“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

A LIFETIME LOVE AFFAIR WITH FOOTBALL

I’ve never struck anyone who loved football more than Jimmy Hallahan.

Jim was about 35 years older than me, yet when we got talking footy he spoke with all of the joy and misty-eyed enthusiasm of a Auskicker.

He was slight, with a weathered face, an impish grin and a kindly manner and he could take you on a journey back into the nineteenth century with his 1001 football anecdotes.

And he was a shrewd sounding-board for players and coaches alike, as he had an innate knowledge of the tactics of the game.

Were he still alive he would be keenly anticipating the 2015 season and eagerly following the fortunes of his great-grandson, Mitch, who made solid progress with Hawthorn last year and, to the Hawks’ dismay, was lured to the Gold Coast Suns over the summer.

Mitch is a hard-at-it midfielder. From all reports that was Jimmy’s style when he began to make his way in the game all those years ago………..

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Jim Hallahan Snr - 1904
Jim Hallahan Snr – 1904

His father was a top player, whose career lasted 28 years, most of them being spent with Rutherglen. Jim Snr was enticed to St.Kilda for a season but returned to Rutherglen after his parents sent an SOS : “Leave that nonsense alone. Come back and do some proper work.”

Jimmy’s first game with Rutherglen came in 1929 – five years after his dad hung up the boots. ‘Spot’, as he was nicknamed, had six years with the Redlegs and finished third in the first-ever Morris Medal, won by Fred Carey in 1933.

The Great Depression had really kicked in, so he headed down to Melbourne to find some work .His brother Tom, who was playing with Collingwood at this stage, had teed up a job for him as a builder’s labourer.

Jimmy thought about having a run with VFA club Brighton when he arrived in the ‘big smoke’, but Footscray secretary Clarrie Carlton said: “Why not try out with us. We’ll get you a job at H.V.McKay Harvester Works in Sunshine”.

He joined the Bulldogs and played alongside the likes of Arthur Oliver, Ambrose Palmer, Jim Toms and Norman Ware, all of them League stars. He started on a half forward flank and ended up in the centre.

He once explained how he came to part with Footscray.   “I’d played 15 or 16 games straight in the centre and was doing okay. Then I came up against Collingwood’s Marcus Whelan – who was later to win a Brownlow Medal.”

“He gave me a father of a hiding and I was dropped the next week. A fortnight later I was off their list”.

Jim headed to Brighton for five years ( and about 80 games) before Fitzroy approached him and he resumed his League career.

He was part of a very successful team at the Brunswick Street Oval over a couple of seasons, but was to suffer his greatest football disappointment.

“We were playing Collingwood in one of the last home and away games of 1944, when I got a knock on the knee and it swelled up mysteriously. None of the doctors I saw could offer a cure and I had to watch on in the finals as Fitzroy won the flag”.

Jim returned to Brighton as captain-coach after the crook knee cleared up, then guided Footscray District League club, Braybrook,to a premiership.

Times were pretty tough after the war and, to make ends meet, like a lot of ex-League players, he applied for a country coaching job.

Riverina club Coolamon took him on, offering him a job on the railways and some part-time bar work, to supplement his footy money. His wife Grace and the kids stayed behind in Melbourne.

“They were terrific people,at Coolamon “, he recalled. “Very friendly and helpful. They loved their footy. We got to the Grand Final, but in the lead-up to it I broke my arm playing in a lightning premiership. That didn’t help our chances and we narrowly lost the Grand Final.”

Jim moved the family to a property at Greta West, where they made a living from the fruit and timber on its 330 acres. He cut wood, split posts, did some outside work, and coached Greta from 1950 to 1953.

A bushfire, which ravaged the farm and cost the family most of their possessions, was not enough to deter them. Jim, who thrived on hard work, thought theirs was an idyllic existence, even if there were reasonably slim pickings off the land.

He handed over the coaching reins at Greta to Ken Bodger in 1954, and decided that this would be his swansong season after a marathon 25 years as a senior player.

And what better way would there be than to go out as a member of a premiership team.

Greta sailed along steadily and looked the goods. Unfortunately, in the semi-final against Bogong, Jim’s career ended.

“Dad always told me that, if I was in the middle of a pack, I must keep my head down. I disobeyed his instructions this time and copped an accidental blow to the head. It was a nasty injury and this was a memento of my last game”, he once told me, as he pointed to the long scar on his forehead.

So Jimmy had to sit out another Grand Final, as Greta stormed home to win the riveting clash against Chiltern, in the dying minutesof a 43-minute last quarter.

By the time Jim sold the farm and he and Grace moved to Wangaratta, their four kids had begun to spread their wings.

Not surprisingly, they all inherited a deep love of footy.

Kevin played over 200 games with Goulburn Valley club, Lemnos; Brian was a 100-gamer with the Rovers and went on to coach Wilby and Cohuna; Maureen married another star Hawk, and later Tarrawingee coach, Bob Phillips.

Michael, the youngest, began with the Rovers, played a couple of seasons at Fitzroy and carved out a huge reputation as a Ballarat League champion.

If there was a match on in town, you would more than likely see Jimmy’s old white ute parked nearby, with him leaning over the fence, hanging on every kick.

In latter years, we would travel to the footy together and I’d find an excuse to get him reminiscing about players and matches of bygone years. It was fascinating stuff. The trip home would be devoted to a summary of how the Rovers had won or lost the game.

And he’d always stress that the basics of football hadn’t changed from his boyhood days, when he’d go along to watch his dad in action at Barkly Park, Rutherglen, in the early 1900’s.

The passionate old football-nut passed away in 1994. With him went a fountain of football knowledge.

 

 

Jimmy Hallahan - 1944
Jimmy Hallahan – 1944

 

 

Mitch Hallahan - 2015
Mitch Hallahan – 2015