“THE FILO FILES……..”

Two kids, oblivious to their surroundings, are firing bullet-like passes at one another in the paddock adjoining a Castlemaine home…….

The taller lad looks a ‘natural’……..superbly-proportioned ……..the type silver-tongued recruiting gurus gush over, and instantaneously label a ‘generational player’….

The other boy’s a few months older, smaller, muscly, well co-ordinated, with sure hands….. such is the adroitness of his kicking, it’s difficult to ascertain which is his preferred foot……..

They play for opposing teams in the local Junior League….. Winter’s Flat and Campbell’s Creek………but they’re as thick as thieves, and will eventually re-unite to play with Bendigo Pioneers’ Under-age sides before they go their separate ways……….

Fast forward 17-18 years:

The taller bloke has evolved into a Brownlow Medallist, triple premiership player, and triple Norm Smith Medallist………one of football’s all-time greats…………..

His mate, Brodie Filo, has perveyed his footy skills over the length and breadth of the nation…….A four-time Medallist in three different Leagues…..a dynamic, will-o-the-wisp, ball-magnet with 360 senior games under his belt……and counting…...

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There’s no disputing the Filo footy pedigree…….

When Brodie’s father Derrick retired at 43, he’d chalked up over 450 senior games, four Best & Fairests, four Premierships, and the 1991 BFL Michelson Medal. Save for a season with Balranald, and several appearances with Carlton U.19’s and Reserves, he was content to confine his considerable talents to the Bendigo area.

“There’s not too many people you bump into who don’t know him,” Brodie says.

“He coached four Bendigo League clubs – Castlemaine, Kyneton, Kangaroo Flat and Eaglehawk….I’d describe him as a good, old-fashioned, basic coach………not too tactical…….but a terrific player….A roaming centreman who could go forward and kick goals….”

“He was born and bred in Castlemaine…..My Nan still lives in the house that Dad grew up in. He lives just up the road now……”

“I used to go to the footy with him all the time, pretty well……just became part of the clubs he was involved with….”

Brodie was 9 when he started playing Midget footy at Castlemaine; before moving on to Winter’s Flat, then Castlemaine Under 16’s. But he never got around to playing senior footy with his home-town club.

Derrick had landed a job with Blue Scope Steel in Bendigo, and was appointed playing-coach of Eaglehawk. So the youngster moved over to play with their Under 18’s.

The following season – 2007 – when he was just 17, he and a few of his mates forced their way into the senior side, as Eaglehawk – who hadn’t won a flag in 25 years – began their march towards a famous premiership.

“The team was comprised mostly of locals who had come through the Reserves and U.18’s……They went to school together, knocked around together, and had an unreal bond……I haven’t really experienced anything to compare with it at another Club….”

“Gisborne, who had won four of the last five flags, beat us by 100 points in the final round. We beat them by a goal in the second-Semi, then came from 3 goals down at three-quarter-time, kicking into the breeze in the last term, to win by two points……..It was an enormous win……and great to play in a flag alongside the old man…..”

Brodie spent a good portion of the following season playing TAC Cup with the Bendigo Pioneers.

“I was a bit of a loose cannon in those days,” he says. “Being involved with the Pioneers didn’t do much for me. It just didn’t feel like you were part of a real footy club. I preferred to be back at Eaglehawk, playing with my mates…….”

His suspension in a late-season Pioneers game in 2008 robbed him of the chance to return to Eaglehawk and share in their second successive flag. They held off a final-quarter charge from Golden Square, to win by six points……….

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Whilst Derrick was no doubt the biggest influence on his career, Brodie says his greatest fan was his ‘Pa’ – Sam.

“He was a big part of my life, and used to come to all of my games – from juniors right through – until his health started to deteriorate……He was a massive supporter of mine; a humble, quiet, 6’4” gentle giant……He grew up as part of a large Samoan family. They moved to New Zealand ( where Dad and his brother Shawn were born ) before settling over here.”

“Pa treated us all fantastic, but I was five years older than the next grand-kid, so I think he spoiled me a bit more than the others ……He passed away last year….”

Footy’s ingrained in the family; his brother ( on his mum Sue’s side ) Kane Farrell, is a classy 23 year-old left-footer, who has played 33 AFL games with Port Adelaide, whilst three younger Filo’s – Isaah (16), Noah (14) and Aidan (11) are coming through the ranks.

But they’ve only been able to catch fleeting glimpses of their older brother in action, since he began his football travels……..

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Brodie was 19, and still at Eaglehawk, when he played a starring role for Vic.Country against the VAFA, in a match that they clinched after the siren:

“A rep from Peel Thunder must have been watching, because their President, John Ditchburn got in touch and invited me over.”

“I hadn’t really been out of home before, and was still only a kid……..Peel are based at Mandurah – about an hour from Perth – so the place had a bit of a Bendigo feel to it…….Good weather and lifestyle……..But we were getting pumped by about 100 points every week……”

“The standard of footy was excellent, and it definitely set my career up, I guess…….In hindsight though, I should have stuck it out for another couple of years in the WAFL – or gone to the SANFL………”

Instead, he moved back east, to Koondrook-Barham, where he played for the next two years. His uncle, Shawn was coaching, and they lined up a job for him, stacking fruit boxes and driving a fork-lift.

He finished third in the competition B & F in his first year, and represented the Central Murray League and NSW-ACT.

But he’d become a touch disillusioned with football:

“ I’m very laid-back. If I’m not enjoying something I just won’t do it…..So I wasn’t going to play footy just for the sake of it….I was just going to kick back for the year”

Fortunately, he received a call from a long-serving Eaglehawk team-mate, Luke Dutton, inviting him back to the Two-Blues.

Over the next three years Filo enhanced his burgeoning reputation. He helped Eaglehawk into the finals in 2013, taking out the B & F ( “it was great to win one at my home club “). He represented the VCFL the following year, and in 2015 was added to an illustrious Honour Board, alongside his dad, as a winner of the BFL’s Michelson Medal.

Darwin beckoned soon after, and he began the first of his summer sabbaticals, stripping with the Nightcliff Tigers……..

He admits that the lifestyle in the sultry Far North was right down his alley:

“I was doing Solar Installations up there……I know it’s not much fun being on a roof most of the day when it’s as hot as hot…..But when you finish work there’s nothing better than settling down with a cold beer………. ”

Brodie’s become somewhat of an NTFL legend in the seven years he’s been travelling back and forth.

He stamped his mark on the competition in his first season, when he took out the League’s Nicholls Medal in 2015/16. Nightcliff had been starved of success for decades, and he was a key figure in their transformation into a power.

The Tigers swept to their first flag in 54 years in 2018/19 and completed the hat-trick two years later in the most dramatic of circumstances:

“I’ve never played in a game like it…..We were up by 40 points half-way through the second quarter…..With five minutes remaining we’d slumped to 4 goals down………Amidst a flurry of goals in the dying stages, we managed to tie the game…..”

“It went into over-time, and we won it by seven points……..The Nightcliff fans went crazy…..That’d probably be my biggest thrill in football…..”

Brodie took out his second Nicholls Medal in 2019/20, represented the NTFL against Glenelg the following year, and passed the 100-game mark for the Tigers last summer.

One of the highlights of NT footy, he says, is taking the 15-minute flight over to the Tiwi Islands to play the Bombers:

“They treat you like you’re Gary Ablett; they’re just nuts for their footy…..There might be a crowd of 700-odd, but you’d reckon there were 5,000 when they carry on after the Bombers have kicked a goal….”

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A friendship that had been forged with Shepparton United star Tim Looby in a Vic Country game was the catalyst for Brodie to head over to the Goulburn Valley League in 2016.

He was at the peak of his form, having picked up two League Medals within six months, and enjoyed another fine season, representing the GV and finishing runner-up to Looby in United’s B & F.

The Ovens & Murray League had long held an attraction, and when Daryn Cresswell messaged him in 2017 he jumped at an invitation to join a resurgent Wodonga Raiders :

“I hadn’t played under a coach with ‘Crezza’s’ CV…… So I ended up moving to Wodonga and worked with him……still do bits and pieces for him…….We’ve got an really good relationship, and I think in the two years I spent with him there ( in 2017-18 ) I played some of my best footy…..”

The Raiders looked a really strong contender in 2018. They had the Second Semi in their grasp…….until young Albury ruckman Brady Morton converted a free kick, with just 57 seconds remaining. The Tigers snatched victory by two points….

“That shattered us really, and we lost a bit of momentum,” he recalls .

“Wang ended up knocking us off by 6-7 goals in the Prelim………Then we drowned our sorrows on Mad Monday……”

He’d got a whisper that he was a chance to top the Morris Medal count that night, and was urged to go along. He wishes he could have his time over again…….

“I’d had quite a few, and when I left the stage after accepting the Medal, tripped on the step, fell on the floor and cut my hand.”

“They were a bit shitty on me …….I put my hand up for it and had to apologise, but there were a few who wanted to take the Medal off me……”

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He was still working for Cresswell, who, by now, (2019) had departed for the Wang Rovers, and had been succeeded by Jarrod Hodgkin.

“I was doing a job for Crezza up at Mollymook, on the NSW south coast, and had lost a bit of interest. I said to the Raiders: ‘Look, I’m not enjoying my footy. If I keep playing I’ll be wasting your time and mine……..I’m happy to sit out….or you can clear me back to Eaglehawk. Thankfully, they did…..”

A good mate Travis Matheson was now coaching the Borough, who went on to reach the Grand Final and fall just short of another flag. They finished mid-table last year.

Brodie was re-united with ‘Crezza’ at the Rovers this season, and has produced flashes of brilliance in his 13 games ……..His red-hot 27-possession game against Corowa-Rutherglen last Saturday was the catalyst for a stirring victory. Undoubtedly, if the Hawks can see the best of Filo for the remainder of the season, their finals prospects will be enhanced.

Retirement is still a long way off, and he sees no reason why he can’t pass the 500-game mark before hanging up the boots.

“I’ll go up and play another summer season in Darwin and then come back to the Rovers, I guess. ……….I enjoy it here,” says the little maestro……..

“ICEBERG DAIRY FRESH BUTTER………”

An old friend passed on recently…………Hadn’t seen him for yonks………

He was one of those special ‘characters’ you come across in sport……….Handy player, with a deep affection for footy and cricket……A vital part of the fabric of the Clubs to which he was attached……..A shit-stirrer and prankster, who made light of most situations………And ensured people didn’t get too far ahead of themselves……

He had a stutter, which added a quaintness to the rendition of his favourite ditty…..By the time the after-match beers had suitably lubricated his tonsils, and his team-mates had begun to urge him on, he would respond with a few verses of the jingle:

“Iceberg dairy fresh butter,

The choicest butter to buy,

It’s good for you,

Your family too,

Iceberg dairy fresh butter……..”

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Frank Griffin was a Chiltern boy. As a typical lad from the old mining town his ambition was to pull on the famous Red and White guernsey that his dad, Mick, had worn in premiership sides during the thirties.

He repeated the feat at the age of 19, lining up on the half forward line in the 1957 flag triumph over King Valley. The following season he shared in another premiership, when Greg Tate’s combination got up by a goal against a gallant Greta.

They weren’t so lucky in ‘59. Despite finishing atop the ladder and winning the second-semi, Moyhu outlasted them in the Grand Final, to win their first title since 1947.

‘Griffo’ took out the Best & Fairest in his next – and final year with the Swans.

He and his bride Yvonne moved to Wangaratta, where he’d accepted a job with the Australian Postal Corporation, as it was then known.

Possibly through the influence of his mad-Rovers boss Jack Barry, or more likely, the urge to play under the great Bobby Rose, he lined up with the Hawks. In his fifth senior game he turned and slipped on muddy terrain…….. A broken leg put paid to the rest of his season.

It was a setback he didn’t need…..After a couple of early games in ‘62 he transferred to Greta, where his crash-through style as a back-flanker perfectly suited an emerging side.

The story is told that he’d been booked by a local cop – Moyhu coach Ray Burns – for driving his car with a faulty tail-light.

The opportunity for a square-up presented itself when the sides met mid-season. The brawny ‘Griffo’ sighted tough-nut Burns wide-open in a pack, and spreadeagled him:

“S..S..Sorry Ray….No Lights, ” he stammered.

Dubbed the ‘Silent Postie’ because he abhored the tradition of blowing the whistle when delivering letters, Frank graduated to sorting mail, and working on the front counter of the Post Office.

He regularly did the night-shift at the Telephone Exchange. After the pubs had shut of a Saturday night, a handful of his footy mates ( and sometimes their partners) would help him to while away the lonely early-morning hours.

He would entertain us by connecting people ( complete strangers ) on either side of the continent and chuckle while they argued about which of them instituted the call, and how rude it was to have their sleep interrupted at such an unearthly hour……..

He once contacted Rovers committeeman Ernie Payne – a fellow stirrer – at 4.30 am: “…Just ringing Ernie, to let you know that in two hours you’ll be receiving your early-morning wake-up call……”

‘Griffo’ was a left-arm slow bowler ( who turned the ball minimally) and hard-hitting batsman. He was part of the Postals team which made its WSCA debut in the early-sixties.

They took their cricket seriously at Postals, but became renowned as possibly the most social mob of the Social competition. Their after-match festivities, which often finished late on Sunday nights, were held regularly at the Griffin abode, at the bottom-end of Park Lane.

Frank was skipper when Postals scored possibly their greatest, against-the-odds, win. They were 9/85, and in an impossible situation overnight, in pursuit of 167 in the ‘65/66 Semi, when a last-wicket partnership of 96 between John West and Keith Marsden guided them to victory. Celebrations lasted until the wee hours……….

The following week, in their third successive Grand Final, despite ‘Griffo’s’ 5/41 and top-score of 21, they were unable to contain Woollen Mills, who scored a convincing win.

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His on-going battle with asthma prompted Frank to seek warmer climes, so the family – Yvonne and kids Jacqui, Michael and Stephen – packed up and headed to Darwin.

He maintained his employment with Government Departments – eventually working in the Motor Vehicle Section – and becoming heavily involved with Nightcliff Football Club.

Darwin was right down his alley. His health improved; the beer, in the sultry conditions, had never tasted better; and he loved his Tigers.

He was elected President in 1970………Recruiting was his forte’ and he would paint a rosy picture of a ‘Summer Football Paradise’ as he launched valiant attempts to lure prospective recruits from down south.

I was one who succumbed.

About an hour after I drove into Darwin, in late-October ‘71, ‘Griffo’ had set me up with a job as a ‘Scaffolder’ with the Public Works Department. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Your biggest responsibility will be tee-ing up the tradies’ morning and afternoon-teas……”.

“You can stay with us, at Sanders Street, Jingili, for a while,” he said. This turned out to be for the remainder of the footy season.

It proved to be a memorable five months. I presume that many other ‘Southerners’ were on the receiving end of the Griffin hospitality over the years.

Frank had two stints as President of the Tigers. The first was from 1970-76; the second from 1986 to ‘88. He was Treasurer from 1991 to ‘94.

In the late-seventies he married Mabel, who was Black and Gold through-and-through, and a dedicated Nightcliff figure .

They were well-matched. Mabel was widely-known as the Tigers’ most vocal and ‘excitable’ supporter, and would plonk herself in the same spot at the Gardens Oval each week. Her booming voice shook umpires and opposing players alike, and Frank would discreetly distance himself from her when she was in full cry.

The ‘N.T News’ once provided an in-depth account, in their Match Report, of her ‘taking on’ an umpire with an umbrella.

After a particularly explosive Nightcliff – Waratahs clash, during which the central umpire had threatened to report her for abusive language, Mabel, in a rare conciliatory gesture after the game, handed him a pair of glasses which, she muttered, might overcome his eyesight problem.

The Tigers reached the Grand Final in early March of 1986, against perennial powerhouse St. Mary’s. There was considerable hype in the lead-up to the game, as they were rated a strong chance to win their first flag in 21 years. Unfortunately, it turned into an avalanche………They were belted by more than 170 points.

Mabel passed away in her sleep that night, further adding to the sombre mood in the Nightcliff camp. (Her memory is now perpetuated with the Mabel Griffin Scoreboard, at Nightcliff Oval, and the Club’s naming of the Volunteer of the Year Award in her honour).

The death of Frank’s son Michael two years later, at the age of 24, also hit him like a sledge-hammer, and you’d say he was overdue for a change of luck.

It came not long after, in 1988, when he received a ‘phone call, with the news that he’d won Division 1 Tattslotto.

There was no immediate change to his lifestyle, apart from some acts of generosity towards his family. But he eventually retired from the Motor Vehicle Department , and chose to live out a dream.

He purchased a 5-acre Mango Farm 40km from Darwin and spent countless hours on his tractor. This was interspersed with regular visits to the nearby Humpty Doo Pub, or trips into town, to catch up with his mates at the Nightcliff Sports Club.

The Mangoes were sold at Market, and Frank would also pick up a few bob on the side by slashing grass in his neighbors’ paddocks.

It was good for the soul, he reckoned, when he could be in his own world, deep in thought, on his tractor; even when, on one occasion, he happened to accidentally slash a well-concealed Cannabis Crop.

Frank originally met Cath, his third partner, soon after the Cyclone Tracy upheaval of 1976. He and the boys had re-located to Wodonga for 12 months, to the same apartment block in which she lived ( He also took on the job as Secretary of his old club Chiltern during this period ).

Afterwards, upon his return to Darwin, he’d met and married Mabel.

Following her death, he and Cath re-kindled their relationship, and she moved to be with him up north. They later settled at Forrest Beach, a tiny coastal town two and a half hours south of Cairns, in the mid-nineties, and had been together for 34 years.

Frank suffered another grievous blow five years ago, when his youngest, Steven, died, aged 50. Even though he had great support from his daughter Jacqui, the passing of his two boys had affected him deeply.

He passed away two months ago, aged 83.

A Memorial Service for Frank Griffin, Nightcliff and NTFL Life Member, dual Chiltern Premiership player and colourful sporting personality, was held in his old home town earlier this month.

THE NORTHERN SAFARI

Early October in Darwin. It’s hot, but not unbearable. The locals inform you, with a knowing smile, that the ‘Build-Up’ is coming.

The monsoonal ‘Wet Season’ storms that spectacularly light up the sky and send the vegetation into an explosion of color and vivacity, will be accompanied by a sweltering and uncomfortable humidity.

The footy season starts this week and the usual collection of ‘southerners’ have made their way to the Territory capital to top-up each of the eight teams. They will be of varying types, quality and character. Some will be back home by Christmas, either because of the heat, homesickness or because they’ve underestimated the standard of footy. In other words – they haven’t been able to get a kick.

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m sitting under the Mabel Griffin Scoreboard at Nightcliff Oval, in the gathering dusk. Eager young lads, sweating, straining at the leash, are going through their paces. My mind goes back 43 years………..   ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I made the northern football pilgrimage in 1971.

Cutting myself free from the umbilical cord of the Rovers, to which I had been attached since birth, was painful, but ahead lay the prospect of broadening my horizons.

There were no pretensions that I was about to ignite some latent football ability. I was a scrubber.

A short piece, recently written by a fellow battler, Jarod Newton, about his own travails, summed me up to a tee:

……”Every footy club has at least one. He’s never going to tear a game apart, yet he’s at the heart of footy and footy clubs. He is the battler. He’s the bloke who comes off the bench for short bursts, the bloke who is the scapegoat for supporters. He frustrates his coach. He runs the water when he’s injured, sells his raffle tickets and never misses training. When he’s omitted from the side, as he will be every season at some point, he takes the knock, admits his failings and swears he’ll stand up in the reserves to put himself back into contention.”……….

So I packed up the old grey and white EK Holden and ventured forth. The first port-of-call was Brisbane.

Having little driving experience outside Wang I found bang in the middle of a traffic jam in the city, on arrival, on a busy Friday afternoon. I panicked, the EK stalled, a cacophony of tooting horns from exasperated drivers heightened my predicament.

There was a contact at one of the old, traditional QAFL clubs, Coorparoo so, in a trice I became a Navy Blue and could, in latteryears, boast that Jason Dunstall and I both occupied the goal-square at Giffin Oval.

Most of you have vivid memories of the great games you have played over your careers, but I’d like to tell you about the only day I felt that I ever elevated my performance to another plateau. Unfortunately, it was a mere practice match, held in front of a handful of onlookers.

I experienced the sensation of flying gracefully through the air for marks, clunking them with authority, then swivelling in mid-air and shooting bullet-like Polly Farmer-style handballs to team-mates many metres away. The Sherrin, on this memorable occasion, seemed to be under my spell.

Aha, I privately marvelled. Inside this slovenly body is encased a superstar. But alas, despite initially causing club officials’ hearts to flutter, this proved something of a mirage.

It was a great experience with the ‘Roos. Our form tapered and we eventually missed the finals, but this was soon forgotten amidst the anticipation of a four-day trek across the nation.

What a relief to arrive in Darwin and stretch the legs at last. Alighting from the dusty red Monaro to which I had now upgraded, an incredible wave of heat forced me to rush to the comfort of the nearest air-conditioned bar.

Four hours later, after renewing acquaintances with an old mate, Frank Griffin, I was introduced to a new set of team-mates at training. Knowing ‘Griffo’ from old, I knew that he would have given the Nightcliff boys an inflated description of my limited ability.

In the fading light of that first session, they appeared to be a combination of black, brown, brindle and white and the darker it got the more sinister they looked.

But they were a terrific lot of blokes. The first piece of advice I received was to keep the fluids up and remember: “up here beer is medicinal”!

Nightcliff had won three flags in their brief history and were originally known as Works & Housing. The club’s roots were heavily steeped in the Public Works sector.

So they found, or gifted, me a job as a ‘Scaffolder’. Hell, I had no idea even what a scaffolder was, let alone operate as one.”Don’t worry”, they said. “All you’ve gotta do is get the boys lunch, morning and afternoon tea and clean up a bit after them”.

Nightcliff (The Tigers ), boasted some of the NTFL’s stars among their ranks. Probably their smoothest mover was Kenny Bonson, a Nicholls Medallist and former coach.

The Bonsons were famous in Darwin footy, as were many other families, like the Lew Fatts, Motlops, Coopers, Ah Matts, Roes, Muirs, Tyes, Stokes’ and Longs.

The up-and-coming star of the side was a teen-aged rover called Joe Daby, who was to become a 5-time club B & F and dual Nicholls Medallist. His side-kick was a tiny bundle of energy called Greg ‘Muscles’ Adams.

Wayne Radbone, an ex-Sturt player, had taken on the coaching job and in mid-season Keith Pattinson, a SANFL star arrived. Among the southern influx was a red-headed former Carlton Reserves player, John Kemp, who achieved some sort of fame within the club by sleeping in his car throughout the season.

The Tigers trained at their home, Nightcliff Oval, but most games were played at the historic Gardens Oval.

We were a middle-of-the-road side, being no match for Darwin, who were chasing something like their fourth flag in a row. But we managed to scramble into the First Semi-final against St. Mary’s.

In a bruising encounter, which culminated in an all-in brawl in the last quarter, the Saints proved too strong and ran away to win by 20 points.

“…..There were more cautions handed out in 10 minutes in this game than by a referee in a tag – wrestling match…….”, the NT News proclaimed.

My sayonara to the NTFL came the following Tuesday evening. Summonsed to the Old Darwin Court House, the tribunal meted out a two-week sentence for striking a feisty Saint whose name has always stayed in my mind – Leon Puruntatameri.

There was plenty of time to ponder my misfortune. The next day the Monaro cruised onto the Stuart Highway and I tentatively began to negotiate the 4,000km journey home. The Northern Safari was over………

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