CLEVER SMALL MAN STILL KICKING GOALS

Mary Naish was a loving, saintly woman, who, besides looking after her husband Les, and their brood of six lively kids, had a variety of interests.

Football wasn’t one of them.

So when her son, Chris, a 15 year-old Year 10 student at Galen College, was selected for his first senior game with Wangaratta, she wasn’t exactly turning cartwheels. In fact, she was aghast at the thought that he would be thrust into the hurly-burly of Ovens and Murray football at such a tender age.

On occasions such as this, when her dander was up, her kids reckoned she was transformed into a 4 foot 11 inch firebrand.

It was Magpie coach Ray Card, who smoothed the waters. “Mrs.Naish,” he said, “I’ll give you my guarantee that I’ll keep him under my wing. He’ll be as safe as a church”.

Thus, a glittering career was born.

Naish was blooded for just the one game , against Myrtleford, as he had a busy program of Junior League and representative football that year, but the experts nodded sagely. It confirmed what they already knew – he was a star in the making………

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Imagine a football-mad young boy, dreaming of emulating the deeds of his hero, Peter Daicos, being told that he was to refrain from any physical activity for three years.

That was the ‘torture’ inflicted upon the seven year-old Chris Naish when he contracted Perthe’s disease, a hip disorder that affects the top of the thigh bone.

And it was little wonder , when he fully recovered, that no-one could contain his enthusiasm and urge to improve his skills in the game that he loved.

It was obvious to junior followers that he had that something special . He was named in the All-Australian Teal Cup side, alongside Wayne Carey, Robert Harvey and Jose Romero and it was a given, after an excellent debut season with Wangaratta, that he would be keenly-sought.

Richmond picked him up with draft-selection number 5. Shortly afterwards, Tiger coach Kevin Bartlett paid a visit to the Park Lane residence of the Naish family to introduce himself to Chris’s folks.

“Mum had hardly heard of ‘KB’. All she was interested in was making sure her baby was going to be looked after. I wondered what she was going to say next. One thing she was adamant on, though. I had to do my Year 12 at Galen the next year “, Chris recalled.

Besides playing three or four Reserves games with the Tigers, he spent 1989 with Wangaratta and represented the O &M League during a fine season.

His AFL debut came on a sweltering March day in the underwhelming environs of the Brisbane Bears’ home-base, Carrara Stadium, in Round 1, 1990. It was one of four games that the developing youngster was to play in his first season.

From that point on he became a regular and lived up to Richmond’s high expectations of him in 143 quality games. He didn’t have the body to be a genuine mid-fielder, but made the forward flank his own, as a clever, inventive, creative player, with a penchant for kicking goals.

Under a succession of coaches – Bartlett, Alan Jeans, John Northey, Robert Walls and Geoff Geischen – he was involved in an era that didn’t yield a lot of success – apart from a memorable – 1995 season.

It was the Tigers’ first finals appearance since 1982 and they were to ultimately finish fourth, as they got on a roll under the guidance of the inspirational Northey.

Naish didn’t miss a game for three seasons during that period and probably produced the most outstanding football of his career.

At one stage he was pursued pretty keenly by the Sydney Swans, but rejected their advances and, soon after, experienced one of his greatest football thrills when he was selected to represent Victoria.

He had a mediocre 1997 season and played only 12 games, but, as a mild consolation, captained the Tigers Reserves side to the flag.

It was a bit of a surprise when Richmond released him to Port Adelaide. He produced steady form in his first season with the Power, but battled persistent hamstring niggles in 1998 and accepted the inevitable – that his nine-year AFL career was over.

He had played a total of 161 games in the ‘big time’ and booted 212 goals. There were few classier, or more opportunistic small forwards during his era.

Things fell into place perfectly for Chris Naish, post-football.

He studied Sports Business at University and was invited to do a traineeship with AFL Sportsready, an AFL-sponsored organisation.

Upon graduating, he permanently joined the group as a Project Manager, assisting AFL players in their transition to employment, post-retirement.

His expertise in this field led to his appointment as AFL Sportsready’s Chief Operating Officer, where he directs the advancement and implementation of employment and education programs across the AFL Corporate and Community Development sector.

That sounds like one hell of a mouthful, but he insists that it has been a terrific career-path and he’s gained great fulfilment from the role.

One of his passions has been the creation of opportunities for indigenous youngsters, and, to this end he has helped to develop an Indigenous Employment program. In 10 years, the number of trainees in this area has gone from 10 to 1,000.

Whilst still remaining a keen Tiger fan ( he is a Life Member of the Club and tied up with the Past Players organisation), his direct football involvement has been with Scotch College. He coached the Senior 18 in the Public Schools competition for fifteen years, during which 20-odd players under his charge were drafted.

Chris and his wife, Leah, live at Ivanhoe, just walking distance from the local football ground. Late last year he was approached to coach, Ivanhoe Amateurs this season, when the incumbent leader resigned after accepting an employment opportunity.

He liked the idea of a fresh challenge and has enjoyed working with a new group. He relishes returning to clubland and is excited about the coming VAFA season.

A fortnight ago, he welcomed Rovers skipper Tyson Hartwig and half-a-dozen of his city-based team-mates, who will use Ivanhoe as their base this season. The training arrangement was made with his brother-in-law, Chris Doyle, the Hawk Treasurer.

Chris’s eldest son, Patrick, is showing loads of promise and has been named in the Northern Knights U18 squad. The other kids, Xavier, Rose and Charlie are all footy mad.

On any given Sunday this season, when the Tigers are baring their claws at the MCG, the Naish clan will be there in force.

And, you never know, some time in the future, one of them could be donning the Black and Gold number 6 guernsey, worn with distinction by their old man.

 

 

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LITTLE MAN – BIG PERSONALITY

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…………

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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.

 

Danny Craven and Chris Naish (next week's 'On Reflection ' subject) at a Magpuie re-union.
Danny Craven and Chris Naish (next week’s ‘On Reflection ‘ subject) at a Magpuie re-union.

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