‘A DREAM FULFILLED FOR SON OF A GUN…….’

It was ‘Young Talent Time’ at the W.J.Findlay Oval on Saturday.

Covid restrictions forced both Wangaratta Rovers and Corowa-Rutherglen to make wholesale changes to their line-ups…..and provided a glimpse of a handful of exciting prospects to the spectators on hand.

By ‘Spectators’, I use the term loosely.

They comprised the few who were able to attend in a capacity as Volunteers……..those who jam-packed Golf-Links Lane, to catch glimpses of the game through the wire-mesh fence…….. the innovative ones who snatched long-distance vantage spots at the Showgrounds……not to mention many who took the opportunity to live-stream it from the comfort of their lounge-rooms………

They witnessed a free-wheeling display; the standard of which probably surprised……

Considering that both sides were well below full-strength…..hadn’t played for five weeks….. and were decidedly rusty, a terrific tussle ensued ……….

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Two of the best credentialed coaches outside AFL football – Daryn Cresswell and Peter German – had their charges fired up for the encounter. Both were highly animated, as they chose to guide their charges from the boundary.

The Roos unveiled two first-gamers who both acquitted themselves superbly.

Oliver Struve was elusive and showed his footy smarts by nailing three important goals. Blond Jedd Longmire, son of dual premiership player Murray, and grandson of Freddie ( an institution at the John Foord Oval ), also kicked two majors.

Longmire has shown a bit in his five appearances with the Murray Bushrangers this season, but had been eager to fulfil his destiny and pull on the Blue and White stripes in a senior game.

It was a memorable debut…….

Three lads were playing their second senior games for the Hawks: Elijah Amery, tall Toby Murray and classy forward Brayden George; whilst five others – Alessandro Belci, Paddy McNamara, Regan Gorman, Jayce McQuade and Jake Cresswell – had played seven games or less.

But my eyes were trained on the young bloke in the No.39 guernsey, who was living out a dream when he ran onto the ground in his first senior appearance with the Rovers………

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Josh O’Donohue has grown up around the Findlay Oval.

His dad, John ( ‘Hotty’) , coached, played 100-plus games, and was a champion at either end of the ground, during a Golden Era for the Hawks.

Those track-watchers in the Rovers camp, who’d seen the curly-haired kid devoting countless hours honing his skills, and joining in at training from the age of 14, had no doubt he would follow suit and forge his own career.

But they could hardly have envisaged the hurdles he’d have to jump………

The first was an increasingly sore knee, which was beginning to hinder him as an emerging fast bowler at Rovers-United-Bruck, and a Junior League footballer with Imperials.

Despite his ailments, Josh was chafing at the bit to wear the Brown and Gold at the conclusion of the 2017 WJFL season. But the Thirds side was settled. Instead, he was invited to play three games on Match Permits with Corowa-Rutherglen Thirds.

Meanwhile, his Mum, Lina, who had eagerly followed the sporting pursuits of Josh and his sister Kara, was waging a battle with cancer, to which she eventually succumbed in December, 2017.

The following March, Josh’s enquiry to the surgeon about his crook knee prompted a diagnosis of osteochondritis, where a piece of bone at the end of the femur had chipped away. The grave prognostication from the surgeon after the initial operation was that “you may not be able to play footy again”.

Despite that, he continued to exercise and rehab the knee…….When there seemed to be no obvious improvement it almost brought him to the point of despair………the prospect of a flourishing sporting career was beginning to look bleak………The frustration of looking on began to get to him…….

Another operation ensued in March 2019……Followed by two more, within a week, in August 2019.

The post-op news that he had been craving for, came when the surgeon advised him: “I don’t know what it is……But it’s not the cartilage…….I reckon you might be okay now…..”

From that point on, he hasn’t missed a beat. The O’Donohue’s White four-wheel drive was almost a fixture at the Findlay Oval, as he worked on his running patterns, fitness, and ball skills with missionary zeal.

Unfortunately, the Covid outbreak in 2020 put his long-awaited comeback on the back-burner.

He lined up for his first-ever game with the Club, in the Reserves’ opening-round clash with Lavington this season, and his consistent form throughout the season was finally rewarded.

His heart must have been pumping last Saturday when he spun onto the left boot and snagged the game’s opening goal with his first kick in O & M senior footy.

His second came from a fair way out in the third term. The good judges concurred that, overall, the young bloke’s performance was full of promise……………..

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In a game that had ebbed and flowed, it was still in the balance, with Corowa-Rutherglen holding a slender lead in the dying moments.

The ball was swept forward, and beanstalk youngster Toby Murray pulled down a strong mark, to convert from centre half forward for the Hawks, and reduce the lead to five points.

There was just 35 seconds remaining on the clock when Sam Carpenter received a free kick from the resultant centre bounce, and hurriedly booted it goalwards.

Brayden George just failed to hold the mark……the siren sounded……the Roos had hung on to win a nail-biter…….

P.S: To complete a red-letter day for the O’Donohue family, Kara made her A-Grade Netball debut against Corowa-Rutherglen.