‘….A STAR FROM THE VFA’S HALCYON DAYS……..’

“Just be careful,” said Colin Hobbs.

Hobbsy was an ex-Fitzroy player with a take-no-prisoners demeanour, and a fierce forearm that bounced off the head of opposition players with the dexterity of a violin bow: “There are some blokes in this competition who can be very nasty.”

A Preston ruck-rover by the name of Rod Cobain had gone mental, first accusing me of ‘sinking the slipper’, then yelling ‘I’m gonna get ya’ with such rapidity I had every reason to believe he meant it………….”

From: ‘Cleary, Independent,’ by Phil Cleary.

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Hey, surely this couldn’t be the same ‘Coey’, who’s always come across – to me, anyway – as a mild-mannered, cheerful souI. I seek clarification…….

“Yes”, he admits, “I did go off that day. I’d actually played with Colin Hobbs at Fitzroy, but he was Coburg’s captain at the time. Phil Cleary had done the wrong thing by one of my team-mates, Peter Weightman. My blood boiled, and I sought a bit of retribution.”

The early seventies were the halcyon days of the VFA . Sunday football was in its infancy; Channel 0 used to broadcast the game of the day; the competition cultivated personalities such as Freddie Cook, ‘Frosty’ Miller,  Bob Johnson and Harold Martin. Big crowds, big betting, plentiful fisticuffs and ample blood-letting were the order of the day.

And Rod Cobain was one of its stars…………..

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He was just a nipper when he began his regular winter Saturday routine; venturing along to watch South Melbourne in action. His grandfather had played a game or two with St.Kilda earlier in the century, but his dad was a passionate Swan and decked the young bloke out in a Red and White guernsey, with the number 32 of his favourite player – Ken Boyd.

Rod began with Preston Scouts, home club of the legendary Ronald Dale Barassi. With three of his mates – Barry Padley, John Benison and Paul O’Brien, he attended Lakeside High School. They all moved on to Fitzroy Thirds, and were later to play VFL footy together with the Lions.

He was rewarded with his first League game in 1966. Named on the bench, against Collingwood at Victoria Park, he got his opportunity after half-time, and sidled down to the forward pocket, to be confronted by the gargantuan figure of the Pies’ resting ruckman, Ray Gabelich.

‘Gabbo’s’ greeting was hardly conciliatory: “Have a look at what they’ve brought on here,” he sniggered to his side-kick, full back Peter Rosenbrock.

“Thankfully, our coach Billy Stephen shifted me to centre half forward shortly after, and I felt a bit more at ease,” Rod says.IMG_3417

Stephen, who had led Yarrawonga to the 1959 O & M flag during his seven years with the Pigeons, was ‘Coey’s’ coach for the entirety of his VFL career.

“He was a lovely, caring fellah, Bill. Very sincere. But, at the end of the day, he was probably too nice to be a League coach.”

“Our only win for the season came a fortnight after my debut. It was against Footscray, at the Western Oval. I’ve lined up at centre half back, on Ted Whitten, who was every bit as fierce as they say. I had the temerity to mark over him once and, as I tumbled to the ground he muttered: “You do that again and I’ll knock your f…….  head off.”

Later that year, the Lions’ bade adieu to their spiritual home – Brunswick Street Oval. In another promising display – and against the odds – 20 year-old Cobain picked up 17 possessions and five marks in an 84-point whalloping by St Kilda.IMG_3423

“It was an emotional day for the fans, for sure. But the issue that dominated post-match discussion was the report of Big Carl Ditterich for ‘snotting’ our mid-fielder Daryl Peoples. It kept Carl out of St.Kilda’s premiership side a few weeks later,” Rod recalls.

At 6’0” and 13 stone, he reckons he was best suited to the centre, or ruck-roving, but the Lions had a dearth of talent and he was used in most positions.IMG_3425

They finished last, 11th, 11th and 10th in his three and a bit seasons, and savoured success on just five occasions in his 27 games. But the memory of playing on such icons as Barassi, Whitten, Baldock, Denis Marshall and Sergio Silvagni as a slight youngster in his first couple of VFL seasons, ranks among his fondest footy memories.IMG_3426

When Cobain and Fitzroy parted company mid-way through 1969, he was recruited to Box Hill and produced some blinding form. In the eight games remaining, he finished third in the VFA’s Second Division Field Trophy.

He had been one of their guns in a 44 game, 3-year stint, but Box Hill plunged into deep financial trouble and were confronted with with a mass player walk-out. Preston, the neighbourhood club of his boyhood days, snapped up he and his old Fitzroy team-mate Garry Smith.

There was a fair lift in standard between the Second and First Divisions, but Rod fitted in comfortably  with the Bullants.

“It was good footy; nice and tough, and Preston were a fairly strong side. The coach there was Bob Syme, a former Essendon star and a bit of a character. He was as rough as a pair of hessian underpants, and fairly demanding.”

“On a cold day, he’d occasionally produce a bottle of Scotch, wrapped in a paper bag, and pass it around the three quarter-time huddle. You had to be careful that there wasn’t a TV camera pointed in your direction.”

Rod had played 58 games with Preston, and was entrenched as a teacher at Box Hill Tech, when he gave consideration to a couple of job offers. One was at Sunshine Tech; the other came from Wangaratta – and sounded appealing.

Unbeknowns to him, Keith Bradbury, the local MLA – and a Magpie supporter – was doing a bit behind the scenes to facilitate a transfer to Wangaratta. In the blink of an eye he’d been transferred to Wang Tech School and accepted the role as assistant-coach of the ‘Pies.

Wangaratta had been there or thereabouts for the previous four years, without posing a serious threat to the dominant Rovers. But, with a new coach, Phil Nolan, a Morris Medal-winning centreman in Jack O’Halloran, and an emerging group, they overcame all obstacles to march into the 1976 Grand Final.

There to meet them were the Hawks, who had battled through a bruising finals series, and still remained an ominous foe.

Wangaratta took charge of the game early, and at half-time led by four goals. The huge crowd settled down in anticipation of another spirited Rovers comeback. But this time it didn’t eventuate. The Pies cruised to the line, winning by 37 points.

For Rod Cobain, it was his maiden flag; a memorable moment in a fine career.

He had barely finished celebrating when Yarrawonga came knocking. They were searching for a replacement for their retiring leader, Bill Sammon, and were adamant that ‘Coey’ was their man.IMG_3432

The prospect of coaching sounded attractive, and he admired their approach. “From the moment I took the job on, the Yarra people were terrific,” he recalls.

“We finished in the finals both years, and I really enjoyed my time there. Leo Burke, the President, was a lovely fellah and really looked after us. After home games we’d socialise at the Clubrooms, then at Leo’s pub. “

“Around one o’clock I’d retire to my room. Shortly after, there’d be a knock on the door and Leo would be holding a huge crayfish and some Crown Lagers. Then we’d replay the game.”

“If you asked me for a summation of my coaching though, I’d say I was a bit too easy on the players.”

Rod returned to Wangaratta in 1979, and limped through the season. His 33 year-old body was ‘shot’, and he decided to hang up his boots.

He embarked on the next chapter of his football journey when 3NE approached he and Peter McCudden to call the O & M’s Game of the Day, in the early eighties.

Both TAFE teachers, and well-versed in the nuances of footy, they became the voice of the local game for 15 years or so. Their coverage was often jovial, sometimes opiniated, mostly spot-on, and easy on the ear.

Additionally, they ran a Thursday evening program with Mike Walsh. Besides announcing the teams for Saturday’s games, interviews were conducted with many of footy’s biggest names, including Sheedy, Kekovich, Whitten, ‘Crackers’ Keenan, Parkin and a host of local personalities.

When 3NE controversially pulled the plug on football, the ‘Cuddles and Coey Show’ was shelved. Rod drifted away from footy. But his enthusiasm was re-ignited a few years ago, when his son Ryan began to make his way through the Bushrangers, and into the Rovers senior side.IMG_1534

He and wife Jenny agree that the silky-smooth left-footer is clearly enjoying his best season, despite the obstacles of settling into a new job, and travelling home from Melbourne each Saturday.

As for Rod, he still gets the same buzz out of footy  that he did when he was a little tacker, following the fortunes of the Swans at the Lake Oval……………….IMG_3421

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAWKS OUTLAST PIES IN ANZAC-EVE THRILLER

Mark Nolan played 56 senior games with the Wangaratta Rovers as a dependable half back flanker.

However, ‘Pecker’ was no overnight sensation. He spent a lengthy apprenticeship in the lower grades before earning his spurs and cementing a spot; eventually playing a role in the Hawks’ 1994 premiership.

He never harboured any regrets about cutting his O & M career short whilst at his top, and heading out to North Wangaratta, where he starred for many years.

But his heart always remained with the Rovers. When his son Will, who has been showing a bit in the Thirds, was selected to make his debut against the Magpies on Sunday, there was no one prouder than the old ‘Pecker’.

And his heart no doubt thumped a bit quicker when the slender left-footer with the stand-out dreadlocks adapted so easily to the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the ‘Derby’ clash.

In the last quarter, the game was in the balance, as the Hawks fought hard to wrest back the eight-point lead that Wangaratta had established.

They started to get on a roll and reduced the margin with a fine goal. Then, young Will, finding himself in the clear, ran on to a pass at centre half forward and drilled home the inspirational ‘sausage’ that gave his side the lead.

In that moment, Mark Nolan would have experienced as big a thrill as he did when the final siren blew on that blustery day in 1994……..

 

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The Rovers’ 23-point win was a tribute to the persistence and discipline of a young side. But they were aware that a set of circumstances combined to swing the pendulum in their favour.

Firstly, the Magpies lost one of their real hard-nuts – Matty Kelly – before the game. The gritty mid-fielder seems to save some of his best footy for the Rovers, and was sadly missed at the coal-face.

Then, gun recruit Michael Newton went down in the opening minutes with a calf injury. He was to play no further part in the game.

And, as the match was reaching its climax, Chris Zane’s knee-cap popped and he was stretchered from the ground mid-way through the final quarter.

That only added to the drama and intrigue of what had been a rip-roaring contest between the arch rivals.

Wangaratta had been impressive in stretching tough opposition in their first four games. With a bit of luck they could have been sitting second. Instead, with a win and a draw, there was a question mark over their credentials. Were they the real deal ?

 

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No more than 10 points separated the two sides for the majority of the game, and the lead was swapped on many occasions. The intensity of the arm-wrestle led to heaps of errors, which, in turn, kept the sun-baked crowd enthralled.

The ‘Pies were, perhaps, surprised that they were unable to shake the Hawks off. Many of their attacking thrusts were launched from deep in defence by the dashing Matt Grossman, with his metre-devouring runs.

But a staunch Rovers defensive six met them with resilience. They were led by the broad-shouldered Michael Clarke, who has been a terrific player in his re-incarnation as a Hawk.

Previously he was recognised as a fleet-footed winger. Now, with the addition of a few kilos and a mature attitude, he sticks tight, punches strategically and gives nothing away. James Smith, in his 50th game, proved a handy side-kick.

There were a few heroes for the Hawks, including another debutant – Isaac Willett – who earned plaudits from his coaches for the way he settled in.

The blond-haired Willett proved earlier this year in another sport, that he was not fazed by coping with a lift in standard. He went from local cricket to Essendon’s District team and handled it with ease.

In a crucial moment in the highly-charged final quarter, he capped his game by running with the flight of the ball on the half-back line, intercepted his opponent’s marking attempt, played on and found a team-mate. The alternative was that, had the ‘Pie marked, he had options galore further afield.

Sharing my vote for best-afield was captain Shane Gaston who turned in another clinker, both in the ruck and around the ground. Even the super-optimistic ‘Gatto’, though, would have doubted his chances of kicking a goal from the Showgrounds-side boundary line in the final term.

The Hawks needed it to stay within touch. He lined up and threaded the Sherrin through. The stuff of a true leader.

Equally as proficient was rangy Ryan Cobain, who continued his good form and exemplified his quality with five magnificent goals – two of them in the six goals-to-one last quarter.

He has a knack of making position well and being able to produce something out of nothing. The inter-league selectors would do well to keep him in the back of their minds if they need players at the last-minute.

Not far behind him was Sean O’Keeffe, who continually mopped up and found a target with his deadly left foot. ‘Okey’ is a father-figure in this youthful side.

But really, it was hard-tackling and concentration which earned the Hawks the points.

Co-coach Sam Carpenter, in lauding his charges in the packed rooms after the game, said : “It’s a credit to you that you really attacked the contest well for 120 minutes. People say that we’re young and inexperienced, but if we play footy like that, we’re going to be hard to knock off.”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUPERB HAWKS CLINCH THIRD WIN

Mount Buffalo and a snow-capped Hotham reached resplendently towards a cloudless blue sky in the sunny Ovens Valley yesterday.

The twin peaks provided a graceful, towering backdrop to the clash between the Ovens and Murray’s cellar dwellers, Myrtleford and Wangaratta Rovers, at a well-grassed, but greasy, McNamara Oval.

Opinion amongst the media experts was unanimous – it was all Myrtleford – and with some justification, I suppose.

The Hawks had dropped their last five games, as had the Saints. But the League’s most distinct home ground advantage was enough reason for them to plump for the boys from the hills.

Almost from the first bounce, the Rovers were in command. The player who stood out in early exchanges was sleek left-footer Ryan Cobain, who must have gathered six or seven telling possessions, and drove his side deep into attack.

Surprisingly, he always found himself well clear of his opponent, and his disposals seemed to find their mark.

The Saints don’t boast a large reservoir of talent and the absence of reliable goal-kicker Jarred Hayze ( away on fire-fighting duties in Canada) and competitive ruckman Matt Dussin, was a telling blow.

In fact, they were probably kept in the game by indefatigable co-coach Brad Murray, whose spirited tussle with Dylan Wilson was proving to be a real highlight.

So typical of the form pattern of this developing Rovers team is that they are capable of producing 20 minutes or so of finals football. Then they can allow their opponent back into the game through inexplicable lapses in concentration.

Experience will eradicate this.

After an impressive opening term, the Hawks looked ‘on song’. They led by six points, were well in command in the mid-field and their pressure was good.

But could they ‘maintain the rage’ ?

Wisened old supporters, who don’t need these fluctuations of form to test their already questionable stress levels, pondered that question at the break.

No, things were improving as the day wore on. They went out to a 38- point lead at half-time with some polished play up forward.

A telling moment in the context of the game came courtesy of a rugged collision between the dynamic Murray and Brydon Robbins. The young Hawk commendably stood his ground in a collision which saw both players depart the ground.

For the Saints’ newly re-appointed leader it was bad news. A suspected A-C joint injury which could keep him out for several weeks and quash his chances of becoming a dual Morris Medallist.

But he was the player who was doing his darndest to keep his side in the game and they certainly lacked leadership upon his departure.

Robbins, also, failed to re-appear. Hopefully, his diagnosis won’t be as severe.

Myrtleford’s most productive period of the game came in the early stages of the third term. They attacked for a good 10 minutes but could register only 1.5.

The more sceptical of the Hawk supporters were wondering whether this was going to be a reverse of the Findlay Oval encounter earlier in the season, when they ran down the Saints in a miraculous comeback.

But no. Having weathered the initial onslaught, thanks to some brilliance in defence from Sean O’Keeffe, Nick Henderson and co, they stretched their lead to 44 points at the final break and had snuffed out any chance of a Myrtleford revival.

O’Keeffe again emphasised what a master he is at reading the play. He is the ‘Director of Affairs’ in defence and rarely wasted a disposal, in another telling performance. It convinced Rovers fans that, surely, he will be able to prolong his magnificent career by one more year.

The superb run of form of Alex Marklew continued. His last half-dozen games have taken him to another level and his work on-ball and up-forward was inspirational. On a couple of occasions, he burst away, bounced the ball and kicked to advantage. Two fine goals were the icing on the cake.

I loved the display of skipper Shane Gaston, who dominated the hit-outs and picked up plenty of kicks around the ground. He has grown, over the past couple of years, into an inspirational leader.

But really, the Hawks didn’t have a passenger. Dale Martin is another whose game has grown over the season. His work in close was good and he appreciated having his old cohort Luke Peters back in the line-up.

Lochie Dornauf used his body well in one-out duels, to convert on a couple of occasions and finished with four goals. Dylan Wilson was tigerish all day; Nick Henderson capped another solid game with a long goal; Michael Powell continued to grow in confidence ; Dan McCullough and Dylan Stone, both players of class, were always dangerous and both booted a couple of majors; Coen Hennessey had his moments, the pacy Stuart Booth looked the goods, as did Darcy Booth, who used handball to advantage on many occasions.

My pick for BOG in the 77-point triumph.  I’d go for Cobain, who turned in a fine four-quarter display. He beat off a few contenders.

The lack of pressure applied by the Saints must have disappointed their heirarchy and was, by all reports, their worst game of the season.

2014 Morris Medallist Kristan Height, who looked to be a bit proppy, gave his all and attempted to bring his team-mates into the game. The Sharp twins showed a bit at times and are players of potential.

But too photomany players made little, or no contribution.

The Hawks ? They’ll go into the ‘Derby’ clash this Sunday, with renewed confidence. If they can repeat the consistency that they showed at McNamara Reserve, they must be a chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAWKS CLINCH A THRILLER

Can there be a more inhospitable place than Birallee Park on an early winter’s day ?

Or more particularly, near the Public Bar, where the congregation of Wodonga Raiders supporters are among the most biting, raucous and biased in the League.

They’re up and about this year, the boys in Red and Blue. After a couple of super-lean years, the advent of new coach Darryn Cresswell and a swag of recruits has given them a fresh lease of life.

Today they brought in former Sydney Swan Paul Bevan and the quaintly-named Yarran Jaffer-Williams from Sydney University. The Border-Mail’s six experts plumped for the home team. Seemingly the Rovers had little chance.

But I liked the great Leigh Matthews summation during the week……………”Even if you’re a 1,000 -to 1 chance, you’re still a chance”…

And after the first 10 minutes, the Hawks’ odds had rapidly blown out towards three figures.

With big Dean Heta reigning supreme at the centre bounce and ramming the ball down the throats of their eager mid-fielders, the Raiders  had three goals on the board almost before the Rovers had ventured inside the 50-metre arc.

These ‘inactive’ periods of 10-20 minutes have proved costly for them this season, as opposition sides have wrenched the initiative away from a young group.

But suddenly, a change came over the game.

I reckon the main factor was that the Rovers collectively lifted in their attack on the ball and man. Their tackling was frenzied and, I think, surprised the Raiders with its intensity.

It was to be well over a quarter before the home team scored a goal. In that time the Hawks booted four and found a couple of tall targets near the goal-mouth.

Shane Gaston, who had moved down forward, marked strongly and kicked truly. Ryan Cobain was also conspicuous with a couple of timely grabs.

That ‘Gatto’ had been able to be spared from the ruck was because second-gamer Chris Knowles was providing a contest in his stead.

It’s a bit of a quirk of mine that I see the mannerisms of old stars in the new arrivals. For instance, 19 year-old Tyler Lowe reminds me of recently-departed Johnny Conroy.

And I see a lot of Barry ‘Satch’ Sullivan in young Knowles’ palming of the ball and general work around the packs. Might I add, not many people would be in a position to argue with this, as ‘Sully’ was a premiership ruckman of 50 years ago.

At half-time the margin favouring the Hawks was seven points. They were again being tirelessly served by Sean O’Keeffe, whose left boot sent them forward time and again. ‘Okey’s’ uncanny ability to read the play and bring others into the game was on display today.

Another factor in the revival was the contribution of Alex Marklew, who found form with a bang. Freed from the pressures that accompany being ‘the man’ up forward, he roamed the wings and flanks and picked up a swag of possessions.

Dale Martin, who is playing the best footy of his 86-game career at present, was assisted off with a nasty-looking ankle injury, which, of course, restricted options on the bench. It was a telling blow.

After the Hawks had kicked a couple of goals clear in the third term, the Raiders pegged them back and it was anyone’s game at three-quarter time.

It really boiled down to which side could assume control. Neither appeared likely to yield.

The Raiders finally regained the lead in the dying stages of the game and looked a real chance to cling onto it. The Hawks’ intensity had probably dropped off a bit and the little breaks had started to go the R’ way  of the home team.

In one of the final, telling acts of an engrossing game, a Rovers forward thrust ended with the ball in the hands of Cam Bishop, 45 metres out from goal.

‘Bish’ had spent the last game in the Reserves. Whilst not entirely contented with his form this season, he was grateful to be re-instated to the seniors and happier still that he was lining up for goal.

The pressure was on the tall, slim, number 25 . His side trailed by a point.

He threaded it through and had guided the Hawks to a thrilling five-point victory.

There were plenty of heroes for the Rovers, but it was exciting to see that all of the youngsters stood up in a tight contest.

I liked the poise and creativeness of Dylan Stone…the telling possessions of James Smith…the ease with which Tristan Lenaz and Chris Knowles have adapted to senior football… the improvement shown by Nick Henderson and Brad Collihole.

So the intrigue of season 2015 continues. Just two games separate the Third and the bottom-placed teams and upsets come by the week.

There are no cheap games in O &M football.

 

 

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