“SUPERSTAR STAN – A BORDER SPORTING LEGEND…….”

“…..More than 15,000 fans have flocked to the Wangaratta Showgrounds to witness this much-touted 1973 Ovens and Murray Grand Final…….

“Benalla earned their spot when they clinched a nail-biting nine-point victory over a wayward North Albury in the Second Semi-Final……The Hoppers had to defend grimly to hold off fast-finishing Wangaratta Rovers in the Prelim…….. Their 16.15 (111) to 15.10 (100) win, in an absolute classic, was highlighted by the performances of the League’s two crackerjack full forwards – Steve Norman ( Rovers) and Stan Sargeant ( North)…….

“So the stage is set for a re-match between the season’s two outstanding teams….

“There’s action aplenty early-on, as North use their physical strength in an attempt to curtail Benalla’s pace and teamwork…….The resultant flare-ups see Hopper mid-fielder and newly-minted Morris Medallist Johnny Smith reported, and umpire Lance Coates repeatedly penalise North, as Benalla ride the bumps…..

“A former Medallist, ruckman Joe Ambrose, also has his number taken, after another bruising incident in the second quarter…….

“It’s an enthralling struggle throughout, and there are thrills and spills galore…..Benalla creep out to an 18-point lead in the dying stages…..North refuse to submit, and their irrepressible forward Stan Sargeant, marks 70 metres from goal, lines them up, and sends a booming torpedo punt through the middle……It’s his fourth for the day, and a typically inspirational piece of play.. ….

“The Hoppers rally again, and small-man Dave Fulford snaps another major….

“But the siren sounds seconds later….Benalla have taken out a memorable encounter – 12.12 (84) to 11.11 (77)…

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49 years have now elapsed since that fateful day, yet Stan Sargeant still remembers it vividly….After all, it’s the closest he ever came to achieving the ultimate in Senior football……..

Premierships are the only thing in short supply in the CV of this sporting superstar.

In fact, Stan has only two flags to his name; one from junior footy in 1957, and one with New City, the Albury & Border cricket club he faithfully served for 30 years.

But there’s no regrets, says the 83 year-old; the friendships he made, and the adventures he enjoyed, more than adequately compensate for that…..

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He was the proverbial ‘Bush Footy Legend’……

In the early sixties, when he was booting goals by the bagful for North Albury, he fielded regular enquiries from VFL clubs, urging him to consider venturing down to the ‘big smoke’.

“ St.Kilda and South Melbourne were two who were pretty persistent ……..But after they’d been on my hammer for eighteen months or so I told ‘em: ‘Look, thanks all the same, but I’m pretty tied up in business here……..I don’t want to waste any more of your time.’….”

Stan had been raised on the family farm at Table Top, on the northern outskirts of Albury, and began his working life with hardware firm Permewan-Wright’s. But a couple of years later, an old footy stalwart, Arthur Pickett, who’d become good mates with him at North Albury, extended an invitation to become partners in business…..Thus, ‘Pickett & Sargeant Tyre Service’ was born……….

And that’s where he propped…..finally retiring, after 40-odd years in the tyre trade, on Christmas Eve, 1999…..

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The skills of a budding cricket all-rounder were honed on the concrete ‘strip’ at Table Top but as a young tacker he’d had hardly any exposure to competitive footy.

That came in his only season in junior ranks, when he helped North Albury to a flag.

Naturally, the senior Hoppers, who’d been eyeing him off, snavelled the well-proportioned 18 year-old and named him at full forward for the season-opener in 1958.

After several seasons as a power in the mid-fifties under coaching guru Timmy Robb, the bottom had fallen out of North, and they were regarded as likely wooden-spooners.

Little wonder that they chaired their new teen-age sensation off the Albury Sportsground after his eight-goal debut on Corowa’s experienced full back Len Fitzgerald.

Alas, it was to be one of only two Hopper victories for the season………

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But there was good reason for the fans to become excited…….

For the next seventeen years the 6’2”, 13 stone Number 15 was to remain a fixture in attack for the Green and Gold…..

“Occasionally they’d swing me out to centre half forward if they needed to change things up a bit, but I pretty much spent the majority of my career at full forward,” Stan says.

Did he ever got itchy feet, considering that North contested just three finals series in the first 15 years of his career ?…………

“Not really, I was happy there……A district club approached me once about coaching, but I said, nah, I’m not really interested…..”

He set about re-writing the record books, taking out North’s goal-kicking on 15 occasions, and being awarded the O & M’s goal-kicking award, the Doug Strang Medal six times…..

You only had to see Sargeant in action in his 13 appearances in an O & M guernsey ( he also represented New South Wales once ), to gain a real appreciation of his class.

In talent-laden sides he lapped up the slick delivery which came his way and rarely failed to boot a handful.

The O & M’s 35-point Country championship victory over Wimmera League at Horsham in 1968 was one case in point:

“In a hard, gruelling battle the champions struggled against Wimmera’s early pace and teamwork, but Mick Bone gave his players such a ferocious tongue-lashing at half-time that they bolted onto the ground and didn’t stop running until the final siren……Wimmera, totally unprepared for O & M’s dramatic change of pace, spent the remainder of the game clawing at Black and Gold guernseys.”

“Stan Sargeant, who had been the only forward capable of doing anything constructive, went on to kick six magnificent, long-range goals in a superb performance which won the grudging admiration of the pro-Wimmera crowd……”

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After having served under seven coaches – Kevin Wyllie, Don Ross, Graeme McKenzie, Ian Aston, Ralph Rogerson, John Sharrock and Tim Robb – Stan inherited the job at Bunton Park in 1972.

“We’d been lurking around the middle of the ladder for some time,” he says……”I enjoyed the opportunity to coach, but it kept me on the go, put it that way.…trying to fit it in with running a business……….”

“I was getting on a bit at this stage, too, and my back was starting to play up……. probably all those years of lifting Truck and Tractor tyres…….”

“I thought, ah well, business comes first……”

So he handed over the reins to Hawthorn forward Mike Porter in 1973……The Hoppers recruited heavily, and automatically entered premiership calculations.

Ironically, freed from the shackles of coaching and, despite nursing his dicey back, his last two seasons were among his finest.

He followed a haul of 87 goals in 1973 with 110 in ‘74, which included ‘bags’ of 15 and 13.

Even then, there are occasions when the radar of the sharpest of sharpshooters can go awry……..like the day he finished with 2.11 from 13 shots in the ‘73 Semi-Final………

After North bowed out in the 1974 Preliminary Final, he drew the curtain on his stellar career……He’d played 289 games and booted 1096 goals; an O & M record which will, in all likelihood, never be surpassed……

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A right-arm quickie and middle-order bat, Sargeant was 19 when he debuted for New City, which had been promoted to Albury & Border Cricket’s A-Grade division in 1959/60.

The following season, aged 20, with bowling figures of 8/33 in the Semi-Final and 3/32 and 4/27 in the Grand Final against North Albury, he helped them to their first premiership….

The first of his six Williamson Medals, as the ABCA Cricketer of the Year, came in 1961/62. He took 53 wickets and scored 307 runs…….

His 9/37 in the Semi-Final that year, guided New City into another Grand Final but, in what was to become a familiar scenario, they fell at the final hurdle…

Over the next three decades they were to finish runners-up eight times without adding to their maiden title.

It wasn’t that their gun all-rounder didn’t play his part……For instance, he chipped in with 3/71, 4/98 and 39 runs in the 67/68 decider, and snared 7/94, 2/35 and scored 48 in the 73/74 Final.

His 30-year ABCA career, to which he called a halt in 1987/88, included 10 centuries…..He took 9 wickets in an innings twice, 8 wickets in an innings twice, and 7 wickets in an innings four times.

In his finest all-round season, 1967/68, he took 70 wickets and scored 398 runs

Stan was a regular member of Albury’s representative sides during the sixties, and once snared 8/8 ( including a hat-trick) in a Matheson Shield match….. But the highlights were undoubtedly the two matches he played against touring English sides…….

“I was lucky enough to play against Ted Dexter’s side at Griffith in 1963, and two years later, we met the Poms at the Albury Sportsground.”

“It was a terrific experience to test yourself against the likes of Boycott, Mike Smith, Edrich and Barrington,” he says.

He shone with the bat that day, making a brisk 35 in a 41-run seventh-wicket stand.

“I liked both sports equally, but always found a day’s cricket to be far more mentally-challenging than a game of footy…….that’s one reason why I just concentrated on club cricket in the finish…..besides, the kids were growing up and it was time to devote more time to the family……..”

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Stan and his wife Val lapped up their retirement years by hitting the road……..

“We travelled around Australia a couple of times and headed up north quite a bit during the 2000’s……After that we used to spend three months a year on the Sunshine Coast……..But Val passed away just on two years ago…..”

His three kids and their families are now the focus of his attention. Two of the grandkids, Joel and Tyler Roberson have had a run with North Albury, but Stan’s not too sure where their footy focus is headed in the future.

“As long as they enjoy their sport I’m happy,” he says.

With a list of gongs as long as your arm, which include membership of the North Albury, Ovens and Murray and Cricket Albury-Wodonga Halls of Fame….as well as being an O & M Legend, Stan Sargeant sits comfortably among the area’s greatest sporting achievers……….

“THE RED BULL………”

Barry McArthur is of my vintage – a mad-keen sporting fan who can cast his mind back to the fifties and early sixties, when a host of colourful personalities abounded in Ovens and Murray football…..

Lionel Ryan, who passed away recently, aged 87, was one of them……

Barry recalls in a recent email: “If you google ‘White Line Fever’ you may find a photo of Lionel….a great bloke off the field; the ‘devil incarnate’ once he crossed the boundary line.”

“I well remember a game at the Benalla Showgrounds Oval, where Lionel, playing for Yarrawonga, flattened the Demon’s mild-mannered rover Kevin ‘Cheeky’ Morrison……..Women invaded the ground, menacingly armed with umbrellas, giving a pounding to the rusty-haired aggressor.”

“He was as tough as nails, built like Napoleon’s tomb, and put the fear of God in opposition players and spectators alike……..”

“Years later, after a VFL game at North Melbourne’s Arden Street, a mate Barry Bourke and myself were passing a pub in Flemington Road when Barry said: ‘That’s Lionel Ryan’s pub…..He’s a friend of my dad’s…..Let’s go in for a beer….’

“I still held memories of Ryan from the old days, and asked apprehensively: ‘Is it safe ?’ “

“The bar was packed and, as the bar-maid pulled us a beer, Barry observed: ‘That’s Lionel over there…’ “

“The bar-maid enquired: ‘Do you know Lionel ?’……Barry explained that he was a mate of his father’s……they had worked together at the P.M.G in Wangaratta…..The bar-lady replied: ‘When it slows down a bit I’ll ask him to come over……Lionel’s my husband’.”

“You could not wish to meet a more friendly gentleman……He shouted us a few beers and a counter-tea…..He even sent his charming wife upstairs to bring his six teen-age kids down to meet us…..What a lovely, polite family…..I had expected him to have horns growing out of his head….”

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Lionel Ryan hailed from Woomelang in the southern Mallee. His love affair with the game began, he once said, when he woke up on his fourth birthday to find a leather footy beside his bed:

“It was never out of my hands, and I loved the smell and feel of it……I became an expert at mending and patching the leather and the bladder until I’d completely worn it out by the age of fourteen…..I could kick it through the back gate – either foot – at any angle, from 30 feet away……”

He was first rover for Woomelang’s senior side at 14, before transferring to Melbourne to join the P.M.G.

Invited to play with Footscray Fourths he went through the Thirds and Seconds and, after a stint of National Service, the inevitable Senior call-up came – in Round 13, 1954.

He reflected on one of his early games at the Junction Oval, St.Kilda:

“Our coach Charlie Sutton got flattened right in front of the St.Kilda race, and the Grandstand, which was full of their supporters, roared……After making sure he’d got the free kick Charlie picked up the ball about 70 yards out, on the boundary…..”

“The Saints fans started booing and throwing bottles, cans and anything they could lay their hands on…..One of the missiles was a full 26 ounce bottle of beer. Seeing we all enjoyed a beer Charlie stopped in his run-up, picked the bottle up and gave it to ‘Owey’ Gibson, one of our trainers, saying : ‘Here Owey, put this on ice ‘til after the game.’”

“Charlie then waddled back in his arrogant style, and sent the best torpedo you have ever seen, straight through the middle, three-quarter post high…..He then bowed to the stand and got on with the game…Gee, that beer tasted good later on….”

Unfortunately, it was the legendary Sutton who cost Lionel his cherished dream – of playing in the Bulldogs’ 1954 premiership.

Since his debut he’d played seven successive senior games, including an excellent performance against Geelong in the Second Semi-Final victory.

Sutton, who had missed the Semi with a leg injury, had to come back into a side which was at the peak of its form…..There had to be one unlucky player, and it was the 19 year-old, who happened to be carrying a jarred knee and was named first emergency…….

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Lionel departed Footscray after 32 senior games and, aged 23, was recruited to Yarrawonga.

The Pigeons had contested three Grand Finals, but had never won a flag since joining the Ovens and Murray League in 1929. In a concerted effort to take the next step they lured Fitzroy captain-coach Billy Stephen to coach the Club.

“They made an offer I simply couldn’t refuse,” said Stephen……If that was the first step towards achieving the ultimate the second was the arrival of the barrel-chested, 5’10”, 14 and a half stone ‘ Red Bull’, who sent ripples through the League with his vigorous play.

After being in the ‘Four’ for the entire season,Yarra dropped their last game in 1958, to miss the finals by a slender 7.8%. But it became obvious early the following season that their moment in the sun was close at hand.

They finished the home and away rounds in second position, equal on points with the reigning premier, Wang Rovers, then scored an 11-point win over them in a cracking Second Semi…..

When they met again a fortnight later, O & M fans were salivating at the prospect of another nail-biter.

Rovers’ coach Bob Rose swung tall utility player, Ray Burns, a policeman and noted hard-nut, onto Lionel Ryan in the early stages of the Grand Final. The pair waged a two-man war – an added spectacle to a rip-roaring encounter.

The tactic worked to an extent, but Burns was later assigned to a role up forward and Ryan was moved into the centre, where he began to provide great drive.

The Pigeons led by 14 points at the long break; the Hawks hit back to lead by three points at lemon-time.

Ryan gave Yarra the lead when he stormed through the centre and landed a 75-yard ‘bomb’ in the dying stages of the game……But Burns responded when he accepted a hand-pass from team-mate Max Newth a minute or so later, ran on and goaled.

To the horror of Rovers fans, who claimed he was half an acre behind the play, umpire Harry Beitzel blew his whistle and adjudged Newth’s flick-pass to be a throw……Adding to their devestation, the resultant free kick landed deep in the Pigeons’ forward line, where lumbering ruckman Alf O’Connor snapped a major.

The siren blew…….Yarra had taken out one of the O & M’s classic Grand Finals by eight points…….

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Lionel Ryan continued to be a tower of strength for Yarrawonga the following year, but was poached by rival club Wodonga, who were searching for a successor to Des Healy as captain-coach, in 1961.

He led the ‘Dogs for three seasons and was part of a star-studded O & M rep team, before moving on to coach Hampden League club Terang. The colourful Ryan career concluded after another coaching stint, at Lilydale. He was 36………..

Lionel’s venture into the Hospitality game saw he and his family run a handful of Pubs in the city and suburban Melbourne over more than twenty years……… But he always revelled in the opportunity to renew acquaintances with team-mates of his old country footy Clubs.

One of his 18 grandkids, Ryan O’Keefe, played in two Sydney Swans premiership teams, and was awarded the Norm Smith Medal in the 2012 Grand final…….Another, Jake Ryan, was a member of Australia’s Taekwondo team for eight years……..

With help from Barry McArthur

“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.