“84 YEARS ON………IS HISTORY ABOUT TO REPEAT ITSELF ?……………..

One of the most riveting O & M Finals series of recent times reaches its climax on Sunday, when Wangaratta and Yarrawonga clash in the Grand Final, at the Lavington Sports Oval.

Three of the finals have been rip-roaring affairs which were decided by less than a kick; the other two featured dramatic fight-backs, which were still in doubt deep into the final term.

The Pigeons appeared to have the Prelim stitched up in the opening quarter when, inspired by the brilliance of small man Nick Fothergill, they kicked five goals into the breeze at Bunton Park. The Hawks, who snapped the opening two scores of the game – both behinds – were thereafter consigned to a role of ‘spectators’ – bewildered and bedazzled by their opponents’ swift ball movement.

Additionally, three of their key play-makers, Sam Murray, Dylan Stone and Alex Marklew had, in the game’s early stages, been rendered ineffective. Stone was out of the game with a serious knee injury; Murray and Marklew were both limping heavily and reduced to cameo roles up forward for the purposes of rotations.

Just how the pendulum swung is difficult to ascertain, but the Rovers did certainly start to assert more control through the midfield. By three quarter-time there was only a goal in it and Hawk fans began to ponder if a second successive miracle could be manifested.

Alas, the Pigeons began to find space and after locating the big sticks once, then again, they were back in charge and were able to put a pulsating contest to rest…………..

So, for just the second time in O & M history, Wangaratta and Yarrawonga are poised to line up against each other in a Grand Final……….What an encounter it promises to be…….

But it could hardly be a more mouth-watering prospect than the one that awaited the footy public 84 years ago…….

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Yarra rose from the bottom of the ladder to reach the Grand Final in 1937 – their first appearance in a decider since entering the competition in 1929. Much of their inspiration came from the bullocking play of star centre half back – and eventual Morris Medallist – George Hayes.

Albury, however, were too good, and comprehensively defeated them by 42 points…..Hayes, skipper Morrie Richmond and ruckman Don Morrison were their stars…….. but they were fuelled with optimism about their prospects in 1938…….

Wangaratta, after winning their third flag in 1936, slumped to the bottom of the ladder in ‘37, winning just two games. It was a humiliating tumble, and prompted a revitalisation within their ranks.

Their search for a coach led them to a footy nomad, Norman Le Brun, whose CV had included stints with South Melbourne, Sandhurst, Essendon, Coburg, Collingwood, Carlton and South Warrnambool.

Standing only 171cm, the stocky 76kg rover grew up in the back streets of Richmond, where young bucks would sooner have a fight than a feed. He had supplemented the meagre match payments he received with occasional work as a brick-layer.

He was fearless and hard-hitting on the field and, despite his bulk, could run all day. A bachelor with a carefree personality which endeared him to everyone, he was ‘adopted’ by the people of Wangaratta upon his arrival.

The club’s recruiting officers had also been busy…….Milawa brothers Maurice and Joe Valli were enticed to the Black and White, as were Leo Crowe (Richmond Reserves), Alan and Jim La Rose (Golden Square) and Arthur Hayes (Ballarat).

One of their key players – and Le Brun’s deputy, was a strong key position player, Ernie Ward, who had been lured to the town from Bendigo League club Eaglehawk in 1935.

A gregarious personality, Ward had made a huge impact on the club, starring in their 1936 flag win and continuing his brilliant form the following year.

However, he was knocked out in a marking duel at the Albury Sportsground, suffering a fractured skull and broken jaw, which cost him the last four games of the season – and possibly the Morris Medal….

He finished runner-up, one vote behind George Hayes.

Despite the severity of his injury, Ward fully recovered and returned to his high-marking best in 1938. Le Brun had the luxury of being able to swing him to either end of the ground with equal effect.

Alec Fraser, the classy mid-fielder, had become part of the furniture at the Showgrounds Oval since joining the Club a decade earlier……..Apart from a brief stint with St.Kilda, the ‘gentleman footballer’ was rarely beaten, and was still the epitome of reliability……..

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No doubt one of ‘the stars of the show’ in the talented Yarrawonga sides of the late thirties was Leo Hicks, a 175cm, 71kg key forward…….. A member of a famous Pigeon family, Hicks had made the Senior list at Fitzroy in 1938, but chose to return home, to further enhance his reputation as a prolific sharp-shooter.

He kicked no less than four goals in 12 successive matches during the season, which included twin ‘bags’ of 10, on the way to a century. Leo and his brother Sam held down the key forward posts with devastating effect during the season.

George Hayes continued his Medal-winning form at centre half back. A solid six-footer, he exuded a fearsome presence and helped his fellow defenders stand tall, whilst personally racking up plenty of possessions.

Yarra had a less than ideal start to their 1938 campaign, winning just one of their opening four matches. But they soon steadied the ship, and finished the home and away rounds with a 10-5 record.

They took out the minor premiership, on percentage from Wangaratta and Rutherglen, with Albury three games behind, in fourth spot………

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Rutherglen’s inaccurate kicking kept Albury in the First Semi-Final. They led 10.17 to 12.4 at three quarter-time, but the Tigers finished with 2 goals to one in the final term, to win by three points.

The dynamic Doug Strang was the player who made the difference. He booted 9 goals in a single-handed effort.

The Second Semi between Wangaratta and Yarrawonga was a classic. The Pigeons held a slender four-point advantage at half-time……Wang were two points in front at lemon-time…..

But it boiled down to accuracy in the end, as the Pies added 4.1 to 3.5 in the final term to gain automatic entry to the Grand Final – winning 12.13 to 11.15.

There was more bad news for the Pigeons, though……… Champion defender and club heart-beat George Hayes had sustained a leg injury, which would put paid to his season……..

Yarra bounced back superbly in the Preliminary Final, and were all over Albury for three quarters. They led 12.13 to 3.10 at one stage, and their attention had already begun to turn to the following week.

But Albury, again inspired by Doug Strang, who kicked another 7 goals, stormed home to kick 9.3 to 3.5 in the final quarter……The winning margin was reduced to just 23 points…….

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A bumper crowd, which paid 264 pounds at the gate, flocked to Barkly Park, Rutherglen for the re-match of the closely-matched rivals.

The head-to-head contests during the season stood at 2-apiece and the experts couldn’t seperate them. The absence of the lion-hearted Hayes would be sorely felt, and many wondered if the week’s rest might have freshened the Pies for what promised to be a no-holds-barred contest……

The teams lined up as such:

YARRAWONGA

B: D.Marshall, S.Ellis, D.Naughtin

HB: J.Flynn, J.Weeks, F.Johnston.

C: E.Message, H.Marshall, B.Ridley

HF: K.Duncan, S.Hicks, J.Norris

F: H.Gillett, L.Hicks, J.Reilly.

Foll: B.Brown, K.Ryan, M.Richmond (c)

19th: L.Cooper,

Coach: Lloyd Jones

WANGARATTA

From: N.Le Brun (cc), A. Clark, J.La Rose, A.Fraser, A.La Rose, B.Le Leivre, H.Ewing,

M.Valli, E.Ward, R.Bray, L.Crowe, T.Maguire, A.Rosengrave, T.Dykes, G.Lewis,

J.Valli, W.Wyllie, J.Williams, 19th: S. Auld.

Little separated the two combinations for three quarters…….Yarra led 1.5 to 1.2 at quarter-time……… Wang slightly gained the initiative to lead by two goals at the long break: 5.6 to 3.6….

The Pigeons spoiled an enterprising third quarter with a poor return on the score-board. They added only 2.7 despite appearing to have the majority of the play. At three quarter-time their deficit was nine points.

But the Pies found the way to goal in the last. Ernie Ward was unstoppable at full forward. He finished with six goals, whilst the nuggety Le Brun chimed in with three, as the hard-working Yarra defence, led by Dave Naughtin, Jim Flynn and Doug Marshall battled to stem he tide.

The final margin of 27 points indicated a comfortable winning margin, but the game still remained in the balance until mid-way through the quarter……..When it was up for grabs, it was Wangaratta who took their chances and went on with the job:

WANGARATTA: 1.2, 5.6, 7.10, 12.15 (87)

YARRAWONGA: 1.5, 3.6, 5.13, 7.16 (58)

Best: WANGARATTA: N.Le Brun, A.Fraser, E.Ward, H.Ewing, M.Valli, T..Maguire, B.Le Leivre, J & A. La Rose.

YARRAWONGA: D.Naughtin, J.Flynn, D.Marshall, A.Ridley, S.Ellis, M.Richmond, S.Hicks.

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Yarrawonga have contested 16 Grand Finals……They eventually broke through for their first flag when former Fitzroy coach Billy Stephen led them to victory against Wangaratta Rovers in 1959.

They’ll be chasing their sixth title, the most recent of which came in 2013.

Wangaratta have made 27 appearances at the ‘big dance’, ‘greeting the judge’ in 15 of them…..

There’s an eerie similarity about the lead-up to these two Grand Finals, 84 years apart………..They finished 1 and 2…….. Shared the spoils during the home- and-away………Wangaratta won the Second Semi by less than a kick……..Yarra staved off a huge comeback in the Prelim……..

Most shrewd judges fancy the Pies, but as we are continually warned, anything can happen in Grand Finals………….

” ‘THE TANK’ – A HUMAN WRECKING-BALL……..”

Richie Castles, former Milkie, footballer, cricketer, pigeon racer, trotting trainer and true character, finds serenity these days, on the seat of his Ride-On Mower………

The knees that supported his roly-poly frame throughout a brilliant footy career are ‘stuffed’, he says…..So that puts paid to too much physical activity……Nevertheless, he thrives on the chore of keeping the seven and a half acre property, where he and wife Margaret reside, in fine fettle…..

I remember him being a powerhouse in defence during a fine era for Benalla……Back-pocket players of the late-50’s/mid-60’s were typically dour, stingy types whose main focus was to keep resting rovers under wraps and dish out the occasional back-hander………

Richie, though, was a dasher, in the mould of Brad Hardie, or a modern-day Daniel Rioli…..

“If I thought I could get the ball I’d go after it” he says….”It wouldn’t matter if it was from here to that pigeon-cage over there…..I wouldn’t give a bugger if there was anyone in my way; I’d run over the top of ‘em to get it….”.

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His older brother Charlie was an Austral Wheelrace place-getter, and the youngster once had aspirations of following him into cycling.

But he loved footy – and Benalla – with a passion……..”As a kid I used to ride my bike from one end of the Showgrounds Oval to the other; depending on which end we were kicking.”

“One of my heroes was Jack Spriggs, who played a bit like Leigh Matthews……’Spriggsy’ would land the ball on the chest of Morris Medallist Kevin Hurley with the precision of a surgeon…….Geez he was a good player.”

“He kept an eye on the local Junior League and knew all the good kids…..He milked a few cows at Swanpool and was appointed coach out there…….tried to get me to go with him…He said to mum and dad: ‘I’ll look after him’…….He would’ve, too, but I was hell-bent on playing with Benalla…..”

Richie walked straight into the Benalla senior side in 1957, aged 17, holding down the back pocket position with the aplomb of a veteran.

His mum’s brother – triple Brownlow Medallist Dick Reynolds – was coaching Essendon and invited him down to train, and play a couple of practice games with the Bombers the following year.

“There was a car-load of us and they’ve talked me into going to Luna Park after the practice match……It was 11 o’clock before we left for home, and I’ve ended up rolling my Ford Mainline Ute on the bend at Avenal…..”

“Charlie had ridden at the North Essendon Board Track that night and, coincedentally, found me lying on the road……I thought I was done…”

His progress in recovering from a broken pelvis, and a couple of other injuries, was slow but sure…… he was walking within six weeks……..and was everlastingly grateful to Benalla’s Head Trainer Tim Shanahan.

“He was a marvel that bloke….the best around……He had such a good reputation that half the O & M players came to him for treatment…..They’d offer him a bottle of beer or something, for getting them back on the track….”

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Richie’s family owned one of the three Dairies in Benalla, and he’d left school at 15 to begin a career that lasted more than 50 years.

“It was my life…..I’d start at 1.30am, seven days a week, with a Horse and Cart…..350 houses…..and get back to the Dairy about 7am……..I was running a bloody marathon every day; no wonder I was fit…..”

“Then, on training nights, I’d ride the bike over to the Showgrounds and run a few laps, waiting ‘til the boys arrived.”

But you’d question his fitness when you saw him run onto the ground……His socks would droop down around his ankles, and he looked podgy and overweight….After all, his playing weight was 13 and a half stone, which was more than ample for his 5’8” frame to carry.

No wonder they called him ‘The Tank’……He was a human wrecking-ball when in full flight……

Billy Luck coached the Demons in the year Richie returned from injury…..then was succeeded by ex-Fitzroy winger Vin Williams in 1960.

That was, he reckons, his best year of footy.

He’d spent a month of his holidays doing another pre-season at Essendon. When he returned he was fighting fit….and did it show……The local Menswear store donated a Pelaco shirt for Benalla’s best player each game…..and he won nine of them !…..as well as comfortably winning the Club B & F….

Benalla were hanging precariously to fourth spot – two points ahead of Myrtleford – when they faced the Rovers at the Findlay Oval in Round 18.

The equation was simple….they had to defeat the Hawks, as the Saints were certainties against winless Rutherglen.

In the dying seconds of an exhilarating clash, Benalla booted a goal to reduce the margin to a single kick……As the ball was being relayed back to the centre, the siren blew, and hundreds with their ears glued to 3NE’s coverage could hear a voice in the time-keeper’s box: ‘Oh, No, No….’

The timekeeper had accidentally pressed the button for the final siren, instead of the time-on button…..The game had finished 12 seconds early.

Benalla protested and the match was re-played the following week….This time the Hawks prevailed by eight points…..

In the meantime, the customary Morris Medal vote-count had been conducted following Round 18……. Rovers coach Bob Rose polled two votes in the Demon-Hawk clash, to take out the ‘gong’ by one vote, from Castles.

There was some contention that votes should have been cast for the Re-Play instead of the abandoned game……in which case Castles, who starred in the re-play may have won the Medal.

One journo opined: ‘There are some who feel that Richie Castles has been handed a raw deal.’

Richie quickly moved on from the controversy. He reflected: “I didn’t play for individual awards. It was history, as far as I was concerned…”

He also remembers the re-play for the ‘blue’ that started 20 minutes into the first quarter:

“ ‘Rosy’ had given Terry Putt a short right to the jaw which travelled about six inches….Fortunately for Bob the umpie didn’t see it……He jumped in to soothe things down and asked ‘Rosy’ what had happened……….”I think he fainted’ was his reply…..”

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Dick Reynolds had, by now, taken on the coaching job with SANFL club West Torrens, and Richie headed over to spend a season in Adelaide.

“I lived with Dick and Auntie Jean, in this palatial two-storey mansion, just up from Adelaide Oval….provided by the wealthy Torrens President, Ossie O’Grady….tennis court…maid’s quarters upstairs…the lot.”

“They got me a job at Industrial Springs, on Port Road, but I had to spend four weeks’ residentially qualifying before I was eligible to play,” he says.

“We had a great win over Port Adelaide in the final round, then faced Norwood in the First Semi, in front of 45,000 fans……Unfortunately, we all went bad on the same day…..stage-fright, probably…..”

“I loved the footy over there, but had a blue with the boss at work and told him to ‘stick the job up his arse’, loaded up the ute and drove all the way home…….hit the Shepp Road about 6am on Christmas Day…..”

His timing couldn’t have been better…..Benalla were about to embark on a run which would take them to successive flags…..

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They had a crackerjack combination in ‘62…..well-balanced and adaptable. Strong big men like Ike Kulbars and Terry Putt; key forwards Neil Busse and burly Ian Hughes; defenders Alf Sikora, ‘Dinger’ Langlands and Graeme Lessing and a classy centreline of Brian Bourke, ‘Curly’ Hanlon and Ronnie Hayes……

“We knocked off the Rovers mid-season in one of the first matches that Ken Boyd played for them after returning from disqualification. He was in Benalla selling insurance the following week and called in to the place where my brother Charlie worked. Conversation naturally turned to footy…..”

“He said: ‘Fair dinkum, they had one bloke who couldn’t run because his knees were all bandaged up ( that was Hughsie ) and there was another fat little bloke in the back pocket…….The fellah that couldn’t run, with the bandaged knees, kicked four goals and the fat little prick stopped ten’…. “

“Charlie said: ‘You’re talking about my little brother’….”

“We beat Corowa by a point in a thrilling Second Semi and the Grand Final was a real tight battle all day…….We trailed the Rovers by a couple of goals at half-time, 5 points at three quarter-time, and they still led by 10 points with just a few minutes to play.”

“They’d switched ‘Boydy’ into the ruck and he was giving them plenty, but they were tiring. We slowly gained the ascendency and booted three goals to hit the lead…..I can still see Johnny Hogan snapping the final goal, to seal the game….. The sound of that siren gave me my greatest thrill in football.”

The Demons’ won in more emphatic fashion in 1963, but not before they’d survived a draw against Myrtleford in the Second Semi-Final, won the replay by 6 goals, then awaited a confident Corowa in the Grand Final…

It was still anyone’s game at lemon-time, as the Spiders trailed by just 13 points……But they failed to score in the last quarter, whilst Benalla booted 8.3, to win by 64 points.

The celebrations raged, and Castles, who’d again played a major part, was in the thick of them…..

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Richie says he hasn’t touched a drop of the demon drink for more than 30 years, but more than made up for it when he was playing.

“I’d have one or two, then want to drink the keg……There we’re plenty of times I went on the milk-run still under the weather…….Just as well the horse knew when to stop……How the hell I didn’t fall off I’ll never know…….”

He says he still holds one record, of which he’s not terribly proud…..

“We’d earned a week off after winning the ‘62 Second Semi, and someone donated an ‘18-gallon keg’ which we proceeded to drink after Tuesday night training…….Much, much later, it was decided it’d be a good idea to drive to the Friendlies Oval to see who could record the fastest lap…..”

( Richie had been playing First XI cricket with UFS since he was about 14, so he was familiar with the lay-out of the ground.)

“I was in my Volkswagen and it was as wet as buggery…..we started broadsiding around there….One of the fellahs had winter treads on his Holden, and ran straight up the guts, through the turf wicket…..Johnny Burns, in his blue Customline, got bogged to the boot….”

“The bloke in the railway signal-box dobbed us in……We caused a fair bit of damage and the cops nabbed us……We had to attend the police-station the next day, to have the riot act read to us……”

“Vin Williams ( our coach ) and Charlie Chiswell ( President ) got us out of strife, but we had to pay 100 quid and roll the surface with an old concrete roller…….”

“It’s a wonder you weren’t locked up, “ his wife Margaret quips…..

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Richie had been finding it difficult to combine the milk-run with his footy commitments. He pulled the pin on his career in 1965, aged 25, after 115 terrific games with the Demons.

Instead, he concentrated on his racing Pigeons – a life-time hobby which he only gave up three years ago. He also pre-trained Trotters.

“The pick of them was Madison Square, which I leased to Corowa coach Frank Tuck. He won 8-10 races with it…….When Mum had a stroke the trotters went by the wayside…..

In the mid-eighties his brother-in-law Alan Beaton – a 1963 premiership team-mate – convinced him to coach one of the Under-14 Junior League teams – Benalla Tigers.

“I think they give me the hardest kids to handle…..We won 2 games the first year, then took out the next 2 flags.”

“Geez, some of ‘em were bastards…..but I loved it……If there was mud and slush I’d let ‘em fight in it…..We had one young bloke called ‘Harro’…..He was only about 12; smoked, rode a bike, had a girl on each arm; from a split family….skinny legs and arms….a real candidate for Pentridge, I thought…..But he was respectful to me, and always called me Mr.Cas’”

“Anyway, he disappeared off the scene….I asked his Aunty years later what he was up to….She said: ‘You wouldn’t believe it. He’s up in Queensland, married, with a couple of kids and has his own business, as a Painter and Decorator…..’ “

After retirement, Richie spent a few years on the Benalla committee, and also served as a Selector…..He still enjoys his footy and closely monitors the progress of young fellahs, as they come through the ranks……….

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P.S: When the O & M announced its ‘Team of the Century’ in 2019 Richie Castles was named in the Back Pocket…..He deems it a huge honour to have been included among a group of the finest-ever players to have graced the competition………

” A ONE-EYED VIEW OF THE SEMI……….”

Darcy Wilson was reared in a blue-blooded Rovers family….

His four Grand-parents are Hawk stalwarts………His dad, Mick, and uncles Paul Grenfell, Joe and Andrew Wilson, featured in multiple premierships, as did his mum Michelle, who was a star netballer in her day…..

Their careers were done and dusted well before the 16 year-old saw the light of day, but he would have undoubtedly been dreaming of one day, emulating their heroics in Brown and Gold.

At the 24-minute mark of the last quarter, in Sunday’s riveting First Semi-Final, the opportunity presented itself ……. He pounced on a loose crumb deep in the forward pocket, and snapped truly, across his body, to ice the game for his side………

On a day when inaccuracy was the only thing that marred an otherwise scintillating contest, Hawk fans roared with a mixture of disbelief and delight…………

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PRELUDE

The sides go into the Semi in contrasting form…….Albury, the power combination of the past decade and a half, have been stricken by the injury-stick in the latter portion of the season and have dropped their past four games……..On the other hand, the Rovers have enjoyed a late-season purple-patch, recording four straight wins.

I’m worried about the Tigers, because of their finals expertise ……..but then again, I excruciate over a game of tiddlywinks, so that’s nothing unusual…….What is absolutely crucial, though, is that we get away to a ‘flier’………

Alas, the Tigers are ‘on song’ in the game’s early stages……Their wise ‘old-stagers’, Brayden O’Hara, Jimmy Grills, Michael Duncan, Shaun and Luke Daly and Jake Gaynor have grown a leg and are leading the way – particularly the dynamic O’Hara, who finds the pill and delivers it with the precision of a latter-day Neville Hogan.

My worst fears are realised, as Albury scarp to a 25-point quarter-time lead…..Their leg-speed and pin-point disposal has the Rovers looking ragged.

They’re fumbling and appear overawed…..Their rare treaties forward are met by stout resistance from a defence led by the strong-marking Lucas Conlan and long-haired Jessie Smith.

In fact, the Tigers have taken such a stranglehold that some experts are preparing to declare them ‘certainties’ – as they control proceedings well into the second term. And ominously, the will-o-the-wisp Jeffrey Garlett has produced a couple of magical goals from nowhere.

It’s not that the Hawks haven’t had their chances…….their two key forwards Alex Marklew and Tom Boyd are finding the ball okay, but just can’t locate the big sticks……..3.9 at half-time is enough to shake the confidence of the most optimistic fan…….and make any team-mate queazy when they’re lining up for goal…..

Surely they’ll find the radar after the break, but is the 35-point deficit going to be a bridge too far ?……..

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THE FIGHT-BACK

One of the key figures in the Rovers’ recent spate of form has been the champion No.10, Brodie Filo. You get the feeling that if they’re to mount any sort of a come-back, he’ll be the bloke to inspire them.

He showed, at the opening bounce, what he’s capable of, as he craftily read the fall of the ball, broke clear, and pumped the ball into attack.

Now, with the game on the verge of slipping out of control, he’s just the man to provide the spark…..

The Hawks have obviously received a good dressing-down at the break…….they come out full of intent, and monopolise play in the early stages of the third term.

In an inspired move, ‘Crezza’ has shifted Sam Murray into the engine-room……he responds by breaking clear from the centre with his usual dash and pumps the ball forward several times……..

But still, the boys in Brown and Gold can’t convert…..The majority of the play is in their forward 50 for the first six-or-so minutes, but their reward is four straight points.

And, to rub salt into the wound, Albury relay the Sherrin downfield with a chain of passes…..it’s O’Hara to Shaun Daly, back to O’Hara; then the elusive Garlett gets his foot to one in a goal-square scrimmage…..Goal.

What’s even more heart-wrenching is that the Hawks respond with another two near-misses……they’ve now kicked eight behinds on the trot……It has become contagious, and 3.15 is disastrous result for the increased pressure that they’re now applying.

But is the tide about to turn…… ?

The unobtrusive, but effective, Todd Bryant fires a pass to Tom Boyd, who’s 35-metres out, directly in front. What a sure pair hands the boy from Nathalia possesses.

But have the gremlins taken hold of him ?……After all, he’s had six shots at goal, for five points and one complete-miss.

He cautiously lines up…….. Hawk fans hold their collective breath………Big Tom nails it…..!

Shortly after, Filo, who is in everything, is awarded a free kick, which he converts, for a major……Then Sam Allen, one of several youngsters who are now right in the thick of things, receives a free kick….and a 50-metre penalty, to be lined up straight in front of goal…….It’s now 10.8 to 6.15………the margin has been whittled to 17 points…….

The Rovers are on the charge.

Sam Murray takes the ball under his arm and, with a head full of steam, darts away from another scrimmage. He’s irrepressible when he’s in a mood like this, but the umpie pulls him up for running something like 25 metres.

Jacob Conlan, the match-winning forward, who has also suffered a bout of the yips today, is the recipient of the resultant pass…..Tall Jace McQuade has worn the Riverina lad like a blanket today, but this time he kicks an important major for the Tigers, to stop the rot.

But soon after, Ryan Stone marks strongly, explodes from a pack and nails the reply. After an injury-plagued season, the classy forward has turned in his two best games in successive finals.

What a contest it has developed into…..Only 18 points seperate the combatants and the Hawks must now rate themselves a fair chance of overhauling the Tigers, as the team’s congregate for the lemon-time break…….

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THE FINAL STANZA

There’s plenty for the highlights package in this final term for the ages.

Momentum has certainly swing in favour of the Rovers, but Albury’s many stars are not going to die wondering.

Shaun Daly, who did such a fine stopping job on Yarrawonga’s brilliant Leigh Masters last week, has been swung onto Sam Murray. The veteran has called time on a stellar career, which began at Corowa-Rutherglen, continued to Queensland and has included seven flags with the Tigers.

He’ll be giving everything in a bid to curb the Hawk danger-man.

The tackling is ferocious and the heat is certainly on……Only a minute or so into the quarter, Todd Bryant flips a handpass over to a flying Filo, who dodges a couple of opponents and snaps a left-foot goal…….13 points the difference.

Now it’s Albury’s turn to miss the targets that they were nailing early. Brayden O’Hara is astray with three shots at goal……He’s also caught high, plays on and finds the classy left-footer, Riley Bice……another minor score.

Then Bice receives a free kick for a blocking offence…….He’s 30-metres out, virtually straight in front, but misses again.

A fine player Bice, but he’s kicked four straight points from his 21 disposals today.

Tom Boyd redeems himself for his early discrepancies in front of goal by booting a couple of majors – the second comes after a slick Alex Marklew handpass.

The margin has now been whittled to four points. The game is right in the balance and excitement is at fever-pitch when Marklew gathers another handball.

Who’s there or thereabouts ? ………Filo, of course…….He motors past and kicks the goal that puts the Hawks in front for the first time, at the 20-minute mark of the last quarter.

With the pill deep in defence for Albury, a couple of minutes later, a Tiger defender assesses his options, kicks optimistically to a contest across goal, and Darcy Wilson’s dreams come true………he snaps the major and team-mates come from everywhere to congratulate him……….His side has now crept out to an 11-point break.

But it’s it over yet…….

Not to be outdone, Albury push forward again and Jeff Garlett caps a good day at the office by kicking his fourth.

The Tigers are coming………they continue to attack, the Hawks desperately defend……..the final siren signals the end of a monumental contest, as a dozen players are scrambling for possession of the bobbling footy……….

WANGARATTA ROVERS: 12. 20. ( 92 ) d ALBURY 12. 15 ( 87 )

Best: ROVERS: Brodie Filo, Jayden Bear, Raven Jolliffe, Sam Murray, Todd Bryant, Sam Murray, Ryan Stone.ALBURY: Brayden O’Hara, Fletcher Carroll, Jeff Garlett, Luke Daley, Riley Bice, Lucas Conlan.

” SAINTS VERSUS HAWKS – RE-VISITING A CLASSIC……….”

Myrtleford and Wangaratta Rovers meet in a Final on Sunday for the first time in 38 years…….’On Reflection takes you back to that First Semi-Final of 1984; a match that typifies the rivalry of two proud clubs.…..

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The persistent rainfall of late-winter has given way to a delightfully sunny spring day………….They’ve come down from the hills in droves for the clash between the Saints and Hawks, at the Norm Minns Oval…….

The two old foes have endured a love-hate relationship since well before they were jointly admitted to the Ovens and Murray Football League in 1950………Their rivalry stepped up a notch when they met in successive O & K Grand Finals…..The Rovers celebrated wildly after their triumph in 1948, but the Saints delighted in turning the tables the following year…..

The most memorable of their four previous O & M Finals meetings came in the 1970 Grand Final, at this very same venue…….History was in the making………In a ‘battle for the ages’, spiced with niggles galore, the Hawks held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, only to be reined in by the never-say-die Saints, whose fans celebrated like there was no tomorrow……..

In the late-seventies, well-meaning officials struck a Perpetual Shield, commemorating two long-serving Presidents, for competition between the Clubs……….After one spiteful encounter five years later, emotions spilled over and the Maroney-Ablett Shield was banished to a store-room – never again to be exposed to the light of day…..

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In fairytale fashion, Myrtleford rose from second-bottom to become the glamour team of 1983…..The recruitment of Gary Ablett helped, as did the arrival of new coach Greg Nicholls, from Ainslie, via Geelong…..They played off in the Prelim Final, but in the aftermath suffered substantial player losses and were expected to come back to the pack in ‘84.

Peter Ruscuklic, the former Fitzroy and Geelong forward, who achieved fame by kicking successive tallies of 136, 156 and 213 goals in the Sydney Football League, ( and had won the 1983 Doug Strang Medal in his first O & M season) inherited the Saints’ coaching job from Nicholls………..They snuck into the Five by a mere two points from fast-finishing Yarrawonga and Lavington.

The Hawks, meanwhile, reacted to a disappointing ‘83 season by recruiting strongly. One of their coups was a VFA champion, Laurie Burt, from Coburg.

Built like a Sherman Tank, and a renowned in-and-under player, Burt made an immediate impression; as did Robert Perry, a stylish key position player, who was studying Law at Melbourne University and couldn’t spare the time to continue his fledgling career at Collingwood.

Additionally, big Gerald McCarthy, after a quiet first season in Brown and Gold, hit his straps.

McCarthy had started his VFL sojourn at Hawthorn, before being involved in a straight swap with a promising Fitzroy mid-fielder, Terry Wallace. He played most of his 150 VFL games in defence, but Rovers non-playing coach John Welch swung him into the ruck in ‘84, with immediate effect………

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The Hawks were right on song for the first two-thirds of the home-and-away rounds……..With an 11-1 record, and perched well clear on top, they were the raging flag favourites.

But when the rain tumbled down in July, so did their air of invincibility. They lost four of their next six games to limp into the finals……then allowed North Albury to kick 24.16 in registering a 38-point win in the Qualifying Final.

On the other hand, despite errant kicking in the Elimination Final, Myrtleford gained considerable confidence when they scraped to a 12.24 96) to 14.9 (93) win over Yarrawonga…….

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The Hawks took a gamble at the selection table by including ruck-rover Mark Booth for the Semi. He’d been under a cloud for several weeks. The move backfired when the experienced campaigner, after kicking an early goal, left the ground with a groin injury in the first quarter.

Another of their veterans, Andrew Scott, was ‘playing with’carrying’ a painful foot complaint and was parked at full forward. Despite the injury, and in typically courageous fashion, he was destined to have a major influence on the game.

The Rovers opened brilliantly and darted away to a handy four-goal lead by quarter-time. Greg O’Keeffe and youngster Shawn Dennis were magnificent on their wings and Neville Pollard’s run from defence and long, raking kicks were a feature.

The Saints whittled the margin away, as Freddie Baldori and forwards Dale and Darren Holmes continually came under notice. But, try as they might, the underdogs found difficulty in finding the big sticks.

High-flying centre half forward Russell France and coach Ruscuklic were dominating the airways, and energetic rover Terry Burgess was in the action……However, their deplorable kicking was keeping the Hawks in the game.

France, the former Prahran star took 13 marks, yet finished with 1.8 for the match. Ruscuklic, on the other hand, was at his uncanny best, juggling several freak marks and kicking seven goals.

By three quarter-time Myrtleford had valiantly fought their way back into the contest. They held a slender eight-point lead………The stage was set for an exciting run home.

The thrilling contest was to keep the large crowd on tenterhooks and leave the players emotionally and physically drained…..

Coach Welch took a gamble when he moved Scott onto the ball early in the final term. He rose to the challenge as only he could, scouting the packs like a rover, and fighting for possession with tenacity……..

The Rovers bridged the initial gap, and fortunes ebbed and flowed, before goals to Dale Holmes and Burgess put Myrtleford 12 points up at the 24-minute mark.

The little maestro was in everything, and had a few other opportunities to kick goals during the last term. But the Hawk defence exerted just enough pressure to ensure near-misses….

Mark Frawley was another Hawk who lifted a notch when it counted….He cruised the ground with great anticipation and his marking and long-kicking were a feature of his strong display.

As the time-clock edged into time-on the Hawks managed to gain the upper-hand, with stalwarts Leigh Hartwig, Greg O’Keefe and Barrie Cook fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain possession.

Finally, in the dying seconds, a cool pass by 19 year-old Peter Watson to Scott gave the old champ a chance for glory…….

He kicked truly for his fourth…….. The Hawks were home by a solitary point……..

Wang. Rovers: 5.5, 8.8, 9.9 , 13.12 (90)

Myrtleford: 1.5, 5.10, 9.17, 11.23 (89)

Goals: Rovers: A.Scott 4, M.Frawley 3, M.Booth 1, G.McCarthy 1, R.Perry 1, S.Dennis 1, L.Burt 1, G.O’Keeffe 1.

Myrtleford:.P.Ruscuklic 7, R.France 1, Dale Holmes 1, F.Baldori 1, B.Garoni 1.

Best: Rovers: M.Frawley, G.O’Keeffe, S.Dennis, R.Perry, L.Burt, A.Scott, N.Pollard, S.Baird.

Myrtleford: F.Baldori, I.Wales, P.Ruscuklic, R.France, Dale Holmes, T.Burgess, B.Garoni.

Estimated Attendance: 4,750

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THE AFTERMATH

# The Rovers were bundled out of the finals the following week, when Wodonga defeated them in the Preliminary Final: 16.22 to 6.21.

# The Saints fell to the bottom of the ladder the following year, winning just 2 games. Peter Ruscuklic moved on and was replaced by former Rovers star Norm Bussell, who was non-playing coach.

# Terry Burgess finally achieved his dream of an O & M premiership in 1990, with Wodonga.

# Four Rovers players: Merv Holmes, Andrew Scott, Mark Booth and Laurie Burt, were laterInducted to the O & M Hall of Fame.

# Burt took over as coach of the Rovers in 1987, and is recognised as one of the Club’s greatestmentors, taking them to flags in 1988, ‘91, ‘93 and ‘94.

# Ian Wales is the current Myrtleford Football Club President.

# Myrtleford rover Darren Handley was recruited to Collingwood in 1986. He played 12 gameswith the Magpies and later, 10 games with Fitzroy.

# Sean O’Keeffe, Daine Porter, Tyson Hartwig, Hugh and Elijah Wales, Sam Martyn , Mitch and Darcy Booth are present-day O & M players whose fathers were involved in the Semi-Final.

# Shawn Dennis abandoned his football career to concentrate on his first love – Basketball. Heplayed 10 seasons in the NBL before starting an illustrious coaching career. He has coached in the NBL,, in New Zealand and Japan for the past 29 years. He is currently coach of Japanese side Nagoya Dolphins.

# Four months after starring in the Semi, Greg O’Keeffe achieved his most memorable sporting achievement when he ‘ran the house down’ to take out the prestigious Wangaratta Gift, infront of an adoring home crowd. He appeared in the Gift Final five times in his lengthy athletic career.

“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……..