“THE SPORT-MAD KID WHO MADE THE GRADE……….”

Tony Fisher was a sporting prodigy of the sensational seventies……….

At the age of 17 he already had three seasons of A-Grade WDCA cricket under his belt…….had represented Victorian Country in Basketball……and was an irresistible junior football talent – that is, when he wasn’t tearing around bush tracks on his motor-bike……..

His mum Shirley recalls his Galen College teacher, Br. Gerard, stating the obvious at a parent/ teacher interview: “I’ll put Tony on a pedestal for sport…..but knock him off it for anything else…..”

Then again, the Fisher siblings were all blessed with talent…….The eldest , Peter, was a more than handy footballer, and Tony’s four sisters – Leanne, Kathy, Jane and Jackie – wore the country ‘Big V’ in Under-Age National Basketball Carnivals……..

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Their dad, Jimmy, was one of those real characters you come across in sport. He played footy for the Rovers and Greta and, at the tail-end of his long career, took on the coaching job at North Wangaratta.

North were battling along in the Benalla & District League at this stage, and one of the long treks they used to undertake was to play at Tatong, in the rain, hail and fog.

“Apparently snow also fell at half-time in this particular game,” Tony says. “Visibility was poor and conditions were appalling, but North snuck home in the dying minutes to record their second win of the season……Dad took the boys to the Tatong pub to celebrate, but unfortunately it was closing early that night because of a wedding ….”

“They scored an invite to the wedding, had supper, then went back to the pub, and continued on ‘til all hours…..”

“Overwhelmed by the hospitality of the locals, they arrived home on Tuesday…..”

Jimmy kept wickets for Greta until he was in his late fifties, and Tony remembers his parents dragging the 6 kids along to games ever since he could crawl.

“I started taking my gear when I was 10 or 11, in the hope that the opposition might be short and could need a ‘sub’ in the field.

“I was in the deep one day (subbing for West End, I think) when John Tanner skied a pull shot…..I ran around, dived, and caught it on the boundary……..That was the end of me fielding against Greta…..”

‘Nirvana’ for Jimmy, was relaxing after a game, over several quiet ales and sharing tall tales and true with team-mates like Tanner, Max ‘Pigsy’ Newth, Richie Shanley and ‘Jackie’ Corker.

“It was cut-short one night when someone mentioned that a few ducks had been sighted on a nearby dam…..That was enough for Dad…..He grabbed his gun out of the car, and started to head off with ‘Newthy’…

“Mum complained in vain: ‘You can’t go….the kids have got school in the morning…”

“She got up the next day, looked out of the kitchen window, and here’s Dad fossicking around in the garden, still in his mud-splattered whites……She’s never found out, to this day, how he got home….”

“He always reckoned that was the only day he ever made a duck and shot a duck……”

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At 14, Tony played junior cricket with United on Saturday mornings, lined up with their senior side in the afternoon, then stripped with Greta – alongside his Dad and elder brother in the Sunday competition.

He was a right-arm quickie and dashing left-hand bat, and has the distinction of winning the WDCA’s inaugural junior Cricketer of the Year Award in 1975/76. He also guided United to the flag, with 108 and 5/27 in the Final.

On the same week-end, his 8/46 helped Greta win a WSCA Semi…….

His arrival in senior ranks could have been better-timed, as United’s unprecedented run of dominance was drawing to a close…… he missed the opportunity to share in an A-Grade flag. As a tireless youngster, he bowled with pace and accuracy, and could swing the ball both ways – often in tandem with wily left-armer Geoff Welch.

His blood boiled over against the Rovers one day, however…..

Tim Carr had nudged along into the nineties and was seeing the ball like a water-melon…..In exasperation, he ran in and bowled one ball left-handed to the unsuspecting right-hander…

“ Tim said to old Freddie Larkin, the umpire: ‘Did you see that ?’…… Freddie gave me a nice old serve…”

“Geoff Welch was a big help to me in my cricket…….In fact, he and Geoff Lacey, who was my first football coach, were the two greatest influences on my sporting career….”

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At this stage, with his involvement in cricket, basketball and motor-bikes he hadn’t given much thought to football…..His cousin, Russell Harris, suggested: ‘Why don’t you come out to Greta and see how you go ?”

“I played my first game in the 2’s……For two quarters……. then they ripped me off and put me in the Seniors….I really enjoyed it…….once I got into it I took to it like a duck to water…”

He was going on 18, and played the remainder of the season, as Greta stormed into the Grand Final.

“We had a terrific side – Paul O’Brien had returned from the Rovers; Dessy Steele was still starring….we had ‘Gunner’ Williams, Barry Tanner, Geoff Lacey was a brilliant leader, and there was a fella called Leigh Candy, who virtually walked in off the street….”

“He was an off-beat sort of bloke….He’d come in at half-time and smoke a pipe……but he was an absolute ripper….”

“He didn’t get a touch early in the Grand Final….. I remember ‘Lace’ dressing him down, and he replied : ‘My yings and my yangs are not working properly……..’Lace’ said: ‘Well get your yings and yangs in line.”

“He did just that; kicked five goals after half-time and we knocked Whorouly over by 29 points…..The only problem for me was that I got rubbed out for a couple of weeks for striking Alan ‘Cocker’ McNeil….”

Geoff Lacey suggested that Tony would ‘walk’ into Ovens and Murray footy…….So he went in to have do a pre-season with Wangaratta, and performed well in three practice matches.

The Pies were keen to test him in the Reserves when the season got under way, but Greta were adamant – they’d only supply Match Permits if he played Seniors.

He decided to stay at Greta but, as luck would have it, missed the majority of the season with Glandular Fever………

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Basketball played a huge part in the lives of the Fisher clan……Tony’s arrival on the scene came at a time when the game was possibly at its peak in Wangaratta.

“The ring in the backyard at home used to get a decent work-out and the girls were mad-keen…….It was our life……I started at Hustlers, moved on to Gotsims, (where he won a competition B & F), then coached Wranglers when I was about 20…..”

“A car-load of us – Ronnie Graham, Phil Dent, Rod Orton, Steve Harries, Greg Canny and myself – used to travel up to play in the Myrtleford comp each Wednesday night……called ourselves the Myrtleford Tigers…”

The friendships he formed with several Myrtleford footballers who were also involved, influenced Tony’s decision to play with the Saints in 1982.

“They lined up a job for me with Myrtleford Tyre and Battery and I lived up there. I had a terrific time at Myrtleford. The guys were so tight and the families really looked after us,” he says.

The highlight, no doubt, was his second season, when the Cinderella Saints came from second-bottom to almost pinch a Grand Final spot.

They were helped, of course, by the recruitment of Gary Ablett a couple of rounds into the ‘83 season…..

“We’d heard whispers about him coming, but it was a fantastic atmosphere when he turned up at training for the first time….”

“I remember his first game, on the Rovers’ ground……A few minutes in, our coach Greg Nicholls was poised for a mark at centre half forward, when Gazza climbed all over his back to take a screamer….”

“Next minute Greg yelled out to the runner, Sam Holmes: ‘Sam….Sam..get out here…Ablett to the centre…..I don’t want him on my bloody back all day….”

“He kicked a goal that they still talk about, from 80 metres out, to help us beat North Albury in the First Semi….”

The Saints trailed by 22 points with seven minutes remaining when the Ablett heroics unfolded. They took the game out by 4 points.

The following week, a battle-royal with Albury unfolded . Ablett was again the dynamo in a tough, spiteful clash.

“It’d been close all day….But the turning-point came when one of the Doolan’s ( who was injured and wasn’t playing) ran out and clocked a Myrtleford player. We lost concentration after that, and went down narrowly,” Tony recalls.

“It was a hell of a side….Bobby McNamara, ‘Chad’ Light, Terry Burgess, Ablett, Peter Ruscuklic and Greg Nicholls all represented the O & M…and Burgess won the Medal….”

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Tony was lured to Canberra the following year, signing on with Ainslie ( Greg Nicholls’ old club), and working with the Electricity Authority, laying underground cables.

Canberra footy suited his game and he starred, playing as a winger, or centreman. He was best-afield in ACT’s inter-state clash against the Mick Nolan-coached Queensland, in Brisbane, but unfortunately, sustained a stress fracture of the lower-back late in the ‘84 season…..He missed Ainslie’s flag triumph.

“A few of us got together the following summer and got ourselves really fit. That, and playing A-Grade cricket with Norths, had me really prepared……I think I played probably the best footy of my career in 1985,” he says.

He again represented the ACT, finished runner-up in Ainslie’s B & F, and the League’s Mulrooney Medal, which helped ease the disappointment of being narrowly beaten by Queanbeyan in the Grand Final…..

Collingwood came knocking, with an invitation to do a pre-season, but Tony and Dianne weren’t keen on heading to Melbourne…….instead, they landed in Adelaide, and he signed with the reigning SANFL premiers, the Graham Cornes-coached Glenelg.

“They were a really settled side……Chris McDermott had the centre tied-up, and Tony Symons and David Kernahan were the incumbent wingers……..It was hard to break into that line-up…..”

“You’d be picking up 30 possessions a week and thinking: ‘Maybe I’m a chance next week….But next week never came…”

He played a handful of senior games, but spent most of his two seasons in the Reserves side, coached by ex-Essendon star Geoff Blethyn.

“We became really good mates, and started up ‘Toil & Soil’ in Adelaide……Then Di and I went out on own, carting rocks out of the Adelaide Hills.”

Tony’s final two seasons of footy in Adelaide were spent with Southern Association club McLaren Vale……….

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When the Fisher’s headed back to Wangaratta, there were dreams of a nostalgic return to Greta, who were now in the hands of his brother-in-law Robbie Richards, and good mate Brett Keir.

But it wasn’t to be….He played two Reserves games, ‘did’ a Driver muscle and that was it. His career was over…….

Tony had brought his Bobcat and Equipment over from Adelaide, and he, Robbie and Len Richards set up Toil & Soil in Wangaratta.

“We did that for two years….Then I came home one night and said to Di: ‘Come on….Let’s pack the bags….we’re going around Australia……Destination Darwin….”

They lived in Darwin for 10 years….Tony worked for a travel company, Billy Can Tours, for a good while, then went out-bush, building camps and working with the indigenous…..”It was great…..I saw country that a lot of white people had never been to……..” he says.

On their arrival home in 2007, they bought a farm at Myrrhee, and Tony began his present job, working with Brown Brothers, at Banksdale……..They also purchased the Milawa Bakery in 2008, which they still operate.

He’s done alright, this sport-mad kid, whose teachers reckoned, was on a path to nowhere………….

“THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A FOOTBALL JOURNEYMAN……….”

The rain’s tumbling down in Rosebud ……..The temperature has barely nudged into double figures, but it feels two or three degrees chillier, with that icy breeze nipping in off Port Philip Bay…… ……..

Norm Hamill has called the Mornington Peninsula town home for the past 13 years……. eons away from the wide open spaces of the Mallee, where he first saw the light of day……or a few of the destinations around the nation at which he landed during his time as a journeyman footballer………

He was one of the real characters you come across in footy – boisterous, open as a book, loyal, the life of the Club, warm-hearted……….but underneath his ‘big-noting exterior’, as he calls it, lay a sensitive and introspective soul ………

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Normie quips that his ‘shit-house’ kicking style prevented him from being a star………

He was playing in Bendigo at one stage, when Hawthorn coach Graeme Arthur – an old Sandhurst boy – brought the Hawks up for a practice match……He marked everything….was best afield for the locals in what he terms ‘the game of his life’……

“Graeme came up to congratulate me after the game. He said: ‘Mate, if you could do something about your kicking you’d walk into the VFL…….”

I recall when he was making his way into senior football with the Rovers he became an instant fan-favourite due to his competitiveness, exhuberance, and ability to pull down a strong pack mark….. Then he’d line up a shot for goal, and they’d collectively utter a sigh of resignation: ‘Don’t put your house on this one………’

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His dad Les was a typical Mallee cockie……..Farmed 6,500 acres of Mallee scrub through years of drought, then had one good year……. Spurred by success he decided to sell out and move onto the irrigation at Pyramid Hill.

That’s where Norm first cut his teeth in footy, making his debut with the Reserves, aged 15, and graduating to the senior line-up.

He’d been making the daily 90-mile trek to-and-from school at Kerang ( 11 of them by pushbike ), but after gaining his Intermediate Certificate, joined Les on the land.

The family’s next move was to a property at Glenrowan West. When the surrounding O & M clubs heard of a likely-looking, 6’2” , blonde-haired youngster landing in their midst it prompted a flurry of activity.

One day, whilst on the tractor, he glanced across to see a pair of Collingwood officials sauntering across the paddock to have a yarn with him.

“The old man reckoned I wasn’t ready, so I spent the next season and a half with Greta……..then the Rovers got me in to play a few games on Match Permits,” he says.

Not that he was an instant success when he moved in permanently to the Findlay Oval…….He was in and out of the senior side for the next couple of years.

The turning-point came towards the end of 1964………..The Hawks, who had won 16 games on the trot, to be red-hot favourites for the flag, suffered an inexplicable drop in form, losing the next four.

A few regulars were chopped,……and big-man Hamill, was one of those who found their way into the Preliminary Final line-up……..

The Rovers stuttered in the early stages, then blew Myrtleford away. The following week after wresting control in the third-quarter, they out-pointed Wangaratta by 21 points, to win the Grand Final.

Normie Hamill was now a premiership player……

The Hawks also hung on in a dramatic finale’ in 1965, before eventually clinching the decider against the ‘Pies by three points…….Again, the big number 18 had played his part in the tense final stages of another famous premiership victory.

It was probably the acknowledgment that he was now a fully-fledged ruckman in his own right, rather than an understudy, that convinced coach Ken Boyd of Hamill’s importance to the side.

“ Boydy had a big influence on me……I couldn’t believe the aura that surrounded him……No wonder opposition players were cautious about him on the field – he frightened me, even though I was playing in the same side as him…….” Norm jokes.

In Boyd’s swansong season, Hamill played his finest football in the Brown and Gold. His good mate Neville Hogan took out the ‘66 Morris Medal with 19 votes………Normie polled 10 votes to finish equal sixth……….

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A WISE OLD BLOKE

‘But Dad !….I want to go to the Sale.

A big ‘NO’ was his very stern words,

“You’re not really interested in cattle, my boy,

You just want to check out the birds,”

He was right, of course, although I wouldn’t admit it,

I didn’t care much about cattle or sheep,

I was only interested in getting to town,

And some of the sheilas I’d meet,

“Grab the Mattoch and Waterback,

An’ go cut some shoots,

Make sure you dig deep and don’t miss the roots,”

So off I would go with a dent in my pride,

Swaggering along with my dog by my side,

But nevertheless, as you probably can guess, I lost

Most of my arguments with Dad.

If ever I won it was with help from my Mum,

To Mum I could do nothing bad.

It was there at Glenrowan, the seeds he was sowing

Had nothing to do with a crop,

But seeds of knowledge to help me cope

With all the problems I’d cop

For it was here that Dad taught me

What it was to be a worker

He said: ‘Always pull your weight son, and don’t be a shirker………..

Norm says farm-life didn’t really suit him: “I’d be sitting out on the tractor for hours and hours, day after day, ploughing……nobody to talk to………..”

In his early years with the Rovers he decided to leave the farm and go picking tobacco at Everton with the Kneebone family……He says his Dad was not that impressed:

“I left home without a care in the world,

Not realising or worrying about the hurt I’d unfurled,

Then Dad, walking behind the bush with a tear in his eye,

Hell, I couldn’t see too much reason to cry………..”

In due course the Kneebone’s invited him to grow tobacco as a share-farmer.

“They were great to me, and we had two good years……..I bought a brand-new car and was the richest bloke in the footy club…….thought I was shit-hot……then in the third year they had the first floods in December for decades ……..flooded every plant down the river…..”

“We all walked off with the arse out of our pants………I’d been living in a tent nearby, with one of my Rovers team-mates, Frank Sargent, who was a teacher at Everton…….We got home after training one night….there’d been a huge storm….debris everywhere……and the old tent, and all our possessions had been blown away….”

That was the end of his tobacco-growing episode. Instead, he took up Ray Thompson’s offer to work at the local Brickworks for a couple of years……..But he was developing itchy-feet and decided to use footy as his travelling passport………..

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He had a few relations in Bendigo, and decided to head over to renew acquaintances with them one week-end……..Invited for a training run with Sandhurst , he met a few people….. One thing led to another, and they offered him a few bob to play.

The Dragons teed up a job selling insurance with AMP and Norm starred in the ruck, alongside 6’8” man-mountain Carl Brewster, who was to become his best mate.

Together, they represented the Bendigo League against Sunraysia, and Norm’s original League, the Northern District.

At season’s end he and two mates drove over to the Golden West. It was his intention to strip with South Fremantle but – restless soul that he was – he popped down to Albany one week-end.

“We were sitting in the pub having a few beers and the bloke ‘behind the jump’ happened to be on the North Albany committee.”

“He raced upstairs, where they were having a meeting. Next thing 5 or 6 of them came down and offered me a few bob to play…….They arranged a job as a slaughterman with Borthwick’s – cutting sheep’s throats……1,000 a day…and hanging ‘em on a mobile chain.”

“I did that for three weeks, before I approached the boss – who was North Albany President…….I said: Listen, mate, unless you can put me up the line a bit I’m giving it the arse…..Anyway, that worked, and I ended up with a better job……….”

The next move was back east, to Albury.

“I don’t really know how I ended up there, to be honest…….They got me a job as a Slaughterman, then I had a Bread-Delivery run and was finally a Sales Rep for a Tyre company for 18 months.”

The Tigers were a middle-of-the-road side in ‘69 and finished bottom in 1970, with just four wins. Norm played consistently, though, under the coaching of Bob Spargo, and alongside Carl Brewster, who’d followed him over from Sandhurst.

“The biggest kick I got in that disappointing 1970 season, was to toss the coin, as Albury captain, with my old team-mate Neville Hogan, who was in his first year as coach of the Rovers.”

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The sunshine was beckoning………And North Albury star Kevin ‘Turkey’ Weule had been offered the coaching job with Queensland club, Coorparoo.

“ They advised ‘Turk’ the job was his, on the proviso that he could bring a couple of ruckmen along. He arranged for Carl and I to meet their ‘money-man’, Barry Modini, in Wagga, to seal the deal.”

“I got a transfer in my job with the Tyre Company, went Car-detailing for a while and ended up selling cars for the remainder of our eight years, most of them on ‘The Mad Mile’, in Ipswich Road, Brisbane.”

Norm adapted well to the QAFL and, in his first season, was rated a strong chance of taking out the League’s Grogan Medal. He was selected in the State Squad for the National Division 2 Carnival, before a sprained ankle forced him out of the action.

And he was a crucial part of what was a hectic social life at Coorparoo, along with his ‘partner-in-crime’, Carl Brewster.

“We had some great times at Coorparoo, but gee, he was a bit of a wild bastard, Carl…….Got me into a bit of trouble over the years…….I even had a blue with him one night at a Club function…….He clobbered me…..I had blood all over my white jumper…..We were heading out to the middle of the ground to finish it off…..”

“When he saw the blood on me he thought: ‘Oh shit. What am I doing, whacking my best mate.’ So we went back into the Club again…….”

“When we got home we told our wives a couple of Bikies had attacked us……..”

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Norm went on to receive an attractive offer from SQAFL club South Brisbane, where he proved a star in his debut season.

“The incumbent coach quit at the end of the year, and they asked me to take over……..I wasn’t that keen, but we actually rose from the bottom, into the four…..It was a great experience.”

Many years later, they invited him back for a function, and named him captain of South Brisbane’s ‘All Star Side’……

The final stanza in his football journey was penned when he returned home, in the late seventies, to spend part of a season with his old club, Greta…….

But the Hamill family had still not sated their wanderlust ……..He and Christine continued to traverse the nation – from Melbourne…. to Augusta (WA)….to Perth, with their growing family – Adrian, Tania and Daniel….

He got right into Scuba Diving and Absailing and crayfishing in Augusta. “Fair dinkum mate, the crayfish down there were two foot long,” Norm says.

He estimates that he had more than 30 jobs, as diverse as Barman-Cellarman, Tomato-Picker, Hotel Licensee, Caravan-Park Manager, Hay-Carter, Oil-Refinery worker, Shearer, Sales Representative, Solid-Waste Operator, Fruit-Juice Distributor, Florist and Club-Manager…………..After 30 years in W.A, he and Chris finally pulled up stumps and settled in Rosebud…….

You can sometimes get wisdom from a man in the gutter,

Not always the intellects and the words that they utter,

He was a wise old bloke that Dad of mine,

Because I took his advice and I’m feeling fine………...

‘DANNY RECALLS THE NIGHT HE CLINCHED THE BELT ….’

“Dan ! How ya goin’ ”.

There’s a pregnant pause on the end of the line, followed by a muffled, querulous : “Who’ve I got here ?”.

“ Remember me ?… Kevin Hill……What are you up to ?.”

“Ah… KB….To be quite honest, I’ve been on the drink this week-end……Relaxin’…..I’m pretty good at that, you know…………”

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I’ve got hold of Danny Carey in a round-about way. He’d originally made contact with the Chronicle, to find out if they could rustle up some clippings pertaining to the fleeting boxing career he pursued back in the eighties. Sorry, they said, but we’ll jot down your phone details, and give them to a fellah who might be able to chase something up………..

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So that’s how Dan and I happen to be involved in this somewhat garbled conversation.

He’s now domiciled at Taree, a town on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, about 15km inland…. Says he’s been roaming around for a few years, but now resides in a Caravan, in the local Showgrounds’ precinct….

Just before I rang he’d knocked the top off another long-neck, he tells me, having returned from helping to round up a few horses They’ve been spooked by the plumes of smoke from the bushfires, which are looming ominously over the landscape.

“How long have you been in Taree, Dan ?,” I ask. “A bit over two years, but I hit the road a long time ago. When things turn a bit sour I just move on……..”

He’s whiling away the time by listening to some of his favourite Country and Western singers: “Ever heard Tom.T.Hall’s ‘Homecoming’ ? When you get off the phone you should google it up. And while you’re at it, listen to another one of his: ‘The Ballad of 40 Dollars’.”

He’s got a fancy for most of the Slim Dusty repertoire , in particular ‘Ballad of the Drover’. When I ask how that one starts off, Dan bursts into a rendition:

‘Across the stony ridges, across the rolling plain,

Young Harry Dale the Drover comes riding home again,

And well his stock-horse bears him, and light of heart is he,

And stoutly his old pack-horse is trotting by his knee………’

Dan had a lot of respect for his dad – also called Dan.

“He was a serious bugger, and fairly hard. But he had that way about him that you didn’t know whether he was jokin’ or not.”

“Dad’s was the last funeral I went to. I don’t like ‘em much. Don’t trust myself……. Might get all emotional and punch someone.”

When he queries me on some of the old local identities he knew, I mention that many of them have now passed on. “F……’, they’re all droppin’ off,” he quips.

Dan’s revelling in this bit of a chin-wag. Even though he’s now nudging 60 there’s no doubting that memory of his………..

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Dan was a strongly-built kid with recognisable footy talent when he arrived out at Moyhu in 1975. He reminds me I was his first coach. That probably proved to be a hindrance to his prospects of ever being a champion, I suggest…..

But he was good enough, and strong enough – at the age of 15 – to hold down a key position, which was a feat in itself. I found, for all his devilment, he was a good kid who you couldn’t help taking a shine to…….even though he was easily distracted and his training habits weren’t quite up to scratch.

After a couple of seasons with the ‘Hoppers he moved to Tarrawingee, back to Moyhu for another three years, over to Greta, then finally, back to Moyhu.

He reckons he saddled up in about 130 senior Ovens and King games, with the highlight being the Best and Fairest that he picked up at Moyhu in 1979.

Dan says he gained a fascination for the boxing game through watching the ever-popular ‘T.V Ringside’ on Monday nights.

“When I suggested to the ‘old man’ I’d like to have a go at it, he said: ‘Danny, it’s a ridiculous sport….. Blokes dancing around trying to belt each other in the head………But it’s so intriguing…….’ “

He started training under local legend Rossy Colosimo. They were an odd couple. Ross was short, muscly, and a fitness fanatic, who was the local symbol of the sport.

He treated his protege’, who towered over him, with plenty of ‘TLC’ and did his best to impart his fountain of knowledge to the feisty youngster. He particularly emphasised to this ‘loose cannon’ that he needed to be fair dinkum, and had to make a few sacrifices if he was going to make a go of it.

Dan got off to an unflattering start to his career with a loss on points in a three-rounder, to a tough old slugger – Billy Jones.

But his next four bouts were full of promise – three wins and a draw – which led to an offer to be matched up with cagey Reno Zurik, a fit, quick New South Welshman who had 51 fights to his name.

Their meeting at Beechworth, was Carey’s first 10-rounder, and Zurik showed the benefit of his experience to finish on strongly in the final rounds. The points decision was decisive, and led to him putting his Riverina Heavyweight Title on the line in the re-match at the Wangaratta Indoor Stadium, eight months later………..

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I remember it vividly. The Rovers had put their hands up to promote the ‘Boxing Extravaganza’, which was originally the brainchild of the late Denis Wohlers.

‘Mouse’ was an ideas man, but reckoned that ‘dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s’ was a job best passed on to someone else. That’s why, by the end of the night, I had aged a couple of years.

The early signs were promising. We were encouraged by the numbers who were rolling up to this strongly-advertised eight-bout program.

The first hitch came when, with time ticking away, there was no sign of the contingent of six Riverina boxers – including one of the principal attractions, Reno Zurik. Just as panic stations were setting in, and tempers were becoming frayed, four of them ambled in with their manager, a cagey old pro from Walla Walla called Kevin Kennedy. “Sorry fellahs,” he said, “two of the boys from Culcairn didn’t make the trip.”

“Shit…..Ah well, Thank Goodness most of you are here; now we can get on with the show,” we proclaimed.

“Have you got the Doctor organised,” said Kevin Kennedy. “What ?…..there’s been no mention of needing a Doctor.” “That’s one of the Boxing Regulations” he snorted……. “You must have a Doctor on hand……If there’s no Doctor, there’s no Fight Night.”

I reached for the ‘phone to ask a favour of the only person who might be a slight chance to pull us out of this predicament. Miraculously, Dr.Bruce Wakefield said he’d be down in a jiffy .

By now it was getting on, and the big crowd had become restless. So was our MC, Peter McCudden, who was rushing around wondering what he could say next, to pacify his audience.

“Tell ‘em we’re not far off starting,” we said. “I mentioned that 20 minutes ago,” he replied.

Eventually, the first Prelim got under way, and the 700-strong spectators were mercifully forgiving. They were soon roaring themselves hoarse as the night unfolded. It was an ideal prelude to the ‘Big One’ – Zurik versus Carey………………

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

German-born Zurik looked every inch the seasoned campaigner when he slid through the ropes, accompanied by a ripple of polite applause. The ‘local hero’ followed, a minute or so later.

Strongly-built, liberally-tattooed, and with an air of confidence, big Danny shed his Purple and Gold Greta footy guernsey, and raised his gloved-hands, to huge acclaim. He knew that, of all the moments in what had been to date, an unfulfilled sporting career, this was the one he’d remember forever.

But there was a job to do, and he used his height to advantage in pummelling the champ in the early rounds.

He certainly had the ascendancy. In the fifth, he unleashed a powerful right, which rocked his opponent.

Even so, the dogged Zurik fought back. The contest was evenly-matched until the ninth round, when Carey, finishing strongly, completely asserted his dominance over the fourth-ranked Australian Heavyweight contender.

Eighty seconds into the final round it was all over. Carey knocked the champ to the canvas and the referee, Max Carlos, stopped the fight – Carey by a TKO.

Danny soaked up the adulation of the home crowd, and the esteem of holding the Riverina Belt. 18 months later he again tackled Reno Zurik in a six-rounder at Wagga. This time his canny opponent was too good, and gained a unanimous decision on points.

That was the beginning of the end for Dan, who, in several succeeding bouts, never again scaled the heights to which he promised to ascend.

But even so, he can’t help harking back to that memorable July evening in 1981, when he became the toast of Wangaratta……….

” THE ENERGISER………”

Barry Sullivan’s a ‘Man on a Mission’……….

He rattles along at 100 miles an hour……forever exuding positivity……responding to the mobile phone that beckons incessantly……squeezing meetings, interviews and networking into his hectic schedule.

It’s breathtaking even to watch him in action. In his time, ‘Sully’ has adroitly rubbed shoulders with Captains of Industry, political heavyweights and ego-maniacs.

But to me, he’s no different to the 18 year-old kid who rolled up to the Rovers’ opening pre-season training session in 1981……………

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He tagged along that night, he says, with an Everton neighbor, Gary Allen ( a dual-premiership ruckman ), who was considering a come-back with the Hawks.

“ ‘Sticks’ didn’t last; he headed back to play with Milawa. However, I liked the feel of the place and decided to hang around………”

But Sully was lucky he was there. A few years earlier, he’d endured an farmyard accident which almost had dire consequences:

“We had an old electric motor which generated our windmill. Sometimes it was hard to get the V-belt moving, so I gave it a bit of a whack, my hand went around the pulley and  my fingers got caught. They were so badly-cut, there was talk of amputating a couple, but thanks to Dr.Fraser and the surgeon, Hal Stanistreet, they managed to keep ‘em intact.”

He was mad on sport, but not over-eager to follow in the footsteps of his dad Kevin, who was a prominent racehorse trainer. Instead, he started an engineering degree at Monash University and would travel home each week-end to play with the Rovers.

“It wasn’t ideal. I didn’t do a proper pre-season for years, and I’d train with different clubs around the suburbs close-handy. Once they started putting pressure on me to play with them, I’d move to another club.”

So he continued to be a fleet-footed, energetic winger/half-forward with the Reserves, in between dealing with a succession of soft-tissue injuries. But he knew, half-way through his third year at the Rovers, that he must be getting close to that eagerly-anticipated senior berth.

“There was a place in the city – Magill’s Newsagency – that sold the ‘Border Morning Mail’. I didn’t have enough money to buy a paper, so I’d go in there and flick through the O & M sides.”

“And there it was – Wangaratta Rovers: In – B.Sullivan (debut). I waltzed out of the shop and floated back to Wang that night.”

He thought nothing of the travel. “I just reckoned it was worth the effort to get back home and play with the Rovers and catch up with my mates. I didn’t even realise, for the first four years or so, that you could put your hand out for travelling expenses.”

He played in the Hawks’ Reserves premiership teams of 1983 and ‘84, but his break-out season was 1985, when he cemented a permanent spot in a side which included a few handy debutants in Tossol, Walker, Allen, Goodear and Bryce.

Word subsequently filtered through to Melbourne that this ‘bush dasher’ had something special. ‘Sully’ was invited to train with the Demons during the season, with a view to possibly joining them in 1986.

“It’s hard to describe the exhilarating feeling when you walk out onto the MCG for the first time,” he says. “All the big names were there….Alves, Robbie Flower, the Healy boys, Kelvin Templeton, Brian Wilson and, of course, ‘Barass’……I felt a bit inadequate, but the first few night were magic and I didn’t feel out of place.”

“Then I did a ‘hammy’, and was restricted to weight work. They dropped right off me….”

So it was back to the Rovers……and reality.

‘Sully’s’ engineering degree, in which he majored in electronics, proved a handy tool. The Computer Age was upon us and he found himself in demand. Fate fell his way when, after spending some time at the electronics firm E-Mail, he was offered a position at the Wangaratta division of IBM.

Within a fortnight of starting, he was sent to Florida, to work in their development laboratories. And for the next few years his pre-season training plans would be thrown into disarray when he’d be somewhere in the U.S for two or three months, on assignment.

By 1988, Sully reasoned that there were exciting times ahead, with all the young talent starting to emerge at the Rovers…..maybe even a chance of a premiership, sometime in the future.

Two games into the season – after an 80-point whalloping from Wodonga – he headed off to the States for another lengthy stint. He followed, enviously,  from afar, as the Hawks stormed into the finals.

Safely ensconced in bed, at about 3am on Grand Final night, he awoke, startled, to the phone ringing…….His initial reaction was: ”Shit, don’t tell me they’ve won it !”

“The boys proceeded to excitedly tell me what I’d missed out on. Ronnie Ferguson was screaming down the phone: “I told you this was the year…..! “

Sully’s meteoric rise through the leadership ranks at IBM certainly hadn’t affected his zest for footy.

“He was one of those priceless fellahs who was capable of lifting morale about the place – always happy-go-lucky. He just knew how to mould team spirit,” says one of his coaches, Laurie Burt. “And don’t forget, he was a more than handy player, ever-dangerous around goals and very hard to play on.”IMG_3609

The Sullivan resume’ includes a bag of seven goals and one of six in the 149 goals he booted in his 112 senior games.

But the achievement he cherishes most was his involvement in the Hawks’ 1991 flag. And he got there the hard way:

“ I did a posterior cruciate early in the season. It was a tedious process of treating it with Condie’s Crystals and hot baths, and I  got back a couple of weeks before the finals. I was just holding my spot. Then, lo and behold, I felt a twinge in the hammy before we met Corowa-Rutherglen in the Prelim Final.”

“ Luckily I cruised around, did a few handy things in the Prelim and, at one stage managed to ‘run down’ ‘Juicy’ Kingstone, which impressed the coach. So I made the cut for the big one. It was a matter of keeping out of Laurie’s way, in case he forced a strenuous fitness test on me.”IMG_3607

The Hawks, having fought their way through to the Grand Final after a shock loss to Yarrawonga in the Second-Semi, steamrolled the Pigeons by 69 points. Yarra still had a slim chance at three-quarter time, but when Neale McMonigle snagged the first of his four last-quarter majors, and Sullivan ran into an open goal, it was all over.IMG_3605

By now, Sully had become Manufacturing and Engineering Manager at IBM, but footy and tennis were his outlets. He played another 13 senior games in 1992, and in eight Reserves appearances, showed enough to finish third in the B & F.

That drew the curtain on the Sullivan playing career with the Hawks. It had been a triumph of perseverance and dedication, interrupted by those darned soft-tissue injuries, and marked by a lengthy apprenticeship in the Reserves .

For the next two years he travelled through Europe, Asia and the Americas, as part of a world-wide computer task-force. When he returned home, a good mate, Peter Mulrooney, coaxed him into having one last season – at Greta.

The Blues dropped just one game on the way to the 1995 flag, and proved too strong for a persistent Beechworth. For Sully and ‘Mul’ it was as good a time as any to hang up their boots.

Just to add a further string to his academic bow, he gained a further qualification when he completed a degree in Business Studies at Stanford University, in the U.S.

IBM was booming at this stage, and, as site General Manager, Barry had more than enough on his plate. As the largest manufacturer of electronic goods in the country ( with a turnover of $600 million – $400 million of that exported ), the company was an intrinsic part of the local economy.

It was mind-boggling to imagine the consequences should they happen to depart. But alas, IBM signalled their intention to wind down their Wangaratta operations in 1998.

Along with two U.S partners, Barry initiated the purchase of the plant and they started up Bluegum Technology in its place. He was installed as General Manager.

“Talk about pressure in football……..That was pressure !” he jokes.

“My mind was racing so much, I’d get up at 3am and hit the streets of Wangaratta. It was the only way I could relieve the stress. At least it helped get me fit…..I ran the Melbourne Marathon in late 1998.”

He was invited to partake in Victorian Premier Steve Bracks’ ‘Breakfast Club’ – a ‘Think-Tank’  of 20 of the state’s leading industry and business figures. The list included identities such as Lindsay Fox, Joe Gutnick, Ted Kunkel and Solomon Lew. “Gee, I was way out of my depth there,” he says.

After operating successfully for some time, the consortium received an offer, and sold Bluegum to Selectron, a global electronics company.

He had a break for a while, to re-charge the batteries, but admits he started looking for another challenge. “I’m driven….I need routine.”

So he joined ADI ( now Thales ), as explosives manager, before eventually becoming General Manager, in charge of more than 1,000 staff throughout Australia.

Some time ago, Sully decided it was time to assume more control of his life and retreat from the rigours of the corporate world. He now operates his own business advisory company. It means he’s still in demand, but can work at his own pace (which is flat-chat).

It also allows him more time to devote to the things about which he’s passionate – family, tennis, fishing and footy.

He’s a Country Week tennis stalwart of more than twenty years, and his wife Maree is a triple Club singles champ. Zach ( now 20) has also inherited a love of the game.IMG_3598

Sully took the opportunity to merge his sporting and business acumen when he was enjoying a fishing trip on the stunning Gulf of Carpentaria coastline with a friend, ‘Bomber’ Farrell.

‘Bomber’ met Geelong champ Patrick Dangerfield, who was  involved in a footy clinic at Groote Eylandt at the time, and indicated that he was keen to ‘dangle a line’.

“ He took Pat and his dad out for a fish and mentioned that we were interested in doing a fishing show. ‘Danger’ was keen on the idea. It took a while, but we eventually got around to creating a company called ‘Athletes of the Sea’ and started filming. The objective was to have a bit of fun and enjoy each other’s company, as well as showcasing Groot Eylandt.”IMG_3591

“Earlier this year, Channel 7 broadcast four episodes of ‘The Last Cast’. It rated well. Another offshoot is that ‘Danger’ and Aaron Hobgood are now conducting a fishing show on SEN radio. We’re also introducing a fishing apparel line which will be out later this year.”

After his playing days wound down, Sully remained firmly entrenched in the Rovers camp. His succession of roles have included stints as Runner, Board Member, Football Director and Vice-President.

He’s now heavily involved in recruiting and is well aware of the monumental challenge facing he – and others – to help drag the Hawks from their unaccustomed position at the foot of the O & M ladder.

There couldn’t be a better man for the job………
IMG_3610

“THE LONG LAST QUARTER…………”

 

Dairy cattle graze contentedly in nearby paddocks and picturesque farmland stretches for miles around, as you drive down the laneway towards Greta’s modern-day heartbeat – ‘The Sporting Complex’.
It’s a sophisticated moniker accorded to an Oval, originally crafted out of a parcel of Crown land in 1952.

A cluster of buildings on the western side have been steadily upgraded over the years, to provide relative comfort to the ardent  local  supporters.
Standing guard, overlooking the southern-end forward pocket  is the century-old Greta-Hansonville Hall, a modest-looking corrugated iron structure which has played host to an untold number of the district’s Anniversaries, 21st Birthdays, Weddings – and Grand IMG_2793Final celebrations………….
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Names such as O’Brien, Dinning, Tanner, Wallace, Newth, Delaney, Hogan, Wadley, Hillas, Jones, Ellis, Evans and Younger roll off the tongue when you’re discussing the backbone of this famous old Football Club.

It’s been part of the Ovens and King League for 73 years, having participated in a few other competitions in the previous four decades.
For the major part of the journey they’d been near – or at the top – harvesting a seemingly endless assembly-line of talent from surrounding farms, topped up with a few handy players from Wangaratta.
The recipe produced nine O & K flags and several close-shaves. That rustic old Hall would spring to life when the locals celebrated yet another dose of September glory.

However, as time rolls on, dynamics alter. Those long-entrenched local families with tribes of footy-mad kids whose destiny was to wear the Purple and Gold, began to thin out. It became a far trickier proposition to lure recruits from ‘town’ when you were unable to guarantee continued success…..Tougher times have prevailed in the twenty-first century.
But right now, let’s wind back to a more salubrious era…………
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                                                                     1999

The Blues are led by an ex-Wangaratta Rovers champion, Michael Caruso, and drop just two matches for the season. Looking near-invincible in the run home, they comfortably dispose of Beechworth in the second semi, and are everybody’s tip for the ‘big one.’
But they run out of steam in the final minutes, after looking a superior side all day. Kicking just one goal for the last term, they are forced onto the defensive, as Moyhu mount one last, desperate challenge.
They hang on to win by five points, with the unheralded Scott Amery, Andy Fitzpatrick and Tim Northey, the standouts in the last-gasp win………..

 

                                                                            1995
Greta lose just the one game, and are deserved 24-point Grand Final victors over Beechworth. It’s the ultimate reward for old Wangaratta team-mates Robbie Richards and Brett Keir, who crown their illustrious careers with a memorable win.

Exciting mid-fielder Paul Hogan emphasises his potential with a great season, and is awarded the O & K’s Baker Medal.

But it’s Keir’s day. He leads an impregnable defence with a BOG performance, and Darren Waite, Mark Kilner and the reliable Damien Flanigan  have matches     to remember………….

 1993

Few O & K fans dare to tip against Chiltern in the Grand Final. They are unbeaten, although Greta run them to 3 goals in the second semi. The Blues sense that if they get another opportunity they could do the impossible, and pinch the flag.

The Chiltern side, which numbers among its ranks future AFL champs Nigel and Matty (Sparra) Lappin, hardly raise a whimper in the last half, in one of the biggest of all O &K boil-overs.
The Swans are unable to curb on-baller Nick Judd, who runs riot. Anthony Foubister wages a great tussle with Matt Lappin, and takes the points, to prove his undoubted talent. But it’s a great all-round performance from the underdogs, who run away to win by 66 points, in a coaching triumph for the veteran, Rod Canny……….IMG_3294IMG_3296

 

1980

Greta ends a 13-year drought by convincingly defeating the powerful Whorouly to the tune of 27 points. They outplay, and outpoint the disappointing Maroons, who had pipped them by a point in the Second Semi-Final.

The trend of the game is set by Terry Wadley, Paul O’Brien and ruckman Brett Rumsey, who are all outstanding.

 

THE HAT-TRICK

The mid-sixties produce Greta’s finest era. They could quite easily have won five flags in succession, but have to settle for a hat-trick – 1965, ‘66 and ‘67.
The recruitment of burly Moyhu ruckman Maurie ‘Bumper’ Farrell as captain-coach adds a touch of ‘steel’ to an already talented line-up, which had lost the 1964 flag to Tarrawingee by just one point.
Greta are unbeaten in the home-and-away rounds of ‘65, but are toppled by a determined Tarra in the second semi. The Grand Final proves a dour, defensive affair, with Greta hanging on to pip the Bulldogs by four points – 5.11 to 4.15.
Greta and King Valley are the two dominant teams of 1966, and it is fitting that they tangle in the Grand Final. It’s a tense, hard-hitting clash, but Farrell is dynamic in the ruck, and leads his side to another nail-biting 13-point victory – 6.15 to 5.8.
‘Bumper’ declares that he’s finished as a player amidst the post-match celebrations, but is coaxed back into playing the following season. Greta meet Tarrawingee in the Grand Final and he is pitted against the ‘twin-towers’ of Neil Corrigan and Mick Nolan.

He lowers his colours, but his fleet of creative small men, John O’Brien, Eddie Hooper and Mick Tanner are able to shark the hit-outs of the giant Bulldogs to lead their side to a 33-point win.IMG_3290
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A FLAG TO REMEMBER

It’s early 1954, and in their nine years in the Ovens and King League Greta already have one flag, have twice been runners-up and are regular finals participants.
Hopes are high for the coming season. After guiding the club to the 1953 Grand Final, the veteran Jimmy Hallahan retires after three years at the helm. The old Fitzroy star is 42, and reckons it’s time to hand over the reins and play a farewell season without the responsibilities of coaching.
His successor is a football journeyman, Ken Bodger……….
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The solidly-built Bodger was a somewhat controversial figure and a football nomad.
His wanderings had taken him from a war-time stint of 12 games with Hawthorn, to coaching jobs at Cobden, Kyneton, Sorrento and an appointment as the Wangaratta Rovers’ first O & M leader.
Replaced as coach after one season with the Hawks, he stayed on as a player for two more years, before finally being released to Wangaratta, following three clearance applications.
Bodger’s aim in transferring to the ‘Pies was to play in a flag, but alas, they were squeezed out in the Preliminary Final. His next move, in search of that elusive dream, was to Greta…………
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“He was different; no doubt about that,” says John Tanner when I ask for a summation of his old coach.
John’s an ideal person to quiz on Greta’s footy history. He has seen all of their ebbs and flows and is one of the greats.

Apart from three years with the Rovers, where he played in their first-ever flag, he represented the Club with distinction throughout his career.
He was just 21 in 1954; tall, lean, agile and a budding star. And it was his good fortune, he says, to play alongside a Greta icon, the legendary Lionel Wallace.
“He stood about 6’2”. His arms nearly reached his ankles and his fingers were about twice as long as mine,” John jokes.IMG_3292
“ ‘Liney’ had an uncanny ability to scale the pack and would be half a body length above everybody else when he took a mark

. Laurie Nash knew him from his days in the Armed Services, and said he’d have been a huge drawcard had he decided to play League football.”
Wallace was undoubtedly Greta’s ‘gun’, but Bodger inherited a team which was ‘cherry-ripe’. “We were a pretty handy side of locals,” says John Tanner.
Little had separated Greta and Chiltern in their three meetings during the season. The Swans got home by 10 and 9 points in the home-and-away encounters. They pipped Greta by just four points in the second-semi.
But Chiltern gained the upper hand in the early stages of the Grand Final and took control of the game. They had skipped out to a 25-point lead ( 11.13 to 8.6 ) at three quarter-time and only the most optimistic Greta fans rated them a chance.
In fact, many were resigned to defeat, and began to wend their way home for an appointment with the dairy cows, early in the last term.
Ever so slowly, the game began to change. With Wallace near-impassable at centre half back, Ian Flanigan a tower of strength in the ruck and Bodger ever-dangerous in front of goal, Greta edged their way back into the game.

 

The last quarter had seemed to go on for an eternity. As the clock ticked past the forty-minute mark, Chiltern’s lead still appeared unassailable.
But Bodger nailed his ninth, then half forward Bernie Greenwood snapped truly. Just seconds later,  the siren sounded to give Greta an improbable victory by four points – 14.12 to 13.14 – after an amazing quarter, which had stretched to forty four and a half minutes.
Tanner lined up on Chiltern coach Laurie Raine that day, and remembers him becoming frustrated, as dusk started to envelop the Tarrawingee ground. “He was saying: ‘It’s too late. It’s too late.’
“It didn’t worry me. We were trying to win the game.”

The time-keepers copped a barrage of criticism, as did the central umpire who, admittedly, appeared to blow an extraordinary amount of time-on. Chiltern’s protest was dismissed.  The result stood.
Tanner says Bodger’s nine goals made the difference.
“He had a day out….Staged a few, got away with pushing in the back a couple of times…..Took a few well-orchestrated ‘dives’.”
“When we got home we celebrated with a barbie and a few frothies, in Nelson Dinning’s front paddock. I remember the President shouted us all a cigar. It was the first and last one I ever had……….”
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‘BACK TO THE FUTURE….’

Greta sit atop the Ovens and King ladder, as we speak, unbeaten, with four wins and a mammoth percentage of 437.6. Admittedly, they’ve been blessed with a favourable draw, but I ask John Tanner whether this might be a signal of a return to the good old days ?


“Too early to tell” he says…………IMG_3288