‘THE ARTFUL DEFENDER……’

Jimmy Sandral occasionally casts his mind back to that late-September day in 1956.

A record crowd of 115,802 has jammed into the MCG for the Grand Final, between arch rivals Melbourne and Collingwood……….He runs, or rather, floats, onto the ground behind Demon skipper Noel McMahon, and alongside such luminaries as Ian Ridley, Bob Johnson, Stuart Spencer, Donny Williams and Ron Barassi……..

The last-minute words of coach Norm Smith are still ringing in his ears: “…..I want you boys to lay your bodies in the line….Some of you are going to get hurt today; if you’re not prepared to get hurt, leave now !…….”

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Seven years earlier, Jim had just settled back on the family farm after completing his secondary education. He had to re-acquaint himself with the rudiments of footy, as he’d been boarding at St.Gregory’s College, Campbelltown, a traditional Rugby League stamping-ground.

Before his departure, he’d attended the local 11-pupil State school. With seven girls and just four boys, ‘Rounders’ had been the compulsory sport at Rennie Primary.

So when he debuted for Rennie, aged 16, in his first-ever fair dinkum game of football, he was, he admits, pretty rough around the edges. “I wasn’t even sure of the rules. I must admit I made plenty of mistakes,” he says.

But he cottoned on pretty quickly. In 1952 he won the club Best and Fairest award, was runner-up in the League Medal and played a starring role in Rennie’s premiership side.IMG_3486

In the following two years he won both the club B & F and the Coreen League’s Archie Dennis Medal.

It was late 1954 when Corowa invited him in to play a couple of late-season games on match permits. Jimmy adapted easily to the lift in standard and was persuaded to make the 25-mile trek in from the farm, to join the Spiders in 1955.

He was a natural, and took on all-comers at centre half back . Standing just under 6 foot, and weighing around 14 stone, he possessed a strong pair of hands . And – when he swept onto that left boot of his -he could hoof the Sherrin a country mile.

After just seven games with Corowa, Jim earned selection in the O & M’s Country Championship team. In what was an All-Star line-up, he was the stand-out, polling eight votes of a possible nine, to win the gong as Player of the three-game Series.IMG_3497

League clubs, of course, zeroed in. His dad, doing his best to be a bit protective, ushered a couple of scouts away, informing them that: “he’s not going anywhere.”

But when persuasive Melbourne secretary Jim Cardwell and recruiting manager Ken Carlon ( an ex-Demon 49-gamer and former Rennie coach) paid a visit to the Sandral property later that year, Jim was invited to be a guest of the club at the 1955 Grand Final.

“Not only that, but I had the privilege of sitting on the bench, beside the coaching staff. What a thrill. That was the day that ‘Bluey’ Adams ran full-steam off the bench in the final quarter and collided with Collingwood winger Des Healy.”

“Melbourne were pretty good to me, really,” says Jim. “When I headed down there, they teed me up with a job at the Hardware Company of Australia, packing stuff to send to the bush. Gee, I thought, this is a far cry from working on the farm.”

“Then I moved to Standard Containers, of Dawson Street, Brunswick. It was over the road from Miller’s Rope Works, where Norm Smith worked. I got on all right with old Norm, and he used to take me to training.”

I ask Jimmy if Smith was as tough as they say. “No doubt about that,” he says, as he recalls an incident at training one night.

“There was a bloke who’d just been cleared from Collingwood; ‘Icy’ Hamilton was his name, and he was reputed to have a bit of an ego. Anyway, he’s out on the ground, kicking the ball to himself, and dodging and weaving around imaginary opponents, when Norm leads us out onto the track.”

“Norm barked at him: ‘There’s no room for lairs in this place……Get back into the rooms.’ Big Bob Johnson said: ‘I reckon you’re a bit hard on him, Norm.’ ‘Shut up, or you’ll be in there with him,’ was Norm’s reply.”IMG_3505

It was no mean feat for Sandral to break into a Premiership team, and hold his place in his debut season. His form wavered a little at times, and he was named on the bench for the Second Semi-Final.

But his value was shown when he came on to replace Geoff McGivern at half-time. The Sun’s match report said:

‘One of Melbourne’s heroes was 19th man Jim ‘Little Bull’ Sandral, who charged into packs just as his nickname suggests. After the match Sandral – whose instructions were simply : Go in, Get it, Kick it’, said: ‘I kept thinking that if I get a chance to take the field, I can’t afford to make one mistake……(Then) after listening to Norm’s pep-talk at half-time, I felt better than at any time in my football career.’

The Demons stormed to the flag a fortnight later, winning by 73 points, after Collingwood had held a 5-point lead at quarter-time. The 1956 Melbourne team is still thrown up as one of the greatest of all-time.

Jim remembers, as much as anything, the over-flowing crowd, which had earlier lifted some of the gates off their hinges and swarmed inside the oval fence. “You had to be careful if you were chasing the ball near the boundary, that you didn’t end up plunging into the crowd.”

An ankle injury kept him out for a fair portion of the following season. Add that to a decent bout of homesickness and it’s not hard to understand why the wide open spaces of Rennie beckoned.

“I used to come out of a post-match ‘do’ and be greeted by the cold, empty stands of the MCG. Then I’d have to wait for a tram to take me out to Heidelberg. Moments like those made me pine for home……And I knew I was needed back on the farm. ”

Corowa jumped in and appointed him playing-coach in 1958. They were light on for personnel, but were inspired by their champion centre half back, who took out his first Morris Medal the following year.

“The two years of coaching was enjoyable, but it was a battle combining it with work on the farm. At the end of the ‘59 season, I went down to Melbourne with our President Alan McBride, to see if we could find a replacement.”

“We had three fellahs teed up – Freddie Goldsmith, Peter Lucas and Frank Tuck. Goldsmith ended up at Albury, and Collingwood appointed Lucas as their Secretary. ‘Tucky’ was keen on the job, and we were very lucky to land him as coach.”

The Spiders were a vastly-improved combination in the early sixties, and surged up the ladder. Tuck had a terrific lieutenant in the dynamic Sandral, who was to take out five successive Club B & F’s and add another two Morris Medals to his collection. He finished fifth in the Medal on another two occasions.IMG_3494

Corowa won their way into their second-ever Grand Final in 1963, with tight 10 and 7 point victories in the lead-up. Sandral’s battle with burly Demon forward Ian Hughes was to prove one of the highlights of the game. His side was in the contest up to its ears at three quarter-time, but Benalla blew them away with an eight goal to nil last quarter. The Spiders would have to wait another five years for their fairytale flag.

By this time, Jimmy Sandral was back at Rennie. He had left Corowa, aged 32, after 164 games, and a reputation as the greatest-ever player to wear the Black and Red guernsey.

For the next six seasons he coached his home club, and finished runner-up in the Archie Dennis Medal each time.

“I told Rennie that I’d do the job for nothing in 1970. They were pretty happy about that. As it turned out, it was one of my most enjoyable years of footy. I was still playing okay, and took out the club Best & Fairest. And in my last game we won the premiership……….”

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Seven years after Jim’s retirement, his son Dennis began a football journey which saw him chalk up 348 O & M games. Regarded as the finest defender in the competition in his day, he and Jim were named full back and centre half back respectively, in Corowa-Rutherglen’s Team of the Century. He also matched his dad’s feat of winning five club Best and Fairests.IMG_3507

Jim says it gave him a huge thrill watching the young bloke’s career closely. “A good, strong player, Dennis….Never let ‘em down…….Finished third in the Medal one year, and a terrific inter-League player.”

“But then, the other boys were handy, too. Michael did his knee early on, and young Jimmy had a bit of back trouble. When Dennis coached Howlong, Jimmy followed him out and won the League Medal.

Jim and Shirley also had two daughters, Bernadette ( O’Donnell ) and Joanne (IMG_3509 Reagan ). There are also 17 grandkids and eight ( soon to be 12 ) great-grandkids, so the Sandral footy dynasty is set to continue.

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Jimmy’s going on 86 now, and there’s no more respected figure in footy. This official Legend of the Ovens and Murray League could also be dubbed its unofficial Ambassador.

He can be found in his customary spot, perched between the kiosk and the interchange shed at the John Foord Oval each home game, or following Corowa-Rutherglen around, wherever they play. And he’s always  up for a yarn…………….IMG_3501

A LIFETIME AT THE BAR……….

Lou Cesa casts his mind back, as he peruses a grainy photo from his junior football days.

He went on to enjoy a fine career as an erstwhile defender for Wangaratta, but this Centrals premiership team of 1947 still remains a highlight for Lou.

“There were only four teams in the Wangaratta Junior League that year, and we went right through the home-and-away rounds without winning a game.”

“Then something must have clicked. Somehow we won the First-semi and Preliminary Finals before taking out the Grand Final.”

Lou goes through the names and, with the help of a razor-sharp memory, provides a pen picture of how most of the players’ lives panned out. He concludes that, besides he and another local  – Dave Dent – the lad in the front row, Brian Bourke, might be the only other survivor.

“Had the makings of a handy player,” says Lou. “Brian was one of the biggest in the side….. Went on to become a pretty well-known legal man……….”

Indeed, I tell Lou, the same Brian Bourke was honoured in the recent Queen’s Birthday list. Awarded an Order of Australia for:  ‘…..Significant service to the Law and the legal profession, to Australian Rules and the community’.

“Wow,” says Lou. ” The boy sure kicked on…………”

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Brian’s 88 now, and is still practicing law. In fact, he holds the record as the state’s longest-serving continuously-practicing barrister.

His family were steeped in the hotel trade. At various times, he tells me,  they ran Wangaratta’s Albion, and other pubs around the area, such as Glenrowan, Wodonga and Seymour.

When they returned to Wangaratta, he attended Brigidine Convent for three years and was influenced by a ‘wonderful nun’, Mother Columbanis.

He’d finished Year 11 and moved to Melbourne for work, but she encouraged him to get his ‘Matric’ Certificate and study Latin if he wanted to fulfill his ambition to do law.

So the kid who ‘showed a bit of promise as a footballer’, shelved his aspirations of footy stardom, in preference for a lifetime in the legal profession.

Brian started his Law articles in 1948, and was a solicitor from 1953 to ’58. He came to the Bar in 1960, thus commencing a 57-year unbroken stint as a barrister, that has produced a million and one anecdotes.

He reflected on his experiences in an interview conducted for the Bar Oral History, several years ago:

“I think I was a bit of a wild boy in my very younger days and that gave me an insight to the other side of things. I mixed with fellows who were pretty rough and tough. I didn’t drink, which was a salvation, I think, but it gave me a view of life. The years I spent with clients, and out at Pentridge gave me an insight as to the fact that there’s good in everybody.”

“The late Jack Cullity once told me: ‘Never get too close to them (criminals)’. Graham Kinniburgh and I used to have lunch now and again and I got to know him pretty well, and a few other blokes, like the Kanes and the Morans that I’ve known; they’re just names now……Blokes like ‘Mousey’ Baker………”

“I did a trial for Mousey once. He was charged with some factory breaking down in East Richmond. We had to have a view on the morning of the trial.”

“We’re driving down this little street in Richmond and we’re in a truck.  He says: ‘Do you like oranges, Brian ?”

” Yes, Mousey, I do,” I replied.

“He stops the truck beside another truck – just completely blocked the street. He hops up, chucks 6 or 8 oranges down into the truck, knocked them off, and off we go.”

“I said: ‘You can’t steal other people’s oranges.’  ‘I know,’ said Mousey.  But he wasn’t real bad. I liked him a lot,” he said.

One client was so moved, after Bourke’s final address to the jury that he confided to him : “I didn’t think I was innocent of this thing, but after listening to you, I reckon I am……..”

It was in defending another for detonating explosives, against an overwhelming prosecution case, that Brian opened his final address to the jury with: “Well, we’ve all played with matches haven’t we…..”

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Brian was Junior Counsel to Philip Opas at the murder trial of Ronald Ryan, the last person to be legally executed in Australia. He appeared for both Ryan and Peter Walker at their committal hearings in 1966. ( Ryan was found guilty of the murder of prison warder George Hodson in their break-out from Pentridge Prison).

“I was in communication with Ron when he was on the run and went out to see him when he was returned to Victoria. I said to him: ‘You know, Ronnie, if you go for this you’re in for the big jump.’ He said: ‘You don’t need to tell me.’ ”

“Ron wasn’t a big-time crim. He was a thief and burglar. I got pretty close to him over the last 12-13 months and we became friends. He was the toughest and most courageous bloke I ever met. He faced the gallows without fear.”

Days before Ryan’s death, Bourke broke down and ‘cried like a little kid’ as the condemned man comforted him in his Pentridge cell.

“I’ve got this bloke holding me by the arm. ‘Look you’ve done everything you could for me. Don’t worry. I know how to go to the gallows,’ Ryan said. ”

Over the years he appeared for many of Victoria’s most notorious criminals, but these days he’s more likely to be appearing ‘pro bono’ for lesser-known figures.

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Brian became involved in League football in 1960, when he was asked to join the South Melbourne committee.

He initially served as the club’s delegate to the VFL , a role for which his skills as a lawyer were well-suited. Besides this, he stepped into one football’s hot-seats when he became President of the Swans in 1967.

Undoubtedly the highlight of his ‘reign’ was his role in the appointment of Norm Smith as coach, in 1969.

The Swans had been perennially unsuccessful. In fact, their previous finals appearance had been way back in 1945. But they stunned the football world with the announcement that the six-time Premiership coach had been persuaded to take over at the Lake Oval.

Smith explained that, due to his health, he was unable to get out on the ground like he used to. He suggested to Bourke that, if he was able bring along three of his former Melbourne players as assistants, he would accept the coaching position.

“I told him ‘ the job is yours.’  “The deal was done within about 20 minutes of arriving at Norm’s house. I had no idea Norm Smith was interested in coaching again, so it was a complete fluke that we got him,” he stated in the Smith biography, ‘The Red Fox’.

VA year later, South completed a remarkable transformation when they played in their first final for 25 years.

Brian Bourke held the reins as President until 1972, but has remained a committed ‘Bloods’ supporter and is a VFL/AFL Life Member of over 30 years duration.

He continued his involvement in football as a Tribunal member from 1976 to 1982 and has sat on the AFL Appeals Board for 15 years, but admits that he doesn’t get to the footy much these days.

He jokes, though, that if he “fielded a team of footballers I’ve  represented over the years, they’d win every Premiership.”

This man of many hats has co-authored two books – ‘Bourke’s Liquor Laws of Victoria’ and ‘The Australian Debater’ – and was the first member of Amnesty International and the Doxa Youth Foundation. He represented Victoria as a debater on five occasions.

He shows no sign of slowing up and is adamant that retirement is “not on the agenda yet.”

It’s been a remarkable life for the former Centrals ruckman…….

 

 

P.S:  Brian Bourke’s brother, Kevin, played in Wangaratta’s 1946 Premiership team, under the    great Laurie Nash and also figured in Wang.Rovers’ Ovens and King flag in 1948.

(With help from: The Bar Oral History, and Victorian Bar News)