Neville Hogan has always had a keen eye for footy talent. Over a period of sixty years he has seen all of the local champions come and go.
But he was playing in a Junior League game in the late fifties when he saw an exhibition of football that made his mind boggle.
His team, South Wanderers, the ladder-leaders, were annihilated by the College Boarders. Or more so, by a blond-haired lad named Des Tuck, who played in the centre.
“Tucky was unstoppable. He kicked 14 or 15 goals out of a total of about 24 goals 28. They’d have kicked 40 goals had they kicked straight. He took every possession out of the centre, marked every kick-out and just did what he liked.”
Tuck played just the one Junior League game but Hogan saw enough of him in school games for Champagnat College and in practice games against senior opposition, to know that he was an absolute gun. “He would not only have played League football; he’d have been a Hall of Famer”, he said.
Des Tuck was a Bendigo boy, from a keen sporting family. His brother Frank captained Collingwood (and was later to coach Corowa). Another brother, Tony, was a star at Golden Square and represented 4 Leagues in a stellar career.
At 13, Des made the decision to be a Marist brother. His training brought him to Champagnat and his aptitude as a sportsman became the stuff of legend. He excelled in football, cricket, tennis, athletics and high jumping.
The two local clubs offered to put Tuck, then aged 16, straight into their line-ups but were not surprised when the brothers denied permission.
Des moved away from Wangaratta to continue his studies and took the name, Brother Bernardine. As he moved around the nation with the Marist order he earned a reputation as an excellent teacher and outstanding sports coach.
He returned to teach at Champagnat in 1968 and Wangaratta and the Rovers again enquired about his availability for footy. The answer was in the negative.
But he did play WDCA cricket for Rovers, under the pseudonym of ‘B. Bernard’. “Funnily enough, there was a bit of a write-up that was going to appear in the Melbourne Herald one Saturday. So I thought I’d better get on the front foot and tell the boss that I’d been playing for the Rovers for a while”, he recalled.
He soon became the leading competition all-rounder, as an explosive left-hand batsman and fiery right-arm paceman. He was a god-send for local cricket and was a member of the North-East Cup side.
Not long before he received news of a posting to Marcellin College in Melbourne, he had been appointed Rovers captain. It was devastating news for the Hawks, as he had become a popular figure in the Club- indeed right through the association.
Br.Bernardine represented Wangaratta at Bendigo Country Week in January of 1970, playing a key role in a hat-trick of Wangaratta wins. They needed to defeat old rivals Geelong on the Thursday to claim a place in the Final, but collapsed for 74.
Geelong seemingly were home, but Br. Bernardine produced a burst of pace bowling to have them on the ropes. They got there in the finish, compiling 96. Bernardine was the wrecker with 7/34. He felled the Geelong left-hand opener, a seasoned Country Week campaigner, with a vicious delivery which jumped off a good length.
As he lay recovering on the ground, he looked up at the bowler who was offering his apologies and said : “Go easy Father, I’m one of your mob, you know ! “
The Marists had relaxed the rules of playing sport outside of the school when Br. Bernadine moved to Melbourne. He was asked to play Amateur football with Assumption Old Boys and so began his senior football career at the age of 30.
School coaching commitments limited his appearances. Standing 6’3” and weighing 14 stone, he lined up at centre half forward and in just 40 games booted 195 goals, to win the Club Best and Fairest Award in the 3 years he played. He was also runner-up in the competition award each year.
He played cricket for Yarralean- Marcellin Old Boys in the South-East Suburban competition and helped his side to a premiership with 202 and 7/32 in one Grand Final. He was named in their ‘Team of the Century’ despite playing only 3 seasons with them.
Des Tuck is now retired and lives in Bendigo. He doesn’t bother reflecting on what might have been.
“It was my choice to become a brother and I got enormous satisfaction out of coaching kids. My thrill in sport was seeing them develop into outstanding footballers and cricketers. But just as importantly, I cherish the friendships I have maintained over the years”.
He taught in Perth, Adelaide, Wangaratta, Assumption College Kilmore and Marcellin College and many of his students went on to play WAFL, SANFL and League football.
But for the last word on this sublime sporting talent, it was appropriate to pop the obvious question to his brother Frank. “What do you think, Frank, would he have made the grade ? “