” SAINTS VERSUS HAWKS – RE-VISITING A CLASSIC……….”

Myrtleford and Wangaratta Rovers meet in a Final on Sunday for the first time in 38 years…….’On Reflection takes you back to that First Semi-Final of 1984; a match that typifies the rivalry of two proud clubs.…..

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The persistent rainfall of late-winter has given way to a delightfully sunny spring day………….They’ve come down from the hills in droves for the clash between the Saints and Hawks, at the Norm Minns Oval…….

The two old foes have endured a love-hate relationship since well before they were jointly admitted to the Ovens and Murray Football League in 1950………Their rivalry stepped up a notch when they met in successive O & K Grand Finals…..The Rovers celebrated wildly after their triumph in 1948, but the Saints delighted in turning the tables the following year…..

The most memorable of their four previous O & M Finals meetings came in the 1970 Grand Final, at this very same venue…….History was in the making………In a ‘battle for the ages’, spiced with niggles galore, the Hawks held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, only to be reined in by the never-say-die Saints, whose fans celebrated like there was no tomorrow……..

In the late-seventies, well-meaning officials struck a Perpetual Shield, commemorating two long-serving Presidents, for competition between the Clubs……….After one spiteful encounter five years later, emotions spilled over and the Maroney-Ablett Shield was banished to a store-room – never again to be exposed to the light of day…..

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In fairytale fashion, Myrtleford rose from second-bottom to become the glamour team of 1983…..The recruitment of Gary Ablett helped, as did the arrival of new coach Greg Nicholls, from Ainslie, via Geelong…..They played off in the Prelim Final, but in the aftermath suffered substantial player losses and were expected to come back to the pack in ‘84.

Peter Ruscuklic, the former Fitzroy and Geelong forward, who achieved fame by kicking successive tallies of 136, 156 and 213 goals in the Sydney Football League, ( and had won the 1983 Doug Strang Medal in his first O & M season) inherited the Saints’ coaching job from Nicholls………..They snuck into the Five by a mere two points from fast-finishing Yarrawonga and Lavington.

The Hawks, meanwhile, reacted to a disappointing ‘83 season by recruiting strongly. One of their coups was a VFA champion, Laurie Burt, from Coburg.

Built like a Sherman Tank, and a renowned in-and-under player, Burt made an immediate impression; as did Robert Perry, a stylish key position player, who was studying Law at Melbourne University and couldn’t spare the time to continue his fledgling career at Collingwood.

Additionally, big Gerald McCarthy, after a quiet first season in Brown and Gold, hit his straps.

McCarthy had started his VFL sojourn at Hawthorn, before being involved in a straight swap with a promising Fitzroy mid-fielder, Terry Wallace. He played most of his 150 VFL games in defence, but Rovers non-playing coach John Welch swung him into the ruck in ‘84, with immediate effect………

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The Hawks were right on song for the first two-thirds of the home-and-away rounds……..With an 11-1 record, and perched well clear on top, they were the raging flag favourites.

But when the rain tumbled down in July, so did their air of invincibility. They lost four of their next six games to limp into the finals……then allowed North Albury to kick 24.16 in registering a 38-point win in the Qualifying Final.

On the other hand, despite errant kicking in the Elimination Final, Myrtleford gained considerable confidence when they scraped to a 12.24 96) to 14.9 (93) win over Yarrawonga…….

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The Hawks took a gamble at the selection table by including ruck-rover Mark Booth for the Semi. He’d been under a cloud for several weeks. The move backfired when the experienced campaigner, after kicking an early goal, left the ground with a groin injury in the first quarter.

Another of their veterans, Andrew Scott, was ‘playing with’carrying’ a painful foot complaint and was parked at full forward. Despite the injury, and in typically courageous fashion, he was destined to have a major influence on the game.

The Rovers opened brilliantly and darted away to a handy four-goal lead by quarter-time. Greg O’Keeffe and youngster Shawn Dennis were magnificent on their wings and Neville Pollard’s run from defence and long, raking kicks were a feature.

The Saints whittled the margin away, as Freddie Baldori and forwards Dale and Darren Holmes continually came under notice. But, try as they might, the underdogs found difficulty in finding the big sticks.

High-flying centre half forward Russell France and coach Ruscuklic were dominating the airways, and energetic rover Terry Burgess was in the action……However, their deplorable kicking was keeping the Hawks in the game.

France, the former Prahran star took 13 marks, yet finished with 1.8 for the match. Ruscuklic, on the other hand, was at his uncanny best, juggling several freak marks and kicking seven goals.

By three quarter-time Myrtleford had valiantly fought their way back into the contest. They held a slender eight-point lead………The stage was set for an exciting run home.

The thrilling contest was to keep the large crowd on tenterhooks and leave the players emotionally and physically drained…..

Coach Welch took a gamble when he moved Scott onto the ball early in the final term. He rose to the challenge as only he could, scouting the packs like a rover, and fighting for possession with tenacity……..

The Rovers bridged the initial gap, and fortunes ebbed and flowed, before goals to Dale Holmes and Burgess put Myrtleford 12 points up at the 24-minute mark.

The little maestro was in everything, and had a few other opportunities to kick goals during the last term. But the Hawk defence exerted just enough pressure to ensure near-misses….

Mark Frawley was another Hawk who lifted a notch when it counted….He cruised the ground with great anticipation and his marking and long-kicking were a feature of his strong display.

As the time-clock edged into time-on the Hawks managed to gain the upper-hand, with stalwarts Leigh Hartwig, Greg O’Keefe and Barrie Cook fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain possession.

Finally, in the dying seconds, a cool pass by 19 year-old Peter Watson to Scott gave the old champ a chance for glory…….

He kicked truly for his fourth…….. The Hawks were home by a solitary point……..

Wang. Rovers: 5.5, 8.8, 9.9 , 13.12 (90)

Myrtleford: 1.5, 5.10, 9.17, 11.23 (89)

Goals: Rovers: A.Scott 4, M.Frawley 3, M.Booth 1, G.McCarthy 1, R.Perry 1, S.Dennis 1, L.Burt 1, G.O’Keeffe 1.

Myrtleford:.P.Ruscuklic 7, R.France 1, Dale Holmes 1, F.Baldori 1, B.Garoni 1.

Best: Rovers: M.Frawley, G.O’Keeffe, S.Dennis, R.Perry, L.Burt, A.Scott, N.Pollard, S.Baird.

Myrtleford: F.Baldori, I.Wales, P.Ruscuklic, R.France, Dale Holmes, T.Burgess, B.Garoni.

Estimated Attendance: 4,750

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THE AFTERMATH

# The Rovers were bundled out of the finals the following week, when Wodonga defeated them in the Preliminary Final: 16.22 to 6.21.

# The Saints fell to the bottom of the ladder the following year, winning just 2 games. Peter Ruscuklic moved on and was replaced by former Rovers star Norm Bussell, who was non-playing coach.

# Terry Burgess finally achieved his dream of an O & M premiership in 1990, with Wodonga.

# Four Rovers players: Merv Holmes, Andrew Scott, Mark Booth and Laurie Burt, were laterInducted to the O & M Hall of Fame.

# Burt took over as coach of the Rovers in 1987, and is recognised as one of the Club’s greatestmentors, taking them to flags in 1988, ‘91, ‘93 and ‘94.

# Ian Wales is the current Myrtleford Football Club President.

# Myrtleford rover Darren Handley was recruited to Collingwood in 1986. He played 12 gameswith the Magpies and later, 10 games with Fitzroy.

# Sean O’Keeffe, Daine Porter, Tyson Hartwig, Hugh and Elijah Wales, Sam Martyn , Mitch and Darcy Booth are present-day O & M players whose fathers were involved in the Semi-Final.

# Shawn Dennis abandoned his football career to concentrate on his first love – Basketball. Heplayed 10 seasons in the NBL before starting an illustrious coaching career. He has coached in the NBL,, in New Zealand and Japan for the past 29 years. He is currently coach of Japanese side Nagoya Dolphins.

# Four months after starring in the Semi, Greg O’Keeffe achieved his most memorable sporting achievement when he ‘ran the house down’ to take out the prestigious Wangaratta Gift, infront of an adoring home crowd. He appeared in the Gift Final five times in his lengthy athletic career.

“WHOROULY BOY MAINTAINS LIFETIME BOND WITH THE SWANS…….”

Clem Goonan’s attachment to his old VFL club stretches back sixty years.

He’s remained true to them through good times and bad, and admits that only once has he seriously considered turning his back on the mighty Red and White………..

“I wasn’t too happy when South Melbourne was pressured into moving to Sydney…… I went lukewarm there for a year or so,” he says.

“I was part of the ‘Keep South at South’ brigade when things started to unravel in the early eighties, and went to a few pretty hostile meetings…….They weren’t good times…..But you eventually get over it….. I soon got back on the Swans bandwagon……”

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Clem’s love affair with footy has consumed most of his 82 years.

He’s a Whorouly boy, born and bred, and spent much of his childhood gallivanting to and from the town’s Memorial Oval. The Goonan property was a three mile jaunt on his bike. He’d watch (and take part in) training, then throw the bike in the back of the family Ute for the trip home.

His dad ( Alan ), a Club diehard, was at various times President, Secretary and committeeman, so Clem found himself saddled with the Boundary Umpire’s job in 1952.

It was a historic year for the Maroons. After being runners-up to Beechworth for the previous two seasons, they outlasted the Bombers in a hard, slogging Grand Final, to win their first flag in 27 years, by two points.

Clem can still reel off most of the members of that side, like Silas McInnes, Mick Jess, Bill and Alan Newton, Bill Power, Tony Harrington, Kevin Mauger, and the coach, Rex Bennett, who played a starring role in the win.

The following season he made his senior debut at the tender age of 14. Several members of the Premiership side had gone their seperate ways and Whorouly spent a few years among the lower echelons of the O & K ladder.

But it was a ‘no brainer’ to punt on this talented, well-proportioned stripling, and he rapidly became one of the team’s stars. He blossomed under the coaching of the brilliant left-footer Billy Dalziel, and took out successive Club B & F’s in 1957 and ‘58.

His outstanding season in 1958 also saw him land the League Medal, as well as sharing the Chronicle Trophy with Bogong’s Eric Tye and Bright champ Tony Quirk.

For a mere 19 year-old, already with 90 senior games under his belt, that was the ‘green light’ to attract the attention of talent scouts far and wide:

“You received a letter in the mail those days,” Clem recalls…….. “Jim Cardwell, the Melbourne Secretary, wrote, asking me to come down. I thought : ‘They’re way too strong. I’ll never get a game there.’…. I knocked Geelong back because I reckoned they were too far away…….And St.Kilda were having a few internal problems. That put the kybosh on them……..So I decided to sign a Form Four with South Melbourne.”

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In the meantime, Bill Dalziel had decided to move over to Myrtleford, and helped entice Clem to have a run with the Saints, to enhance his footy education:

“I joined the Police Force on the 1st of May, 1959, and was stationed at Fitzroy. It meant travelling back to play with the Saints each week.”

“ I did a lot of my training at the Police Gym, and had a few runs with Fitzroy because their ground was close handy. They knew I could play a bit, and talked me into putting in for a clearance from South, with whom I was tied. But, of course South said: ‘No way known.’ “

Myrtleford, under the inspiring leadership of dual Magarey and Morris Medallist Jimmy Deane, were loaded with talent in Clem’s two years with them.

His last game still sticks in his mind.

The Saints held a 21-point lead over defending premiers, Yarrawonga, going into the last quarter of the 1960 First Semi. But the game turned on its head, and the Pigeons, with all the momentum, led by 3 points, with just seconds remaining.

With one last desperate thrust, Myrtleford attacked again, and half forward Wally Hodgkin marked 45 yards out, right on the final siren……It was a dead accurate kick and just about everyone at the Benalla Showgrounds deemed it a major – except the goal-umpire – who signalled that it was touched on the line.

“A few of the wealthy tobacco-farmers had given the players a ‘sling’ before the game, in appreciation of our efforts during the year. Some of the senior players rated our chances so highly they suggested we use the money to back ourselves,” Clem says.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but the Yarra supporters handed the money back to us because of the conjecture over that disputed goal.”

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Clem’s senior debut with South Melbourne came on Queen’s Birthday week-end 1961, in front of 30,000 fans at St.Kilda’s Junction Oval:

“I felt pretty much at home; my opponent was Brian McCarthy, a Yarrawonga boy. And one of my old Myrtleford team-mates, Frank Hodgkin, was in his first season with St.Kilda.”

Lining up mostly on a half back flank, with an occasional stint as a ruck-rover, he had established himself in League football by the following season. He finished fourth in the Swans B & F, and was voted their Most Determined Player.

Melbourne premiership star Noel McMahon had been lured from a stint at Rochester to take over the coaching reins from Bill Faull. He was pronounced as the VFL’s first full-time coach. Clem immediately struck a chord with the likeable McMahon:

“He was a great coach, and a terrific guy, Noel. I loved playing for him. He’s coming up 95 this year……. I still pick him up and take him to South Past Players Functions.”

The South Melbourne sides of the early sixties contained stars such as Skilton, McGowan, Hughie McLaughlin, Jim Taylor, John Heriot, John ‘Mopsy’ Rantall and Graeme John.

But there weren’t nearly enough of them, and the Swans were never a major threat.

However, they always came into their own when the popular VFL Night Series was staged, between the non-finals combatants.

“The games were played at South’s Lakeside Oval, because ours was the only venue that had match-standard Lights,” Clem says.

“What an advantage it was for us ! . There were a few dark spots in the pockets, which we were accustomed to. We had a fair bit of success….I enjoyed playing in them, and the crowds always flocked to the mid-week games because they were such a novelty……….”

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After playing 50 senior games with the Swans Clem received a transfer to Wodonga in the Police Force.

“The locals said: ‘Seeing as you’re living and working in the town it’d be the right thing to play with us’. So I wasn’t too popular when I signed with Albury. (Murray) Weideman was coaching them and they were on their way to the 1966 flag.”

Unfortunately, Clem ‘did’ a cartilage in a mid-season Inter-League game against the Bendigo League, which laid him up for the rest of the season, and robbed him of his only chance to share in premiership glory.

He recovered, to play strongly over the next two seasons with the Tigers, before his old mate Frank Hodgkin talked him into helping him out with O & M rivals Rutherglen.

“They’d been a famous old club, of course, but were probably batting a bit out of their depth at this stage. I played two years under Frank, then took over the coaching job from him for ‘71 and ‘72. Despite their lack of success there was a wonderful spirit within the Club.”

His swansong as a player came in 1973 – as captain-coach of Burrumbuttock. Towards the end of the season he received notification of his promotion in the Police Force.

So he, Irene and their four kids made their way back to Melbourne.

“Graeme John, who was back coaching South Melbourne at this stage, got wind of it and rang me. He asked what I was up to and I said: ‘Dunno, I’m thinking about playing a bit of local footy.’ “

“He said: ‘Give it away, you silly old bugger. I want you to be my runner.’ “

“That was an experience; particularly when Ian Stewart took over from Graeme a couple of years later.”

“ ‘Stewie’ used to get so excited that it was impossible to understand a word he was saying……You’d be out there delivering a message…..The crowd would roar, and you didn’t know what had happened because you had your back to it………’Stewie’ would be there abusing me and mumbling something…….You’d ask him again and he’d almost go berserk, and grab you…push you….You daren’t ask him again, in case he went right off the air ! “

“I’m not sure if he was a good coach…..He expected everybody to be able to play to the standard that he did……He probably had good ideas…..if you could understand him !………. “

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Clem did some Specialist, and Junior coaching with local clubs Norwood and Donvale, and got back to following South Melbourne, once his involvement as a Runner concluded.

He retired from the Police Force in 1989 with the rank of Sargeant.

In hindsight, he says, things worked out really well with the re-location of the Swans to Sydney:

“Feelings ran really high at the time, because of the pressure that the VFL were putting on the Club……. We were all pretty devastated with the way it was done, but there was no use remaining cranky about it……. At least the Swans have managed to maintain a presence in Melbourne.”

“They needed all the support they could get……. I’ve been on the Past Players’ Committee for the past 20 years or so………… Tony Morwood does a great job, along with one of my good mates, John Heriot.”

Clem’s been working part-time at the MCG, as a member of the Event Day Staff since 1999 which, he jokes: “has allowed me to have a sneak look at the action occasionally………”

Particularly when the Sydney Swans took out the flag in 2005 and 2012……..”Yeah….they were two of the most memorable days of my life………”

Ovens and King League Hall of Fame Inductees 2006. Richie Shanley, Clem Goonan, Ray Burns,

“ANDREW DALE……A FORTUNATE LIFE…..”

Calm has been restored to the Wangaratta Racecourse Complex on this balmy mid-March morning……. I chug down Cruise Street, wind around the Three Mile Creek …..past the planked white fences which delineate the Stables of local trainers……past the flash new Grandstand …….towards the entrance……

The swish..swish..swishing of sprays freshens a Track which, hours earlier had been a hive of activity, with the thundering hooves of close on 200 thoroughbreds striding out on its lush surface.

Trainers, owners, jockeys, stable-hands and hangers-on converge here, daily at dawn….Numbered among them is an athletic-looking fellah in his late-fifties, sporting a neatly-trimmed grey beard……….

He’s Andrew Dale……….

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It’s a bit over four years since I last spotted him……..waving animatedly from the boundary-line at the Findlay Oval, as Myrtleford desperately tried to hang on in a goal-for-goal Elimination Final thriller against Wodonga Raiders. It was to no avail. The Saints went down by a couple of kicks. But his passion was obvious…….understandable too, given that his sons, Frazer and Lachlan were playing starring roles………..

As with most things in his life, he moved on quickly, but I’m keen to coax the now-Principal of Andrew Dale Racing to reflect on a colourful sporting career…………

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He was born in Stawell almost 59 years ago. His parents, both school-teachers, transferred to the ‘big smoke’ when he was 7 or 8, but his infatuation with football was already deeply-entrenched.

Eltham became Andrew’s home club. He graduated from junior ranks to play well over 150 senior games with the Panthers, including a 1982 Diamond Valley League flag, under the coaching of Melbourne great ‘Hassa’ Mann.

Interspersed with this were a couple of pre-seasons at Collingwood, and several Reserves appearances on match permits. But his bid to crack the ‘Pies final list fell short.

Instead, he headed off to North Adelaide for a year, and returned home to find that his luck had turned. Melbourne were keenly interested, and recruited him in 1986.

It was a brief sojourn at the top…….After some consistent Reserves performances, his senior opportunity came late in the season, lining up in defence against a rampaging Hawthorn, at Waverley Park.

I’d already checked the stats he accumulated that day – 11 kicks, 6 marks, 12 handballs……A more than handy debut, I would suggest:

“Yeah, but the Hawks were all over us, and the ball was down my way a fair bit ( across half back ),” Andrew recalls. “At different stages during the game I had to look after Brereton , Lester-Smith, Curran and Judge. The game was over at half-time, but I remember one of our blokes saying: ‘Just run on and keep trying….You’ll be okay.’ “

“Next game we played the Swans at the SCG…..It was the height of the Edelsten Era, and they were really flying. We got pumped. I was in the back half…..picked up Anthony Daniher and played on Capper for a while.”

“They took me off, and I spent a fair bit of the game on the bench…….I might have looked out of my depth…I dunno……Maybe our coach John Northey thought so, too…..Anyway, I came back on for a while in the last quarter, but that was it……It was all over……”

Andrew participated in the finals series for the Demons Reserves, then returned home to Eltham as coach, leading them to the finals. He stayed on as captain when his friend- and Melbourne team-mate – Peter Moore, succeeded him as non-playing coach in 1989.

“It was the right thing to do,” he says. “Pete had a high profile, and was returning to his home club. He generated great interest and we went on to win the flag that year………”

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He had done a bit of everything, work-wise, whilst pursuing his footy dream. In his late twenties he studied Teaching, which added another string to his bow.

Whilst he was still capable of picking up a few kicks, he and his wife Heather decided on a lifestyle change. Struggling Benalla appointed him playing-coach in 1993.

“During the interview process they were pretty upfront,” he explained. “They said: ‘Look, we don’t have any money; we can’t chase players. You’re going to have to go with what you’ve got.”

But the Demons couldn’t complain about the coach’s contribution. He finished joint runner-up in the Morris Medal, represented the O & M as a dynamic mid-fielder, and oversaw strong development in a group of youngsters.

He missed almost three-quarters of the following season with a succession of soft-tissue injuries. Benalla remained near the foot of the ladder, and some officials were beginning to become impatient. They advised him that his position was going to be advertised.

“That basically means you’re gone. A few clubs showed interest and I thought I still had a bit of footy left in me.”

Myrtleford snapped him up in 1995, appointing him Playing-coach and part-time Administration Officer.

“It’s a tough gig coaching Myrtleford, with its small population, geographic location and reduced talent pool…But it was great to have the time and opportunity to put some strategies in place to improve the Club.”

“I felt we laid the groundwork and started to see some improvement.”

The Saints won 13 and a half games the following season, returning to the finals for the first time in 12 years. Andrew was still making a solid contribution despite approaching the mid-thirties. He had worn the Black and Gold of the O & M on four occasions.

“We had two lads, Guy Rigoni and Steve McKee move on to the AFL. I felt we had a good footy Club and were engaging with the community. The Saints, as you know, can get on a roll when that happens,” he says.

Besides coaching and doing some part-time teaching, he penned a footy column in both the Border Mail and Myrtleford Times.

“It was pretty hectic, along with raising the four kids (Jaime, Frazer, Lachlan and Milly). But, after four years as coach of Myrtleford ( the last as non-playing leader), an opportunity came up to coach in Tasmania…………..”

He’d just finished an AFL Level-3 coaching course when he was approached by Michael Aird, a parliamentarian, and Chairman of State League Club, New Norfolk:

“I flew down to Tassie to meet with him.He laid it on the line; explaining that the Club was about to lose its Poker Machines and was in danger of closing its doors. He said: ‘We’re struggling in every aspect, on and off the field. But if you accept the non-playing coaching job, I guarantee you’ll get paid.’ “

Andrew coached the Club in the dying days of the financially-stricken State League competition, then transitioned to a post with AFL Tasmania. The role included coaching the State Under 16’s and assisting the Tassie Mariners U.18 team.

He spent another two years working on Special Events and Projects for the State Government after they consented to underwrite the costs of Hawthorn and North Melbourne playing their home games in Tasmania.

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In the meantime, he and Heather had bought the Motel on Alpine in Myrtleford and settled back in town.

He says he’d always been fascinated by the racing game. His initial involvement came with having small shares in a few horses….: ”Then I caught the the training bug from there…..It was something that really interested me…..”

“As a consequence, I studied, and had the qualifications to go into training from a theory point of view.”

“I just needed to get some practical skills, so I went and worked with an Albury trainer, Rob Wellington for a couple of years…..and got my Trainer’s licence in 2013.”

Eight years later, he’s well settled in an excellent facility on the perimeter of the Wangaratta Racecourse complex, which was built in conjunction with the Turf Club, and Racing Victoria.

“It’s fantastic here,” Andrew says. “We’ve built a good training operation with 40 horses on our books and about 25 in work. Of that 40 there might 4-5 getting broken in. We’re looking to expand, and possibly have 25-30 here.”

“Frazer (son) is hopefully going to take over one day. Ideally, he’ll want to grow the business to the next level; maybe buy a small farm and do some pre-training and spelling as well…….But, of course, he’s got to have the desire to do it.”

Andrew and Frazer share the early starts, which means leaving Myrtleford at 4am, and getting to the course at 4.40. The early morning session goes through until 8.30 am.

Then they settle into administrative duties……Nominations, Acceptances, Jockeys, Race selection…..

The afternoon shift starts at around 2pm and the day’s work concludes at roughly 4.30pm.

“The whole day moves into different areas. We’re always talking to people about becoming involved in new horses.”

“As with all trainers we’re into buying yearlings. You syndicate them and keep a share yourself. So you’ve got that constant evolvement of horses coming into your Barn.”

“When you sell a horse to a client, they’ll hopefully stay with you for a fair period, because they go through the whole education – the breaking-in process… racing…spelling…racing….”

“Syndicating is a fine art. You have to pitch at the right price-point. Frazer does it well through Facebook and Twitter……We bought a cheap one the other day and sold it within 48 hours. Yet we bought three at the Classic Sale…..We sold one, a well-priced, well-bred filly, but haven’t done much with the other two yet…….”

Andrew sees a correlation between coaching footballers and training horses.

“If you think about it, in footy you have the pre-season, pre-season games, Finals, have a break, then start that cycle all over again.”

“The same principles apply to horse-racing…..A horse works up in its preparation, gets fit, has a couple of jump-outs or trials, then goes into races……..Management, maintenance, well-being, diet……It’s the same with any athlete, human or equine……”

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Andrew and Heather’s family circumstances changed two years ago, when they took three of their grand-children into their care.

“Your whole life changes again, when you go back to parenting at our age,” he says. “They’re beautiful kids…One is on the Autism spectrum, another has ADHD….so there’s a lot of management with them. They were born in fairly harsh circumstances……”

“Spending time with them, though, reminds me that I didn’t do enough of that with our first four. I’m looking forward to helping out this time around.”

He remains vitally interested in footy – and naturally, Myrtleford, where his sons are key components of the Saints’ bid to snare their first flag in 51 years. Frazer, who played two games with Carlton as an 18 year-old in 2012, memorably kicked a goal after the siren to give the Blues victory in his debut appearance.

Lachie confirmed his status as an O & M top-liner in 2019, by representing the League, polling strongly in the Morris Medal, and booting 59 goals, to win the Doug Strang Medal.

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Andrew Dale reckons he’s had a fortunate life: “I’ve played some alright footy…. coached….seen some good and bad things happen with my family…..I’ve got involved in the racehorse industry….trained 90-odd winners so far…..”

“Maybe, when I die, my epitaph might read: ‘He achieved everything he wanted to do.’ “

"THE MAN BEHIND THE STORY OF THE SAINTS' 1970 GLORY……'

The idea dawned upon him in a light-bulb moment……

He’d always been keen to write a book on footy; convinced that it was just a matter of waiting for the right subject to bob up…….Then he twigged……Heck, it’s coming up 50 years since Myrtleford won their only O & M flag…..It seemed an ideal scenario to sink his teeth into……

So David Johnston got to work ….

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‘Jonno’ has spent more than a year crafting ‘1970 – The Year Of The Saints’.

What began originally, as a straight-out football book, morphed into a social history of the buoyant small town of that era, whose entire population got behind the footballers and rejoiced in a long-awaited Premiership.

“I’ve been around to witness the heartbreak that Myrtleford have endured since, in losing those three Grand Finals in the early 2000’s. I appreciate how hard it is for smaller clubs to compete against clubs from the bigger areas,” he says.

“After they lost the last one, in 2006, you sensed that their window of opportunity had passed them by. The downturn came when they lost 62 successive games between 2007-‘10.”

“But their comeback last year was exhilarating . Several sons of former players were among the team’s stars. The core of the side was – and still is – basically local. They won only the second Third 18 flag in the club’s history.”

“Everything seemed to be jelling nicely. ”

What an ideal time to tell a fairytale story………….

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You won’t find many more isolated places than Swift’s Creek, ‘Jonno’s’ home town.

It’s situated on the Great Alpine Road in East Gippsland – roughly 380km from Melbourne…..A timber town of 350. His dad ran a Beef and Sheep farm near Omeo before recently retiring.

His brother Ron is now on the family property and has just came through a bad bushfire season. People were air-lifted off the Omeo football ground in ADF helicopters on one of its most severe days.

“ When I was growing up there was no commercial TV or radio. We’d only get the ABC……And if a storm went through the hills, the power would be off for two days.”

“We’d often travel to our aunty’s place at Bruthen (about an hour away) to watch World of Sport on Sundays. That was one of the highlights of our week-end. But I wouldn’t trade all of that for quids,” he says.

He fell in love with footy as a young fan of the Swift’s Creek Demons, who were always among the top teams in the Omeo & District Football League. The ODFL once comprised four teams and later expanded to six when Bruthen and Buchan were admitted in the mid-70’s. In more recent times Lindenow South and Swan Reach came in.

The comp’s been going, in one shape or form, since 1893, and Dave embraced its ranks when he began playing in the Under 16’s.

Then he moved on to the Bairnsdale Under 18’s (he was attending local Nagle College) and achieved what he deems the highlight of his modest footy career – as a member of the 1986 Thirds’ premiership side.

“The year before (‘85) we weren’t much good, but a few talented kids ( like Jon Ballantyne, who later played with Footscray and Collingwood) came on board in ‘86. I was very lucky to get a game.”

But the boys were entitled to celebrate their flag. They’d sometimes be up at 5am on match-day to travel to the furthest destination – Leongatha or Warragul.

When Dave headed off for a year of University, he fulfilled an ambition by travelling back to play with the Swift’s Creek seniors, coached by the town’s publican, ex-North Melbourne player, Michael Gaudion.

His first job in Journalism came when he scored a Cadetship with the Bairnsdale Advertiser..

Next stop was a job with the Gippsland Times, at Sale. He covered sport, and was mentored by two champion fellahs ( and outstanding sportsmen in their own right) in Kevin Hogan and Blair Campbell.

“Once they realised you were interested they took you under their wing,” he says. “Sport was always the thing I wanted to gravitate to. I was in my element. I combined that with being Publicity Officer for the Latrobe Valley Football League.”

After moving on to spend three years covering sport at the Ballarat Courier, a further opportunity presented itself at The Border Mail. He’d only recently married Liz, in January 1995, and his initial opportunity came as the paper’s Racing Editor, covering every meeting throughout the North-East and Southern Riverina, from Benalla to Berrigan

Then, when Simon Dulhunty stepped aside at the end of the 1996 footy season, he was thrust into the role of chief football writer.

The Border’s coverage of the O & M was ‘must’ reading. Win a game on Saturday and eager fans would hardly be able to wait for Monday’s edition to hit the shops, to pore over the full details of the round. Double-page spreads…. spectacular photos….regular features.

Added to that, the League was flying in rep footy; there were ample personalities and no scarcity of controversies.

“I had a bit of luck, being new to the job, and with the O & M so successful in rep footy. I used to go to training… go away to cover all the rep games….That helped me get to know people…..You developed contacts with every club.”

“Nowadays, the Internet has changed everything. I love print but understand there are more and more eyeballs making the transition to digital. You’ve just got to go with it………”

Not that it was all beer and skittles during ‘Jonno’s’ 11-year reign as chief football writer.

“I copped plenty of ‘serves’ in my time,” he says. “Some coaches, like Tim Sanson, Richard Bence and Paul Spargo weren’t easy to get along with. But you’re not doing your job if you don’t cop the occasional ‘roast ‘.

“I thought I was in real trouble one night, at the end of a Morris Medal count at the SS & A Club, when I came face-to-face with a coach whom I hadn’t had the best rapport with all year.”

“I owe a North Albury official at the time a large debt of gratitude for defusing a potentially tricky situation.”

“Of course, Albury people were always happy to let you know whenever you’d made a ‘blue’, or if they won when you hadn’t tipped them in the paper that day. Nothing has changed…….”

“It’s interesting to look back, though…in that period, between 1997 and 2008, every team played in a Grand Final……..”

“I loved my time covering sport. I’ve been lucky enough to cover an Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, and major race meetings in Melbourne, like the Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate”

In the eleven or so years since, Dave has moved into General Journalism, with a particular focus on politics. But he’s retained an avid interest in the League, either through broadcasting stints with OAK-FM, doing match reports, and as a foundation member of the O & M League’s Hall of Fame selection panel.

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With the seeds of his first book planted firmly in his head, he roughly outlined its structure.

Only four of the 20 players from Myrtleford’s 1970 premiership – Kevin Smith, Pat Quirk, Terry Burgess Snr and Bob Crisp – had passed on.

His first interview was with the coach, Martin Cross.

“We yakked for two hours and didn’t even get around to the Grand Final,” he recalls.

He spoke to fellahs like Johnny Bianco, a local boy who ended up playing just six senior games with the Saints before teaching took him around the state. He’s always remembered, though, for the part he played in the premiership…

And there was Graeme Ward, whose career as a stock agent with Elders-GM had seen him strip with Albury, Corowa and Golden Square. He represented both the Bendigo and O & M Leagues in a brilliant career, before spending the best eight years of his footy life with Myrtleford……..

Once he started interviewing the surviving players Dave found all of them had an absorbing tale to tell. They were in good shape, as were other sources, Jimmy Mattassoni, who was Treasurer…..and club stalwart Ken ‘Kanga’ Johnston (the Secretary)……

“ Tobacco was big at that time. Myrtleford was booming…… There were Hospital extensions….houses being built everywhere…Lake Buffalo had just been constructed.”

“The Crisp boys, and Derek Taylor were drawn to the area. Those guys moved to Myrtleford in the ‘60’s, formed a building business, and never left. They became an vital part of the Football Club…..and the town.

Dave devoted two chapters to VFL-zoning, which was in vogue. He caught up with revered North Melbourne administrator – and recruiting ‘guru’ – Ron Joseph, who was a central figure in a stream of O & M players heading to the ‘Roos’ during this era.

The most prominent was Sam Kekovich, who was mythically swept off the training track at McNamara Reserve mid-way through 1968 and took out North’s B & F the following season.

Joseph also nominated the O & M players he missed out on – Stan Sargeant ( “could have kicked a VFL ‘ton”), George Tobias, Neville Hogan and John Smith – as certainties to have played League football.

Myrtleford’s pre-flag history, since their admission to the O & M ( 1950 – 1969 ), was also touched upon.

“The Saints had some excellent sides, and could have won a couple of premierships during the sixties. Then again, luck definitely played its part in the flag they did win……..”

“For instance, Wodonga champ Brian Gilchrist breaks a leg in the second last game of the 1970 season, to slightly expose the Bulldogs…..After 27 successive wins, the Rovers pip them in the Second-Semi Final.”

“Then Wodonga charge back after surrendering a fair deficit to Myrtleford in the Prelim….. Gary Williamson has a late shot which could recapture the lead in the dying seconds. The Saints hang on…..And the climax !…The Rovers take a handy 19-point lead into the last quarter of the Grand Final……Yet again, Myrtleford prevail…….”

“The pipe-dream was that Myrtleford could go on and repeat the feats of 1970 this season,” says ‘Jonno’. “But footy fairytales don’t come around too often, do they ?……..”

N.B: This week, his labour of love: ‘1970 – The Year Of The Saints’, becomes available to the public.

It hits the shelves of the following Booksellers: Edgar’s Newsagents, Wangaratta; Mahoney’s Newsagency, Wodonga, News Xpress, Myrtleford, and Dymock’s Albury. Orders can be placed at email: davidandliz5 @bigpond.com.au Cost: $30.

‘JIMMY DEANE – SUPERSTAR…….’

It was a Golden Era of Ovens and Murray football……….when every club boasted a genuine superstar…….

Greats of the calibre of Bob Rose, Billy Stephen, Jack Jones, Des Healy, Don Ross, Fred Goldsmith and Len Fitzgerald, all still in their prime, were lured by the attractive money on offer – and the opportunity to dabble in coaching – in the best country League around.

Their line-ups also included some players who could have easily walked into VFL sides.

I still have visions of the tentacle-like arms of curly-haired Fitzgerald soaring above the pack to pull down screamers at the Benalla Showgrounds; the ex-Essendon star Jones controlling things like a traffic-cop at centre half forward for Albury; the elusive Healy dodging, weaving, pirouetting, and leaving opponents stranded.

Those Wodonga-Wang Rovers clashes of the late-fifties/early-sixties, when Healy tangled with his great friend, and former Collingwood team-mate, Bob Rose, were mouth-watering affairs.

And if you felt disposed to take a spin up the Ovens Highway, you could catch a glimpse of one of the finest mid-fielders in the nation.

His name was Jim Deane……..

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Old Saints swear by Jimmy. They rave about his sublime skills; the knack of being able to read the play; hardly appearing to shift out of first gear, yet rarely being caught.

And his spear-like left-foot passing, which made life easy for those upfield.

Sounds like a modern-day Scott Pendlebury, doesn’t it ?

Mick Flecknoe, who played at full forward, and was the recipient of some ‘silver service’ from his coach, is lavish in his praise.

“He was a rare player, a charismatic leader- and a quality bloke,” Mick says.

So I went searching for the legend of Jimmy Deane………

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Strange as it may sound, he was the grandson of an Afghan cameleer – an expert camel-handler who worked around the northern reaches of South Australia in the early twentieth century and helped to build the railway connection between Adelaide and Alice Springs.

When Jim’s dad Les – a wharfie – married his mum he anglicised his name from Zaberdeen to Deane.

Young Jim honed his football skills in the back streets of Adelaide’s East End. The country was just emerging from the Great Depression and his heroes stripped for his neighbourhood club, South Adelaide, which enjoyed considerable success during the thirties.

He was just 17 when he debuted for South, mid-way through 1945. But his arrival in senior ranks coincided with a downturn in the club’s fortunes. In spite of the brilliance he displayed in his 157-games with them he was unable to lift the Panthers into the finals.

Even the responsibility of being lumbered with the job as captain-coach at the tender age of 23, failed to dim his brilliance.

Jimmy was to prove the most famous post-war name in the history of the club that idolised him.

He took out the SANFL’s top gong, the Magarey Medal, in 1953 and 1957, and finished runner-up three times; won six South Adelaide B & F’s and represented South Australia in 15 interstate games.

In between, he was lured over the border and spent two seasons – 1954 and ’55 – with Richmond.

Towards the end of 1955 he was offered the coaching position with the Tigers.

“But there were so many lads born and bred in the Richmond district and some of these fellows were champions. When the news got out it was all over the newspapers and I could sense a bit of animosity among the players,” he once said.

“So I decided to head back home to finish off my career.”

He resisted an approach to cross over to Port Adelaide as coach, but two seasons later Myrtleford came knocking with an offer he couldn’t refuse and the Deane family moved over to the hill country.

“I’d heard so much about the League. It was Bob Rose, I think, who said that a representative O & M team would defeat a South Australian state team.”

Jim’s coaching philosophy was simple. “I’m not a coach who expects players to go out and knock opponents over. All I want is for them to go out and attack that football and get it down to our guys up forward.”

Myrtleford found him a job with Heberle’s Furnishings, but half-way through the first year he took over a shoe store in town and operated it for the remainder of his stay.

“There was a great atmosphere at Myrtleford and they had a good and loyal following of supporters. They were some of my happiest years in football,” he recalled.

The Saints had only been in the O & M for eight years when Jimmy arrived in 1958. But they had been able to cultivate plenty of talent and remained competitive.

In a four or five-year period George Barton (Hawthorn), Len Cotterell (Carlton) and Jack Cooper (Hawthorn) had sampled League footy and returned. Mick Flecknoe, another lad from the area, had also planted his roots in Myrtleford after a fine career with East Perth.

Additionally, Frank Hodgkin (St.Kilda), Clem Goonan (South Melbourne), Dennis Smith (Richmond) and Bill O’Kane (Fitzroy) all played under Jim and went on to make their VFL debuts.

They would have been inspired by the form of their leader, who proved a ball magnet and took out the Morris Medal in his first season (sharing it with Bob Rose).

Two years later, they narrowly snuck into the Four and rated themselves a good chance of venturing deep into the finals.

The First Semi, against defending premiers Yarrawonga at Benalla, had particular significance for Jim, as it was to be the first senior Final he had played in 15 years.

And what a game it turned out to be !

The Saints led by 21 points at three-quarter time and seemingly had the game in hand. But, in a trice, the pendulum swung. The Pigeons, with all the momentum, led by three points with just seconds remaining in the game.

Again the Saints attacked and Wally Hodgkin marked 45 yards out, just on the siren. Jim replayed those final, harrowing moments, many years later:

“It was a pretty good kick for goal, but there was some controversy as to whether it was touched before it went through,” he said.

“All the Myrtleford players thought it was a goal, but the umpire deemed it a point and we’d lost the match. The funny thing was that, before the match a few of the wealthy tobacco growers had given a donation to the players as a thank you for our efforts during the season .”

“We’d decided to back ourselves, because we were so confident of winning. But the Yarrawonga people give us our money back because of that disputed goal. It was a great act of sportsmanship.”………..

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Jim picked up his second Morris Medal in 1961, and was still playing outstanding football when he and his family decided to head home at the end of the 1962 season.

The Premiership success that had eluded him finally came his way at Port Pirie, with whom he shared a hat-trick of flags. He then concluded his colourful playing career with another premiership at Spencer Gulf League club Proprietary, at the age of 39.

South Adelaide lured him back as non-playing coach in 1970, but he only remained in the role for two seasons, opting instead, to become the ‘voice of South Australian football’, as a renowned ABC commentator, for more than 20 years.

This, and his reputation as a well-known hotelier, kept Jimmy very much in the public eye and he remained a highly popular figure.

Jim Deane passed away in 2010. His contribution to the game was officially recognised when he was inducted into the South Australian Football Hall of Fame.

South Adelaide’s historian, John Althorp, produced a biography of his club’s icon in 2014 – titled “The Larrikin – The Jim Deane Story’.

But his five years as a champion player and much-loved captain-coach of Myrtleford will also never be forgotten by those who sampled his on-field magic and endearing nature…………