‘I WONDER WHATEVER HAPPENED TO……………’

I guess it’s the best part of 55 years since our paths last crossed…….

We first drew breath on the same day, at the Wangaratta Base Hospital……only hours apart, and more than likely within screaming distance of one another.

He attended St.Patrick’s Primary School; I was next door, at the ‘uppity’ Convent. When we both moved on to Champagnat College for our Secondary education, sport became the thread that again linked us.

We weren’t ultra-impressive in the class-room, but most play-times and lunch-breaks were spent competing at something or other…..including probably attempting  spectacular, Teddy Whitten-type ‘grabs’ in kick-to-kick …….

The other day, an email arrives. He’s just come across a yarn – ‘J.A – The Sporting Showman’ – a profile of his brother, which I penned back in 2016. He thanks me for rekindling the memories of a swashbuckling career.

That gets me thinking: ‘I wonder whatever happened to Bernie Brady ?…………’

So I decide to track him down………

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I’m peering at a photo of the College’s First 18 whilst we’re yapping. We’re not sure what year it is, but he’s in the front row…..the tall, blonde-haired kid with a ring of confidence.IMG_4499

“I still hark back to those days,” Bernie says. “We had a coach called Brother Gordon, who didn’t pretend to know a lot about footy. But he was such a good bloke that we were keen to do our best for him.”

“Everybody just called him ‘Speed’. He was an untidy-looking, hulking fellah, and also ran the College farm. He’d spend the early morning down at the Dairy, come back to school, throw his long, flowing black habit over his work-clothes, and be ready for a day in the Class-room.”

“My dad, who was a Stock-Agent, used to sell the Murray-Grey cattle which ‘Speed’ reared, so they had a fair bit to do with one another.”

I remind Bernie of the time we tangled with the formidable Assumption College – a clash at Kilmore which was akin to David trying to slay Goliath.

It was bitterly-cold, and the huge Pine Trees which hovered over the Ground were still dripping from the overnight moisture, as we meekly trod onto the frosty turf. Then the Assumption kids pranced out and performed their ‘War Cry’, which, it has been alleged, casts a spell over opposition teams.

“We were almost petrified, and what a belting we copped,” he says. “But a few of their side went on to play League footy. They were a fair combination.”

Bernie also played in Junior Magpies 1963 WJFL flag, but at the end of Year 9, took his dad’s advice, diced school and moved to Albury to commence a Wool-Classer’s course.IMG_4482

And that was where our lives diverged.

I remained riveted, for the most part, in Wangaratta. He embraced the challenges of the wide, wide world beyond………..

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He never got around to playing a senior game with Wang, for which he seemed destined, but spent a season with Albury Reserves when he was recruited to Murray Weideman’s emerging line-up.

A move to Melbourne, which was the next step in his Wool-Classing education, saw him gravitate to Collingwood, who could see the potential in an uncoordinated 6’4” bag of bones. The ‘Pies reasoned that he must possess some handy footy genes; being the baby brother of a former North Melbourne champ.

Bernie began with the Under 19’s, who played curtain-raisers to VFL matches, and was lucky enough to share in the win that the ‘Pie fledglings had over Essendon in the ‘65 Grand Final.

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Bernie Brady is presented with his guernsey by Collingwood President, Tom Sherrin.

Satisfied with his progress, Collingwood included him on their Final List the following season.

‘Woods’ fans need no reminding of the heart-break that befell them in late-September 1966, when St.Kilda’s Barrie Breen jagged a winning, wobbly point in the dying stages of one of the greatest of all Grand Finals.

But earlier that day, just as the last of the 101,655 fans were settling into their seats, an equally dramatic climax was being reached in the Reserves decider.

With just 47 seconds left, Collingwood led by a point, after their mop-haired spearhead Peter McKenna snapped a goal. Moments later a highly-touted young Tasmanian forward, Royce Hart, flew high to mark on the outer flank. His shot, aided by the breeze, sailed through to give Richmond victory by 5 points.

Brady – who had come off the bench to replace Len Clark early in the game – starred, and was named among the Pies’ best in a game that had been cruelly wrenched from their grasp.IMG_4462

The highlight of the six years that Bernie spent at Victoria Park – besides the seven finals he played – came in Round 9, 1968, when he was named for his senior League debut.

“I was always behind a few big blokes, particularly Len Thompson, ‘Jerker’ Jenkin, Vaughan Ellis and Terry Waters, in the queue, but finally my chance came at the Lake Oval, against South Melbourne.”

“As luck would have it, I’ve come off the bench, twisted an ankle within 10 minutes, and spent the rest of the day on the pine,” he recalls. “I never really got close again. But in all seriousness, I always regarded myself as  just a plodder.”

Bernie was 19 when he married Roz (“the best sort in Wang”). He’d drifted away from Wool- Classing and Collingwood lined him up with a job at AMP, ‘flogging’ and collecting insurance. That didn’t excite him much , but when he got behind the wheel of a truck and headed off on his first road trip, he knew it was right down his alley…………….

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He admits that footy was put onto the back-burner a touch when he started driving trucks.

He’d linked up with Noel Griffin, his mate ( and brother-in-law ) from Wangaratta, and they decided to re-locate, with their families, to Brisbane around 1972. Their business association was to last, through thick and thin, for more than 30 years.

Loading refrigerated goods in and out of Queensland had been a long-term issue for companies, and the boys reasoned that if they were on the spot up there it would create an opportunity to grow their business.

So ‘Refrigerated Roadways’ kicked off as a two-man operation, which expanded rapidly, to be transporting fresh fruit, vegetables, confectionary and the like, for all of the major national companies.

Bernie was talked into playing footy for a S.Q.A.F.A club, Acacia Ridge, but found it difficult to get to training. He’d arrive home from a lengthy road trip just in time to saddle up for the week-end’s game.

The SQAFA was a step below the top division of Brisbane footy, but still pretty competitive, and he was regarded as one of the big guns of the competition. He captained Acacia Ridge  in one of the four years he spent with them before reluctantly hanging up his boots. The rapidly-changing profile of the code up north spelt curtains for the proud club, and it has long since disappeared from the scene.

‘Refrigerated Roadways’, meanwhile, continued to surge ahead, and Bernie moved into the role of General Manager for some time.  In 1982, the company took a giant step forward when The Costa Group was incorporated as a partner. 

Early days, annual revenue had been around the $1.5 million-mark . At the time ‘Refrigerated Roadways’ eventually sold to TNT (later Toll Holdings) in 1995 it was regarded as the largest refrigerated carrier in Australia. Revenue had rocketed to $107 million.  There were 971 people on the payroll, including 170-odd sub-contractors.

The following year Noel and Bernie invested in several properties – a total of 2,200 acres –  specialising in the production of Table Grapes.

‘The far-flung properties,  at Ti-Tree (N.T), Mundubbera (North-West Qld), St.George (Western Queensland), Menindee ( south-east of Broken Hill), and Kenlee (near Swan Hill), were chosen to provide a convenient harvesting time-frame.

This enabled the company to maintain a continual supply to chain-stores and the general market.

 ‘Table Grape Growers of Australia’ proved stunningly successful. Six years after its birth, the company was bought out by the Costa Group. Once again, the boys had backed a winner……..

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Bernie retired in 2005, after spending a couple of years as a Transport Consultant. He and Roz reside on a 21-acre property at Munruben, 32km from Brisbane. The Logan River flows nearby. Their two sons, Greg and Rod, are also based in Brisbane.

Life’s been pretty good, he reckons. They’re mad-keen on travelling and have negotiated three round-Australia trips in their Motor-Home. They’ve only just returned from a Northern Safari, to Cooktown.

Occasionally , Bernie’s mind wanders back to his old home town, and the blissful days when he was one of the kings of the sporting scene at Champagnat. It’s been a journey and a half…………….IMG_4483

“……….. BE HOME BEFORE DARK……”

The bloke on the door ushered me into the dressing-rooms on that wintry day in 1961.

The opportunity for a starry-eyed 13 year-old to catch a glimpse of the cream of the Ovens and Murray, limbering up for the clash with Goulburn Valley, was too good to miss.

Those icons of the game looked even more imposing in their Gold and Black guernseys :

‘…’.There’s Donny Ross, the former Footscray centreman….and the red-haired rough-nut, Lionel Ryan.…..Burly ‘Pascoe’ Ellis looks pretty calm and collected…… So does the coach, Bobby Rose, who’s offering a few pearls of wisdom to individual players, like Harold Davies and Kevin Mack…..’

‘High-marking, long-kicking Ron McDonald played League footy last year.…… His club-mates, Neville Waller and Bobby Constable are yapping with him…..’Bushy’s’ in such good form he has pushed the prolific goal-kicker Stan Sargeant out to the forward flank today…….’

‘Who’s the slightly-built kid sitting in the corner ? Heck, he’s got the looks of a choir-boy……must be no more than 18 or 19…..Ah, it’s Billy Gayfer from Rutherglen……..’

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Fifty-seven years later, Billy is hazy on the finer details of that game, but recalls what a thrill it was to represent the O & M. He had to pull out two or three other times with injury, he says. Playing in a struggling side, it was like a Grand Final when you got to wear the prized inter-League jumper.IMG_3358

We’re at the Gayfer residence. You can see Barkly Park in the distance – the home of the Rutherglen Football Club. It’s an Oval chock-full of history and was virtually the hub of the Ovens and Murray in the gold-mining and pre-WWI days.

The mighty Redlegs picked up thirteen premierships in just 22 years, and were all-powerful. Their next flag came in 1935, under the coaching of ex-Essendon player Jack Hiskins. One of the match-winners in that game was Bill’s dad, Harry Ledwin Gayfer, universally known as Mick.

An intense distaste of the city prevented Mick from playing League footy, despite assurances that he’d make it without a doubt. He was chased by Collingwood, Melbourne and Footscray, but couldn’t bear to leave home. A bad knee injury finished his career, aged 21.

He remained involved with the Club, and passed on his fervour to his son, who made Barkly Park his second home. The only stipulation his mum gave Bill was that the wood-box needed to be filled before he left – and he had to be home before dark.

“I’d spend four nights a week down there, having a kick, watching the boys in action, then eventually being invited to join in some of the training. I lived for footy.” he recalls. “Greg Tate ( the coach ) kept an eye on me. He was a terrific fellah.”

In 1954, under Tate, Rutherglen won their last – and probably most famous – premiership. “I can still remember it. Mum and dad heading off to Albury in the family ute…… My sister and I in the back…..We were as happy as Larry on the way home….”

Bill was slotted in for his first Reserves game that year, aged 13. Unfortunately, when he made his senior debut two years later, the Club had begun a downward spiral.

“The coach was the only one who got paid. There wasn’t too much money around in a small Club like ours. In fact, we had to pay 2 bob a week into the Provident Fund. But we were a tight-knit mob, and were always hard to beat at Barkly Park; sides didn’t like coming here. And our fanatical supporters used to sometimes boot us home.”

A lack of depth proved to be the ‘Glen’s problem. They were always competitive, and had a few stand-outs who would keep them in the game for long periods before being worn down. Players like lanky Reggie Edwards, who was ever-dangerous up-forward; Ken and Barry Baker, Ian Auldist, John Tafft and Ron ‘Yankee’ Milthorpe…..IMG_3360

But Gayfer was the star and the midfield was his spot. He could also be thrown onto the ball with instant results, and – despite a slender frame and his height of five foot ten and a half – spent time at centre half forward.

The first task of opposition sides was to ensure they shut him down. But he was rarely beaten.

“He was a brillIant centreman……” says Neville Hogan, who had a few tussles with him during the sixties. “….had great stamina, always racked up plenty of possessions, and did a lot of damage with them.”

The year Hogan took out the Morris Medal – 1966 – Gayfer finished fifth. It was the closest he came to winning the coveted gong, despite being perennially tipped as one of the favourites.IMG_3363

Bill won his first Rutherglen best and fairest in 1960, and also saluted in 1962, ‘63, ‘66 and ‘69. As one of the O & M’s young guns in the early sixties, he was strongly pursued by several VFL clubs. Like his dad, the wrench of leaving home proved too strong.

He signed a Form Four with Collingwood at one stage. They suggested he spend a week down there training with them. But when it came to booking accomodation, they told him they couldn’t afford it.

Later on, Graeme McKenzie, the North Albury coach and former Fitzroy captain, pushed him in the Lions’ direction. Bill played on a half back flank in a practice match, alongside the legendary Kevin Murray, and went okay, he says.

As was the norm in this era, VFL clubs named their official lists on the eve of the season. Bill picked up the ‘Sun’ on the Monday morning to find himself on Fitzroy’s Final List.

But he had no further contact from them, and remained a Redleg……….

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Bill was around 25 when he finally made the move from Rutherglen, to accept a coaching appointment at Balldale. He was later lured out to Brockelsby as playing-coach. “We looked a chance to play finals, but lost a few handy players in the latter part of the season, and bombed out,” he says.

So he headed back to Rutherglen to complete his career, and help out by coaching the ‘two’s’.
With a growing brood, and flat-chat with his work as a builder, footy, as ever, was his outlet.

His wife Rosemarie says that Bill’s pre-match ritual was to do a spot of ‘craying’ down at the Murray River, then have a steak for brunch, washed down with a couple of sherries……,”Got the blood flowing,” he says.

 

When he retired at the end of the 1970 season he had chalked up 175 senior games with the Redlegs – without ever playing in a Final.

He received recognition for his illustrious career in later years; being named in both Rutherglen’s 1950-1978 ‘Best-Ever’ Team and Corowa-Rutherglen’s Team of the Century. He was inducted to the Ovens and Murray’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
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But Bill and Rosemarie’s football involvement was far from over. With eight kids – Michael, John, Tony, Susan, Peter, David, Ben and Will – their time was pretty much consumed with sporting activities. The boys all learned the fundamentals at Barkly Park, but their careers diverged.IMG_3364

Rosemarie says she’d sometimes attend four games of footy a week-end – whether it be Coreen League juniors, O & M, Bushrangers or beyond. “Our 16-seater Bus came in handy for transporting kids to games,” she says.

Bill used to take the mickey out of local die-hards whenever they’d start to spruik about the Mighty Magpies. But he had to change his tune once his eldest son became entrenched in the Collingwood line-up.

Michael was to become a close-checking, highly-effective backman during his eight-year, 142-game stint at Victoria Park. He figured in the drought-breaking 1990 Premiership and when delisted at the age of 28, soldiered on for several years in country football.IMG_3343

“He had great concentration, Michael,” says Bill. “People labelled him as a ‘stopper’, but when he left League footy he became a really attacking player. He won the Medal as the best player in a National Country Carnival.”

Tony, a strong ruck-rover, and adept with both feet, was a key player in good Corowa-Rutherglen sides for years, and later coached Rutherglen and Tatura…… “Had a bit of shit in him…” Bill adds.

Peter made his name as a half back flanker with North Old Boys, Redan and Hamilton. David, who once trained at Hawthorn, later played with Ringwood and Banyule.

Will, after starring in defence in the 2003 TAC Cup Grand Final, was surprisingly passed over in the Draft of that year. He went on to play with South Adelaide, Keysborough and The Basin.IMG_3334

When Michael’s time was up at Collingwood, he was enticed to Tatura by his his old Collingwood team-mate Paul Hawke. The G.V Bulldogs took out the flag in 1995. Also in the side was a 20 year-old David Gayfer.

Three years later, when Tat appointed Tony as captain-coach, he guided the side to another title, sharing in the triumph with Michael, and Peter – who was working at Echuca.

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Bill Gayfer coached heaps of kids in junior footy over the years. But he has no doubt who was the stand-out. I’ll let him tell the story:

“I got a phone call from Christine Longmire one Friday night, asking if her son could be squeezed in for a game with our Coreen League junior side.”

“How old is he Christine .”  “Thirteen,” she said.   “Sorry, he’s too young.”

“Oh, come on Bill.”    “Okay then, send him along.”

“As soon as I saw John Longmire, I knew he was going to be something special. And he was one of the nicest kids you’d ever meet.”

“Ironically, he ended up keeping  Peter out of the side…………”IMG_3367

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘DOGS CAME OUT SNARLING FOR MIGHTY MICK……

I’ve always regarded Mickey Bone as a latter-day version of Lou Richards. They had plenty in common. Both were cheeky Collingwood rovers…….Pint-sized…Ruthless……Effervescent……..Irrepressible……… Always a quip on the tip of their tongues…….

I first laid eyes on Mick at Victoria Park. We’d just finished a Country Week cricket match, and this young fellah was leaving pre-season training, bag slung over his shoulder, cheerily whistling, as he waltzed blissfully out of Magpie-land………

Three years later I met him at close quarters, in the 1967 O & M Grand Final. A ‘blue’ started; naturally the little number 24 was in the thick of it, zeroing in on the first Brown and Gold Guernsey he came across…..

He coached Wodonga to their first-ever Premiership that day, thus entering the ranks of the immortals at Martin Park.

Mick hasn’t lost his happy-go-lucky demeanour, half a century on. “Rosie (his wife) goes crook at me; tells me I should take life more seriously. But the more you laugh, the better you are,” he says……………..
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Mick’s a city boy – one of a tribe of seven who all grew up loving their footy. Dad, a ‘salt of the earth’ type, was a plumber, and his mum, who was born in Easy Street, near the Victoria Park station, had a lifelong passion for the Mighty Magpies.

She passed it onto all of the kids. One of them, John, tried out for Collingwood and, despite booting four goals in a practice game, was ditched. “They told him: ‘Many come, but few are chosen’ “ said Mick. John was later to have a season under the great Morris Medallist Jimmy Deane, at Myrtleford.

Mick originally lined up alongside his mates at Thornbury. He used to play with the CYMS side on Saturday, and the Thornbury YCW every Sunday.

Undeterred by his brother’s ‘cold-shoulder’ from the ‘Pies, and when barely old enough, he rode his bike down to Victoria Park, to train with their Thirds.

He describes the reception he received upon his arrival:  “Someone asked: ‘Who invited you ?’ I said : ’Listen, I’m as good as any of these blokes’ “.

“ Anyway I trained all right, but one of the officials – Charlie Pannam, I think it was – told me I’d have to stop playing with the YCW. I said: ‘Righto, I’m off then. Those kids are all my mates.’ “

“He said: ‘Ah well, let’s see how you go’. So I kept on with the YCW on Sundays, and played in a Premiership with Collingwood Thirds. Seven or eight of the kids in that side went on to play VFL footy in the next couple of years.”

The same Charlie Pannam later predicted that Mick was headed for ‘a brilliant VFL career’.

He played a season with the Reserves and was rewarded with senior selection the following season.

His ferocious attack on the ball – approaching every contest as if his life depended on it – soon made him a favourite with Magpie fans.

The Bone-David Norman roving combination was considered one of the reasons for
Collingwood’s success in Mick’s third season -1964- but he was surprisingly named on the bench for the Preliminary Final.

His outstanding last half, when unleashed onto the ground, earned him a spot for what was to prove a highly dramatic Grand Final, against Melbourne.

He again played well, but will always remember the dying stages of the game.

“There were only a couple of minutes to go and we were two points up. I was resting, and thought I’d go down and see if I could get a kick. I dived for a mark, missed it and their back pocket, Neil Crompton, who’d followed me down, kicked a goal.”

“If only I’d kept my nose out of it, we’d have won.”

Mick played with Collingwood for another two seasons, and admits he didn’t hit it off all that well with coach Bob Rose.

“He gave me the arse in the end, but I reckon he played favourites a bit. ‘Gabbo’ and his brother Kevin were in the first ruck, I was their rover. Trouble is, Kevin used to sit back 30 yards behind the play, as a loose man. I told Bob: ‘ If you’d get your bloody brother into the centre, where he should be, we’d be a lot better off.”

“So I was on the outer. We were playing Carlton late in 1966, and this bloke John Ryan, a mad Collingwood fan who came from up this way, sidled up to me at half-time and whispered: ‘Would you be interested in coaching Wodonga ?”

”I said: ‘Piss off, will ya, I’m trying to get a kick.’ “

“I didn’t even know where Wodonga was. Dad brought me up and we met the officials at the Carrier’s Arms Hotel. Things went along okay, until they said: ‘We reckon you’re too dear.”

“ ‘Jeez,’ I told ‘em. ‘I’ve wasted a couple of days getting up here and you tell me that.’ I made out as if I was heading off. Until I heard: ‘Hang on, You’ve got the job.’ “

So Mick, Rosie and baby Simon packed up and headed for the bush……..
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Mick had never given much thought to coaching, but adapted immediately. “The Wodonga club was terrific…..all good family people. I was everybody’s mate.

But as soon as I put my coach’s hat on, I was the boss. Friendships didn’t come into it……..”

He took over the reins of a Wodonga side which had been under-achievers, and moulded them into a powerful unit.

Those 1967 Bulldogs would stand tall alongside any of the great O & M teams. With stars of the calibre of Gary Williamson, Brian Gilchrist, Dick Grimmond, Ronnie Hill, Ken Goyne and Eddie Rogalski, they were well-balanced, disciplined and skilful.

And inspirationally-coached.   Bone personally enjoyed a terrific season, and finished equal-fourth in the Morris Medal, nine votes behind his champion team-mate, ruckman Williamson.

The ‘Dogs lost just three games during the home-and-away rounds, finishing 6 points clear of second-placed Myrtleford, who they belted by 61 points in the Second Semi.

12,000 fans flocked to the Albury Sportsground to watch the Wodonga-Wangaratta Rovers Grand Final clash. ‘Dog fans shuddered when Williamson, a key to their hopes, broke down in the warm-up.

Little separated the teams all day. As the Hawks fought back strongly in the closing stages , Brian Gilchrist stood firm, pulling down seven marks in the last stanza. Wodonga held on, to win by 18 points.

Amidst the euphoria of that first premiership, the popular assumption in O & M circles was that a dynasty had been created.

As the dominant side of that era, Wodonga were to snavel two flags, but it
could realistically have been four in a row.

Corowa, which had snuck into the finals on percentage, came from the clouds to pinch the flag from them in 1968. They were always in charge against Wangaratta the following year, but the one that always sticks in Mick’s craw is 1970.

“We were unbeaten going into the Second Semi and had won 27 games on the trot. Trouble is we got a bit ahead of ourselves. The Rovers shocked us, then Myrtleford knocked us off in the Prelim.”

“It was heart-breaking.”

He says the Corowa fans never let him forget that 1968 boilover. “They gave us a hard time every time we played ‘em , and there were usually a few stoushes. After one game,  a woman hurled a shoe at me. I just picked it up and kept walking…..”

“You know, they invited me to their Premiership re-union a few years back. I took a shoe with me. When I got up to talk, I held it up and said: ‘That lady that hit me with her shoe 40 years back, here it is ! “

Neville Hogan regarded Bone as one of his most uncompromising opponents, yet gained new admiration for the hard-man when he played under him in inter-League sides.

Mick once told me: ‘When you’re only 5’6” you fight with everything you’ve got….Anything goes…’ recalls Neville.

Mick elaborates: “I used to cheat as much as I could. I whacked plenty of blokes, but some people just got in my way……And they claimed I kicked on purpose….. I wouldn’t say that, but then, I never jumped over anyone to avoid them….”

The eight-year Bone coaching reign ended in 1974. He played on for another couple of years at Wodonga, under Johnny Smith, before finally hanging up the boots, after 144 games with the ‘Dogs.

And Wodonga’s where he and Rosie propped. They raised Simon, Justin, Josh, Megan and Jessica in the town and Mick worked for himself, as a Plumber, until he retired just on ten years ago.

He goes on the gate at Wodonga two or three times a year, but spends a lot of time on the golf course these days. That, and keeping tabs on his kids and grandkids.

If you happen to run into a chirpy character with an engaging personality, it’ll be the old Magpie who became a legend of the bush……….

 

P.S: Mick and Simon Bone have been inducted into the O & M’s Hall of Fame.  Josh and Justin both played at the Wodonga Raiders for several years.

 

 

TOUGH NUT TACKLES COACHING CHALLENGE

Andy Hill has scant regard for statistics.

You run his impressive footy CV past him and it barely raises an eyebrow. But touching on the fact that he’s following in the footsteps of his grandfather – and his dad Denis – brings the hint of a smile to that otherwise impassive countenance.

Len Hill coached the Wangaratta Rovers to their first premiership – in the Ovens and King in 1948. He stayed around for another four decades, to help build the Club into one of the most famous in country Victoria.

So the young fellah is chuffed to be taking on a co-coaching role – 69 years after his Pa was originally coaxed into the position.

His mates say that he has an innate knowledge of the game which will stand him in good stead.

The many other intricacies involved – like man-management, transmitting the message and maintaining his equilibrium, will be a vital part of the continuing football education of he and his coaching partner, Sam Carpenter.

On the face of it, there couldn’t be a better man for the job……………..

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Andy was destined to become a Hawk. He played junior league football with Tigers, showed promise, then spent a couple of years in the Rovers Thirds. His class was obvious; it was just a matter of when he would be blooded in the senior side.

He played his part in Thirds flags of 1995 and ’96 as the kid who had the potential to turn a game of football.

So when he got that senior opportunity, against Yarrawonga early in 1996, at the age of 16, plenty of eyes were trained on this ‘star of the future’.

It was a dream debut. He picked up a few possessions, the Hawks booted 29 goals, won by over 100 points and there were slaps on the back aplenty for the newcomer.

“How good’s this,” he no doubt mused, as he toasted the debut with a couple of cleansing ales.

Tiredness crept in. He decided to reflect on the day’s events with some silent contemplation in a Bull’s Head toilet cubicle, where he awoke around 4am, stumbling out of the pitch-black hotel onto a deserted Murphy Street.

He played the next week too, then it was back to the Thirds. But when he was selected in the opening round of 1997, he was there to stay.

It was a tumultuous time for any young man to arrive in senior ranks. The Rovers had declared themselves ‘broke’ during the off-season. The seemingly invincible Hawks of the early nineties were bleeding and the players were prepared to accept no payment for a year. The wider football public expected them to fracture.

But the financial demise had no effect on the attitude of the players, or their performances. Maybe it eased the pressure on youngsters like Andy, Daniel McLaughlin and Danny Nolan. They handled senior footy with ease as the club boxed on to finish a creditable sixth.

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Toughness and a fanatical determination were essential ingredients in the make-up of Andy Hill.

He hated the limelight, but when you have the ability to climb through the air and take that spectacular mark, then convert that crucial goal, it’s rather difficult to avoid the accolades that come your way.

And he wasn’t backward when it came to a bit of on-field argy-bargy. Hawk champ Rob Walker, who was embroiled in a scuffle with Mark Duryea in a 1998 semi-final, remembers a fist whistling past his nose, in the direction of the Tiger tagger. It belonged to the 18 year-old in the number 6 guernsey.

Andy was well-schooled by some superb role-models ; playing alongside half a dozen superstars of the club. He learnt to train as intensely and prepare as diligently as they did.

He was soon recognised as a star in his own right. Whilst he didn’t fancy the peripherals, such as team-meetings and pep talks, once he crossed that white line, there was no-one who cared more for the Brown and Gold.

He wore the Ovens and Murray jumper for the first time in 2001 and was runner-up Best & Fairest to the legendary Walker.

In what became a recurring them during the 2000’s, his absence at a vital time proved costly to the Hawks. He ‘popped’ a cheekbone in an Elimination Final victory over Corowa-Rutherglen and was missing the next week when Wodonga Raiders clinched a thriller at Myrtleford.

To his surprise, he received an approach from Collingwood at season’s end, and was drafted. Considering his age (22), he thought he had ‘missed the bus’. He later discovered that a Rovers team-mate, Rob Panozzo, had forwarded a tape of highlights to a suitably-impressed Magpie recruiting chief Noel Judkins.

He had no regrets at not making the grade, even though he played a couple of NAB Cup games, and spent the season with the Magpies’ VFL affiliate, Williamstown. “It was a great experience and I learned a lot from watching the top guys train. I just wasn’t good enough”, he said later.

So he returned to the Hawks in 2003, then moved up to the Top End to play in an off-season premiership with Darwin club, St.Mary’s. Scouts from South Australia and the West, who salivated at the sight of this gem in the sweltering north, were unable to tempt him with their attractive baits. He returned home to the Findlay Oval.

When the older generation of players had hung up their boots, Andy’s work ethic, preparation, performance and consistency, became the benchmark for all other players.

The philosophy that he had taken from his stint at Collingwood, was simply that ‘if you train hard you’ll get more out of yourself’.

And so it proved. He took out five Bob Rose Medals, was runner-up twice, third once, and twice finished fifth in the Morris Medal. He booted 225 goals in his 254 senior games.

He was, indeed, the player to be watched if the Hawks were to be stopped.

But again, fate intervened in a couple of years that the Rovers were running hot. His fractured collarbone in the opening minutes of the 2007 Elimination Final proved costly, as the Hawks just failed to run down Wodonga.

And a painful neck injury, which was to ultimately force him out of the game, saw him operating at half rat-power for much of a 2012 season that saw the club go within a whisker of a Grand Final.

His one regret, in a glittering career – other than not sharing in a senior premiership with the Rovers – would probably be not making himself available for more representative football.

But that was a small price to pay, he felt, for making sure he was in the right nick for club footy.

As a player who could be thrown to either end of the ground with equal effect, was as tough as boot leather, could produce dashes of unbridled brilliance and reeked of team spirit, Andy would have held his own in any era.

He must rank among the greats of the Wangaratta Rovers Football Club.

 

P.S: The  Andy Hill story was penned to coincide with his recent induction to the Rovers Hall of Fame.

THE BORN LEADER…..

Mac Holten was 26 when he decided to abandon the security of life in Melbourne as an insurance clerk, League footballer and District cricketer.

The newly-married Collingwood forward elected to pursue a career as a football coach, and mulled over 5 ‘plum’ jobs that he had been offered.

He chose Wangaratta and, with wife Shirley, embarked on an adventure that was to prove amazingly successful and was to change the face of sport in the town……….

It was early 1949 when he met Wangaratta Football Club President Norm McGuffie at a pre-arranged destination in the city. McGuffie, who told him he’d be wearing a red flower in the lapel of his suit coat, must have been pretty convincing, as Holten accepted the job straight away….
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Mac Holten had spent his school days at Scotch College and was regarded as no more than ‘mediocre’ in his school sporting pursuits. When war intervened he enlisted in the Air Force and became one of the nation’s finest pilots, attaining the ranking of Flight Lieutenant.

He always claimed that he was lucky to break into League football when it was at a low ebb during the war, but he proved a more than capable forward in 82 games with Collingwood, over an interrupted eight-year period.

It was towards the end of his career with the Mighty Magpies that Mac outwardly showed the first signs of being a football ‘thinker’. He and two other players, Lou Richards and Jack Burns, decided to convene a player’s meeting to discuss the team’s worrying habit of fading-out in important games.

Legendary coach Jock McHale caught wind of this and bailed them up: “What are you ? Three Commos or something ? ” The meeting never took place and Holten probably felt that he was on shaky ground from then on.

There were no such ructions in six seasons with Melbourne Cricket Club. A stylish batsman with a sound technique and excellent leadership qualities, he had once figured in a 280-run opening partnership and had risen to become a selector and vice-captain of the famous old Club.
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Mac was fascinated by the tactics of sport and was eager to put them into practice. But he also wanted to make an impact business-wise, in the town.

“We’re determined to make this our permanent home. I don’t want to be switching from club to club, ” he said. He spent a short time in a milk-bar in Murphy Street, then a year later, moved into a licensed grocery in Reid Street, in partnership with team-mate Kevin French.

He began playing cricket in the WDCA with Merriwa, and threw himself into pre-season footy training.

The Ovens and Murray League was basically a mark and kick game in the late forties, but Mac was keen to introduce Collingwood’s play-on style, with plenty of emphasis on handball.

He inherited a handy side from his predecessor Tom Tribe, but his players were subjected to tougher training than they’d ever experienced.

“We concentrated more on sprint work, whereas my old coach Jock McHale mainly focused on match practice,” he once recalled.

Was Holten just lucky to arrive at the strategic moment, when the planets were rightly-aligned for Wangaratta? Or was it his outstanding leadership that honed a talented group into becoming one of the O & M’s finest of all-time ?

If you ask any of his players, they testify that he was somewhat of a magician. Even rival Rovers players who would be more likely to impugn him, vouched that when they came under his influence in representative football or cricket, he was every bit as astute as his reputation indicated.

Mac certainly had some stars in his side. Timmy Lowe, a will-o-the-wisp rover, was to win four successive Best & Fairests and claim the 1953 Morris Medal; Norm Minns was a champion forward;  in Graeme Woods and Bill Comensoli he had strong and versatile ruckmen ; Max (Shiny) Williams was an accurate and prolific full forward and Kevin French was a bullocking big man.

But he always claimed that Lionel Wallace, a tough centre half back, was the best country footballer he came across. “He was a dairy-farmer from Greta and only trained one night a week, but played some great games for Wang. ‘Lioney’ would have been a sensation in Melbourne.” Mac said.

Holten always seemed to produce something extra on the big occasions and starred in the Magpies’ 32-point win over Wodonga in the 1949 Grand Final.

Wang finished well clear on top of the ladder in 1950 and chalked up their second straight flag. But if any proof was needed that this was, indeed, a champion side, it was their dominance throughout the 1951 season.

They lost just one match, on their way to clinching the hat-trick, as ‘Shiney’ Williams booted 8 goals to rubber-stamp an emphatic display.

At the end of the ’51 season, the ‘Pies challenged Wimmera League premiers, Ararat, for the unofficial crown of the ‘best team in Country Victoria’.

The match, played at Ararat, was heavily promoted and both teams were confident of victory. Holten recalled that he was nervous about the amount wagered on the game by supporters – a huge sum in those days, of 1,500 pounds. “I knew how much it was, because I put the cash in the safe at work”.

Wangaratta won, 15.15 to 11.7 in front of a huge crowd and could finally let their hair down after a long and successful season.

They entered the history books in 1952 by winning their fourth-straight premiership, equalling the feat of the great St. Patrick’s team of the twenties and inviting comparison with the best of all-time.

The Magpies again finished on top in 1953 but bombed out in straight sets. Holten played on for two more seasons, then coached from the sidelines in 1956.

But he detected some resentment about his non-playing coach role. He resigned, with another year still left on his contract. “I felt that I’d run my race”, he said.

His statistical record was first-rate – 154 games, for 107 wins, and a 69.8% winning ratio. He had been the Ovens & Murray representative coach in five seasons.

Bruck Textiles had approached him in 1952 to become their part-time ‘Sports Advisor’, for a stipend of £150 per year. The post involved coaching Bruck Cricket Club and conducting instructional sessions with the best young cricket talent in town.

The move brought instantaneous results, as Bruck took out the flag the next season, with Mac’s unbeaten 135 in the final being a major factor.

His first trip to Melbourne Country Week was as captain in 1951. In the ensuing years he managed to garner a diverse group of personalities into a powerful combination. He is popularly acknowledged as Wangaratta’s best-ever captain.

He seemed to be a thought ahead of the game . He set defensive fields and ‘got inside’ his bowlers’ heads, to have them executing his game plan. Of the 33 CW games he played, 30 were as captain.

“Melbourne Country Week provided me with my most enjoyable cricket moments”, he recalled. “It had everything that is good about cricket – challenge, competition, comradeship, comedy, drama, excitement and characters.”

Mac led Wangaratta’s cricketers throughout a Golden Era. They won the A-Grade title in 1954, then clinched their first – and only – Provincial crown in 1957.

He represented Country Victoria in two international matches against England. In the first, he scored a dogged 29 against Freddie Brown’s team at Euroa in 1950. Nine years later he captained the side in a long-awaited clash against Peter May’s tourists, at the Showgrounds.

In 1961, aged 37, and no longer playing regularly, Sir Robert Menzies drafted him into his Prime Minister’s XI against Frank Worrell’s great West Indies team at Manuka.

Mac’s sporting prominence led to a tilt at politics and in 1958 he had a sensational victory in the Federal elections, ousting sitting Indi member Bill Bostock. He held the seat for 7 elections and was at one time the Minister for Repatriation.

He finally lost his seat in 1982 and returned to Wangaratta, enthusiastically throwing himself into a project of coaching and developing the town’s young cricket and tennis players  for many years.

When Mac Holten passed away in 1996, he had left an indelible imprint on the local sporting landscape. He is a member of the O & M and WDCA Halls of Fame.
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