INDEFATIGABLE HOPPER VETERAN SOLDIERS ON…

I fork over 10 bucks and enter the Moyhu Oval, on this chilly, forbidding late-July afternoon.

It’s a middle-of-the-road clash between the Hoppers and Bright. Both teams realise that they’ll need a minor miracle to force their way into the O & K finals.

But, for the loser today, it’s definitely curtains.

Doesn’t sound too riveting, does it ? But it develops into a darned good tussle and both sides handle the slippery conditions really well. It’s still in the balance early in the last quarter, but Moyhu gain some crucial possessions, kick a couple of vital goals and draw away to win by four goals.

I’m seeing a few players in action for the first time today, and it’s always interesting to put faces to the names you’ve read about.

Then there’s a trio of super-veterans from Moyhu. Andrew Balfour, Peter Sullivan and Anthony Welsh have all had terrific careers and are still picking up a kick or two.

“They call us the Three Fossils,” says Welshy, who, at 38, concedes a few years to 41 year-old ‘Balf’, a veteran of 359 games and 5 flags ; and ‘Sully’, 42, who has racked up 309 games.

Being a North Melbourne fan, Anthony Welsh is quite tickled when I suggest he reminds me of a poor man’s Todd Goldstein. “Ah well, I am a left-handed knock ruckman and a left-foot kick and I like to ruck all day. That’s about where the similarities end, though,” he says.

He admits he wouldn’t have minded being blessed with a portion of the 20 centimetre height advantage that ‘Goldy’ holds over him.

Most weeks he gives away height and weight to his opposite number in the ruck, but it’s a spring-heeled leap that stands him in good stead.

He got reported and sent off for tripping in the third quarter on Saturday. “First time ever,” he says.

The ump was convinced by the players that there was nothing in the incident, and rescinded the report after the game.

So he’ll be lining up for the crucial match against Tarrawingee on Saturday, and adding to the 170-odd games that he’s already played in the Green and Gold guernsey.

“It’s a good club, Moyhu, and they’ve been really good to me. I’m keen to reach the 200-mark.”

Sounds like you’ve got no intention of giving it away any time soon, I ask. “No, not when you love footy as much as I do.”

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When I catch up with him, ‘Welshy’ is wearing one of the special North Melbourne jumpers that had been produced to commemorate Brent Harvey’s record-breaking game against St.Kilda. He had just come from helping out at Auskick. I gather, once we get going, that he’d talk footy till the cows come home.

He’s from the northern suburbs of Melbourne, like ‘Boomer’. He was 13 when he headed down to Macleod Football Club to have a game. “The old man said, if you’re gunna play, you might as well take your brothers down as well. So they recruited 5 of us. My two sisters tagged along, too.”

He moved to Preston RSL to play in the U.15’s and U.17’s, playing in the ruck and palming the ball down to a tiny kid who sometimes ran the length of the field, bouncing the pill as if it was attached to him, dodging and weaving and kicking goals.

It was ‘Boomer’ Harvey.

“Neil, his dad, was the trainer. A real tough bastard who knew his footy and worked us hard, even though we were young kids.”

The next stop for ‘Boomer’ was the Northern Knights, then the AFL – and stardom. ‘Welshy’ also had a few runs with the Knights, but was dropped from their list and instead, moved to North Heidelberg, where he played a season, alternating between the Under 19’s and Reserves.

He took three years off, and it was only when he moved to Seymour, that he decided to have another kick. “My brother was playing at Nagambie. I went out to watch him one day, and one of the fellahs threw me a guernsey and said you might as well have a game too.”

In three seasons with the KDFL club he won a B & F and played in a losing Grand Final, then spent a year with Seymour, where he acquitted himself well.

“Kylie (his partner) has family in Wang, so we ended up here in 2004. I was working out at Merriwa Industries and Pete Hawkins asked if I played footy. The next thing, Damien Sheridan has visited me at the Parfitt Road Caravan Park and I’m training with Moyhu.”

It would be simple to say that the romance between ‘Welshy’ and the Hoppers was made in heaven, but that wasn’t quite the way it worked out. There have been plenty of ups and downs in the ensuing 13 years.

He transferred to North Wangaratta in 2008, but lasted eight games. “I don’t think we were cut out for one another, ” he says, and leaves it at that.

Then there was his three-year stint with newly-admitted O & K club Tatong, from 2010-12, where he won a B & F, was runner-up twice and was rarely out of the best players..

But in his nine years with Moyhu he has played some outstanding football. His main attributes, I’m told, are that he’s never beaten, is a combined ruckman/ ruck-rover, picks up plenty of possessions and plays a kick behind play to perfection.

Damien Sheridan recalls that when he signed him,’Welshy’ was looking for a club to call home: “His contribution for two hours each Saturday has been unreal. He embraced the footy side of the club, but the social aspect doesn’t excite him that much.”

‘Shero’ points out that ‘Welshy’ has won four Best & Fairests, but it could have easily been five.

“I can only recall him missing a couple of games. One was with a broken knuckle. The other was when his dog cleared off one Saturday morning and he went looking for it . I called to pick him up and he was nowhere to be seen.”

“We had to go on without him. That game probably cost him the B & F, as he missed out by one vote. He won the Baker Medal in 2007, in what was a terrific year for him, but I believe the games that he’s defined by, were the ’05 and ’06 Grand Finals.”

” We beat Whorouly by 52 points in 2006. Gerard Nolan and Shane Moore kicked 10 goals between them, but ‘Welshy’ got the vote for best afield. He was fantastic.”

The newspaper report of the game lauded him: “…..Ruckman Welsh conceded height and battled for taps against Whorouly’s Adam Pascoe and Paul Glanville. But around the ground he was outstanding and drove the ball long with his left foot each time he got a possession…….”

Naturally, he celebrated the flag with considerable gusto.

Anthony Welsh says that his partner, Kylie, is his sternest critic. “She’s never missed a game and she well and truly lets me know if I’m playing below par.”

One of the Moyhu boys claims that if Kylie is unhappy with his performance, she’ll flick the car headlights on and off.

“That stirs him up,” he said .

Anthony Welsh has been one of the Ovens and King League’s most colorful characters and the Moyhu line-up without the gangling, long-armed number 55 wouldn’t seem the same to Hopper fans.

A solid 100 minutes of footy and a few frothies afterwards, is his ideal way of spending a winter Saturday ……..