‘THE AGONY AND ECSTACY OF A GRAND-FINAL…..”

It was, they said, the Grand Final that the WDCA had craved………a fluctuating, high-standard clash between two of the competition’s keenest rivals ……..

It featured dashing stroke-play, more twists than a winding mountain road, a dramatic batting collapse…….and finally, one of those last-wicket stands that evoke the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller………

Firstly, I must offer a disclaimer……….I wasn’t there…….and wasn’t party to the pressure-cooker atmosphere that someone mentioned resembled one of those classical ‘Local Footy Derbies’………

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‘Prav” – The Gun

Instead, as the game progresses, I’m relying on periodic score-updates. Early on, they verify my pre-game trepidation ………that Wangaratta-Magpies’ brilliant Indian all-rounder Pranav Menon, is going to have a profound influence on the game.

The trouble is, when you’re bowling to ‘Prav’, he’s so dominant, and scores so quickly, he can take the game away from you in a jiffy…….

His third-wicket stand with skipper Jack Davies adds 100 in just 80 minutes, before Jack is skittled by left-arm quick Paddy McNamara for a handy 36……But by now the Pies are 3/126, and headed for a huge total.

Brady Bartlett, whose 25 wickets have rounded off the Hawk attack nicely this season, collects another timely scalp when he traps ‘Prav’ in front eight runs later. His 59 off 64 balls was, I’m told, an essay of fluent, wristy strokeplay.

From then on in it’s a matter of the Wang-Magpies lower-order eking out crucial runs – and the Hawks keeping them in check. Despite the best efforts of the bowlers, the Pies finish with 8/163…….Bartlett (3/31) and McNamara (3/23) take the bowling honours.

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‘Runs on the Board’ is a well-worn adage in finals cricket…….Four runs an over, against a side which, time and again this season has been able to put the screws on their opposition, is a tough proposition.

But I’ve got faith in Bailey Dale and Luke Whitten, who have developed into a handy combination. Luke seems to have been inspired by Bailey’s cavalier stroke-play and has, himself, become more uninhibited……..The extent of this partnership could, I believe, determine the match…….

They’re off to a flier, and the updates I’m getting ( scoring at almost eight an over ) indicate that they’ve given their side a really handy launching-pad.

It’s 1/67 when Whitten is adjudged LBW to Zac Guilfoyle, but Dale and the incoming Jacob Beattie ( who’s also a free-wheeler) keep the run-rate flowing nicely.

When I succumb to temptation, and ring for someone to ‘paint the picture’, I’m told they’re 3/112…….Dale had skipped down the wicket to spinner Menon and had been neatly stumped by keeper Cooper Matheson for 45…….Beattie’s 22-ball knock had come to an end when the newly-introduced Nick Pell dismissed him for 28.

The Hawks had experimented with Beattie at first-drop, late in the season, with some success, and again, he had produced valuable, quick runs.

I’m delighted…..surely they should do the job from here……Only 50-odd runs, with heaps of overs in hand and plenty of batting to follow…….

Then the reports start coming through…….I’m informed later that the under-rated Pell is bowling ‘hand-grenades’……..6/120….7/129….8/131…9/136……

I receive an ominous four-word text from a knowledgeable Hawk….’Not looking good, KB’……. which sends me into the depths of depression….

Ah well, the dream’s over…….the boys have had a good season…….and the Pies deserve it. They’ve been outstanding all year ……..

I’m anticipating the final death knell……Half an hour passes by…….No word…Surely the game must be over by now…..

Then the belated message comes through………They’ve pinched it……..Unbelievable…

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So I sit down to watch the live-stream this morning, to recapture the drama of this Grand Final of the Ages ( I note that there have been more than 820 views on You-Tube, which shows the interest in the contest ) ….It’s every bit as riveting as I’ve been told……particularly that last-wicket stand of 28 between Alex McCarthy and Brady Bartlett, which finally swings the pendulum the Hawks way.

Equally as interesting is the ‘chit-chat’ from the crowd, amidst the excitement from both camps:

‘Pelly…Pelly….Pelly…’ as the ex-Greta paceman is cutting a swathe through the RUB middle-order…….

‘He doesn’t have faith in ya mate…….Can’t ya handle the pressure, Bartlett….’

‘Pull ya head in, why don’t ya….’

‘Very uppish shot that…You’re looking scratchy, McCarthy…..’

The partnership develops: A Bartlett pull-shot scoots to the boundary, as does a streaky shot backward of point………They chip 10 runs off one over, then Bartlett hammers a shot back at tiring medium-pacer Matt Gathercole, who just can’t grasp a difficult chance, with the score on 149….

A single here and a strong off-side shot there from McCarthy, who’s been solid, maintains the pressure……….It’s down to 11…..then another Bartlett boundary off Guilfoyle brings the crowd to fever-pitch………Seven to get…. another boundary reduces it to three……

And now they’re home……. Bartlett, whose handy all-round contribution has been as significant as anyone in the match, executes a strong drive, ushering in celebrations and commiserations among the combatants, neither of who deserved to lose………

Rovers-United-Bruck 9/164 defeated Wangaratta- Magpies 8/163

“….’WOOSHA’ FIGHTS BACK….”

THE SCENE : Rovers cricket nets…..any summer Saturday arvo…..Mid-to-late eighties………

Two energetic kids are oblivious to whatever drama is playing out on the W.J.Findlay Oval, where their dads are engaged in battle…..The tall, blonde lad can sure bat a bit…..For over, after over, after over, he flails everything that the whole-hearted right-armer can hurl at him.

The budding speedster bends down to retrieve the pill at one stage, and mutters something about being ‘nothing more than a friggin’ bowling-machine’. He’s confident, though, that if he can just pierce that defence he’ll get to have his turn with the willow ……But it never happens……….

Some years later, they both strut the hallowed turf of the Findlay Oval. Decreed by birth that they’ll wear the Brown and Gold of the Wangaratta Rovers, they become footy team-mates for a decade.Their cricket also flourishes, as they star for Rovers-United….until the partnership is broken….. The blonde bloke is lured to District cricket……….

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Shane Welch’s only sporting regret is that he was denied a Premiership at the Clubs he held dear to his heart .

He was just coming of age as a footballer, having been a rabid fan of the Hawks through a Golden Era, when they won four flags in seven years. They handed him a brief taste of senior footy in 1994 – mid-way through an O & M record 36 wins on the trot – the year the Club won the most recent of its 15 titles…….

And when he finally heeded everyone’s advice to try his luck with Carlton Cricket Club, his old side Rovers-United promptly nailed successive flags.

“That’s fate, I suppose. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” he says.

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Shane came through local cricket’s junior ranks, and was in his first year of Under 14’s when he also played as a keeper/batsman for Rovers-United’s C-Grade team. His old man Geoff ( whose aching body had now restricted him to wheeling down guileful, accurate, slow-medium left-armers ) and Greg Rosser ( batting legend ), were the elder statesmen of the side.

His rise was meteoric. At 16 he’d become a regular A-Grade player and a candidate for any form of rep cricket that was going.

That included being part of Wangaratta’s U.21 Mac Holten Shield side which, he reflects, was probably the most enjoyable cricket he played.

“Our team was chock-full of characters. You’d be struggling to manufacture that spirit, even in a club side. We won everything, and after the games, would celebrate accordingly.”

Shane broke into the Colts at the same time as Jaden Burns: “We went through sport together; he was just like my little brother; spent heaps of time at our place in Park Crescent. In the midst of Year 12 exams I took one of those calls you never forget, advising that he’d lost his life.”

“The Burns family asked me to deliver a poem at the funeral. I was talking to the Colts captain Chris Tidd a few weeks later. He said to me: ‘That was great, that thing you did on Burnsy.’……Less than a month later, Tiddy was also gone.”

Shane was elevated to the captaincy. Wang never went close to losing for the next two years, as they cleaned up successive Shield Finals.

In the 1994/95 decider, they knocked over ‘danger-man’, outspoken future NSW and Australia ‘A’ ‘gun’ Domenic Thornley for 3, and restricted Albury to 7/223. .

The Welch innings of 93 in 115 minutes guided Wang to victory. Many who’d been following his progress rated that as his finest innings.

He gained priceless experience, as a member of three Melbourne and four Bendigo Country Week sides, but along the way, admits he learned a couple of valuable lessons.

He’d just turned 18 and had begun to put a few decent scores together, including his first WDCA ‘ton’ – an unbeaten 126 against Rutherglen.

“Up until then I’d hardly missed any rep team I’d gone for,” he says. “There was a pretty extensive selection process for the Victorian Under 19 team, but I’d done well in the trial games and had captained Vic Country. I felt comfortable playing with the likes of Brad Hodge and Brad Williams.”

“Out of the final squad of 20 they only picked one country bloke to go to the National titles in Brisbane, and I missed the cut. I was disappointed…..pretty shattered, but it taught me to accept things, and not to get too far ahead of myself.”

He says he was put in his place one day at the Findlay Oval, when he was dismissed cheaply, nicking down leg-side:

“It annoyed me….more so the manner of the dismissal. I mumbled a few things under my breath ….cracked the shits and whacked the bat on my pad as I walked off. I’d been in the rooms for a minute or so when Max Bussell, one of Wang’s most respected cricket figures, came in.”

“He said: ‘What’s happened to you ? Remember, you’ll get out in plenty of different ways than that in your career. Just cop it on the chin’.”

“I learned that ‘Pa’ didn’t like what he’d seen and said to Max: ‘If you don’t go in and have a word to him, I will.”

‘Pa’ (Arthur) was his greatest fan. The moment he’d stride to the crease, Arthur, who was a laid-back, wise-cracking personality of the local game, would tense up…… He’d embark on a couple of nervous laps of the ground…..once the young bloke had passed 30 or so, his normal demeanour would re-appear.

After a productive 1994/95, which featured 430-odd WDCA runs ( including another ‘ton’), Shane headed to the ‘big smoke’ to attend RMIT University. Carlton and Fitzroy-Doncaster both pursued him.

He opted for the Blues, principally because his cousin Darren had spent four seasons there. It seemed a good fit, and he looked forward to learning off players like Rohan Larkin and Ian Wrigglesworth who’d played at the higher level.

A couple of half-centuries in the Seconds earned him promotion. His debut First XI hand of 58 against Dandenong impressed the good judges, but they nodded sagely a few weeks later when he scored 108 against Fitzroy-Doncaster.

“I just thought the runs would keep coming,” Shane says, “….but it’s never that easy.”

After a very successful opening season he began 1997/98 with a bright 55 against Prahran. Four games later he was back in the Seconds with three or four other youngsters who had been touted as the ‘future of Carlton’.

“I ended up becoming a bit disillusioned; got down on myself. I decided I’d free the arms up a bit….try tonking the spinners and belt the cover off the ball…. ‘Pa’ summed it up. He said: ‘You’re batting like a bowler’. “

“Cricket had lost its charm for me. I gave it away at the end of that season……..”

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His football apprenticeship began at his dad’s old Junior League club, Combined Churches, followed by two years with the Hawk Thirds and one in the Reserves.

Along the way, the Murray Bushrangers slotted him in for a late-season game in which he snagged four goals as a floating forward.

By 1995 he was a permanent fixture in the Rovers line-up, alternating as a forward, tall defender or relief ruckman.

For the next ten years, Shane became one of those fellahs who are vital to the culture of a successful footy Club …..Reliable……Always giving 100%……Disciplined…….Willing to accept whatever role he’d been handed….Rarely in the limelight….And enthusiastically embracing the after-match festivities.

During that period, he was one of a group of 20-25 city-based country players who’d gather at the Princes Park No.3 Oval and improvise their own training schedule.

“Travelling back each week wasn’t a chore for me then, “ Shane says, “It was an easy drive. I enjoyed getting back home.”

His first year of teaching – 1999 – took him to Yea High School, where he politely declined the local club’s invitation to accept the coaching job.

Instead, he assumed ruck duties for the Hawks when the ‘dicky’ knee of big Paul Greaves caved in early in the season.

In 2002, the year the Rovers built momentum and developed into a flag threat, there were also plenty of stints in the ruck, relieving another ‘man mountain’, Aaron Schenke.

They had beaten North Albury three times that season, but the Hoppers got out of the blocks quickly in the Grand Final, and established a big lead. A dramatic fight-back ensued; the Hawks wrested the momentum, but eventually North ran away with the game.

“We had two or three blokes who were a bit proppy. We’d expended a lot of energy getting back into the game, and had nothing left when it counted,” Shane says.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….He played just four games in 2005, and was finding that other things in life had taken priority over football. Besides dealing with a niggling quad injury and heavy work commitments, the travel had now become a burden.

Additionally, Jo (his future wife ) was in the throes of transitioning from England.

Inevitably, he was resigned to pulling the pin with his beloved Hawks. After 160 senior games, Shane ‘Woosher’ Welch, Life Member and intensely loyal clubman hung up the boots.

He taught at the same Melbourne-based secondary school for 19 years, and says it took a heavy toll on his health.

“It wasn’t a harmonious place. You were basically just trying to control the kids. I didn’t read the warning signs of fatigue. A heavy VCE workload, high expectations and raising a young family in Melbourne contributed to my burnout / exhaustion.”

“It was an extremely challenging time – a real battle. At 41 years of age I had to dig deep to slowly regain a sense of self-worth.”

At the end of 2018, Shane, Jo and the kids, Rosie ( now 11 ) and Luke ( 8 ) packed up and moved back to his home town.

He maintained his passion for Physical Education. He’s now working at Galen College, has written, and overseen the curriculum for the Peak Football Academy, and is coaching the ‘talls’ at the Murray Bushrangers.

He’s in his second year back at the Rovers as their Phys-Ed Advisor, and has guided the players through a gruelling summer of fitness work .

He has also designed an Out-Door training Program , comprising circuit-based 50-minute sessions. It involves 12-15 stations, using resistance, weight, running and sporting equipment.

It’s his intention to launch it in the near future.

“Thanks to the support of family, colleagues and mates, I’ve been able to work my way back to now be able to make small contributions within the community,” he says.

“And I’m prouder of that than any of the centuries I made” ………………”

‘AND NOW, THE TIME HAS COME…..’

It’s the pinnacle of the season tomorrow; the culmination of a year’s hard work………

The WDCA Grand Final has provided a catalogue of upsets, controversies, brilliant performances, dramatic collapses and – dare I say it – rain interruptions.

My memories hark back to the fifties, when Dad and his brothers left you in no doubt they were playing for ‘sheep stations’, as they prepared for the ‘Big One’….. But for decades before that, tempers flared and emotions boiled when rivals fought for the flag.

Here is a selection of  games that fostered a tradition which has spanned 123 years…….

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1896/97 : Wangaratta v Exelsior.

“……At 9/68 on the first day, these were anything but cheering figures that greeted the Wangaratta skipper, as he strode out to join McCallum, in one of the most eventful partnerships ever seen on the Wangaratta ground.

He had a ‘grim smile’ and one of the onlookers remarked…..”what if the last two were to make a century ?”

The batsmen played with verve and judgement. Clarke was content to play a steady game, but Mac hit ‘bloomin hard’ and ‘ bloomin often’.

Hickey came on and clean-bowled McCallum and the innings closed for 137.

Exelsior’s reply began well the following week, but soon they slumped. Their hopes were revived by Joe Bath, as they edged ever closer to the Wangaratta total.

But Joe had the unpleasant experience of having his wicket put down by the Wang keeper.

He played a splendid and plucky innings – never giving a chance. He was very knocked about, but had the consolation of knowing that he received his wounds and spilt his blood in a most stubborn fight.

The ray of light that had started to glow in the breast of Wangaratta now burst into the sunshine of splendid victory as Jimmy Tough, the last man in, knocked the ball into Len Docker’s hands.IMG_4021

While the ball was in the air, even the boldest held their breath, but when its career was stopped, the Wang supporters manifested their delight in no uncertain terms……”

Wangaratta 137 defeated Exelsior 130…..

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1928/29 : Wangaratta v East Wangaratta.

“Scarcely in the history of the WDCA have there been two stauncher rivals than the Grand Final combatants, who met at Oxley.

Wangaratta managed 136, with their premier batsman Alec Fraser registering 36, to be the main obstacle to the much-vaunted East Wang pace attack.

East gained a slender advantage by posting 158. Clem Fisher was his usual obstinate self in an innings of control, but it was the slow bowler Tom Nolan, with 8/48, who took the honours for Wangaratta.

Wang could manage only 99 in their second innings, after Harry Fisher had taken 6/5. So East needed 79 to take out the premiership.IMG_4022

They still needed 9 runs when last pair Cliff Pratt and Bill McCormick were at the crease.

Easts supporters urged them along all the way, as they inched their way to a famous win…..”

East Wangaratta 158 and 9/79 defeated Wangaratta 136 and 99.

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1933/34: Footballers v. Wangaratta.

“It was a most riveting game, dominated by the slow bowlers.

Wangaratta’s score of 87 saw them take a 1-run advantage over Footballers, who wouldn’t have reached their total of 86, but for a fine contribution from Arch Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s 7/44 wrecked Wangaratta’s second innings, but they reached 97.

Footballers, having given themselves a definite chance of taking the honours, were then bundled out for 65.

Don Young did the damage. He bowled remarkably well, flighting and turning the ball in a manner that made him nigh unplayable. Young finished with 6/29…..”

Wangaratta 87 and 97 defeated Footballers 86 and 65.

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1935/36: Footballers v. Eldorado.

“This was one of the most memorable of all Grand Finals, principally for the numerous batting records which were created along the way.

On the first day, Arch Wilkinson and Bernie Izard put on 245 for the first wicket. Resuming on Day 2, Charlie Heavey and Frank Archman carried on the awesome performance, and added 287 for the third wicket.IMG_0828

The score at the end of the day was 8/634.

The first four batsmen scored centuries or over: Izard 100, Wilkinson 154, Heavey 187 and Archman 112.

Eldorado were to be congratulated for the wonderful way they stuck to their task.

Footballers declared after two days batting and Eldorado set out on their Herculean task. Several batsmen got a start, but the lower order failed badly and they were all out for 126.

In their second innings, Eldorado had compiled 5/196 when play was mercifully concluded……”

Footballers 8/634 defeated Eldorado 126 and 5/196.

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1957/58: Magpies v Bruck.

“The week preceding the Grand Final was chock-full of drama.

Magpies, in their third year in the competition, had staged a withering run after the Christmas break,  sneaking into the four at the death-knock, at the expense of unlucky Moyhu Gold.

They defeated Rovers Brown in a fiery semi-final clash, which saw three of their players – Jack McDonald, Peter Larkins and captain John Holloway – reported by umpire Bill Daly, for disputing an LBW decision against Graham Kerr.

All of them escaped with a reprimand, and were able to take their place in the Grand Final.

Bruck, led by Mac Holten, were the favourites going into the game, and they battled hard to contain Magpies to a score of 170. Jack Isles, with a handy 32, was the main thorn in Bruck’s side.

Bruck were always in contention, but were unable to gain the upper hand against some superb bowling from Jack McDonald, who finished with 8/67.

Bruck, at stages appeared to be on the verge of victory, but fell agonisingly short, by six runs……”

Magpies 170 defeated Bruck 164.

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1959/60: Rovers v Bruck

“Chasing their second successive flag, Rovers pacemen Jim Horne and Jim Chapman cut a swathe through the Bruck batting line-up to dismiss them for a paltry 90.

The swing of Horne (4/36) and the fire of Chapman (3/30) had given the Hawks the ascendency, but Bruck hit back well to have Rovers 5/14 at one stage, then 6/64 at stumps on the first day.

Jack Beeby (7/45) was the wrecker, as Rovers limped to a four-run lead, thanks to a lone hand of 50 from Len Hill.

Bruck were sailing along well, at 5/106 in the second ‘dig’, but collapsed dramatically to be all out for 115.

Chapman, Len Hill and Bob Rose shared the spoils for the Hawks.

Rovers had some anxious moments in pursuit of 113, and slumped to 5/74.

On a wicket which was affected by overnight rain, the feature of the day was the batting display of Fred Booth, who was 31* when Rovers claimed victory. It was only in the last hour that the Hawks put the match beyond doubt………”img_4025.jpg

Rovers 94 and 6/114 defeated Bruck 90 and 115.

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1986/87: City Colts v Corowa.

“Corowa made history by reaching their first WDCA Final.

And although they were given a hammering by City Colts, local fans were soon to become used to the Border team winning their way through to the Grand Final.

Corowa could only muster 141, as Maurie Braden and Mick Lappin did the damage. Colts, who were also relative newcomers to the finals stage, gave themselves a fair chance. But this was one game where their batting line-up rose to the occasion.

Led by teen-ager Scott Clayton (146*), they amassed a huge 414, with Maurie Braden (97), Russell Harris (76) and John Hill (32) joining the action.

Rod Lane, who was to join Carlton the following season, toiled manfully to finish with 6/100……..”IMG_4026

City Colts 414 defeated Corowa 141.

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2001/02: Wangaratta-Magpies v Rovers-United.

“One of the great WDCA Grand Finals went right down to the wire, in a low-scoring encounter.

Magpie star Duane Kerwin held his side’s innings together with a fine undefeated 73, to guide them to a respectable total of 151 after they had slumped to 5/55. Hawk speedmen Adam Booth, Peter Harvey and Trevor Anderson shared the bowling honours with three wickets apiece.

Rovers-United, 2/18 overnight, had slumped to 4/24 the next morning. Dogged right-hand opener Anthony Lawler then stepped up and proved the unlikely hero for the Hawks.

Recalled to the side after the unavailability of Peter Tossol, Lawler’s 61 was an innings of patience and defiance.

Even so, the Hawks still needed 12 runs for victory when the last pair, Peter Harvey and Adam Booth came together.IMG_4027

It was Harvey who hit the winning runs to take Rovers-United to a dramatic victory, despite the lion-hearted effort of ‘Pies quickie Tim Sheldon, who finished with 6/34……..”

Rovers-United 9/153 defeated Wangaratta-Magpies 151.

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2011/12: City Colts v Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

“City Colts suffered Grand Final pain for the 4th consecutive year, after losing a nail-biting clash with Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

The Lakers caused one of the upsets of the season, at the most appropriate time, with a Marcus Hargreaves spell on the opening day proving the catalyst to their four-wicket win.

Hargreaves took 5/47 in a 24-over spell, to help restrict Colts to 177 off 75 overs. Colts flew away to a good start, with openers Jeremy Carr and Nick Norris crafting a 40-run stand. It was left to veterans Scott Clayton and Justin Solimo to steady the ship, but the going was slow.

Luckily, the tail wagged, to push the score to 177.

In reply, the Lakers also found difficulty in breaking the shackles, but Daniel Athanitis (33), Lee Fraser (34) and Dwayne Duxson kept them within reach of a competitive total.

But they still needed 33 off 8 overs when Fraser was dismissed, and youngster Paddy Martin strode to the crease.IMG_4029

Whereas the batting over the two days had been circumspect, Martin cleared the field with some excellent hitting. Nineteen balls later, the game was over. Martin’s quickfire 26 and Duxson’s dogged, unbeaten 39 had taken the Lakers to their first WDCA flag……”

Yarrawonga-Mulwala 6/179 defeated City Colts 177

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2018/19: City Colts v Yarrawonga-Magpies.

“Who will write the next chapter in the WDCA Grand Final story……?”

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‘DIAMOND DES………’

It was the famous American humorist Mark Twain who once pronounced that : ‘Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated……’.

Des Griffin relates to this line. He was flicking through the national newspapers one Monday morning in 1974, when he read that he’d been killed in a car accident two nights earlier.

“I felt pretty crook,” he jokes. “But I wasn’t that bloody crook……..”

I’ll let ‘Diamond’ take up the story.

“ We’d been down to watch Hawthorn play their first game at their new ‘home’ – Princes Park – and it’d been a pretty solid day….and night. I don’t remember much about what happened, but from all reports I went through the windscreen of a car on the corner of Reid and Murphy Streets around about midnight, and ended up in hospital.”

“Apparently, when the journos rang the nurses to receive an update on my health the next day, they were told I’d suffered facial injuries. They misinterpreted that to be fatal injuries.”

He spent 4-5 days in hospital, and the docs patched up his dilapidated dial with 173 stitches. All he was interested in at the end, was ‘going home to see Mum’. Long-suffering Pat Griffin, who had enough on her plate keeping tabs on eight kids, gave him a good dressing-down – and a lecture on the perils of the demon drink…………
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That’s just one of the many adventures of ‘Diamond Des’, who enlivened local sport for more than three decades…. He was solid – and unspectacular – on the field, but a gem off it….. Someone who could brighten the darkest moments and find a way to bring the shyest of kids out of their shell.

The Griffins were raised on a Boorhaman farm, but when Des’s dad became ill they moved into town. That’s when he ran into Norm Minns, a rep for Dickens and Carey (a homewares firm), who occasionally visited the family home in Greta Road.IMG_3946

Norm, a football disciple, if ever there was one, invited 15 year-old Des to have a run with Junior Magpies. A year or so later, he gave his recruit – and his mates – the imposing task of finding a new Junior League coach, to fill a vacancy on the eve of the season.
“I’ll give you a week to find one,” said Norm.

“We started hunting around, and got a few knock-backs. Finally, we went to see Ron Wales and told him how desperate we were. He said he’d try it for a year. Nearly two decades later, he was still coaching………….”
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But Des didn’t hang around long enough to soak up much of his new coach’s footy wisdom, as he joined the Rovers five weeks into the season. At the time, he was the ‘baby’ of the all-conquering United WDCA cricket side, and several of his team-mates were Hawk stars. So that’s where he headed.

He loved his four years at the Rovers, but when his cricket captain John Welch, who had taken the footy coaching job at Tarrawingee, put the hard word on him to play, he couldn’t resist.

“I signed up for two dozen Long-Necks, and it was the best decision I ever made,” says ‘Diamond’, who was to spend 16 years with the Tricolors.

He was occasionally tempted to leave. He had a cousin playing with Hopefield-Buraja, and was talked into signing Clearance Forms to go there a couple of times. But, when it came to the crunch he stayed – particularly when, on each occasion, a box of Long-Necks was dangled in front of him.

In fact, Des timed his arrival perfectly at Tarra. They hadn’t won a flag for eleven years, but coach Welch, who was a master-recruiter, had assembled a quality line-up.

“We lost the first two games, though, and, as a result, Welchy, who hadn’t played for some time, surprisingly selected himself in a forward pocket. He just wanted to set the example of how to attack the ball ferociously, even though he had a bung leg.”IMG_3951

“We soon got the message, and turned the corner…..Then he hung up his boots again,” Des recalls.

Beechworth were the form side in ‘75, but Tarra overcame them in the Second Semi – thanks to a six goal haul from diminutive rover ‘Curly’ Kerris.

And the Bullies were too tough and tenacious when the sides tangled again in the Grand Final. Des played a starring role in the centre, and managed to overcome some close attention from his Bomber opponent, fearsome Frankie Marinucci.IMG_3953

It had been 11 years since the flag had flown at Tarra, and the club celebrated accordingly. With talent in abundance, you’d think that more premierships would follow, but they succumbed to Beechworth in successive Elimination Finals and were to wait 15 years for another tilt at the flag.

But ‘Diamond’ continued to be one of their shining stars.

Local sporting legend Mick Wilson recalls watching him play in the late-seventies:

“He was Tarra’s captain for a few years and a real spiritual leader, “ Mick says. “Strong and fearless; a bit of a hero to us kids – and a terrific role model. No matter how bad the situation got on-field, ‘Griffo’ always remained positive…….Then, after games, with sufficient liquid fortification, he’d grab hold of the mike and belt out his repertoire of songs, like ‘Johnny Be Good’ or ‘Get a little dirt on your hands’……..”IMG_3948

“He coached Tarra Thirds when they started up. He’d pile a few kids in the back of a Panel Van and head off to away games. Myself, my brothers Joe and Waldo, and Robbie Hickmott were only little tackers then, but he made sure we were just as much part of the group as the older kids.”

“ He emphasised getting enjoyment out of the game. They’d be getting belted, but he’d say: ‘Don’t worry about the scoreboard, just play footy’……….“
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Des juggled playing seniors and coaching the Reserves for the last three years of his 300-game career with the Dogs, then was enticed into Wangaratta, to coach their Reserves for two seasons.

Again Tarrawingee came calling. He coached for three years ( 1992-94 ) during some fairly bleak times. “ ‘Diamond’ could coach, no worries about that, but we just didn’t have the cattle,” said one old Dog.IMG_3950

He returned to Wang for another two-year stint as Reserves coach, then headed across the laneway to be Runner and assistant to an old mate, Greg Rosser, with the Rovers Twos.

His son Trav was, by now, playing at King Valley, so Des found himself linked up with the Roos, as Chairman of Selectors to Mick Newton.

Then it was back to his original ‘home’ again, as the right-hand man to Rovers Thirds coach, Johnny McNamara……
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Footy clubs recognised that ‘Diamond’ was a good man to have around, and the same could be said about his lengthy involvement in cricket.

He was a left-hand bat, and didn’t deem it necessary to wear gloves, thigh pad or helmet. It would be an apt description of his batting that he wielded the wand with reasonable proficiency. But his greatest asset was as a team-lifting captain.

There was always plenty of mirth amongst he and his team-mates when they were batting. In the field, he’d be forever talking things up and encouraging the youngsters.

He played six years for the newly-formed Tarrawingee when they joined the Sunday competition, but spent most of his career with United, which morphed into Rovers-United in 1988/89.

“A few of the old United blokes weren’t too happy when the merge came about with the Rovers. We were always arch rivals. But I didn’t mind it one bit,” he says.

He was handed a new nickname – ‘Dezzy Whites’ – when he’d follow up the after-match drinks with a session at the ‘Pino’, then a Mixed Grill at a Murphy Street cafe – still clad in full cricket regalia….. And in his younger days, a visit  to the Saturday night dance in his grass-stained whites was also on the cards.

He ran the club’s juniors for five years, eventually playing with most of them after he’d slid back through the ranks to be captain of the C-Grade team.

In his last season – 2001/02 – he led them to a flag. They’d scored three for plenty  after the first day’s play, and the opposition enquired as to whether a declaration might be in the offing, early on the second day.

“Yeah, about 10-to,” he replied. “Okay, 10-to what ?, “ they queried.  “10 to 6……..”
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‘Diamond’ prized the Life Memberships he received from Tarra Football and Rovers-United Cricket clubs.

A new job with Veolia, required him to travel the nation, overseeing the materials required to repair Kilns and Furnaces on Mine-Sites. A mine shut-down sometimes took four weeks, so he was away for long periods.

He’s still working, but taking things a bit easier now, giving he and Carol time to spend with their four kids and 10 grand-kids. And he still keeps a close eye on the fortunes of his old clubs……IMG_3943

ANDO TURNS BACK THE CLOCK

It was the sort of comeback that can bring a tear to the eye of an old cricket buff.

Forty three year-old Trevor Anderson, defying his aching limbs, in a meritorious effort of stamina and discipline, bowled Rovers-United to victory yesterday.

‘Ando’ and his pace-bowling cohort Simon Godfrey were the architects of a stunning turn-around which saw Greta lose 6/14 in 13.4 overs of high drama.

I didn’t give them a chance.

After all, when you’re defending just 77 and the opposition needs a measly 19 runs with 6 wickets in hand, you’re up against it.

But before I rave on too much, I’d like to set the scene for this extraordinary passage of play.

‘Ando’ is no stranger to the W.J.Findlay Oval. The nephew of one of the greats of North-East cricket, Trevor Donovan, he came through the junior grades with United. And when the newly-merged Rovers-United took the field in 1989/90, he was there, listed as player number 1 of the 150-odd who have worn the Navy,Red and Gold in the club’s 25-year history.

He took 3/23 in the 2001/02 premiership win and had played a significant part in reaching that Grand Final by running through Corowa in the semi, with figures of 5/22.

So,the boy could bowl.

After a brief spell at Bruck he presumably hung up his boots, but answered the call when Rovers-United were short of numbers in C-grade in 2010.

He’s been there for the best part of five years and, thoroughly enjoying it, intended to play out what remains of his career in those hardly-stressful environs.

But a mini-crisis occurred a fortnight ago when the A-Grade side lost two players on the eve of the game. ‘Ando’ and his team-mate/work-mate Brad Miller were called up. It was ‘Goochy’s senior debut, ‘Ando’s’ first senior game with the Combine for 12 years.

I watched him mark out his 20-metre run-up, take the new ball and prepare for action. Nothing had changed. He had that customary stutter at the commencement of his charge to the wicket, gathered a full head of steam and dropped straight onto a good length.

He still has that prized asset for a left-armer, of being able to swing the ball away from the right-hander and it causes plenty of headaches when able to be delivered with some control.

Trouble is, he’s always been on the end of bad luck. If there’s a catch to be dropped, it’s often at his expense.

He had a couple of chances grassed last week, but, after 30 overs he and his fellow toilers had done well to curtail Greta to 4/59, as they crawled to what appeared to be a certain victory.

Within two overs of the re-commencement of play yesterday, ‘Ando’ had removed the dangerous Chris O’Connor – 5/60 . Two runs later he enticed a nick from Matt Gathercole – the pressure was mounting. It was 7/66 when he accepted a return catch from Ryan Bromilow – the pendulum had swung in the home side’s direction. And even more so when Godfrey bowled top-scorer Lochie Hadden with no addition.

The final two wickets fell on 73. Fittingly, when Tom Williams dived sideways to snare Ossie Ramage, ‘Ando’ was embraced from all quarters by ecstatic fielders. He was suitably chuffed.

The reliable Godfrey had sent down 15 overs and was rewarded with 4/19. His veteran partner-in-crime boasted stats that he would probably have only imagined in his wildest dreams – 17.4 overs, 7 maidens, 5/29.

‘Ando’ settled down to deliberate on what had unfolded, as he pensively dragged on a few ‘gaspers’. In times gone by it would have heralded a ‘night on the tear’, but those days are well behind him.

He watched as Rovers-United started their second innings slowly, but built momentum to finish the day at 4/153. Encouragingly , youngsters Josh Schonafinger (51) and Luke Whitten (50) scored their maiden WDCA half-centuries, to top off what had been a super day for the Hawks.
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