HEAVENLY NIGHT FOR SAINT RICK

Rick Nolan is a condensed version of his late Dad, Mick. He used his large frame to advantage in an impressive football career, which saw him play in four states and include in his CV, a few appearances with the Rovers in 2001.

But he forged his reputation in Darwin, in 140-odd games and 2 premierships with St.Mary’s. Rick is now 40 and has turned his hand to coaching. After a year as an assistant with the N.T Thunder rep side, he was appointed to take charge of his old club for the 2013/14 season.

Rick has a rugged countenance and a stern-looking face, but beneath it all he is a kind and caring soul. His mum, Nettie, is over from Brisbane for the Grand Final tomorrow, but she has decided not to stay with her eldest son. “He gets pretty uptight and he’ll probably be pacing the floor tonight. I’ll leave him in peace,” she said.

When we renew acquaintances with Rick, he wears a pained expression. You get the feeling the weight of expectation is bearing down on him.

And little wonder. St.Mary’s have won 29 N.T flags in 60 years of existence. They are on a 38-game winning streak, but some experts give Wanderers, their opponents and arch rivals, a realistic chance of causing a boilover.

Saints are a crackerjack side, but the ‘Nuk Nuks’, as Wanderers are known, led them at ¾ time a fortnight ago before being overpowered in the last. They are welcoming back AFL premiership player Daniel Motlop, who has served an 8-week suspension, incurred in an earlier game against the ‘Green Machine’. One of 4 Motlops in the side, he’ll surely give them a lift.

When we bid adieu to Rick, he says: “It’s hard to believe that 2 hours of footy, gone wrong, could f….. up your year “. Sleep well, Rick.

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Darwin’s Marrara Oval is the centrepiece of Australian football today.  Forget anything that’s happening down south! It’s been a sweltering day after a stormy ‘Wet Season’ night and the town is agog, as all roads lead to the spectacular sporting precinct on the outskirts of town.

We’re advised  to avoid the huge grandstand. Gets too hot, they say. So we opt for the far side of the ground, where a whiff of a breeze offers slight relief.

What an atmosphere!  Dusk takes over, the lights kick in and a crowd – close to 10,000 – have packed in and are expecting a clash of the titans.

They’re not disappointed. It has everything that Top End footy can produce. Saints kick the opening four goals of the game into the breeze and look set to run away with it. Iggy Vallejo, a Saints stalwart, has been given the job of tailing Daniel Motlop, who doesn’t fancy the attention he’s receiving.

An incident on Wanderers forward line produces a decent punch-up, but once the dust settles Wanderers seem to flick the switch and come back into the contest. Our previous recollection of N.T footy was that it was high on risk-taking and low on accountability. But this game has a terrific level of defensive pressure and has developed into a classic.

But Wanderers just can’t peg back the Saints sufficiently, although they draw to within  10 points in the last ¼.  Ex-St.Kilda player Raph Clarke has performed some heroic deeds and is my choice as BOG. Mark Blake, who played in Geelong’s flag 4 years ago, has been unstoppable in the ruck and lifts to another level when the pressure is on in the dying stages.

But it’s not until battle-worn star Peter McPharlane, winner of the League Medal, juggles a mark and lines up a set shot for goal from a fair way out, that you feel the game could be taken out of the ‘Nuk Nuk’s’ reach.

The crowd hushes, but a vociferous dark lady continually thumps the advertising hoardings in front of us, to try to distract the Saints skipper. ‘Noodles’ McPharlane, Dimboola born-and-bred, nails it. Even though Wanderers continue to fight the game out, the siren beats them and St.Mary’s have clinched flag No.30 by 21 points.

The giant colour screen portrays all of the post-match celebrations and finally it settles on a taciturn gentleman, whose back is being slapped by St.Mary’s supporters. Finally, the mask disappears and a slight grin creases his face. Rick Nolan, premiership coach, has dropped his guard.

The ‘NT News’ in the following days, lauds the Saints and their class on and off the field. They pay homage to the coach, who is now basking in some of the glory of the premiership success. St.Mary’s President of 42 years, Vic Ludwig, says he is the most studious coach he had seen in all his years at the famous club.

“His pre-game, matchday and post-game work in terms of video and player reviews is incredibly articulate and a credit to himself,” he says.

Veteran scribe Grey Morris also weighed in with some praise. “I’m sure his late dad, Mick, the North Melbourne premiership ruckman, was looking down on him on Saturday night with a tremendous amount of pride”.

Enjoy the rest of the year, Rick.

stmarys