DEDICATION TAKES VALLEY YOUNGSTER TO THE TOP ……

Old-timers around Whitfield joke that they discovered a magic elixir in the cool, crystal-clear waters of the King River, in the early 1990’s.

That’s why, the wags say, a spate of talented young footballers began to emerge, much to the excitement of the King Valley faithful, who hadn’t had much to cheer about for a decade.

At one stage the ‘Roos weren’t able to muster the numbers to field an under-age team. And when they eventually did, they were on the receiving end of some fearful hidings.

Within three years the Valley had won a Thirds premiership and bold predictions were being made about a few of the kids who wore the Blue and White with distinction in 1993.

The assessments were spot-on:

Lanky, blonde-haired Leigh Newton, was to win the O & M’s Morris Medal in 1996, and go on to play 13 AFL games, before injury cruelled his career at Melbourne…….

The long and winding journey of his younger brother, Mick, would include time with the Murray Kangaroos, a couple of stints in the O & M, and coaching roles with the Valley and Milawa…….

Bruce Hildebrand would move on to the Rovers, then to Coburg, where he was to earn selection in a VFA Under 23 team………

But probably the pick of them was a beanpole ruckman, who would, in the years to come, lock horns with the best big men in the land, and establish a reputation as a lion-hearted performer……

His name ? ………. Mark Porter.

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The Porter tale is one of extraordinary dedication.

Yarns have been passed down by his old Wangaratta High School mates, of his lunch-time weight sessions……… downing tub after tub of yoghurt …………..always toiling away on his fitness.

His first senior coach, Gary Bussell, once recalled: “I actually watched him in a Thirds Grand Final when he was 15. He looked like a gangly calf. He could hardly stand up.”

“Mark actually worked on his strength one whole summer. He pushed his chest out 10 centimetres and built his arms up like you wouldn’t believe.”

The result was, that at 17, in his first senior season, he matched wits – and physicality – with the best of the O & K’s ruckmen – and came up trumps.

It was all rather heady stuff for the Year-12 student, when he received an invite to the League’s vote-count – and shocked the crowd by taking out the Baker Medal. He had created history by becoming the youngest Medallist ever.

The anticipated calls came from Ovens and Murray clubs. He was in demand.

Wang.Rovers coach Laurie Burt headed the queue. When Mark explained that he would be shifting to Melbourne to undertake a Physical Education degree, Laurie organised for him to train at his old club, Coburg.

The suggestion, of course, was that Mark might return home each Friday night and spend the season with the reigning premiers.

But his dad, Merv, wasn’t keen on that idea.

“Laurie said : ‘That’s okay, but can you at least play a practice match with us ? ‘ I came home one week-end and had a run against Wodonga, but I’d more or less decided that I was going to stick with Coburg,” Mark said the other day.

It proved an inspired decision.

“I was a bit lucky that one of the big men got injured and another one walked out,” he says of being thrust into the role of number one ruckman.

He enjoyed a magnificent season and handled the huge step from the O & K to the VFA with ease. So much so that he was awarded the Round-Fothergill Medal as the VFA’s Rookie of the Year.

In his two years with Coburg, Mark represented the VFA against Tasmania and NSW and had become firmly established as one of the competition’s ‘big guns’.

His coach, Kevin Breen, rated him “probably the best tap ruckman going around.”

So it wasn’t surprising that Carlton’s recruiting manager Shane O’Sullivan, was on his hammer. He was eager for the big fellah to play a Reserves game towards the end of 1996 , but was unable to make contact.

When they did eventually meet up, he invited Mark to do a pre-season.    Suitably impressed, the Blues nominated him as their sole selection in the ’97 Rookie Draft; a ‘project player’, alongside established ruckmen, Justin Madden and Matthew Allen.

Four years earlier, he had guided King Valley Thirds to a flag. Now the lad with the imposing  6’7″, 105kg frame, was on the cusp of League football.

Unfortunately, a broken bone in his hand at the start of the season cost Mark six weeks and he was fully expecting to play the rest of the year in the two’s. But he had ‘come on’ so rapidly that he was the obvious replacement for regular number one ruckman Matthew Allen, who had been ‘rubbed out’ for charging Demon Leigh Newton ( yes, Mark’s old team-mate ! ).

As he became more familiar with the intricacies of the big man’s craft at the highest level, Mark continued to develop. His tap-work was lauded, but he knew he needed to have more strings to his bow.

“You’ve got to earn your stripes in the AFL. If you haven’t got all the tricks you get left behind. I had to play aggressively and tackle strongly. And then start to take a few ‘grabs’ ,” Mark said.

A knee injury in a 1999 practice match ruled him out for a season, and halted his progress for most of the following year.

But he played superbly in 2001, and it was somewhat surprising that, after 55 games with the Blues, they traded him to North Melbourne, as part of a swap for Corey McKernan.

Mark fitted nicely into the Kangaroos’ set-up, alternating in the ruck with Matthew ‘Spider’ Burton, and chalking up another 55 senior games in his three-year stay at Arden Street.

The Porter work-ethic had not just been confined to the field of football. Mark had been studying assiduously and completed a degree in Financial Services and Master of Business and was more prepared than most for life after football.

The end came, for him, at the top-level, when North delisted him at the end of  the 2004 season.

“I was still keen to keep playing the highest standard I could, so I signed with North Ballarat and spent a season back in the VFL. Then Anthony Stevens talked me into joining him at Benalla in 2006 “, Mark says.

A couple of locals who saw Mark play at Benalla, reckoned  that the slower style of footy suited him down to the ground. He dominated the big-man duels and knocked up taking marks.

He helped the Saints to their first Grand Final in years, but they were outplayed by a strong Seymour side.

” Stevo decided to retire after that, but I lined up again. Things were going okay until I broke my arm and ended up in the Wang Base Hospital after Round 10. That was the finish for me. I was needing knee surgery, so it was time to pull the pin.”

Life has remained pretty hectic for Mark Porter. Married, with three young kids, he spends a lot of his professional time, along with Brad Wira, the ex-Bulldog and Freo Docker, co-ordinating the AFL Player’s Association’s Financial Education program. It is designed to instruct young players on how to maximise their financial potential.

The pair are also advisers for the AFLPA and AFL Industry Superannuation Plan and Mark is continuing his Financial Planning studies.

The young man who was dubbed ‘an old-fashioned blue-collar ruckman’, has transitioned perfectly into the white-collar world.

It’s seemingly light years away from the idyllic surrounds of the King Valley cattle farm………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOSTALGIC VISIT FOR OLD HAWK

Once a year, Dean Harding pays a nostalgic visit to his spiritual football home – the W.J.Findlay Oval.

His old mates gather – many with a link from school, or Junior League days, or the Rovers Thirds, where he first began to reveal his exquisite talents.

And there might be the odd former drinking or punting companion from a group that has ‘stuck fat’ throughout the years.

On Saturday he’s back again – as Wodonga’s coach.

Twenty-six years after his last game in Brown and Gold, he still finds it hard not to have a bit of an emotional ‘pull’ towards the Hawks. But when his Bulldogs are in combat with them they are the mortal enemy.

A couple of blokes had a bit of a chuckle when they sneaked over to his quarter-time rev-up last year, and heard him bellowing : “……..they’re an arrogant mob, these blokes……Get into ’em’ ”

That’s all part of footy with ‘Hards’, whose long and winding journey in the game that he loves, was touched upon by the ABC’s ‘Coodabeen Champions’ last week-end.

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The Hardings were a staunch Rovers family. Dad Neville was a long-time supporter ; Joan, Dean’s mum, was a member of the Social committee, and his younger brother Terry was to play over 100 games in all three grades.

Dean came through the Tigers, the junior league team which also produced AFL players of the calibre of Paul Bryce, Luke Norman and Chris Naish, during the same era.

The good judges agreed. This slimly-built kid had the goods – he was classy, self-assured, had a bit of the larrikin about him. He’ll probably be a star, they surmised.

You come across youngsters who are just naturals. Besides also being a talented wicket-keeper/batsman, he seemed capable of turning his hand to anything. The only doubt was whether he had the application to ‘go on with the job’.

He arrived at the Rovers as a Golden Era dawned. The Hawks, with a youthful senior team, swept to the flag in 1988. Dean played in the centre in a Thirds side – comprising several future O & M stars – which won the Grand Final by 14 goals.

His progress was steady. The next year he had a few games in the Thirds, but spent it mostly in the ‘twos’. There was talent galore ; he just had to bide his time.

In 1990, after a couple of reserves games, his opportunity finally arrived. His body had matured and he looked every inch a senior player. Even then, his education, at the hands of Laurie Burt, was not complete.

“With Laurie, you had to earn your spurs. The first couple of weeks I did a fair bit of bench-warming, but then, he started to give me more time on the ground. He was good for me, Laurie. I loved his coaching”, Dean says.

The Rovers ‘lucked’ out in the finals series. A brutal Elimination Final saw them overcome Benalla, but they met their match against Yarrawonga in the first-semi. ‘Hards’, however, had provided a ray of sunshine amidst the disappointment.

Laurie Burt recalls a clever, creative player, who had the capacity to influence a game: “I saw a lot of Joe Wilson in ‘Hards’ “.

He was voted the Hawks’ Best First-Year player and shaped as a potential champion of the Club in his 18 senior games. With a steady job in the Commonwealth Bank and as a popular member of the playing group, he looked a long-term proposition.

He was in the Rovers’ usual haunt, the Pinsent Hotel, having a relaxing few ales with his mates over the summer, when Hawk identity and ‘Pinno’ barman, ‘Crusher’ Connolly, calmly delivered the news: ” ‘Hards’, apparently you’ve been drafted.”

“Be buggered !”, was the reply.

Indeed, it was true. The downtrodden Fitzroy had chosen him with their pick number 78. Essendon plumped for a kid from Canberra, James Hird, with pick 79.

‘Hards’ couldn’t wait to get down to Melbourne and experience the blue-chip facilities and rarified atmosphere that, he imagined, prevailed at every AFL club.

Instead, the Lions shared their training base at the old Brunswick Street Oval with frisbee-throwing adults, yuppie dog-walkers and kids playing around the boundary.

But he fitted in beautifully to a club which was scant on resources, and huge in spirit. In his first season, 1991, playing on a wing or up forward, he made 12 senior appearances.

Undoubtedly the highlight was the final round, at Princes Park, when Fitzroy hosted West Coast, who were sitting 4 games clear on top of the ladder. The Lions, entrenched on the bottom, had won just three games for the season.

The match was proceeding according to the script, as the Eagles coasted to a 26-point half-time lead ; their hapless rivals having been kept to a solitary goal.

It was big-hearted Matty Rendell’s final game for Fitzroy, and in the third quarter his team-mates found something, to boot 6.5 to three points in the third quarter, and lead by 12 points at lemon-time.

‘Hards’ snared one of those goals, but, to the accompaniment of raucous cheering from the delerious, but sparse crowd, he kicked three more in a pulsating final term, as the Lions held on to win a true boilover by 10 points.

Dean was plagued by hamstring and thigh injuries over the next two seasons. He managed just two games in 1992 and five in ’93 and sensed that his cards were already marked – ‘injury-prone’.

He toyed with offers from both Port and South Adelaide. The Rovers were more than eager to get him back home, but he finally decided on a move to Wodonga.

“Two of my good mates, Robbie Hickmott and Dean Stone had joined Wodonga and the club made me an offer with work and footy that was pretty hard to refuse”, he says.

Apart from one season, when he was enticed to coach Rutherglen, he has been at Martin Park ever since.

After 80 games, again interrupted by injury, but highlighted by a couple of Grand Final appearances and three inter-league jumpers, he has served the Bulldogs on the football-front for more than two decades.

His first coaching stint was with the Under 18’s, whilst he was still playing. He has been a selector, assistant-coach and ‘general dogsbody’ around the club.

‘Hards’ was helping in the gruelling search for a coach in late-2014 when somebody suggested : “What about you ? ”

“So here I am. It’s been hard work, but really enjoyable. I love being involved with the young fellas”.

He runs his own Financial Planning business and, combined with family and footy, life is pretty hectic. But it’s hard to imagine the laid-back ‘Hards’ letting it get him down.

As he wanders through the gates of the Findlay Oval on Saturday and sees some familiar faces – many of them perched exactly where they were when he was just a fledgling Hawk – he’ll probably cast his mind back to those days of yore……….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE KING OF COBURG WHO CONQUERED THE BUSH


You’d be hard-pressed to find a more fervent football disciple than Laurie Burt.

He posesses a boyish enthusiasm for the game. It came to the fore last Saturday, when his old side, the Hawks, clinched the unlikeliest of victories.

I’ve seen him entranced by games at all levels. Even when he sights two little fellahs fondling the Sherrin, you can see his brain ticking over and dreaming of their potential.

If it was my task to appoint a Football Ambassador, Laurie would be my man…….
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His attitude to footy now is no different to that of the squat, dumpy 9 year-old kid who turned up to play with St. Andrews Under 13’s in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

Ron Taylor, who coached him at junior and senior level, saw players of the calibre of dual Brownlow Medallist Keith Greig and champion goalkicker Geoff Blethyn go through the club, but rates Laurie the most dedicated he has seen.

He was determined to extract the best of his ability and headed to Coburg, where he was soon to make his mark, despite his unlikely stature.

Channel 10’s live Sunday afternoon coverage of matches during the ’70’s and ’80’s drew a cult following to VFA football and Laurie was one of its biggest personalities.

Harold Martin, who played with and against Burt in this era, gave this summation of the Coburg on-baller :

“He looked more like a hairy Sumo wrestler than a footballer, but boy, could he play ! He was tough at the ball, skilful and had no fear. He was always at the bottom of the packs, taking courageous marks by backing into packs or standing his ground.”

“The umpires loved him, everybody loved him. He was undoubtedly one of the top three VFA players in that era. He was the King of Coburg.”

Laurie played 157 games with the Lions, was Best and Fairest in 1978, ’79 and ’81, captain for three years, runner-up in the VFA’s 1978 J.J.Liston Trophy and a regular and dependable VFA representative.

His only taste of premiership glory came in 1979, when Coburg broke through to win their first Division One flag in 51 years.

The only time that his unflinching loyalty to Coburg had deviated was in his early days, when he was invited to do a pre-season at Essendon. He lasted a few weeks at Windy Hill before returning home.

But by the end of 1983 his beloved club had slipped badly on and off the field and there were rumours of discontent in the camp.

As luck would have it, there was an approach afoot from the Rovers. Let me explain how it crystallised.

The incumbent coach, John Welch, had indicated that if the club could find a replacement, it would be in  their best interests to have a change.

Akin to the Hawks’ present scenario in their hunt for a messiah, they searched high and low. Among the many possibilities who were fanned was a dogged Richmond back-pocket player, Michael Malthouse.

But after Mick had expressed some interest, the news came through that he had accepted the job at Footscray.

You’ll do anything for a lead when you reach a dead-end – like contacting prominent VFA media identity Mark Fiddian out of the blue and quizzing him about any likely coaching prospects.

“Well, there are two standouts”, he said. “Graeme ‘Swooper’ Anderson from Port Melbourne is a good player and has plenty of experience. But there’s a fellow at Coburg called Laurie Burt who would make a sensational coach. I reckon he might be receptive to an approach “.

A bit of detective-work was done and the response from all who were asked was the same: ‘Lovely bloke, top footballer, fine clubman.’

Laurie rejected the coaching offer, but warmed to the idea of joining the Hawks as a player, which he did in 1984.

The stern judges who congregated at the bar-end of the Hogan Stand adopted him immediately. They loved his toughness, the way he burrowed in after the ball.

This was no ‘blow-in’ coming up for an easy kick and a quick quid. And he wanted to be involved in everything that was happening within the club.

He was Best & Fairest in 1985, represented the League and was a great support to Merv Holmes, who was steering the Rovers through two difficult, but improving years.

So, when the legendary ‘Farmer’ decided to retire, his successor was a no-brainer – it had to be Burt.

Laurie and his wife Cheryl decided to give it a go and moved to Wangaratta to live in 1987. He accepted a transfer in the Education Department to Barnawartha Primary School and adapted perfectly to life in the bush.

He loved the feel of the town and enjoyed the fact that the locals were so passionate about the footy club. It was different to anything he’d experienced in the city.

All of the Rovers’ champions of the ’70’s (except Mark Booth) had, by now, moved on and there were plenty of spots to fill.

But there was a bevy of young, emerging talent around the club and a couple of experienced players – Maryborough school-teacher Michael Caruso and North Melbourne reject John O’Donoghue – landed on their doorstep.

And it was a big help when classy Robert Walker was lured back from the Kangaroos.

The young, group engendered a good spirit and responded to their inspirational coach.
In his first eight years they clinched four flags and at one stage chalked up 36 wins in succession. It was one of the most dominant periods in O & M history.

Walker spoke of Burt years later: ” Laurie was just what we needed; the right bloke at the right time. He was fabulous for our club and the whole town.”

“He was always reinforcing the team aspects – the guys who were injured or others who had missed out, the supporters who’d backed us and the whole community that was behind us.”

“We weren’t playing just for us, he’d say, but for them as well. The flags weren’t just ours, they belonged to the whole town.”

When Albury broke the Rovers’ sequence of 36 wins early in 1985, a new challenger to their throne had emerged. Indeed, the Tigers did become the pace-setters from that point on, but the Hawks fought ferociously to hang onto that mantle.

Laurie’s coaching reign had spanned a club-record 11 years when he decided not to seek re-appointment at the end of the 1997 season.

He had coached in 230 games for a remarkable success rate of 74.3 which saw the Hawks only miss the finals twice. He had played 152 games and had influenced the lives of a couple of hundred young men who played under him and absorbed his sage football advice.

The gongs that had come his way in a stellar career included induction to the Coburg, Wangaratta Rovers and Ovens and Murray Halls of Fame and membership of Coburg’s Team of the Century.

In the ensuing years Laurie has undertaken a number of roles on football’s periphery and thrived on the involvement.

This year he collected another sporting trophy – a share of Wangaratta Table Tennis Association’s B-Grade doubles title. He was overshadowed by his son Ashley, who took out the A-Grade championship.

I don’t know what it’s like facing him on the other side of the net, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been half as daunting as having him bearing down on you on the football field.

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THINGS ARE NEVER AS BAD AS YOU THINK……

” …..Stay cool. If things look bad, they’ll get better. It’s

never as good or as bad as you think it is…………….”

 

It’s late August 1987.   Eight years have elapsed since the Rovers last won a premiership. They have again missed the finals and it appears that they are on the road to nowhere.

In a fit of melancholy I jot down my thoughts on the Club’s predicament :………….

“The status of the Wangaratta Rovers as the O & M’s super-power is now just another page in history. It was obvious that the era which saw the Hawks appear in 10 out of 11 Grand Finals, would not continue unabated.

“The club had become blasé about its success. The warnings that a more active approach to recruiting was required, were not taken seriously. After all,  the players had bobbed up before. They would do so again,  wouldn’t they ?

“It is a tribute to the players and coaches of the early ’80’s that the Rovers have remained competitive on the field, despite the apathy and diminished enthusiasm that threatens to erode the edifice of this great Club.

“From the post-Maroney era to the present, it has been saddening to see chips appearing. A slackening of discipline here, a lack of manpower there ; the loss of good, strong people, with no-one willing to step into the breach.

The Club has had three vacancies on its Board for most of the year. The Treasurer’s post has been unfulfilled since April. The Past Player’s Association folded during the season. Social functions have been a disaster.

“The Hawks of ’87 have operated on only a couple of cylinders. Those close to the action say it is fast approaching a crisis The pleas for help to former players and disciples who enjoyed the halcyon days, have seemingly fallen on deaf ears.

“The Rovers have some good things going for them. The young crop of players are a tight-knit bunch and there is a loads of potential in the Thirds. We have an excellent coach and good back-up on the football side of things.

“But are the Hawks losing their soul ? Can we afford to stagger along in the present manner, before completely losing our way ?…………..”

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March 1988:   The loss of team lynchpin Peter Tossol to his hometown club Thornton, is expected to be a telling blow to the Hawks.

But they are buoyed by the return of young guns Robbie Walker and Mark Frawley from North Melbourne and the sublimely-talented Nick Goodear from Carlton.

And, in a recruiting coup, John O’Donoghue, who had been cut from the Kangaroos’ list, is snapped up. Not a lot is known of the likely-looking, red-haired centre half back who is soon dubbed ‘Hotty’, but the mail is that ‘the boy can play’.

Mark Booth and Laurie Burt are the only players with more than 60 games of experience, but Burt says in an interview: “I see that as a plus. I’ve got all the faith in the world in the players. They’re learning all the time ”

But still, there are ‘Doubting Thomas’s’. I recall strolling past as the coach gathered the group around him at training : “Fellahs, you’re capable of winning a premiership”. And thinking to myself, ‘Gee,Laurie, you’re a con-man, we’re light years away from it’.

April 1988: after a good win against Wangaratta in the season-opener, confidence is sky high, but Wodonga then tear the Hawks to shreds at the Findlay Oval.

The distaste of the 67-point defeat is magnified when Rob Walker crashes into the rockery around the boundary fence and is diagnosed with a broken wrist. He misses 7 weeks.

June 1988: The Hawks have improved spectacularly as the season progresses. Seven wins in eight matches proves that they’re the real deal, as they approach the return match against Wodonga at Martin Park with plenty of confidence.

It’s one of the games of the year.

The Rovers trail by 55 points at one stage in the third quarter, but grab the lead with 7 minutes remaining, courtesy of a Peter Harvey goal. A minute later, Harvey goals again and the Dogs look shot. But they retaliate with successive goals to clinch a two-point victory.

Although sorry to lose, the Hawks are consoled by the fact that they can match it with the best.

Late August 1988: The Rovers have strung together another six straight wins to be comfortably placed at the top of the ladder.

But they strike a pot-hole in the final home-and -away round at Yarrawonga. They are pumped by a fired-up Pigeon line-up to the tune of 58 points. Many players are down and veteran on-baller Mark Booth is reported – and subsequently suspended for two weeks for striking.

With such a young line-up it is felt that Booth’s absence would be sorely felt, as he has the toughness so crucial in the pressure-cooker of finals.

No doubt the recruit of the year is 21 year-old O’Donoghue, who has become a cult hero to Rovers fans. They thrill to his long runs from defence, countless attacking thrusts and the occasional ‘long bomb’ goal.

He’s a hot tip for the Morris Medal, but alas, polls in only two games. Glamour centre half forward Rob Walker finishes equal third despite missing many matches and Booth polls 12 votes to finish fifth.

September 3rd 1988: The Hawks take the first step towards premiership glory when they lead all day to down Lavington in the second semi-final. Five goals in the first 18 minutes is enough to snuff out the Blues’ challenge, as they coast home by 27 points.

So the excitement of reaching another Grand Final is tempered by the disappointment that Booth, the war-horse and last remaining hero of the 70’s would be watching on.

September 18th 1988: The Hawks are labelled ‘Burt’s Babes’, and with an average age of 21, have captured the imagination of the football public. They square-off against Lavington for the fourth time this season and it’s billed as the contest of the contrasts – experience versus youth.

Weathering the initial storm, the Rovers keep the Blues in their sights all day and run over them in the last half.

As a Grand Final it has everything – pressure tackling, high-marking, precise disposal and an all-in dust-up.

But when it comes to showing the way to attack the footy there is none better than Laurie Burt. In the finest moment of what was to be a career of glittering highlights with the Hawks, he cops two heavy knocks and still finishes with more possessions than any other player.

The brilliant Walker is named best afield, as the Hawks, with 13 players 21 or under and nine still in their teens, go on to win by 26 points.

The Rovers Thirds had belted Corowa-Rutherglen earlier in the day, to win the flag by 80 points.

Burt rises to speak to a packed room full of delirious players and fans. “Every one of you has contributed to this. We’re a strong club now. We’ll be even stronger in the future”.

Footnote:  The Hawks go on to contest the next eight finals series and take out flags in 1991, ’93 and ’94.

Indeed, things are never as bad as you think …………

 

 

 

 

 

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THE COP WHO STAYED

Here he comes, busily hobbling along, with that recognisable gait. Reminds you of an old rodeo rider. His knees are stuffed…..one of the legacies of a legendary footy career.

You notice that everybody says g’day to him. He has a lived-in face and ready smile. In days gone by he would launch into that wholehearted, throaty laugh and unveil a couple of missing teeth. He would once only insert the ‘falsies’ on special occasions, but nowadays they’re a permanent fixture.

He’s probably the biggest personality in the Club, is Andrew Scott. The young players know him because he’s always around the place doing something. Those of an older generation revere him for the way he could turn a game of football on its head and for the effort that he’s continued to put in since hanging up his boots 30-odd years ago.

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Scotty is a Sorrento boy, born and bred. He was somewhat of a childhood prodigy at the Mornington Peninsula club and in 1969 played a key role in their senior premiership team.

After winning the ‘Sharks’ Best & Fairest in 1971 he was invited to Hawthorn and became only the second Sorrento player to break into VFL senior ranks when he made his debut against St.Kilda in Round 11, 1972.

It was the era of zoning in the VFL and Hawthorn were lucky enough to have the plum Mornington area, from which they plucked stars of the calibre of Leigh and Kelvin Matthews, Michael Moncrieff, Peter Knights, Kelvin Moore and Alan Martello.

Hawthorn were the reigning premiers and were continuing to mould a line-up which would remain at, or near, the top throughout the seventies. Scotty felt privileged to be among such hallowed company and grateful for the six senior games he played in 1972 and ’73.

“I’d have liked to stay longer, but I wasn’t good enough”, he replies when people ask him about his brief sojourn at Glenferrie Oval.

He returned to Sorrento for a season, then, for a bit of a change in lifestyle, decided to head to the bush in his employment as a policeman.

It would, he thought, be a good idea to get away for a couple of years to broaden his horizons.

He put in for a transfer to Wodonga, but was beaten for the position. Wangaratta was his second choice and, soon after finding out he was successful he was bombarded by the Magpies and Rovers, both desperate to convince him to sign.

The Hawks won out and have always regarded the Scott signing as one of their greatest recruiting coups.

Within 12 months he had a Morris Medal draped around his neck and a premiership to his name. And he had become an immense favourite with Rovers fans, who loved this bloke with the knockabout nature.

He was a natural ruck-rover, but had been at the club only a month, when Rovers coach Neville Hogan swung him to centre half forward, as cover for the injured Darrell Smith. There he stayed for a couple of years.

Old-timers likened him to the great Royce Hart, in the way he would float across the pack to take courageous, and spectacular, marks. He played a big man’s game in the most difficult of all positions on the ground, despite being a slender 6’1″.

The Rovers played in Grand Finals in each of his first six years at the Club, winning four of them.  The major hiccup came in 1976, when Wangaratta ran over the Hawks, an occasion which some of his Magpie matesstill hark back to.

“It was with particular satisfaction that we did a job on them the following season”, he recalled in a nostalgic flashback to the days of yore .

“But the one that really stood out for all of us was knocking off Benalla, the virtually unbackable favourites, in 1978. They’d only lost once all year, to us, early in the season. It was all over by half-time. We really came out revved up.”

Benalla’s coach on that fateful day was Billy Sammon, a fellow O &M Hall of Famer, who has always waxed lyrical about Scotty, the footballer.

Sammon coached the O &M to a 56-point victory against the VFA in 1975, as Scotty turned in a terrific display at centre half forward. From then on he was an automatic choice in inter-league sides and a particular favourite of Billy.

Neville Hogan was concerned that his star was becoming worn down by continually giving away weight and height to opponents in the key position. He swung him onto the ball, with an occasional foray up forward.

Scotty didn’t miss a beat. He won the Rovers B & F in 1977 and ’80, finished runner-up in the Morris Medal in 1978 and was third on two other occasions.

And there were the 248 goals that he kicked in his 181 games with the Hawks, including a ‘day-out’ when he and Neville Pollard each booted 10 against Lavington.

Additionally, what value do you place on a fellow who is the life of the show and vital to the cameraderie of the playing group. Priceless, I’d say.

Of the memories that flood back, I recall the famous No.6, delivering a right jab, which travelled just inches, yet changed the complexion of a semi -final against North Albury in 1982.

The victim was champion Hopper John Smith, who had been cutting the Rovers to pieces. The two old warriors met in mid-field, both with similar intentions. Scotty got in first….Smith’s influence waned….the Hawks ran out winners by 16 points.

He retired in 1985, but continued his unstinting involvement.   The myriad of official roles he has been saddled with include ……Assistant-Coach, Chairman of Selectors, Board Member, Past Players President……

He was enlisted by coach Laurie Burt to test the suspect Mark Frawley shoulder in the lead-up to the 1988 Grand Final. As the old bull, who hadn’t seen any on-field action for three years, squared-up against the stripling in front of the Hogan Stand after training, a few onlookers watched the action.

He showed his famed aggressive intent in roaring in to bump Frawley a few times but came off second-best. The harder he tried the further he bounced off and the more distressed he was becoming. Finally, he nodded to Burt: “I think he’s right “.

Scotty is most comfortable soldiering away behind the scenes. His imprint is on all of the building projects that have been undertaken at the Findlay Oval over the last couple of decades. But two of which he’s been particularly proud have been the construction of the mezzanine floor in the foyer and the recent completion of the luxurious Balcony, the O & M’s best viewing spot.

He made a huge decision in the nineties, to ditch the police uniform for ‘tradie’s’ overalls, as Wangaratta’s oldest plumbing apprentice. He then went on to run his own business and become a TAFE plumbing teacher. Just another couple of strings to the bow of the charismatic all-rounder.

There is no more passionate, nor a greater defender of the Hawks than Andrew Scott.

He’s done a fair job for a blow-in !

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Scotty (right), with fellow Hawk Morris Medallists, Bob Rose, mNeville Hogan & Robbie  Walker.
Scotty (right), with fellow Hawk Morris Medallists, Bob Rose, mNeville Hogan & Robbie Walker.