“…….KARL…….”

“Just a tip,” they said ……”When you ring him it’ll dial out……But don’t bother leaving a message. He never returns your call.”

So I took this advice on board, and kept trying……Once, twice…..four times. A minute or so after the fifth, later in the night, the phone rings. His inquisitiveness must have got the better of him.

“Karl, here…………”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

When we meet up, he’s just come from receiving some treatment on a calf that’s been causing him some grief.

The massive 116kg frame of Karl Norman, has let him down at times this year. Any wonder…..he turned 35 a couple of months ago. But he’s confident that, with a bit of tender care, he’ll be right to guide Glenrowan through another finals series.

He’s been known as one of football’s after-dark larrikins, although he admits he’s slowing up in that department. But on the field he’s as passionate as they come. It’s always been the feature of his game.

He still loves playing, and can’t see any reason why he should give it away just yet. It’s some of the other parts of footy that he’s not totally enamoured with. Watching from the sidelines, says Karl, has never really turned him on.

Apart from his flirtation with the big-time, he reckons he would have only been to half-a-dozen other AFL games and rarely watches it on telly. Once we broach the subject of footy and other matters, though, I realise there’s more to Karl Norman than meets the eye…………

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

He says he wasn’t big on Aussie Rules when he was a nipper. Despite his dad’s feats as a champion full forward, he was more into soccer and tennis. “Mum thought I’d get sick of it if I started too early,” he says.

But his obvious talent, which showed through once he took a fancy to the Sherrin, saw him debuting with Greta’s senior side at 15. The following year he followed his step-father Andrew Smith over to Glenrowan.

Approaches came from the Murray Bushrangers when he moved in to the Rovers Thirds in 2000. “Mum drove me up to training at Wodonga a few times. I’d been working on the family orchard since I was 16 and it was fairly tiring. The Bushies sort of suggested that I should apply myself a bit more if I wanted to get anywhere. Bugger that, I thought, I want to enjoy my footy.”

He was a standout with the Thirds, won their B & F, and was blooded in a couple of senior games. Then it was back out to Glenrowan for another season – and another B & F.

One reason Karl was lured back to the Findlay Oval in 2002, was to satisfy the urgings of his dad, Steve, whose feats as a 242-game player with the Wangaratta Rovers are still spoken of in reverential terms.IMG_3554

1016 goals ( a Club record ), seven premierships ( a Club and League record). Inducted to both the Rovers and O & M Halls of Fame. One helluva player. Spearheads of his calibre come along only once every couple of generations.

Expectant club die-hards ran the rule over the young bloke and concluded that he stripped more like his grand-father – former Magpie full back ‘Rinso’ Johnstone – than his old man. At 190cm and a finely-proportioned 86kg, the romantic notions that he would line up in front of goal were cast aside when he began to shine in a key defensive role.

At 19, he took on – and outpointed most of the O & M’s gun forwards. “The thing about Karl was he that had an ideal temperament. Nothing phased him. It was just ‘See ball- Get ball’,” recalled an old team-mate.

The game that probably defined him to the broader O & M public was a Rovers – Corowa-Rutherglen clash, when he pulled down 15 marks at centre half-back in a thrilling drawn game.

His good form continued, and he was scarcely hindered when he suffered a broken hand in a late-season game. Two days after it had been set, Karl calmly cut the plaster off so that he could play his part in the Hawks’ finals campaign.

The Rovers pulled back a 41-point North Albury lead in the third quarter of the Grand Final, to briefly hit the front early in the final term. But the Hoppers then blew them away with six goals in 17 minutes.IMG_3556

Norman and the peerless Robbie Walker were the Hawk stars. In fact, Karl had been dominant in each of the three finals, and capped his season by finishing runner-up to Walker in the B & F.

He had no idea that there had been any interest in him from AFL recruiters. “But I did hear later on that Carlton were up at Lavington for the Grand Final,” he says.

So when the Blues grabbed him as a ‘smokey’, chosen at pick 79 in the November draft of 2002, it was a surprise. Rarely does a player in the modern era arrive in League football from beyond the elite system. Thus, Carlton fans surmised, this bloke must be something special.IMG_3548

His improvement was steady. Solid form in defence with the Northern Bullants earned him seven AFL games in his first season.

Then things went awry. His name was emblazoned across the sporting pages early in 2004, when he and Laurence Angwin had an ‘all-nighter’ and arrived for Sunday morning training under the weather.

Angwin was sacked, Norman was given a reprieve and proceeded to repay the faith that the Blues’ senior players had shown by hanging onto him. A brilliant rebounding game against Geelong earned him a Rising Star nomination. A solid 2004 saw him make 16 senior appearances and be spoken of as one of the key planks in a possible Carlton revival.

But after four early games the following season, he was relegated to VFL ranks, where he continued to churn out consistent performances.

“Peter Dean and old ‘Libba’, who were coaching at the Bullants, kept telling me to keep battling away; that my form was pretty good. We ended up getting done in the Preliminary Final that year. I got a bit disheartened, though. I just hated the city….And the total emphasis on football…. It was a relief, in a way, when they delisted me. I couldn’t wait to get out of the place.”IMG_3555

“Steve Johnson’s dad, Terry, reckons I’d have been better suited to Geelong, where it’s not so much of a rat-race……Maybe….But no use dwelling on the past……”

He says Leigh Matthews left a message for him, asking him to discuss a possible move to Brisbane. “But I didn’t ring back.” The Western Bulldogs invited him to do the 2006 pre-season. …. “Great”, I said. “How’d that go ?” “I didn’t turn up.”

Instead, a mate, Steve Aloi, talked Karl into playing at Mooroopna, under ex-Geelong player Derek Hall. He spent two years there before his inevitable return to the Rovers.

His form was patchy at first, and he had limited impact as a key forward. Then a switch into the ruck brought about the transformation that made him an all-powerful figure in O & M football over the next five seasons.

And a larger-than-life character within the club. ‘Karl Tales’ are still told, and probably embellished. A team-mate recalls the playing group huddling together on the ground for a last-minute pep-up before one game. “Get a whiff of ‘Normo’s’ breath,” someone said .

The popular assumption was that, having climbed aboard the tractor to knock the frost off the cherry trees earlier that morning, he’d taken along a couple of cans of Johnnie Walker for company.

“Never affected him, though. He went out and took charge; rucked all day.”

It’s worth detailing his record in his second-coming at the Findlay Oval. Top-five in the Best and Fairest in all but one year, he was runner-up twice and took out the coveted Bob Rose Medal in 2012.IMG_3549

Twice an O & M rep, he finished third in the Morris Medal in 2011 and fifth the following year. For my money, Karl lifted his game to another level in 2012.

He recalls it with mixed emotions. “We’d come off almost being wooden-spooners the previous season, but the side comprised mostly locals who seemed to come of age. Barry Hall just topped us off, I suppose.”

“And to be nearly six goals up early in the last quarter of the Second-Semi, with a spot in the Grand Final within reach, and lose the game……..Gee it hurt…..I think about that after-the-siren kick of Barry Hall’s nearly every day……..”

There was considerable anguish in the Rovers camp, when, after 121 games, Karl headed back to Glenrowan in 2014, in pursuit of that elusive premiership.

He was about to write another chapter in his career – that of a roaming centreman cum relief-ruckman.

The Kelly Tigers had never come remotely close to being a premiership threat since being elevated to the Ovens & King League. Pitied for their uncompetitiveness, they had been on the end of some fearful beltings.

Suddenly they were up and about. People can debate how they’ve achieved it, but to maintain the momentum to win four successive flags is a remarkable effort. It’s never been done before – and, don’t forget- they rate a good chance of making it five in a row.

Karl has been one of the principal reasons. I’ve seen him manipulating things from the centre square in each of those Grand Finals …..reading the play, bringing team-mates into the game with a deft tap, a long handball into the open, or a deep, well-placed kick.

He has been runner-up for the O-K’s Baker Medal three times, third once, and won three Glenrowan B & F’s in that time.

He’s got a bit more on his plate these days; with work on the orchard, doing up a house he recently bought in Wangaratta and running a few cattle, things are pretty busy. But, come September, the big fellah will be doing his best to lift the Tigers to another flag…………….IMG_3552

HAVE BOOTS WILL TRAVEL

One of my boyhood dreams was to be a sporting nomad…….shuffling between towns, finding a job, playing a season of footy and cricket here and there, meeting a new set of mates , then moving on……

A sort of : “Have bat and footy boots / will travel “, existence, I mused.

It worked well for a while – until homesickness set in……

But I had a yarn to a bloke the other day who certainly didn’t let the pull of home deter him from his youthful wanderings. They lasted 14 years and included stints with 10 football clubs. Finally, with a growing family he decided to put down his roots in Wangaratta.

But even then, the career of Jack Gannon, one of sport’s most durable all-rounders was still gathering momentum……..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

When I mention the name ‘Jack Gannon’, you probably invoke thoughts of the long-time Glazier ferrying around town in his white Toyota Hi-Ace……You probably recall the earnest, veteran runner, straining valiantly for the line in a distance event at the local Carnival…..

Or the wisened old football identity, answering the call of an O & K club to take over their coaching job…….

Some of you may be able to hark back to the classy, speedy, lean utility player who was at the helm of two Ovens and Murray clubs during the eighties…….

But only the most observant will attest to the fast bowler with the fluent action who fired out a Pakistani batsman with 10 Test centuries to his name, in an international match…

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A native of Corryong, his parents moved to Albury when they sold the family farm. Jack’s first club was Lavington (pre-O & M days), who won the Tallangatta League seniors and Reserves premierships whilst he was with them.

He headed down to Benalla at the end of one school year to holiday on his uncle’s farm and ended up getting a job and staying for three years. In the first two, and still in his teens, he played in flags with Tatong.

” Ken Roberts, who was my opening bowling partner at Winton-Molyullah, was the footy coach of Benalla at the time. He invited me to have a run with the Demons. It was my first taste of major-league football and I loved the season I played there, ” Jack recalled.

Then it was back to AIMG_0855lbury, where he was snapped up by the Tigers. He fitted nicely into one of the O & M’s stronger sides and played mainly on a wing, where he earned inter-league selection against the South-West League.

Jack made some pretty good mates at Tigerland and a few of them decided to head around Australia. The ultimate aim was to play a bit of footy on their travels and when they reached Darwin the four of them – Jack, Daryl Bakes, Geoff Boyle and Gary Plummer – saddled up with Waratahs.

“The heat was stifling. Our fitness had dropped off a bit whilst we were away and our first training session nearly killed us. But it was good footy and we were lucky enough to play in a flag .”

When he got back to Albury, Jack decided to get serious about his football. The first thing he did was to ‘ditch’ the grog. “I had my last beer at the age of 21”, he said

He had spent three seasons with Albury and was now in the top flight of O & M players. Keen to explore the option of coaching, he moved to Whitton, in the Riverina, as assistant-coach to Tom Doolan. It’s a tiny town, about 14 miles from Leeton, but proved a good launching-pad for him.

This led to a three-year appointment at Farrer League club, Temora, followed by two years as coach of Leeton.

“Footy in the Riverina was of a high standard in those days and people supported it to the hilt. They were memorable sporting times for me and I made lifelong friendships “, Jack says.

What’s more, he’d met and married, Sharon – a Temora girl – so things couldn’t be better. In his time up north he had represented the VCFL, South West, Riverina and Farrer Leagues, and had played seven games for NSW.

At this stage I digress, to ask him about his cricket career, which really blossomed when he was in the Riverina.

“I’d played with St.Patrick’s in Albury as a bowling all-rounder. When I started coaching I got keen on lifting weights and found that my bowling improved, too. I started to hit the ‘keeper’s gloves a bit harder and the wickets came more regularly”.

“The O’Farrell Cup is a pretty big deal up there and I played plenty of cricket”.

A look at the record books shows that Jack won selection in the NSW Country team which met the touring Pakistanis at Griffith, in 1983. Earlier in the season he’d played against the ACT at Albury.

He made an early breakthrough in the international game when he bowled ‘Paki’ opener Mudassar Nazar in his opening overs.

“I had Mohsin Khan, who went on to make a ‘ton’, dropped by the ‘keeper on 4, then little Quasim Omar popped one up just out of reach of the cover fielder. No excuses though. I could have had ‘three for’, but finished with about 1/40”.

It was Jack’s last game of cricket. He had suggested to Sharon that he wouldn’t mind having another crack at O & M footy, so they moved south. Yarrawonga, who had won the wooden-spoon the previous year, appointed him coach.

They returned to finals action, but lost a nail-biter to Myrtleford, to bow out in the Elimination Final.

He then received an approach from Wangaratta to take over their coaching position in 1985, and spent three years in the role. He played in a variety of positions – ruck-roving, mid-field, often lining up at centre half forward to exploit slow-moving key defenders.

The ‘Pies reached the finals in one of those years, but generally, Jack found it tough going. He continued on at the ‘Pies for another two years, under his successor Ray Card, and finished with 94 games in the Black and White guernsey.

Jack had started running during the off-seasons, under the auspices of that old athletics guru, Bernie Grealy, mainly to get fit for football. But, like a lot of those who take up the sport, he found it addictive.

In no time he was competing on the pro-running circuit. He won 16 or-so races, including the 800m, 200m and veterans 300m at the local Carnival – and ran in two Wangaratta Gift IMG_0854finals in a career which only finished 3 years ago, when he broke his hip.

The Murray Bushrangers snapped him up as a strength and conditioning coach in the early 2000’s. He enjoyed the half-dozen years he was there, because the kids really wanted to improve themselves.

That’s what Jack’s all about. He loves coaching, whether it be a young footballer who comes to him for advice on running technique, or a beginner with plenty of talent, but obvious flaws.

Greg O’Keeffe, who has been running alongside -and against- Jack for nigh-on 30 years, reckons hIMG_0857e can’t help himself.

“He’ll see young kids come down to the track, analyse their style and in no time he’s pulling them aside, suggesting ways they can improve,” Greg said.

It was the same with football. He had four stints as a coach in the Ovens and King League when clubs approached him.

He was in charge at Glenrowan from 1999-2001, Tarrawingee (2002-2003), King Valley (2007) and came to the rescue of the Kelly Tigers again in 2012.

Somewhere in there, he also coached Junior League club Tigers for a season.

“I love seeing young sports-people develop. That’s the great thing about coaching,” he says.

Jack’s son Sean has carved out a fine footy career with West Preston-Lakeside, where he has won 3 B & F’s and is the current club captain. His daughters Simone (King Valley) and Monique (Glenrowan) faced off against each other in thisIMG_0856 year’s O & K B-Grade Netball Grand Final.

His life has been sport and if you consider the 423 games of football he played, the 17 years he coached and the 30-odd years he’s been involved in athletics, Jack Gannon has left a remarkable stamp in several spheres.