“WHOROULY BOY MAINTAINS LIFETIME BOND WITH THE SWANS…….”

Clem Goonan’s attachment to his old VFL club stretches back sixty years.

He’s remained true to them through good times and bad, and admits that only once has he seriously considered turning his back on the mighty Red and White………..

“I wasn’t too happy when South Melbourne was pressured into moving to Sydney…… I went lukewarm there for a year or so,” he says.

“I was part of the ‘Keep South at South’ brigade when things started to unravel in the early eighties, and went to a few pretty hostile meetings…….They weren’t good times…..But you eventually get over it….. I soon got back on the Swans bandwagon……”

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Clem’s love affair with footy has consumed most of his 82 years.

He’s a Whorouly boy, born and bred, and spent much of his childhood gallivanting to and from the town’s Memorial Oval. The Goonan property was a three mile jaunt on his bike. He’d watch (and take part in) training, then throw the bike in the back of the family Ute for the trip home.

His dad ( Alan ), a Club diehard, was at various times President, Secretary and committeeman, so Clem found himself saddled with the Boundary Umpire’s job in 1952.

It was a historic year for the Maroons. After being runners-up to Beechworth for the previous two seasons, they outlasted the Bombers in a hard, slogging Grand Final, to win their first flag in 27 years, by two points.

Clem can still reel off most of the members of that side, like Silas McInnes, Mick Jess, Bill and Alan Newton, Bill Power, Tony Harrington, Kevin Mauger, and the coach, Rex Bennett, who played a starring role in the win.

The following season he made his senior debut at the tender age of 14. Several members of the Premiership side had gone their seperate ways and Whorouly spent a few years among the lower echelons of the O & K ladder.

But it was a ‘no brainer’ to punt on this talented, well-proportioned stripling, and he rapidly became one of the team’s stars. He blossomed under the coaching of the brilliant left-footer Billy Dalziel, and took out successive Club B & F’s in 1957 and ‘58.

His outstanding season in 1958 also saw him land the League Medal, as well as sharing the Chronicle Trophy with Bogong’s Eric Tye and Bright champ Tony Quirk.

For a mere 19 year-old, already with 90 senior games under his belt, that was the ‘green light’ to attract the attention of talent scouts far and wide:

“You received a letter in the mail those days,” Clem recalls…….. “Jim Cardwell, the Melbourne Secretary, wrote, asking me to come down. I thought : ‘They’re way too strong. I’ll never get a game there.’…. I knocked Geelong back because I reckoned they were too far away…….And St.Kilda were having a few internal problems. That put the kybosh on them……..So I decided to sign a Form Four with South Melbourne.”

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In the meantime, Bill Dalziel had decided to move over to Myrtleford, and helped entice Clem to have a run with the Saints, to enhance his footy education:

“I joined the Police Force on the 1st of May, 1959, and was stationed at Fitzroy. It meant travelling back to play with the Saints each week.”

“ I did a lot of my training at the Police Gym, and had a few runs with Fitzroy because their ground was close handy. They knew I could play a bit, and talked me into putting in for a clearance from South, with whom I was tied. But, of course South said: ‘No way known.’ “

Myrtleford, under the inspiring leadership of dual Magarey and Morris Medallist Jimmy Deane, were loaded with talent in Clem’s two years with them.

His last game still sticks in his mind.

The Saints held a 21-point lead over defending premiers, Yarrawonga, going into the last quarter of the 1960 First Semi. But the game turned on its head, and the Pigeons, with all the momentum, led by 3 points, with just seconds remaining.

With one last desperate thrust, Myrtleford attacked again, and half forward Wally Hodgkin marked 45 yards out, right on the final siren……It was a dead accurate kick and just about everyone at the Benalla Showgrounds deemed it a major – except the goal-umpire – who signalled that it was touched on the line.

“A few of the wealthy tobacco-farmers had given the players a ‘sling’ before the game, in appreciation of our efforts during the year. Some of the senior players rated our chances so highly they suggested we use the money to back ourselves,” Clem says.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but the Yarra supporters handed the money back to us because of the conjecture over that disputed goal.”

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Clem’s senior debut with South Melbourne came on Queen’s Birthday week-end 1961, in front of 30,000 fans at St.Kilda’s Junction Oval:

“I felt pretty much at home; my opponent was Brian McCarthy, a Yarrawonga boy. And one of my old Myrtleford team-mates, Frank Hodgkin, was in his first season with St.Kilda.”

Lining up mostly on a half back flank, with an occasional stint as a ruck-rover, he had established himself in League football by the following season. He finished fourth in the Swans B & F, and was voted their Most Determined Player.

Melbourne premiership star Noel McMahon had been lured from a stint at Rochester to take over the coaching reins from Bill Faull. He was pronounced as the VFL’s first full-time coach. Clem immediately struck a chord with the likeable McMahon:

“He was a great coach, and a terrific guy, Noel. I loved playing for him. He’s coming up 95 this year……. I still pick him up and take him to South Past Players Functions.”

The South Melbourne sides of the early sixties contained stars such as Skilton, McGowan, Hughie McLaughlin, Jim Taylor, John Heriot, John ‘Mopsy’ Rantall and Graeme John.

But there weren’t nearly enough of them, and the Swans were never a major threat.

However, they always came into their own when the popular VFL Night Series was staged, between the non-finals combatants.

“The games were played at South’s Lakeside Oval, because ours was the only venue that had match-standard Lights,” Clem says.

“What an advantage it was for us ! . There were a few dark spots in the pockets, which we were accustomed to. We had a fair bit of success….I enjoyed playing in them, and the crowds always flocked to the mid-week games because they were such a novelty……….”

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After playing 50 senior games with the Swans Clem received a transfer to Wodonga in the Police Force.

“The locals said: ‘Seeing as you’re living and working in the town it’d be the right thing to play with us’. So I wasn’t too popular when I signed with Albury. (Murray) Weideman was coaching them and they were on their way to the 1966 flag.”

Unfortunately, Clem ‘did’ a cartilage in a mid-season Inter-League game against the Bendigo League, which laid him up for the rest of the season, and robbed him of his only chance to share in premiership glory.

He recovered, to play strongly over the next two seasons with the Tigers, before his old mate Frank Hodgkin talked him into helping him out with O & M rivals Rutherglen.

“They’d been a famous old club, of course, but were probably batting a bit out of their depth at this stage. I played two years under Frank, then took over the coaching job from him for ‘71 and ‘72. Despite their lack of success there was a wonderful spirit within the Club.”

His swansong as a player came in 1973 – as captain-coach of Burrumbuttock. Towards the end of the season he received notification of his promotion in the Police Force.

So he, Irene and their four kids made their way back to Melbourne.

“Graeme John, who was back coaching South Melbourne at this stage, got wind of it and rang me. He asked what I was up to and I said: ‘Dunno, I’m thinking about playing a bit of local footy.’ “

“He said: ‘Give it away, you silly old bugger. I want you to be my runner.’ “

“That was an experience; particularly when Ian Stewart took over from Graeme a couple of years later.”

“ ‘Stewie’ used to get so excited that it was impossible to understand a word he was saying……You’d be out there delivering a message…..The crowd would roar, and you didn’t know what had happened because you had your back to it………’Stewie’ would be there abusing me and mumbling something…….You’d ask him again and he’d almost go berserk, and grab you…push you….You daren’t ask him again, in case he went right off the air ! “

“I’m not sure if he was a good coach…..He expected everybody to be able to play to the standard that he did……He probably had good ideas…..if you could understand him !………. “

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Clem did some Specialist, and Junior coaching with local clubs Norwood and Donvale, and got back to following South Melbourne, once his involvement as a Runner concluded.

He retired from the Police Force in 1989 with the rank of Sargeant.

In hindsight, he says, things worked out really well with the re-location of the Swans to Sydney:

“Feelings ran really high at the time, because of the pressure that the VFL were putting on the Club……. We were all pretty devastated with the way it was done, but there was no use remaining cranky about it……. At least the Swans have managed to maintain a presence in Melbourne.”

“They needed all the support they could get……. I’ve been on the Past Players’ Committee for the past 20 years or so………… Tony Morwood does a great job, along with one of my good mates, John Heriot.”

Clem’s been working part-time at the MCG, as a member of the Event Day Staff since 1999 which, he jokes: “has allowed me to have a sneak look at the action occasionally………”

Particularly when the Sydney Swans took out the flag in 2005 and 2012……..”Yeah….they were two of the most memorable days of my life………”

Ovens and King League Hall of Fame Inductees 2006. Richie Shanley, Clem Goonan, Ray Burns,

“NO REST FOR ‘WOBBLES’…….”

The first question I put to this dapper super-veteran is how he happened to acquire one of Wangaratta’s best-known nicknames.

“It was back in my younger days, when I’d been invited down to train with Collingwood…….” he explains. “During the course of some heavy socialising one of the players, Bill Twomey, remarked that I’d got a bad case of the wobbles. It seemed to stick, and I’ve been ‘Wobbles’ ever since………”

Kevin Allan invites me into the spare bedroom of his Thomson Street house, and produces a small batch of yellowing newspaper cuttings, which he proceeds to spread out on the bed.

“Nell ( his late wife ) kept these. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. I suppose I should’ve put ‘em in some sort of order, but never got around to it,” he says.

No matter…..’Wobbles’ has enough memories of his almost-80 years in football to fill a couple of books……

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He’s the eldest of six kids…..Grew up on a dairy farm at Milawa…..He tells me his dad, Jack, who was mad-keen on footy, was President of the Redlegs for many years, dating back to the thirties.

“I can remember when I was about 9 or 10. Dad had a ‘28 National Chev which he’d drive into Wang to pick up players for training. Our first stop was Bullock’s Store in Murphy Street, where a bloke called Vin Coram would jump in, then he’d collect the three Oates boys, and a few others.”

“In the end the Sedan would be chock-a-block. I had to stand on the running rail. You couldn’t have players standing there…..They might have fallen off !…….”

He was 14 when he debuted with Milawa in 1940, and had played just two seasons when the O & K League was forced into recess because of the War. It was 1945 before he could again pull on the beloved Red and Blue guernsey.

Kev’s first job was on the Farm. He hated it but, because it was classified as a Restricted Industry, had to stay there for the duration of the War.

“The moment the whistle blew at the Butter Factory, to signify the end of the War, I high-tailed it into Wang on my bike to join in the celebrations and start looking for a job,” he says.

He became one of Milawa’s stars of the post-war era, and played in both the 1945 and ‘47 Grand Finals.

“They were good times, but it’s amusing when you look back. For instance, the Methodist Minister, Reverend Perry, had a three-tonne Truck. When we played away games, he’d throw a couple of church pews on the back and we’d all pile in. We used to call it Perry’s Circus, and it’d cost us two bob each for the trip.”

But the blossoming Allan career almost drew to a close one late-summer evening in 1948, soon after he’d bought a Motor-Bike off a mate, Tommy Hourigan.

Apparently Tommy’s family had pleaded with him to get rid of the Bike after he’d had a prang, but Kev thought he was Christmas when he took delivery of it and headed off on his first jaunt.

“I came to grief at Thompson’s Bridge, just off the Hume Highway. Old George Robbins found me there, unconscious, and drove me to hospital.”

“When I came to, all the family were at my bedside. A list of my injuries included burst ear drums, a broken collarbone and facial paralysis. I was ever-grateful to Doctor Phillips, who pulled me through. But he gravely advised me that my footy career was over.”

‘Wobbles’ was ever-grateful to the old ‘Doc’, but says on this occasion his prognosis was about 20 years premature.

He missed the 1948 season and, somewhat injudiciously in the opinion of a few, pulled on the boots again in ‘49. Just to show that he’d lost none of his class and ball-winning ability, Kev took out Milawa’s Best & Fairest – the J.Allan Cup.

The Award, which acknowledges his dad’s lengthy contribution, was re-named the Jack Allan Memorial after his death later that year. A succession of Jack’s offspring have had their name etched on Milawa’s prized gong over the succeeding seventy years……

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Wangaratta, after being on his hammer for a few years, finally enticed him into town. Milawa were reluctant to release their star, and agreed to give him six match permits to see how he performed.

“But I’d fallen off some scaffolding in the meantime, and did an ankle, so it was half-way through the 1950 season before I started playing.”

“I’d decided, though, that I was definitely staying at Wang……Best thing I ever did,” he says.

‘Wobbles’ timed his move to perfection. He slotted onto a wing in those magnificent Mac Holten sides and figured in a hat-trick of premierships.

It was a team of stars, of course, but, in Kev’s opinion, Holten was able to get them pulling in the same direction.

“He just had a way about him. He was often able to get the message through without saying a word. A bit theatrical sometimes, I suppose, but gee he knew how to get us going.”

The 1952 side, he reckons, was the best he ever played in.IMG_4366

“We trailed Rutherglen at half-time of the Grand Final, but ended up knocking them over by 20 points. That was the year we played a challenge match over at Ararat at season’s end, against the Wimmera League premiers.”

He says it’s the only Trip-Away he’s been on where he returned home with more money than he took……IMG_4377

“The Ararat people must have had plenty of dough. They came to our hotel on the Friday night with a swag of money to back the home team. Then they returned twice, to lay more money….We all got on. Holten asked the hotel-keeper to lock the money in his safe…….We had some sort of a ‘do’ when we won the game and ‘divvied’ it up, I can tell you……”IMG_4370

Kev had played 128 games over seven years, including four Grand Finals, when he was lured back to Milawa as captain-coach. He was 30, but still playing top footy, and was keen to itch the coaching bug that lay within.

The side included his two younger brothers, Tom and Laurie, and a few old mates who had been loyal to the Demons.IMG_4368

“I enjoyed coaching the boys, but I had a few run-ins with the committee,” he says. “I don’t think they were really fond of me in the finish. It didn’t help matters, either, when I took a few players over to North Wangaratta with me.”

The Northerners were playing in the Benalla & District League at the time, and finished Third and Runners-Up in his first two seasons.

When they – and Glenrowan – both sought admission to the O & K in 1961, Kev was the delegate who pleaded their case at a historic meeting, held at the Everton Hotel..

“Glenrowan’s delegate was a fellah called Bill Olliffe. We had a bet on the side about the result – a quid each – but after we’d both put our case we had to wait for the verdict in the bar. The meeting went on for ages, and we were both fairly merry, when they called us in to advise us that North had gained admittance…..”

Kev coached North Wang for six seasons, won five B & F’s and picked up the B.D.F.L Medal in 1960.IMG_4381

He stood down in 1965, and played on for one more year under Billy McKenzie….

“Then I talked Ron Wales into doing the job. Walesy said: ‘I’ll do it if you keep playing.’ But I was 40, and buggered. Walesy wasn’t too happy with me for a while, but I became his off-field ‘adviser’ “

So after a career, which had spanned 26 years and 426 games, ‘Wobbles’ hung up the boots……

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Inevitably, he drifted back to the Showgrounds Oval to begin a period of unstinting service which has even overshadowed his on-field achievements.

One of his titles for decades was ‘Bar Manager’, which included being on duty for every Club Function. All told, he devoted thousands of hours to the Magpies.

On match-days he’d collect the food and drinks for the Kiosks, stock the fridges, organise till floats, operate the Bar and entertain the patrons.  It meant an 8am start and a 9pm finish ( or 2am if a post-match function was held).

One old Pie joked that modern technology had caught up with him in recent years, and he re-located to operating the Sav & Refreshment Stall in the Past Players’ Stand – ‘Wobbles’ Bay 13 Bar’.IMG_4375

Each week-day morning throughout the year, ‘Wobbles’ and a a group of three or four stalwarts meet to clean up and effect any maintenance that’s required around the Clubrooms.

“We carry on with a bit of ‘bullshit’ of course, and review all the subjects of the day over a cup of coffee,” he says. “But I really enjoy the company.”

One of their principal topics at the moment would be discussing whether Wang can live up to their hot-favouritism and take out their 16th O & M flag.

‘Wobbles’, the 93 year-old Ovens & King League, Ovens & Murray League and Wangaratta Football Club Hall of Famer, is confident that they can do the job…..provided they get away to a good start.

“It’s my only worry.” ……..That, and making sure I reach 94………..IMG_4374

‘STEPPING BACK IN TIME….’

“Everything’s just like it was in ’69………It looks like you have stepped back in time………”

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Jim Comensoli is re-counting the highlight of his sporting career……..

It’s early September 1969, and he has guided Milawa into their first Ovens and King League Grand Final in 13 years. This proud old club hasn’t tasted premiership success since 1940.

They get away to a flier, with two early goals, but Beechworth peg them back. It becomes a nip and tuck affair…….. Just as Milawa look to be assuming control in the final term, the Bombers nail two goals in as many minutes.

The Demons’ wayward kicking threatens to cost them dearly, but they hang on in the dying stages of an engrossing clash to clinch the flag by 16 points………….IMG_4299

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They’re holding a shindig out at Milawa this Sunday – a 50-Year Re-Union of that famous side. There’s no doubt that tall tales and true will be spun. Jay will be involved in most of them.

He’s a born raconteur. Get him yapping about his 13-year stint in the O & K and he’ll knock the cobwebs off many of the yarns he collected along the way.

Like the time he was approached to coach Milawa………

“I worked for Les Brown, the builder, who was a dyed-in-the-wool Demon. And Arthur Clarke was a good mate of mine. We were always into each other, so when they came out with: ‘Would you like to coach Milawa ? ‘ I didn’t believe ‘em.”

“I said: ‘You blokes are having me on, aren’t you ?’ When I finally ascertained that, this time, they were fair dinkum I said: ‘I won’t even think about it – Yeah, course I will………”

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The Comensoli’s are a legendary local footy family. Jay’s the youngest of four boys in a tribe of nine kids.

He followed his brother Bob to Junior Magpies, then on to the Wangaratta seniors, where he played 21 games in the ‘ones’, interspersed with a number of Reserves appearances.

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Jay (back row ,left) at Mac Holten’s Footy Clinic. Ian Hayden and Ian Rowland, also in the group, went on to play VFL football.

At 19, he developed itchy feet. “Bill ( eldest brother) was coaching Beechworth at the time and ‘Ab’ ( another brother) was his rover. Wang were keen to get hold of a Beechworth player, Normie Stewart, so they instigated a swap and I headed up to join the boys.”

Jay had a day out in the Bombers’ 1961 Grand Final win. He ‘led beautifully and was rewarded with six goals in a fine performance up forward’ according the the Chronicle scribe.IMG_4300

With Bill controlling the big man duels and Bobby Billman on fire in his forward flank, Beechworth launched a torrid onslaught in the dying stages to overwhelm a tired Greta and prevail by 13 points.

Two years later, he’d been lured to Tarrawingee. Their live-wire President and ace recruiter, Brien Stone, put forward an offer of 2 pounds a game. “I said don’t worry about the two quid. I’ll play provided someone pays my wages if I happen to get injured. Old Brien was rapt in that; even chipped in for a new pair of footy boots.”

The Bulldogs got great value out of their new recruit. Playing mainly across half-forward, Jay helped them to successive flags (1963, ‘64) under the coaching of Ray Burns.IMG_4296

He was vice-captain of Tarra for a fair portion of his 85 games in Red,White and Blue and remembers being on the selection committee when they suggested that a fat kid in the Seconds might be worth giving an opportunity.

“Brien Stone, who was also Chairman of Selectors, wouldn’t have a bar of it…Said we were doing the Club a disservice by playing a kid that unfit and that young ( almost 15 ) who probably wouldn’t amount to anything.”

“So we out-voted him and gave Mick Nolan his first senior game. Brien was a bit ‘put out’ for a while.”

At this stage, Jay’s brother Bill was coaching Milawa, Bob was in his first year in charge of Moyhu, and ‘Ab’ was Glenrowan’s leader.

“I came up against Bob for the first time when we played Moyhu. He’s delivered a perfect right- cross to flatten our rover, Jimmy Grant. I raced in to fly the flag for Jimmy, and said to the umpy: ‘Did you see that ?’ I don’t know whether he did, actually, but he’s booked Bob, who copped two weeks.”

“That year, we played Milawa in the First Semi. I was chasing Rex Allen, and, out of the corner of my eye, caught someone steaming in from the left. I thought: ‘Oh, it’s Bill, he won’t hit me.’ I was wrong, he’s cleaned me up nicely, although I always tell him he woke me from my slumber, as I managed to kick 4 goals after that……..”

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By now, his wife Val had become well-acquainted with the pitfalls of life as a footy ‘widow’. Previously she’d become used to waiting in the car outside the pub while Jay enjoyed a few after-match beers with the boys. But her and the kids were welcomed into the Plough Inn and shared the hospitality of Mary Nolan and the rest of the Tarra people.

“They were a great crowd, Tarra, and it was a bit of a wrench to leave them,” says Jay. But I’d always been keen to coach, and I knew Milawa were a fantastic Club.”

Jay’s appointment was a deviation from the O & K tradition of luring stars from the Ovens and Murray. But the success of he and Greta’s Johnny O’Brien proved that there was no real risk in drawing coaches from within the League.

He succeeded his brother Bill in the role, and harbored the usual self-doubts about how well the playing group would accept him……Particularly considering that the side contained the Club’s three previous coaches – Bill, John Holloway and Rex Allen.

His coaching reign started shakily enough. In his first year (1967) Milawa won just six games and finished seventh. However, a seven-point loss in the ‘68 First-Semi indicated that they were on the right track.

Jay was cleaned up by one of his old foes, Chiltern hard-man Kevin Lappin, in the latter part of that season. A badly broken nose necessitated a hospital visit. The nurses were preparing him for the operation when another patient was admitted.

“Forget about Mr.Comensoli for a while. This patient’s in worse condition,” they said. “At that moment, Kevin Lappin was wheeled in past me.”

“Bill, who’d gone out out to give ‘Ab’ a hand at Glenrowan, called in to see me. He had one glance and said: “I think I’d better come back to look after you.”

And he did return in 1969, to become one of the key figures in a dominant season.

“Bill was a ‘protector’” says Jay. “ I remember Ross Gardner playing his first game – he was no more than 15, I think, and was getting jostled by his opponent. Bill’s walked up and said: ‘Touch this bloke today, and you’re a goner.’ “

“There’s a big peppercorn tree behind the goals at Milawa. The ball was stuck in a branch one day, and they were taking ages to get it down. One of the old ducks from the opposition yelled out. ‘Hey, Commo, go and get your chainsaw and cut it down.’ Bill replied: ‘It’d be quicker if you’d get on your broom and fly up and get it’. ”

Jay says the Demons ran a tight ship in those days, and jokes that with blokes like ‘Mocca’ Coleman, the purse strings were well and truly clamped.

“In seven years at Milawa, I had two pairs of socks. I went to ‘Mocca’ to hit him up for a replacement pair and he looked at me incredulously: ‘Why ?’…….’Because they’re full of holes,’ I snorted…….’Doesn’t Val darn…..?’, he said.“

“ ‘Mocca’ was the Property Steward, a Selector, Caretaker and ‘Gopher’. He got the blame for everything, even when it rained. One of the things I was finicky about was having plenty of Ice on hand on game-day.”

“ ‘Mocca’ forgot to buy it one day and I kept at him about it. He eventually rounded some up and came back with his tail between his legs. He muttered: ‘Are you happy now ?’”

“I was in the shower after the game, and wondered why all the other quickly players drifted out. ‘Mocca’ came in with a bucket. ‘You know that Ice you wanted,’ he said…….’Here it is ! ‘ “

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Milawa dropped just two games in the 1969 home and away rounds, to top the ladder. They booted 8.5 in the first quarter of a soggy Second Semi against Beechworth, to cruise home by 64 points.

The Bombers bounced back, and outlasted Greta in a tough Prelim, to enter the ‘Big One’ as distinct underdogs.

Their confidence grew when Milawa’s big-occasion player Bill Comensoli was accidentally knocked out 10 minutes into the first quarter and stretchered from the ground.

Bearing in mind that Beechworth’s hard run to the Grand Final was expected to have them at a disadvantage, they surprisingly kept nipping at the heels of the classy Demons.

Trailing by just two points at half-time, they hit the lead at one stage in the third, and were within two goals at lemon-time.

But Milawa took control of the air in the final term, as the Bombers’ big men tired. Youthful, barrel-chested John Michelini, who’d played a great game- along with veteran defender Rex Allen -came to the fore in the dying stages.

Rod Reid had also proved damaging around the packs and chipped in with three majors. But when Beechworth again threatened in the last, through Ron Burridge, Jay pushed himself down back as a loose man, to curtail the dynamic Bomber.

As the siren blew to signal a 13-point Milawa victory, their supporters unleashed 29 years of pent-up emotion and carried their heroes to the rooms.

Besides the veterans of the side: Bill Comensoli (36), John Holloway (33) and Rex Allen (32), the premiership line-up boasted a few up-and-comers like 16 year-old Mervyn Holmes, Best & Fairest winner Ray Anderson, Eddie Kipping, Rob Tobias, Kerrie Taylor and the burly big-man, Michelini. It was a well-balanced side, bolstered by a number of hand-picked O & M recruits who had proved their mettle…….IMG_4294

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Milawa remained there or thereabouts in the next two seasons. They were unable to contain rampaging King Valley spearhead Ray Hooper, who booted 11 of the ‘Roos 14 goals, to lead his side to a 34-point victory in the 1970 decider.

And Chiltern edged them out by six points in a see-sawing ‘71 Grand Final, which saw the emergence of precociously-talented youngsters Barrie Cook, Ross Gardner and Gary Allen.

Jay relinquished the coaching job after that – his seventh O & K Grand Final – but played on for a further two years, to finish with just on 150 games with the Demons.

He often reflects on that ‘69 flag. “I can still remember Ross Schutt, who was an emergency, and a much-loved figure around the club, being overcome with emotion in the rooms afterwards.”

Ross said: “I can’t celebrate………I’m too distraught……….”

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P.S:  Jay won his first – and only – cricket Premiership, aged 40, when he kept wickets and played alongside his son Paul, with WDCA club Rovers in 1980-81 . Deciding to go out on top, he promptly hung up the gloves…IMG_4316

‘THE WIRY, TOUGH AND TALENTED NEVILLE POLLARD….’

Our footy post-mortems were often held at the Sale-Yards, around 6.30am on foggy, crisp Monday mornings. Still  a touch seedy after a week-end of playing, celebrating or commiserating, we’d conduct a thorough review before  the Sheep Market rudely interrupted us.

He was a precociously talented utility player who’d taken on a job as captain-coach at the ripe old age of 20…… I was his coaching adversary; a plodder, reaching the end of my tether………..

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Forty-odd years on, I again catch up with Neville Pollard.

He’s had a rough time of it lately, has old ‘Nifty’. Nearly five months ago he was diagnosed with a rare fungal infection behind the left eye.

Two corneal transplants failed to rectify the problem; nor did a series of injections. His surgeon put forward a few scenarios of further treatment. One of them – the most radical – included removing the eye.

“I decided that was the most risk-free way to go. So they whipped it out a fortnight ago,” he says.

I’m sure he welcomes changing the subject when I suggest having a yarn about his lengthy, varied, 400-game footy career………

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The Pollards were domiciled at Buln Buln, in the heart of Gippsland dairy country, when nine year-old Nev debuted with the local Thirds.

He later made the odd appearance with the seniors, but, going on 15 – and mid-way through the season – moved over to play with Drouin in the stronger West Gippsland League.

He finished the year with their Thirds, who were pipped by a point in the Grand Final, then booted 72 goals with the seniors the following season, to win the League goal-kicking award.

Under the VFL’s old zoning system, Drouin was part of Hawthorn’s territory. The Hawks helped themselves to a host of players from this lucrative recruiting area, including, of course, the famous Ablett family.

Neville had played alongside Geoff Ablett in the Drouin Thirds side, and also received an invitation to train ‘down town’.

But, in the meantime, his parents Arthur and Ruby, sold their farm and re-located to Bobinawarrah. He was momentarily out of Hawthorn’s clutches…….

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“Pollard was one of the few players I went out of my way to recruit when I was coach,” says Wangaratta Rovers legend Neville Hogan.

“I remember heading out Milawa-way to see him early in 1973, then bringing him to training a couple of times, as he still didn’t have a licence.”

“Gee he could play. He came to us as a full forward, but we started him in the back pocket because we wanted to fit him into the side.”

“There’s always conjecture about whether this bloke or that would have played League footy. Sometimes it boils down to being at the right club at the right time. But I think Neville would have given it a really good shot………..”

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He was a touch under 6 foot and as adaptable as they come. Proving himself ultra-capable down back, Hogan swung him into attack at one stage of the 1974 Grand Final. He booted two quick goals, to put the game completely out of Yarrawonga’s reach.IMG_4035

Andrew Scott recalls the coach’s plea to his side at three quarter-time of a soggy ‘75 decider against North Albury: “We led by 5 points in a real tight one, and ‘Hogan’s last words were: ‘Make sure you bring the ball to ground at all times.’ “IMG_4036

“In the opening minutes of the last quarter, Pollard’s caught off balance and brings down a spectacular one-hander across the half-back line, completely contrary to the coach’s instructions. It might have been one of those things that inspired us because we went away to win by 19 points.”

Scott and Pollard were members of the O & M team which trounced the VFA by 56 points that year.

“We played 18 a-side in the first half and reverted to the VFA’s version of 16 a-side in the second. I was playing on the wing and was supposed to go off at half-time, but Billy Sammon (our coach) decided to keep me on for the rest of the game. It was a terrific experience,” Neville recalls.

At season’s end, North Melbourne invited several potential recruits to play in a practice game at Arden Street. Hawthorn’s three-year hold on Pollard had expired and the Roos chief, Ron Joseph was keen to get hold of him.

“I’ve only got vague memories of the practice match,” he says, “.. but I do recall Scotty driving me down and getting pulled up for speeding. He was a cop at the time, and managed to talk his way out of it in convincing fashion.”

The Rovers were half-expecting to lose the youngster to North. He’d played three stellar seasons; featured in two flags….. But to their dismay, he accepted a coaching appointment at Milawa in 1976.

“I had a lot of mates out there, but may have been a bit naive taking the job on so young. In hindsight, I still don’t know whether I did the right thing,” Nev says.

“We were a young side; not over-tall, but they gave everything. I’d like to think I was honest and approachable as a coach, but it was tough……. I had to be an amateur psychologist, doctor and mentor besides concentrating on my own game.”IMG_4032

Milawa had won just three games the previous season, but again became a force under Pollard, and eventually ‘bombed out’ in the Preliminary Final.

They reached the Prelim in three of the first four years,  plunged to the bottom, then recovered to reach successive Grand Finals in his seven seasons in charge.IMG_4038

He was their dynamo, and took out the O & K’s Baker Medal ( as well as the club B & F ) in 1978 and 1980. Some old-time Demons rate him their best-ever player.

The last of his 141 games with the club was in the ‘Bloodbath’ Grand Final of 1982.

“We were 19 points up at half-time against Chiltern, and looked to be travelling well. But we just got hunted. At one stage there was talk of calling the game off. It was the worst match I’ve ever been involved in.”

In the end, the Swans ran away to win by 74 points. Neville was one of several who appeared at the resultant Tribunal hearing the following week and was quizzed about  one incident.

“I told them I’d got belted from behind. They gave the bloke one week…… I couldn’t believe it.”

“I decided to have another crack with the Rovers the next year. It wasn’t because of what happened in the Grand Final…..I just wanted to test myself back in the higher standard before I got too old.”

“I’d thought about coming in a couple of years earlier, but I suppose I got a bit stubborn and decided to stay.”

At 27, Neville was probably a better-equipped player than in his previous incarnation with the Hawks. He enjoyed stints in the midfield and on-ball and took out Best & Fairests in 1983 and ‘84.

A regular selection in the O & M side, he was voted the League’s best in a Country Championship semi-final clash against Ballarat. He lined up in the centre, alongside another old Drouin boy, Gary Ablett, who started on the wing.IMG_4033

That year,1983,  signified Pollard’s return to the top, as he also finished runner-up in the Morris Medal.

Again emphasising his versatility, he kicked 10 goals from centre half forward, in a memorable match against Albury  three years later.

His old mate Andrew Scott also booted 10 that day. They still debate the merit of their respective performances.

“Well, I kicked 10.7 and Scotty, who wasn’t fit enough to move out of the goal-square was gifted a handful. I reckon he touched a couple of my shots on the line !” he says.

After 13 years in the livestock game, Neville and Judy bought a property at Tocumwal and moved over with the four kids – Krystal, Carly, Elise and Ash. It signalled the end of his 139-game career with the Hawks.

“I’d fully intended to play with ‘Toc’, but on the first night of training only about eight fellahs turned up. It didn’t get much better for the next couple of weeks.”

“ Laurie Burt kept in touch and was keen for me to travel over and keep playing for the Rovers. I said: ‘Look, just reject the first clearance application. We’ll see how it goes.’ “

But he decided to stick it out . Tocumwal endured a gloomy, winless season and didn’t fare much better in in the next. Neville picked up successive B & F’s, however, and continued to star, as the Bloods began to gain momentum.

They thrived under the leadership of rugged Stuart Roe, who had come across from Shepparton to coach.

He took them to Grand Finals in 1989 and ‘90. They took the next step in 1991, after Philip Nicholson had succeeded Roe.  Pollard was part of a lethal half back line at this stage, and picked up his third flag when he starred in the Bloods’ premiership win over arch rivals Finley.IMG_4034

He continued to serve Tocumwal long after his glittering career had drawn to a close. ‘Nifty’ was 38 when he decided to pull the pin in 1992, but then spent seven years as Chairman of Selectors and six years as coach of the Thirds.

One of his biggest thrills in football came twenty years later, when fleet-footed Ash burst onto the scene in the first of his 40 senior games with the Rovers.

‘Nifty’ – O & K Hall of Famer, veteran of Buln Buln, Drouin, Wang Rovers, Milawa and Tocumwal – would be tickled pink if the young bloke again donned the Brown and Gold.

“All you can do is hope,” he says “…..but he might have left his run a bit late……”IMG_4039

MOYHU’S PILLAR OF DEFENCE……….

It’s a scenario that’s played out each winter Saturday, on ovals throughout the nation………

The game’s in the balance……… Less than a kick separates the two sides. The veteran coach, pupils bulging, veins protruding, pleads with his charges. He glances up at the whiteboard and states the obvious……..

“Fellahs, we’ve gotta keep working for one another,” he implores. “….. Look at that tackle count……….Good……..Keep up the momentum………You can see they’re tiring…….Look, we’re right in this…………Here’s our chance to prove we’re serious finals contenders …..”

It’s three quarter-time, and Moyhu are trailing by one point against the highly-fancied Goorambat.

Listening intently to the coach, Johnny Paola, is a bloke who has tuned into (and sometimes out of) a fair share of impassioned pleas, vitriolic blasts and lyrical outbursts over the years.

He’s Andrew Balfour, who happens to be playing his 400th club game in the Green and Gold guernsey……………

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It’s another typically ‘tough day at the office’ for ‘Balf’.

The contest has ebbed and flowed. The ‘Bats’ had sneaked away to a handy 14-point lead at half-time, which, in the context of this tight encounter, was substantial enough.

Their key forward, Cameron Symes, was proving more than a handful, and had, remarkably, kicked all of their seven goals at the break.

But Moyhu appear to wrest the initiative in the third term. They have an advantage in the ruck through the spring-heeled Anthony Welsh and are being served diligently in defence by under-rated Leroy Dowling.

Thanks to some creative work up forward from elusive Jeremy Wilson and Scott Atkinson, they find themselves down by the narrowest of margins at lemon-time.

Paola reminds them that they’d been in an identical situation against Greta the week before, and finished over the top of the Blues in impressive fashion. So there’s good reason to believe that they can do it again.

To my mind, the visitors appear to have run their race.  When the ‘Hoppers snag one early, then Paola kicks an inspiring team-lifter soon after,  their noisy fans are starting to ride them home.

But alas, the ‘Bats find an extra gear and the result of three or four forward thrusts is a couple of vital goals,  which again hands them the lead.

They hang on in a nail-biter, to prevail by two points and rob Andrew Balfour, the 42 year-old stalwart, of a Cinderella-like finish to his milestone game………

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Many of his old team-mates were on hand to watch ‘Balf’ in action. A few of them even reminisced about the mere 17 year-old debutant stripping alongside them, back in 1992.

He was lithe and athletic then. A player of the future, who seemed destined to be snapped up by one of the clubs ‘in town’.  As a born and bred Moyhu lad, he followed in the footsteps of his dad Stan, and uncles, John (‘Roo) and Ray Munari – promoted to the seniors, after an apprenticeship in the ‘twos’.

They settled him into defence, and it seemed to suit him to a tee.  Apart from a few stints up forward, ‘Balf’ was destined to jostle, wrestle with, and nullify the best forwards in the competition for nigh-on a quarter of a century.

And when you go through it, there’s a fair list that he’s had to contend with. Fellahs like Todd Stone, Darren Bate, Brendan Sessions, Dale Andrews, Nathan Lappin, Daniel McCullough and the like, all provided headaches in their own way.

I suggest to him that he was lucky he arrived on the scene when he did. Over the previous thirty years, Moyhu had been spectacularly unsuccessful.  A  long-overdue flag under Mark Ottrey’s coaching in 1988 had been preceded by years of drought.

Compare that to the modern, Balfour-era when they snared five premierships – all of them momentous – and have rarely missed finals action.

He played a vital part in this success, but also points to a terrific culture, which made Moyhu a great club to be around – and to stay at.

“He and ‘Jidda’ Douglas were our two key defenders during that time, and both were really consistent, tough and dependable. They were as good a combination as any going around,” says Mark Higgs, who can hardly remember ‘Balf’ playing a bad game.

“He was our captain for a few years, and led by example.”

Andrew was tempted to have a crack at O & M footy when he was working on the Border many years ago.  He played a practice game with Wodonga Raiders, but after the initial excitement of ‘spreading his wings’, headed home.

He had a couple of training runs with the Rovers later on, ‘just to see what it was like,’  but it didn’t seem right to leave the Hoppers.

He says he became more dedicated as the years wore on. After ‘doing’ his shoulder in the 2002 Grand Final, he needed a ‘reco’  which cost him eight games in 2003 . He decided then to work harder on his fitness.

There was another substantial injury in 2012, when he backed into a converging pack at Milawa,  and copped a punctured lung and a guernsey-full of broken ribs.

But they were only incidental, ‘Balf’ reckons, compared to all of the thrills – such as the premierships……

He remembers them as if they were yesterday. Like the one in 2002……

Beechworth had beaten them in the second-semi and were hot favourites to win their third straight flag. Moyhu hit them hard early, and gun forward  Darren Bate, and Mal Boyd reeled from heavy knocks.

The Bombers were rattled and the Hoppers ran away in the last half to win by 29 points.

The following year it was all over by half-time, by which time they’d established a 56-point lead over a lethargic North Wang, who had no answer to their midfield dominance.

After falling short by just 4 points against Bright in 2004, they were propelled to the flag the following year by a 10-goal haul from the evergreen Gerard Nolan. Whorouly had threatened several times, but Moyhu were able to hold them off by 10 points.

The Lions were unable to match the Hoppers when the two rivals met again, 12 months later. This time Moyhu raced away with the game in the third quarter – an assault from which Whorouly couldn’t recover.

‘Balf’ was a solid contributor in all of those wins, but his best Grand Final performance was probably saved for  a gripping clash against Tarrawingee in 2011.

There were a few heroes that day, but none stood out more than Moyhu’s number 7.

“Big-game players step up when no-one expects they can do any more,” one scribe reported.

“Andrew Balfour proved experience is hard to beat, after starring in his fifth Premiership on Saturday.”

“The Hoppers’ skipper repelled attack after attack in the enthralling two-point win against Tarrawingee, and single-handedly saved the day for his side late in the match.”

“Leading by two points after 28 minutes of the final quarter, Balfour etched his name in Ovens and King folklore, taking a courageous mark in defence after going back with the flight of the ball.”

“The mark was just one inspirational act in the highlights reel for the veteran defender, who was like a rock in defence for the Hoppers…………”

There’s little doubt that ‘Balf’ would have made his mark in O & M footy – and quite possibly been a star. But he’s more than content with the contribution that he’s made to his beloved Hoppers.

“He just enjoys the footy atmosphere, and likes being around the boys,” says one team-mate.

You can expect the old bloke to add a few more to his total of 368 senior and 32 Reserves  games before he hangs up those well-worn boots……………….

 

 

P.S:  Andrew’s five O & K flags don’t entitle him to bragging rights in the Balfour family. His wife Colleen has featured in eight premierships with the Hopper’s netball team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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