“….’WOOSHA’ FIGHTS BACK….”

THE SCENE : Rovers cricket nets…..any summer Saturday arvo…..Mid-to-late eighties………

Two energetic kids are oblivious to whatever drama is playing out on the W.J.Findlay Oval, where their dads are engaged in battle…..The tall, blonde lad can sure bat a bit…..For over, after over, after over, he flails everything that the whole-hearted right-armer can hurl at him.

The budding speedster bends down to retrieve the pill at one stage, and mutters something about being ‘nothing more than a friggin’ bowling-machine’. He’s confident, though, that if he can just pierce that defence he’ll get to have his turn with the willow ……But it never happens……….

Some years later, they both strut the hallowed turf of the Findlay Oval. Decreed by birth that they’ll wear the Brown and Gold of the Wangaratta Rovers, they become footy team-mates for a decade.Their cricket also flourishes, as they star for Rovers-United….until the partnership is broken….. The blonde bloke is lured to District cricket……….

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Shane Welch’s only sporting regret is that he was denied a Premiership at the Clubs he held dear to his heart .

He was just coming of age as a footballer, having been a rabid fan of the Hawks through a Golden Era, when they won four flags in seven years. They handed him a brief taste of senior footy in 1994 – mid-way through an O & M record 36 wins on the trot – the year the Club won the most recent of its 15 titles…….

And when he finally heeded everyone’s advice to try his luck with Carlton Cricket Club, his old side Rovers-United promptly nailed successive flags.

“That’s fate, I suppose. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” he says.

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Shane came through local cricket’s junior ranks, and was in his first year of Under 14’s when he also played as a keeper/batsman for Rovers-United’s C-Grade team. His old man Geoff ( whose aching body had now restricted him to wheeling down guileful, accurate, slow-medium left-armers ) and Greg Rosser ( batting legend ), were the elder statesmen of the side.

His rise was meteoric. At 16 he’d become a regular A-Grade player and a candidate for any form of rep cricket that was going.

That included being part of Wangaratta’s U.21 Mac Holten Shield side which, he reflects, was probably the most enjoyable cricket he played.

“Our team was chock-full of characters. You’d be struggling to manufacture that spirit, even in a club side. We won everything, and after the games, would celebrate accordingly.”

Shane broke into the Colts at the same time as Jaden Burns: “We went through sport together; he was just like my little brother; spent heaps of time at our place in Park Crescent. In the midst of Year 12 exams I took one of those calls you never forget, advising that he’d lost his life.”

“The Burns family asked me to deliver a poem at the funeral. I was talking to the Colts captain Chris Tidd a few weeks later. He said to me: ‘That was great, that thing you did on Burnsy.’……Less than a month later, Tiddy was also gone.”

Shane was elevated to the captaincy. Wang never went close to losing for the next two years, as they cleaned up successive Shield Finals.

In the 1994/95 decider, they knocked over ‘danger-man’, outspoken future NSW and Australia ‘A’ ‘gun’ Domenic Thornley for 3, and restricted Albury to 7/223. .

The Welch innings of 93 in 115 minutes guided Wang to victory. Many who’d been following his progress rated that as his finest innings.

He gained priceless experience, as a member of three Melbourne and four Bendigo Country Week sides, but along the way, admits he learned a couple of valuable lessons.

He’d just turned 18 and had begun to put a few decent scores together, including his first WDCA ‘ton’ – an unbeaten 126 against Rutherglen.

“Up until then I’d hardly missed any rep team I’d gone for,” he says. “There was a pretty extensive selection process for the Victorian Under 19 team, but I’d done well in the trial games and had captained Vic Country. I felt comfortable playing with the likes of Brad Hodge and Brad Williams.”

“Out of the final squad of 20 they only picked one country bloke to go to the National titles in Brisbane, and I missed the cut. I was disappointed…..pretty shattered, but it taught me to accept things, and not to get too far ahead of myself.”

He says he was put in his place one day at the Findlay Oval, when he was dismissed cheaply, nicking down leg-side:

“It annoyed me….more so the manner of the dismissal. I mumbled a few things under my breath ….cracked the shits and whacked the bat on my pad as I walked off. I’d been in the rooms for a minute or so when Max Bussell, one of Wang’s most respected cricket figures, came in.”

“He said: ‘What’s happened to you ? Remember, you’ll get out in plenty of different ways than that in your career. Just cop it on the chin’.”

“I learned that ‘Pa’ didn’t like what he’d seen and said to Max: ‘If you don’t go in and have a word to him, I will.”

‘Pa’ (Arthur) was his greatest fan. The moment he’d stride to the crease, Arthur, who was a laid-back, wise-cracking personality of the local game, would tense up…… He’d embark on a couple of nervous laps of the ground…..once the young bloke had passed 30 or so, his normal demeanour would re-appear.

After a productive 1994/95, which featured 430-odd WDCA runs ( including another ‘ton’), Shane headed to the ‘big smoke’ to attend RMIT University. Carlton and Fitzroy-Doncaster both pursued him.

He opted for the Blues, principally because his cousin Darren had spent four seasons there. It seemed a good fit, and he looked forward to learning off players like Rohan Larkin and Ian Wrigglesworth who’d played at the higher level.

A couple of half-centuries in the Seconds earned him promotion. His debut First XI hand of 58 against Dandenong impressed the good judges, but they nodded sagely a few weeks later when he scored 108 against Fitzroy-Doncaster.

“I just thought the runs would keep coming,” Shane says, “….but it’s never that easy.”

After a very successful opening season he began 1997/98 with a bright 55 against Prahran. Four games later he was back in the Seconds with three or four other youngsters who had been touted as the ‘future of Carlton’.

“I ended up becoming a bit disillusioned; got down on myself. I decided I’d free the arms up a bit….try tonking the spinners and belt the cover off the ball…. ‘Pa’ summed it up. He said: ‘You’re batting like a bowler’. “

“Cricket had lost its charm for me. I gave it away at the end of that season……..”

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His football apprenticeship began at his dad’s old Junior League club, Combined Churches, followed by two years with the Hawk Thirds and one in the Reserves.

Along the way, the Murray Bushrangers slotted him in for a late-season game in which he snagged four goals as a floating forward.

By 1995 he was a permanent fixture in the Rovers line-up, alternating as a forward, tall defender or relief ruckman.

For the next ten years, Shane became one of those fellahs who are vital to the culture of a successful footy Club …..Reliable……Always giving 100%……Disciplined…….Willing to accept whatever role he’d been handed….Rarely in the limelight….And enthusiastically embracing the after-match festivities.

During that period, he was one of a group of 20-25 city-based country players who’d gather at the Princes Park No.3 Oval and improvise their own training schedule.

“Travelling back each week wasn’t a chore for me then, “ Shane says, “It was an easy drive. I enjoyed getting back home.”

His first year of teaching – 1999 – took him to Yea High School, where he politely declined the local club’s invitation to accept the coaching job.

Instead, he assumed ruck duties for the Hawks when the ‘dicky’ knee of big Paul Greaves caved in early in the season.

In 2002, the year the Rovers built momentum and developed into a flag threat, there were also plenty of stints in the ruck, relieving another ‘man mountain’, Aaron Schenke.

They had beaten North Albury three times that season, but the Hoppers got out of the blocks quickly in the Grand Final, and established a big lead. A dramatic fight-back ensued; the Hawks wrested the momentum, but eventually North ran away with the game.

“We had two or three blokes who were a bit proppy. We’d expended a lot of energy getting back into the game, and had nothing left when it counted,” Shane says.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….He played just four games in 2005, and was finding that other things in life had taken priority over football. Besides dealing with a niggling quad injury and heavy work commitments, the travel had now become a burden.

Additionally, Jo (his future wife ) was in the throes of transitioning from England.

Inevitably, he was resigned to pulling the pin with his beloved Hawks. After 160 senior games, Shane ‘Woosher’ Welch, Life Member and intensely loyal clubman hung up the boots.

He taught at the same Melbourne-based secondary school for 19 years, and says it took a heavy toll on his health.

“It wasn’t a harmonious place. You were basically just trying to control the kids. I didn’t read the warning signs of fatigue. A heavy VCE workload, high expectations and raising a young family in Melbourne contributed to my burnout / exhaustion.”

“It was an extremely challenging time – a real battle. At 41 years of age I had to dig deep to slowly regain a sense of self-worth.”

At the end of 2018, Shane, Jo and the kids, Rosie ( now 11 ) and Luke ( 8 ) packed up and moved back to his home town.

He maintained his passion for Physical Education. He’s now working at Galen College, has written, and overseen the curriculum for the Peak Football Academy, and is coaching the ‘talls’ at the Murray Bushrangers.

He’s in his second year back at the Rovers as their Phys-Ed Advisor, and has guided the players through a gruelling summer of fitness work .

He has also designed an Out-Door training Program , comprising circuit-based 50-minute sessions. It involves 12-15 stations, using resistance, weight, running and sporting equipment.

It’s his intention to launch it in the near future.

“Thanks to the support of family, colleagues and mates, I’ve been able to work my way back to now be able to make small contributions within the community,” he says.

“And I’m prouder of that than any of the centuries I made” ………………”

‘A MASTER OF HIS CRAFT…..’

Stuart Elkington is recounting one of his countless sporting memories………..

It’s the early sixties, and he’s the baby of Wangaratta’s North-East Cup Cricket team , fielding at short mid-on in a tight Final against Euroa. The match is reaching its climax……. You can almost sniff the tension in the air….He’s just praying that if a catch does happen to bob up in these dying moments, it won’t be heading his way.

Alas, an attempted drive miscues in Stuie’s direction. He’s perched under it, and can hear the whooping of his team-mates, as they sense they’ve snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Blokes like Trebilcock, Bussell, Welch – giants of the local game…….he can’t possibly let them down by dropping this absolute ‘sitter’….

“I don’t know how it happened, but the ball has slipped through my fingers. It was the most embarrassing moment of my career……”

The next day, the Border-Mail’s headlines accentuated his ‘clanger’. He shows me the now-faded match report: ‘…ELKINGTON DROPS CATCH, WANG LOSE MATCH…’

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Elkington-territory is prime Dairy country; just three or so kilometres from Whorouly’s heartbeat, which includes the Pub, General Store, Hall and, of course, the Recreation Reserve .

On my way here, I can’t resist calling in to pay a nostalgic visit to the lovingly-maintained Memorial Oval, scene of the township’s many sporting triumphs.

It brings to mind the imperious left-hander, Peter Nicoll contemptuously hoiking me over the fence, and over the road, necessitating the fielder to extract the ball from the garden bed of a neighboring house……..of his cousin Lex, curtailed by polio, patiently manoeuvring the bowling and accumulating runs……and of the blonde Stuart Elkington setting off on his elongated run-up and making the Kookaburra spin, curl and bounce on this traditionally batsman-friendly track.

It was on this very Oval that Stuie mastered the craft of spin bowling, plundered thousands of runs, and played the majority of his 212 games of footy in the Maroon and White guernsey……………….

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He was the youngest in the family, by quite a distance, behind his brother Brian and  sister May, so had to find ways to entertain himself in his boyhood days.

In summer, it would be relentlessly throwing a ball against a wall in the Dairy. The pill would ricochet onto the uneven concrete wash-down gutter, breaking this way or that, and forcing Stuart to improvise with his shot selection.

After he played every ball, he jotted down the runs – or wickets – in his scorebook. He’s explaining this intricate exercise to me, when Jo, his wife, pulls out the 60-odd year-old book, which painstakingly recorded his version of ‘Test Match Cricket’. The performances of the ‘players’, such as ‘Tom’, ‘Phew’, ‘Hard’, ‘Peter’, ‘Clown’, ‘Elk’ and ‘Zip’, are preserved for posterity.IMG_3768

Later, on match days, he’d pedal down to the Oval and spend the afternoon scoring in the same book…..and paying particular attention to Whorouly’s smattering of star batsmen.

Eventually, the opportunity came for him to play alongside them. At 14 he made his debut, and shared in a useful partnership with the phlegmatic veteran Wils Nicoll.

That was an education in itself. Wils was a renowned run-machine; unstylish, but determined. One of his quirks was that he usually smoked a roll-your-own during his innings; retrieving it from behind the stumps between overs to have a reflective puff.

In one of these instances he sidled up to offer a quiet word of advice to Stuie, who had begun to get a touch cocky, and played a reckless shot during the over.

“These fellahs coming in behind you, they’ll get their turn…..There’s no rush to get the runs, you know,” he said.

Yes, there was no shortage of advice for the youngster. After he’d wheeled down a coupe of overs of his leg-spin, someone suggested: “Just slow it down a bit, Stu….toss it up…..Give the ball a chance to turn……”

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As one of a group of emerging youngsters who promised a bright future for Wangaratta cricket, he was sent to hone his skills at Bendigo Country Week.

In their early years, WDCA officials had the lads billeted at the outer-suburban residence of a kindly old soul, Mrs.Tredinnick. The idea was that they, in their innocence, shouldn’t be exposed to the perils of the city’s night-life.

That failed. They discovered the demon-drink, bounced off each other, and formed long-lasting friendships. The nonchalant Elkington was one who savoured the social life, shrugged off the occasional hangover, then hurled himself into his cricket under the blistering January sun.

He made six trips to Bendigo, once taking 8/39 to rout Emu Valley and, on another occasion, figuring in a 257-run stand against Tyrrell. Having already taken 4/18, he and Greg Rosser opened and had a race to be first to reach 50, then 100. Rosser was dismissed for 112; Elkington soldiered on to 148*.IMG_3779

He recalls his fate being decided one day, by a gnarled old Bendigo umpire, who had a habit of providing a running commentary on each decision:

“I’ve been rapped on the pads, and he’s gone: ‘Well, son…….It was pitched in line……..but then you were playing forward….. the wicket’s doing a bit…..and he is moving the ball….’ “

“After what seemed like an eternity, he’s slowly raised the finger and testified: “I think you’re out…..”

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Stuie’s first adventure took him to Hobart, where he undertook a two and a half year Phys-Ed Degree, and played TCA cricket with the University of Hobart.

He came under the influence of former English Test player John Hampshire, who opined that he had a rare talent and plumped for his selection in a Tasmanian Colts team, which met the NSW Colts at the SCG.

“He’d bring me on first change and bat me high up the order. I had a bit of success in Tassie, and, in hindsight, probably should have stayed longer. But when December came around I’d head back home for the holidays. I’d feel bad about leaving them, but the lure of home always brought me back.”

With a Degree in hand, he headed over to Adelaide for his first teaching job, playing two years of District cricket with Sir Donald Bradman’s old team, Kensington, and footy with Barossa Valley club, Freeling.

On his return home one year, he received a phone call from the Principal of Benalla Tech School…..Said he’d heard good reports about him and wondered if he’d be interested in a teaching job there.

“I said sorry, I’ve already got the car packed. I’m about to head back to Adelaide. But on my way through Benalla I thought to myself: ‘It won’t hurt to have a look at the place and see what it’s like.’

“Funny, I walked in and my concentration was diverted to this young teacher with nice legs. It was Jo. That settled it…..One thing led to another and I decided to take the job.”

But he found he needed more qualifications and took study leave later that year, to undertake a Science Degree, majoring in Geology at Melbourne Uni. At the same time, Jo did a Degree in Pottery.

“Les Stillman was Melbourne Uni’s coach and he encouraged me to come along to practice,” Stuie recalls.

He went from the Thirds to First XI in three games and, in one of his first Senior appearances, lined up against Essendon and State speedster John Grant, who proceeded to give him a baptism of fire.

“He whistled a couple past my ear, and I was most uncomfortable. After I’d played and missed a few times, he continued his follow-through and eye-balled me, muttering : ‘Why don’t you have a go, you weak little prick’……”

Stuart and Jo eventually returned to teaching at Benalla, and he provided a huge boost to a Whorouly cricket side which was now blossoming, after being forced into recession a season or two earlier.

For the next dozen years he proved a stellar performer in the WDCA, as one of its premier all-rounders. And there’s no doubt that his figures as a spinner have been beyond compare over the last half-century.

He took 744 wickets, scored 6,500 runs and hit nine centuries in his 236 games for Whorouly. And if you needed proof of his influence with the ball in big games, have a look at his figures in the Maroons’ three winning Grand Finals: 7/36 in 1971/72, 6/22 in 1974/75, and 6/27 in 1981/82……

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He had a particular fascination for Melbourne Country Week; loved the tough, no-holds-barred aspect of the games. Stuie found that he needed to push his leggies through a bit quicker against the good bats, but that was all part of the challenge.IMG_3778

He captained Wangaratta on two of his 11 trips to the ‘big smoke’ and, as we talk we’re reminiscing about some of the quickies who used to have you ducking and weaving.

…Like George Skinner from Maryborough, who, one day, threatened to ‘go through’ Wangaratta on a softish green-top, which was causing the ball to skid through alarmingly.

We recall left-hander Terry Hogan copping one delivery on the ‘moosh’ and taking ages to be revived – and assisted – from the field of play. Stuie was next in……

“I arrived at the crease and took block in a pool of blood. George was back at his mark, raring to go, and I’m hearing the fielders urging him on: ‘Here’s another one…Take him out.’ “IMG_3780

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Apart from stints with Federal League club Oakleigh Districts, Freeling (S.A), Old Hutchins Amateurs (Tas) and Benalla, the bulk of the Elkington football career was played with Whorouly.

As a skilful mid-fielder/half forward, he saw plenty of the action and would count winning the 1970 Ovens and King League’s Baker Medal among the cherished highlights of his 14 years with the Maroons.

Conversely, he’d rate as one of his roughest times when he was persuaded to take on the club’s coaching job in 1974. They’d been hit heavily with player departures, blooded many youngsters and battled through to win two games.

Three years later, he was part of a dominant line-up which completed an undefeated season by defeating North Wangaratta in the 1977 Grand Final.IMG_3770

He was lured out to King Valley the following year, and thrived in the role as captain-coach. The Roos, who had won just three games in ‘77, improved dramatically to storm into the finals.

“We had a great year, but it fell apart in the first half of the Preliminary Final. We were 56 points down at half-time, then came home with a rush. But the siren beat us. Beechworth held on to win by eight points,” Stuie says.

The Valley reached the finals again the following season, but the end was nigh for the veteran. His hips were giving him hell and decided to pull the pin……..

For the school-teacher, turned Public Servant, turned cockie – and fanatical sportsman – it was time to focus on the Dairy Cows……IMG_3774

‘MEETING THE GHOST OF LOCAL CRICKET…..’

The whitish pitch shimmers in the brassy sunlight……Fielders dawdle listlessly on a vast, scorched outfield…….Batsmen opt to ‘dig in’ rather than play their shots…….The quicks struggle to summon the effort to muster that extra yard……..

Cricketers and spectators alike appear drugged by the oppressive heat of this stinking mid-summer’s day……..

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I’m drawn to this solitary figure, leaning against the huge gum tree at the northern end of the ground ……

I’ve got to know all the identities around local cricket, but this fellah doesn’t ring a bell. I know I’m starting to get on a bit, but he’s positively archaic.

He sucks on a blade of grass, totally entranced by what’s happening out in the middle.

We get yapping…….Initially, he doesn’t appear keen on being distracted, but he loosens up after a while, his eyes misting over as he studies the technique of the young left-hander.

“See how he fiddles outside the off stump…..Doesn’t use his feet….I had that problem, you know. Took me years to get out of the habit.”

“Ah, it only seems like yesterday I was out there…. Course we had rolled dirt, then concrete, to play on. Not beautiful tracks like this one.”

My gentle prompting seems to kick his memory into over-drive…….

“Ever heard of Charlie Heavey?”, he says. “Made 299 in a day, over on the Showgrounds. I made sure I watched every knock he played. Geez, he could bat.”

“He hit the ball so hard that day, that a few of his sixes landed in Edwards Street ….We all  reckoned he should have played Test cricket, but Charlie liked a good time and upset a few of the snotty- noses when he went to Melbourne.”

Yes, I reply. By all reports he was a beauty.IMG_0829

“Too right. He was the best around at that time and was also downright dangerous when he decided to let ‘em go with the new ‘cherry’.”

“But heck, son, there were plenty of good players in those days…….Like Alec Fraser…. Lovely chap, Alec…Made a power of runs up the order.”

“He opened with Clem Fisher in Wang’s rep teams, and what a combination they were ! Put on 300-odd in one match at Country Week.”

“Funny, you know. They were polar opposites. Alec was a gentleman….Always giving encouragement and a bit of advice to the youngsters….Played the game as it should be played.”

“But Clem was a bloke who knew how to create a stink on the cricket field. Nice enough chap to talk to….did heaps for cricket…..but once he crossed that line he was an old bugger…..He’d resort to anything to get you out…..It’s a wonder he didn’t get punched on the nose a few times……..”IMG_2256

By now, my mate has taken his eye off the going’s-on in the middle. It’s almost as if he’s watching a flickering highlights tape and describing it to me.

I ask him his opinion of a latter-day batting hero – Barry Grant.

“Funny you should mention it. He reminded me very much of Alec Fraser, with his technique and defence. Both of them were very hard to dislodge once they got settled. His temperament was a touch more bristly than Alec’s…..Didn’t like going out. Not too stylish, but more of a run-machine. He and his brother….I just forget his name for a sec….Darren, that’s right….They were great players for a lot of years.IMG_3150

“Yes, I’ve seen ‘em all. Those Nicoll’s out at Whorouly…….Don’t know what it was in the water out there, but they were master batsmen. You had four champion brothers – Wils, Ron, Ernie and Vic. People used to debate about who was the pick of them – Wils or Ron. I couldn’t seperate them.”

“Wils used to smoke a roll-your-own when he was batting. He’d plonk it behind the stumps and have a puff between overs…….’Didn’t have much style.”

“They used to tell the story about him walking out to bat at Country Week one day, wearing a pair of black socks tucked behind his pads, and puffing on a fag. An opposition fielder slung off about this ‘country yokel’, and he proceeded to score a century in no time.”

“A few of the Nicoll progeny turned out all right, too. I had a lot of time for the chap who had polio and batted with a runner. Did a terrific job….Lex, I think it was….”IMG_0412

“Talking about families, you had the Kneebone’s from Brookfield. I suppose you knew they fielded their own family team in the local comp.”

“They lived for cricket, and got their competitive instinct from their old man.”

“I thought Ken was the pick of ‘em. He had a run-up that was smooth as silk. Did well against the Poms at Benalla one year. But a few experts rated Harry just as quick. Frankie Archman kept up on the stumps to most bowlers, but he had enough sense to stand back to those two.”

By now this mystery-man has me gob-smacked, having touched on all the names down through the ages in Wangaratta cricket – Carey, Trebilcock, Lidgerwood, Charlie Ladds, Thomlinson, Beeby, Bill Hickey, Sid Docker, Max Bussell, Rosser…….IMG_1022

“I thought he might have played for the state, that  fellah. He had the ability and played some good hands out on this ground. He got close when he went down to play District cricket, they tell me……”

His mate was nice and slippery when he was in full flight  – Welchy – with the curly hair. Had a bit of shit in him, too. Course his knees went on him in the end.IMG_0180

“And the boy Broster – the left-hander- who played a few games for the Vics, I’d have preferred him to serve more of an apprenticeship before he got his chance. His Shield career was virtually over before he’d got started.”

“You’d have seen his dad bat when he was in his prime, wouldn’t you. Golly, he could play, and his grandpa, Alec, was terrible hard to get out.”

“I watch these kids coming through now and think: ‘Have they got what it takes to go on ?’ “

“All of the Welch’s were handy, and  Hilly’s still making runs down at Camberwell. Surely he deserved a chance in the State side. But, I suppose they must have seen a shortcoming in his game.”IMG_1024

I mention the changes that have taken place in the modern era. Like the local competition now expanding its horizons to include Mansfield, Benalla, Rutherglen and Bright. And the great teams, and players, from Corowa, Yarrawonga and Beechworth that had plenty of success in recent decades. I’m surprised that he’s all for it…..IMG_0882

“Well, you’ve got to embrace change, son. On the same note, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be watching the  lasses playing cricket. Terrific………”

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That steel trap of a mind doesn’t miss a beat, and when he diverts again to tell me about Billy Henderson scoring a big 100 in a Final, he describes his cover and straight-driving as if he was there.

“When was that ?” I ask.

“Oh, back in the 1890’s,” he replies.

We have barely paid any attention to the cricket, so engrossed are we in his reminiscences. But the umps lift the bails to signify the tea-break and, momentarily distracted, I turn to resume our journey into the past.

But he is hobbling down the bank and out of sight.

“Hey, just a minute, do you remember………..”IMG_1549

“DON’T HOOK TOO EARLY, SON……”

He once kicked the winning goal in a Grand Final at the MCG,in front of 100,000 people………And for good measure, scored a blazing century at the same hallowed venue.

No, you won’t find him profiled in the AFL Encyclopedia of Footballers, nor in any Test or Sheffield Shield cricketing archives.

However, Greg Rosser’s is the tale of an outstanding sportsman, who rubbed shoulders with the elite during a varied and colorful sporting career.

Rosser made his senior debut with the Wangaratta Rovers at 16 and had the usual kind words uttered about him, as they are of any lad of promise. He was tough, dedicated and forever a team man.

Despite a disciplined training regime which would not be out of place even in today’s era, he copped a staggering run of injuries which tended to disillusion him.  He would fight back to fitness, regain his place in the side, then suffer another setback.

Little wonder that his 100th senior game with the Hawks came 13 years after his first.

Wedged in between, of course,was a premiership with North Melbourne Reserves in 1967 (and that famous goal), a Grand Final with VFA side Sunshine and a coaching spell with Glenrowan.

When he returned to the Rovers he showed the benefit of his maturity. He had harnessed the wild streak that once prompted President Jack Maroney to mutter that Rosser and a couple of his mates would send him to an early grave.

He was transformed into a dependable and dour back pocket specialist and figured in four premierships. The 1977 Grand Final was his last game for the Rovers and he bowed out in style (his 110th game) with an almost faultless performance.

Greg Rosser the cricketer was a youthful prodigy. A batsman who stood out with his wide array of shots and a steely determination.

After honing his skills on the half-pitch lovingly constructed by his dad, Johnny, in their Orkney Street back-yard, he was soon playing with Railways, under the guidance of a crusty old cricket-lover, Bill Daly.

Bill liked to do things by the book and often fretted as his 14-15 year-old opening partner contemptuously flayed the bowling ….”Greg, Greg…get your head down…Play straight,son..”, he would plead. Sage old Bill knew that, although he regularly admonished the lad, he was a rare talent,

Rosser had a few seasons with Combined Schools. At 18 he had scored the first of his 9 WDCA centuries and was selected to play against the Englishmen at Euroa.

North Melbourne chose him in their First XI team without so much as a training run. Old North curator ‘Snowy’ Lyons, who also doubled up as the gate-keeper at Arden Street, didn’t recognise the kid and charged him his entry fee at the turnstiles.

In one of his early innings’ Rosser stole a glance at Victorian speedster John Grant measuring out his run-up. He had the words of his coach John Miles ringing in his ears: “Don’t hook,this bloke”.

He sent the first ball crashing to the boundary at backward square-leg for 4. The second was quicker and thudded into him as he tried to repeat the previous pull shot.

Carried from the field covered in blood, he was left to contemplate the fate of the happy hooker. When he came to, the stitches of the Kookaburra ball were clearly implanted in his swollen head.

Some time later a similar scenario occurred. Seasoned Fitzroy quickie Eddie Illingworth, also an international baseballer, tested his penchant for the hook. This time the new red ‘cherry’ cannoned off his noggin and bounced square of the wicket to the fence, yielding 4 ‘leg-byes’ and necessitating another hospital visit.

Rosser spent three seasons at North and hit 3 centuries. He represented a Victorian Second XI alongside John Scholes, Peter Bedford, Alan ‘Froggy’ Thompson and Max Walker against a West Australian team which included Rod Marsh and future swing-king Bob Massie.

He was back playing in Wangaratta in 1969 as the Victorian selectors tried – and discarded – a number of openers. Had he stayed at North another season he may have won the Victorian cap that he had coveted.

But he had pined for home. He became a key figure in a United team which dominated the WDCA competition during the seventies and was a mainstay in Country Week teams for a decade.

His best knock at CW was described under a back-page headline in the Melbourne ‘Sun’ the following morning : “CRASH,BANG IT’S CRICKET”…….”The hero of Wangaratta’s win at the MCG yesterday was Greg Rosser, whose innings of 113 included 11 fours. He mercilessly punished the Warrnambool attack with power-hitting all around the ground.”……..

He began another innings very scratchily at Richmond one day, playing and missing regularly, as he struggled to ward off the effects of a heavy evening. It prompted one onlooker to shout sarcastically….. : “Why don’t you put a bell in the ball ?”.

What followed was brutal, as Rosser hammered 146,an innings peppered with frequent fours and sixes, in a stand of 246 with Paul O’Brien.

He was among the first to be considered for representative teams and was selected against England, New Zealand Under 21’s, the West Indies and two Victorian Shield teams.

It had been a few years since he had played football, but he was talked into making a comeback by his old mate Stuart Elkington, who was coaching King Valley.

It must have been some effort for ‘Stuie’ to talk him around, but he was keeping himself fit and the prospect of reviving the old firm ‘Rosser and Elkington’ probably swayed him.

The pair were the ‘Hamish Blake and Andy Lee’ of their era. Elkington was the ‘straight man’, Rosser was the master of the one-liner,with an instinctive sense of humour.

A brief hiatus followed Greg’s one-year cameo. Then Whorouly came calling in 1983 with the lure of the coaching job. His keen football brain and charisma ensured he was a great fit for the job, even as a playing coach at the age of 36.

Everything was going swimmingly and he was picking up his share of kicks until a sickening collision resulted in a severe spinal injury. He was transported to the Austin Hospital and doctors told him not to expect to walk again.

In traction for weeks, he was paralysed from the neck down,but gradually regained all movement.

The active sporting career of Greg Rosser was over.

But he continued to involve himself fully in sport as a coach (and journalist) over the next 25 years and his on and off-field contributions have earned him a lofty position among the pantheon of local sporting greats.

 

 

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