“PURE FANTASY ?……HAWKS AND PIGEONS IN A NAIL-BITER…….”

Rovers fans have been sweating on this day for more than four months.

After another fruitful recruiting campaign, which has netted more than a dozen newcomers, there’s an air of optimism at the Findlay Oval.

And you pick up the positive vibe as you walk into the ground. They’re doing a roaring trade in Member’s Tickets and you detect a buzz about the place. It’s great to catch up with some of the old-timers who have been seemingly welded to their favourite vantage spots for more than 30 years.

Rex Hartwig is one who has a spring in his step. Old Rex celebrated his 90th birthday during the footy hiatus . But he has a glint in his eye, akin to the focus he had in his halcyon sporting days when he’d face off against tennis legends Kramer, Segura, Gonzales and Sedgman.

Of course, there’s a good reason for Rex’s enthusiasm. His grandson Tyson is back, after a sabbatical of four years. Tys has done it all with the Hawks – Captain, champion defender, Best and Fairest, All-Australian Country rep…… Now he just wants to add to the 139 games he has accumulated…and play a part in the revival of his home club.

I stumble upon another permanent fixture; perched on the steel railing to the left of the Hogan Stand. That’s been Steve Norman’s domain ever since he hung up the boots.

He used to say how handy it was because he was within reaching distance of the Can-Booth, and right in the midst of the most one-eyed section of the crowd. Most of his fellow-protagonists of yore, like Herbie Day, Alfie Onslow, ‘Spud’ Patat, Theo Hall and Ken Johnstone have gone to their mortal coil, and others have drifted off, to be replaced by fans of a more tolerant bent.

No one was able to split the big sticks at his spiritual home quite like ‘Superboot Steve’. He had a sixth-sense. You don’t boot 1016 O & M goals without possessing something out of the box. He ‘owned’ the 50-metre arc, and his team-mates upfield could read him like a book.

There’s another bloke hobbling past who delivered a fair few of those ‘lace-up’ passes to Steve. It’s Andrew Scott, who’s become synonymous with the Rovers since he arrived in town as a ‘cop’ 45 years ago.

Geez he could play. In his first year with the Hawks he won the Morris Medal and became the idol of those hard-boiled fanatics around the Bar.

And he was so adaptable. In the latter part of his career he had a turn on the forward flank. He snagged a lazy 10 one day against Lavi, to the delight of the ‘diehards’ . The other thing about ‘Scotty’ was that he always rose to the big occasion when he was needed.

Get yakking to him and you wonder at first if he’s still carrying the weight of the footy club on his shoulders. But then he emits a huge belly-laugh, to lighten the situation. He’s continued to contribute to the Club, has this ‘rough-nut’ plumber . What an institution……. !

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Anyway, I’d better pop into the rooms to wish Sammy Carpenter all the best. Playing his 100th game today, is ‘Carps’. I don’t recall too many mediocre ones in that lot, either.

I know the veteran rates the ‘ton’ as a real highlight. He’s been a bit of a journeyman and must be nudging the 300-mark in his glittering career. There wouldn’t be a fan anywhere who doesn’t admire what ‘Croc’ has achieved.

I interrupt a chat with his old man – and greatest fan – Leigh (who also has young Sonny in tow), to shake his hand. He’s suitably chuffed and says he’s honoured to join the greats of the Club.

Heck, he’ll play an important role in this clash with Yarrawonga. His cool head will be a crucial asset, particularly considering there are so many new faces in the side.

There’s an electric atmosphere in the rooms. The Reserves have their game well in hand, so the fans have been drifting in to catch ‘Crezza’s’ pre-match build-up. It’s packed in here; you could cut the air with a knife.

One of the stars of the pre-season, in my book, has been the boy from Manley-Warringa, Tyrone Armitage. He’s a damaging left-footer who played with VFL club Northern Blues at one stage. I love his zest on the track and he seems to have fully ingratiated himself into the Club. It’ll be really interesting to see how he performs in this footy. I’m tipping he’ll be a star.

Glancing across the rooms, I guess this must be one of the tallest Rovers sides for some years. Besides young Ed Dayman and ‘Gatto’, there’s another giant in the ranks, Nick Redley from Langwarrin. Could be a surprise packet, this fellah.

I notice Ryan Stone edgily flicking the pill from hand to hand. It’s great to have him back. He developed into a top-flight player at Heidelberg since leaving the Hawks after the 2013 season. I’m sure he’s relishing the opportunity to play his first Senior game with the Rovers alongside his young brother, Dylan.

I sneak outside for a bit of fresh air and spot a familiar face ; underneath that trademark Pigeon cap, he’s wearing his usual pre-game furrowed brow. It’s old ‘Jinxy’ Clarke himself – one of Yarra’s best-known fans.

“Whattya reckon Jinx ?”. “Ah well, you blokes have had all the publicity about your recruiting, but we’re happy with what we’ve got,” he replies.

“Just remember,” he adds, “apart from those couple of hiccups last year, we had the wood on you for more than 10 years.”

I do remember, because ‘Jinx’ would remind me every time. “What’s that up to now ?…. 23 on the trot…….. ?”

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Not long after, the siren sounds to launch the 2020 opener.

It’s the usual nervy, frenetic start, but the Pigeons appear to have settled down nicely. Their first major comes from tall Matt Casey, who’s managed to find a yard on Hawk champ Nathan Cooper, and nails one from just 20 metres out.

There’s no doubt that the big wraps on their gun recruits Willie Wheeler and Leigh Masters are spot-on. Wheeler – and his brother Harry – are in everything in the mid-field, negating the ruck effectiveness of Dayman and Redley.

In fact, the Hawks look listless and a couple of sloppy turnovers prove costly. You can detect the blood of coach Cresswell rising, as normally cool customers make mistakes under pressure.

He gathers his troops at the quarter-time break for a good, old-fashioned rev. They’re 22 points down, the Hawks, and look a far-cry from the glamor-side they have been pronounced in pre-season tittle-tattle………..

Things don’t improve much early in the second term, either. But an intercept from veteran defender Sean O’Keeffe finds the ball in the hands of Carpenter, who feeds off to Sam Allen.

The long kick from the youngster – well beyond the 50-metre mark, sails through for a timely goal. Surely that will have the Hawks up and about.

Slowly they begin to creep back into the contest, despite not making a huge impact on the scoreboard.

Mark Whiley, Yarra’s first-year coach, has been in everything, as has the evergreen Xavier Leslie. Whiley is certainly an inspiration and Cresswell will need to make a move to shut down his effectiveness.

Despite the Rovers’ best efforts, the lead has crept out to 31 points at half-time.

The Hawks are quickly ushered into the coach’s room. Meanwhile, shell-shocked fans wait about, but it’s a good 12 minutes before they file out – suitably chastened and grimly determined……..

The third term produces a stunning turn-around. Shaggy-haired Will Nolan has been swung onto Whiley, and curbs his influence. And Tyson Hartwig begins to create a presence up forward.

Yarra’s dominance around the ball, which has given them control of the game, now wanes, as the dynamic Charlie Thompson, Jamason Daniels and Raven Jollife continually get their hands on the pill.

In a 16-minute burst, the Hawks have reduced the margin to less than a kick. By three-quarter time it’s the Pigeons who are looking rather ragged……..

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But they’re not done with yet……

They register early last-term goals through Jess Koopman and talented youngster Jack Sexton, to regain the ascendancy. Then, dashing Jack Gerrish takes possession from just beyond the half-back line and scoots off, dodging and side-stepping in typical fashion.

He’s within kicking distance ( there’s a player loose who he doesn’t see), and lines them up.

Goal !……… The faithful in the Maroney Pavilion rise as one.

The Hawks slot another, after Armitage swoops on the ball and kicks truly with his left boot from the angle.

It then becomes goal-for-goal, in what has become a classic contest.

Entering time-on, the Pigeons hold a slender four-point lead. Both sides are tired, but desperate, as the ball bobbles between the respective half-back lines.

I’m tuned in to OAK-FM and ‘Gamby’ breathlessly informs us that there are less than 15 seconds left.

Suddenly, Carpenter, the 100-gamer, retrieves the ball out of nowhere and spots Ed Dayman. A pass, delivered with surgical precision, thumps the young fellah on the chest….15 metres out….straight in front….just as the siren blares…….

What pressure !……..Big Ed lines them up and sneaks it through.

It’s a Hawk victory by two points……..!

‘HAWKS SAVOUR THE REWARDING TASTE OF VICTORY…..’

“Losing builds character;  losing week after week builds grace……. When the prospect of winning is there, when we can sniff the four points, things just seem to work better……… Kicks hit the target, marks stick and clearances are won. It makes the rare taste of victory all the more worthwhile and rewarding……”
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In a match that had minimal significance on the radar of the Ovens and Murray populace, North Albury and Wangaratta Rovers – situated eighth and ninth on the ladder – squared off at the Findlay Oval today.

It’s been a season from hell for these two proud clubs, combatants in three O & M Grand Finals, but they looked pretty evenly-matched. To paraphrase the Form Guide’s summation of a horse running at Rosehill today, they were: ‘…..Back in class in this one….. Not without a chance……’
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Talking about character, the Hawks were feting two of their own who have it in spades.

The respective journeys of Ben Kneebone and Sean O’Keeffe to the 150-game milestone is a study in contrasts, but a tribute to their deep love of the game and the Club.

Benny was in Year 8 when his fellow Wang High School student,’Okey’ was drafted to Carlton. He was, he says, in awe of the precocious talent of a kid who had already played senior footy with the Rovers at age 16 and was to go on to a stellar career in three states.

It included representing the Australian Under 18’s against Ireland in International Rules ;  playing AFL football ;  winning a Best & Fairest and successive VFL flags with Sandringham;  SANFL appearances with Sturt ;  taking out the Goldfields (WA) Medal with Kalgoorlie club Railways and finally, dual B & F’s with the Hawks.

His dad Greg had been a star back in the seventies and eighties, his family was steeped in the Rovers tradition and it was always his ambition to finish his career in the Brown and Gold.

Just that he didn’t think it would extend to 150 games…….

Whereas ‘Okey’ had the happy knack of the Sherrin being drawn to him, Benny, like so many of us, had to search for the key to unlock the game’s subtleties.

He figured in a Thirds premiership in 2003 – five years after ’Okey’ achieved the same distinction and spent a couple of solid years with EDFL club Blackburn whilst at university. He then returned home to realise one of his great ambitions – to play alongside his distinguished uncle, Matt Allen, as part of the Hawk defence.

An assortment of injuries have stricken his wiry frame over the last dozen or so years, and have usually hit when he was well-established in the side. Then he’d have to resume the fight, after a lay-off, to regain his spot.

He’s the archetypical ‘battler’ who has won over his coaches by giving nothing less than 100 per cent effort……..

Ben reflected briefly on his debut game, back in 2004, when his coach Peter Tossol threw him the monumental task of lining up on a ‘Hopper star, Daniel Leslie. “Wow,” he said to himself,”Look at the physique of this fellah,” as he proceeded to chase him around all day.

“And I had to do the same thing out there this arvo, for a while.”

Sean and Benny are both blokes who set the classic example to the young’uns of what it takes to be part of a footy club.

On a match-day it might mean having a yarn to the gate-keeper on the way in, paying due respects to the supporters who wish them well, and thanking the volunteers who do so much to keep the club going behind the scenes.

That’s why this game meant so much to their team-mates……..
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To be honest,  it didn’t scale any great heights, but boy, it was a fair dinkum contest.

It was obvious early on that the Hawks’ biggest bugbear would be Leslie, North’s co-coach, and the subject of some controversy in recent weeks.

He played today as an on-baller and racked up a mountain of possessions, but I wondered whether his absence as a marking target, would cost the Hoppers when they launched into attack.

The Hawks snuck away to an early lead, with the first two majors of the game, but North, with the aid of the breeze, enjoyed plenty of forward thrusts.

The home side obtained a distinct advantage at the stoppages, where Shane Gaston and Chris Knowles held sway in the ruck, feeding plenty of opportunities to those at ground level.

The continued improvement of Ben Clarke throughout the season was best exemplified today. With unerring Bontampelliesque precision he continued to extricate the pill from the packs to a running player.

Sam Carpenter, too, knocked up winning kicks, enjoying the rarified-air of the open spaces. Josh Newton’s consistent year continued, as he worked hard in the clinches. At the main break the Hawks had opened up a 21-point break and were playing like winners.

But the fans were still none too sure. In a season when they have barracked for the clock as much as the scoreboard, their ‘glass half-full’ attitude was understandable.

Consequently, it was terrific to hear the pent-up, guttural roar come from the balcony, when, in a matter of a couple of minutes, Cam Fendyk twice snapped truly to extend the advantage.

The Beechworth youngster has proved his mettle in recent weeks and looks a born-forward.

Again North fought back, but just couldn’t kick the multiple goals which would put the pressure back on the Hawks. Shaun Mannagh, who is always a danger-man, snagged a couple of majors for the day, but was fairly well-held by the Hawk ‘blanket’, Dale Martin.

Another reason for their difficulty in finding a clear path to goal was that the defiant, loose-limbed Michael Clark, who has fought against the odds this season, was providing stern resistance in defence.

Ben Lloyd made the most of his chances and was a fine player for North, as were Tom Gallaway and Danny Warren. But with the Rovers well in command it was obvious that they’d need a huge turn-around to pull this one out of the fire in the final stanza.

You knew that the Gods were shining down on the Hawks when Kneebone, the ‘Milestone-man’, gathered the ball on a tight angle in the pocket, sighted the big sticks and squeezed it through, a’ la Eddie Betts.

The only downer for the Hawks was that they relaxed a little in the dying stages, and leaked a couple of late goals. When North again scrambled the ball forward, the siren thankfully prevented them inching closer than the 26 points which separated the two old rivals.

It had been a solid team performance, with a host of contributors.

So the Rovers song was belted out with extra oomph in the packed rooms after the game, and the message is that there’s still plenty of life left in what was purported to be a scarcely-breathing corpse……..

“IT SURE BEATS LOSING……”

Hello ! We’ve got OAK-FM here to cover the game…… and I spot a photographer with a giant lens lurking in the vicinity……..you notice the old Corowa-Rutherglen brethren with a bit of a spring in their step.  Maybe the football world senses that the ‘Roos’ losing streak is coming to an end today.

To tell you the truth, I’m starting to wonder about it myself.

After all, the Hawks are coming off four straight losses of 90 points or more – and that’s something that can dissipate the confidence-levels of the proudest of football clubs.

Yes, the clash of the O & M’s cellar-dwellers seems to have a expectant atmosphere to it, and has attracted a larger-than-anticipated crowd to the John Foord Oval on this sunny, crisp winter afternoon.

Corowa-Rutherglen have named their youngest-ever debutant. At 15 years 7 months, the 180cm Will Chandler is apparently one out of the box and will be worth watching. He’s the son of former North Melbourne player Jeff, and has been plucked from the Under 16 competition.

The Rovers have also seen fit to promote their Thirds captain, Paul Sanderson – last year’s Leon Dean Medallist – and a highly-skilled small man. Surely, I surmise, as my eyes wander around the visitor’s rooms, this must be one of the Hawks’ youngest-ever sides…….

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Chatting with a couple of old ‘Roos about their well-publicised plight, they say it hasn’t had too much of an effect on the attitude of the players . “They haven’t been too competitive on-field but off-field they’re as happy as Larry. It’s nothing that the infusion of a few players won’t fix. We won’t be going anywhere,” said one.

In their best performance this year, they fell short by only a couple of points against Wangaratta. Today’s is the best line-up they’ve fielded since then, and they admit, they’re quietly confident of doing okay today………

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The Hawks were off to a flier. Within a minute or two of the start, captain Shane Gaston provided a big target down forward and, with a well-timed lead, cradled the Sherrin to his chest . A lovely pass, but an equally-impressive conversion, as the big fellah landed it over the goal-umpie’s head and it cascaded towards the gum trees.

Most of the early play had been in the Rovers-half of the ground, but when the ‘Roos grabbed the ball from a turn-over and rushed it forward, the locals were in raptures. The silky-smooth Chandler swooped and booted their first. What an entry to O & M ranks !

I happened to be standing alongside the iconic Jimmy Sandral – the triple Morris Medallist – who would have to be the most unaffected and humble champ you’d find. But you could detect that even Gentleman Jim’s chest was swelling with pride.

Especially when the lad kicked his second – and then third goals for the term. He was to go on and finish with five for the game. You had the feeling that, among the smouldering embers of Corowa-Rutherglen’s current misfortunes, fresh hope was born in this new star.

The Hawks’ recent goal-kicking woes ( they had kicked just 22 in the past 4 games) seemed a thing of the past, as they snagged six in the first term through a variety of avenues.

They led by three goals at quarter-time, but it was noticeable that the ‘Roos’ gun forward James Lawton had just started to impose himself on the contest, as had the talented Will Robinson.

Within minutes, during the second term, both were off the field. Robinson had a sprained ankle and  took no further part. Lawton returned in the third-quarter with a his knee heavily-strapped and was restricted.

He’s obviously a star, and still finished with three goals. I wonder what a difference he may have made had he been able to help out this young team for the full season.

The Hawks led by 28 points at the main break, but their opponents were snapping at their heels. It was proving an entertaining game and the ‘Roos certainly weren’t out of it.

They mounted a real challenge in the third term and reduced the margin to 15 points at one stage.

But within a matter of five minutes or so, the fight-back was snuffed.

It was possibly attributable to Shane Gaston’s period of dominance at the centre bounce. The Hawks swept the pill forward on three consecutive occasions and goals were booted after strong overhead marks by Chris Knowles, Jack Reiter and Simon Pane.

The result was that they led by 33 points at three quarter-time and had resumed complete control.

One of the highlights of the day, in my book, was the clash between Corowa-Rutherglen stalwart Kade Kuschert and the dogged Hawk centre half back, Michael Clarke. ‘Pup’ punched, marked and persisted magnificently, to take the honours. He and his half-back sidekick Mitch Horwood both give the impression that they are badly in need of a good feed, but you just can’t fault their application.

The classy Dylan Stone was on fire, particularly during a scintillating first half, and amassed 33 possessions, many of which set up scoring opportunities.

Cam Fendyk played possibly his finest game in Brown and Gold and impressed with his precise kicking. He’s a dangerous presence around goal and most of his 23 touches were effective.

Likewise, the enigmatic Jack Reiter made Hawk fans sit up and take notice. Whenever he took possession you figured that something was going to happen. His five goals were a reward for  presenting  himself at the contest and his long left-foot kicking was a feature.

Josh Newton continued his fine form and was ferocious in his attack on the ball. His work in-and-under was impressive, as was the contribution of the hard-working Ben Clarke.

And Sam Carpenter continually worked himself into position and drove the Hawks forward. He must have appreciated some room to move, after being sweated upon for the last few games.

There weren’t many better players for the Roos than Brent Rose, who starred in defence and on the ball, as did the helmeted Jay O’Donoghue and dynamic Hayden Filliponi.

So the Hawks belted out the club song with plenty of gusto and the group of five players who figured in their first win for the club were the subject of the obligatory Gatorade-spray from their joyous team-mates.

Yes, it sure beats losing………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAWKS HOLD OFF HOPPERS

The feeling of euphoria that comes from winning a closely-contested game of football is no different now to what it was 50 years ago.

Our way of celebrating then would be to have a ‘night on the town’. Firstly, scooping down a few quick ales amidst the slaps on the back from supporters at the after-match, then moving on to the ‘Pinno’ where the game would be dissected, with the help of several more ‘frothies’.

By about 10.30 we’d be feeling ‘peckish’ and head around the corner to Nick Lazarou’s Emerald Cafe for his ‘special’, the mixed grill and, again, more in-depth discussion. To wind up, we would invite ourselves around to someone’s house and demolish a handful of ‘long necks’.

At this stage, I would personally begin to feel that I’d made a sizeable contribution to the victory, somehow blotting out the fact, deep down, that I knew deep down, that I’d turned in another ‘shocker’.

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I don’t know what the boys get up to these days, but I’d imagine they’d have let their hair down last night, especially after having gone through a confidence-sapping stretch of six straight losses.

They were terrific against North Albury and withstood a spirited last-quarter onslaught before holding on for a dramatic three-point victory.

That familiar warm sensation pervaded the rooms, as they belted out the song. I stood back and took note of the happy faces and tired bodies before heading home to a now-familiar post-match routine – a night on the couch.

But, like any footy-nut, it’s hard to get the day’s events out of your mind………..

* That desperate lunge and tackle by Will Nolan on North’s Liam Butler. The Hopper was in the goal-square and made the mistake of taking an extra couple of paceIMG_1370s to make sure of the open goal which prtesented itself and would pinch the game. Holding the ball was the ump’s decision and 300 fans on the balcony of the Maroney Pavilion roared their approval.

* The mark of the vertically-challenged Hawk defender, Darcy Booth – also in the goal-square. To use a Cometti-ism, he twisted his body ‘like a cork in the ocean’ to snavel one of the grabs of the day – also in the vital last term, and under considerable pressure.

* The kick-for-touch by Sean O’Keeffe, as he repelled another North attack in the dying minutes. It wobbled over the line, in front of the Hogan Stand. Out-on-the full decisions are the flavour of the month these days. ‘Okey’ held his breath and, thankfully the ump signalled  -‘throw it in’.

* The return of tall Chris Knowles, who booted two goals and was clean in his ball-use. It was the first senior game of an injury-interrupted season for ‘Knowlesy’ and he was a good presence up forward.

* The Josh Newton come-back, which continues to gain momentum. Since he made his debut in 2011, until he returned to footy this season, he had made just 9 senior appearances of a possible 95.

In between, he had endured a knee reconstruction and a debilitating shoulder ‘reco’. Enough to give serious consideration to whether he was meant to play the game.

But right through pre-season, until he was given the all-clear to return, he trained with the reckless abandon of a raw newcomer. It’s indeed heartening for him to be now making an impact in the half-dozen games he has played – and to finally see some reward for his effort.

* The continued Herculean efforts of Shane Gaston in the ruck and the desperate defence of the improving Mitch Horwood, who is now becoming firmly-entrenched as a senior player.

* The outstanding leadership of Sam Carpenter, who knocked up getting kicks and probably played his best game of the season.

*The form of evergreen Hopper Daniel Leslie – a towering figure for his side over the last decade-or-so. He seems to save some of his footy for the Rovers and was again impressive.

*Josh Minogue, who was back in the North side for the day because his VFL side had the bye, and made a valuable contribution. A silky-skilled mover, to say the least.

The strong-marking and continued good form of Coen Hennessey, who again stood tall in defence for the Hawks.

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It was a keenly-fought contest from first bounce to last. The Hawks led by nine points at half-time, but North came out with intent early in the third term and booted two quick goals, to pull back the lead.

It changed three or four times in a frenetic period of play and at lemon-time the scoreboard showed that the Hawks held a slender three-point margin.

“They’ll crumble. We’ll run all over them,” was Jason Akermanis’ forecast, as he urged on his charges at the break.

But neither team was about to fall over. In thirty minutes of desperate football, it was the Hawks who were able to cling to that slender lead and record their fifth win in  an excellent contest.

 

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JEZZ’S FOOTBALL JOURNEY……..

It’s match-day……..and the atmosphere in the Rovers rooms fluctuates between frenetic activity and silent contemplation……

The strain shows on the first-year co-coaches, who have plenty on their plate. They impart last-minute instructions to this youthful group; re-iterating the importance of the task ahead.

A variety of emotions flash through their minds…………anxiety, excitement, adrenalin…..and worry…..

Are they ready ? Have we picked the right team ? Will they start well ?

I notice a carrot-topped fellah with a friendly face, engaging in quiet conversation with a few of the boys, who respond with a nod of the head and a smile. It’s obvious that he, too, has a role to play, as siren-time beckons and momentum builds……….

He’s Jeremy Campbell…….

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‘Jezz’ deems forging relationships as the essential aspect of coaching. It excites him to see young players develop and if he can be an extra pair of eyes and ears to Andy Hill and Sam Carpenter, so be it.

“It’s refreshing to work with two young coaches. In my opinion, they’re going great guns. I just run ideas past them and lend support whenever I can,” he says.

He helps with the rotations and does a bit of one-on-one with the players. “They’re a really coachable group.”

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‘Jezz’ prefers to stay out of the limelight, but I was keen to uncover his outstanding footy pedigree.

It extends back to his home club, Lockington-Bamawm United, where he played in three junior flags, before being snapped up by Goulburn Valley League club, Rochester.

He was doing Year 12 and playing his first season with the Tigers, when he came under the influence of the legendary David ‘Dirty’ Williams.

‘Dirty’ was a born-and-bred Rochy boy, who played 67 games with Melbourne, then returned to coach his home club for 16 years. He was an imposing figure, led from the front and his game was exemplified by his fierce attack on the ball.

“Rochester’s a great family club, not dissimilar to the Rovers in a lot of respects. We were pretty young and mostly all locals, and ‘Dirty’ harped on the fact that it was ‘Rochy against the Rest’ . He was demanding, but had a knack of being able to develop players. It was a joy to play football under him,” Jeremy recalled.

He played 7 senior games and about the same number in the thirds in that first season – 1996. Despite Rochy’s seniors finishing second-bottom, there were promising signs for the future.

When he moved to Melbourne to attend Uni, it only seemed natural for him to return home each week-end, to play with the Tigers, who were developing a top-notch side. He continued the round-trip for nine years.

“We had five – and up to nine – blokes (all Rochy boys) travelling back. That stemmed from the culture  that had been fostered at the club,” he says.

Jeremy had ‘started his apprenticeship’ in the back pocket, moved to the back flank and finally worked his way into the mid-field.

“In 1999 we broke through, and ran away from Shepp United, to win the flag by 40-odd points. It was a great reward for our coach, his assistants and volunteers around the club, who had worked so hard. But also for the team as a whole, who had endured two losing Grand Finals, in 1997 and ’98. It was a very resilient group,” he said.

“A week after the Grand Final, unfortunately one of our team-mates, five years older than me, and one of my idols, lost his life in tragic circumstances.”

“He was a vital part of the club, always first on the track and the last to leave  after his usual  post-training  weights session. He was a very special person and his death took the wind right out of our sails.”

“People weren’t sure what reaction it would have on the playing group, but we battled on and reached the Prelim Final the following year.”

Bruce Watson recruited the young Campbell to Rochester, coached him in the Under 18’s and saw him play most of his 195 games with the Tigers.

“Outside of our club, Jeremy never got the accolades he deserved. He was hard at it -an absolute animal – and was a real athlete. He would run all day.”

“Craig Scholl, the North Melbourne premiership player, rated him one of the toughest blokes he’d played on. Scholl played in Echuca sides which beat us in Grand Finals in 2001 and ’02, but Jeremy had some great battles with him.”

“And besides that, he was highly admired, on an off the field,” Bruce added.

Recognised as one of the GV’s most reliable and consistent on-ballers, Jeremy wore the League’s Purple and Gold jumper six times, captained the League and won VCFL representation in 2002.

In his only previous sojourn on the W.J.Findlay Oval – in 2003 – he was voted best afield in GV’s convincing win over an O & M side coached by Mick Wilson.

It was a wrench to leave Rochy after a highly successful era. He had played in five Grand Finals and loved the club, but decided to accept a position as assistant-coach of Drouin, in the Latrobe Valley League.

However, he was keen to coach in his own right and when someone mentioned, the next season, that there was a job going at Blackburn, he decided to apply.

“I’d heard on the grapevine that Brett Ratten was in for it, so I wasn’t hopeful. But then, he took what seemed a more attractive option at rival Eastern.F.L club Norwood and I landed the job,” he recalls.

“They were a family club, with a friendly environment. They’d been up in Division 1 for three years and had just staved off demotion each year. We won 6 games in my first year and 8 in the second.”

Ben Kneebone spent a couple of years at Blackburn and was taken by ‘Jezz’s’ leadership and work-rate. “Before the first bounce in most games, he’d be in the face of the opposition’s star, just to set the agenda for the day. He was as tough as they come.”

In 2008, his third year of coaching, Jeremy reverted to a non-playing role. Blackburn recruited well and won 11 games, to reach the finals for the first time since 1975. They defeated East Ringwood in the first final, but their flag hopes were thwarted by Noble Park.

He was voted the Eastern League’s Coach of the Year, further enhancing his growing coaching credentials.

When he and his partner Bree decided to return to the country, Jeremy was approached by the Rovers. He expressed a keen interest in the vacant coaching position and was urged on by his Dad, who reminded him the Hawks had a great tradition and would be a fantastic club to coach.

“It resonated with me a bit, but I’m a believer that things fall into place for a reason. Moving to Wang just didn’t suit at that stage.”

Instead, they moved to Shepparton, where Bree got involved in netball and Jeremy taught at the Deakin University campus at Dookie.

Apart from playing a few games for Dookie over the next couple of years, his active involvement in footy dissipated until they moved to Wangaratta and he helped out his brother, Ash, who was coaching the Magpies Thirds at the time.

His full-on job as principal of Oxley Primary School precludes him from spending as much time as he’d like on footy, but he enjoys his involvement.

It may be seven years after he rejected the coaching job, but Jeremy Campbell is firmly entrenched in the Hawk camp……