“….’WOOSHA’ FIGHTS BACK….”

THE SCENE : Rovers cricket nets…..any summer Saturday arvo…..Mid-to-late eighties………

Two energetic kids are oblivious to whatever drama is playing out on the W.J.Findlay Oval, where their dads are engaged in battle…..The tall, blonde lad can sure bat a bit…..For over, after over, after over, he flails everything that the whole-hearted right-armer can hurl at him.

The budding speedster bends down to retrieve the pill at one stage, and mutters something about being ‘nothing more than a friggin’ bowling-machine’. He’s confident, though, that if he can just pierce that defence he’ll get to have his turn with the willow ……But it never happens……….

Some years later, they both strut the hallowed turf of the Findlay Oval. Decreed by birth that they’ll wear the Brown and Gold of the Wangaratta Rovers, they become footy team-mates for a decade.Their cricket also flourishes, as they star for Rovers-United….until the partnership is broken….. The blonde bloke is lured to District cricket……….

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Shane Welch’s only sporting regret is that he was denied a Premiership at the Clubs he held dear to his heart .

He was just coming of age as a footballer, having been a rabid fan of the Hawks through a Golden Era, when they won four flags in seven years. They handed him a brief taste of senior footy in 1994 – mid-way through an O & M record 36 wins on the trot – the year the Club won the most recent of its 15 titles…….

And when he finally heeded everyone’s advice to try his luck with Carlton Cricket Club, his old side Rovers-United promptly nailed successive flags.

“That’s fate, I suppose. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” he says.

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Shane came through local cricket’s junior ranks, and was in his first year of Under 14’s when he also played as a keeper/batsman for Rovers-United’s C-Grade team. His old man Geoff ( whose aching body had now restricted him to wheeling down guileful, accurate, slow-medium left-armers ) and Greg Rosser ( batting legend ), were the elder statesmen of the side.

His rise was meteoric. At 16 he’d become a regular A-Grade player and a candidate for any form of rep cricket that was going.

That included being part of Wangaratta’s U.21 Mac Holten Shield side which, he reflects, was probably the most enjoyable cricket he played.

“Our team was chock-full of characters. You’d be struggling to manufacture that spirit, even in a club side. We won everything, and after the games, would celebrate accordingly.”

Shane broke into the Colts at the same time as Jaden Burns: “We went through sport together; he was just like my little brother; spent heaps of time at our place in Park Crescent. In the midst of Year 12 exams I took one of those calls you never forget, advising that he’d lost his life.”

“The Burns family asked me to deliver a poem at the funeral. I was talking to the Colts captain Chris Tidd a few weeks later. He said to me: ‘That was great, that thing you did on Burnsy.’……Less than a month later, Tiddy was also gone.”

Shane was elevated to the captaincy. Wang never went close to losing for the next two years, as they cleaned up successive Shield Finals.

In the 1994/95 decider, they knocked over ‘danger-man’, outspoken future NSW and Australia ‘A’ ‘gun’ Domenic Thornley for 3, and restricted Albury to 7/223. .

The Welch innings of 93 in 115 minutes guided Wang to victory. Many who’d been following his progress rated that as his finest innings.

He gained priceless experience, as a member of three Melbourne and four Bendigo Country Week sides, but along the way, admits he learned a couple of valuable lessons.

He’d just turned 18 and had begun to put a few decent scores together, including his first WDCA ‘ton’ – an unbeaten 126 against Rutherglen.

“Up until then I’d hardly missed any rep team I’d gone for,” he says. “There was a pretty extensive selection process for the Victorian Under 19 team, but I’d done well in the trial games and had captained Vic Country. I felt comfortable playing with the likes of Brad Hodge and Brad Williams.”

“Out of the final squad of 20 they only picked one country bloke to go to the National titles in Brisbane, and I missed the cut. I was disappointed…..pretty shattered, but it taught me to accept things, and not to get too far ahead of myself.”

He says he was put in his place one day at the Findlay Oval, when he was dismissed cheaply, nicking down leg-side:

“It annoyed me….more so the manner of the dismissal. I mumbled a few things under my breath ….cracked the shits and whacked the bat on my pad as I walked off. I’d been in the rooms for a minute or so when Max Bussell, one of Wang’s most respected cricket figures, came in.”

“He said: ‘What’s happened to you ? Remember, you’ll get out in plenty of different ways than that in your career. Just cop it on the chin’.”

“I learned that ‘Pa’ didn’t like what he’d seen and said to Max: ‘If you don’t go in and have a word to him, I will.”

‘Pa’ (Arthur) was his greatest fan. The moment he’d stride to the crease, Arthur, who was a laid-back, wise-cracking personality of the local game, would tense up…… He’d embark on a couple of nervous laps of the ground…..once the young bloke had passed 30 or so, his normal demeanour would re-appear.

After a productive 1994/95, which featured 430-odd WDCA runs ( including another ‘ton’), Shane headed to the ‘big smoke’ to attend RMIT University. Carlton and Fitzroy-Doncaster both pursued him.

He opted for the Blues, principally because his cousin Darren had spent four seasons there. It seemed a good fit, and he looked forward to learning off players like Rohan Larkin and Ian Wrigglesworth who’d played at the higher level.

A couple of half-centuries in the Seconds earned him promotion. His debut First XI hand of 58 against Dandenong impressed the good judges, but they nodded sagely a few weeks later when he scored 108 against Fitzroy-Doncaster.

“I just thought the runs would keep coming,” Shane says, “….but it’s never that easy.”

After a very successful opening season he began 1997/98 with a bright 55 against Prahran. Four games later he was back in the Seconds with three or four other youngsters who had been touted as the ‘future of Carlton’.

“I ended up becoming a bit disillusioned; got down on myself. I decided I’d free the arms up a bit….try tonking the spinners and belt the cover off the ball…. ‘Pa’ summed it up. He said: ‘You’re batting like a bowler’. “

“Cricket had lost its charm for me. I gave it away at the end of that season……..”

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His football apprenticeship began at his dad’s old Junior League club, Combined Churches, followed by two years with the Hawk Thirds and one in the Reserves.

Along the way, the Murray Bushrangers slotted him in for a late-season game in which he snagged four goals as a floating forward.

By 1995 he was a permanent fixture in the Rovers line-up, alternating as a forward, tall defender or relief ruckman.

For the next ten years, Shane became one of those fellahs who are vital to the culture of a successful footy Club …..Reliable……Always giving 100%……Disciplined…….Willing to accept whatever role he’d been handed….Rarely in the limelight….And enthusiastically embracing the after-match festivities.

During that period, he was one of a group of 20-25 city-based country players who’d gather at the Princes Park No.3 Oval and improvise their own training schedule.

“Travelling back each week wasn’t a chore for me then, “ Shane says, “It was an easy drive. I enjoyed getting back home.”

His first year of teaching – 1999 – took him to Yea High School, where he politely declined the local club’s invitation to accept the coaching job.

Instead, he assumed ruck duties for the Hawks when the ‘dicky’ knee of big Paul Greaves caved in early in the season.

In 2002, the year the Rovers built momentum and developed into a flag threat, there were also plenty of stints in the ruck, relieving another ‘man mountain’, Aaron Schenke.

They had beaten North Albury three times that season, but the Hoppers got out of the blocks quickly in the Grand Final, and established a big lead. A dramatic fight-back ensued; the Hawks wrested the momentum, but eventually North ran away with the game.

“We had two or three blokes who were a bit proppy. We’d expended a lot of energy getting back into the game, and had nothing left when it counted,” Shane says.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….He played just four games in 2005, and was finding that other things in life had taken priority over football. Besides dealing with a niggling quad injury and heavy work commitments, the travel had now become a burden.

Additionally, Jo (his future wife ) was in the throes of transitioning from England.

Inevitably, he was resigned to pulling the pin with his beloved Hawks. After 160 senior games, Shane ‘Woosher’ Welch, Life Member and intensely loyal clubman hung up the boots.

He taught at the same Melbourne-based secondary school for 19 years, and says it took a heavy toll on his health.

“It wasn’t a harmonious place. You were basically just trying to control the kids. I didn’t read the warning signs of fatigue. A heavy VCE workload, high expectations and raising a young family in Melbourne contributed to my burnout / exhaustion.”

“It was an extremely challenging time – a real battle. At 41 years of age I had to dig deep to slowly regain a sense of self-worth.”

At the end of 2018, Shane, Jo and the kids, Rosie ( now 11 ) and Luke ( 8 ) packed up and moved back to his home town.

He maintained his passion for Physical Education. He’s now working at Galen College, has written, and overseen the curriculum for the Peak Football Academy, and is coaching the ‘talls’ at the Murray Bushrangers.

He’s in his second year back at the Rovers as their Phys-Ed Advisor, and has guided the players through a gruelling summer of fitness work .

He has also designed an Out-Door training Program , comprising circuit-based 50-minute sessions. It involves 12-15 stations, using resistance, weight, running and sporting equipment.

It’s his intention to launch it in the near future.

“Thanks to the support of family, colleagues and mates, I’ve been able to work my way back to now be able to make small contributions within the community,” he says.

“And I’m prouder of that than any of the centuries I made” ………………”

‘ RAGS TO RICHES ‘……..THE ASHLEY GILBERT STORY….

Ashley Gilbert recalls the moment that a WDCA Final turned on its ear……..

His memory flicks back to March 1992…….. As he assumes his spot in first slip, he’s privately chuffed that his middle-order half-century has pushed ‘Cinderella’ side College to a defendable first innings total of 284.

“We knew that if we could pick up Corowa’s ‘danger-man’ ‘Psycho’ Carroll early-on, we were in with a real show. My opening partner ‘Bouncer’ McCormick takes the new pill; ‘Psycho’, still on zero, slashes at one outside off stump, and I grass the catch. He goes on to score 153 and steer his side to victory………”

What was shaping as a ‘rags to riches’ story for College – the popular underdogs – turned todisappointment, as powerhouse Corowa clinched their fifth straight flag………
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‘Rags to riches’ is perhaps an appropriate way to summarise the career of Ash Gilbert.

He’s a Lakes Entrance boy, and grew up with no great pretensions to sporting glory. “I played a bit of cricket as a kid, but didn’t crack it for any rep sides, or the like. I had a few other priorities,” he says.

When he landed a job in Leongatha, with the National Bank, he was enticed into having a game for a year or so. “But, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t all that keen. I drifted away.”

A transfer to Wangaratta in the bank changed all that. A new work-mate, Donna Grady, suggested that, for a bloke of his size he’d make a good fast bowler. “Well, I have done a bit of bowling, “ Ash replied.

Donna’s husband Pat, recruited him to College. For the first couple of games he rolled his arm over in C-Grade. But the boys knew they had a player on their hands and, once he had qualified, slipped him into the Senior line-up on the eve of the finals.

College had finished on the bottom of the ladder for the previous five years, but surged dramatically, to finish as minor premiers. With their lethal new-ball combination in fine form, they wrecked Magpies in the semi-Final ( Gilbert 4/21, McCormick 3/30 ).

The Final was one of the most gripping – and certainly controversial – in WDCA history. After College had batted for all of the first day, vandals found a way into the padlocked oval that night, and took to the wicket with hammers.

Corowa had misgivings about commencing their innings, but, after a delay, play continued. It was the mercurial Anthony Carroll who then stepped up to take the game out of College’s hands………..
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The two and a bit seasons he spent in Wangaratta revived Ash’s enthusiasm for cricket. Batsmen found him a difficult proposition – a 205cm gangling giant, propelling the new cherry from a great height, and continually forcing them onto the defensive. His batting, too, proved more than handy.

Saturdays were spent with College. On Sundays he turned out for Moyhu in the Social Association. Inspired by the friendships he had created, his competitive juices flowed. He revelled in the argy-bargy of a tough game of cricket.

He shared in a premiership for Moyhu in 1992/93, and just missed out the following season, when they almost had one hand on the Cup. Ash’s 4/23 had limited West End to 9/146. Moyhu, needing just 13 in two overs, with six wickets in hand, fell 5 short.

“It was a good standard of cricket in both competitions,” he says. “People used to knock the Sunday comp a bit, but gee, there were some good players and the top teams were fairly even.”

In the brief time he spent in Wangaratta, Ash made trips to both Melbourne and Bendigo Country Weeks in successive years. He found himself well-suited to the bounce and carry of the good tracks in the city.

He hadn’t given much thought to his cricketing future, but when he received a bank transfer to Euroa, initially decided to travel to the ‘big smoke’ each week, to try his luck with North Melbourne.

“ ‘Bouncer’ (Barrie McCormick) had been down there for a season, and had made a big impact. I think, from memory, he played a game or two with the Victorian Second XI. They gave me a chance and I settled in okay, sharing the new ball with him,” Ash recalls.

He had played 45 District games with the ‘Roos over three seasons, when he and North parted company three games into the 1997/98 season. “To be truthful, I wasn’t very fit, but the culmination of it was that I had a ‘blue’ with the Chairman of Selectors,” he says.

He started training with a suburban club, Caulfield-Glenhuntly, and had just about decided to sign on, when Carlton all-rounder Ian Wrigglesworth, who knew him from their days in Gippsland, contacted him.

“The best decision I ever made,” he says, of the Blues enticing him to Princes Park.
Carlton found him a job reading gas meters, which involved plenty of trudging around city streets.

“I dropped a heap of weight. For the first time in my career I’d got really fit.”
In the off-season he was invited to the Cricket Academy in Adelaide for three months, by its head coach, Rod Marsh.

He worked on refining his technique, rather than just loping in, using his height and strength and letting the ball go. They impressed upon him the importance of getting his run-up smoothed out, and bowling the right lines.

He played for the Academy in a couple of three-day games in Brisbane, against New Zealand, then in a one-dayer against Australia.

“I had a front-row seat to the Adam Gilchrist Show, and looked forward to seeing another great knock from him. But I had to be a smart-arse, and get him caught behind first ball,” he recalls.

When he followed this up by having  Steve Waugh caught at third-man, eyebrows were raised. This bloke had something……..

At the airport a week or so later, Waugh met a Carlton official, who mentioned that he was heading overseas to sign mercurial Pakistani leg-spinner Abdul Qadir, for the 1998/99 season.

“With Qadir and the big bloke, Gilbert, you’ll have the most lethal club attack in the country,” said the Aussie skipper.

Ash’s performances for Carlton duly earned him a spot in the State squad and, eventually, his first-class debut for Victoria against the touring Englishmen.

He earned a pass mark, with figures of 2/44 and 2/63, and the plaudits of the experts, who felt that he was ‘dangerous enough’. It was a run-in with English batsman Mark Ramprakash which produced the headlines, though.

The right-hander didn’t relish the send-off he received when Gilbert dismissed him in the second innings. The English press zeroed in on the aggressive speedster.
Ash played one Shield game – against Tasmania – that season, and featured in four Mercantile Mutual one-dayers.

But he realised his first-class career was limited. “When they were all available, I had Paul Reiffel, Damien Fleming, Ian Harvey and Matty Innes in front of me in the queue. I knew I wasn’t quite good enough,” he said.

He was still rated among District cricket’s top quicks, and played on for another three seasons.

His District career produced 97 games ( 45 with North Melbourne and 52 with Carlton). He captured 190 wickets and scored 911 runs over eight years.

“The end came when I decided to go to the races early in the 2001/02 season, and missed training. ‘Scholesy’ ( Carlton coach John Scholes) wasn’t too impressed. He said: ‘That’s it. You’re finished.’ “

He spent the rest of that season with Bentleigh, where he won a Club Championship, then had more than a decade away from the game, before saddling up with VTCA club Strathmore.

“I was in my forties, but was enjoying my cricket, until I did my knee last season. It was time to pull the pin,” he says.

Ash operates his own business, servicing fire equipment, and is now back at Carlton, as bowling coach. He’s excited about some of the lads coming through at Princes Park, like 16 year-old all-rounder Mackenzie Harvey and talented speedster Xavier Crone.

I suggest that, had he been lured to District cricket as a teen-ager , rather than his mid-twenties, it might have had a big impact on his career.

“Who knows…….. but I’m happy with the way things panned out,” he says………..

‘ROCKET’

 

To his Corowa cricket team-mates he was ‘Harry’, the most important component in a premiership juggernaut . The ‘go-to’ man who could be relied upon to extract the side from a crisis with a big innings or a fiery 5-over spell.

To opponents he was ‘Rocket’, the unsmiling, aloof, taciturn leader, begrudgingly acknowledged as the first bloke you would pick in your ‘Dream Team’.

Many cricket followers in this area rated him the outstanding player of his generation – and possibly among the best in the WDCA’s long history.

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Rodney Lane grew up in a football environment. His dad, John, had been one of the old-style ‘tough-men’ of the Ovens and Murray League, who played in middle, or lower-ranked Corowa teams for most of his 253-game career.

‘Big John’ assumed the role as ‘protector’ for his less physically-adorned team-mates, and at 6’4″ and tipping the scales at 16 stone, he was a daunting opponent.

The two undoubted highlights in his lengthy spell at the John Foord Oval were Grand Final appearances. In 1963, Corowa were belted by Benalla, but in 1968 they caused a major boil-over in defeating raging-hot favourites, Wodonga.

It was the Spiders first flag for 36 years and a rich reward for the hard-toiling ruckman.
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‘Rocket’ was to make his own telling contribution with the merged combination – Corowa-Rutherglen – as a raw-boned, lanky centre half forward-cum ruckman with sharp elbows.

His 150-odd games were full of endeavour and featured one Grand Final appearance, in 1992, when the Kangaroos shocked Wang.Rovers in a thrilling Preliminary, but were not quite good enough to match Wodonga in the ‘big one’.

He played it hard, with shades of his old man’s spirit. And was an important component of those good ‘Roo sides of the ’90’s.

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But it was as a cricketer that Rodney Lane will live long in the memory. He and his older brother David were part of the inaugural Corowa Cricket Club, which made the move to the Wangaratta & District Association in 1985/86.

The reasoning was full of logic. There were many talented young cricketers in the area and, if they were to progress, they needed to be playing on turf – and in a higher-standard competition.

Two years earlier, the Rutherglen Association had played Wangaratta in a North-East Cup final. Many of the members of that team were to form the nucleus of the Corowa line-up which would take the WDCA by storm throughout a dominant era.

Within a couple of years the Lavis boys had been enticed from Balldale. Greg Hennessey joined from Cornishtown, the inimitable ‘Psycho’ Carroll came from Buraja and long-serving spinner Rod Gulliver was recruited from Rand.

They complemented the local talent, such as medium-pacer Michael Keenes, mercurial ‘Popeye’ Livingstone and that veritable run-machine, school-teacher John McPherson.

And in Rodney Lane they had an exciting prospect.

He had won selection in a VCCL team which played the West Indies at Wangaratta in early 1985 and showed enough to indicate that, indeed, he was out of the top-drawer.
After just two seasons – and 65 wickets – in the WDCA, he was recruited by Carlton.

He spent six years at Princes Park and played 63 matches, taking 136 District wickets. His accuracy and big heart impressed the Blues’ hierarchy and his development as a lower-order batsman was duly noted.

Three appearances for the Victorian Second XI proved that he was probably on the perimeter of State selection.

But he returned home in 1993 and settled back into life as a builder, Corowa-Rutherglen footballer and Ball Park regular.

In his absence, Corowa had won six straight flags and their reign of power in the WDCA was rivalling that of the great United sides of an earlier era.

But inexplicably, after some dominant batting performances during ‘Rocket’s’ comeback year, they suffered a dramatic batting collapse in the semi-final.

He had to wait until the following season – 1994/95 – to play in the first of his four premierships with the club. Rovers-United had compiled a challenging 181 and, after a good start, Corowa lost 3 quick wickets to be exposed at 5/112.

Was another clatter of wickets on the cards ?

No ! A Shane Norman-‘Rocket’ partnership of 71 guided them out of stormy waters to reach their target without the loss of another wicket.

A couple of worrisome batting performances in semi-finals over the next couple of seasons suggested a hint of mortality in the Border line-up, but they soon rectified this misconception by winning a hat-trick of flags to round out the millennium.

Paving the way a lot of the time was ‘Rocket’, who led by example with his captaincy.
Opponents found him to be an intimidating presence on the field. Some suggested that the strains of ‘white-line’ fever that he displayed were part of the family genes.

‘Rocket’s’ height, allied to a longish, stiff-limbed run-up, made him an awkward proposition to contend with, as he broached the crease.

His ability to get the ball around your solar-plexus from a good length was disconcerting. He rarely wasted a delivery and when you played and missed, you were met with a stony glare, which could make an edgy batsman decidedly uncomfortable.

Knee problems took the sting out of his bowling durability for a few years. But he was still capable of wrecking a batting line-up with an explosive spell.

Word spread around WDCA circles in the early 2000’s that his knee ‘op’ had been a success. There was trepidation when he again began to measure out the ‘long-run’.

His batting seemed to develop as the years wore on. The first impediment to a bowler who would prepare to launch into a delivery, was the big left foot that he planted down the wicket. He had a strong defence and a good array of shots. 7 club centuries and 30 half-centuries indicate how effective he was.

His twin ‘tons’ ( 111 not out against Central Gippsland and 103 against Warragul ) at Melbourne Country Week in 1999 put the stamp on his transition into a champion all-rounder.

WDCA officials were delighted to see his commitment to representative cricket. He captained Wangaratta at Country Week from 1996 to 2000, exhibiting sound cricketing nous.

He was still performing solidly for his side in 2011, when he decided to retire, aged 43. In his 257 WDCA games ‘Rocket’ had scored 6,681 runs and taken 384 wickets.

When you add the contribution of his brother David, who played 172 games, captured 330 wickets and featured in 10 premiership sides, you’ll see why Corowa have found it difficult to replicate the deeds of the Lane’s and the other superb players of their club’s Golden Era.

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