‘A DAY AT THE FOOTY WITH DONNY……’

Footy’s back……You beauty……..

I’ve just alighted from the Rovers rooms after the half-time break…….A passionate Cressa has pleaded with his charges to withstand the enormous pressure being applied by the Lavington Panthers in this gripping opening-round tussle .

Still pondering what might lay ahead, I resume my seat in the rejuvenated L.P.O grandstand. It’s a game riddled with errors, but nevertheless entertaining. Looks like it’ll develop into a battle of attrition in the last half…….

Moments later there’s a tap on the shoulder from the old bloke sitting behind me ……….

“I noticed your Wang Rovers top. Did you play at all ?….”

“Yeah, late sixties. What about yourself ?….” I ask.

“North Albury…….and a bit of a run at Footscray…….”

To a lifetime Bulldog nut like me this pronouncement was music to the ears. The correlation between North and Footscray means that it can only be one person……….

“You must be Donny Ross.”

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My love-affair with the ‘Dogs was pretty well sparked by the events of 1954. For 62 years that mystical, sole premiership was our Nirvana. I remained convinced that it may never again be re-visited.

Firmly imprinted in my mind for decades were the scores, all the major details, the trivia , and the side: From the backline, it read : Wally Donald, Herb Henderson, Dave Bryden…… Half Backs: Alan Martin, Teddy Whitten, Jim Gallagher…..Centres: Ron McCarthy, Don Ross, Doug Reynolds………

“You know, there’s only six of us left,” Don tells me. “It was a terrific side, well led by Charlie Sutton. He was a bit underestimated as a player, Charlie. They always rave about how tough he was, but you don’t wear the Big V three years in a row if you’re not a star in your own right……….And Whitten ?……Well, he’s still one of the best I’ve ever seen….”

We do stop yapping for an occasional glance at the footy. “Where’s Paul Roos’s young bloke ? “

Number 22, I point out; seems to be able to find the footy.

“Not as tall as the old man, but he moves alright, that’s for sure,” he says. “So does the sandy-haired left-footer – number 3.”

“That’s Sam Murray, who spent a bit of time at Collingwood a couple of years back.”

He’s super-impressed with Lavi’s energetic coach, Simon Curtis…….But we continue to digress…….I’m eager to re-visit the career of this softly-spoken 87 year-old……..

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He grew up in Boree Creek and had virtually no exposure to sport. His main physical outlet in his pre-teen years came from cutting thistles, or carting bags of wheat, for which he’d be paid the princely sum of five pounds per day.

Don discovered footy when he was sent to the Albury High School, to commence his secondary education.

“I showed a bit, I suppose, when I had a run with North Albury juniors. Don Wilks, who’d played at Hawthorn, took on the coaching job and must have been impressed. He put me straight into the senior side….. I’d just turned 16…..”

He timed his arrival nicely. North won their way into the Grand Final against Wangaratta, and gave themselves a good chance of toppling the reigning premiers. But Don, who’d had a great season, and lined up in the centre on the experienced Norm Minns, was off the ground in the first five minutes, destined to take no further part in the game.

Another key player, John Murcott, hobbled off minutes later. The Hoppers did a great job to stay within striking distance with no bench, but eventually lowered their colours by 16 points.

Don took out the B & F in 1951, and obviously impressed former Footscray coach Arthur Olliver, who’d travelled up to see him play.

“I wasn’t really sure whether I wanted to go, but Billy King, my coach at North that year, said: ‘You’d be silly if you don’t have a crack.’ So off I went, down to the big smoke…..”

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Again, his timing was spot-on. The Bulldogs were building up to something special, and he was named in the seniors for the opening round of 1952. ( “You know, I was lucky enough to never play a Reserves game, either at North or Footscray, “ he says).

And things also fell into place when he landed a job as a maintenance carpenter at Smorgan’s, after having begun a carpentry apprenticeship back in Albury.

This later led to an opportunity to work in the building game with a staunch old Bulldog man, Wally Beevers.

“I did some sub-contract work with Wally, and worked alongside Gary Simonds ( the founder of Simonds Homes ).”

“But the biggest win I had was meeting my future wife Shirley, one Saturday night, at the dance in the Orama Ballroom in Footscray, ” Don says.

The ‘Dogs were on the improve, finishing third in 1953. After losing the first two games of 1954, they began their finals assault from second spot.

Don fitted neatly into his role in the centre, after having been experimented with in all key positions. But he’d begun his National Service at Puckapunyal mid-way through the year, and, in the lead-up to the Grand Final, didn’t train for a month.

“I suppose I was still pretty fit because we were marching for six hours a day, and doing different other drills, but I certainly didn’t get much ball-handling,” he says.

“The trouble was, come Grand Final day, I’d used up all my leave passes, and I had to rely on the good grace of my sergeant to get out of the barracks, and to the MCG. He said: ‘I’ll look the other way.’ So I sneaked off, Absent without Leave, to play the biggest game of my life.”

I’ve since read that Charlie Sutton regarded Ross as one of the linchpins of the excellent Footscray sides of the ‘50’s. At 13st 7lb and 5’11”, he often shunted him to centre half forward if the ‘Dogs needed a lift.

He was on fire in the Grand Final, with 20 possessions in the comfortable 39-point win over Melbourne.

But there was little time to enjoy the Premiership celebrations…..He had to get back to ‘Pucka’ and sneak in without being apprehended…………

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Don had now mastered one of football’s newly-created positions – playing as a ruck-rover.

“Barassi was the game’s first ruck-rover, but Sutton reckoned I might make a good fist of it, so I became the second.”

He won the Bulldogs’ Best and Fairest in 1956, despite team-mate Peter Box taking out the Brownlow Medal. As an indication of the esteem in which he was held, he was elevated to the vice-captaincy the following season.

“ I quickly grew to dislike the job. I was six or seven years younger than some of the club’s stalwarts, and felt they probably didn’t appreciate a young tyro being one of the official leaders. Besides, things had become a bit unsettled around the place……….”

“Charlie Sutton was running a pub, and had taken his eye off the ball a bit. The Committee hauled him in one night in the middle of the season and read the riot act to him. Charlie came out of the meeting and promptly gave us the night off training…….That didn’t go over too well…..I don’t know whether that was the sole reason, but they sacked him soon after, and replaced him with Ted Whitten.”

“ To Charlie’s credit, though, it didn’t affect his love of the Club; he had another stint as coach and served as President for a few years……”

The following year – 1958 – Footscray tumbled to second-last. Don had always planned to return to the bush to settle down and bring up his family, but it was a shock to the ‘Dogs when he told them he was quitting.

He’d played 129 games, and was just 24, when news broke that he’d turned his back on the glamour of League football to take on the coaching job at his old club, North Albury………….

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“So there you are, you old bastard……I wondered where you’d got to….I thought Alzheimer’s had set in and you’d gone walkabout……” quipped his mate ‘Happy’ Whetmore, an old Lavington player, who had brought Don in from Jindera for the day.

“Nah, it was too rowdy in the Entertainment Area……I wanted to concentrate on the footy,” Don replied. He introduces me to ‘Happy’ ( “I’ve known him for years, and still don’t know his first name,” he says ).

We resume our conversation, acknowledging that the Rovers appeared to have broken the game open in this final quarter………..

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Don was heralded as the Hoppers’ saviour when he again pulled on the Green and Gold, but he was unable to take them beyond the middle reaches of the ladder.

“We just didn’t have the dough to spend on recruiting to be really competitive in those days,” he says.

His own form – and his leadership – was outstanding. He finished third, sixth, second and second in the Morris Medal in the four years he coached, between 1959 and ‘62.

“It was a Golden Era for the O & M, with fellahs like Frank Tuck, Billy Stephen, Fred Goldsmith, Jimmy Deane and Des Healy in charge of other Clubs,” he says.

“But your bloke ( Bob Rose ) was the pick of ‘em. I remember we played the South-West League up at Narrandera one year. He had a crook back and could hardly walk. The officials suggested that he pull out, but he said: ‘I don’t want to let anyone down. I’ll be right once I get out there.’…….He dominated on a forward flank. ‘Rosey’ was a champ.”

Don coached Burrumbuttock for a season before deciding to hang up the boots, aged 29, and concentrate on his flourishing construction business. The North Albury Clubrooms, at Bunton Park, was one of the hundreds of District projects he oversaw.

He settled, with Shirley and the three kids – Sandra, Jenny and Paul ( who also played with North Albury, and had three senior games at Footscray ) at Lavington. They later moved out to a property at Jindera, where he still resides.

He took on breeding and training racehorses as a hobby: “ I usually only had two or three in work at a time, but we had a lot of success. Over the years we won Cups at Wang, Wodonga, Corowa,, Wagga, Benalla and Albury.”

The North Albury, Ovens & Murray and Western Bulldogs Hall of Fame Member still follows the ‘Dogs closely, and is treated like royalty when he heads down to Melbourne for the occasional game.

“I’m keen, but I’m not a patch on Shirley. She’ll watch ‘em on telly, then saddle up for the re-play ! “ says the old champ………..

“THE HOPPER WHO FLEW TO THE SUNSHINE STATE ……..”

Whenever Kevin Weule’s Parkinson’s affliction begins to give him the ‘irrits’ he grabs his paint brush and begins to work feverishly on a portrait.

“Funny,” he says, “When I got the first symptoms of this prick of a thing in 2007 my hands used to shake like hell. Then I took up Portrait Painting…….It was amazing how that seemed to stop the tremors. It became my hobby……..I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Ovens and Murray fans of the sixties might remember ‘Turkey’ as a feisty North Albury defender – slight of build, but big on attitude……..one of the all-time favourites of Bunton Park’s resident cheer-leader Kenny Bruce – the bloke responsible for that timeless catch-cry: ‘Go Hoppers, Go, Go, Go……’

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They dubbed him with his famous nickname when he was playing Midget footy with North Albury.

“The coach promised us some Turkey if we won our Grand Final. All we got was chicken…

I started whingeing and asking where the turkey was………So I’ve been ‘Turkey’ ever since,” he says.

He was born in Brunswick nearly 77 years ago. When his dad moved the Weule clan to the Border, and began operating Lavington Car Sales they gravitated to the nearby North Albury Footy Club.

Turkey rose through the ranks, and made his senior debut in 1961, aged 17, under the coaching of the great Donny Ross, who’d returned home after a fine career with Footscray.

“Rossy played the game hard and fair, but could get fired up. He took exception to something a Myrtleford player did one day; chased him into their dressing rooms and got stuck into him. By gee he was cranky……”.

Ross was succeeded as coach by big-names Graeme McKenzie, Ian Aston, Ralph Rogerson and, finally, John Sharrock, during Turk’s time in Green and Gold, but they were unable to lift the Hoppers into the upper echelon.

“We usually finished about mid-ladder ( and snuck into the finals twice, I think ) despite having some brilliant individual players like Stan Sargeant, ‘Sam’ Donovan, David Sykes, Geoff Doubleday and Bobbie Barker. It’s just that we never had enough of ‘em.”

But by the mid-sixties Turk was rated among the League’s star defenders. He played the first of his seven rep games for the O & M in 1966, in front of 12,000 fans at Bendigo’s QEO. Inter-League footy was a big deal in those days, and sides usually contained their share of recently-retired VFL players.

The VFL introduced country zoning in 1968, and he was one of a handful of O & M players to be invited down to train with North Melbourne.

After performing capably in practice matches against Carlton and Collingwood, he was named in the back pocket for another pre-season game – against an O & M rep side, coached by Mick Bone.

“I was picking up a few kicks, too. But ‘Boney’, the bastard, sneaked an extra couple of blokes up forward in the third-quarter. Keith McKenzie was North Melbourne’s coach at the time…..He was yelling out …’Pick up your man, Turkey…..Pick up your man……’.”

“The umpie got wind of it and stopped the game for a head-count…..and two of the O & M fellahs sneaked off…….”

As luck would have it, a week later, Turk’s foot got tangled up in an Arden Street pot-hole and the resultant broken leg put paid to his dreams of the big-time………He headed back home to Bunton Park.

In the meantime, he took over his dad’s business.

“My brother Peter had been killed in a car accident near Corowa, and it broke Dad’s heart. He never really got over it. We ended up selling the land and everything up, and I went over to work at Baker Motors ……….

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It was late 1970…….Turk was considering an offer to coach Ganmain. He’d chalked up 161 games for the Hoppers and thought it was time to test himself. Almost on cue, he received a call from powerful Brisbane club Coorparoo.

Their Patron, Jack Handasyde – an ex-Corowa lad – flew down to interview him, and painted a rosy picture of the Club and its prospects. By the time Jack had climbed into the plane to head home, Turk had accepted the job as playing-coach of the ‘Roos.

“Old Jack was a very convincing, self-made man. He’d moved up north in his younger days , got into selling cars and built up his business, Handasyde Motors, to be one of Brisbane’s biggest. He was passionate about Aussie Rules – and Coorparoo – and didn’t mind putting his money where his mouth was.”

So Turk and his wife Marg packed their belongings and headed north with, he reckons, the princely sum of $1,200 to their name.

“Jack offered me a job as a Car Salesman. I stayed with him for the next 30-odd years…….Best move I ever made…….I loved the car game; it was the makings of me.”

Unbeknowns to him, he was replacing a QAFL legend, Wayne Stewart, who had coached the Roos to a flag in 1968, followed by successive Grand Finals.

Stewart had crossed over from his original club, Mayne, and was renowned as a tough, ruthless defender. As a youngster he’d tried his luck at St.Kilda and was named in the senior side for the opening round of 1961. But the QAFL refused to grant him an interstate clearance, and he returned to the Sunshine State, where he was to become a 289-game star.

“He was hugely admired, both for his demeanour, and his courage in playing with just one kidney. He played his career with a leather guard protecting that kidney,” Turkey recalls.

“The Club made a mistake though…..They should have brought me in a year later. Instead, they gave ‘Stewie’ the arse,” he says.

“Was he shitty,” I ask.

“Nah, the type of bloke he was, he’d have said to them: ‘Give Kevin a go’. But it took me half a year to get the players on side – to thinking my way. They were pissed off with the job being taken off ‘Stewie’, who remained a great support to me as a player………”

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I happened to play against Turk two or three times when he was at North Albury. But the first time I was introduced to him was on the way to idyllic Stradbroke Island, where Coorparoo’s playing list – and recruits – were being ferried over for a Training Camp.

Brisbane was the first port-of-call on my Northern Sporting Safari, and by the end of that week-end Camp, I was stiff and sore, heavy-headed, and had signed with the ‘Roos.

Turk had many virtues as a leader. He possessed a breezy, quick-witted personality and was an inspirational player. I loved his style and believed he had the ideal components to coach.

The Roos moved to their new headquarters, Giffin Oval, that season, but before the finishing touches were added to it, ‘The Gabba’, complete with dog-track, Moreton Bay Fig trees and a hotch-pot of stands became our home ground.

But Turk was unable to drag the side; a mixture of expat Tasmanians and Vics ( a few of them from the O & M ), along with the diehard regulars, any higher than the middle rungs of the ladder in his time at the top.

He quickly adapted to Queensland footy, though, and became one of its big names, earning his first State guernsey in 1973, against South Australia. His fellow Roos Bill Ryan ( the high-flying ex-Geelong star), winger Chris King and the full back, my brother Denis, were also part of the side, which fell to the Croweaters, by 26 points – 19.16 to 15.4.

The QAFL judiciary became well-acquainted with Turk in his sporadic appearances before them. He recalled one instance after a fiery clash against arch rivals Mayne:

“We were playing over there one day, when a bloke threw a full can of beer at me. It missed me and hit Wayne Stewart on the back of the head.”

“I just dropped everything and decided: ‘That bugger’s gotta go.’ I jumped the fence, climbed three rows of seats and knocked him on his backside…….He came up again, like a little puppet, and I hit him again…….”

“So I go back on the ground and the umpie comes up and says: ‘I wasn’t game to go near you before, but I’ve gotta report you Turk’………….”

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He played 116 games with Coorparoo and, after retirement, remained heavily involved with the Club, which experienced its next period of glory in the mid-eighties, when it snavelled two flags. A young Jason Dunstall, the Roos’ greatest-ever product, ruled the goal-square in that era.

With his three kids ( Daniel, Benjamin and Ziade ) blooming and business burgeoning, Turk threw himself headlong into selling cars.

Eventually he ran his own Car Yard, and also co-founded and operated hugely-successful Queensland Motor Valuations with old mates Jack Handasyde and Bernie Thiele.

For 21 years he became the familiar voice of ABC Radio (Qld and Tasmania), as the host of his own motoring show. He would advise listeners on the value of their car, how to go about purchasing a new vehicle, and answer their queries.

His love affair with North Stradbroke, which began with that first footy training camp back in 1971, was entrenched years later, when he and Marg built a house on the Island. They sold it after a couple of years, but now have a 30-foot Van in which they stay once or twice a week………..

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Kevin Weule stays abreast of the fortunes of his old club, and was chuffed to be invited back to Bunton Park in 2018, as one of the initial Inductees to North Albury Football Club’s Hall of Fame.

His mind wandered back more than half a century , to those days when he was the General of the Hoppers’ backline…..And, when the siren blew, would thrive on the laughs and cameraderie of team-mates and opponents alike. That, he reckons, is what footy’s all about……..

‘HAWKS SAVOUR THE REWARDING TASTE OF VICTORY…..’

“Losing builds character;  losing week after week builds grace……. When the prospect of winning is there, when we can sniff the four points, things just seem to work better……… Kicks hit the target, marks stick and clearances are won. It makes the rare taste of victory all the more worthwhile and rewarding……”
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In a match that had minimal significance on the radar of the Ovens and Murray populace, North Albury and Wangaratta Rovers – situated eighth and ninth on the ladder – squared off at the Findlay Oval today.

It’s been a season from hell for these two proud clubs, combatants in three O & M Grand Finals, but they looked pretty evenly-matched. To paraphrase the Form Guide’s summation of a horse running at Rosehill today, they were: ‘…..Back in class in this one….. Not without a chance……’
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Talking about character, the Hawks were feting two of their own who have it in spades.

The respective journeys of Ben Kneebone and Sean O’Keeffe to the 150-game milestone is a study in contrasts, but a tribute to their deep love of the game and the Club.

Benny was in Year 8 when his fellow Wang High School student,’Okey’ was drafted to Carlton. He was, he says, in awe of the precocious talent of a kid who had already played senior footy with the Rovers at age 16 and was to go on to a stellar career in three states.

It included representing the Australian Under 18’s against Ireland in International Rules ;  playing AFL football ;  winning a Best & Fairest and successive VFL flags with Sandringham;  SANFL appearances with Sturt ;  taking out the Goldfields (WA) Medal with Kalgoorlie club Railways and finally, dual B & F’s with the Hawks.

His dad Greg had been a star back in the seventies and eighties, his family was steeped in the Rovers tradition and it was always his ambition to finish his career in the Brown and Gold.

Just that he didn’t think it would extend to 150 games…….

Whereas ‘Okey’ had the happy knack of the Sherrin being drawn to him, Benny, like so many of us, had to search for the key to unlock the game’s subtleties.

He figured in a Thirds premiership in 2003 – five years after ’Okey’ achieved the same distinction and spent a couple of solid years with EDFL club Blackburn whilst at university. He then returned home to realise one of his great ambitions – to play alongside his distinguished uncle, Matt Allen, as part of the Hawk defence.

An assortment of injuries have stricken his wiry frame over the last dozen or so years, and have usually hit when he was well-established in the side. Then he’d have to resume the fight, after a lay-off, to regain his spot.

He’s the archetypical ‘battler’ who has won over his coaches by giving nothing less than 100 per cent effort……..

Ben reflected briefly on his debut game, back in 2004, when his coach Peter Tossol threw him the monumental task of lining up on a ‘Hopper star, Daniel Leslie. “Wow,” he said to himself,”Look at the physique of this fellah,” as he proceeded to chase him around all day.

“And I had to do the same thing out there this arvo, for a while.”

Sean and Benny are both blokes who set the classic example to the young’uns of what it takes to be part of a footy club.

On a match-day it might mean having a yarn to the gate-keeper on the way in, paying due respects to the supporters who wish them well, and thanking the volunteers who do so much to keep the club going behind the scenes.

That’s why this game meant so much to their team-mates……..
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To be honest,  it didn’t scale any great heights, but boy, it was a fair dinkum contest.

It was obvious early on that the Hawks’ biggest bugbear would be Leslie, North’s co-coach, and the subject of some controversy in recent weeks.

He played today as an on-baller and racked up a mountain of possessions, but I wondered whether his absence as a marking target, would cost the Hoppers when they launched into attack.

The Hawks snuck away to an early lead, with the first two majors of the game, but North, with the aid of the breeze, enjoyed plenty of forward thrusts.

The home side obtained a distinct advantage at the stoppages, where Shane Gaston and Chris Knowles held sway in the ruck, feeding plenty of opportunities to those at ground level.

The continued improvement of Ben Clarke throughout the season was best exemplified today. With unerring Bontampelliesque precision he continued to extricate the pill from the packs to a running player.

Sam Carpenter, too, knocked up winning kicks, enjoying the rarified-air of the open spaces. Josh Newton’s consistent year continued, as he worked hard in the clinches. At the main break the Hawks had opened up a 21-point break and were playing like winners.

But the fans were still none too sure. In a season when they have barracked for the clock as much as the scoreboard, their ‘glass half-full’ attitude was understandable.

Consequently, it was terrific to hear the pent-up, guttural roar come from the balcony, when, in a matter of a couple of minutes, Cam Fendyk twice snapped truly to extend the advantage.

The Beechworth youngster has proved his mettle in recent weeks and looks a born-forward.

Again North fought back, but just couldn’t kick the multiple goals which would put the pressure back on the Hawks. Shaun Mannagh, who is always a danger-man, snagged a couple of majors for the day, but was fairly well-held by the Hawk ‘blanket’, Dale Martin.

Another reason for their difficulty in finding a clear path to goal was that the defiant, loose-limbed Michael Clark, who has fought against the odds this season, was providing stern resistance in defence.

Ben Lloyd made the most of his chances and was a fine player for North, as were Tom Gallaway and Danny Warren. But with the Rovers well in command it was obvious that they’d need a huge turn-around to pull this one out of the fire in the final stanza.

You knew that the Gods were shining down on the Hawks when Kneebone, the ‘Milestone-man’, gathered the ball on a tight angle in the pocket, sighted the big sticks and squeezed it through, a’ la Eddie Betts.

The only downer for the Hawks was that they relaxed a little in the dying stages, and leaked a couple of late goals. When North again scrambled the ball forward, the siren thankfully prevented them inching closer than the 26 points which separated the two old rivals.

It had been a solid team performance, with a host of contributors.

So the Rovers song was belted out with extra oomph in the packed rooms after the game, and the message is that there’s still plenty of life left in what was purported to be a scarcely-breathing corpse……..

HAWKS HOLD OFF HOPPERS

The feeling of euphoria that comes from winning a closely-contested game of football is no different now to what it was 50 years ago.

Our way of celebrating then would be to have a ‘night on the town’. Firstly, scooping down a few quick ales amidst the slaps on the back from supporters at the after-match, then moving on to the ‘Pinno’ where the game would be dissected, with the help of several more ‘frothies’.

By about 10.30 we’d be feeling ‘peckish’ and head around the corner to Nick Lazarou’s Emerald Cafe for his ‘special’, the mixed grill and, again, more in-depth discussion. To wind up, we would invite ourselves around to someone’s house and demolish a handful of ‘long necks’.

At this stage, I would personally begin to feel that I’d made a sizeable contribution to the victory, somehow blotting out the fact, deep down, that I knew deep down, that I’d turned in another ‘shocker’.

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I don’t know what the boys get up to these days, but I’d imagine they’d have let their hair down last night, especially after having gone through a confidence-sapping stretch of six straight losses.

They were terrific against North Albury and withstood a spirited last-quarter onslaught before holding on for a dramatic three-point victory.

That familiar warm sensation pervaded the rooms, as they belted out the song. I stood back and took note of the happy faces and tired bodies before heading home to a now-familiar post-match routine – a night on the couch.

But, like any footy-nut, it’s hard to get the day’s events out of your mind………..

* That desperate lunge and tackle by Will Nolan on North’s Liam Butler. The Hopper was in the goal-square and made the mistake of taking an extra couple of paceIMG_1370s to make sure of the open goal which prtesented itself and would pinch the game. Holding the ball was the ump’s decision and 300 fans on the balcony of the Maroney Pavilion roared their approval.

* The mark of the vertically-challenged Hawk defender, Darcy Booth – also in the goal-square. To use a Cometti-ism, he twisted his body ‘like a cork in the ocean’ to snavel one of the grabs of the day – also in the vital last term, and under considerable pressure.

* The kick-for-touch by Sean O’Keeffe, as he repelled another North attack in the dying minutes. It wobbled over the line, in front of the Hogan Stand. Out-on-the full decisions are the flavour of the month these days. ‘Okey’ held his breath and, thankfully the ump signalled  -‘throw it in’.

* The return of tall Chris Knowles, who booted two goals and was clean in his ball-use. It was the first senior game of an injury-interrupted season for ‘Knowlesy’ and he was a good presence up forward.

* The Josh Newton come-back, which continues to gain momentum. Since he made his debut in 2011, until he returned to footy this season, he had made just 9 senior appearances of a possible 95.

In between, he had endured a knee reconstruction and a debilitating shoulder ‘reco’. Enough to give serious consideration to whether he was meant to play the game.

But right through pre-season, until he was given the all-clear to return, he trained with the reckless abandon of a raw newcomer. It’s indeed heartening for him to be now making an impact in the half-dozen games he has played – and to finally see some reward for his effort.

* The continued Herculean efforts of Shane Gaston in the ruck and the desperate defence of the improving Mitch Horwood, who is now becoming firmly-entrenched as a senior player.

* The outstanding leadership of Sam Carpenter, who knocked up getting kicks and probably played his best game of the season.

*The form of evergreen Hopper Daniel Leslie – a towering figure for his side over the last decade-or-so. He seems to save some of his footy for the Rovers and was again impressive.

*Josh Minogue, who was back in the North side for the day because his VFL side had the bye, and made a valuable contribution. A silky-skilled mover, to say the least.

The strong-marking and continued good form of Coen Hennessey, who again stood tall in defence for the Hawks.

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It was a keenly-fought contest from first bounce to last. The Hawks led by nine points at half-time, but North came out with intent early in the third term and booted two quick goals, to pull back the lead.

It changed three or four times in a frenetic period of play and at lemon-time the scoreboard showed that the Hawks held a slender three-point margin.

“They’ll crumble. We’ll run all over them,” was Jason Akermanis’ forecast, as he urged on his charges at the break.

But neither team was about to fall over. In thirty minutes of desperate football, it was the Hawks who were able to cling to that slender lead and record their fifth win in  an excellent contest.

 

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THE MEMORIES THAT LINGER…

Ian Rowland occasionally gazes wistfully at the photo of St.Kilda’s 1966 premiership side and reflects how close he was to football immortality.

His mind harks back to that most celebrated day in the Saints’ 118-year history, when the VFL’s perennial underachievers snatched a dramatic, last-minute one-point victory, thanks to a wobbly Barrie Breen kick.

And in this Grand Final Week, as conversation swirls around who might be the unlucky Hawthorn player to make way for the returning Jack Gunston, he’ll spare a thought for him, as the axe begins to fall.
Because he faced the same predicament 49 years ago………..
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But, firstly, here’s the backdrop to the ‘Doggy’ Rowland story.

His ascension to League football came via the typical grassroots path of the 50’s. Born into an ultra-keen Wangaratta Football Club family, he was an impressionable eight year-old when the Magpies won the first of their four successive premierships.

It was his dream to follow in the footsteps of some of those club greats, like Timmy Lowe, Kevin French and Bill Comensoli.

His mum died when he was just 11 and there were some good people in, and around the club, who became a positive influence on the lad.

A year later he followed his brother Bob, down to Junior League club Imperials and was planted in a forward pocket, conceding plenty of age, height and weight, but snagging the odd goal.

His improvement was rapid over the next couple of seasons and coaching guru Mac Holten, a discerning judge of football talent if ever there was one, sneaked him in for the odd Reserves game with the Magpies.

At the tender age of 16 he made his senior debut.

“It was over at Corowa and I came on as 19th man. A few minutes later, someone flattened me in the middle of the cricket pitch. Immediately, Bill Comensoli came in and ‘evened up’ for me. It was great to have a bloke like Bill keeping an eye on you,” he recalls .

Wang were looking good in 1957 and he was given an occasional run on the ball with Lance Oswald, who was four years older but somewhat of an idol to the young ‘Doggy’.

Any wonder that he was keen to emulate the feats of the brilliant Oswald, who, in a dominant season, shared the Morris Medal, won the League goal-kicking, represented the O & M and booted the goal which clinched the flag for the Pies.

Ian had played six senior games and was named as an emergency, alongside Bob Comensoli, for that Grand Final. But the following year, with Oswald moving on to St.Kilda, he settled into a permanent on-ball role.

There were stars aplenty in O & M football in this era, some of them having stepped out of League ranks in the prime of their careers. And there were few better small men than the clever 173cm, 75kg Rowland.

After 42 games with the Pies, the inevitable offers came from the VFL. No doubt worded up by his old team-mate Oswald, St.Kilda secretary Ian Drake hot-footed it to Wangaratta and gained his signature…….

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The Saints teed up a job at Phoenix Engineering in his trade as a Fitter and Turner ( Oswald was a co-worker ) and he walked straight into the opening round line-up as a rover.

It was an average year for the boys at the Junction Oval, who finished middle-of-the-road.

But, in a unique scenario, his team-mate Alan Jeans was appointed senior coach in 1961 and helped to inspire a revival in the downtrodden club.

Ian had now become established as a top-line League rover. He won St.Kilda’s goal-kicking in ’61, as the club reached the finals for the first time in 22 years. Although some critics had a bit of a knock on his perceived lack of pace, he made up for this with his cleverness and innate ability to read the play and ‘sniff a goal’.

Jeans began to use him as a ‘tagger’ on the gun small men like Skilton, Goggin, Aylett and Birt, and he relished the role.

The Saints’ upward surge continued. By 1965 they had moved their home to Moorabbin and had become a genuine power. A one-point win over Collingwood in the second semi-final took the club into its first Grand Final since 1913.

It proved a let-down, as Essendon broke away in the last half to win by 35 points. ‘Doggy’ did a fine job that day, running with Bomber champ Jack Clarke and finishing as St.Kilda’s leading possession-winner.

But, he said, the club just got caught up in the euphoria of the occasion and didn’t handle it very well.

“Nobody had been through the Grand Final experience. A lot of time was spent on peripheral things like organising tickets and coping with backslapping fans. We just took our eye off the ball.”

But, he acknowledged, everyone was better equipped to handle the occasion the following year.

Ian chalked up his 100th game during 1966. Apart from missing two matches mid-season, he played every other game in the lead-up to the Grand Final.

He’d noticed his form tapering off a bit and sat on the bench, as the Saints belted Essendon in the Preliminary Final.

Nevertheless,  he felt  he had something to offer for the Grand Final against Collingwood.
But he heard the bad news on the radio on the Thursday night,  after training.

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“To make matters worse, I had to front up for work the next day and put up with my mates all raising the subject !” he recalls.

Ian sat in the stands with other unlucky Saints – Carl Ditterich (suspended), Ross Oakley and Ray Cross – as the crowd of 101,000 roared themselves hoarse at one of the greatest VFL/AFL deciders of all time.

“The significance of it all didn’t sink in until later. It stung to be left out of the team photo, for instance. But, as the years wore on, you realise the life-time bond that those 20 players shared,” he said this week.

He advised his coach and good friend Jeans that he would be moving to Finley to coach the Murray League club. He had played 110 games and booted 97 goals with the Saints.  “My time in VFL footy was up. I wasn’t a city person and Finley suited us nicely. We were reasonably successful in the four years I was there, and played in one Grand Final (1968).”

” I had a job selling farm machinery, which was enjoyable.  I would head out to places like Colleambally fairly regularly, to deal with the rice farmers. It was great to get out in the bush”.

With a growing family, Ian felt it would be best for their education to move to a bigger town, so he accepted the position as assistant-coach of North Albury in 1971, and was employed at engineering firm, Borg-Warner.

His playing career came to a dramatic halt after two games with the Hoppers, when he ruptured a hamstring. It was time to hang up the boots.

But he continued his association with North for the next 37 years, in a variety of roles connected with the football department,  and cherishes the Life Membership that he was awarded.

There’s still no more fervent foFullSizeRenderotball fan than ‘Doggy’ Rowland, and he’ll eagerly park himself in front of the telly to watch Saturday’s big game. And he’ll no doubt have a soft spot for the unfortunate bugger who has been squeezed out of the side at the last minute…..