VINNIE’S DREAMS COME TRUE……

I half-expect to hear strands of ‘We’re from Tigerland’ wafting through the air when I pull up in Garnett Avenue the day after the famous victory.

But no, all is quiet. Except when Vincent Costantino greets me at the back door, and the dulcet tones of Bruce McAvaney are excitedly chirping away in the background.

Vinnie explains that this is the third time he’s watched the Grand Final. “Each version gets better.”

Our conversation leads to an extensive post-mortem of the game. He was a tad worried early on when Rory Sloane was cutting loose; was happy to see Jack Riewoldt take a couple of grabs; liked the way the ‘Tiges’ were applying pressure; and loved it when they began to pile on the goals in the third quarter.

“That’s when I started to feel comfortable,” he says.

It’s only my opinion, but Vinnie gets my vote as Wangaratta’s most ardent Richmond supporter.

Out of the corner of my eye, I admire the limited-edition Royce Hart painting on one wall of the Lounge Room…..The Tigers’ 1997 Reserves Premiership team is proudly displayed on another ( “that’s the last flag we’d won before yesterday”)…..framed photos of ‘Captain Blood’…..an assortment of Yellow and Black memorabilia……the strong Richmond flavour of the bookshelf, with some illustrations in the books accompanied by autographs he’d collected from old Tiger
legends…….

Of course, on the table, I notice the Black phone with the Gold sash. And he explains his vehicle number plates – 178 RT Richmond Football Club – are his tribute to past champs Maurice Rioli and Michael Roach.

This is indeed a Tiger shrine. But then, so is Vinnie. He’s dressed in the number 9 Trent Cotchin shirt and matching dacks, and a heavily-inked ‘Richmond’ tattoo adorns his forearm.

“I got a half-price deal from Jake King on that one,” he tells me. I suggest that there may be room for a Premiership memento. “That’s for sure………….”
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Like most of us, Vinnie’s sporting ambitions far exceeded his ability. He loves his sport with a passion……Always has.

He’s proud of the fact that he played in an Imperials Junior League Premiership team, alongside Dean Harding, who went on to Fitzroy. Short stints with the Magpie Thirds and King Valley followed.

He was also mad on cricket and played a couple of WDCA A-Grade games with United. An opening bat, if I remember rightly.

But he ‘did’ his knee, and that was that.

In a bid to stay fit, Vinnie could be seen plodding around the streets of Wangaratta……Always decked out in the Tiger guernsey, shorts and socks. He was a walking – or running – advertisement for the Richmond Football Club.

“I used to run three times a day…..then come home and spend an hour on the exercise bike,” he says.

Just for extra effect he would wrap a bit of plastic around his torso in a bid to lose a bit more ‘juice’.

He became as recognisable as any of the city’s landmarks. Even in the aftermath of yet another shocking Richmond season, and even in the sweltering heat, he portrayed a picture of proud defiance, when others were cutting up their membership tickets.

Then, one year he stopped people in their tracks. He began wearing a number 4 Port Adelaide guernsey.

It was early 1998. “Vinnie’s dumped the Tigers,” several gobsmacked observers remarked. But there was quiet relief when it was discovered that he’d only purchased the Power jumper in deference to one of his Tiger idols – ex-Wang boy Chris Naish – who had been traded to Port in the off-season.

Soon he was back in the familiar regalia……..
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Vinnie describes his occupation as a ‘Public Toilet Cleaner’, or to be more explicit, a ‘ Cleaning Professional’. He says he has risen in the council’s ranks, from his previous role of ‘Garbologist.’

“Someone’s gotta do it,” he jokes.

I often strike him in the city’s business area in the early hours. He’s always up for a yarn and a dissection of the AFL and O & M scene.

The week-end was the culmination of his ‘Dream Year’.

He travelled down to Etihad the previous Sunday, to watch the Richmond VFL team lose a dramatic Grand Final to Port Melbourne. You may recall that Tiger Ben Lennon had a shot after the siren to clinch the game, but it drifted away.

The day before, Vinnie had guided the other love of his life – the Wangaratta Magpies – home to an against-the-odds premiership against the League’s powerhouse, Albury.

He knows a few of the young Pies pretty well, but more importantly, he’s the unofficial Chairman of the Brad Melville Fan Club.

Brad’s his nephew, and one of the League’s brightest prospects. He enjoyed a terrific season, building on a fine 2016, when he was voted the O & M’s Rising Star.

I suggest to him that Brad should be happy with his game in the ‘Grannie’, but Vinnie, the master of under-statement, simply replied: “He went okay.”

It’s nearing decision-making time for Brad, who also has a burgeoning cricket career. A middle-order bat and off-spinner, he played for Melbourne in last season’s District Final and some experts predict that he could be headed for higher honours.

There was no time for celebrating the Magpies’ flag, as he had to duck over to Cobram-Barooga the next day for a State Under-19 trial match.

He has already represented Victoria Country in several Under-Age fixtures and Vinnie reckons, when push comes to shove, that cricket might have to take precedence over footy.

Vinnie and the family have watched most of Brad’s footy and cricket from their vantage spot, on the bank behind the town-end goals at the Norm Minns Oval.

He’ll be sad if he doesn’t continue with the Magpies, but there’ll be regular trips down to the ‘big smoke’ to follow his progress in Premier Cricket. He couldn’t be happier with how the young bloke’s sporting career is progressing.

He escorts me  to view his other ‘shrine’, in the bedroom. Two signed Richmond guernseys take pride of place, along with the Trent Cotchin Doona cover and sundry other paraphernalia.

“But hang on,” I blurt, “what’s Johnny Farnham doing here.”

There’s a big framed photo of Australia’s pop legend hanging on the wall. It seems to me like he’s an interloper in Tiger territory.

“Yes,” he admits, “I’ve always been a huge fan.”

With the multitude of Premiership mementoes already being offered to Tiger fans, Vinnie’s keeping a close eye on what’s available.

But you can be sure that a Tiger Premiership tattoo will be on his agenda………