“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……..

‘SAINT RICK ABDICATES……..’

Dusk has already enshrouded the Findlay Oval on this balmy Thursday evening.
As the glow of the floodlights takes effect, eighty players or more burn up the track….. jabbering excitedly…..moving frenetically……footies zipping here and there, like tracer bullets……
A hardy group of regulars survey proceedings……Then we spot a lone figure…a massive fellah, who’s following the action intently, up in the shadows of the Hogan Stand.
Funny, we’d only been swapping yarns a few days ago, about the exploits of Michael Nolan, who first pulled on the Brown and Gold guernsey 50 years ago.  Someone jokes that, maybe the ghost of ‘Big Mick’ is re-visiting us ……..
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Well, not exactly, but Mick’s spirit will always live on whilst his eldest son is around.
Rick has forged a sizeable football reputation of his own. When I greet him he’s momentarily distracted by a post that has come through on his I-Phone, announcing his decision to relinquish the coaching position at one of Australia’s most famous footy clubs, St.Mary’s of Darwin.IMG_3265
He told them that he wasn’t going on about a month ago, he says, but they’ve only just made it public.

 

How does he feel ? “Yeah, I’m comfortable with it. After five years in the job, I could sense my energy levels dropping, but I’ve maintained good relationships with everybody. And I didn’t want to damage those by going on for an extra year.”
So he took the opportunity to escape down south for a week or so. Being the football ‘nut’ that he is, he watched three AFL games last week-end, caught up with a few people, then headed to Wangaratta, where his family roots are, of course, deeply-embedded.
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Rick’s has been a fascinating football journey .
He was just a whippersnapper when his dad, mum Nettie and the kids moved to Queensland.  Mick had drawn the curtain on a fine career at North Melbourne and was enticed to take up a coaching position with Brisbane club, Mayne, in 1981.
Charged with spreading the ‘gospel’ in this rugby-oriented state , Mick became the face of Queensland football, whilst turning the Mayne Tigers into a QAFL powerhouse.
Tracing his every step was young Rick, who began with Mayne’s juniors as a seven year-old and moved through the ranks, to play 50-odd senior games.
He had just left school, when an uncle, Graeme Smith, the vice-president of St.Mary’s, suggested that a season of summer footy in their Under-18’s would do him the world of good.
He loved it ; grew fond of Darwin and decided to hang around. When he was 21 he qualified as an Aviation Fireman – a job he’s held ever since.
And he began to make his mark as a strong, hard-working ruckman, protective of the will-o-the wisp, magical small men who abound in Top End footy.IMG_3263
Deceptively agile for his size, he inherited ‘Big Mick’s’ gift for deft tapwork and his sound understanding of the game.  Some also attested to his healthy appetite, which was again, a family trait.

A decent feed of Spaghetti Bolagnaise would be Rick’s standard post-match fare, along with a side dish of a couple of rounds of toasted cheese sandwiches.  His hangover-cure was a full Chicken, washed down with two or three stubbies.
Beneath a stern-looking visage  is a warm-hearted, friendly fellah. He loves yapping about footy – and is keen to elaborate when  I quiz him on the reason for St.Marys’ amazing run of success.
They’ve won 32 of a possible 65 NTFL flags since they entered the League in 1952, and have missed the finals only twice.  Rick says the Club was originally formed to give full-blood aboriginals on the Tiwi Islands the opportunity to play regular, organised football in Darwin.
At the time, none of the other clubs would allow full-bloods to play. Thus, a long line of Long’s, Rioli’s, Dunn’s and Virgona’s, among others, have helped create the Saints’ tradition, blending in with the diehard locals.
One of the legends of the Club is the patriarch of the Long family, Jack, who used to sell crocodile skins to Darwin businesses to pay his way from the Tiwi Islands, to play with St.Mary’s .
The assembly-line of champions who have worn the Green and Gold over the years includes 21st century stars Anthony and Iggy Vallejo, Peter ‘Noodles’ McFarlane, Xavier and Raph Clarke, John Anstess and the Illett brothers – Cameron and Jarred.
“People are envious of our great culture, but it’s a culture of hard work. We train harder than any club, but we also have unbelievable bloodlines,” Rick says.
“Every year you’ll be watching a junior game and a Rioli or a Long who’s been living on the island, will bob up from nowhere.”
Rick played in two flags in his 125 senior games with Saints. In between, he fitted in a season at SANFL club Woodville-West Torrens, then realised a long-held ambition when he spent a couple of months with the Rovers in 2001.
He dominated four or five Reserves games and, when belatedly swung into the senior side, fitted in like a glove in two finals matches. He wishes time had permitted him to play more.
He’s always been a keen student of the game, and did a couple of internships with AFL clubs. In the period he spent at the Gold Coast Suns, Rick noticed that Shaun Hart, one of the assistants, had a computer with him at all times.
“His computer was a vital coaching tool. I was pretty impressed. I reckoned that was the way to go,” he says.
Thus, he was instrumental in creating SportsClipMaker, a video analysis software program and sports coaching app.
“Many Victorian country clubs are using it, but it has the potential to spread world-wide,” he says. “Hopefully, I can now devote more time to promoting it.”
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Rick first put his toe in the coaching water, as an assistant at St. Mary’s. Then the opportunity presented itself to take on the big job in 2013.
He was apprehensive. “One of my best mates, Stewart Sceney, was putting a bit of pressure on me. He told me: ‘It takes courage to coach, but it takes extra courage to coach St.Mary’s.”
So he took the plunge. Sadly, not long after he’d been appointed,  Stewie, his wife Karmi Dunn and their two kids, died in a plane crash at Anson Bay, on the west coast of Darwin.

The news devastated the St.Mary’s club, but strengthened their resolve for the season ahead. The Saints took all before them and went through the season undefeated.IMG_3260
That was certainly a highlight for Rick, but the flag win he cherishes most came in March 2016.
He’d lost key players John Anstess and Ryan Smith in the lead-up, then Ben Long was rubbed out after a gruelling Preliminary Final.

“Within five minutes of the start, two blokes did ACL’s, and just before half-time one of our stars, Justin Cooper, broke a collarbone. Mickey Coombes, another key player, was out of the game with an ankle injury at three quarter-time.

When the last quarter started we had no bench, it was 33 degrees and 95% humidity. We were two goals down and barely hanging on”
“With a minute or so remaining in the game, Shannon Rioli threaded his way through a few Wanderers players and booted the goal that gave us victory by two points. It ranks as one of the best of our 32 flags.”

(to see vision:  https://www.youtube.com/watchv=lSwnIpEq3wk )

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The following season St.Mary’s belted old foes Wanderers by 57 points, to clinch Rick’s third title in four years.

This year they started sluggishly, recovered, but were always just off the pace – bombing out in the First Semi Final against Nightcliff.
He concedes that coaching in the Top End is a tough gig.

“You’re allowed a maximum of four fly-in players ; there are the boys from the Communities, like Wadeye . You have to make sure they’re picked up, fed and accommodated .My wife Danielle was terrific in helping me with this.  “
“Additionally, the blokes from down south need to be settled in Darwin by October 1. You try to ensure that they all fit into the Club okay……And most of all, hope they can get a kick .…………”IMG_3266
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Rick likes to think his coaching methods were strongly influenced by watching his dad in charge at Mayne. His younger brothers, who  both made a considerable imprint on the game, have also carried the Nolan name with aplomb.
Dan started with Mayne, played 54 games with the Rovers, 100 at St.Mary’s, close to 200 with Heidelberg, and finished with two seasons at Mornington.
Dale’s career followed a similar trajectory – Mayne, St.Mary’s, Heidelberg and Mornington.

Rick will certainly find time this year to visit his 14 year-old son Noah, in Sweden. He’ll also take his usual trip to Bali, to play in the Over-35 Masters Football Carnival.
But the next stage of his career awaits. He’s unsure what it will involve at this stage, but there’s no doubt he’ll remain heavily involved in the game……………..IMG_3254

A WEEK-END AT THE FOOTY

Darwin, mid-December….. Soaring temperatures,…brooding,overcast skies….sweltering humidity…..,’Mango madness’.

It’s said that when there are mangoes in the markets of Darwin there is madness in the streets of Australia’s northern-most football stronghold.

My girls assume that I’ve caught a dose of the common Territory affliction when I leave the comforts of an air-conditioned apartment to venture to TIO Stadium at Marrara on this Saturday afternoon.

At least the Grandstand offers some shade, but, as a newly-arrived southerner, you still feel as though you’ve stepped into a sauna. There’s a handy crowd in, as the first game of a triple-header – Palmerston versus Southern Districts – gets under way in the heat of the afternoon.

Territory footy has a flavour like no other competition in the nation.

The fact that it’s played in the wet season, from October to late-March enables clubs to scour down south for players to top up their ranks. They’ll require a bit of ability, though, and will need to be able to adapt to a style which is absolutely offensive and is focused on pace, pace and more pace.

There are some big names on display today. Matthew Stokes, recently delisted by Geelong, is back home and is saddling up for Palmerston (the Magpie Geese), as is ex-Melbourne speedster Leroy Jetta.

Southern Districts have been the form side so far, and good judges have them firming as favourites for the flag.

But this is not their day. They are convincing in the first term, with former Western Bulldogs and Wangaratta big man Ed Barlow mopping up well in the back line and ex-Brisbane Lion Jarred Brennan in good touch behind the ball.

They lead by three goals at quarter-time, then proceed to kick 3.15 for the remainder of the game, to go down by 24 points to a Palmerston side, inspired by the brilliance of the breathtakingly quick Leroy Jetta.

The much-heralded St.Mary’s, who have just about the best record of any major-league club in Australia, face off against an arch rival, Darwin Buffaloes in a keenly-awaited twilight encounter.

Saints, after a slightly slow start to the season, are beginning to click into gear. They’ve won their last 4 games and are gradually filtering in most of their big guns.
They are still below full-strength and some people doubt whether they’ll be able to overcome Buffs, who have won seven straight.

One of the competition’s traditional powers, Buffs have struggled in recent years, but, according to the experts, are looking the goods.

They have included an old Melbourne and Carlton diehard Brock McLean in their side. Brock was a handy utility player in his 157 AFL games but appears to have lost a yard. He gains possession a few times, only to fumble the sweat-laden football, or be swamped by a nippy Saint on each occasion.

You could see, early on, that he’s eager to get into the clinches, but seems to be struggling for fitness. The longer the game wears on, the less impact he has, and by siren-time he appears ‘shot’.

St.Mary’s lead by a comfortable three goals at half-time and their coach, Rick Nolan, implores them to pile on the pressure in the third term. “You know these blokes are all talk. They’ll crack if you keep working hard.”

And they do, going out to a 44-point lead before letting up a bit in the last quarter, and winning by 30.

They have some talented youngsters, but the bloke that I like is, Ignatius Vallejo, an old-style defender, who cleared the ball time and again.

‘Iggy’ has played over 300 games with the Saints and figured in 8 premierships. It’s hard to fathom how he slipped through the AFL recruiting net. He is the sort of player who has made St.Mary’s the club they are and is one of the greats of N.T footy.

Wanderers and Waratahs square off under lights. The ‘Tahs’ have had a disastrous season, having lost every game. But they have all their fly-in players on deck for this game and are optimistic about their chances.

It’s a tough, relentless match and it is the famous Motlops (there are five of them playing) who provide the leadership for Dean Rioli’s Wanderers. Shane Thorne, a former Western Bulldog, kicks 5 goals, as the Eagles hold on to win by 28 points.It snaps a 4-game losing streak for the reigning premiers.

On Sunday I strolled around to the Nightcliff Oval for the clash between the Tigers and the visiting Tiwi Bombers.

Of all the games, this provided the most exhilarating display. The Bombers, who have been indifferent this season, really turned it on and belted the home team by 11 goals.

Their side contained 4 Puruntatameris’, 2 Kerinaiuas’, 2 Tipuamantimirris’ and 2 Tipungwitis’ and their dazzling array of skills just left the Tigers for dead.

The star of the show was Ross Tungatulum, the recruit who fired Wodonga Raiders last season. Every time ‘Rocco’ went near the ball there was a buzz and you just knew he was going to do something with it. He kicked 6 goals and was largely responsible, along with Austin Wonaeamirri, for their 8 goals to 2 opening quarter.

They led by 52 points at half-time and I expressed my delight at their display to an old-timer, Freddie Adams, who was standing nearby.

‘Yair, mate, but can they run it out ? That’s their problem,” he said.

There were to be no lapses today, however. They booted 23 goals to blitz Nightcliff by 66 points, much to the delight of their yabbering fans and happy coach Willie Rioli.

One of their players, Harley Puruntatameri, is the subject of a racism claim from left-field that has been swirling around the NTFL in the past couple of weeks.
Southern Districts star, Ben AhMat, a former Nichols Medallist, has accused Puruntatameri of calling him a white c….

It’s a strange one – a footballer with Aboriginal and Caucasian blood claiming he has been abused by an Aboriginal.

AhMat has asked the NTFL what they’re going to do about the matter. The League wants to follow the rule book with a handshake and apology.

But, as they argue, in a multicultural city like Darwin where skin colour and different cultures merge into one, is that enough ?

It’s just another slice of drama in the weird and wonderful world of Territory football.