THE DREAM TEAM

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Of the 689 players who have trod the hallowed turf as senior representatives of the Wangaratta Rovers Football Club, I have seen a large percentage of them. Does that make me an expert? Far from it.

But between Jackie Dillon, Freddie Booth, ’Doodles’ Dodemaide and my dad, who were part of the very first O & M team, to the latest debutant, a skinny, shaggy-haired 18 year-old boy called Mitch Horwood, there has been an enticing cavalcade of stars.

I had the job of selecting ‘22 of the Best’. There was only one proviso. They had to have played 60 games or more. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Well, the more I deliberated, the more complicated it became. So many famous Hawks had a legitimate claim for selection that I weakened. What if I include two teams and label it ’44 of the Best’? Here is the first instalment- 1-22:

 

MATTHEW ALLEN was a champion full back with a strong pair of hands and an unorthodox, but efficient, kicking style. The Byawatha farmer, after dominating in defence for years, spent a couple of seasons at full forward, kicking 14 goals in a game and 80 goals in a season. Retired as the O & M’s games record-holder (416).

 

MARK BOOTH was a nuggety and skilled rover who was born to be a Hawk. Broke into the Rovers side at 16 and played more than 300 games. He figured in 5 premiership teams. It should have been 6, but for a moment of uncontrolled passion against a Yarrawonga player in 1988. A triple Best & Fairest winner.

 

A bustling centreman and prolific kick-winner despite his lack of pace, LAURIE BURT was recruited from Coburg in 1984.he took over as the Rovers’ playing-coach in 1987 and remained as coach for 11 years. Renowned for his football nous, superb tactical brain and great determination. He coached 4 flags and was a renowned leader of young men. Played 152 games.

 

NORM BUSSELL debuted with the Hawks in 1961. Seven years later he joined Hawthorn, where he played 114 games and was centre half back in their 1961 premiership team. He returned to the Rovers in 1974 as assistant-coach and had a huge influence. A strong and rangy key defender, he played 143 games, won 2 B & F’s and featured in 4 premiership teams.

 

MICHAEL CARUSO was a rover with fitness and nous and had pinpoint disposal. Originally from Maryborough, he established a reputation as one of the club’s greatest small men. Won two Simpson Medals as best afield in the 1991 and ’93 Grand Finals and played in 4 flags in his 265 games. Coached the Hawks with success for three years.

 

Labelled the ‘Iron Man’, LES CLARKE was a fearless and flexible utility player who plugged many gaps in the struggling Rovers sides of the early ‘50’s. His durability was legendary. He was vice-captain to Bob Rose in the 1958 and ’60 flags, and best afield in the 1958 decider, slotting into a role in the back pocket. Played 179 games.

 

Built like an Italian weight-lifter, LAURIE FLANIGAN could withstand the rough-house tactics of frustrated opponents, then calmly rip the heart out of a side with a burst of inspired football. He possessed an explosive left foot which netted him 238 goals from 129 games. A big occasion player, he starred in two premiership wins.

 

LES GREGORY dazzled crowds with his artistry on the wing in his 186 games. Lightning fast and able to turn on a three-penny bit,he was highly-regarded by Bob Rose, who said he would be a walk-up start to play League football. He had a few games with St.Kilda in 1959, but returned home. He played in 4 premiership teams.

 

With a distinctive loping running gait, LEIGH HARTWIG had a deceptive turn of pace which enabled him to match the fleetest of opponents. He became a champion winger, but was able to be swung anywhere with ease. Had an ungainly kicking style, but was accurate enough to kick 187 goals. Was rarely out marked. Played in 5 flags and won 2 B & F’s in his 252 games.

 

Tough, versatile and, at times, spectacular, ANDREW HILL was the Hawk’s outstanding player post-Walker, but would have been a star in any era. He was drafted to Collingwood in 2002, but returned after one season. A 5-time Best and fairest winner, he played 254 games – and rarely a bad one.

 

A gifted centreman, NEVILLE HOGAN was a prolific ball-getter and deadly accurate left-foot kick. His list of honours include 4 Club Best and Fairest awards and the 1966 Morris Medal. His 6 premierships included four as a highly-acclaimed captain-coach. His 246 games were of the highest class. Inducted as a Legend of the O & M.

 

A plain-speaking dairy-farmer from Carboor, MERV HOLMES played 302 uncomprimising games at centre half back from 1972 to 1986. He featured in six premiership teams and coached the Hawks for two years. Opponents quaked in their boots at the prospect of lining up on ‘Farmer’, who took no prisoners and was the epitome of toughness.

 

MICHAEL NOLAN played 101 games for the Rovers. His hefty frame, which was sometimes the subject of derision, belied the deftness of his tap work. His casual manner was transformed into ultra-competitiveness once he crossed the white line. Controlled the centre bounces in 2 flag wins and was a dual B & F. Later to become a cult figure at North Melbourne.

 

The Rovers played largely with makeshift forwards until the emergence of athletic STEVE NORMAN, who kicked 1016 goals in 242 games. Norman had the knack of finding open space on the lead and was a deadly-accurate kick for goal. He topped the century in 3 seasons and played in 7 premiership teams.

 

The sublimely-skilled NEVILLE POLLARD enjoyed two stints at the Rovers, sandwiched between a seven-year coaching term at Milawa. The younger Pollard was the focus of League talent scouts. In his second-coming he was a dependable, seasoned champion. He won two B & F’s and played in two flags in his 139 games with the Hawks.

 

BOB ROSE was rated the best footballer in Australia when he was appointed coach in 1956. He transformed the culture of the Club. One of football’s legendary figures, people would travel long distances just to watch him play. Won 2 Morris Medals, 4 B & F’s and coached two flags in his 126 unparalleled games.

 

A classy ruck-rover and half forward, ANDREW SCOTT played 6 games for Hawthorn before moving to Wangaratta in his job as a policeman in 1975. He enjoyed a brilliant debut season with the Rovers, winning the Morris Medal and playing a match-winning last quarter in the Grand Final. A crowd-favourite and great clubman he numbered 4 premierships among his 181 games.

 

Versatile DARYL SMITH was recruited from Hastings in 1972. Earned his reputatuion as a centre half forward, but was adept in most positions. Strong, and a good leader, he succeeded Neville Hogan as captain-coach in 1977 and guided the Club to the first of 3 successive flags. Won 2 B & F’s and 6 flags in his 195 games.

 

You would back RAY THOMPSON against anyone in a marking contest. With hands the size of meat-plates, he could kick the ball a country mile. Played his early football as a back-pocket/resting ruck man, but later became a top centre half forward. A knee injury cut short his career after 143 games, three premierships and a B & F.

 

PETER TOSSOL was recruited from Melbourne in 1985 and proved a brilliant, strong and courageous ruck-rover. Had a great ‘feel’ for footy, was the ultimate team-man and gave everything in 211 games. A four-time runner-up B & F and regular inter-league rep, he played in 3 flags and returned as coach in 2004 after a successful stint at Corowa-Rutherglen.

 

In numerical terms, ROBBIE WALKER is indisputably the most decorated footballer in O & M history. He won 12 club Best and Fairests and 5 Morris Medals. He played in 4 premierships as a hard-running centre half forward before playing another decade as a midfielder. Throughout his career he was considered the best country footballer in Australia. Played 307 games.

 

His two brothers were also stars, but JOE WILSON had the ability to turn a game with his unique skills. Slightly-built and best-suited as an on-baller, he was brilliant at stoppages. He spent time at the Brisbane Bears and should have played League football. Played 240 games, won one B & F and shared in 4 premierships.

NEXT WEEK: PART  II (Players 23-44)

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DOODLES – A MAN OF SPIRIT

He was a connoisseur of a cold ale and a tall tale.

One of those blokes who are priceless within a footy club for the role they play behind the scenes and the levity they introduce when things start to get a bit grim. He was,as they say – ‘a bit of a character’.

Ken Dodemaide left us in 1999, but his links with the Rovers had stretched back to the club’s infancy. He could regale you with stories of the great players over the years, but remind you that he was right up there with them when talent was handed out.

‘Doodles’ joined the Rovers in 1945, after he had returned from repelling the Japs (‘almost single- handed’) in New Guinea.

He had played with King Valley and Moyhu before the war and claimed he once upended the toughest of them all, ‘Bluestone’ Flanigan, with a hefty shirtfront that he described in graphic detail.

He was a ‘rough-nut’, no doubt, and a valuable protector for his young team-mates, many of whom were still attending school. Kenny had the honour of being the Rovers first-ever best and fairest winner, in 1945.

He would have made it a double the following year, he said, only that officials had misplaced the voting card from one match. “Best afield by a country mile”, he always claimed.

He had taken a pause from fighting during the war to propose, via a letter, to his sweetheart, Betty. Three years later they tied the knot and settled in Orwell Street, where they raised their kids and spent the rest of their lives.

Many years later, ‘Doodles’ would testify that Orwell Street boasted more Ovens and Murray footballers per-capita than any other street in Wangaratta. “And the further up the street they got, the tougher they were. I lived at the top of the street.”

He was vice-captain of the Rovers 1948 premiership team and, as a hard-hitting utility, was a key player. He would have been a bugger to play on. My father, who was his coach, reckoned that there were better players than Ken, but none had more spirit. Dad rated him highly and maintained a close friendship with him over the decades.

I’m willing to bet that ‘Doodles’ would have been the star turn at the post-match just as he was when celebrating the Hawks’ other 15 flags.

He had played just on 90 games with the Rovers when they gained admittance to the Ovens and Murray League in 1950. Age, which is the great steadier, began to take its toll on him and, after 11 more senior games he decided to hang up his boots.

He acted as a trainer for four years. Imagine those hands, calloused from his work as a concreter and brick-layer, manipulating your tender hammy or calf !

When the club moved from the Showgrounds to the Cricket Ground in the early fifties, Ken and blokes like Harry Armstrong and Spud Patat spent countless hours converting a hovel of a building into what became the base of the present Clubrooms.

Just for good measure, they set to and constructed wooden seats which ringed the oval. And volunteered for any other jobs that needed to be done.

‘Doodles’ was a top seller of raffle tickets, but had to admit his efforts paled into insignificance compared to those of his sister. ‘Little Alice’, as everyone called her, was confined to a wheelchair, but this didn’t deter her from extraordinary devotion to the club.

She had been her brother’s greatest fan when he was playing, but, long after he retired, remained one of the most familiar figures around the club.

‘Doodles’ had an endless repertoire of stories which he was only too willing to expound upon. There were the two Eldorado Gifts that he won (“the tape bruised my chest I was travelling that fast”), the 500-odd games of cricket he played with West End (including 4 hat-tricks, the last of them at 59). He would tell of how he treated Doug Ring, later to play cricket for Australia, with disdain when he gave the champion leggie a mauling in a pick-up match in New Guinea.

A 10-rounder he fought during the war with the world number three Andre Famechon (Johnny’s dad), only to lose on points, always rated a mention. As did the day he took Footscray star Harry Hickey apart in a match in the sweltering conditions of the tropics.

He also excelled as a tennis player and woodchopper and the Council Club’s tug-of-war team would not have performed the deeds it did without him, he insisted.

But there was another side to him. For 40 years he made it his mission to visit veterans and war widow patients at the Hospital and people raved about his warmth and compassion in this role.

He would not allow a bad word to be said about the Rovers Football Club and its players. Many a critic was stopped in his tracks by a stinging outburst from ‘Doodles’.

He was nearing the end when he asked if he could be taken out of his bed to watch the Rovers play an important match against Wangaratta. He got a kick out of the players making a fuss of him before the game, but he couldn’t last the distance and had to be taken back to hospital.

A few days later, this toughest of old Hawks died.

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TAKING RIVALRY TOO FAR

An  undercurrent of  discontent  pervades Ovens and  Murray  football,  as  the dominance and pursuit  of success   by  two clubs  threatens  the well-being of the League……..

Sounds  topical,  doesn’t it ?

Maybe,  but  I’d like to take you back on a  trip through time , to a similar circumstance. To an era when  different  cultures were in vogue  and a passionate environment  inflamed the most intense  rivalry that the League has seen.

The year  is  1924  .  Albury have re-joined  the O & M after having been  part  of  the Albury & Border  Football league  since the cessation of the Great War.  The  other  team  representing  the town of Albury  is  St.Patrick’s, who  have  just completed  a hat-trick of premierships.

Cleaver  Bunton, the most revered  and influential figure in the  O & M’s long history, had a ‘ringside seat’  to the ‘goings-on’.   As a star player, Albury secretary and a delegate to the League, Cleaver  witnessed , with growing  concern , the effect  that  the developing  antagonism  was having on the game.

He recalled …”There  was keen rivalry between the players of both clubs, but it was civil war between  the so-called supporters.  When Albury and  St.Patrick’s  were opposed the gate-takings were the answer to a Treasurer’s dream.”

“Many of those attending  the  matches had no interest in football, but were only interested in the colour of the guernseys. The boycotting of  certain  businesses was rampant, citizens being verbally and physically assaulted.  Christian doctrines were mocked;  in short,  a society was fractured  by bigotry in its worst form. I saw many friendships fall apart.”

“I was keeping company with a nursing sister from the Albury Base Hospital, Eileen Bridget O’Malley, whom I subsequently married.   Despite the fact that I was the only footballer she knew,  her support was  for  St.Patrick’s and her abuse was for me.  We had a courtship of a little over two years and, during that period ,were harassed by relations and friends.”

“One Sunday afternoon  we decided  that the time had arrived to do something  definite about our marriage. Firstly, we decided  not  to  be married in a Church, but in a Presbytery or Parsonage and we would toss  a coin to decide the venue. The toss was in my favour, whereupon  Eileen said we would be married in the Methodist Parsonage. I responded  that  I  had another idea. This was that Father  Percy, a friend of mine and a champion footballer, would be asked to marry us. We were driven to Balldale and tied the knot in front of a mate of mine,  Charlie Kennedy, and  Fr.Percy’s housekeeper.  Never was there a happier marriage consummated”

St. Patrick’s  made it four flags in a row in 1924, but had to bow to a Wangaratta side in 1925, which had been  heavily bolstered by many  stars employed  on construction of  the new Postal  lines.  But St.Pat’s   belted  the Magpies to win the 1926 flag  and,despite shocking inaccuracy (12.29) were  far too good for  Albury in  front of a huge crowd , in 1927.

So the ‘Greens’  had won  6 premierships in seven years.  They  again met  Albury  in the 1928 decider and this time the Tigers  exacted  their revenge  in a classic  contest , winning 12.8 (80) to 8.16 (64)

Soon  after the Grand Final , Bunton  decided that it was time to rectify  an untenable situation. He arranged to meet  Father Slattery , the  St.Patrick’s  President.   He recalled:   “After  a period of four years it had become abundantly clear that the scourge must be abated. I  suggested to  Father Slattery that  the remedy was  to disband  St.Patrick’s.  We eventually agreed to make an approach to our respective club committees to disband.  Both committees agreed .   Then came another  problem  – to  find substitute clubs.”

“A  perfect  solution was  evolved by forming West Albury and East Albury Football Clubs. Those living east of Olive Street  became  East Albury  players and those residing  to the west of Olive Street threw in their lot with West Albury.  When the two teams met for the first time in 1929, 34 of the 36 players  taking part were former  St.Patrick’s  and Albury players.”

They  played off  in the 1929 Grand Final, with West  Albury, including  Cleaver  Bunton and his 3 brothers , George , Haydn and Wally proving victorious over  East Albury,  17.16 (118) to 15.14(104).

Sixty years later, when Cleaver  Bunton  penned his memoirs, he expressed satisfaction  at  the  result of his  meeting   with Father Slattery .  “Bigotry, as we knew it then, has disappeared”, he said.

Bunton  made an  incalculable contribution to Ovens and Murray football, but this  would have to  have been   his boldest and far-reaching decision.

Post- Script :    West Albury received  approval  from the O &M to change their  club name to Albury in 1933.   In the  same year  East Albury  became  Border United-   an amalgamation of East Albury and  Weir United.

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