“THE FIXER…………”

It’s nudging 3am when nature calls after a hectic Boxing Day.

An eery tranquility  pervades the air , but as I grope and stumble down the pitch-black hallway on this routine visit to the ‘throne’, there’s plenty happening outside. I detect loud voices and laughter. The ‘stragglers’ of a 40th Birthday party are in vintage form………

There’s Pooch, Tav, Rolls, Jack, Juice, Lloyder, Andy, Dougy, Roscoe, Rourkey, Fixer and a few others. They’ve turned the clock back twenty-plus years , to document scarcely-believable stories of their youth.

I just manage to pick up the one about ‘Juice’, whose forgettable career as a student concluded one mid-term, when he announced to his class-mates: “F….. it, I’ve had this joint.” He climbed out the window of the Year-11 classroom and never again darkened the doors of Galen College.

He was hell-bent on becoming a truckie, like his old man, and still reckons he’s at peace with the world when he’s behind the wheel of a Heavy-Rigid Transport. Occasionally he  reflects on the  good old days when, for a time, he was a demon quickie and a long-striding left-footer in the Brown and Gold.

Funny, all of the revellers went through the Rovers Thirds, yet their careers diverged. A couple became stars, one travelled the world plying his trade as a Farrier. Some, such as ‘Fixer’, succumbed to football  wanderlust…………
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‘Fixer’ doesn’t recall the last time he stayed at our humble abode. Moira was up and about early one Sunday when she spotted a pair of legs poking out the door of our White Toyota Bus, parked in the Carport.

On closer inspection, the body was comatose, but at least, still breathing. She let him be. Turns out ‘Fixer’ had lost his way during the night and ‘camped’ in the most convenient place he could find.
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There are a few theories as to how Rohan Graham came to inherit his nickname.

The most plausible is that he wrote to the Brisbane Courier-Mail’s ‘Agony-Aunt’- type columnist, ‘The Fixer’, detailing how a callous taxi-driver had driven off with his wallet. The episode had, he said, left him virtually penniless.

Sympathetic to his demise, ‘The Fixer’ contacted the taxi company, which sent him $250 to tide him over.

Not a bad result, joked a few of his mates, who reckoned he probably ‘did a runner’ on the taxi-driver !
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I caught up with a fair portion of ‘Ro’s’ early footy. Firstly with Tigers, the Murray Bushrangers, and occasionally, the Rovers Thirds. He was strong, versatile and possessive of a handy skill-set.

And his out-going personality provided a healthy balance to the many introverts that junior coaches find so difficult to prise out of their shells.

In short, he was a talent. Good enough, in fact, to represent Vic.Country in successive Under-18 Teal Cups, alongside future AFL stars Nathan Brown, Steve King, Adam Houlihan and Michael Braun.

He was vice-captain at the second Carnival, and, I suggest, his name must surely have been mentioned in draft discussions.

“Nah,” he says. “I was realistic enough to know that I was an inch too small and a yard too slow.”

Three or four clubs spoke to him, but that’s about it, he added. He and fellow Bushie Mark Goodey hastened to talk down their prospects to enquiring friends. There was plenty of excitement at the High School , though, as there were a couple of other boys also in contention, come Draft Day.

He winces now when he reflects on the prank he and ‘Goodser’ played on one lad, who had been letting a few kids know that he was a fair chance of being drafted.

They popped down to a Public Phone box and ‘Ro’, doing his best impersonation of a Melbourne official, rang the High, asking to speak to one of their pupils (let’s call him ‘Smithy’).

“He’s not available at the moment. Is there any message ?”

“I’ll ring back later, but would you mind telling him that he’s been drafted by the Melbourne Football Club.”

The pair arrived back at school just in time to hear the announcement over the P.A system, of ‘Smithy’s’ good fortune, and how proud the school was of his achievement.

‘Smithy’ was being swamped with young well-wishers when they spotted him. ‘Ro’s’ not too sure whether he ever overcame the disappointment of being ‘skewered’, but thinks he would have eventually narrowed down the two culprits.
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Rohan was invited to do a pre-season with Footscray, then found his way to Williamstown, where he impressed coach Mervyn Keane. But a succession of niggling injuries only allowed him to figure in a handful of games.

So half-way through the 1997 season, he landed back home. He had made his senior debut with the Hawks the previous September, when he was surprisingly slotted into the Preliminary Final side.

“I thought at the time: How good’s this ? First game a Prelim. Maybe a flag in my second ?,” he says.

But it wasn’t to be. The Hawks led by three points at half-time, but were blown away by Albury, who kicked nine goals to nil in the third, and went on to win by 34 points.

He produced some terrific form in the latter parts of 1997, and was a star in ‘98. A young Hawk side, against the odds, battled their way into the finals, only to go down by seven points, to Albury in a riveting First-Semi.

That night, after several consoling drinks, a few of the boys discovered, to their consternation, that the pub was closing at 10pm. No surprise there……. It was Sunday night, after all.

So they jumped into a car that a mate had so graciously loaned them, and headed to Crown Casino for a few hours, arriving home in time for Mad Monday. “Thank goodness we made it back. We thought at one stage, someone had knocked the car off from Crown. It’s just that we couldn’t remember what colour it was,” Rohan says.
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It was time to spread his wings, he thought, so he embarked on a trip to Brisbane, and signed with powerhouse club, Morningside.

The Surfer’s Paradise Demons were his next stop, followed by the Beenleigh Buffaloes, a club which was also home to former Hawks’ Robbie Panozzo and Brett Saunders, and another ex- Thirds player, Pete Rourke.

Out of the blue one year, came  a coaching offer from Sydney AFL club, East Coast Eagles. It was a plum appointment for a lad still in his late 20’s.

“I loved the challenge of coaching, particularly on match-day,” Rohan says. “The tactical side of things turns me on. I probably don’t get as excited about the rest of the coaching package.”

In his three seasons at the helm, the highlight obviously came in 2006, when East Coast went through the home-and-away rounds undefeated, and convincingly won the major Semi-Final.

It had been the driest Sydney year on record, but the drought broke on Grand Final day, with conditions at Sydney’s Henson Park more suited to water-polo than football.

Pennant Hills kicked 5.20 to defeat the Eagles – 7.6 – by two points.

“It was a shocker of a day. We were just overwhelmed by the conditions,” Rohan recalls.

He coached Eastern Suburbs/ UNSW Reserves for a season, during which he also took charge of a Sydney FL rep team which defeated Canberra. (“First time we’d beaten ’em for 128 years, they told me”).

But after coaching for  two years at another SAFL club, North Shore, he decided it was time to change tack and think about his future. He re-located to Melbourne.

His last season as a player was spent with Strathmore, in the Essendon Football League, which boasts more than its fair share of ex-AFL imports.

Rohan crossed paths with a few of them that year, with positive results.

“I was switched to full back one day, to try and curtail Simon Minton-Connell, the former Swan and Bulldog, who was doing plenty of damage against us. He’d already booted 8 by half-way through the second quarter. I managed to keep him to another six for the day. Not a bad effort, I thought.”

“When we shook hands after the game, I said: ‘You’d have probably kicked a few more if you could mark overhead.”

“ ‘I dunno, mate. I’m pretty happy with my 14’, he said. “

Rohan coached Strathmore Thirds after he’d hung up his boots, then worked on the recruiting staff at his beloved Melbourne for three years. He’s highly regarded by the Demons, who would have liked him to continue.

But he thought he’d better start devoting a bit more time to the family – wife Anna and baby Ava. And besides, things are busy in his job with a Road Construction firm.

There’s no doubt about ‘The Fixer’. He can keep you entertained for hours with his endless endless repertoire of  stories from a varied sporting life………….