“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

THE BORN LEADER…..

Mac Holten was 26 when he decided to abandon the security of life in Melbourne as an insurance clerk, League footballer and District cricketer.

The newly-married Collingwood forward elected to pursue a career as a football coach, and mulled over 5 ‘plum’ jobs that he had been offered.

He chose Wangaratta and, with wife Shirley, embarked on an adventure that was to prove amazingly successful and was to change the face of sport in the town……….

It was early 1949 when he met Wangaratta Football Club President Norm McGuffie at a pre-arranged destination in the city. McGuffie, who told him he’d be wearing a red flower in the lapel of his suit coat, must have been pretty convincing, as Holten accepted the job straight away….
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Mac Holten had spent his school days at Scotch College and was regarded as no more than ‘mediocre’ in his school sporting pursuits. When war intervened he enlisted in the Air Force and became one of the nation’s finest pilots, attaining the ranking of Flight Lieutenant.

He always claimed that he was lucky to break into League football when it was at a low ebb during the war, but he proved a more than capable forward in 82 games with Collingwood, over an interrupted eight-year period.

It was towards the end of his career with the Mighty Magpies that Mac outwardly showed the first signs of being a football ‘thinker’. He and two other players, Lou Richards and Jack Burns, decided to convene a player’s meeting to discuss the team’s worrying habit of fading-out in important games.

Legendary coach Jock McHale caught wind of this and bailed them up: “What are you ? Three Commos or something ? ” The meeting never took place and Holten probably felt that he was on shaky ground from then on.

There were no such ructions in six seasons with Melbourne Cricket Club. A stylish batsman with a sound technique and excellent leadership qualities, he had once figured in a 280-run opening partnership and had risen to become a selector and vice-captain of the famous old Club.
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Mac was fascinated by the tactics of sport and was eager to put them into practice. But he also wanted to make an impact business-wise, in the town.

“We’re determined to make this our permanent home. I don’t want to be switching from club to club, ” he said. He spent a short time in a milk-bar in Murphy Street, then a year later, moved into a licensed grocery in Reid Street, in partnership with team-mate Kevin French.

He began playing cricket in the WDCA with Merriwa, and threw himself into pre-season footy training.

The Ovens and Murray League was basically a mark and kick game in the late forties, but Mac was keen to introduce Collingwood’s play-on style, with plenty of emphasis on handball.

He inherited a handy side from his predecessor Tom Tribe, but his players were subjected to tougher training than they’d ever experienced.

“We concentrated more on sprint work, whereas my old coach Jock McHale mainly focused on match practice,” he once recalled.

Was Holten just lucky to arrive at the strategic moment, when the planets were rightly-aligned for Wangaratta? Or was it his outstanding leadership that honed a talented group into becoming one of the O & M’s finest of all-time ?

If you ask any of his players, they testify that he was somewhat of a magician. Even rival Rovers players who would be more likely to impugn him, vouched that when they came under his influence in representative football or cricket, he was every bit as astute as his reputation indicated.

Mac certainly had some stars in his side. Timmy Lowe, a will-o-the-wisp rover, was to win four successive Best & Fairests and claim the 1953 Morris Medal; Norm Minns was a champion forward;  in Graeme Woods and Bill Comensoli he had strong and versatile ruckmen ; Max (Shiny) Williams was an accurate and prolific full forward and Kevin French was a bullocking big man.

But he always claimed that Lionel Wallace, a tough centre half back, was the best country footballer he came across. “He was a dairy-farmer from Greta and only trained one night a week, but played some great games for Wang. ‘Lioney’ would have been a sensation in Melbourne.” Mac said.

Holten always seemed to produce something extra on the big occasions and starred in the Magpies’ 32-point win over Wodonga in the 1949 Grand Final.

Wang finished well clear on top of the ladder in 1950 and chalked up their second straight flag. But if any proof was needed that this was, indeed, a champion side, it was their dominance throughout the 1951 season.

They lost just one match, on their way to clinching the hat-trick, as ‘Shiney’ Williams booted 8 goals to rubber-stamp an emphatic display.

At the end of the ’51 season, the ‘Pies challenged Wimmera League premiers, Ararat, for the unofficial crown of the ‘best team in Country Victoria’.

The match, played at Ararat, was heavily promoted and both teams were confident of victory. Holten recalled that he was nervous about the amount wagered on the game by supporters – a huge sum in those days, of 1,500 pounds. “I knew how much it was, because I put the cash in the safe at work”.

Wangaratta won, 15.15 to 11.7 in front of a huge crowd and could finally let their hair down after a long and successful season.

They entered the history books in 1952 by winning their fourth-straight premiership, equalling the feat of the great St. Patrick’s team of the twenties and inviting comparison with the best of all-time.

The Magpies again finished on top in 1953 but bombed out in straight sets. Holten played on for two more seasons, then coached from the sidelines in 1956.

But he detected some resentment about his non-playing coach role. He resigned, with another year still left on his contract. “I felt that I’d run my race”, he said.

His statistical record was first-rate – 154 games, for 107 wins, and a 69.8% winning ratio. He had been the Ovens & Murray representative coach in five seasons.

Bruck Textiles had approached him in 1952 to become their part-time ‘Sports Advisor’, for a stipend of £150 per year. The post involved coaching Bruck Cricket Club and conducting instructional sessions with the best young cricket talent in town.

The move brought instantaneous results, as Bruck took out the flag the next season, with Mac’s unbeaten 135 in the final being a major factor.

His first trip to Melbourne Country Week was as captain in 1951. In the ensuing years he managed to garner a diverse group of personalities into a powerful combination. He is popularly acknowledged as Wangaratta’s best-ever captain.

He seemed to be a thought ahead of the game . He set defensive fields and ‘got inside’ his bowlers’ heads, to have them executing his game plan. Of the 33 CW games he played, 30 were as captain.

“Melbourne Country Week provided me with my most enjoyable cricket moments”, he recalled. “It had everything that is good about cricket – challenge, competition, comradeship, comedy, drama, excitement and characters.”

Mac led Wangaratta’s cricketers throughout a Golden Era. They won the A-Grade title in 1954, then clinched their first – and only – Provincial crown in 1957.

He represented Country Victoria in two international matches against England. In the first, he scored a dogged 29 against Freddie Brown’s team at Euroa in 1950. Nine years later he captained the side in a long-awaited clash against Peter May’s tourists, at the Showgrounds.

In 1961, aged 37, and no longer playing regularly, Sir Robert Menzies drafted him into his Prime Minister’s XI against Frank Worrell’s great West Indies team at Manuka.

Mac’s sporting prominence led to a tilt at politics and in 1958 he had a sensational victory in the Federal elections, ousting sitting Indi member Bill Bostock. He held the seat for 7 elections and was at one time the Minister for Repatriation.

He finally lost his seat in 1982 and returned to Wangaratta, enthusiastically throwing himself into a project of coaching and developing the town’s young cricket and tennis players  for many years.

When Mac Holten passed away in 1996, he had left an indelible imprint on the local sporting landscape. He is a member of the O & M and WDCA Halls of Fame.
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