” ‘THE TANK’ – A HUMAN WRECKING-BALL……..”

Richie Castles, former Milkie, footballer, cricketer, pigeon racer, trotting trainer and true character, finds serenity these days, on the seat of his Ride-On Mower………

The knees that supported his roly-poly frame throughout a brilliant footy career are ‘stuffed’, he says…..So that puts paid to too much physical activity……Nevertheless, he thrives on the chore of keeping the seven and a half acre property, where he and wife Margaret reside, in fine fettle…..

I remember him being a powerhouse in defence during a fine era for Benalla……Back-pocket players of the late-50’s/mid-60’s were typically dour, stingy types whose main focus was to keep resting rovers under wraps and dish out the occasional back-hander………

Richie, though, was a dasher, in the mould of Brad Hardie, or a modern-day Daniel Rioli…..

“If I thought I could get the ball I’d go after it” he says….”It wouldn’t matter if it was from here to that pigeon-cage over there…..I wouldn’t give a bugger if there was anyone in my way; I’d run over the top of ‘em to get it….”.

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

His older brother Charlie was an Austral Wheelrace place-getter, and the youngster once had aspirations of following him into cycling.

But he loved footy – and Benalla – with a passion……..”As a kid I used to ride my bike from one end of the Showgrounds Oval to the other; depending on which end we were kicking.”

“One of my heroes was Jack Spriggs, who played a bit like Leigh Matthews……’Spriggsy’ would land the ball on the chest of Morris Medallist Kevin Hurley with the precision of a surgeon…….Geez he was a good player.”

“He kept an eye on the local Junior League and knew all the good kids…..He milked a few cows at Swanpool and was appointed coach out there…….tried to get me to go with him…He said to mum and dad: ‘I’ll look after him’…….He would’ve, too, but I was hell-bent on playing with Benalla…..”

Richie walked straight into the Benalla senior side in 1957, aged 17, holding down the back pocket position with the aplomb of a veteran.

His mum’s brother – triple Brownlow Medallist Dick Reynolds – was coaching Essendon and invited him down to train, and play a couple of practice games with the Bombers the following year.

“There was a car-load of us and they’ve talked me into going to Luna Park after the practice match……It was 11 o’clock before we left for home, and I’ve ended up rolling my Ford Mainline Ute on the bend at Avenal…..”

“Charlie had ridden at the North Essendon Board Track that night and, coincedentally, found me lying on the road……I thought I was done…”

His progress in recovering from a broken pelvis, and a couple of other injuries, was slow but sure…… he was walking within six weeks……..and was everlastingly grateful to Benalla’s Head Trainer Tim Shanahan.

“He was a marvel that bloke….the best around……He had such a good reputation that half the O & M players came to him for treatment…..They’d offer him a bottle of beer or something, for getting them back on the track….”

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

Richie’s family owned one of the three Dairies in Benalla, and he’d left school at 15 to begin a career that lasted more than 50 years.

“It was my life…..I’d start at 1.30am, seven days a week, with a Horse and Cart…..350 houses…..and get back to the Dairy about 7am……..I was running a bloody marathon every day; no wonder I was fit…..”

“Then, on training nights, I’d ride the bike over to the Showgrounds and run a few laps, waiting ‘til the boys arrived.”

But you’d question his fitness when you saw him run onto the ground……His socks would droop down around his ankles, and he looked podgy and overweight….After all, his playing weight was 13 and a half stone, which was more than ample for his 5’8” frame to carry.

No wonder they called him ‘The Tank’……He was a human wrecking-ball when in full flight……

Billy Luck coached the Demons in the year Richie returned from injury…..then was succeeded by ex-Fitzroy winger Vin Williams in 1960.

That was, he reckons, his best year of footy.

He’d spent a month of his holidays doing another pre-season at Essendon. When he returned he was fighting fit….and did it show……The local Menswear store donated a Pelaco shirt for Benalla’s best player each game…..and he won nine of them !…..as well as comfortably winning the Club B & F….

Benalla were hanging precariously to fourth spot – two points ahead of Myrtleford – when they faced the Rovers at the Findlay Oval in Round 18.

The equation was simple….they had to defeat the Hawks, as the Saints were certainties against winless Rutherglen.

In the dying seconds of an exhilarating clash, Benalla booted a goal to reduce the margin to a single kick……As the ball was being relayed back to the centre, the siren blew, and hundreds with their ears glued to 3NE’s coverage could hear a voice in the time-keeper’s box: ‘Oh, No, No….’

The timekeeper had accidentally pressed the button for the final siren, instead of the time-on button…..The game had finished 12 seconds early.

Benalla protested and the match was re-played the following week….This time the Hawks prevailed by eight points…..

In the meantime, the customary Morris Medal vote-count had been conducted following Round 18……. Rovers coach Bob Rose polled two votes in the Demon-Hawk clash, to take out the ‘gong’ by one vote, from Castles.

There was some contention that votes should have been cast for the Re-Play instead of the abandoned game……in which case Castles, who starred in the re-play may have won the Medal.

One journo opined: ‘There are some who feel that Richie Castles has been handed a raw deal.’

Richie quickly moved on from the controversy. He reflected: “I didn’t play for individual awards. It was history, as far as I was concerned…”

He also remembers the re-play for the ‘blue’ that started 20 minutes into the first quarter:

“ ‘Rosy’ had given Terry Putt a short right to the jaw which travelled about six inches….Fortunately for Bob the umpie didn’t see it……He jumped in to soothe things down and asked ‘Rosy’ what had happened……….”I think he fainted’ was his reply…..”

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

Dick Reynolds had, by now, taken on the coaching job with SANFL club West Torrens, and Richie headed over to spend a season in Adelaide.

“I lived with Dick and Auntie Jean, in this palatial two-storey mansion, just up from Adelaide Oval….provided by the wealthy Torrens President, Ossie O’Grady….tennis court…maid’s quarters upstairs…the lot.”

“They got me a job at Industrial Springs, on Port Road, but I had to spend four weeks’ residentially qualifying before I was eligible to play,” he says.

“We had a great win over Port Adelaide in the final round, then faced Norwood in the First Semi, in front of 45,000 fans……Unfortunately, we all went bad on the same day…..stage-fright, probably…..”

“I loved the footy over there, but had a blue with the boss at work and told him to ‘stick the job up his arse’, loaded up the ute and drove all the way home…….hit the Shepp Road about 6am on Christmas Day…..”

His timing couldn’t have been better…..Benalla were about to embark on a run which would take them to successive flags…..

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

They had a crackerjack combination in ‘62…..well-balanced and adaptable. Strong big men like Ike Kulbars and Terry Putt; key forwards Neil Busse and burly Ian Hughes; defenders Alf Sikora, ‘Dinger’ Langlands and Graeme Lessing and a classy centreline of Brian Bourke, ‘Curly’ Hanlon and Ronnie Hayes……

“We knocked off the Rovers mid-season in one of the first matches that Ken Boyd played for them after returning from disqualification. He was in Benalla selling insurance the following week and called in to the place where my brother Charlie worked. Conversation naturally turned to footy…..”

“He said: ‘Fair dinkum, they had one bloke who couldn’t run because his knees were all bandaged up ( that was Hughsie ) and there was another fat little bloke in the back pocket…….The fellah that couldn’t run, with the bandaged knees, kicked four goals and the fat little prick stopped ten’…. “

“Charlie said: ‘You’re talking about my little brother’….”

“We beat Corowa by a point in a thrilling Second Semi and the Grand Final was a real tight battle all day…….We trailed the Rovers by a couple of goals at half-time, 5 points at three quarter-time, and they still led by 10 points with just a few minutes to play.”

“They’d switched ‘Boydy’ into the ruck and he was giving them plenty, but they were tiring. We slowly gained the ascendency and booted three goals to hit the lead…..I can still see Johnny Hogan snapping the final goal, to seal the game….. The sound of that siren gave me my greatest thrill in football.”

The Demons’ won in more emphatic fashion in 1963, but not before they’d survived a draw against Myrtleford in the Second Semi-Final, won the replay by 6 goals, then awaited a confident Corowa in the Grand Final…

It was still anyone’s game at lemon-time, as the Spiders trailed by just 13 points……But they failed to score in the last quarter, whilst Benalla booted 8.3, to win by 64 points.

The celebrations raged, and Castles, who’d again played a major part, was in the thick of them…..

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

Richie says he hasn’t touched a drop of the demon drink for more than 30 years, but more than made up for it when he was playing.

“I’d have one or two, then want to drink the keg……There we’re plenty of times I went on the milk-run still under the weather…….Just as well the horse knew when to stop……How the hell I didn’t fall off I’ll never know…….”

He says he still holds one record, of which he’s not terribly proud…..

“We’d earned a week off after winning the ‘62 Second Semi, and someone donated an ‘18-gallon keg’ which we proceeded to drink after Tuesday night training…….Much, much later, it was decided it’d be a good idea to drive to the Friendlies Oval to see who could record the fastest lap…..”

( Richie had been playing First XI cricket with UFS since he was about 14, so he was familiar with the lay-out of the ground.)

“I was in my Volkswagen and it was as wet as buggery…..we started broadsiding around there….One of the fellahs had winter treads on his Holden, and ran straight up the guts, through the turf wicket…..Johnny Burns, in his blue Customline, got bogged to the boot….”

“The bloke in the railway signal-box dobbed us in……We caused a fair bit of damage and the cops nabbed us……We had to attend the police-station the next day, to have the riot act read to us……”

“Vin Williams ( our coach ) and Charlie Chiswell ( President ) got us out of strife, but we had to pay 100 quid and roll the surface with an old concrete roller…….”

“It’s a wonder you weren’t locked up, “ his wife Margaret quips…..

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

Richie had been finding it difficult to combine the milk-run with his footy commitments. He pulled the pin on his career in 1965, aged 25, after 115 terrific games with the Demons.

Instead, he concentrated on his racing Pigeons – a life-time hobby which he only gave up three years ago. He also pre-trained Trotters.

“The pick of them was Madison Square, which I leased to Corowa coach Frank Tuck. He won 8-10 races with it…….When Mum had a stroke the trotters went by the wayside…..

In the mid-eighties his brother-in-law Alan Beaton – a 1963 premiership team-mate – convinced him to coach one of the Under-14 Junior League teams – Benalla Tigers.

“I think they give me the hardest kids to handle…..We won 2 games the first year, then took out the next 2 flags.”

“Geez, some of ‘em were bastards…..but I loved it……If there was mud and slush I’d let ‘em fight in it…..We had one young bloke called ‘Harro’…..He was only about 12; smoked, rode a bike, had a girl on each arm; from a split family….skinny legs and arms….a real candidate for Pentridge, I thought…..But he was respectful to me, and always called me Mr.Cas’”

“Anyway, he disappeared off the scene….I asked his Aunty years later what he was up to….She said: ‘You wouldn’t believe it. He’s up in Queensland, married, with a couple of kids and has his own business, as a Painter and Decorator…..’ “

After retirement, Richie spent a few years on the Benalla committee, and also served as a Selector…..He still enjoys his footy and closely monitors the progress of young fellahs, as they come through the ranks……….

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

P.S: When the O & M announced its ‘Team of the Century’ in 2019 Richie Castles was named in the Back Pocket…..He deems it a huge honour to have been included among a group of the finest-ever players to have graced the competition………

“ANDREW DALE……A FORTUNATE LIFE…..”

Calm has been restored to the Wangaratta Racecourse Complex on this balmy mid-March morning……. I chug down Cruise Street, wind around the Three Mile Creek …..past the planked white fences which delineate the Stables of local trainers……past the flash new Grandstand …….towards the entrance……

The swish..swish..swishing of sprays freshens a Track which, hours earlier had been a hive of activity, with the thundering hooves of close on 200 thoroughbreds striding out on its lush surface.

Trainers, owners, jockeys, stable-hands and hangers-on converge here, daily at dawn….Numbered among them is an athletic-looking fellah in his late-fifties, sporting a neatly-trimmed grey beard……….

He’s Andrew Dale……….

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

It’s a bit over four years since I last spotted him……..waving animatedly from the boundary-line at the Findlay Oval, as Myrtleford desperately tried to hang on in a goal-for-goal Elimination Final thriller against Wodonga Raiders. It was to no avail. The Saints went down by a couple of kicks. But his passion was obvious…….understandable too, given that his sons, Frazer and Lachlan were playing starring roles………..

As with most things in his life, he moved on quickly, but I’m keen to coax the now-Principal of Andrew Dale Racing to reflect on a colourful sporting career…………

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

He was born in Stawell almost 59 years ago. His parents, both school-teachers, transferred to the ‘big smoke’ when he was 7 or 8, but his infatuation with football was already deeply-entrenched.

Eltham became Andrew’s home club. He graduated from junior ranks to play well over 150 senior games with the Panthers, including a 1982 Diamond Valley League flag, under the coaching of Melbourne great ‘Hassa’ Mann.

Interspersed with this were a couple of pre-seasons at Collingwood, and several Reserves appearances on match permits. But his bid to crack the ‘Pies final list fell short.

Instead, he headed off to North Adelaide for a year, and returned home to find that his luck had turned. Melbourne were keenly interested, and recruited him in 1986.

It was a brief sojourn at the top…….After some consistent Reserves performances, his senior opportunity came late in the season, lining up in defence against a rampaging Hawthorn, at Waverley Park.

I’d already checked the stats he accumulated that day – 11 kicks, 6 marks, 12 handballs……A more than handy debut, I would suggest:

“Yeah, but the Hawks were all over us, and the ball was down my way a fair bit ( across half back ),” Andrew recalls. “At different stages during the game I had to look after Brereton , Lester-Smith, Curran and Judge. The game was over at half-time, but I remember one of our blokes saying: ‘Just run on and keep trying….You’ll be okay.’ “

“Next game we played the Swans at the SCG…..It was the height of the Edelsten Era, and they were really flying. We got pumped. I was in the back half…..picked up Anthony Daniher and played on Capper for a while.”

“They took me off, and I spent a fair bit of the game on the bench…….I might have looked out of my depth…I dunno……Maybe our coach John Northey thought so, too…..Anyway, I came back on for a while in the last quarter, but that was it……It was all over……”

Andrew participated in the finals series for the Demons Reserves, then returned home to Eltham as coach, leading them to the finals. He stayed on as captain when his friend- and Melbourne team-mate – Peter Moore, succeeded him as non-playing coach in 1989.

“It was the right thing to do,” he says. “Pete had a high profile, and was returning to his home club. He generated great interest and we went on to win the flag that year………”

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

He had done a bit of everything, work-wise, whilst pursuing his footy dream. In his late twenties he studied Teaching, which added another string to his bow.

Whilst he was still capable of picking up a few kicks, he and his wife Heather decided on a lifestyle change. Struggling Benalla appointed him playing-coach in 1993.

“During the interview process they were pretty upfront,” he explained. “They said: ‘Look, we don’t have any money; we can’t chase players. You’re going to have to go with what you’ve got.”

But the Demons couldn’t complain about the coach’s contribution. He finished joint runner-up in the Morris Medal, represented the O & M as a dynamic mid-fielder, and oversaw strong development in a group of youngsters.

He missed almost three-quarters of the following season with a succession of soft-tissue injuries. Benalla remained near the foot of the ladder, and some officials were beginning to become impatient. They advised him that his position was going to be advertised.

“That basically means you’re gone. A few clubs showed interest and I thought I still had a bit of footy left in me.”

Myrtleford snapped him up in 1995, appointing him Playing-coach and part-time Administration Officer.

“It’s a tough gig coaching Myrtleford, with its small population, geographic location and reduced talent pool…But it was great to have the time and opportunity to put some strategies in place to improve the Club.”

“I felt we laid the groundwork and started to see some improvement.”

The Saints won 13 and a half games the following season, returning to the finals for the first time in 12 years. Andrew was still making a solid contribution despite approaching the mid-thirties. He had worn the Black and Gold of the O & M on four occasions.

“We had two lads, Guy Rigoni and Steve McKee move on to the AFL. I felt we had a good footy Club and were engaging with the community. The Saints, as you know, can get on a roll when that happens,” he says.

Besides coaching and doing some part-time teaching, he penned a footy column in both the Border Mail and Myrtleford Times.

“It was pretty hectic, along with raising the four kids (Jaime, Frazer, Lachlan and Milly). But, after four years as coach of Myrtleford ( the last as non-playing leader), an opportunity came up to coach in Tasmania…………..”

He’d just finished an AFL Level-3 coaching course when he was approached by Michael Aird, a parliamentarian, and Chairman of State League Club, New Norfolk:

“I flew down to Tassie to meet with him.He laid it on the line; explaining that the Club was about to lose its Poker Machines and was in danger of closing its doors. He said: ‘We’re struggling in every aspect, on and off the field. But if you accept the non-playing coaching job, I guarantee you’ll get paid.’ “

Andrew coached the Club in the dying days of the financially-stricken State League competition, then transitioned to a post with AFL Tasmania. The role included coaching the State Under 16’s and assisting the Tassie Mariners U.18 team.

He spent another two years working on Special Events and Projects for the State Government after they consented to underwrite the costs of Hawthorn and North Melbourne playing their home games in Tasmania.

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

In the meantime, he and Heather had bought the Motel on Alpine in Myrtleford and settled back in town.

He says he’d always been fascinated by the racing game. His initial involvement came with having small shares in a few horses….: ”Then I caught the the training bug from there…..It was something that really interested me…..”

“As a consequence, I studied, and had the qualifications to go into training from a theory point of view.”

“I just needed to get some practical skills, so I went and worked with an Albury trainer, Rob Wellington for a couple of years…..and got my Trainer’s licence in 2013.”

Eight years later, he’s well settled in an excellent facility on the perimeter of the Wangaratta Racecourse complex, which was built in conjunction with the Turf Club, and Racing Victoria.

“It’s fantastic here,” Andrew says. “We’ve built a good training operation with 40 horses on our books and about 25 in work. Of that 40 there might 4-5 getting broken in. We’re looking to expand, and possibly have 25-30 here.”

“Frazer (son) is hopefully going to take over one day. Ideally, he’ll want to grow the business to the next level; maybe buy a small farm and do some pre-training and spelling as well…….But, of course, he’s got to have the desire to do it.”

Andrew and Frazer share the early starts, which means leaving Myrtleford at 4am, and getting to the course at 4.40. The early morning session goes through until 8.30 am.

Then they settle into administrative duties……Nominations, Acceptances, Jockeys, Race selection…..

The afternoon shift starts at around 2pm and the day’s work concludes at roughly 4.30pm.

“The whole day moves into different areas. We’re always talking to people about becoming involved in new horses.”

“As with all trainers we’re into buying yearlings. You syndicate them and keep a share yourself. So you’ve got that constant evolvement of horses coming into your Barn.”

“When you sell a horse to a client, they’ll hopefully stay with you for a fair period, because they go through the whole education – the breaking-in process… racing…spelling…racing….”

“Syndicating is a fine art. You have to pitch at the right price-point. Frazer does it well through Facebook and Twitter……We bought a cheap one the other day and sold it within 48 hours. Yet we bought three at the Classic Sale…..We sold one, a well-priced, well-bred filly, but haven’t done much with the other two yet…….”

Andrew sees a correlation between coaching footballers and training horses.

“If you think about it, in footy you have the pre-season, pre-season games, Finals, have a break, then start that cycle all over again.”

“The same principles apply to horse-racing…..A horse works up in its preparation, gets fit, has a couple of jump-outs or trials, then goes into races……..Management, maintenance, well-being, diet……It’s the same with any athlete, human or equine……”

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

Andrew and Heather’s family circumstances changed two years ago, when they took three of their grand-children into their care.

“Your whole life changes again, when you go back to parenting at our age,” he says. “They’re beautiful kids…One is on the Autism spectrum, another has ADHD….so there’s a lot of management with them. They were born in fairly harsh circumstances……”

“Spending time with them, though, reminds me that I didn’t do enough of that with our first four. I’m looking forward to helping out this time around.”

He remains vitally interested in footy – and naturally, Myrtleford, where his sons are key components of the Saints’ bid to snare their first flag in 51 years. Frazer, who played two games with Carlton as an 18 year-old in 2012, memorably kicked a goal after the siren to give the Blues victory in his debut appearance.

Lachie confirmed his status as an O & M top-liner in 2019, by representing the League, polling strongly in the Morris Medal, and booting 59 goals, to win the Doug Strang Medal.

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

Andrew Dale reckons he’s had a fortunate life: “I’ve played some alright footy…. coached….seen some good and bad things happen with my family…..I’ve got involved in the racehorse industry….trained 90-odd winners so far…..”

“Maybe, when I die, my epitaph might read: ‘He achieved everything he wanted to do.’ “

‘WAGING WAR ON A RELENTLESS OPPONENT…..’

A weak sun has just started to peek through the heavy fog as I head down River Road, Tarrawingee on this ordinary July morning. “It’s not far past McCormick’s Bridge,” were my instructions, ” ……..on the left-hand side. You can’t miss it.”

Yes I can……. I’ve travelled too far. Luckily a young girl with a dog in tow, guides me back about 500 metres. There, she says, I’ll run into Terry Greaves………

The old fellah’s waiting on the front verandah and looks fitter than I anticipated…… “Been a lot worse, that’s for sure” he quips .

If you reckon 2020 has hurled one crisis after another at the community; what, with bushfires, Coronavirus and the resultant financial pressures, Terry can add a few more layers to that. We’ll broach the state of his health later, but for the moment, we start to unpack his long and winding footy career……….

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

The Greaves clan ( five boys and two girls ) grew up on an 800-acre property between Goorambat and Benalla, where his dad, who’d had oodles of experience as a market-gardener, ran livestock and grew pumpkins and potatoes.

The boys all cut their footy teeth at Goorambat. “One of my brothers, Barry, ended up being a 200-gamer there. I was 17 when I played in the 1978 flag…And we won it again the next year. By then I reckoned it was time to give it a good crack at Benalla,” he says.

Terry had already done a couple of pre-seasons with the Demons without creating a huge impression. But he’d now developed well physically, and walked straight into the senior side.

Bill Sykes, the former Fitzroy star, had just taken over as coach from Brian Symes. “Sykesy was an old-fashioned coach…..suited me down to the ground……..He taught me to work hard……. He’d be too straight-down-the-line for blokes these days. They’d get upset.”

Benalla already had four 6’6”-plus ruckmen – Malcolm Ellis, Tim Llewellyn, Tim Symes and Terry’s brother Paul – so he was groomed as a centre half back. Even at 6’4” he had a good turn of pace and was a raking left-foot kick.

By 1985 he’d developed into one of the best defenders in the game. He took out the club’s Best and Fairest and polled 14 votes to finish equal third, just two votes shy of the Morris Medallist, Lavington’s Ralph Aalbers.

The Demons shaped as a genuine flag prospect as that season unfolded. Terry had represented the O & M at centre half back earlier in the year, and was a pillar of strength, but there were quite a few other ‘guns’ in a well-balanced side, coached by former Bomber Wayne Primmer.

They’d kicked 11.1 to half-time of the Qualifying Final, to lead Albury by 14 points, but faded in the last half.

The First Semi against the Rovers the following week, was a nail-biter. After holding a seven-point lead over the Hawks at three-quarter time, Benalla battled gamely to hang on but were overpowered in the dying minutes, falling short by five points.

According to Terry it was one Final that got away. “We’d recruited a bloke called Mick Horsburgh, another ‘giant’ from Collingwood, to boost our side that season. But he was taken apart by a young kid, Paul Bryce, who marked everything, and made the difference in the end.”

As meteoric as their rise up the ladder had been, Benalla tumbled to the bottom in 1986.

“Heather and I had just married and we were keen to get away for a bit of a change. A Benalla boy, Brian Symes was coaching A.C.T club Tuggeranong and convinced me to head up there. It wasn’t quite O & M standard, but nevertheless good footy. We made the Elimination Final and I finished runner-up in the B & F. But gee, it was cold,” Terry recalls.

After returning for another two seasons with Benalla he moved to the other side of town, as assistant-coach of All Blacks. It was assumed that he would step into the coaching role the following year, but the incumbent leader wasn’t keen to hang up the boots. So Terry pulled on the Red and White guernsey for another couple of seasons.

Then Violet Town dangled their coaching job in front of him. “A broken arm ruined my first season and we didn’t have a lot of success either year,” he says, “….but the coaching aspect of it was enjoyable………”

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

Terry and Heather shifted to their superbly-located 170-acre property, within kicking distance of the Ovens River, where he could run his Murray Grey cattle. He began working at Brown Brothers, whilst undertaking an apprenticeship as a ‘Chippie’ at the age of 35.

“I had a short spell with Milawa, then returned to Benalla for their swan-song in the Ovens and Murray League, in 1997. It was a bit sad, really, that they decided to move over to the G.V. A lot of us old Demons still retain a strong attachment to the O & M.”

So, for Terry Greaves, veteran of 225 games, Team of the Century member and Benalla Life Member, it spelt the end of his active association with the Demons .

But he still felt there was some footy left in those ageing legs.

He decided to join his brother Paul at the Wang Rovers. “I’d actually rung Laurie Burt a good while earlier about joining the Hawks, but when it came to the crunch I couldn’t bear to play against Benalla,” he says.

It was planned to use his experience to help out a young Reserves side in 1998, but his form was strong enough to warrant a senior game. Aged 37, he became the Rovers’ oldest debutant, when he ran out against North Albury.

After interspersing some assistant-coaching at the Murray Bushrangers and an odd game with the Hawks in ‘99, Terry spent three seasons with Moyhu.

Then, when his brother Paul was appointed coach of North Wangaratta, he decided on a last hurrah as a player, barely missing a match throughout 2003-‘04.

“My body was pretty well buggered by then,” he says. As well it might be……He’d played just over 400 games and, but for a damaged knee, broken jaw, arm and sundry niggling ailments, would have chalked up plenty more.

Goorambat turned to him to guide them through their early, faltering years of O & K footy. He coached in 2010-‘11.

“It was a bit of a struggle, but no-one expected big things,” he says. “To be honest, we were out of our depth at that stage . But I was privileged to be able to help out my home club .”

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

Terry’s original brush with ill-health came 12 years ago, when he had a melanoma removed from his shoulder.

“Thoughts of that came flashing back just before last Christmas, when I was putting up a fence for a mate in Melbourne. I had a bad pain in the middle of the night….so bad that I couldn’t finish the job,” he says.

“So the doctors started doing tests…X-Rays of the heart and chest. I kept going back for about four weeks……..I felt like a hypochondriac, because I’m not used to going to the doctors. Then I had a blood test and a lung X-Ray, and the cancer showed up there.”

His next step was to Oncology in Albury, for more X-Rays.

“I came home and started vomiting after lunch, then ended up in Wang Hospital for a week, and headed to Royal Melbourne for a bowel operation in mid-January.”

After his first treatment Terry was diagnosed with Grade 4 Melocstatic Melanoma.

He spent five out of the first seven weeks in Hospital, contracted pneumonia and had a brain seizure. The cancer just tore through his body, and was in the lungs, liver, bladder, bowel, brain and bones.

“They told me not too many get through Grade 4, and that I was extremely lucky I started the treatment, as I wouldn’t have lasted six weeks otherwise.”

“They started this treatment, Immunotherapy, and said I’d last till Christmas to start with, but now I’m in remission. Remarkably, the last scan showed that the tumours had gone. That means I could get 2-5 years, or even more.”

“It fixed Jarred Roughead……..I hope it’s done the job on me, too. I can’t praise the Albury-Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre enough.”

The only problem was that there were a lot of side-effects. Doctors had stopped his treatment because it was attacking his liver. He reckons he’s about 80 per cent fit physically and mentally.

“But that’s great because they say only 15 per cent of people who have the treatment get to remission. I’ve been blessed.”

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

Terry is fighting his health battle in the same manner he played his footy……full-bore.

“The thing I cherished about football was the mateship. I loved the training and all the banter that went with playing the game…..Really enjoyed having a beer with the opposition after you’d been going hammer and tongs with them all afternoon.”

“Many of those same people have been contacting me recently and wishing me well. I really appreciate it….”

‘HARD WORK THE RECIPE’ FOR THOONA FARMER …..’

In an earlier life I was a bread-carter for Sunicrust Bakeries.

Heading off in the wee hours – with the smell of fresh bread wafting through the van and Country music piercing the airwaves; you’d wind around the Warby Ranges, and stop off at farmhouses and mailboxes, via Taminick, Goorambat, Bungeet, Devenish and St.James………

Every Monday, around ninish, I would sidle into a property on Devenish Road, Thoona, and be greeted by a lady who was always eager for a detailed yak about footy – the length of which depended on whether Benalla had got up the previous Saturday………….

Forty-five years on, I’m back in the same neck of the woods, catching up with Billy Sammon, who’s tickled by my recollection: “Yeah, Mum could talk all right,” he says. “And, by the way, you probably gathered early in the piece that she was my greatest fan………..”

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

Bill ranks among Thoona’s most illustrious sporting products, even though he played just the one season with the locals, after returning from six years at Assumption College, Kilmore.

Next to Catholicism, football ranks a close second in the religious stakes at Assumption. Bill says that, during winter he’d be playing, training or handling a footy six days a week: “And on our day off, we’d do a Cross-Country.”

“Brother Domnus had been the coach for ever and a day, and it was every kid’s aim to play under him in the First 18. I never quite made it – I was too small – but I reckon all that ball-handling stood me in good stead later on.”

He was just 5 foot six and a half when he returned home to the farm, but grew five and a half inches in the next year.

“I must have been a midget. I was picking up wool in the shearing shed one day, when (Wangaratta Rovers coach) Ken Boyd came in. He walked straight past me and asked one of the shearers: “I’m looking for Bill Sammon. Is he around ?”

Chuffed as he was by Boyd’s interest, which had obviously been piqued by his form with Thoona, Bill had his mind set on playing for Benalla. He drove in, unannounced, to the Demons’ first pre-season training session, and appeared in a couple of practice matches.

In one of them he was matched against an established star, Alan Beaton, and lowered his colours. “After the game I was feeling a bit sorry for myself,” says Bill, “and I remember one of the selectors consoling me: ‘Don’t worry young fellah, he’s a senior player’. I spun around and said: “So am I.”

He was right.

A fortnight later he debuted against the Rovers, and performed creditably, booting three goals and parting company with a couple of teeth  when he was flattened by Hawks iron-man Len Greskie.

It was his ‘welcome’ to Ovens and Murray football, but there was no doubt that, in the young on-baller, Benalla had acquired a player of rare talent. He was never dropped from the senior side.

When I recall his attributes, and suggest that he was a ready-made star, Bill says that’s a bit of an exaggeration: “Look, I had to work really hard. I wasn’t a great mark, wasn’t an outstanding kick, but one thing I could do was find the footy all right.”

He did enough to attract interest from Geelong, South Melbourne, Fitzroy and Melbourne. The Cats invited him down and he had a yarn to club greats Neil Trezise and Peter Pianto, who were keen for him to try his luck if he elected to undertake the Veterinary Science degree, to which he’d been admitted.

“But Dad needed a hand on the farm and I decided that’s where my future lay. Besides, I jammed my knee in a Hay-Baler not long after, and that set me back a bit,” he says.

Benalla’s fortunes fluctuated in the latter part of the sixties, but the arrival of the charismatic Vern Drake in 1970 was a key factor in their return to power.

“He took the professionalism of the playing group to a new level and was a brilliant forward. He was also a fitness fanatic, and kept emphasising that a solid pre-season helped get early wins on the board. We had some good young kids coming through, too, and they thought the world of ‘Drakey’. ”

Bill didn’t need any convincing about fitness. After a day’s work on the farm during the summer, he’d get out and jog his way around the backroads of Thoona. “I loved it, and It kept me super-fit. But, I’ve probably paid the price in latter years, as I’ve had both hips replaced.”

He was a handy side-kick to Drake, who booted 87 and 118 goals in his final two seasons with the Demons. Bill provided the necessary ‘steel’ in the midfield, and inspired his team-mates with his courage and determination.

Benalla finished third in 1971 and ‘72, beaten in both Preliminary Finals by the eventual premiers, Wang. Rovers.

They topped the ladder in 1973, and, with a group that had been moulded over three or four seasons, appeared primed for a realistic assault on the flag.

More than 15,000 fans packed the Wangaratta Showgrounds to see the Demons and ‘Hoppers stage a battle royal. North used their physical strength in an attempt to counter Benalla’s pace and teamwork.

The inevitable stoushes erupted in the opening term, and Bill Sammon, who was being heavily tagged by North’s Barry Burrowes, was in the thick of them.IMG_3631

“I copped a whack from behind at one stage, and was sure it was Burrowes again, so I turned around to let him have it.”

“But it was the Morris Medallist, Johnny Smith, who I dropped,” Bill recalls. “Smithy went right off the air for a while, and shortly after, was reported for striking Robbie Allen. The aftermath of it was that Smithy received a six-week suspension, which he served the next season. It cost him hack-to-back Medals.”

“He’s been out here to visit me a couple of times, and we have a good laugh about it. But, I can tell you, he wasn’t a happy boy at the time.”

Sammon was named the Demons’ best player, as they held off the fast-finishing Hoppers, to win an action-packed Grand Final by seven points. Achieving the ultimate, ranked among his most memorable football moments.IMG_3636

But amongst the euphoria of victory, he spared a thought for his old mentor Vern Drake, who had moved to Cooee earlier that year, and coached his side to the North-West Tasmanian flag on the same day.

“There’s no doubt that a portion of the ‘73 premiership belonged to ‘Drakey’ for the work he’d put in,” he says.

Bill had given thought to coaching, and was regarded as an obvious candidate. An offer bobbed up from Yarrawonga not long after the Grand Final, which seemed an ideal fit. “I didn’t like the prospect of leaving Benalla, but I was ready to coach, and knew Yarra was a great club.”

There certainly wasn’t much haggling when they sat down to negotiate the finer details of the coaching position. “Leo Bourke, the President, asked me how much I wanted. I think I mentioned something like $3,000. He said: ‘How about $4,000.’ And that was that.”

The Pigeons dropped just two matches during the home-and-away rounds of 1974. They looked every inch a flag prospect in the Second-Semi, when they led the Rovers by 45 points at three quarter-time.IMG_3634

But the Hawks booted eight goals in a withering final term, to fall eight points short. Sammon, who had been the architect of their dominance for the majority of the game, knew that the scramble for the flag was far from over.

And so it proved. The Rovers piled on 8.3 to 1.1 in the first-quarter of the Grand Final, and were never seriously challenged – eventually winning by 61 points.

During his time at Yarrawonga, Bill also assumed the position of playing-coach of the Ovens and Murray League.

It was during the period that the League was banned from competing in the Country Championships, and the O & M negotiated to play a couple of representative games against the VFA.

“Without a doubt, these were the best standard games I ever played in,” he says. “In 1975 they probably treated it a bit flippantly, and we kicked 24 goals, to beat them by about 50 points.”

“The following year, they brought up a crackerjack side, which included blokes like Freddie Cook, Joe Radojavic and Colin Hobbs, and it proved a helluva game. They got up in the finish, by nine points. Of all the inter-League games I played, those two stick in my mind. It demonstrated how strong O & M footy was during that era.”IMG_3616

After spending three seasons at the helm of Yarra, Bill was entertaining the thought of retirement, before being enticed home to Benalla, to succeed Terry Leahy as playing-coach. “They couldn’t find anyone, so I agreed to take it on.”

Demon die-hards were rapt. They reckoned their favourite son was back where he belonged – in the role he was destined to fill earlier in the decade.

But there was work to do. After a middle-of-the-road first season, Benalla sat second bottom, four rounds into 1978. They then proceeded to reel off 15 straight wins, and marched into the Grand Final, as red-hot fancies.

The game provided Bill with his biggest let-down in football. “We just weren’t ‘on’ that day, and the Rovers were far too good,” he says.

He decided, after the 54-point defeat, that it was time to hang up his boots. He had played 251 games (196 with Benalla, 55 with Yarra ), won two B & F’s, coached for five years, and had indelibly written his name into  O & M folklorel.

“It was time to spend a bit more time on the farm – and with Glenise and the kids.”

“I was a bit of a control-freak and expended a lot of nervous energy on coaching. It probably affected my footy; I’m not sure. But I loved it…….”

Bill maintained contact with football in retirement, serving as a long-term O & M Board member and inter-league selector, as well keeping in touch with his old clubs, Benalla and Yarrawonga.

His services to the game were acknowledged when he was inducted to the O & M Hall of Fame in 2014……IMG_3628

“FINDING FORM AT THE RIGHT TIME….”

Paul O’Brien played 90 games for Wangaratta Rovers during their ‘Golden Era’ of the seventies. Mid-sized, burly and super-competitive, he was an ideal spare-parts man, who could be thrust into a variety of roles with telling effect.

Some would say he timed it to perfection when he made the move from Greta in 1974, but it was no accident that he was to figure in four premierships in his six years at the Findlay Oval.

O’Brien was a strong personality; the archetypal big-occasion player, who could take a game by the scruff of the neck. In short, he was born to play in finals.

One of his best performances came on a warm late-September day in 1978………….

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

The memories come flooding back when we start reminiscing about that Grand Final.

“I know we weren’t expected to win,” Paul says. “ Benalla were the form team. But, as with a couple of those other premierships in the seventies, we weren’t necessarily the most talented side. It was a matter of being able to produce it on the day.”

“The game had an extra dimension to it for me, because ‘Ab’ ( his brother Greg, who had tied for the 1976 Morris Medal during his stint with the Hawks) was lining up in the back pocket for Benalla.”

“ There was talk of a fair bit of money being thrown around by their backers……and a few of our supporters lining up to accomodate them………..”

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

The Demons started the season in less than emphatic fashion. They’d finished seventh in 1977, but recruited well, and were expected to be among the big improvers.

After four rounds they were lying second-bottom, with just one win. To accentuate the pain, they were reeling from a 79-point belting at the hands of the Rovers.

From that point on, they’d strung together fifteen straight wins, including an exciting 13-point victory over North Albury in the second semi-final. Brilliantly led by favourite son Billy Sammon, and with players like Martiniello, Hyde, Ellis, Symes and De Fazio at their peak, they were in rare form. They’d been so irresistible that few tipsters dared to go against them.

The Hawks’ finals prospects appeared ‘shot’ when North Albury gave them a ‘touch-up’ in the Qualifying Final. But they recovered strongly, with impressive performances against Albury and the Hoppers in successive weeks, to win their way into their eighth Grand Final in nine years.

The stage was set for a classic at the Wangaratta Showgrounds……..

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

Rovers coach Darryl Smith was in his second year at the helm. Eighteen months earlier, and still laid up after a knee ‘reco’, he was surprisingly appointed as Neville Hogan’s successor.

“My first year as coach was a nightmare,” he recalls. He battled his way through ’77 , suffering a succession of niggling injuries, and started on the bench in the decider, in which the Hawks thrashed Wangaratta.

Although still not playing with the freedom of his earlier years, Smith was still happy enough with the on-field contribution he’d made in 1978, and was looking forward to performing a role in the Grand Final.

“I had my leg propped on a rub-down table, doing a few stretches before the game, when I felt something go in my calf. I thought,’Shit, that feels no good at all,’ and asked our trainer, Johnny Spence, if he could have a look at it.”IMG_3443

“He went away and grabbed a glass of water, handed me a tablet, and said: ‘Here, take this.’ It worked wonders and I didn’t feel a thing after that.”

Smith and his selectors sprung a surprise when they punted on an 18 year-old beanstalk, Neale McMonigle, who had played just three senior games.

His dad, ‘Big John’ had been a premiership ruckman for the Hawks twenty years earlier, and was remembered as a highly-talented, nonchalant character. The lad inherited similar traits, but had forced his way into the side with some exhibitions of fingertip marking and long kicking. Nonetheless, it was a risky selection, the critics surmised.

The inexperienced Graeme Bell was handed one of the toughest assignments. He had the responsibility of trying to nullify potent Demon ruck pair, Emmie De Fazio and Malcolm Ellis. In another crucial match-up, long-kicking left-footer David Spence lined up on dangerous Demon spearhead Brian Symes……..

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

The Hawks got away to a flier, kicking two goals in the opening minutes. But it was the mid-field fisticuffs, as much as the football, that fired the fans in a frenetic opening term. When the dust settled, umpire Glenn James had booked Benalla’s Stephen Hide for striking back flanker Chris Porter.

“Why would you want to job ‘Clang’,” said one team-mate. “It was like whacking a slab of cement. Whenever someone had a crack at him he’d just shrug and get on with the job.”

No-one was better suited to handle such a delicate situation than Umpire James, who was among the VFL’s finest and most respected men in white, and had a great rapport with the players.

At the height of the melee, young Hawk rover Peter McGuire, who had called him a ‘black prick’, was promptly informed that he was also ‘in the book’. At the end of the quarter McGuire apologised to James, who winked and whispered: “If you start getting a few kicks I’ll forget about it.”

The Rovers, at this stage, were 19 points in front, and in complete charge of the game. By half-time it was as good as over.

Everything they did was a class above their disappointing opponents, and their disposal was spot-on, both by hand and foot. Unfortunately, the Demons chose the season’s biggest occasion to turn in a collective ‘shocker’.IMG_3440

One theory was that, having played just the one match in four weeks, they weren’t sufficiently battle-hardened to withstand the rigours of a boots-and-all Grand Final.

Their coach Billy Sammon picked up his share of kicks, but was nowhere near the destructive force of the bulldozing mid-fielder, O’Brien, who bobbed up everywhere.

‘Sam’ Symes proved a headache for the Hawks in attack, and Gary Walker was miserly in outbustling century goal-kicker Steve Norman, and keeping him to two majors.

Their best player – and leading possession-winner, however, was lightly-framed winger Adrian Fuhrmann

But Benalla couldn’t suppress the brilliant Andrew Scott. In his four years in the O & M he had snared a Morris Medal and twice finished runner-up, rapidly assuming cult hero status within the club. He again revealed all of his attributes in picking up 20 kicks, dishing out 6 handballs and taking 10 telling marks.IMG_3441

Many would have opted for him as best afield, but umpire James gave the gong to Trevor Bell, who also pulled down 10 fine ‘grabs’ in a dominant display at centre half forward. It was the second year in succession that the prodigiously-talented Bell had taken out the Award.

His twin Graeme, who reigned supreme in the ruck, wasn’t far behind. He repeatedly outleaped his opponents, to put the ball in the path of Hawk little men Eddie Flynn, Mark Booth, Neville Allan and Peter McGuire.

The questionable move of playing the ‘greenhorn’ McMonigle, paid dividends when he booted three goals and provided a handy target up forward.

The Rovers eventually cruised to the line, booting 15.18 (108) to Benalla’s 7.12 (54).

The team that got them there was:

B : GREG ELLIOTT, DAVID SPENCE, DARRYL SMITH.

H.B: CHRIS PORTER, MERV HOLMES, GREG TANNER.

C: EDDIE FLYNN, PAUL O’BRIEN, GARY BELL.

H.F: MARK BOOTH, TREVOR BELL, LEIGH HARTWIG.IMG_3444

F: NEVILLE ALLAN, STEVE NORMAN, NEALE McMONIGLE.

R: GRAEME BELL, ANDREW SCOTT, PETER McGUIRE.

19, 20: BARRIE COOK, GARY ALLEN.

 

 

THE WASH-UP

# Darryl Smith woke up the morning after the ‘78 Grand Final with excruciating pain in his calf – the same pain he had experienced in the pre-match. He felt compelled to ask Johnny Spence just what sort of a pill it was, that had allowed him to get through the game. “A ‘Smartie’, was the reply.

# Eddie Flynn also felt a twinge in his knee during the match, but played on, to become one of the team’s stars. A fortnight later, the knee ‘went’ during a game of basketball. He had an operation in January, rehabbed frantically and went on to play in the 1979 Flag.

# Fifteen members of the 1978 Premiership team finished their careers at the Rovers with 100 games or more, including (3) 200-Gamers and (2) 300-Gamers.

# Eight players were later inducted to the club’s Hall of Fame. Five are members of the Ovens and Murray’s Hall of Fame.

# Long-striding winger Leigh Hartwig was declared the winner of the ‘Bob Rose Medal’ at the Best & Fairest count a few nights later. He repeated the feat in 1979.

# The Hawks continued their amazing run of success the following season. Topping the ladder with just four losses, they ran away from a plucky Wodonga side in the last quarter of the Grand Final, to prevail by five goals.

Chasing four-in-a-row in 1980, they were outplayed in the second half of the Grand Final by a North Albury side which had come the hard way, via the Elimination Final.

# Most of the stars of ‘78, will meet on Saturday for a 40-Year Re-union of a
famous Premiership.……….Sadly, they won’t include Garry Bell and Peter McGuire, who both lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents………..

# The function will also be a Re-Union of the club’s 1958 and ‘88 flag teams…….IMG_3445