably the biggest name in sport through the thirties. Joining South Melbourne in 1933, he starred in a Premiership triumph in his first season, being credited with 13 marks and 29 kicks in a dominant performance at centre half back.

The following year, selected for Victoria for the first time, he had kicked two goals from centre half forward in the first quarter. An injury to Bob Pratt prompted him to be shifted to the goal-mouth, where he proceeded to finish with 18 for the day.

He later claimed that he would have booted 27 but for the selfishness of the rovers, who refused to pass the ball to him.

During World War II Nash rejected offers of a home posting and instead served as a trooper in New Guinea, stating that he wished to be treated no differently to any other soldier.

He returned to South Melbourne after the war and played a prominent part in the infamous “Bloodbath Grand Final” of 1945, in which the Swans went down to Carlton in a brawling, nasty clash which featured 16 reports.

He was South’s leading goalkicker and still a star, but possibly not the champion who, when asked pre-war who was the greatest player of all time, replied : “I look at him in the mirror every morning when I have a shave”.

Only a couple of weeks prior to his signing with Wangaratta, Nash had played quite well in a South practice match. But he was rising 36, suffering from arthritic knees and knew that he would struggle to get through another League season.

So when Wangaratta came with an offer that he couldn’t refuse, he brought his outrageous talents and wobbly knees up the Hume Highway.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Nash left his wife and young child behind (returning regularly to visit them) and was accorded a room at the Council Club Hotel. He didn’t deem it necessary to work and filled in time during the day playing poker with racing personalities and having the occasional beer.

He had lost a fair bit of fitness and was carrying a few extra kilos when he lined up for the first game against Benalla. He played himself in the centre and guided his team to victory.

In the first few games, he certainly didn’t set the world on fire, although he was being acclaimed for his coaching knowledge and ability to pass on the message.

But, as the season progressed, he started to ‘turn it on’. His move into the forward line proved a winner for the Pies and his 10 goals from centre half forward in the return clash with Benalla proved that the old class was still there.

The Wangaratta side was basically made up of locals and they had improved steadily as the season progressed. Players like big man Tommy Bush, Kevin French and Jack Sullivan, key forward Ernie Ward, small men Max Berry and Jimmy Hoysted and defenders Jack Ferguson and Jack Plaisted formed the crux of the side.

Doug Ferguson, a classy half forward, was still in the Army and used to travel by train from Melbourne on Saturday mornings to take his place in the line-up. He is the only surviving member of the famous 1946 side.

“It was a good, settled team and we were well-coached “, Doug recalled when I yarned with him at St.Catherine’s Hostel the other day. “Nashy topped us off nicely. He was a big, burly fellow and could kick the ball a mile.”

My dad Len, who played across the half-back line, was also a Nash fan. “With the reputation that preceded him, we didn’t know what to expect. But he was an astute footy person”, he once said.

Wangaratta finished second on the ladder to Wodonga at the completion of the home-and-away rounds and belted the Bulldogs by 65 points in a one-sided second semi. Nash and Ernie Ward kicked nine of their 15 goals.

The Pies met Albury at Rutherglen in the Grand Final, before a crowd of around 5,000. They went to an early lead, but Nash went down just before half-time with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

“He laid it on the line to us in his half-time address”, Doug Fergy, now 93, recalled . “He pointed out that his knee was crook and that he was moving to full forward. He said ‘Just kick it up to me in the goal-square. I’ll do the rest’.

Wang trailed by seven points at three quarter-time and had both its 19th and 20th man on the field.

Nash, despite hobbling badly, kicked another two goals in a tense final term to finish with four for the game.

The Pies had hit the front in the dying stages and held on to win by five points – 14.10 (94) to 13.11 (89).

Nash’s coaching had been well-received and he was feted by the town. But he had one more duty to perform. He was good friends with Fred O’Brien, the incumbent Greta coach, who earlier in the season had talked Laurie into taking on his job. As Greta didn’t train during the week, its only non-match contact with the coach was on Sundays, when O’Brien (the match-day leader) would bring Nash out to Greta to take the boys for training.

So Nash was able to oversee their 27-point win over Myrtleford, giving him the unique honour of coaching two premiership teams in the one year.

Laurie Nash was later to take on the coaching role at his old club, South Melbourne, in 1953. He was inducted into the inaugural AFL Hall of Fame in 1996 and was admitted to the Sports Australia Hall of Fame in 2012.

He died in 1986.

 

2015/04/img_0670.jpg

2015/04/img_0669.jpg