“THE FILO FILES……..”

Two kids, oblivious to their surroundings, are firing bullet-like passes at one another in the paddock adjoining a Castlemaine home…….

The taller lad looks a ‘natural’……..superbly-proportioned ……..the type silver-tongued recruiting gurus gush over, and instantaneously label a ‘generational player’….

The other boy’s a few months older, smaller, muscly, well co-ordinated, with sure hands….. such is the adroitness of his kicking, it’s difficult to ascertain which is his preferred foot……..

They play for opposing teams in the local Junior League….. Winter’s Flat and Campbell’s Creek………but they’re as thick as thieves, and will eventually re-unite to play with Bendigo Pioneers’ Under-age sides before they go their separate ways……….

Fast forward 17-18 years:

The taller bloke has evolved into a Brownlow Medallist, triple premiership player, and triple Norm Smith Medallist………one of football’s all-time greats…………..

His mate, Brodie Filo, has perveyed his footy skills over the length and breadth of the nation…….A four-time Medallist in three different Leagues…..a dynamic, will-o-the-wisp, ball-magnet with 360 senior games under his belt……and counting…...

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There’s no disputing the Filo footy pedigree…….

When Brodie’s father Derrick retired at 43, he’d chalked up over 450 senior games, four Best & Fairests, four Premierships, and the 1991 BFL Michelson Medal. Save for a season with Balranald, and several appearances with Carlton U.19’s and Reserves, he was content to confine his considerable talents to the Bendigo area.

“There’s not too many people you bump into who don’t know him,” Brodie says.

“He coached four Bendigo League clubs – Castlemaine, Kyneton, Kangaroo Flat and Eaglehawk….I’d describe him as a good, old-fashioned, basic coach………not too tactical…….but a terrific player….A roaming centreman who could go forward and kick goals….”

“He was born and bred in Castlemaine…..My Nan still lives in the house that Dad grew up in. He lives just up the road now……”

“I used to go to the footy with him all the time, pretty well……just became part of the clubs he was involved with….”

Brodie was 9 when he started playing Midget footy at Castlemaine; before moving on to Winter’s Flat, then Castlemaine Under 16’s. But he never got around to playing senior footy with his home-town club.

Derrick had landed a job with Blue Scope Steel in Bendigo, and was appointed playing-coach of Eaglehawk. So the youngster moved over to play with their Under 18’s.

The following season – 2007 – when he was just 17, he and a few of his mates forced their way into the senior side, as Eaglehawk – who hadn’t won a flag in 25 years – began their march towards a famous premiership.

“The team was comprised mostly of locals who had come through the Reserves and U.18’s……They went to school together, knocked around together, and had an unreal bond……I haven’t really experienced anything to compare with it at another Club….”

“Gisborne, who had won four of the last five flags, beat us by 100 points in the final round. We beat them by a goal in the second-Semi, then came from 3 goals down at three-quarter-time, kicking into the breeze in the last term, to win by two points……..It was an enormous win……and great to play in a flag alongside the old man…..”

Brodie spent a good portion of the following season playing TAC Cup with the Bendigo Pioneers.

“I was a bit of a loose cannon in those days,” he says. “Being involved with the Pioneers didn’t do much for me. It just didn’t feel like you were part of a real footy club. I preferred to be back at Eaglehawk, playing with my mates…….”

His suspension in a late-season Pioneers game in 2008 robbed him of the chance to return to Eaglehawk and share in their second successive flag. They held off a final-quarter charge from Golden Square, to win by six points……….

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Whilst Derrick was no doubt the biggest influence on his career, Brodie says his greatest fan was his ‘Pa’ – Sam.

“He was a big part of my life, and used to come to all of my games – from juniors right through – until his health started to deteriorate……He was a massive supporter of mine; a humble, quiet, 6’4” gentle giant……He grew up as part of a large Samoan family. They moved to New Zealand ( where Dad and his brother Shawn were born ) before settling over here.”

“Pa treated us all fantastic, but I was five years older than the next grand-kid, so I think he spoiled me a bit more than the others ……He passed away last year….”

Footy’s ingrained in the family; his brother ( on his mum Sue’s side ) Kane Farrell, is a classy 23 year-old left-footer, who has played 33 AFL games with Port Adelaide, whilst three younger Filo’s – Isaah (16), Noah (14) and Aidan (11) are coming through the ranks.

But they’ve only been able to catch fleeting glimpses of their older brother in action, since he began his football travels……..

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Brodie was 19, and still at Eaglehawk, when he played a starring role for Vic.Country against the VAFA, in a match that they clinched after the siren:

“A rep from Peel Thunder must have been watching, because their President, John Ditchburn got in touch and invited me over.”

“I hadn’t really been out of home before, and was still only a kid……..Peel are based at Mandurah – about an hour from Perth – so the place had a bit of a Bendigo feel to it…….Good weather and lifestyle……..But we were getting pumped by about 100 points every week……”

“The standard of footy was excellent, and it definitely set my career up, I guess…….In hindsight though, I should have stuck it out for another couple of years in the WAFL – or gone to the SANFL………”

Instead, he moved back east, to Koondrook-Barham, where he played for the next two years. His uncle, Shawn was coaching, and they lined up a job for him, stacking fruit boxes and driving a fork-lift.

He finished third in the competition B & F in his first year, and represented the Central Murray League and NSW-ACT.

But he’d become a touch disillusioned with football:

“ I’m very laid-back. If I’m not enjoying something I just won’t do it…..So I wasn’t going to play footy just for the sake of it….I was just going to kick back for the year”

Fortunately, he received a call from a long-serving Eaglehawk team-mate, Luke Dutton, inviting him back to the Two-Blues.

Over the next three years Filo enhanced his burgeoning reputation. He helped Eaglehawk into the finals in 2013, taking out the B & F ( “it was great to win one at my home club “). He represented the VCFL the following year, and in 2015 was added to an illustrious Honour Board, alongside his dad, as a winner of the BFL’s Michelson Medal.

Darwin beckoned soon after, and he began the first of his summer sabbaticals, stripping with the Nightcliff Tigers……..

He admits that the lifestyle in the sultry Far North was right down his alley:

“I was doing Solar Installations up there……I know it’s not much fun being on a roof most of the day when it’s as hot as hot…..But when you finish work there’s nothing better than settling down with a cold beer………. ”

Brodie’s become somewhat of an NTFL legend in the seven years he’s been travelling back and forth.

He stamped his mark on the competition in his first season, when he took out the League’s Nicholls Medal in 2015/16. Nightcliff had been starved of success for decades, and he was a key figure in their transformation into a power.

The Tigers swept to their first flag in 54 years in 2018/19 and completed the hat-trick two years later in the most dramatic of circumstances:

“I’ve never played in a game like it…..We were up by 40 points half-way through the second quarter…..With five minutes remaining we’d slumped to 4 goals down………Amidst a flurry of goals in the dying stages, we managed to tie the game…..”

“It went into over-time, and we won it by seven points……..The Nightcliff fans went crazy…..That’d probably be my biggest thrill in football…..”

Brodie took out his second Nicholls Medal in 2019/20, represented the NTFL against Glenelg the following year, and passed the 100-game mark for the Tigers last summer.

One of the highlights of NT footy, he says, is taking the 15-minute flight over to the Tiwi Islands to play the Bombers:

“They treat you like you’re Gary Ablett; they’re just nuts for their footy…..There might be a crowd of 700-odd, but you’d reckon there were 5,000 when they carry on after the Bombers have kicked a goal….”

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A friendship that had been forged with Shepparton United star Tim Looby in a Vic Country game was the catalyst for Brodie to head over to the Goulburn Valley League in 2016.

He was at the peak of his form, having picked up two League Medals within six months, and enjoyed another fine season, representing the GV and finishing runner-up to Looby in United’s B & F.

The Ovens & Murray League had long held an attraction, and when Daryn Cresswell messaged him in 2017 he jumped at an invitation to join a resurgent Wodonga Raiders :

“I hadn’t played under a coach with ‘Crezza’s’ CV…… So I ended up moving to Wodonga and worked with him……still do bits and pieces for him…….We’ve got an really good relationship, and I think in the two years I spent with him there ( in 2017-18 ) I played some of my best footy…..”

The Raiders looked a really strong contender in 2018. They had the Second Semi in their grasp…….until young Albury ruckman Brady Morton converted a free kick, with just 57 seconds remaining. The Tigers snatched victory by two points….

“That shattered us really, and we lost a bit of momentum,” he recalls .

“Wang ended up knocking us off by 6-7 goals in the Prelim………Then we drowned our sorrows on Mad Monday……”

He’d got a whisper that he was a chance to top the Morris Medal count that night, and was urged to go along. He wishes he could have his time over again…….

“I’d had quite a few, and when I left the stage after accepting the Medal, tripped on the step, fell on the floor and cut my hand.”

“They were a bit shitty on me …….I put my hand up for it and had to apologise, but there were a few who wanted to take the Medal off me……”

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He was still working for Cresswell, who, by now, (2019) had departed for the Wang Rovers, and had been succeeded by Jarrod Hodgkin.

“I was doing a job for Crezza up at Mollymook, on the NSW south coast, and had lost a bit of interest. I said to the Raiders: ‘Look, I’m not enjoying my footy. If I keep playing I’ll be wasting your time and mine……..I’m happy to sit out….or you can clear me back to Eaglehawk. Thankfully, they did…..”

A good mate Travis Matheson was now coaching the Borough, who went on to reach the Grand Final and fall just short of another flag. They finished mid-table last year.

Brodie was re-united with ‘Crezza’ at the Rovers this season, and has produced flashes of brilliance in his 13 games ……..His red-hot 27-possession game against Corowa-Rutherglen last Saturday was the catalyst for a stirring victory. Undoubtedly, if the Hawks can see the best of Filo for the remainder of the season, their finals prospects will be enhanced.

Retirement is still a long way off, and he sees no reason why he can’t pass the 500-game mark before hanging up the boots.

“I’ll go up and play another summer season in Darwin and then come back to the Rovers, I guess. ……….I enjoy it here,” says the little maestro……..

‘HAWKS SWOOP ON PIGEONS IN DRAMATIC FINISH………’

The packed throng which congregates on the balcony of the J.W.Maroney Pavilion and barracks raucously for the Brown and Gold, is unusually subdued during the three-quarter time break today.

They’ve just seen the Rovers picked apart by a systematic Yarrawonga combination, which has sped to a seemingly impregnable 38-point lead in the O & M’s match of the day.

The Pigeons took maximum advantage of the breeze, and left their opponents flat-footed, and out-of-sorts……….. only the most supreme optimist would give the Hawks a ghost’s chance of pulling off an against-the-odds victory from here…..

Leigh Masters, Ryan Bruce and Beau Seymour have been repelling everything in defence, Willie Wheeler is ever-dangerous; Tim Lawrence has bobbed up with three of Yarra’s 10 goals and big men Lachie Howe and Brandon Symes are in charge of the ruck duels.

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Things haven’t really gone to plan for the Hawks this week.

Two players were stricken with the dreaded Covid. Their absence has worked in Nick Henderson’s favour, as the long-serving defender has been presented with his first senior opportunity since 2018……..

Another vital link, Ryan Stone, twists his ankle in the warm-up, which necessitates dragging his late-replacement, Sam Allen, off the ground in the latter stages of the Reserves match.

And if you need anything more to go wrong, Jayden Bear, who’s also won promotion to the senior side, is ruled out of the game in its formative stages.

Even so, the first half had been a closely-fought, scrappy, fierce-tackling affair, riddled with errors and affected by the choppy breeze.

The Rovers trailed by three points at quarter-time; and by a straight goal at the long-break of a low-scoring encounter – 4.5 to 3.5……..Alas, the score-board looks a sorry sight at lemon-time – 10.8 to 4.6………

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Can coach Daryn Cresswell conjure some sort of a miracle to extract his charges from this mess ?………Can they gain the early momentum in the final term by banging on a couple of early goals ?………..Do they have the mind-set to ‘take on’ on the game, and wrest control of it from the Pigeons ?……….

‘Crezza’ elects to throw strong-marking Tom Boyd up forward, in an early indication that he’s intent on all-out attack. What an adaptable player the ex-Nathalia lad looks to be……

Raven Jolliffe is also sighted up forward, and almost from the first bounce of the final term the Hawks set about dictating the game, with the quartet of McQueen, Filo,Lukass Webb and Dylan Stone on fire in the midfield…….

Five minutes in, they nail the opening major, after an impressive link-up of Lenaz on to Gerrish to Filo, on to McQueen sees Tom Boyd convert from 25m out…….The difference is back to 31 points.

Boyd snaps his second at the 11 minute mark……..25 points the margin……A minute or so later, Stuart Booth breaks clear and appears to be riding a shot through……It veers left to shave the post….

Thankfully for the Pigeons, Leigh Masters and Beau Seymour are doing their best to stem the onslaught in their backline, but the dangerous Jake McQueen strikes another vital blow for the Hawks, as he slams another goal through……..They’re now 17 points down.

McQueen’s performances in the last fortnight have been out of the top-shelf…….and his penetrating kicking is a feature of his game.

Sam Murray is being tagged off the half back line, but has been the most influential player on the ground, with just on 30 possessions to date…..he plays on after hearing the umpire’s whistle for a free kick. His raking left-foot pass finds Tom Boyd. But from 45n out the big fellah misses……Will the Hawks rue these misses in the final wash-up of the game ?

The Pigeons, by now, appear to be treading water and trying to save the game……There is not one player in their forward half at this stage; the Hawks are doing all the attacking and the momentum has completely shifted in the Rovers’ favour.

Alex Marklew, who is displaying the aplomb and deftness of the class forward we’ve always expected him to become, side-steps a couple of opponents and boots his third for the game……and his side’s fourth in 11 minutes…….They now trail by just 10 points…..

Moments later, big Lachie Howe grabs the ball from the bounce on the Rovers forward line, but is caught in possession…….The resultant free kick to McQueen misses…….9 points the margin.

It’s McQueen again, as he marks a slightly astray kick out and lines up from 50 metres out. He finishes beautifully, leaving the margin just 3 points at the 22 minute mark.

The Hawks are on the charge….and the Balcony is in full cry…..They sense blood, and greet the goal of McQueen, who has quickly become a crowd favourite, with a deafening roar….

But when Marklew marks 15 metres out, two minutes later, they almost bring the roof down…..

Alex kicks truly…….It’s his fourth – and the Hawks’ sixth on the trot. They have dominated the inside-50’s this quarter, booting 6.5 to nil………

24 minutes have now elapsed and they’ve hit the lead…….by just three points.

There’s just on three minutes remaining, but Yarra have time to launch a couple of attacking thrusts. They take the ball from deep in defence in particularly threateningly fashion, before Murray and Tristan Lenaz both contest the mark. Sam comes up with the pill….it puts the exclamation mark on an outstanding display.

In one last throw of the dice the Pigeons proceed forward again, but Dylan Stone intercepts with style, and sends the ball back out of danger…..

Seconds later the siren sounds, heralding a comeback of gigantic proportions……

“DYLAN CARRIES ON THE STONE FOOTBALL TRADITION……”

Brien Stone was one of those old-style, colourful characters who were part and parcel of local sport more than half a century ago…….strong-willed, enthusiastic, opiniated, ultra-competitive, passionate, thirsting for success……..

In his time he played cricket, tennis, footy, raced horses, owned and trained greyhounds……….

When ‘dishlickers’ were the feature attraction at North Wangaratta’s Sentinel Park, a succession of his stable-stars, including Medowra Lad, Accumulated and Medowra Prince, regularly greeted the judge. Another star, Medowra Jet, won a Melbourne Greyhound Cup.

His obsession for football far outweighed the achievements of a modest footy career, which had included playing in Glenrowan/Thoona League premierships with South Wangaratta in 1928 and Glenrowan in 1934.

A brief stint with O & K club Waratahs followed in the mid-thirties. He was nearing the end of his playing tether when he and his family ( wife Merle and kids, Jim, Marie, Des, Mavis, Maureen, Merle and Rob ) moved onto a Dairy Farm, and he lined up with nearby Tarrawingee not long after the cessation of World War II.

For the next 25 years or so, he became a driving force behind the Bulldogs, as part of an unlikely ‘Triumvirate’, alongside the irrepressible Ken Stewart and the ‘Plough Inn’s’ popular publican, Pete Nolan.

Tarra took out their first-ever flag in 1953. They saluted again a decade later – and made it a double in 1964 – with two of his sons and two sons-in-law playing starring roles in the side.

When he stood down after twelve seasons as President, the ‘Dogs had contested Grand Finals in five of those years…….

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Brien passed away in 1984, aged 77. He’d received immense satisfaction from following the careers of his stalwart sons Jimmy (315 senior games), Des (250-plus) and Rob (70-odd), in Red, White and Blue and savouring the involvement of the whole Stone clan at Tarra.

Unfortunately, he never got to see any of the succeeding generations of his progeny make their way through the footy ranks……He’d have been chuffed to know of the impact that they’ve made in Ovens and Murray football….and beyond……..

THE GRAND-KIDS

Mark Stone: Played with Wangaratta and Wodonga, Moe, Powerhouse ( Won VAFA Pepper Medal), Ormond, Ringwood, Wagga Tigers ( won Riverina FL Quinn Medal, and also coached). Assistant-coach at South Fremantle, West Coast Eagles, Sydney Swans, Fremantle and Brisbane Lions. Coached Glenelg to the 2019 SANFL Premiership after a 33-year drought .

Dean Stone: Played with Milawa, Wangaratta, Wodonga ( Joint B & F 1994 ), Wagga Tigers, The Rock- Yerong Creek ( playing-coach ). Assistant-coach at Wodonga. Coached Wangaratta 2017 ( Flag ), 2018 & 2021.

Robbie Richards: Played with Wangaratta, Maffra, Greta. Coached Greta 1995 ( Flag ), ‘96 and 2000. Coached Wangaratta Seniors 1997. Also coached Reserves and Thirds.

Rick Marklew: Played 229 games with Wang Rovers ( Flags 1988, ‘93, ‘94 ), Northern United ( Bendigo FL rep ), Heidelberg. Member WRFC Hall of Fame.

Gary Stone: Played Tarrawingee and Wang Rovers ( Reserves Flag ).

GREAT GRAND-KIDS

Jamie Allan : Played 84 games with Rovers and 100-plus with Wangaratta ( B & F 2010, 2012 ), Morris Medallist 2010. Also played Box Hill, Essendon Doutta Stars, Milawa ( Flag, and Baker Medal 2019 ).

Ryan Stone: Has played 81 games with Rovers. Also played 103 games Heidelberg ( NFL rep ).

Nick Richards: Has played 56 games Wangaratta ( Flag 2017 ) O & M rep. Also played Werribee, Williamstown, Heidelberg.

Robbie Allan : Played Rovers and Wangaratta. Also played Essendon Doutta Stars and Milawa ( Flag 2019 ).

Joe Richards: Has played 63 games with Wangaratta ( B & F 2017 & 2019. Flag 2017 ).

Danny Allan: Played Rovers and Wangaratta.

Ethan Stone : Senior Debut with Wangaratta 2021 ( Played 5 Senior games ).

Connor Stone : Senior Debut with Wangaratta 2017 ( Played 13 Senior Games ).

Alex Marklew: Has played 69 games with Rovers. Also played Doutta Stars, Golden Square ( B.F.L rep ), Essendon, Werribee.

Riley Stone: Played with Wodonga and Wangaratta. Now with Wodonga Raiders..

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Permit me to introduce you to another member of the clan – Dylan Stone – who celebrated his 100th game with the Wangaratta Rovers last week-end.

It hasn’t exactly been a dream run to the ‘ton’ for ‘D.J’.

In his first 75 games with the Hawks he played in just 15 wins. That was a touch hard to take, after he’d heard tales of old Rovers champs chalking up flags with monotonous regularity and appearing in Finals as if they were going out of fashion……..Talk about a bloke being in the right place at the wrong time !

He played all of his junior footy with Tigers, alongside one of his best mates, Jessie Smith. Their paths diverged, as Dylan joined the Rovers and Jessie headed over the laneway, where he has become a premiership player and part of a highly successful era.

As they say, Fate can be a cruel mistress !

“That’s the luck of the draw, I suppose. I was always going to play with the Rovers…..to follow in the footsteps of dad, and my brother, who’d been there for a few years,” he says

Ryan was making his name as an elusive, classy forward, with an eye for the big sticks ( he booted 35 and 31 goals in successive seasons ), and Dylan envisaged that whilst he was still coming through the ranks in the Thirds, they’d end up playing plenty of senior footy together.

It did eventually happen……seven years after he’d made his senior debut mid-way through 2014…….

In his fourth game Dylan figured in a nail-biting Elimination Final win over Corowa-Rutherglen……The following week the Hawks bowed out of the 2014 premiership race at the hands of Lavington.

It was to be his last Finals appearance……………….

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The ability of the silky-skilled, lightly-proportioned on-baller to find the Sherrin, transition it from stoppages with the balance of a Ballroom dancer, and make things happen up forward soon made him a key member of the Rovers side.

As a ball-magnet in a side not over-laden with talent, he became a target of attention. A heavy knock against Wodonga Raiders in 2016 kept him out for a week with concussion protocols, but he recovered in time to take his place in the Ovens and Murray League line-up for the Country Championship clash with Hampden a couple of weeks later.

The break-out Stone season came in 2017, when he took out the Bob Rose Medal.

His effort was all the more meritorious, considering a ‘dicky’ left knee was restricting him. After corrective femoral osteomoty post-season surgery in late-November, he decided to chance his luck in VFL ranks.

Port Melbourne coach Gary Ayres offered access to the Club’s medical staff for his recovery, and was keen for him to come on board.

But soon after, he moved to Coburg after an approach from their coach Leigh Adams, who dangled a small-forward’s role in front of him.

Dylan had been living and working in Melbourne, but, after five months, homesickness got to him. He returned to Wangaratta.

It was great news for the Hawks, who plonked their fully-recovered star into their opening-round line-up.

One of his old coaches believes that Stone became an even more dynamic player after the corrective knee surgery.

“I reckon I was a different person, that’s for sure,” Dylan says. “I could actually run with a bit more freedom.”

He lived in Wangaratta for two years, then headed back to Melbourne in 2019, where he was employed by Blue Earth ( alongside Ryan ), and continued his pursuit of a VFL career.

He landed at Box Hill Hawks, but found it difficult to command a spot. Again, it was back to his home club, where new coach Daryn Cresswell accepted him with open arms.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen the first day I met ‘Cressa’ “ Dylan quips. “He was an intimidating figure to start with. But he’s got the best out of my footy, that’s for sure.”

“My strength has always been to ‘run and carry’ the ball, and play with a bit of flair. He keeps drilling into me to make that happen.”

Dylan was a key component of a new-look Rovers line-up, which went within an ace of a long-awaited return to the Finals in 2019.

With the dream of playing in the VFL still lurking in the back of his mind he was lured to the Northern Bullants’ Preston City Oval this season.

“ I’ve always been determined to play the best standard possible, and extract all that I can out of my footy…….The training was great, and I knew a few of the blokes from my time at Coburg, so I get on well with everybody.”

He played five games with the Bullants, interspersed with his seven appearances with the Hawks.

“I didn’t actually play in a winning side at the Bullants. Ironically, they won three on the trot after I returned to the Rovers.”

Dylan is still keen to make his mark in the VFL, but he’s also relishing the success that the Rovers have enjoyed.

If anyone needed confirmation of his exquisite skills, they were on display in the Rovers’ recent victory over Lavington.

He’d played an integral role in a pulsating third-quarter comeback, as the Hawks reined in a 23-point deficit to hit the front…….The pendulum had swung repeatedly in this 10-goal term…….Inspiration was required…..

Taking possession on the boundary at the 25-minute mark, in front of the adoring home crowd in the Hogan Stand, he flicked a handball across to Cody Schutt….dodged an opponent and received the pill back…..

Still hemmed in on the boundary, and swivelling around one Panther, with another on his hammer, he found a smidgeon of open space, darted clear, straightened up and nailed a crucial major. It was a classic piece of Stone wizardry…………..

Last Saturday, he featured in several metre-devouring runs, turning defence into attack, as a youthful Rovers attempted to withstand the persistent ‘Roos, who sniffed victory.

But it was to no avail. They fell five points short in a see-sawing contest………..

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‘D.J’ is rapt to have realised his ambition of joining the Hawk 100-Game Club.

“You walk up those stairs at the Clubrooms, and see the photos of all the great players who’ve preceded you……..It means a heck of a lot to me…….”

‘WATCHING THE GAME FROM THE GATE….’

I wake up on Sunday morning with a queasy feeling in the stomach.

No, it’s not from last-night’s over-indulgence……Worse…It’s Derby-Day, and I can’t see how my Hawks, who’ve been competitive this year, can be any match for a rampant Wangaratta.

I can only go on media reports and local scuttlebut, which indicate that they’re flag favourites, boasting a side chock-full of talent. Aside from an aberration up at Tigerland, they’ve swept all opposition aside with consummate ease.

To further aggravate matters, I’m working on the Gate, and will have to contend with chirpy Magpies filtering through – all with that look of smug satisfaction on their dials – their only irritation being that they have to begrudgingly hand over some of their ‘hard-earned to these Rovers pricks’………

Being on gate-duty once the siren blows, is like watching life unfold through the bars of a dingy prison cell. You peer across, and catch a glimpse of the scoreboard -if you can -through the heavily-populated bank to the right of the Hogan Stand.

And it’s not a happy tale……

The roar of the crowd is a sure-fire indicator. Sounds like it’s all one-way traffic, after a promising start. The Pies pile on the goals. To my surprise, one fan is departing, even though it’s only half-way through the second term….or maybe, he’s going out to fetch something from the car.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (17)

“Want a Pass-Out ?” …..”Nah. I’ve seen enough. They’re too slow……Keep turning the ball over. It’s gonna be a belting.”

Gee, that doesn’t sound promising. Am I seeing right ?…..Looks like it’s blown out past six goals.

To confirm this, I switch on the trannie, and pick up Gambie and Omo on OAK-FM. They’re full of praise for the Magpies, who are chopping up the Hawks through the mid-field. And big Josh Porter is causing headaches up forward……… Then they utter the words I didn’t want to hear : “……the Rovers are flat-out trying to keep tabs on their classy opponents, and seem to be losing control…….”

Just before the half-time siren blows, we start packing up, and see that there’s only four goals in it. Are the Rovers slowly creeping back into the game……or will the Pies run away with it? For verification, I consult a couple of knowledgeable experts in the rooms, and, though they’re usually ‘Glass Half-Full types’, they’re of the latter opinion.

Wang are too strong all over the ground, they tell me; they’re using the ball better, and have capitalised on the Rovers’ skill errors…………….

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So I take up my usual position, leaning on the inter-change box in front of the rooms. From this vantage-spot you can also watch the ‘Crezza Show’. He’s in fine form today. Fully-animated…. gesticulating….arms waving….offering priceless morsels of advice to youngsters coming off…..and a blast to those of his players who’ve deviated from the game-plan.IMG_4149

He couldn’t be any closer to the action, and you can see by his body language, that he likes what he sees in the early stages of this third-quarter.

The Hawks are kicking to the ‘Gum-Tree End’. After hearing the prognostications of those at half-time, I’m staggered by what I’m seeing. Early on, diminutive Patty Hourigan takes possession of the pill deep in attack, and snaps a ripper, which enthuses the packed Rovers supporters on the balcony.

Then the ‘Brodie-Filo look-alike’, Matt Medcraft contemplatively takes a long-range shot from deep on the far flank. It evades flailing hands and bounces through. A miracle goal…..and what a team-lifter.

A change has certainly come over the game which, those around me say, has gone to another level. The tackling and ferocity is Ovens and Murray footy at its best from both sides.O&M Wang Rovers vs Wangaratta (17)

But the momentum is certainly with the Hawks. When dashing Jack Gerrish bolts through the middle of the ground, bouncing and skilfully keeping control of the ball at full-pace, it illustrates what a game of inches it is.

Had he faltered, the ball would have been quickly rebounded to the other end. But he steadies, and it ends up in the hands of his 2018 Thirds team-mate, Sam Allen, who slots a major, mid-post high, through the big sticks.

Amazingly, the Hawks have drawn level, and there’s a buzz around the ground reminiscent of those fabled Derby clashes of days gone-by.

Minutes later, young Sammy pops another one through, once again demonstrating his forte – a lethal right foot – and proving that  a footballer can be transformed. from a ‘turd to a camellia’ in a matter of twenty minutes.

The Rovers hold the ascendency by a goal at three quarter-time, and both camps are reasonably confident of their chances.

Will the Pies steady, and with their big-game experience, regain the upper-hand ? Or, with adrenalin pumping in their veins, and taking their chances, can the Hawks hold on?

Wang do most of the attacking in the early-to-mid stages of the final term, but can’t land the blow which would swing the game their way.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (10)

In one of the key moments, the big fellah, Ed Dayman, tackles and scores a free kick, then lines up a pressure shot for goal. This shot’ll test him surely, I surmise. No problems, it doesn’t deviate. He’s a gun, young Ed.

Matt Grossman, who has been thrust forward by the Pies, is free-kicked, and the 50-metre penalty which follows, aids him in nailing their first goal in a half.

They boot four successive behinds; the last of them a flying shot which causes the post to shake like most of the nervous fans. It reduces the margin to two points, but it’s only when Stuart Booth runs in to hammer a goal home with less than two minutes remaining, that the game is finally put to bed.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (18)

The siren, which brings finality to a contest and a half, prompts an overflowing of emotion, as the players congregate in mid-field.

Apparently one player gave a bit of lip, which prompted Maggie Daniel Boyle to react. Nothing wrong with that, I reckon. More to the point, it’s nice to know that the old home-town rivalry is alive and well.

What is worth a rap, though, is his effort to come into the Rovers rooms to apologise. That’s character for you……………..O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (20)

Special thanks to Melissa Beattie of the Wang. Chronicle, for the photos.