‘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 He’d originally made contact with the Chronicle, to find out if they could rustle up some clippings pertaining to the fleeting boxing career he pursued back in the eighties.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………………

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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………
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“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

‘ACCOLADES ELUDED OLD MAGPIE CHAMP…..’

Brett Keir doesn’t say much…..Never has.

When he was being inducted into Wangaratta Football Club’s Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, his old mate Billy McMillan was invited to join him on stage.

“He’s such an unassuming bugger that they thought there’d be ‘Buckley’s’ chance of getting him to elaborate on his career,” says Bill. “So I did my best to drag a bit out of him.”

The pair go back a long way. “We made our senior debuts the same season – 1979 – played alongside each other in the backline; knocked around together. I remember we used to drive to the away games with ‘Chooka’ Dean.”

“ Coming home from Albury, for instance, we’d grab a few cans and go the back way; replenish our supplies at Beechworth; maybe pop into the ‘Plough Inn’ at Tarra…… We’d dissect the game, and life in general……. ‘Balls’ didn’t drink much in those days, so he was usually the driver……..”

“Whenever we played at Yarrawonga, everyone would call in to a spot at Bundalong after the game for one of Brett’s specialties, the ‘Hangi’. He would go out early Saturday morning, prepare the ‘tucker’, and get the fire going. Then there were the Crayfish week-ends, and his famous ‘Duck Nights’, at which he used to supply, cook and oversee the menu .”
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Brett Keir’s the sort of person that Clubs are built around. He still contributes……does his turn behind the bar; is a regular attendee at Wood Days and the like. And after training, every Tuesday night, for the last twenty years, he, Rod Canny and Bruce Poulter have  provided soup and Hot Dogs for the players.

Only the super-veterans among them would have seen him play. Determination and courage were his trademarks. Well-proportioned and agile, he rarely ventured from deep in defence.

He was destined to be a Magpie. His family were keen followers of the club and his transition from the Junior Magpies was considered a formality.

But he did test the waters over the road. He and a future Magpie coach, Robbie Richards, played a handful of games with the Rovers Thirds before a touch of family influence prevailed.

After an apprenticeship of nearly two years with the Wang Thirds he finally earned his senior spurs. He was there for keeps.

His fine form at full back was one of the reasons why the Magpies were flying high in 1980, They finished on top of the ladder, and looked a distinct premiership chance. But in finals, there can be a fine line between glory and heartache.

They  led the Rovers for three-quarters of the Second Semi-Final, before the Hawks, with a six goals to one final term, took the game away from them.

And in a pulsating Preliminary Final, Wang led by 17 points heading into time-on. Then North booted the last three goals, to sneak home by a point.

“Brett got his pants pulled down that day by a blonde-haired forward called Andy Alderton, who finished with five goals and helped swing the game North’s way. But it was a good learning experience. Not too many other blokes got hold of him from then on,” Bill McMillan says.

There were star forwards aplenty in the O & M during the ‘80’s. Keir had the mandate to curtail goalkickers of the calibre of Brian Parkes, Steve Norman, John Longmire, Darrell Bakes, Neale McMonigle and David Turner.

“ Yarrawonga once had a bald-headed coach called Steve Jones, who kicked heaps of goals,” recalls McMillan. He was unlike most forwards, in that he used to get stuck into the backmen. I went to Brett’s aid one day, and he told me to keep away.” “You’ll only make the bastard more cranky,” he said.

Keir certainly benefited when North Melbourne’s premiership defender Frank Gumbleton was recruited to the ‘Pies in 1981. “Frank played alongside him for a year and took him under his wing. He became more polished and professional and graduated from being good to outstanding,” recalled one ex-team-mate.

He endured another steep learning curve when he headed off to Sydney on his first trip-away with the Magpies. “He was just a ‘pup’ at the time and his mum asked if I’d keep an eye on him,” says Clive McKibbin.

“On the very first night, we lost him. What a disaster ! We’re miles away from our hotel and the ‘baby’ of the trip’s gone missing. But he materialised the next morning, as large as life. He explained that he just kept following the beach around until he found the pub.”

The Magpies tumbled down the ladder quite dramatically in the early ‘80’s, and it was left to the redoubtable Keir to carry the backline on his shoulders in these tough times.

But he was highly-regarded throughout the League, and earned recognition, after the retirement of Albury’s Rod Coelli, as the premier full back in the competition.

He wore the Black and Gold Ovens and Murray guernsey 12 times, was twice rewarded with VCFL selection, and shared in Country Championship triumphs in 1986 and ‘87.

John Byrne was Keir’s coach for most of his representative stint. I once asked him for a summation of his key defender: “Very consistent; a really good player,” said Byrne, one of country footy’s most astute judges.

“He had great pace for a big fellow, which enabled him to play on tall and small opponents with equal success. “

“He could handle forwards who led quickly, and was always a sure ball-handler. I never saw him play a bad Inter-League game.”
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The well-documented Keir resilience saw him line up on countless occasions with injuries that would  ‘kill a brown dog’.  It was all part of his dedication to the cause. The only time his loyalty swayed was at duck-opening week-end.

Over the years, Brett resisted several tempting offers to leave the ‘Pies . To acknowledge his yeoman service they threw a 200-game Testimonial ‘shindig’ in his honour. Naturally, considering his popularity, it was a rollicking affair, and a tidy sum was raised.

It just proved a tad difficult to hand it over to him. “He wanted to donate it to the Junior League, or the Past Players. We had to get it to him in a round-about way,” recalled one official.

To the astonishment of the majority of his team-mates, a Best and Fairest eluded the champ during his 15 years and a club-record 264 games with Wangaratta.

So did a Senior Premiership, and when injuries started to become an impediment to producing his best in O & M football, he was enticed to Greta for a final farewell to the game.

His great mate Robbie Richards had taken charge of the Blues and it seemed like a perfect fit.

“We had our Hop-Farm out there, and I knew plenty of people,” says Brett.

The flag that he savoured finally came in 1995. Greta led at every change and held off a fighting Beechworth resurgence in the final quarter, to win by four goals.

The Chronicle reported : ‘…..it was a fitting reward for Robbie Richards and Brett Keir, whose long careers were crowned with victory. Keir led a strong Greta defence with a Best-on-Ground performance……….”

Brett celebrated accordingly :“I took my swag out and slept under the Greta Hall that night. It turned out a big week-end.”

“I did a knee 5-6 weeks into the next season, and came back just in time for the finals. I knew then it was time to give it away,” he says.

Nowadays, Brett loves heading off into the bush to his favourite fishing and shooting haunts, or up to the Wonnangatta, where he’ll trudge miles and miles in search of deer.

He also tends to a couple of big vegetable gardens out at his Colson Road property, in between working as a Gardener at the Wangaratta and Shepparton Private Hospitals, and helping a plumber install Water-Tanks.

But he certainly doesn’t miss those goal-square battles with annoying forwards…………

 

 

SON OF A GUN SPREADS THE FOOTY GOSPEL……

For a bloke who has experienced his share of football’s vagaries, Robbie Richards remains remarkably upbeat.

He underwent the tribulation of dual knee reconstructions which robbed him of close to four years of his playing career… was at the mercy of a fickle committee which cut short a coaching stint… then endured some of the darkest times in his club’s history.

Yet he retains a boyish enthusiasm for the game.

He’s still vitally involved in footy, more than 40 years after he first excitedly stepped out  as a slight, skilful youngster, with the Junior Magpies.

I caught up with Rob at last week-end’s Junior League finals. He had just come from giving one of his Magpie Thirds players a fitness test and was gearing up for their Elimination Final the next day.

Match-day coaching stresses him, he says. Rather, being able to sit back and watch a game, and pinpoint some good kids, as he was doing, gives him a real buzz ……….

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In his heyday, during the sixties, his dad Len, was a pillar in defence for Wangaratta. It takes something exceptional for a back pocket player to win a Best & Fairest, but that’s what the tough and uncompromising Lennie did in the Magpies’ famous premiership year of 1961.

He had joined the ‘Pies via Eldorado and Tarrawingee and was a steadying influence amidst flamboyant personalities like Kevin Mack, ‘Rinso’ Johnstone and ‘Bushy’ Constable and champs of the calibre of Ron McDonald and John Mulrooney.

Rob3Wang were around the upper rungs of the ladder for most of Len’s 152 games and when he took on the coaching job at Chiltern in 1967, some suggested it might be a hazardous task to win over the tight-knit footy town.

To the contrary, he proved immensely popular and led them to the 1968 flag during four enjoyable years with the Swans.

“They’re terrific people, and Mum’s still got a lot of good friends from Chiltern,” says Rob, who, as a young whippersnapper, recalls tagging along behind Len, whilst he performed his coaching duties.

It’s always intrigued me, I put to him, how he ended up playing with the Rovers Thirds.

” Well, Dad didn’t put any pressure on me. The Rovers invited me to have a run when the Junior League season finished in 1977. The Thirds reached the Grand Final and I could easily have stayed there.”

“But they were really strong at that time and I couldn’t see myself breaking into the senior side in a hurry.”

So Rob headed over the road…. and the rest is history.

Rob2He was a talented winger with all the skills – and soon developed into one of the O & M’s best.

Wang finished on top in 1980, and were 4 points up at three-quarter time of the second semi-final against the Rovers. But they couldn’t withstand a withering last term from the Hawks.

Richards was the Magpies best. The following week, when they kicked 18.10, to go under by a solitary point to North Albury, in the Prelim Final, he again shone.

There would be plenty more finals ahead, he no doubt thought. But it was to be his last September experience for a few years, as the Pies plummeted down the ladder.

The next decade or so was to prove something of an on-field roller-coaster for Rob Richards.

In the midst of some superb form in 1982, which saw him being tipped for inter-league selection, he ‘did’ his knee, and missed the rest of that season – and the next – after the resultant reconstruction.

In the meantime, he moved to Maffra in his employment as an Electrician and had not long settled into the LVFL club when the knee ‘popped’ again……. resulting in another agonising spell on the sidelines.

It takes time to restore confidence and touch when you’ve been out of the game for such a lengthy period. But when Rob returned to Wangaratta he was a solid contributor – aside from a two-year absence, as assistant-coach to Brendan Allan, at Milawa.

He made 142 senior appearances with the Pies, spanning 17 seasons. In the last, he combined playing, with coaching the Thirds.

It was a handy preparation for the Greta coaching job, which he accepted in 1995. I twig his memory by running through some of the names in this star-studded side, like Paul Hogan, Brett Keir, Peter Mulrooney, Alan Millard and John Shay…

“From half-way through the season, Beechworth and us were shaping as likely Grand Final opponents. And that’s how it turned out. We led comfortably, then the Bombers fought back in the last quarter. We ended up winning by about four goals,” Rob says.

Greta dropped just one game for the season and the Chronicle reported that it was ‘…….a fitting reward for the veterans Richards and Keir, who had finally capped their fine careers with a premiership…’

Spaced 27 years apart, the rare achievement of a father and son coaching O & K flags had the statisticians scurrying for the record books.

After two years at Greta, Rob decided to take a year off. He was really enjoying the break, when Wang officials approached him, seeking a favour.

Maurie Wingate was struggling to combine the coaching job with running his sports-store. Could he possibly lend him a hand for a while ?

Sure, he said. But two rounds into the season, Wingate resigned and Rob was thrust into what was then the toughest gig in O & M football.

“After a couple of games, I realised how precarious the situation was. They’d done no recruiting; had no money. I said to the Board : ‘…Look, we’ve just got to put our heads down and grind out the year…..’ I thought we were on the same page, and we battled through.”

“I was happy to continue the next season, but a few weeks later, they called out to see me at Toil and Soil, with the news that they were bringing Gary Cameron and Marty Dillon over from South Australia to coach.”

“I could see where they were coming from, but it was really disappointing not to be kept in the loop. Still, it doesn’t do any good cracking the sads, does it ? You’ve got to move on.”

Rob coached Tigers for the next two season (winning the 1998 flag)  and had the pleasure of being in charge of AFL players of the future, in Steve Johnson and Luke Mullins.

After another year at the helm of Greta (2000), he made a playing comeback, picking up a few kicks – and having one of his most enjoyable years of football – with their Reserves side.

When his good friend, Jon Henry, assumed the senior coaching position at Wangaratta, Rob came on board as Reserves coach for two years, followed by another two as the Thirds mentor.

In recent times he has been tied up with Imperials, where his sons Nick and Joe came through the ranks. He was named the AFL North-East Junior coach of the year in 2014.

So it was only natural, when the Pies were casting around for a Thirds coach this season, that Rob agreed to step into the breach – for his third stint with the Under 18’s.

He can now anticipate what might become the most enjoyable period of his marathon sporting journey – following the progress of his kids, Nick, Joe and Olivia.

Rob1Nick, a classy small forward, has made a big impression with the Murray Bushrangers this season.

The laconic 16-year old Joe hit the headlines earlier this year, with an 11-goal haul against Corowa-Rutherglen, in one of the handful of senior appearances he made with the Magpies.

He’s one of his dad’s key weapons, as the Wangaratta Thirds strive to take out their fourth flag in five years.   Rob4Olivia has also done well in her first season with the club’s Under-16 Netball side.

One thing’s for sure ; the Richards kids won’t be facing any undue pressure from their old man, whose vast experience has taught him to read youngsters like the back of his hand.

He’s a highly-respected football person, is Robbie Richards……

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