“STRONG-MARKING ‘ROSA’……A STAR FOR ‘PIES…….”

Wangaratta Football Club has had the knack, over its storied history, of attracting numerous well-credentialed League players to fulfil its coaching role.

From Collingwood came ruckman Percy ‘Oily’ Rowe, who led them to their first O & M flag in 1925…….. the legendary Mac Holten, tactical maestro behind the ‘Four-in-a-row’ from 1949-52……….. and the 1961 premiership leader, tough-as-nails Neville Waller………

Of course, Laurie Nash – ‘The Great L.J’ – put the exclamation-mark on the first post-war title of 1946; and let’s not overlook former St.Kilda and Victorian centre half forward Jack McDonald, the brilliant left-footer, and architect of a flag in 1957………four-club star Norm Le Brun, who guided them from wooden-spooners to top in 1938………..or the popular Geelong B & F winner Ray Card, who was unlucky to arrive during some gruelling times in the 1990’s…….

Trevor Steer was another…..He was vice-captain, and within a couple of straight kicks of being a dual-premiership player at Collingwood. Two years after winning a Copeland Trophy he was appointed coach of Wangaratta.

Tall, skilful and adaptable, Steer had four fine seasons in charge of the ‘Pies…….

His successor also made a considerable impression in his nine years in VFL ranks. A strongly-built defender who was rarely out-marked, he had a penchant for physical fitness and a passion for the game. These were the attributes that Geoff Rosenow brought to the Norm Minns Oval in 1971……..

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Echuca is the old stamping-ground of Phil Nolan, another Magpie premiership coach. He moved to Wangaratta to work at the Chronicle in the early-seventies and spent two seasons under Rosenow.

“ He was probably the main reason I opted to play with Wang , “ Phil says.

“When I was a kid growing up in Echuca, ‘Rosa’ was the best player in town. He was known then by his nickname, ‘Tex’, and had played his early footy with Echuca East. In his three years at Echuca he marked everything, and was an out-and-out star…….The general consensus then was that he was headed for League football……..”

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Rosenow had just turned 20 when he was recruited to Geelong in 1962. At 6’2” and a touch under 14 stone he was handed an opportunity as a ruckman-defender in a rapidly-developing side mid-way through the season.

The Cats, under the coaching of Bobby Davis, were slowly resurrecting their fortunes after their Golden Era of the early-fifties. They hadn’t played finals since 1956, but the much-touted arrival of champion ruckman ‘Polly’ Farmer – and the irrepressible confidence of their coach – persuaded their fans to aim for the heights.

And they were ultimately rewarded, as Geelong blitzed Hawthorn by 49 points, to win the 1963 flag.

‘Rosa’ wasn’t in that premiership side…….. He was still a bit-part player, and made just 29 senior appearances in his first three seasons.

Many years later he reflected that the 1964 Reserves Grand Final was probably the turning-point of his career. He won over a few doubters with an outstanding performance in Geelong’s stirring victory over Richmond.

But it was a controversial incident in a fiery match at Kardinia Park mid-way through that season, which had alerted the wider football public to the combative policeman.

North Melbourne defender Ken Dean had sent the brilliant Geelong playmaker – and prize recruit – Denis Marshall, flying into the boundary fence during the second quarter.

Tempers flared from that point on, and when the half-time siren sounded it boiled over again, culminating in a punch-up in the player’s race…….. Rosenow tangled with North coach Alan Killigrew, who was left, bloodied and fuming, from a broken nose.

An investigation was launched by the VFL……20 witnesses were called, and many harsh words spoken…….but no action was taken……… ‘Killer’ and Rosenow both received six-month good-behaviour bonds when they appeared before the Geelong Court.

As much as he was lambasted for the blow-up with Killigrew , Rosenow maintained that his most embarrassing moment in League footy came later that year, when he was dragged by coach Davis in the closing stages of a humiliating loss at South Melbourne’s Lake Oval:

“I had to walk half the perimeter of the ground to the coach’s box, and was subjected to the jeers of the South supporters, who really got stuck into me,” he recalled.

Even so, he soon became an established part of the Geelong line-up, with his strong marking and long ( although often-wayward ) kicking being the feature. From late-1965 to Round 15 1970, he played 100 consecutive games with the Cats.

The biggest disappointment, he reckoned, was lowering his colours to the Richmond ‘talls’ in the 1967 Grand Final, during which the lead changed four times in a pulsating final quarter. The Tigers eventually prevailed by nine points………….

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After 147 games with Geelong, ‘Rosa’ accepted a transfer in the Police Force, and was appointed playing-coach of Wangaratta in 1971.

The ‘Pies hadn’t won a flag in 10 years, but invariably contended, reaching four Grand Finals in that period.

If nothing else, their new leader was determined to have them fighting fit. He was rising 29, had a strong self-belief, and a personal regimen of training every day.

Team-mates recall him, ‘hitting the bitumen’, and running countless miles each pre-season:

“…..One year he even entered the 3200m event at the Carnival….He went out like a cut-cat, and led by about half a lap at the half-way mark……….Then he blew up and finished stone motherless last…….He approached the race as if it was a sprint !………”

But those I spoke to acknowledged him as a popular and enthusiastic coach…….. the old-fashioned type, who could rant and rave and wasn’t averse to giving the boys a decent ‘bake’.

And he certainly led from the front……..

Plonking himself at centre half back, he was an imposing figure. He had a long pair of arms and possessed the most reliable pair of ‘mitts’ in the Ovens and Murray.

Rosenow finished third in the Morris Medal in 1971, and runner-up in 1973 ( he also won the Club B & F that year ). He was an automatic O & M rep, and was undoubtedly among the best half-dozen players in the competition during his four-year stint with the ‘Pies.

“In those days clubs would see their centre half forward and bomb it into them” says Phil Nolan…..”That was right up ‘Rosa’s’ alley……The only time I saw him beaten up here was by a 16 year-old blonde kid from the Rovers – Johnny Byrne – who just ran him off his feet…..

Rosenow himself relished his O & M match-ups with the formidable Frank Hodgkin: “I look back now and recall the anticipation I had, prior to my contests with him……He was tough, and played it that way………”

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Probably the most ignominious of Wang’s finals defeats during his time came in a Qualifying Final at Rutherglen in 1973.

Rosenow, and full back Geoff Kneebone defended stoutly against North Albury, but their forwards were unable to locate the big sticks, and trailed 12.11 to 0.11 at three quarter-time.

Despite booting three majors in the final term, they went down to the eventual premiers by 69 points…………..

The Magpies were successful in only one of the five finals matches they contested during the Rosenow-era. To be blunt, they weren’t quite flag-material, as it was a period dominated by the Rovers, with Yarrawonga and North Albury in close pursuit.

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Rosenow had been a key figure in all of the Club’s off-field activities. He was a member of the Magpies’ 1972 Basketball team, which won the WDBA summer title, and was the playing President of Magpies Cricket Club when they came from the clouds to clinch an unlikely WDCA flag in 1973/74.

Their team included five teen-agers- Rick Thewlis, Peter Hill, Tony Dellicastelli , Russell Wood and Dean Rowland, and they sat second-last at the Christmas-break. With a withering late-season run, they knocked over red-hot favourites United for 62, to win the Semi, and dismissed Whorouly for 78, to clinch the Final with just one over remaining.

When severe drought conditions in Melbourne forced the Country Week Cricket Carnival to be transferred to Geelong in 1973, Rosenow was appointed playing-Manager of the Wangaratta line-up.

Rain began tumbling down on Sunday afternoon, and the Week was mercifully abandoned after four days of continuous rain…….much to the relief of the Manager, who’d spent a good deal of his time endeavouring to keep his restless charges away from the Geelong Social Club Bar……..

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He was invited to re-apply for the 1975 Wangaratta coaching position, and found himself competing with Vern Drake ( Benalla ), Harold Martin ( Preston ), Wayne Miller ( West Torrens ), Vin Doolan ( Nth. Melbourne ), Mick Pavone, and Harry Skreja.

Skreja, a 23 year-old former Footscray forward, was handed the job. In the meantime, though, ‘Rosa’ had been inundated with suitors. He accepted the post as playing-coach of VFA Second-Division club Mordialloc.

Rising 33, you’d consider the curtain to be coming down on his playing days……..Instead, he’d only just passed the half-way mark of a colourful journey.

He became a highly-respected figure in the formerly downtrodden Bloodhound camp, lifting them to sixth in his first season, and a Grand Final in the next. In 1977 they clinched their first – and only – VFA flag, and a resultant promotion to First Division.

‘Rosa’ received a transfer back home to Echuca in the Police Force in 1979, and committed the seemingly ‘unforgivable’ sin – in the eyes of many in the town – by taking on the coaching job with nearby Rochester.

The clubs had been bitter footy rivals for the best part of a century……. The old animosity was sparked in one of Rosenow’s early games, when Echuca advertised a ‘Victory Dance’ after the ‘Local Derby’…….”He was certainly keen to win that one. We beat them and stayed on to celebrate the victory,” one team-mate reminisced .

Another work transfer saw him return to Melbourne in 1982 and coach Southern League club, Chelsea Heights, before beginning another stint with Mordialloc.

It was during that 1984 season that he experienced what he regarded as one of his finest football moments, when he coached the VFA representative team in Adelaide……

“We were seven goals down during the third quarter, but fought back to win by two goals………It was a magic moment….” he recalled.

Again stationed back in the bush, he had one final year with Rochester, in 1988, before finishing his marathon career with his original club, Echuca East.

The durable football journeyman, played more than 550 games in his career, was named captain of Mordialloc’s Team of the Century and inducted to the Police Hall of Fame.

Geoff Rosenow died after suffering a heart attack whilst mowing the front lawn at his Golden Square residence in 1999. He was 57……….

‘THE KNOCK-ABOUT ‘JOURNO’ WHO MADE HIS MARK……’

There he is, rejoicing in the aftermath of the 1976 Grand Final, ……. Pandemonium reigns at Wangaratta’s City Oval…….. With long hair flapping, arms raised to the heavens, he flashes a gap-toothed grin, and acknowledges the cheers of the delirious fans.IMG_4083

“I might have been saluting all you Rovers supporters, too…….! ” quips Phil Nolan.

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That was arguably Phil’s proudest sporting moment. Long after the event, he has become an iconic figure in Wangaratta – and beyond. Even veteran Hawks, who were once tantalised by his aggressive style of play, have come to accept that he’s a ‘top-notch bloke…..for a Maggie’.

Any wonder. He has made an immense contribution to sport and the community  over almost five decades.

When I suggest having a yak about his footy career, he’s initially reluctant. Someone had mentioned he might be difficult to pin down, as he’s not over-fussy about self-promotion.

But I think the old journo sympathised with my persistence……

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He was born into the bosom of the Echuca Football Club, so to speak. “Dad (Eddie), who had been a rear-gunner during the War, was a premiership player. I think the races ended up grabbing him more than footy, though,” says Phil.

Eight of his mum’s brothers – the Kenna’s – stripped for the Murray Bombers, including an uncle, Kevin (Grumpy) who was to become a coaching legend in the Goulburn Valley.

Phil moved through the Thirds, and figured in a Reserves flag in 1969. Luckily enough, he’d come under the influence of Hawthorn champ Graeme Arthur, who had taken over the coaching job, and was keen to bring on the youngsters.

“‘Mort’ Arthur made a difference to a lot of people – me included,” Phil says. “Not only on the footy side of things, but also by  placing particular emphasis on being a decent person.”

His introduction to Wangaratta came early in 1970, when Echuca played a practice match against the Rovers.  The energetic big man was keen to show his mettle.

Sides used to go in with four ruckmen in those days, and Phil was able to hang onto his senior spot for most of the season . Despite the loss of coach Arthur, with a broken  forearm , Echuca won their way into the Bendigo League Grand Final. They  met Sandhurst whom they had rolled in the second-semi.IMG_4095

“The old Hawthorn hard-man ‘Delicate’ Des Dickson, was Sandhurst’s coach. He’d ‘fixed-up’ our centre half forward in the semi, and there was some concern that he may try to repeat it in the Grand Final.”

“Our back pocket player, Ray Murphy, a timber-cutter from Mathoura ( and the toughest bloke I ever played with), said: ‘Leave him to me’. Sure enough, he’s snotted ‘Delicate’. He stayed on the ground, but had no impact. We went on to win the flag,……….”

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Phil was almost through his Journalism Cadetship with the ‘Riverine Herald’ when he received a phone call from an old colleague, Geoff Easdown, with the offer of a job at the paper in Devonport.

“Young and ambitious, I decided to take it up. I left the ‘Riverine Herald’ on the Friday, Kerry and I got married on Saturday, and we flew down to Devonport on Sunday.”

“The only thing I’d forgotten was to organise a roof over our heads. We were met at the Airport by officials from the Devonport Football Club, who queried where we were staying. ‘Ah, actually, nowhere yet’, I said. So they teed up a motel for a couple of weeks and I duly signed with them.”

Tassie football was really strong in the ‘70’s. The N.W.F.U, with which Devonport were affiliated, boasted players of the calibre of Darrell Baldock, Alan ‘Bull’ Richardson, Vin Waite, Max Urquhart, Bob and Barrie Pascoe and Geoff Cayzer.

But for the lean, lanky Nolan it was a valuable learning experience. He handled the role of lone ruckman with ease, representing the NWFU and taking out the club’s B & F in his first season. And he really responded to the coaching of Paddy Martin, the sage non-playing leader.

“Old Paddy’s still going strong; he’s just on 92, I think. A lovely bloke. I still catch up with him occasionally. He was named as a coaching ‘Legend’ in Tassie’s Hall of Fame a few years back .”

Phil found the going a bit tougher in his second year in Tasmania. As a key player , he reasoned he would need to adapt, as he was becoming a target in the big-man duels.

”When George McInnes, the former Corowa player, who was at Wynyard, knocked out my two front teeth, I decided I’d better start giving a bit back…. Just to let ‘em know I was around……”

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His father’s serious illness in late 1972 persuaded Phil and Kerry to re-locate to the mainland, to be closer to the family. He sent away applications to half a dozen papers, and received two responses – from Camperdown and Wangaratta.

“We reckoned the Western District was too cold, so we settled on the Wangaratta Chronicle,” he says.

A former Echuca boy, Geoff Rosenow, held the coaching reins at Wangaratta, so that pretty much prompted Phil to throw in his lot with the ‘Pies.

He was introduced to O & M football in a fiery clash with Wodonga, when he brushed with feisty Bulldog coach Mick Bone. This was to be the first of many such entanglements which would earn him a reputation as one of the League’s ‘enforcers’.

But he also deservedly ranked among the finest ruckman in the game.IMG_4085

The ‘Pies were there or thereabouts in his first two seasons, finishing fourth and third. They again reached the Prelim Final in 1975, under Harry Skreja. But when the star forward announced later that year, that he was relinquishing the coaching job and returning to Melbourne, it left the club in a pickle.

“They had to tee someone up in a hurry. Jack White ( President) fronted me and said: ‘Listen, son. What about it ?’ “

“I’d already given it a bit of thought, and, having been heavily-influenced by two of my former coaches, Graeme Arthur and Paddy Martin, I said: ‘Alright, I’ll have a crack at it.’ “

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So Wangaratta had appointed its first coach from ‘within the ranks’ since Alec Fraser took the job on in 1940.

The players were in no doubt that he would make a go of it. He was highly-popular, a brilliant orator, and had proved an inspiration on-field in his first three years at the Club.

But it was also a matter of blending in with work ( he had recently taken on the Editorship of the Chronicle ) – and a growing family.

Righto, Phil, tell us about ‘76,  I ask…….”How many pages have you got left in that note-book ?,” he jokes.

“I remember being pretty toey before we ran out for the first game of the season. Bob Comensoli, our Chairman of Selectors, motioned me over. I thought to myself….. ‘this’ll be interesting’.”

“He pulled me close, clenched that boxer’s mitt of his, and muttered: ‘Phil, ya gotta look after ‘em a bit.’………I got the message. “IMG_4086

“We certainly weren’t a team of stars. Jack O’Halloran was the stand-out, but we had a good even side, all decent blokes. And we played quite a few kids that year……..”

The ‘Pies finished second after the home-and-away rounds, then belted North Albury, and snuck home from Albury in successive weeks, to march into the Grand Final.

The much-anticipated Rovers – Wangaratta clash  was a promoter’s dream. The Hawks, who had held sway through most of the seventies, had come from fifth, but rated their chances.

They’d won the previous 11 ‘local-derby’s’ and had snared six flags since the ‘Pies’ last success, in 1961.

But they were never really in the game, with Wang dominating early to lead 8.6 to 4.5 at half-time. As the crowd settled down in anticipation of another typical Hawk fight-back, it failed to eventuate. The Pies ran away, to triumph by 37 points.

“We’d had a run on the City Oval on the Thursday night before the game, and trained the house down,” Phil says. “I knew then that we were in with a real chance.”

 

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It has gone down in local folklore as a famous Wangaratta victory – maybe the most memorable in their history.

Wang, minus a few players in 1977, were second-last at the half-way mark, but scraped into the finals and battled their way into another flag-decider. There to meet them again were the Hawks, who exacted their revenge over a tired opponent, to win by 52 points.

Phil had led the O & M to victory over South-West League in the Country Championship clash that year, and also took out the ‘Pies B & F. He was at the peak of his form, but after another season in charge, he resigned as coach in 1978.

“I thought three years was enough. Besides, we now had three kids ( Kellee, Hayley and Annalee), so I decided to concentrate on playing,” he says.

Then, in 1982, he was asked if he’d like to have another stint as coach.

“I enjoyed coaching,” he says, “But I shouldn’t have taken it on again. My hammies were playing up and I was just about knackered.”

Half-way through the following season he finally hung up the boots, after 175 games with the Pies……..

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Phil says he gets his footy ‘fix’ these days by regularly watching O & M games, and being involved with the North-East Border AFL commission.

But he served footy dutifully, post-retirement, spending 14 years (1991 – 2004 ) as an Ovens and Murray Board member, a regular MC at sporting functions, and a member of a few Tribunals. As an old footy protagonist he’d have pre-empted the evidence of most Tribunal defendants, I would expect.IMG_4081

Along the way, he’d been awarded an Order of Australia Medal, and been inducted to the Magpies’ and O & M Hall of Fames. In 2017 he was announced as the Rural City’s Citizen of the Year’: ‘for his unswerving loyalty to the community of Wangaratta’. . It took into account, of course, a staggering 31-year stint as Editor of the Chronicle, and the number of organisations with which he was involved.

That wasn’t a bad tribute, I reckon, for a bloke who landed in town 46 years ago, as a laid-back journo and knock-about footballer……………..IMG_4082