This week-end, Wangaratta were scheduled to be meeting Wang. Rovers in what would have been a much-hyped O & M Round 15 at the W.J.Findlay Oval. Guest blogger Simone Kerwin laments the absence of ‘The Local Derby’………
I thought I heard a whisper carried on the breeze As I wandered past those dual fields of play. I’m sure it was a whisper…it can’t have been the trees, As it echoed my thoughts on a winter Saturday.
It spoke of generations past, and all that they had meant, Of mateship, rivals, battles, triumph, losses they had dealt; Of pies, thermos, convivial beers, and crowds that came and went; And those who tended needs to honour passion deeply felt.
For while this flurry of action should now be at full tilt, A global shift had brought a halt to the usual reverie. So it came as no surprise, expressed in that breeze-carried lilt, That the quiet now descended sparked melancholy.
Of communities now separated by length of arm And masked to stem an evil, rampant disease, To keep the vulnerable – and all – safe from harm While they did their best to heed their leaders’ pleas.
I walked a lap of both ovals and offered a listening ear To the second homes adored by the sporting swell. Then I whispered back, by way of assuaging any fear, Assuring the surrounds all one day soon would be well.
They will come, as a wise scribe once famously said, As they have in this sporting city’s decades past, To worship ’round the turf their heroes will again tread. And toil to hoist that flag atop the mast.
Then a ray of sun splashed across my walking path, A light that could indeed have been the land’s reply, With gratitude for wishes and prayers I’d heard and held. Until we meet again, it said, and settled down to lie
As leaves tumbled across the grass in place of the ball, The winter breeze lamented the absence of the game, And pondered when it might return with all connected thrall To bring some smiles and somehow ease the pain
In a strange kind of hibernation, heartened by the hope Instilled by someone harbouring a dream That ‘one day soon’ is not far along the slippery slope On these days of uncertainty it can sometimes seem.
A weak sun has just started to peek through the heavy fog as I head down River Road, Tarrawingee on this ordinary July morning. “It’s not far past McCormick’s Bridge,” were my instructions, ” ……..on the left-hand side. You can’t miss it.”
Yes I can……. I’ve travelled too far. Luckily a young girl with a dog in tow, guides me back about 500 metres. There, she says, I’ll run into Terry Greaves………
The old fellah’s waiting on the front verandah and looks fitter than I anticipated…… “Been a lot worse, that’s for sure” he quips .
If you reckon 2020 has hurled one crisis after another at the community; what, with bushfires, Coronavirus and the resultant financial pressures, Terry can add a few more layers to that. We’ll broach the state of his health later, but for the moment, we start to unpack his long and winding footy career……….
The Greaves clan ( five boys and two girls ) grew up on an 800-acre property between Goorambat and Benalla, where his dad, who’d had oodles of experience as a market-gardener, ran livestock and grew pumpkins and potatoes.
The boys all cut their footy teeth at Goorambat. “One of my brothers, Barry, ended up being a 200-gamer there. I was 17 when I played in the 1978 flag…And we won it again the next year. By then I reckoned it was time to give it a good crack at Benalla,” he says.
Terry had already done a couple of pre-seasons with the Demons without creating a huge impression. But he’d now developed well physically, and walked straight into the senior side.
Bill Sykes, the former Fitzroy star, had just taken over as coach from Brian Symes. “Sykesy was an old-fashioned coach…..suited me down to the ground……..He taught me to work hard……. He’d be too straight-down-the-line for blokes these days. They’d get upset.”
Benalla already had four 6’6”-plus ruckmen – Malcolm Ellis, Tim Llewellyn, Tim Symes and Terry’s brother Paul – so he was groomed as a centre half back. Even at 6’4” he had a good turn of pace and was a raking left-foot kick.
By 1985 he’d developed into one of the best defenders in the game. He took out the club’s Best and Fairest and polled 14 votes to finish equal third, just two votes shy of the Morris Medallist, Lavington’s Ralph Aalbers.
The Demons shaped as a genuine flag prospect as that season unfolded. Terry had represented the O & M at centre half back earlier in the year, and was a pillar of strength, but there were quite a few other ‘guns’ in a well-balanced side, coached by former Bomber Wayne Primmer.
They’d kicked 11.1 to half-time of the Qualifying Final, to lead Albury by 14 points, but faded in the last half.
The First Semi against the Rovers the following week, was a nail-biter. After holding a seven-point lead over the Hawks at three-quarter time, Benalla battled gamely to hang on but were overpowered in the dying minutes, falling short by five points.
According to Terry it was one Final that got away. “We’d recruited a bloke called Mick Horsburgh, another ‘giant’ from Collingwood, to boost our side that season. But he was taken apart by a young kid, Paul Bryce, who marked everything, and made the difference in the end.”
As meteoric as their rise up the ladder had been, Benalla tumbled to the bottom in 1986.
“Heather and I had just married and we were keen to get away for a bit of a change. A Benalla boy, Brian Symes was coaching A.C.T club Tuggeranong and convinced me to head up there. It wasn’t quite O & M standard, but nevertheless good footy. We made the Elimination Final and I finished runner-up in the B & F. But gee, it was cold,” Terry recalls.
After returning for another two seasons with Benalla he moved to the other side of town, as assistant-coach of All Blacks. It was assumed that he would step into the coaching role the following year, but the incumbent leader wasn’t keen to hang up the boots. So Terry pulled on the Red and White guernsey for another couple of seasons.
Then Violet Town dangled their coaching job in front of him. “A broken arm ruined my first season and we didn’t have a lot of success either year,” he says, “….but the coaching aspect of it was enjoyable………”
Terry and Heather shifted to their superbly-located 170-acre property, within kicking distance of the Ovens River, where he could run his Murray Grey cattle. He began working at Brown Brothers, whilst undertaking an apprenticeship as a ‘Chippie’ at the age of 35.
“I had a short spell with Milawa, then returned to Benalla for their swan-song in the Ovens and Murray League, in 1997. It was a bit sad, really, that they decided to move over to the G.V. A lot of us old Demons still retain a strong attachment to the O & M.”
So, for Terry Greaves, veteran of 225 games, Team of the Century member and Benalla Life Member, it spelt the end of his active association with the Demons .
But he still felt there was some footy left in those ageing legs.
He decided to join his brother Paul at the Wang Rovers. “I’d actually rung Laurie Burt a good while earlier about joining the Hawks, but when it came to the crunch I couldn’t bear to play against Benalla,” he says.
It was planned to use his experience to help out a young Reserves side in 1998, but his form was strong enough to warrant a senior game. Aged 37, he became the Rovers’ oldest debutant, when he ran out against North Albury.
After interspersing some assistant-coaching at the Murray Bushrangers and an odd game with the Hawks in ‘99, Terry spent three seasons with Moyhu.
Then, when his brother Paul was appointed coach of North Wangaratta, he decided on a last hurrah as a player, barely missing a match throughout 2003-‘04.
“My body was pretty well buggered by then,” he says. As well it might be……He’d played just over 400 games and, but for a damaged knee, broken jaw, arm and sundry niggling ailments, would have chalked up plenty more.
Goorambat turned to him to guide them through their early, faltering years of O & K footy. He coached in 2010-‘11.
“It was a bit of a struggle, but no-one expected big things,” he says. “To be honest, we were out of our depth at that stage . But I was privileged to be able to help out my home club .”
Terry’s original brush with ill-health came 12 years ago, when he had a melanoma removed from his shoulder.
“Thoughts of that came flashing back just before last Christmas, when I was putting up a fence for a mate in Melbourne. I had a bad pain in the middle of the night….so bad that I couldn’t finish the job,” he says.
“So the doctors started doing tests…X-Rays of the heart and chest. I kept going back for about four weeks……..I felt like a hypochondriac, because I’m not used to going to the doctors. Then I had a blood test and a lung X-Ray, and the cancer showed up there.”
His next step was to Oncology in Albury, for more X-Rays.
“I came home and started vomiting after lunch, then ended up in Wang Hospital for a week, and headed to Royal Melbourne for a bowel operation in mid-January.”
After his first treatment Terry was diagnosed with Grade 4 Melocstatic Melanoma.
He spent five out of the first seven weeks in Hospital, contracted pneumonia and had a brain seizure. The cancer just tore through his body, and was in the lungs, liver, bladder, bowel, brain and bones.
“They told me not too many get through Grade 4, and that I was extremely lucky I started the treatment, as I wouldn’t have lasted six weeks otherwise.”
“They started this treatment, Immunotherapy, and said I’d last till Christmas to start with, but now I’m in remission. Remarkably, the last scan showed that the tumours had gone. That means I could get 2-5 years, or even more.”
“It fixed Jarred Roughead……..I hope it’s done the job on me, too. I can’t praise the Albury-Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre enough.”
The only problem was that there were a lot of side-effects. Doctors had stopped his treatment because it was attacking his liver. He reckons he’s about 80 per cent fit physically and mentally.
“But that’s great because they say only 15 per cent of people who have the treatment get to remission. I’ve been blessed.”
Terry is fighting his health battle in the same manner he played his footy……full-bore.
“The thing I cherished about football was the mateship. I loved the training and all the banter that went with playing the game…..Really enjoyed having a beer with the opposition after you’d been going hammer and tongs with them all afternoon.”
“Many of those same people have been contacting me recently and wishing me well. I really appreciate it….”
The name slides off the tongue as smoothly as ‘Sergio Silvagni’, ‘Mario Bortolotto’ or ‘Vinnie Catoggio’, three of the Carlton premiership heroes to whom he’d formed an attachment in the blissful days of his youth.
He dreamt of playing League football, but it wasn’t to be. The closest he came to attracting the attention of talent scouts was possibly when Carlton Under 19’s played a match against the cream of young Bendigo/Ballarat talent at Eastern Oval, Ballarat.
He won a fair bit of the Sherrin that day but admits: “……..Kids my size were a dime a dozen. …Besides, I wasn’t good enough for the next level”.
Instead, ‘Stabber’ proceeded to carve out a brilliant country footy career….. 481 senior games, six flags and inclusion in three ‘Teams of the Century’/ ‘Halls of Fame’……earning widespread recognition as an out-and-out champ………
His mum Maureen belonged to a famous sporting clan – the Noonan’s of Maryborough. Of solid Irish stock, there were 5 boys in the family….. followed by 5 girls.
“There would probably have been a few more,” says Mick,”only that Pop died in his early forties……” Several uncles became stars at Royal Park, the Maryborough Magpies and surrounding clubs …..So did a fair swag of his 40-odd cousins.
Maureen was a colourful personality, and loved the game, When Mick started to make his way, she and Giovanni – his dad – were readily-identifiable, and sometimes vociferous, figures on the sidelines.
The Royal Park ground, Hedges Oval, was, conveniently, just a stone’s throw from the Caruso household. Mick had a rapid ascension at his home club. He played in three U.15 flags, and another in the Reserves, before cementing his senior spot.
He capped his four years – and 76 senior games – with a premiership in 1981. The fond memories of ‘Bushie’ Park still linger. He and at least ten old ‘Bushies’ head off for a week-end every year, and ‘chew the fat’ about old times……..
Several of his mates were already playing for Maryborough when Mick rocked up at the Ballarat League Club in 1982.
He was 20, and became an immediate success. The attributes that served him well throughout his career were already evident; supreme fitness, the knack of being able to run all day, and work like a beaver in extracting the pill from the congestion.
“Princes Park’s a lovely little ground, but like all of them over there, you learn to play in-tight. And you develop strong quads……. The conditions are horrific sometimes…….. mud half-way up your lower legs, hailstones pelting down horizontally…..”
“We’d play at Daylesford, for instance, and carve mud and stones off our legs after the game, then go to the showers…..and they’d be dripping cold water….”
After a fine debut season, Mick represented the Ballarat League in 1983 and won the Club B & F. He was appointed captain of Maryborough the following season – a stint which lasted seven minutes.
“I fell over someone in the opening game, broke my Tib and Fib and needed screws and plates.” . He’d graduated from Ballarat Uni after four years, and was teaching P.E/ Maths at Maryborough Tech School, with the leg encased in plaster.
Completely recovered, he again won his way into the rep side, which met the Ovens and Murray in a Country Championship semi-final at Wangaratta.
“The thing that struck me was how nice the Showgrounds looked. It was a pleasure to be playing on top of the ground, in fine conditions.”
The following season he received the first of several phone calls from Rovers President Sam Perna. “I’m not sure what prompted him to contact me. Maybe he’d got my name off someone after the Inter-League game,” Mick says.
There’s no doubt he was an established BFL star (and automatic inter-league selection). But Maryborough struggled. “We never played finals whilst I was there, but had the occasional cracking win. In the last game of ‘86 we knocked over North Ballarat, the ‘gun’ side, who went on to win the flag.”
After picking up his second B & F, he thought: ‘Heck, I’m 25 and still in Maryborough. Maybe I need a change.’ That’s when he relented after another of those Perna phone calls and decided to throw in his lot with the Rovers.
“Originally it was only going to be a one-year thing. I’d been talking to Ronnie Wearmouth, the ex-Collingwood player, who was coaching in Brisbane, and there were also some nibbles from WAFL club Subiaco.”
“But the Rovers found a teaching position for me at Rutherglen High. It was a great school and I stayed there for 17 years. I fitted in well with the Rovers – and met Michelle ( and we had the kids, Rikki, Sam and Ben)……. As they say, the rest is history………….”
At first, Mick found it awkward adapting to the open spaces and extra pace of O & M footy.
“To be honest, I started slowly. But I had a good yarn with Neville Hogan, our Chairman of Selectors, who suggested playing smarter footy, rather than ball-chasing. They even threw me in as a ‘tagger’ for a while. That taught me more about the craft of cutting angles.”
The Hawks were on the cusp of a ‘Golden Era’ and Caruso was to become a vital cog in the wheel of a powerhouse side. He lent valuable experience and class to an otherwise youthful line-up.
The Rovers swept to four flags in seven years. He enhanced his reputation as a big-occasion player by winning the Did Simpson Medal in two of them – 1991 and ‘93 – and contributing solidly in the others (1988 and ’94).
Mick was Best & Fairest in 1990 and assumed the captaincy when Laurie Burt retired from playing mid-way through 1991. He proved an inspirational leader. His penchant for fitness also enabled him to remain a valuable contributor as he moved into his thirties.
It was Burt who made the move to slot ‘Stabber’ into the back pocket around 1994. “I was usually matching up on the small, young quicks. So I had to use my footy smarts to try to prevent some carnage,” he jokes.
He injured his hand in his 200th game, on the eve of the ‘96 finals and knew, the moment it happened, it was a bad break. He nursed the injury – and a dicey hamstring – through the finals.
Mick finally relented to the persistent arm-twisting of Greta President Kevin Naish. He was keen to prove that he could cut the mustard as a coach; also sensing that he was struggling to keep pace with O & M footy.
His three years as coach of the Blues were spectacularly successful. He made a private pact not to snavel any Rovers players, but two long-term Magpies – Andy Haring and Chris Crimmins – proved valuable recruits.
“They’d been through five wooden-spoon years at Wang, and it was nice to be able to provide them with the opportunity to win a flag,” Mick says. “They gave great service to Greta and remained there long after I departed.”
The Blues lost to North Wangaratta in the 1997 decider, then unluckily bowed out in the Elimination Final to eventual premier Chiltern the following year.
After being a shaky 1-2 after three rounds of 1999, they remained unbeaten for the remainder of the season, holding out a persistent Moyhu by five points in a nail-biting Grand Final.
Greta, a proud old club with a rich history, hailed Caruso, the magician. He’d given them three stellar years, winning B & F’s in two of them…….
He returned to the Findlay Oval, ostensibly as coach John O’Donohue’s right-hand man. At 38, it was anticipated that his playing days at O & M level were behind him. But he soaked up the pre-season training, and was coaxed into again wearing the Brown and Gold.
‘Stabber’ didn’t miss a beat. He was third in the B & F in his first season back, and played the majority of games over the next three years. His 250th was celebrated raucously – by the six veterans who had shared his journey with the Hawks that began 16 years earlier – and the young team-mates who idolised him.
The accolades continued to flow. He was invited to return to Maryborough, where he was named in the Magpies’ Team of the Century. The previous week-end he’d been similarly feted by Royal Park, who also included him in their Team of the Century.
It was hoped that the fairytale end to the Caruso career would be his participation in another glorious Rovers triumph – the 2002 premiership. The Hawks hit the front early in the final term, only to be over-run by an on-song North Albury.
That was that ! He helped out with the Club’s fitness work the following year, and enjoyed being a keenly-interested onlooker.
But when the Hawks suffered a spate of injuries and were spluttering on the field early in 2004, coach Peter Tossol talked the battle-worn warrior, aged 42, into another come-back. He resumed service in the back pocket. At season’s end, though, after 265 games with the Hawks, ‘Stabber’ finally put the cue in the rack.
Following more than a decade as an assistant, he accepted the challenging role as the Rovers’ non-playing coach in 2011. The Hawks slumped to 1-8, but improved markedly in the latter half of the season. The encouraging factor was that several youngsters had developed significantly.
And they continued to flourish the following year.
“We didn’t recruit extensively over the off-season, but the arrival of Barry Hall topped us off. We had an agile, unpredictable forward-line; the whole side grew in confidence,” Mick recalls.
“We were 16-3 going into that fateful Second Semi-Final.”
Does he still mull over the errant Barry Hall shot after the siren, which cost the Hawks the game ?
“Well, it’s hard not to. Someone brings it up every week. But it wasn’t the missed-shot so much ; we were 34 points up in the last quarter, and let the game slip. What a roller-coaster of a finals-series, it was….A huge disappointment.”
Mick had decided that his third year as coach -2013 – was going to be his last : “I was running on empty. You under-estimate the time and effort that’s required. Other things, like work ( with AFL SportsReady) and family, suffer.”
It was time for the Hall of Famer and Club icon to follow the Hawks from the sidelines………………
Denis Wohlers passed on some notable characteristics to his son…….among them, a shock of blonde hair…….the Diabetes gene…..one of the most recognisable nicknames in town……..and a passion for the Rovers, Essendon and fishing.
Thank heavens young Shane didn’t inherit his minimal footy ability.
The kindest testimony to his old man’s skills with the Sherrin is that, mercifully, he found a more suitable pastime as a drummer……..
Shane was part of a couple of Rovers premiership teams that have been classified among the greatest of all-time. Even though he was one of their unsung foot-soldiers, he’d have no trouble plucking out a host of career highlights.
But his mates always vouch that the best of ‘Mouse’ was encapsulated in a scintillating six-minute burst at the Albury Sportsground in 1998. I’ll try to re-construct the scenario:
After being near-unbeatable in the early part of the nineties, the Hawks’ reign is terminated by Albury, who have snared the last three titles.
The ladder-leaders exemplify their ruthlessness in this mid-season match, arrogantly stretching a 32-point lead at the long break to 40 at lemon-time. Even the most ardent Hawk fans sense a debacle and are mournfully contemplating the long trip home.
The pendulum swings ever so slightly ……The formerly-frazzled visitors begin to exhibit a sense of abandon and charge forward. Three early goals provide the inspiration……
12-minutes into the last term the will-o-the-wisp Wohlers swoops on the ball and kicks a great running goal from 40 metres…………A minute later, with the Hawks deep in attack, he successfully snaps from a near-impossible angle……..And, deja vu……He boots a sensational goal on the run, from 45 metres out, tucked up against the boundary, just as the clock ticks over 14 minutes……..At the 18- minute mark it’s the elusive number 36 again ! His destruction continues, with his fourth on the trot ( and fifth overall) to level the scores……..
By now he’s on Cloud Nine, dominating the game in a way that he’d never have envisaged . The Rovers continue attacking relentlessly, and, after Tim Scott kicks his fifth to regain the lead for the Tigers, it’s Rohan Graham who puts them back in front.
Precious seconds tick by. At the 30-minute mark, Albury’s Manny Edmonds breaks clear. His shot from 35m towards an open goal, drifts across for a minor score, just as the siren blares…..the Hawks have sneaked home by four points……
Amidst the pandemonium, ‘Mouse’ – the hero of the moment – bashfully acknowledges the plaudits of the fans…….
His dad, the Club’s resident Video-Operator, packs up his equipment and enters the jubilant rooms, fobbing off the praise directed towards his son.
Someone remarks: “What’d you think of the young bloke.? “
But ‘Old Mouse’, a hard task-master if ever there was one, drily comments: “Where was he for three quarters……….?”
Shane laughs when we reflect on his favourite ‘moment in the sun’: “Robbie (Walker) used to do things like that every second week.”
Indeed, he says, he was privileged to have a box-seat to the ‘Walker-Show’. But really, he’d long been destined to make a mark at the Findlay Oval. When he was a toddler in the mid-to-late seventies he was forever trailing behind his heavily-involved dad .
His heroes weren’t the VFL household-names of the day, but stars like Merv Holmes, Steve Norman, Eddie Flynn and Andrew Scott, who indulged him as part of the Hawk family.
He progressed from playing with Junior League Club College, to the Rovers Thirds, where he finished runner-up in the B &F and featured in their 1988 Premiership side. It seemed a ‘fait accompli’ that ‘Mouse’ would be yet another to join the assembly-line of budding champs.
Within two years, one of his Thirds flag team-mates, Dean Harding had been snapped up by VFL club Fitzroy after some eye-catching performances……..Shane’s journey couldn’t have provided a starker contrast…….
He found himself unable to even squeeze into the Rovers Reserves side in ‘89…….
“I wasn’t going to hang around not playing, so ‘Boofa’ Allan talked Chris McInnes, ‘Rolls’ (Steve Ralston), myself and Dean Stone ( who hadn’t played footy for a year or so) to head out to Milawa for the rest of the season.”
“We enjoyed it too, but it was only going to be a one-year thing for me. I still reckoned I was good enough to eventually crack the Seniors at the Rovers.”
Even then, he had to earn his spot the hard way. He was the Reserves B & F in 1990, Third in ‘91, and shared the Award with Mark Nolan in 1992. The reward for his consistency was the sum total of 15 senior games in three years.
He was going on 23. “I really thought I might have been given more opportunities,” Shane reflects,”…but I realised I had to be patient. It was a pretty hard line-up to break into.”
After playing a handful of early games in the Two’s in 1993, Laurie Burt pulled him aside one night and said: “You’re in.” “ ‘Sorry, I can’t play’ I told him. ‘I’m going to a mate’s wedding.’”
“I thought, shit, now I’ve done my dash. I knew what Laurie’s attitude was to blokes who put their social life in front of footy.”
“But surprisingly, I got a senior game the following week – and didn’t get dropped for the next seven years……………”
Included in that was a run of 35 consecutive wins, which took in the 1993 and ‘94 premierships.
A myriad of memories flick through his mind when he recalls those flags……..for instance, the half-time brawl in the player’s race in the ‘93 decider against Wodonga…..the inspirational Laurie Burt speech which stirred them back into action….. Leading by just one point at the main break, they went on to kick 12 goals to 6, to win by 40 points….He even managed to ‘snag’ a couple himself…….
And the multiple stoushes in the ‘Big One’ the following year, when the ‘Dogs had three players off the ground – ‘yellow-carded’ – in the third term……He played against his good mates – Dean Harding, Robbie Hickmott and Dean Stone that day……The Rovers triumphed, this time by 10 goals….
‘Mouse’ was creative….. skilful…..an opportunist……and an ideal club-man. He was often accompanied at training by his faithful Corgie-Kelpie-Cross companion, Sid, which would usually lead the sprint-work during the Sunday morning ‘warm-down’.
In early 1999 Shane headed north for an eight-week Gold Coast summer safari . He trained alongside his old team-mate ‘Hicky’, who was now at at Southport; and also with Beenleigh, the home club of another ex-Rover, Rob Panozzo.
“I was playing two practice matches some week-ends……. got super-fit. I’d thought about staying up there, but when I came back to Wang I was raring to go. It proved to be a disappointing year, though. I ran out of form. In the final round we played well against Lavi and I had a day out on a young kid called John Hunt.It was my last senior game for the Rovers………..”
His association with Moyhu began in 2000 when he was appointed assistant-coach to Des Smith.
It probably wasn’t obvious at the time, but the Hoppers were about to embark on a Golden Era, which would see them snare five flags and play in seven Grand Finals.
However, Shane’s stint began disastrously. A broken cheekbone, which he sustained in a torrid clash against Chiltern left him on the sidelines for eight weeks. It spurred a frosty relationship between the Hoppers and Swans which never really thawed.
He took over the coaching reins the following year, but copped another setback – an opposition player fell across his leg, he fell awkwardly and underwent a knee reconstruction.
Ruled out of action indefinitely, he returned to the Rovers as Coach of the Reserves ( non-playing for the first year and playing-coach in the second).
The Hoppers were riding high when they welcomed him back. They atoned for a last-gasp four-point defeat at the hands of Bright in 2004 by clinching the next two flags, both against Whorouly.
“The first of these was played at the Showgrounds, and turned out a ripping game,” he recalls. “Gerard Nolan kicked ten of our 15 goals and we got up by 10 points.”
“In 2006 we took the game away from them in the third quarter and finished up winning by about nine goals. ‘Higgsy’ (Mark Higgs) came off the bench and marked everything, which helped turn the game in our favour.”
He had another two-year stint as coach in 2008/‘09. “They had someone else teed up, but it fell through, so I agreed to take it on. We made the finals both years, but I was glad to hand it over to Johnny McNamara when he became available.”
His career came to a fitting end when he played in Moyhu’s enthralling win over Tarrawingee in the 2011 Grand Final. It had been nip and tuck all day. The Hoppers reeled back a 10-point deficit in the last quarter to sneak home by two points.
He was going on 42, and it was his 409th game ( 139 at Moyhu – and 139 Senior, 92 Reserves and 39 Thirds games with the Rovers).
“ I was buggered, and could hardly raise a gallop when the siren blew……. I knew it was time to give it away…………”
P.S : Another blonde-haired, talented young ‘Mouse’ has just begun his football journey. Shane will be coaching Kaiden in the Centrals Under 12’s when footy kicks off again, whilst the two girls, Tahya and Kyia are playing Netball under the coaching of their mum, Sharlene, at Moyhu.
Ray Baker’s a name that would scarcely ring a bell with even the most diehard Ovens and Murray footy fans.
He’s from a bygone era…….when the game helped to provide a welcome diversion from the woes of the Great Depression, which had dragged the nation to its knees.
The Corowa Football Club held him in such high esteem that they named a quaint old wooden Grandstand in his honour.
The “Ray ‘Nana’ Baker Stand” stood proudly at the John Foord Oval. Corowa players used to change in the rooms beneath it ………until it was completely destroyed by fire – along with some of the Club’s precious historical data. ‘Nana’s’ name also seemed to have been consigned to history.
The memory of the champ, whose deeds of wizardry were performed some seven decades earlier, was revived when he was named full forward in Corowa-Rutherglen’s ‘Team of the Century’ in 2003………….
‘Nana’ had a big personality; far bigger than his five foot five and half inch frame. Words like ‘pocket-rocket’, elusive and will-o-the-wisp were used to eulogise his footy attributes.
An old-timer, who had seen him in action compared him many years ago to a latter-day Barry Cable.
Hume Weir, a club which sprung up in the O & M when the Dam, 10km east of Albury, was being constructed, secured ‘Nana’s’ services in 1924. They came from everywhere seeking work on this huge project and he was probably like many others; the mere mention that he had a modicum of football ability was enough to secure a job.
After six years as a more than handy player with the Blue and Whites he transferred to Corowa in 1930, when many would have considered him past his prime .
To the contrary, he produced the form of his career, especially when switched into attack. Despite always yielding height and weight to his opponents he wreaked havoc as a spearhead.
His season tally of 81 in just 15 games ( including 13 against Rutherglen ) in 1931 was a factor in the Spiders climbing into the finals for the first time in eight years.
After overcoming the disappointment of bombing out in straight-sets they began preparing for the future. And ‘Nana’ Baker was the man they entrusted with the coaching job…………
Corowa had been striving for thirty years to break through for an Ovens and Murray flag. They first joined the competition in 1895 as Border United ( a partnership of Corowa and Wahgunyah – the towns on either side of the Murray River).
The combine came close, finishing runners-up in 1900, ‘02, ‘03 ‘04 and ‘14. When they re-entered after the First World War as Corowa, the all-powerful St.Patrick’s kept them goal-less for three quarters of a forgettable 1921 Grand Final, eventually winning 7.19 to 2.3.
They boasted a few individual stars in that side, the best of them being Greg Stockdale, who had moved from Rushworth to Corowa , to play alongside his brother Charlie and work at Stockdale & Skehan Motors.
A rangy left-footer, who lined up on a back flank, Stockdale’s improvement was so dramatic that he was invited to play a handful of games with Essendon, interspersed with his Corowa obligations. The final game of 1922 was the last the Spiders would see of him.
Essendon believed he had the wherewithal to be a forward. In his first game as a full-time Bomber he booted ten goals against St.Kilda, on the way to winning the VFL goalkicking award, and representing the State.
Following Stockdale’s departure and a fleeting finals appearance in 1924, Corowa began a downward spiral, as they struggled throughout the twenties to keep pace with the powerful Albury clubs. A spirited revival in 1931 gave the Club fresh hope……
The strains of music from the Corowa Band accompanied the Spiders, as they made their way onto John Foord Oval for the opening round of 1932.
The decision by O & M officialdom to reduce admittance money from 1/6d to a shilling, was a concession to the financial hardship that most people were enduring. Also appreciated was the gesture to grant free admittance to those who found themselves unemployed. Thus, a healthy crowd was in attendance.
Corowa had embarked on an extensive recruiting campaign, and players of the calibre of Jim Hall and Harold Payten (Leeton), Jim Webster (Wahgunyah), Keith Gregory (Murchison) and Des Davies (Corowa Stars) made their way into the line-up. Big things were also expected of a brilliant young centreman/ half forward Vic Carroll in his debut season.
A heavy loss to West Albury in Round 5 left the Spiders at 3-2, and questions began to be posed about coach Baker and his methods.
But from then on everything clicked. They won their next ten games, to finish four and a half games clear on top. The most significant of these victories had been a two-point thriller over Weir United – the first time they had ever saluted at the Weir’s home ground, Ebden.
‘Nana’ Baker produced another stellar season in front of the sticks. One ‘bag’ of 13, and several of 5 and 6 illustrated that he was more than a handful against the weightier, more cumbersome full backs with whom he tangled .
But he was only one of a few key stars who had lifted the side into premiership contention. The Club’s stalwart was a slow-moving, but deceptive ruckman, Frank ‘Gunboat’ Smith, a tower of strength who invariably stayed on the ball for four quarters.
And in Half-Forward Ray La Peyre, they had arguably the champion player of the competition, a stylish mover with pinpoint disposal.
The 20 year-old Vic Carroll ( later to play with Fitzroy) improved immensely with each game and was undoubtedly the recruit of the year, whilst defenders ‘Dook’ Chisnall and Norm Carroll – both excellent disposers of the ball – combined superbly in the last line.
So Corowa fans felt more than the usual optimism when they lined up against West Albury in the Second Semi-Final. They started red-hot favourites, but virtually kicked themselves out of the contest in the second quarter, when they could only muster 1.11.
They led by a goal at the big break, but from then on West Albury ran all over them to win by 33 points. The task of overcoming dual-premier, Weir United in the Preliminary Final confronted the Spiders.
It proved a battle of the defences, with just one goal being scored in the second half of the game. United led 4.5 to 3.3 at the half-time but could only add three points from then on. Corowa had most of the play in their half, to add 1.9. At the final bell they had triumphed by 4 points, to clinch a Grand Final berth, and send their fans into raptures.
The Corowa Free Press waxed lyrical in the lead-up to the big clash with West Albury:
“Sporting enthusiasts have, for the moment, forgotten about ‘King Depression’. No longer does this monster, with his tentacles of misery occupy the sole topic of conversation – at least in Corowa !”
“For the sportsman’s mind is directly focused on the Red and Blacks’ prospects of winning a Premiership in the Ovens and Murray League.”
“Everybody – even those in our midst who do not care a snap of the finger for the winter sport – are keenly debating the team’s prospects. This little old burg will sure go baloney if the boys return triumphant tomorrow………….”
The 1932 Grand Final was one of the most exciting in Ovens and Murray history, and thrilled the huge crowd which thronged around the picket fences of the Albury Showgrounds.
Corowa kept West Albury goalless in the first quarter, before George Bunton came into the picture early in the second, marking strongly and converting, for full points. Then the Spiders regained the ascendancy when Baker succeeded in kicking the most difficult angle shot. His was a remarkable effort and spectators wondered at the sagacity of the little chap.
His side led by 20 points at half-time, but powered away in the third. The crowd again marvelled at Baker’s uncanniness in finding the big opening with an over-the-head shot. Corowa’s leader was certainly in form. At one stage his side had led by almost seven goals, but by three-quarter-time West had trimmed it to a touch over four.
Ominously, the Spiders had been kept goalless in the final session and their premiership hopes were hanging by a thread.
They clung to a three-point advantage. In the dying seconds West’s Clarrie Nolan had a long shot for goal, but the kick fell short. Corowa swept the ball downfield but could only add a point – making the margin 4 points .
Again West Albury attacked. Pollard kicked deep into the teeth of goal; George Bunton set himself for the mark, but in the excitement of the occasion, his team-mate Clarrie Nolan flew with him. The ball spilt to the ground as the bell sounded to hand Corowa their first-ever premiership : 11.14 to 10.16………
‘Nana’ Baker, with seven of his side’s goals, had been the Spiders’ hero. But Vic Carroll played the game of his life and Payton, ‘Dook’ Chisnall and La Peyre also starred……………
Premiership celebrations raged for weeks. At the Club’s Dinner, ‘Nana’ was congratulated for his efforts in the Grand Final and indeed, for his job as coach during the season. He was presented with a Cup – 18” high, adorned with Red And Black ribbons. From the sides were suspended handles that resembled two bananas. Inscribed on one side of the Cup was ‘Presented to ‘Nana’ Baker from the Barrackers of the Corowa Football Club’. On the other was a crowing Rooster……
After coaching Corowa into the 1933 Finals, ‘Nana’ handed over the reins to his star player, Ray La Peyre. From then on he drifted in and out of the coaching role, taking it on again mid-way through 1935, being replaced in 1937, then stepping into the breach again in 1938.
His final stint came in 1946, when the Spiders re-formed after the War as Border United (reverting to Corowa in ’48).
“He was certainly a character,” recalled one old Corowa identity. “He continued to follow the footy, and was also mad-keen on the horses.”
“He’d never miss a race-meeting in the area. He had an old mate, Sam Hamilton, who’d cart him around. Sam would pull up outside the course and ‘Nana’ would climb in the boot to avoid parting with the entrance fee.”
“One day, when a storm hit they cancelled the Corowa races and the Course announcer advised that patrons were entitled to a refund. ‘Nana’ lined up for his, then shot around the back of the queue and put his hand out for another one.”
“ ‘Fair go ‘Nana’,’ said the Gate-Keeper, ‘…I know your form…..You’ve never paid to get in yet’…………”