FAMILIAR FACES AMONG A.C.K CRICKET GREATS…..

A rare night out for me usually entails a Pot and Parmie at the Pino, with Moira and a few of the kids.……

So it’s with some trepidation tonight, that we’re treading this elaborate staircase, adorned with marble balustrades and plush carpet. We’re headed for Crown’s swanky Palladium Ballroom – long-time venue of the Brownlow Medal-count and former home of the Logies.

It’s akin to a second-rate bush nag being thrust into a Group One Classic at Flemington.

The occasion is Assumption’s 125th Gala Dinner, at which they’ll be inducting several of the famous Kilmore College’s high-achieving alumni to their Hall of Excellence.

Another feature of the night – and of particular interest to me – is the unveiling of their ‘Cricketers of the Century’.

In the meantime, we’re downing canapés and pre-dinner drinks and watching celebrated Old Boy Billy Brownless natter to arriving guests on the blue carpet……IMG_3740.

There are in excess of 600 guests expected, and, as we cast around, we spot a few of the school’s illustrious sporting products……You never forget that craggy face…. It’s the inimitable ‘Crackers’ Keenan….there’s ‘St.Francis’ Bourke, the ex-Richmond legend………we notice former Collingwood defender Peter McCormack……….. Shane Crawford is buzzing around, as usual. ‘Crawf’ joined footy’s elite at this very venue when he snared the Brownlow in 1999…………..

One super-veteran, decked out in a light sports coat and shuffling around with the aid of a ‘walker’, button-holes us. He must be well into his nineties and almost takes a tumble as he leans forward. Surely he’ll struggle to see out the evening……

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The function is every bit as classy as anticipated…….Good meal, impressive speakers…….. And we’re among chatty, warm company……… When it comes around to inducting the eight people who have achieved excellence in various walks of life, it’s humbling to gain an insight to the journeys that they have undertaken.IMG_3735

A standing ovation is reserved for the final nominee – Neale Daniher – whose four-year campaign to raise awareness of Motor Neurone Disease has warmed the hearts of the nation…….

Shortly after, another ‘notable’ is introduced to the crowd, and it’s obvious, from their reaction, that he’s held in the highest regard. He’s somewhat of an institution at Assumption.

His name is Ray Carroll……………..

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Still boasting a full head of hair and wearing dark glasses ( obviously  his eyesight isn’t too flash these days), he belies his 81 years. It’s acknowledged that he’s the most successful cricket/football coach in the history of Australian college sport.

Amazingly, he spent 53 years at Assumption, devoting himself to the betterment of kids’ education, both in the classroom and on the sporting field.

Ray grew up in the tiny Western District town of Hexham, situated about 14km from Mortlake; son of a stay-at-home mum and a rough-hewn but kindly dad, who was a shearer and occasional tent-boxer.

From an early age his twin passions were cricket and footy. He played Country Week cricket; trained with, and followed the fortunes of Mortlake’s formidable Hampden League side, but had his eye on a career as a Teacher.

His first job, though, was as a cadet surveyor. When an opportunity bobbed up to attend Teacher’s College, he grabbed it with both hands.

I like the story he tells of graduating, at the age of 21:

“Out of the blue I was told there was a vacancy at Kilmore. I’d never heard of Assumption. When I arrived for an interview, Brother Sylvester, who was the principal, said: ‘I suppose you can teach…… and I hear you like football and cricket…..You can start on Monday.’ “

“On the first morning, Br.Sylvester told me I was in charge of a class of 65. I mentioned that I didn’t have any text books. He handed me a strap and a cane and said: ‘The boys’ll have books….Just keep one page in front of ‘em…..’ ”

The Carroll philosophy in life has been to “always treat people the way you’d like to be treated, and treat them with respect.”

He took charge of Assumption’s First XI team in 1967, and became the First 18 coach in the mid-70’s – the first lay person to accede to the role.

He was a mentor, and a second dad to a lot of kids, especially those who struggled with the transition from the open spaces of, say, life on a Riverina farm, to boarding school at Kilmore.

When he began coaching the First XI he was not much older than many of the boys, but down through the years, coached their sons – and in a handful of cases – grandsons.

Apparently the Carroll coaching methods never changed. He felt no need to tweak them, as they still proved stunningly successful, but time marches on, and he finally, reluctantly, stepped away in 2011.IMG_3739

He’s an icon of Assumption, and it’s obvious that he has maintained contact with most of his old pupils. They all seem eager to renew acquaintances………

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One of the countless sportsmen who came under Ray Carroll’s influence was Jon Henry. The boy from Kamarah, situated between Moombooldool and Ardlethan in the central Riverina, once kicked 201 goals in a season for Assumption.

He captained both the First XI and First 18, and recalls his coach being big on loyalty. “He preached playing for the school and sticking together. Ray’s a lovely fellah, and was ultra-competitive. I really think cricket was his first love, though.”

“ But on the footy-front, I remember we clashed with Melbourne High at the Junction Oval one day. They had about 16 Thirds-listed Melbourne players in their side, and Ray emphasised how important it was to gain the upper-hand. He had us really fired up. We came out and knocked them off. It was one of the best wins we had in my time there…….”

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I run into Peter Tossol, who’s reminded of his boarding days at Kilmore: “We were having an impromptu game of cricket in the dorm late one night,” he recalls. “ I’ve grabbed the bat and shaped up as Simon O’Donnell begins to steam in down the corridor to bowl to me.”

“I said: ‘Righto, O’Donnell, bring in on.’ Just then the door opens and one of the Brothers is there, arms folded, with a stern look on his face. He grabbed the bat and gave me a couple of whacks across the backside. Simon also copped a couple, for good measure.”

Toss says he used to bowl first change in the First XI, whilst O’Donnell would wreak havoc with the new ball. “He was positively fearsome at times. Simon had both openers out hit wicket one day, trying to get out of the road. He did all the damage. When I came on all I had to do was mop up. What a player he was as a school-kid……”

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I’m predicting ‘Toss’ and ‘Henners’ to to be walk-up starts in this team of ‘Cricketers of the Century’. And there’s no doubt that Simon O’Donnell, Assumption’s greatest cricketing export, will be named skipper.

So it transpires.

O’Donnell, Test cricketer, veteran of 87 one-day internationals and a star of Australia’s 1987 World Cup victory, gets the captaincy nod.

His deputy is Peter Ryan, a talented right-hand batsman of the late sixties and seventies. He played 84 games of District cricket with Fitzroy, and moved to Queensland in 1971, where he appeared in a couple of Sheffield Shield games.

The team is announced, to much acclaim:

SIMON O’DONNELL (c). ( Class of 1980)

PETER RYAN (v.c). (1969)

NEALE DANIHER. (1978)

PETER CRIMMINS (1965)

RAY POWER. (1982)

NILDO MUNARI. (1957)

STEVE GEMMILL. (1987)

JASON SMITH. (1990)

PETER TOSSOL. (1980)ack dinner

JON HENRY. (1988)

JAMIE SHEAHAN. (2008)

JARROD TRAVAGLIA. (1998)

DAVID JOSS. (1932)

JOHN BAHEN. (1962)

TALLAN WRIGHT. (2010)

DES PURDON. (1942)

The experts claim that it’s a ‘ripper’ side. I’m familiar with the bulk of the names, and naturally, it was great to see Wangaratta ‘imports’ Tossol and Henry being called to the stage, along with former Rovers footballer Jamie Sheahan.

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Jamie Sheahan, with a ‘Hanger-on’.

Six members of the team played League football and several progressed to Premier cricket throughout Australia and to English County cricket. Four of them still play, including 48 year-old Steve Gemmill, who, after five years at North Melbourne, returned home to Cobram to carve out a fine career.

Again, the charismatic Daniher received a huge reception. It was said  of the talented left-hander, that a berth as a Shield or international player, awaited him. Fate decreed that his future lay in football.

Similar tales such as this, continued to unfold ….It was my type of night  ………….toss&henry

THE MAN WITH THE PREMIERSHIP TOUCH

*           It’s a vital WDCA semi-final. Rovers-United are under severe pressure, as an attacking batsman carves up the bowling. The game is slipping away. In an inspired move, the fieldsman at short leg shifts himself in so close that he could pick the plundering batsman’s pocket. Next ball, obviously distracted, the potential match-winner swipes wildly and is bowled. The game swings the Combine’s way in an flash.

*   A crucial stage in the last quarter of a tight O & M game. The Rovers’ number 10 shows ridiculous courage to back into a converging pack, ignoring the physical consequences. He is hammered, gets up slowly, but his example of commitment provides the impetus for the Hawks to fight on and close out the game against Albury.

*           Rain delays play in the 2006/07 WDCA Final, then ladder-leaders Rovers-United subsequently find themselves in deep trouble at 5/57. Desperate measures are required and a dogged Hawks’ left-hander drops anchor. Realising that his side have to keep occupying the crease, he bats on – and on – and on, until, late on the second day he is dismissed for 95. Rovers-United save the game and clinch the premiership.

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The central figure in each of those random ‘snapshots’ was a legend of country sport. His name ? Peter Tossol.

Sometimes you’re dead lucky to arrive upon a bloke like ‘Toss’. In the case of the Wangaratta Rovers and Rovers-United it stemmed from a friendship he struck up with an old cricket rival, John Welch.

He had spent 3 years playing footy with Melbourne and desperately wanted to leave the ‘big smoke’. After an approach from Welch, whom he had opposed in North-East Cup cricket matches, he reckoned the Rovers were a good fit for him.

Besides, he had been a Rovers fan from afar. “I could remember listening in to the footy scores on the ABC every Saturday night when I was a kid and I started following the Rovers because they were always winning. So I developed a bit of a fascination with them”, he once recalled .

Tossol was born and bred in Thornton, one of four boys in a fanatical sporting family. His dad, also Peter, had trained with Melbourne as a lad and was a renowned sportsman in the mountain country.

The boys were educated at Assumption College and from there two of them, Peter and Johnny, were recruited to Melbourne. “Toss ” played 19 senior matches with the Demons and is sorry that he didn’t achieve more.

“I think that if I’d trained a lot more I would have done better, so I reflect on it with a bit of regret”, he said.

Despite his obvious talent as an all-rounder, he never seriously contemplated playing District cricket. During his time with Melbourne he returned each week to play with Thornton.

His career-high score of 210 came in a semi- final. He twice made double-centuries in Grand Finals in the Alexandra/Mansfield competition and played in a swag of premierships for his home club.

He was selected for six Australian Country  Cricket Carnivals (22 games), and earned an All-Australian cap one year. He also represented a Vic. Country XI team against the West Indies at Wangaratta in 1985 .

Facing the gauntlet of the fabled Windies pace attack, he scored an unbeaten 69 and later discovered that his hand was broken when a rearing Courtney Walsh delivery cannoned into his batting glove.

In his first season of O & M footy – 1985 – ‘Toss’ would travel over from Thornton in his dearly-beloved, but not always reliable, Citreon. With the eyes of the crowd trained upon him in his debut match in Brown and Gold, he marked in the opening quarter and sent a soaring torpedo punt through the Town End goals from beyond 60 metres.

He had won over the Hawk crowd instantly. And in each of his other 210 games he performed deeds which became the stuff of folklore. A ball-magnet, he was an ace on-baller, but could be switched to a key position when required.

‘Toss’ had interruptions. He missed the 1986 season, recovering from a knee op. and in 1988 he returned home to help Alexandra to a flag. But from 1989 until his retirement in 1998, he was part of the furniture at the Findlay Oval.

He had the knack of fostering the camaraderie which produces the team-spirit, which in turn cultivates team success. The footy – and cricket – clubs were always happy places to be around when ‘Toss’ was involved.

He was a four-time runner-up in the Best and Fairest and played in the premierships of 1991, 1993 and ’94. Whilst playing with the Rovers he coached the O & M for three seasons and led them to the Country title. He represented the League 13 times and the VCFL five times, thrice as captain.

And for good measure he was given the honour of captaining the All-Australian side in 1990.

It was always accepted that when Laurie Burt abdicated the Rovers coaching position, ‘Toss’ would step up. Much to the surprise of the football public, though, he took on the role at Corowa-Rutherglen. Within six years they would have two flags in the bag and would be transformed from middle-of-the-roaders to a power team. As a recruiter, motivator and man-manager he took the Roos to a new level.

The ‘marriage that was made in heaven’ eventuated in 2004 when he returned home to take charge of the Rovers. It remains a mystery why things didn’t work out and, after an ordinary year, he decided it was best for the Club if he moved on. He headed to Mansfield to coach for 3 years, then had another 3 years back at Corowa.

In the final wash-up of his glittering O & M career he had played/coached 386 games, contributed to 5 flags, was proclaimed Corowa-Rutherglen’s ‘Coach of the Century’ and had been inducted to the League’s Hall of Fame.

There was a heightened sense of expectation in the mid-nineties when the Tossol clan settled in Evans Street and Rovers-United finally had procured their ‘elusive recruit’. Here was a bloke who had done the lot in cricket, scored runs by the bucket-load and reportedly bowled like the wind.

The boys noted that the intensity, which had been the keynote of his footy, carried on into his cricket, both at the Findlay Oval and at WSCA club Tarrawingee. His attitude lifted the standards within the Club. Although he still ran in to bowl at a hundred miles and hour, his pace had dropped considerably, despite his efforts to prove otherwise.

But he was still more than handy and it was difficult to extract the ball from him when he got on a roll. He proved to be a run-machine, as expected. Single-minded at the crease and with extraordinary focus, he would re-play each shot three or four times, before settling in to face the next delivery.

He was extremely difficult to dislodge, with a game based around a sound defence. In the rare instance of his early dismissal he would drag someone down to the practice nets to bowl at him and ‘iron out the faults’.

‘Toss’ played in three flags in his 111 games with the Combine and, much to his chagrin, missed a fourth when a footy practice match intervened.

But he played his part in the victory in a roundabout way. Sensing that one of the overnight not-out batsmen, who didn’t mind a cool drink on a hot day, might be tempted to ‘unwind’ after his good knock, he was invited to partake of some of the Tossol hospitality that night.

It worked. Hostess Bronny fed him well, he had a few quiet drinks, and continued on the next day to guide the Hawks to an exciting one-wicket victory.

The Tossol sporting career yielded around 23 premierships and was the epitome of professionalism. Even now, in his early fifties, he would give anything to be able to spend a while at the crease or engage in a fair dinkum footy contest.
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