What happens when the roar of the crowd has faded away ?…………When the adrenalin-rush that led to you performing deeds of brilliance in the greatest competition in the land; in a game that had consumed you since you were a little tacker, is there no more……….
Some are unable to cope with the demands that confront them in football’s after-life. Others, like former Magpie Danny Craven, adapted well to this new frontier. This is the story of the perky, tiny, confident, likeable Craven…………
The fact that he is height-challenged was never a problem to Danny Craven. He had a self- assuredness and a lively personality that made him a magnet to team-mates. And the fact that he had a great love for footy and knew how to pick up a kick, didn’t hurt, either.
He spent most of his winter week-ends during his formative years chasing the Sherrin with Chiltern in under-age competitions. He would play in the U.13 Wodonga JFL on Saturdays and was just 12 when he first lined up in the Swans’ U.17 team each Sunday.
He attended Galen College and joined Wangaratta in 1984, playing five years and about 60 senior games with the Pies. “I’ve got great affection for Wang and I’ve always regarded it as my home club…….and I’ve been connected with a few over the years”, he says.
1988 was his break-out season. A seven-goal, best-on-ground performance for the Ovens and Murray against the Essendon District League was the highlight. But his consistent form also saw him finish fifth in the Morris Medal, and threw him into draft calculations.
He was duly picked up by St.Kilda, and at 162cm, became the 11th-smallest player of all-time to line up in League footy when he made his debut early in 1989. It was just before his 22nd birthday. Before he had much of a chance to make an impression, he suffered a badly broken leg when a player fell on him.
It was his fourth senior game and there was to be a lengthy recovery. He missed the rest of that season and all of the next and when he was selected in the opening round of 1991 his opposite number in the Richmond side was his old Wangaratta roving partner, Chris Naish.
Danny’s come-back game was a huge success. He picked up 32 possessions and was able to land the ball on the ample chest of a leading ‘Plugger’ Lockett on a few occasions. Naish was equally impressive, with four goals and 19 ‘grabs’, further enhancing his reputation as a dynamic small forward.
Danny averaged 20 disposals in 1991, his finest AFL season, and became somewhat of a cult hero, whilst rubbing shoulders with champions like Harvey, Bourke, Winmar, Leowe and, of course, Lockett.
I queried him about a tale that has grown legs over the years. It goes something like this:
…..He and ‘Plugger’ are sharing the bench and Danny, hyperactive bloke that he is, gets up and jogs along the boundary-line…. up and back a couple of times. Just as he passes the Saints fans, a huge roar erupts, he raises his arms in acknowledgement, only to realise that, at that very moment ‘Plugger’ is peeling off his track-suit and preparing to come onto the ground !……..
“Can’t remember”, he laughs.
‘Plugger’ and he became good mates. Danny inherited the number 14 guernsey that the big fellow vacated when he changed to the familiar number 4.
And Craven occasionally reminisces about the bullet-like pass that he delivered to ‘Plugger’, which brought up his 100th goal towards the end of 1991.
Two seasons later, after 33 games with St.Kilda, Danny moved to the Brisbane Bears, where he was to chalk up another 25 senior appearances, before his AFL career ended in 1995.
He and his wife Kim (a Wangaratta girl) were well-settled in the Sunshine State by now, and decided to take the plunge into business, investing in a Captain Snooze franchise.
21 years later it is still flourishing.
But Danny has also continued to maintain his football passion in a few diverse areas. To those who were familiar with him, it would be no surprise that he took to coaching like a duck to water.
His first appointment was as coach of wooden-spooners West Brisbane, which he took to a flag in his first season in charge – 1996.
In the restructure of Queensland football that was in vogue at the time, Wests folded a season later and in 1998 he became the playing captain of the Brisbane Lions Reserves, and assistant-coach to Roger Merrett.
When Leigh Matthews was appointed coach of the Lions later that year he brought in his own coaching panel. Danny did the running for ‘Lethal’ for a season, before heading to North Brisbane as assistant-coach. Then, in 2002, his second year as coach of Mt.Gravatt, he steered the club to its maiden AFLQ title.
He was at the helm of the Queensland State side for four years and was also involved with the State U18 team.
He has also found time to be a special-comments man for the National Indigenous Radio Service, covering the Lions’ home games over the last 15 years or so.
Last season, with his son Jasper coming up through the Reserves, he took on a role as Football Manager of Mayne, one of Brisbane’s oldest and traditionally successful clubs.
They had fallen on hard times and hadn’t won a flag since they were triumphant in 1982, under the guidance of a famous ex-Wangaratta boy, Mick Nolan.
The Tigers won the seniors and reserves premierships and, according to Danny, are looking good for back-to-back flags in the coming Northern AFLQ season, with former Albury star, Sean Daly in charge.
Danny and Kim are taking a keen interest in the sporting progress of their two boys . Xavier and Jasper have both represented the nation in under-age handball . 17 year-old Jasper, who played in Mayne’s Reserves premiership side last year, is showing plenty of promise.
Danny’s most recent visit to Wangaratta was in December, for the birthday of an old Magpie team-mate. As happens on these occasions, tales tall and true are told and reference is sure to have been made to the famous Craven competitiveness.
They say that he hates being beaten, a trait which was obvious in his footy career. It can carry through even to a game of golf, which starts in a leisurely fashion and ends in a full-scale contest.
Just as Mick Nolan, the ‘Galloping Gasometer’, proved a god-send to Queensland football when he headed up there in 1981, Danny Craven has also been a wonderful ambassador for the code.