” TOO TOUGH TO DIE……”

Bob Comensoli was more than handy with his dooks.

I was barely a teen-ager, the night he retained his Riverina middle-weight title in March 1961. Fans in the packed Richardson Stand at the Wangaratta Showgrounds threw their support behind the local boy, as he went to work against Holbrook’s Basil Gason on a floodlit, makeshift centre ring.

He was too strong, too tough for the plucky Gason, just as he had been two years earlier, when he carried a broken hand through most of the fight, to take the points in an exciting eight-rounder.

Bob began boxing, principally to keep fit for football. “Donny Harmer took me aside and started sparring with me when I was just cementing my spot in the Magpies’ side,” he recalls.

“At first there was just the pair of us, then fellahs like Brian Archman, Ted Anderson, Bert Simpson, Peter Fogarty and Rossy Colosimo came on board. We used to train in the old visitors’ rooms – on the score-board side of the Showgrounds.”

There’s little doubt that he could have gone places, had he kept on with his boxing. He was unbeaten, had ‘heavy hands’, as they say, and had captured the attention of fight fans in his three years in pro ranks.

“Who knows,” Bob says. “But I didn’t want it interrupting my footy, so that was my last fight……”
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Of course, he’s a member of a famous local clan. All nine kids ( four boys and five girls) made an impact on sport, be it footy, cricket, netball or Wood-chopping. Their competitive spirit was something to die for………

His eldest brother, Bill, was approaching the end of a stellar career with Wangaratta before continuing on in the O & K. Bob was still making his way through the ranks with Junior Magpies. He confesses, though, that it wasn’t a ‘lay-down-misere’ that he’d follow in Bill’s footsteps.

“I had some good mates at the Rovers. There was no particular reason for me ending up at Wang. I just made up my mind to go over at the last minute.”

They tried him on a back flank. In a good Magpie side, he played a handful of games in his first season. He and ‘Doggie’ Rowland, later destined for St.Kilda, were the youngsters to be narrowly squeezed out of the Premiership side in 1957.

Their naming as emergencies for the Grand Final was an indication that they earmarked as  ‘players of the future’.

Bob later settled into a role as ruck-rover, sharing duties with the colorful Kevin Mack. Over the next seven years he was to became ‘Mr.Dependable’ in a side which was a regular finals campaigner.

He wasn’t over-endowed with pace, but endurance was an asset. That, and a preparedness to work hard and be a thorn in the side of the opposition.

The toughness that characterised his boxing also carried over into his footy. “I didn’t mind it in close, and I managed to perfect the old Bobby Rose ‘short jab to the solar-plexus’. That proved effective at times,” he jokes.

Wodonga, runners-up the previous season, had been a dominant force in 1961. But they fell apart in the finals. Wangaratta, to the contrary, ‘ran hot’, winning their first two finals by 41 and 52 points.

Bob Comensoli was just one of a number who tore Benalla apart in a one-sided Grand Final. The Pies were 6 goals up at quarter-time, and carried on, to take it out by 63 points. It was a crackerjack side, which managed to hit its peak come finals time.

Bob finished second in Wang’s B & F in 1964, and was playing possibly his best football. The next step in his sporting journey, he felt, was to satisfy an urge to coach.

Three clubs approached him, but he decided on Moyhu, mainly because his sister Glad, and brother-in-law Gordon Townsend – the local baker – were closely involved with the Hoppers.

“Glad was playing Netball, and was keen for Val, my wife, to have a game. Val enjoyed it; I think she won three flags while we were out there. It was a really good fit for us.”

He arrived at a time when Moyhu were starting a re-build after a highly-successful six-year run, which had included three flags and two other Grand Final appearances.

“The first thing I realised is that, sometimes, you can’t coach the way you’d like to ; you have to adapt your coaching according to the ability of the players. I certainly learnt a lot in those first couple of years,” he says.

And his form didn’t suffer. He won the O & K’s Baker Medal in 1965 and ‘67 and proved an inspirational leader, mostly playing on-ball, but plugging gaps in his middle-of-the-road side when so required.

Wang snuck him back to qualify for the finals at the conclusion of the ‘67 O & K season, and talked Bob into staying on in 1968.

But he again answered the call from a persistent Moyhu, and took over the coaching reins for another couple of years.

“I really enjoyed the challenge of coaching, particularly when the side was looking to you to provide a lift on the field. One of the things that tickled me was coaching against Bill and Jay (brothers),” Bob says.

“But my body was starting to let me down. I agreed to play on when Richie Shanley took over as coach, because he’d been a big help when I was in charge.”

The end as a player, came late in 1971, when he blew out his knee at Whorouly. He was going on 34.

Twenty-two years later, Bob began his third stint as coach of Moyhu, in a non-playing capacity.

The Hoppers’ side now included a few of his sons and nephews and was a well-balanced outfit.

They reached successive Prelim Finals, and in the first of these, I witnessed first hand, the raw emotion of a distraught coach.

North Wangaratta had proved a little too strong in the latter stages, to win by 20 points. In the rooms afterwards, the shattered Comensoli bluntly pointed out that some of the players had let themselves -and the club – down.

“Some of you,” he said,”are in the twilight of your careers, some are just starting out. You mightn’t get an opportunity to play in another Grand Final……. In a week or so, you’ll wish you’d suffered a bit more pain, to find the extra effort……….”

But there’s something about coaching. It becomes addictive.

After three years with Moyhu, Bob thought his coaching days were over…….until a desperate King Valley sought his services.

They’d won the wooden spoon in 1995, but had an impressive clump of local talent, and were hopeful of improvement.

“It didn’t start off too well,” Bob says. “ We decided to take a bus from Wang, to training each Tuesday and Thursday night. The first night we got there, only three locals turned up. I thought, what have we got ourselves in for here.”

But the Valley improved, and within three years, finished the home-and-home games on top of the ladder. “I thought we were the best side in it in 1998, but didn’t have a lot of luck in the finals, and bombed out in straight sets.”

Bob had four years at King Valley. “Terrific people, it was thoroughly enjoyable.”

So his coaching career, which had encompassed 12 years, and saw him inducted to the Ovens & King’s Hall of Fame, drew to a close. He  now  focused on his other sporting passion – training greyhounds .

He says he’s been walking dogs since the age of eight, when he used to help his dad, who was always keen on the ‘dishlickers’.

“I still love it. You have to take ‘em out at about 4am these days, to avoid those people who are walking their pet poodles and the like…..”

He’s convinced that the bad rap the greyhound industry has copped over the past two years or so, will soon blow over.

“There were a few bad eggs in the game. And they’re eradicating them.”

He’s trained hundreds of winners, on tracks as far away as Warrnambool, Traralgon, Geelong and Ballarat. He rates Deep Sweep and Tinkerman Prince as the best of them. Both won approximately 25 races.

2017 has been the ‘year from hell’ for Bob Commo. On the day he retired in March, after a near lifetime in the petroleum industry, he suffered a mini-stroke.

Three weeks later he was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer.

It’s been a battle, he says, but he’s in remission now, and believes things are on the up.

I reckon he’s too tough to die…….

MOYHU’S PILLAR OF DEFENCE……….

It’s a scenario that’s played out each winter Saturday, on ovals throughout the nation………

The game’s in the balance……… Less than a kick separates the two sides. The veteran coach, pupils bulging, veins protruding, pleads with his charges. He glances up at the whiteboard and states the obvious……..

“Fellahs, we’ve gotta keep working for one another,” he implores. “….. Look at that tackle count……….Good……..Keep up the momentum………You can see they’re tiring…….Look, we’re right in this…………Here’s our chance to prove we’re serious finals contenders …..”

It’s three quarter-time, and Moyhu are trailing by one point against the highly-fancied Goorambat.

Listening intently to the coach, Johnny Paola, is a bloke who has tuned into (and sometimes out of) a fair share of impassioned pleas, vitriolic blasts and lyrical outbursts over the years.

He’s Andrew Balfour, who happens to be playing his 400th club game in the Green and Gold guernsey……………

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It’s another typically ‘tough day at the office’ for ‘Balf’.

The contest has ebbed and flowed. The ‘Bats’ had sneaked away to a handy 14-point lead at half-time, which, in the context of this tight encounter, was substantial enough.

Their key forward, Cameron Symes, was proving more than a handful, and had, remarkably, kicked all of their seven goals at the break.

But Moyhu appear to wrest the initiative in the third term. They have an advantage in the ruck through the spring-heeled Anthony Welsh and are being served diligently in defence by under-rated Leroy Dowling.

Thanks to some creative work up forward from elusive Jeremy Wilson and Scott Atkinson, they find themselves down by the narrowest of margins at lemon-time.

Paola reminds them that they’d been in an identical situation against Greta the week before, and finished over the top of the Blues in impressive fashion. So there’s good reason to believe that they can do it again.

To my mind, the visitors appear to have run their race.  When the ‘Hoppers snag one early, then Paola kicks an inspiring team-lifter soon after,  their noisy fans are starting to ride them home.

But alas, the ‘Bats find an extra gear and the result of three or four forward thrusts is a couple of vital goals,  which again hands them the lead.

They hang on in a nail-biter, to prevail by two points and rob Andrew Balfour, the 42 year-old stalwart, of a Cinderella-like finish to his milestone game………

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Many of his old team-mates were on hand to watch ‘Balf’ in action. A few of them even reminisced about the mere 17 year-old debutant stripping alongside them, back in 1992.

He was lithe and athletic then. A player of the future, who seemed destined to be snapped up by one of the clubs ‘in town’.  As a born and bred Moyhu lad, he followed in the footsteps of his dad Stan, and uncles, John (‘Roo) and Ray Munari – promoted to the seniors, after an apprenticeship in the ‘twos’.

They settled him into defence, and it seemed to suit him to a tee.  Apart from a few stints up forward, ‘Balf’ was destined to jostle, wrestle with, and nullify the best forwards in the competition for nigh-on a quarter of a century.

And when you go through it, there’s a fair list that he’s had to contend with. Fellahs like Todd Stone, Darren Bate, Brendan Sessions, Dale Andrews, Nathan Lappin, Daniel McCullough and the like, all provided headaches in their own way.

I suggest to him that he was lucky he arrived on the scene when he did. Over the previous thirty years, Moyhu had been spectacularly unsuccessful.  A  long-overdue flag under Mark Ottrey’s coaching in 1988 had been preceded by years of drought.

Compare that to the modern, Balfour-era when they snared five premierships – all of them momentous – and have rarely missed finals action.

He played a vital part in this success, but also points to a terrific culture, which made Moyhu a great club to be around – and to stay at.

“He and ‘Jidda’ Douglas were our two key defenders during that time, and both were really consistent, tough and dependable. They were as good a combination as any going around,” says Mark Higgs, who can hardly remember ‘Balf’ playing a bad game.

“He was our captain for a few years, and led by example.”

Andrew was tempted to have a crack at O & M footy when he was working on the Border many years ago.  He played a practice game with Wodonga Raiders, but after the initial excitement of ‘spreading his wings’, headed home.

He had a couple of training runs with the Rovers later on, ‘just to see what it was like,’  but it didn’t seem right to leave the Hoppers.

He says he became more dedicated as the years wore on. After ‘doing’ his shoulder in the 2002 Grand Final, he needed a ‘reco’  which cost him eight games in 2003 . He decided then to work harder on his fitness.

There was another substantial injury in 2012, when he backed into a converging pack at Milawa,  and copped a punctured lung and a guernsey-full of broken ribs.

But they were only incidental, ‘Balf’ reckons, compared to all of the thrills – such as the premierships……

He remembers them as if they were yesterday. Like the one in 2002……

Beechworth had beaten them in the second-semi and were hot favourites to win their third straight flag. Moyhu hit them hard early, and gun forward  Darren Bate, and Mal Boyd reeled from heavy knocks.

The Bombers were rattled and the Hoppers ran away in the last half to win by 29 points.

The following year it was all over by half-time, by which time they’d established a 56-point lead over a lethargic North Wang, who had no answer to their midfield dominance.

After falling short by just 4 points against Bright in 2004, they were propelled to the flag the following year by a 10-goal haul from the evergreen Gerard Nolan. Whorouly had threatened several times, but Moyhu were able to hold them off by 10 points.

The Lions were unable to match the Hoppers when the two rivals met again, 12 months later. This time Moyhu raced away with the game in the third quarter – an assault from which Whorouly couldn’t recover.

‘Balf’ was a solid contributor in all of those wins, but his best Grand Final performance was probably saved for  a gripping clash against Tarrawingee in 2011.

There were a few heroes that day, but none stood out more than Moyhu’s number 7.

“Big-game players step up when no-one expects they can do any more,” one scribe reported.

“Andrew Balfour proved experience is hard to beat, after starring in his fifth Premiership on Saturday.”

“The Hoppers’ skipper repelled attack after attack in the enthralling two-point win against Tarrawingee, and single-handedly saved the day for his side late in the match.”

“Leading by two points after 28 minutes of the final quarter, Balfour etched his name in Ovens and King folklore, taking a courageous mark in defence after going back with the flight of the ball.”

“The mark was just one inspirational act in the highlights reel for the veteran defender, who was like a rock in defence for the Hoppers…………”

There’s little doubt that ‘Balf’ would have made his mark in O & M footy – and quite possibly been a star. But he’s more than content with the contribution that he’s made to his beloved Hoppers.

“He just enjoys the footy atmosphere, and likes being around the boys,” says one team-mate.

You can expect the old bloke to add a few more to his total of 368 senior and 32 Reserves  games before he hangs up those well-worn boots……………….

 

 

P.S:  Andrew’s five O & K flags don’t entitle him to bragging rights in the Balfour family. His wife Colleen has featured in eight premierships with the Hopper’s netball team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘HOGAN THE HERO………..’

Neville Hogan’s football accomplishments are widely-renowned. But it was a fiercely-fought squash match that, he reckons, embodied everything he loves about competitive sport.

Re-wind some 40 years ago : He’s pitted against the ‘unbeatable’ Terry Longton – rated among the best two or three players the town has seen.

They’re at it – ‘hammer and tongs’. In the fourth game Neville senses that he could be on the verge of a rare upset win . Then, gradually, the champ wrests back the initiative and, in a classic arm-wrestle, fights him off, to clinch the contest.

“I was knackered, and just slumped on the court for a minute or two. The game had drained everything out of me. Someone said “you must be disappointed” . I replied: ‘Not at all. I know I gave it everything. I just wasn’t good enough………..

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Tom and Tess Hogan and their tribe of nine kids landed in Callander Avenue, via Yerong Creek and Moyhu, in 1951.

When a young neighbor – Pat McDonald – spotted a few of the six boys having a kick, he convinced them that the Rovers were the team to follow because they were the underdogs in town.

“We all played with South Wanderers, in the Junior League, then when my older brother, Maurie, started at the Rovers I rarely missed watching a training night. I dreamed of playing with them and was mesmerised by Bob Rose and his training methods.”

He had played 50-odd games with the Wanderers when he was involved in the first of his nine footy flags, in 1960. A move to Melbourne the following year, to do his PMG technician’s training, saw him link up with Hawthorn 4ths. The only game they lost was in the opening round.

Despite the expectation that he would head to the City Oval when he returned home, Neville signed with Moyhu. “I just felt I needed a season of open-age footy under my belt before playing in the O & M,” he says.

After Moyhu had gone through unbeaten and he had won the Best & Fairest in 1962, he finally made the move to the Hawks.

In an underwhelming start for the prize recruit he was named as 19th man in the opening round. He then proceeded to win the first of his four club B & F’s.

He made an impression on Footscray’s recruiting officer Joe Ryan, who had popped up to watch him in action. But the Dogs’ were unable to pounce, as he was still tied to Hawthorn.

Another enthusiastic approach came from North Melbourne several years later, when they took over the O & M as part of their recruiting zone. ” I was in my mid-20’s and wasn’t keen on uprooting my life to play a handful of games of League footy,” he says.

His name crops up regularly, as another of those reluctant bush champs who bypassed the glamor and celebrity of the ‘big-time’. Neville has no regrets, though.

“I just loved the game and having a kick, and never felt I was too good for where I was playing. I copped my share of hidings from star players over the years, so I mightn’t have been up to it.”

Instead, he settled down to carve out a storied 15-year career with the Rovers, which was notable for his unyielding dedication towards training and match-preparation.

For those who missed seeing him in action, it’s apt to describe Neville as a 60’s version of recently-retired St.Kilda and North Melbourne star Nick Dal Santo…….. Silky skills…. unhurried…..hardly-ever caught……brilliant awareness…..and a deadly left boot which rarely failed to find its target.

And he just had the knack of finding the football. He had a huge fan in new Rovers coach Ken Boyd, who appointed him vice-captain at 19.

Later that year – 1964 – the Hawks overcame Wangaratta in a tight tussle, to win their third flag.

“It was memorable, because we were all young blokes -very close – and Boydy had us playing for him. We came back from Albury by train and a large crowd met us at the station. The celebrations lasted for weeks.”

The Rovers made it a double the following season. But one downside for Neville was that he lost his greatest supporter. His dad Tom collapsed with a heart attack, watching a match at Albury and died two days later.

He’s in no doubt that his finest personal year as a player came in 1966. By joining the immortals as a Morris Medallist, he had confirmed his status as a star of the game.

Three years later, Neville was confronted with a perplexing decision. Despite his intense loyalty to the club, he had become disillusioned with the coaching of Ian Brewer and felt that the Hawks were marking time. He considered, momentarily, the possibility of applying for other coaching jobs.

“We weren’t fit and change was definitely needed. I suggested to a couple of officials that they should chase Hawthorn’s Graeme Arthur as coach, but in the meantime he took on a coaching job at Echuca.”

“They had interviewed Richmond big man Mike Patterson, then our secretary, Ernie Payne, persuaded me to put in for it too.”

“Most of the other O & M clubs had high-profile coaches, so it was a big decision for them to appoint me.”

Any doubts about his qualifications were erased in the opening round of 1970. The Hawks belted Wangaratta by 80-odd points in front of a big crowd. Suddenly, the expectations of the fans rose and the players were right behind him.

Little did he realise it, but the Rovers were on the cusp of a ‘Golden Era’. However, it didn’t ease the pressure on the coach.photo

“Fear of failure was the thing that drove me. Even at the end of the first year, when we finished runners-up, I suggested to Jack Maroney (President) that I might give it away, as it was affecting my playing performance. The stress was the hardest part. ”

“Obviously Jack didn’t take any notice of me.”

Just as well. The Hawks won flags in 1971,’72, ’74 and ’75 and played in Grand Finals in all but one of the seven years he was in charge.

The 1974 title gave him the most satisfaction. “We’d been thrashed by Yarrawonga img_2467in the second-semi, being 9 goals down at three-quarter time. We won the Preliminary Final against North Albury, by a point, after trailing badly early.

“By quarter-time in the Grand Final we were 8 goals up. Everything just fell into place and I think we only lost in one position on the ground. It was a dream game,” he recalls. In a tactical masterstroke, Neville played as a ruck-rover and kicked 6 goals , whilst his replacement in the centre, Tony Hannan, picked up 34 kicks.

“I decided to step down from coaching in 1977 so I could concentrate on playing. But I dislocated an elbow, which cost me 6 weeks. Then a knee in the backside turned into a ‘hammy’ and my season was over.”

Neville was 33 and had played 246 games when he reluctantly retired. He was also coaching the Thirds at the time and feels that may have affected his fitness.

He was still in demand as a coach, though. Myrtleford persisted in their approaches. “I told them they needed a playing-coach, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he says.

He coached the Saints for four years, then the Magpies came calling. “They had an ordinary list and I told them the same thing, that they needed an on-field leader. Again, they kept asking. I took their job on for two years.”

Neville’s standing as an O & M Legend and revered football figure probably casts his other sporting qualifications into the background.

Wangaratta has produced few better all-rounders. He excelled in squash and table-tennis, played inter-town basketball and has shaved his golf handicap down as low as 6 at different stages.

He also enjoyed a fruitful 30-year cricket career, which included eight WDCA premierships with United and a handful with Social Association clubs Greta, Postal img_2465and Tarrawingee.

As a well-organised, enterprising, right-hand batsman and brilliant fieldsman, his 11 WDCA centuries are testament to an outstanding performer. His tactical nous and leadership also saw him captain Wangaratta at both Melbourne and Bendigo Country Weeks.

Neville still fervently loves sport – and yarning about it. Half a century on, he can pluck out an obscure moment that swung a game of football…. and describe, in intricate detail, the playing-style of a veteran whose star has long-ago faded……….or even debate a controversial decision that halted a match-saving innings……

Sport has been his life……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KEV MAHONEY BATTLES ON……

Kevin Mahoney’s as solid as the old eucalyptus trees that grew strong, and dominated the landscape at ‘Moyhu Park’, the property his parents share-farmed when he was a lad.

Most people in Wangaratta would probably have heard of Kev. He’s devoted years of unflinching service to a number of organisations, principally because he has enjoyed making a difference and being involved.

His sporting career followed a similar trajectory………..he was the the heart and soul of the clubs he served – you’d sum him up as a ‘trusty footsoldier’.

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Kevin was a Moyhu boy. Only the long daily trips on the bus, to Wangaratta’s Brigidine Convent School, dragged him away.

” I didn’t enjoy school all that much. But one bonus  from attending the ‘Convent’ was that I palled up with Barb ( his wife-to-be), who was boarding there,” he says.

But he was a lot more comfortable cutting and carting grass hay, shearing, fencing, and milking cows at Moyhu Park.

He had a brush with death at the age of 16, when a hayshed that he and a member of the property-owner’s family were working on, tumbled over and fell on top of them.

“Unfortunately, my workmate copped the brunt of it and was killed. I was the lucky one to escape serious injury.”

The youngster used to ride his bike down to watch footy training at Moyhu. One of the old stars of the forties, Jimmy Corker, who was coaching, convinced Kev that, even though it was a tad premature, he was going to throw him into the struggling side anyway – on a wing.

He was 12 when he played his first senior game. Five years later, he settled in at full back……and made the goal-mouth his home for the next 16 years.

For a fair period, Kev was rated the O & K’s premier full back. A prodigious drop kick, he didn’t mind a clearing dash out of defence, and became a past-master at fisting the ball away from taller, stronger spearheads.

After all, he was only 5’10” and weighed just 10 stone 7lb. His physique would probably have taken Wangaratta coach Mac Holten by surprise when he took the trip out to recruit the highly-rated backman.

He was still attending school at the time and knocked back the approach, but wonders what might have been had he tried his luck ‘in town’.

For a key defender who had been under siege for years, with Moyhu lurking in the doldrums, he appreciated an upturn in fortunes, as they began to assemble a classy line-up in the late fifties.

They reached successive finals series, then stormed to their first flag in 12 years in 1959, under the coaching of Arthur Smith.

The boys in Green and Gold won a titanic battle in the mud. Maxy Corker’s goal in time-on wrested the lead from a dogged Chiltern. When he booted another shortly after and Brian ‘Woofer’ Martin followed with the sealer on the siren, Moyhu had triumphed by 15 points.

Kevin Mahoney was near-impassable that day. What gave the win extra significance in his eyes, was that he shared it with his brother Les, a stylish left-foot winger.

But of the three flags Kev played in – 1959, ’60 and ’62 – he rates the ’62 unbeaten side the best he’s played in – and among the greatest he saw in O & K footy.

Unfortunately, after a run of eight straight finals appearances, Moyhu’s golden era was over and they spent several years back among the League’s cellar-dwellers.

Kevin’s form remained pretty consistent. He lost a little bit of pace, but captained the side in his final two seasons, under the coaching of his old back-pocket sidekick, Richie Shanley.

He played his 350th – and last – O & K game in 1973.img_2422

By then his son John was stepping up into the Junior League , so Kev was considered the natural choice to take over as coach of Combined Churches.

What was originally a short-term appointment lasted for 11 years, and a number of O & M stars passed through his hands. He appreciated as much as anyone, what a critical role junior coaches played in the development of local talent.

And he also came to realise how light-on the League was for administrators, when they began casting around for a replacement President in 1981. So he took that on too, and gave it his all for 10 years.

In recognition of his services to the WJFL, the Under 12 Best and Fairest award is called the ‘Kevin Mahoney Medal’. The scoreboard at Wareena Park also bears his name.

Besides footy, Tennis was Kev’s other sporting infatuation when he was growing up. He first started belting a ball around the old Greta courts, opposite the cemetery, when he was 8 and didn’t stop until he was nudging 50.img_2420

Barb was also to become one of Wang’s leading players and most summer week-ends, after they were married in 1960, were spent on the grass courts of Merriwa Park.

Their kids – Carmel, John and Heather – came through the ranks too, and were competitive players. The contribution of the Mahoneys to the off-court functioning of the Tennis Club was immense.

Kev had five years as President and Barb was a long-term member of the Ladies Committee. They ran the Saturday morning junior competition for many years and worked tirelessly to make the Club’s Australia Day week-end tournament a signature event.

They were enticed by an old friend, Freddie Ritchens, to help run the new-fangled game of Bingo when it kicked off in Wangaratta in 1977. Many cynics mused that it would pass, like any other fad, but St.Pat’s Bingo on Thursday nights became the biggest game in town.

After Fred’s passing, the Mahoneys accepted the responsibility for running an organisation which required a huge amount of time, clerical work and loads of passion. When it closed down after 36 years, they had helped to raise in excess of 3 million dollars.

Kevin’s working career came to a close in 1997. He had given yeoman service to the Oxley Shire for just on 38 years since coming off the farm, and was looking forward to putting his feet up.

But two years later he underwent a major operation, which involved six Heart-Bypasses. To put it bluntly, it knocked the stuffing out of him. Eventually he recovered, to take up the more sedate sporting pastime of bowls, but he had to tread warily.img_2419

In 2014 he was rewarded for his multiple years of work behind-the-scenes when he was announced as Wangaratta’s Citizen of the Year.   He was taken aback, but stated :”I’ll still be the first to put my hand up if it means helping a community cause.”…………….

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I’m browsing through some old footy cuttings and come across an article to coincide with his 300th game. Someone put the question to him : ” How do you come up week after week, year after year, taking knock after knock ?”

“No worries,” he replied. “If you can take the hits and disappointments on the football field, you can certainly take them in life.”

Well, he copped a hell of a knock recently, when he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. He’d been feeling out of sorts for a while, but when the doc called him in to give his diagnosis, it hit him like a hammer, fair between the eyes.

Kev acknowledges that  the ‘beast’, as Neale Daniher calls it,  will probably get him, but, in the meantime, he’s determined to enjoy life as best he can…………..

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THE COACHING CAPER……..

Our girls were excited last week. Word came through that we had a new footy coach in the family.

Their mother was a touch more matter-of-fact about the announcement : “Poor Donna ! ”

Moira speaks with the voice of experience on this subject, having spent the first two years of our married life as a coach’s wife.

She got an inkling of what she was in for, she tells the kids , when she discovered two books in our honeymoon luggage – ‘Fingleton on Cricket’ and ‘The Australian National Football League Coaching Manual’.

Moi was amused at first, but soon became accustomed, to my Saturday morning ritual – steak and eggs for ‘brunch’, then a lengthy sit on the ‘throne’ whilst rehearsing the pre-game speech and ‘visualising’ the day ahead.

It must have been uncomfortable for her, being five months pregnant, to have to perch on the console of the red Monaro, so that we could accomodate the car-load of footballers we were transporting to each match. There was no doubt that she was prepared to make sacrifices for the cause.

Just as she did on those freezing mid-winter nights as she waited in the car, outside the Moyhu pub. I’d be inside licking my wounds and consoling the players after yet another loss. The fact that Moi now had the company of our first-born, Simone, only accentuated the inconvenience.

She endured late-night interruptions, like the Friday night ‘phone call from the dad of one of our few star players. The young bloke had ‘pranged’ his  car, been locked up and was a scratching from tomorrow’s game.

And the call she took from an irate wife, who gave her a severe dressing-down. Her husband had just arrived home from the trip-away in less than pristine condition and she laid the blame squarely at the feet of the coach ( who was by now dead-asleep)…………..

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Coaching has become deeply analytical in the 40 or so years since those ‘halcyon’ days.

Now it’s about structure, tempo, the press, inside-50’s, mids, talls, stoppages, the spread, squeeze, the corridor, man-on-man and shut-down players………

But is there still room for the Hot Gospeller – the fellow who jumps onto a bench and, with his team staring defeat in the face, launches into a tirade of vitriol, so intense that it could peel paint off the walls ?

Sometimes it works; often the blunt, honest message, delivered in plain-speak, is more effective.

I saw it on Saturday, as the Tarrawingee players trudged into the rooms at half-time, after being out-muscled by Bonnie Doon. They were obviously wondering how the hell they could get back into the contest.

They had no sooner sat down and grabbed a drink when their coach, Trevor Edwards got to work, letting them know that they’d played over-cautiously and were probably worrying too much about their own game.

“Take a risk or two; don’t just bang the ball onto your boot; work hard for your team-mate.”trev

Simple words…..but the match changed. They did start to look out for each other, regained control and went on to win a thriller. It helped, of course, that the coach, who had been sterling in defence, found himself deep enough in attack a couple of times, to kick two of their six goals.

At Corowa on Sunday, Yarrawonga had dominated a dour battle for three quarters. Wodonga Raiders coach Darryn Cresswell pulled his group in tightly at lemon-time and implored them to attack.

He isolated his ‘gun’ forward Jydon Neagle close to goal – and the game came to life. The highly-talented Neagle, who had been well-restrained, booted two quick goals and looked ever-alert.

They had a chance to draw level in the dying seconds, when a flying Neagle shot was touched on the line. Alas, they fell 5 points short, but the coach had certainly pulled the right rein…………..

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Despite my spectacular failure, I’ve long been entranced by the magic of the coach’s message. It goes as far back as 1956, when I squeezed into the dressing-rooms under the old Grandstand at Benalla, to hear Bobby Rose’s first pre-match address.

There was a huge buzz in the Rovers camp and the antiquated rooms were chock-a-bloc. As Mr.Football began to speak, you could detect the look of wonderment on the faces of the players. The mere presence of possibly the biggest name in the game, revving up the previously downtrodden Hawks,  was enough to raise the excitement to high-octane levels.

The eloquence of his speech was, in most supporters’ minds, worth the cost of the admittance money. Unfortunately, he was out injured that day, but made his much-awaited debut in Brown and Gold at the Cricket Ground the following week.

laurieAnother persuasive Rovers coach, Laurie Burt, was never quite sure whether a few of his stars, like Robbie Hickmott, Neale McMonigle and Jason Gorman, were tuned in to his pre-match, or were contemplating the chances of the favourite in the third at Rosehill.

But ‘Gormo’ does remember him instructing them one day to close their eyes and dream……..”I want you to imagine you’re climbing an apple tree….and when you’ve clambered your way to the top, the prize is within reach…..and you pluck the cherry off the top….”

Inspirational oration was not the forte’ of Ron ‘Modest’ Murray when he coached at Moyhu and Tarrawingee.

‘Modest’ was more a man of on-field action, but he became notorious for the almost-weekly exhortation to his defenders: “…I want youse to stick like shit to a blanket, and if youse have seen shit stick to a blanket, that’s how I want youse to stick……”

Kevin ‘Grumpy’ Kenna was a legendary name in Goulburn Valley football circles and became famous for his motivational speeches. He had been a front-gunner on a fighter bomber during the Second World War and told chilling tales of firing at hordes of Japanese infantry.

“When we ran out of ammunition, I fed my rosary beads through the magazine”, he once said.

‘Grumpy’ coached Shepparton United to a string of premierships in the fifties. The story is told of the United runner coming to the bench during one game and giving him an update on his star rover, who had copped a heavy knock.

“He doesn’t know who he is or where he is.”

“Well, go back and tell him he’s Bobby Skilton and he’s starring on the Lakeside Oval,” was ‘Grumpy’s reply.

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One of my favourite footy yarns was recounted by former Fitzroy and Adelaide coach Robert Shaw, of his days as a youngster in Hobart. It goes like this:

“With South Australia leading Victoria at half-time in a Carnival game, I made my way to the sheds under the grandstand of North Hobart Oval.

There were only two windows, both glazed, to eliminate prying eyes. I lifted myself up and, through a slit, could see into the rooms.

The room was filled with big, strong Victorians….legends in big V jumpers. The powerful smell of raw liniment filled the air……the greatest smell in the world.

And there stood Alan Killigrew, a short man by stature, a huge man by presence and voice. I pressed my face against the slit in the window.

‘Killa’ was on one of the old rub-down tables, his navy blukillae tie loosened and hanging halfway down his white shirt.

He pointed to the V on his blazer and demanded: ‘You have to play for the jumper’.

A pivotal moment in my coaching career then took place. Here was my chance. I took a deep breath and called out through the misted louvres of North Hobart.

“YOU HAVE TO GO  IN HARDER “……… They all looked up in the direction of the window.

Killigrew didn’t miss a beat.

“See,” he said. “A young  kid tells you exactly what you have to do. Now go out and DO IT.”

I had delivered my first coaching address. The Vics got up for a win. All that practice in the backyard had borne fruit.”

That’s the magic of coaching…………..

 

 

rosey