‘FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD’…..

Lance Oswald, who passed away last Wednesday, is rated by many local experts as Wangaratta’s finest football product.  

‘On Reflection’ caught up with the old champ just on four years ago. This was his story……:

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He’s rising 79 and has been ensconced in the sleepy Murray River town of Strathmerton for over 50 years. Life is just as he wants it – peaceful, idyllic and ‘far from the madding crowds’

He spent six years in the ‘big smoke’. More than enough time to earn recognition as the best centreman in Victoria – and probably Australia.

Occasionally his mind drifts back to where it all started………   ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Lance Oswald was a South Wanderer.

The Oswalds resided in Greta Road, which meant that, in accordance with the prevailing Wangaratta Junior League rules of the late 40’s, he was zoned to the Green and Golds.

Picking up kicks was never a problem for the curly-hairphoto 2ed footy ‘nut’. He was 13 when he played in the first of two flags for the Wanderers. A year later he was the League Best & Fairest.

He seems chuffed when I start to reel off a list of his premiership team-mates . “There were a few good kids in those sides. Some of them turned out to be pretty handy players,too”, he says.

But none of them came remotely close to matching the achievements of the prodigiously talented Oswald.

In one of the early rounds of the 1953 season, he was selected to make his senior debut for Wangaratta against the Rovers. He was just 16.

The ‘Pies were fresh from winning their fourth straight O &M flag and it was a fairly hard side to break into. He only played one more senior game that year, but consolidated his senior spot in 1954.

The fabulous ‘Holten Era’ was drawing to an end, and I asked Lance how he rated the former Collingwood star ……”Good coach…excellent tactician…But gee, he was tight. Wouldn’t shout if a shark bit him !”

Holten urged Oswald, who, by now, was attracting plenty of attention from League clubs, that he should put on a bit of beef before he headed to Melbourne.

He’d kicked 17 goals as a rover-forward during the 1955 finals, including seven in a best-afield performance, as North Albury overpowered the ‘Pies in the last quarter of the Grand Final.

As clubs circled him, he swayed towards playing with Essendon. But Holten warned him…”Look, you’d be competing with Hutchinson, Clarke and Burgess for a roving spot. Don’t go there”.

Mac was keen to entice him to his old club and took him down for a practice match. He started in the Reserves curtain-raiser, then was whisked off the ground and played in the main game, under an assumed name. He starred, but was happy to return home, much to the chagrin of Collingwood officials.

After St.Kilda coach Alan Killigrew had trekked up the Hume Highway to visit him three or four times, Lance agreed to play the opening round game of 1957, against South Melbourne, on match permits, as the O & M season didn’t get underway until the following week.

It was a promising debut, and he was named in the side again, but Wangaratta put the foot down and told him he was going nowhere.

By now he was the complete player. Strongly-built for a rover ( 5’10 and 12 stone), he could sniff a goal, was an accurate kick and had a fierce attack on the footy.

If anyone still had a ‘knock’ on him, Oswald put paid to those doubts with a dominant season. He kicked 90 goals, to win the League goal-kicking award, featured in the O & M’s Country Championship triumph, and shared the Morris Medal with Myrtleford full back, Neil Currie.

And he played a starring role in the Magpies thrilling two-point win over Albury in a gripping photo 3Grand Final. Wang had kicked only six goals to three-quarter time and trailed the Tigers by 27 points.

They gradually closed the gap, and with a minute remaining, Lance snapped a miracle goal to give them the lead for the first time in the game. It was his 73rd, and last game for Wang.

What a note to leave on !

He was an apprentice at Jack Cox Engineering and St.Kilda arranged for his indentures to be transferred to Melbourne firm, Phoenix Engineering, as he settled in at the Junction Oval.

Lance and his wife Dot coped with severe bouts of homesickness. “We went home pretty regularly the first season. I suppose we improved as time went on, but Dot still hated the place”, he recalls.

After 10 years in the wilderness, the Saints were on the move and hit the jackpot with recruiting. The place became a bit of an Ovens and Murray haven. Brian McCarthy and Peter Clancy (Yarrawonga), Geoff Feehan (Wodonga), Ian ‘Doggy’ Rowlands ((Wangaratta) and, briefly, Les Gregory (Rovers) all wore the Red,White and Black guernsey.

Lance was a more than handy rover-forward in his first three seasons, but his career took off when he was moved into the centre.

The team’s strong defence and improved depth allowed him to roam the field and pick up kicks at will. In an era when centreman rarely moved away from the cricket pitch area, he was an exception. He had a big tank and could run all day.

By 1960 he was an automatic choice in the Victorian side and narrowly missed an All-Australian blazer in 1961, after performing superbly at the National Carnival in Brisbane.

He gained some consolation by winning his second successive St.Kilda Best and Fairest in ’61 and helping the team into the finals for the first time in 22 years.

He almost swung the semi in St.Kilda’s favour with an inspirational third quarter, as they pegged back a big lead to get within a couple of points. They eventually fell nine points short.

Although starting to feel the effects of some niggling ankle injuries, Lance was still playing at his top in 1963 and again starred when the Saints bowed out in another semi.

He and Dot packed the kids in the car the next week and headed up to visit his mum, who was living in Strathmerton.

She must have worded up the locals.They paid him a surprise visit , escorted him down to the footy ground to show him the facilities – and offered him the coaching job. “Give us a couple of weeks to think about it”, was his reply.

They were only a few miles out of ‘Strathy’, on the way back to the city, when Lance rang back and accepted the position.

So, after 107 games, 102 goals and four Interstate appearances, Lance Oswald’s League career was over.

He was offered employment at the Kraft Cheese factory, coached Strathmerton to a Murray League premiership in 1964 and, all-up, led them for nine seasons. He finally hung up his boots at the age of 37, after 210 games with ‘Strathy’.

It was a lifestyle choice that he never regretted and was an ideal place, he and Dot reckoned, to bring up their three kids.

He was at the J.C.Lowe Oval last Saturday, to watch his grandson Scott play for Yarrawonga, against Wangaratta. He had, he says, mixed feelings about the result, as he always keeps an eye on the fortunes of his old club.

It has been an incredible football journey for the St.Kilda Hall of Famer and Team of the Century member and a man who some experts rate as the greatest of all Magpies.

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FOOTBALL’S ELUSIVE ENTERTAINER….

Les Gregory was a football contortionist.

He could control the slippery sphere with the exquisite balance of a juggler, as he slithered and slid, then dodged and weaved around opponents, putting the exclamation mark on his skill-set by driving a sizzling drop-kick pass goalwards.

When he was matched up against Wangaratta’s equally-elusive winger Des Steele in the much-awaited local-derbies, they produced more blind turns than you’d find on a malfunctional GPS.

At his top, in the late fifties and early sixties, he titilated Wangaratta Rovers supporters with his displays of wizardry………..

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‘Nipper’ Gregory’s folks were his greatest fans. Even when he started playing footy with Junior Magpies, they rarely missed a game.

They lived out of town in those days and Les would hitch a ride to and from training with the Rovers coach, North Wang school-teacher, Don Holbrook.

By the end of his second season of Junior League, the family had moved to Oxley and he was recruited to Milawa, who were occupying the bottom rungs of the O & K ladder.

They could muster only three wins in his first two years, but the will o’ the wisp Gregory was a stand-out, winning the B & F, aged 17, in 1955.

It was Bill Kelly, a vigorous, sturdy defender and wise old coach, who helped to transform the Demons. They jumped up the ladder the following year and were brave in defeat in the Grand Final, against a physically stronger Beechworth, inspired by the legendary Timmy Lowe.

Wily veteran Lowe left a big impression on the youngster, with his repertoire of football tricks and his knack of leaving opponents in his wake. That, he decided, was the way he wanted to play his footy.

Bill Kelly urged Les to stay on at Milawa for another year : “Son, I think we can win the premiership if you hang around,” he said.

But he also didn’t want to impede his progress, and when his old club, the Rovers, began sniffing around, Bill gave his blessing to the Gregory departure.

Les walked straight into the Hawks’ senior side in 1957 and was deemed the O & M’s recruit of the year. He polled nine Morris Medal votes, was selected in the inter-league squad and won the Chronicle Trophy in a brilliant debut season.

But nothing he ever achieved in football can match the thrill of playing in the Rovers’ first-ever premiership side, in front of 12,500 fans on that sunny spring day in 1958.

The Hawks had the game in hand from half-time onwards and the celebrations among the Brown and Gold clan were in full swing well before the final siren.

The players headed back to Wangaratta on the train and a band escorted them down to the City Oval, where they were paraded like royalty. It was heady stuff for the 20 year-old Les Gregory.

Bob Rose admitted his surprise, post-match, that Wodonga coach Des Healey had played on the Rovers’ number 25 all day. “It took away a lot of their drive, because Des was more concerned with nullifying Gregory,” he said.

Rose was a big Gregory fan. “I believe he possesses every attribute to become a top-grade VFL winger. He has outstanding ball control, can out-mark most wingers in the league and has wonderful agility. He always seems to be able to get out of trouble, no matter how closely he is pressed.”

The inevitable offers came – from Collingwood, Geelong and St.Kilda. He had played in a Collingwood practice match and Rose was trying to direct him to Victoria Park. But a visit from St.Kilda’s secretary, Ian Drake, was the clincher.

“We arranged to meet at Nick Lazarou’s cafe, in Murphy Street. After a bit of idle conversation, we got down to tin-tacks. He suggested that I sign a Form-Four, which would bind me to St.Kilda for a couple of years,” Les recalled.

“When I started to hum and hah, he pulled 150 quid out of his coat pocket and waved it in front of me. I couldn’t sign quick enough. I was earning 9 pound a week at Ray Byrne’s Bottle-O business at the time.”

The couple of months that Les spent in the ‘big smoke’ passed by in the flick of an eye. He satisfied the good judges with his performances in three practice matches, but had to wait until Round 4 before his senior opportunity came.

It was a crucial match against Collingwood and he was named on the bench, alongside ruckman (and later, business magnate ) Lindsay Fox. The Saints caused an upset against the reigning premiers, then tossed Hawthorn and Richmond in their next two games.

They had exceeded expectations – and so had the live-wire Gregory, who had been matched up against classy wingers in Brendan Edwards and Dick Grimmond.

The trouble was that his allotted match permits had expired and he would need a full clearance if he was to continue his League career.

He rang his old coach for advice.

“Are you happy down there ? ” asked Bob Rose. “Not really,” Les replied. “Well, we’d love to have you back.”

So, after three VFL games – for three wins – his League career was over.

Les was lured to SANFL club Norwood the following year by ex-St.Kilda coach Alan Killigrew. He and two other recruits – Haydn Bunton Jnr, and Geoff Feehan, headed across to Adelaide in Killigrew’s EK Holden Station Wagon.

But again, it didn’t work out, as employment that was promised didn’t eventuate He was back with the Rovers not long after the season had started, and played in another premiership side.

Season 1961 was one of his best and was the closest he came to a B & F with the Rovers. He broke a jaw and played just 14 games, yet finished runner-up to Ray Thompson in the coveted award.

There weren’t too many athletes around who could match Gregory for pace – on and off the football field. He dominated at such far-flung meetings as Murmungee, Molyullah, Hansonville, Edi and Swanpool, winning 23 Gifts – and some handy pocket-money for his trouble.

It prompted former world champ Lynch Cooper, after a couple of training sessions, to throw down the gauntlet to him.

“Young man, I think I could make a Stawell Gift runner out of you if you’re fair dinkum. Tell me, do you have a beer ?.” Yes, was the reply. “And what about smoking ?.” Again the answer was in the affirmative.

“Well, you’re going to have to give them away.” It was the last that Lynch Cooper saw of him.

Les succumbed to the approaches of King Valley in late ’61, and was appointed playing-coach. But he started to get cold-feet a week or so later.

” I had visions of those long trips up to Whitfield in the middle of winter in my old Ford Consul. I rang them and told them I was staying at the Rovers.”

He was voted the O & M’s best player in the Country Championship clash with the Bendigo League later that year and continued to be regarded among the League’s most feted wingers.

But there were occasional periods when his form would taper off. Neville Hogan, who played alongside him in the latter part of his career, reckoned that Les got down on himself and his form suffered accordingly.

He came off the bench in the Hawks’ flag win against Wangaratta in 1964, but was one of the stars when they again trumped the ‘Pies in ’65.

The Gregory career came to a close in unfortunate circumstances early in 1968, when he suffered a depressed fracture of the cheekbone.

He was 30 and had played 186 games with the Rovers, over 11 years. In seven of these seasons he played in Grand Finals, which yielded four premierships.

An imposing record indeed, for one of football’s true entertainers…………

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OF FISHING, FOOTY & A COUNTRY MUSIC LEGEND

We approach an unpretentious white building, overgrown with shrubbery. A couple of empty beer barrels and a few other chattels clutter the entrance to the Darwin Railway Club.

The outer suburb of Parap is typically Darwin – multi-cultural, good eateries, a thriving little shopping centre, which, on Saturdays mornings during the Dry season, comes alive to host the popular Parap market.

But on this Friday evening all the side streets are chockers.   Parking is at a premium. Troy Casser-Daly’s in town and he’s appearing before a sell-out crowd.

The Railway Club, I discover, has a reputation for attracting good muso’s , but it’s a bit of a coup to lure Troy. He is on his way to Kununurra for a festival and has stopped by for a one-nighter.

Boots and Akubras, thongs, singlets, ultra-casual gear, blokes who have come straight from a hard day’s yakka and their female mates with stubbies in hand are the order of the night. $15 pizzas are on the menu and two tattooed, dreadlocked barmaids go hell for leather to cope with the demand of the thirsty patrons.

You’d think, by the diversity and rowdiness of the crowd, that any minute someone could be sent sprawling across the darkened floor, sparking an almighty ‘blue’.

But no, they’re a cheerful lot and they give Troy a hearty welcome when he climbs onto the tiny, crowded stage and gingerly manoeuvres his way between the instruments, to the microphone.

In no time he has them in the palm of his hands. There was a moment when you sensed : ‘he’s lovin’ this’ – as his audience rocked, waved and danced for a good hour and a half. It’s a terrific vibe. He has engaged brilliantly with them and you just feel – ‘gee, what a natural bloke’…………….

 

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It’s a great time to be visiting the Top End. Everything’s still nice and green and the Dry is just starting to kick in. The humidity has all but disappeared, even though it’s pretty hot when we arrive a couple of days earlier.

Charles Darwin University’s Graduation Day is on at at the swanky Entertainment Centre and, of course, it’s ‘no show without punch’ – we’ve secured an invite to this red-letter event.

Just to idle away a bit of time beforehand, I wander down to the Wharves, where you never fail to come across a character or two if you strike up a conversation.

This bloke looks a bit way-out . He’s checking some lines that he has dangled over the pier, into the water below. I ask him if he’s having any luck.

‘Nah, buddy.’

A couple more questions tease out his life-story : “………..Hey, I just travel around. I’m a Queenslander….. Come here the other day from Broome. There’s all my belongings behind me”……. He points to his swag. It’s where he caught some shut-eye last night, he tells me.

I ask him how he liked Broome……’Alright…..worked as a chef, but lost me job. That’s why I’m here…..The head chef’s hand accidentally slipped into some boiling water.”

That’s bad luck, I sympathise……..”Not really. He’s pulled a knife on me, the prick ……..Cost me 43 f……..n thousand bucks a year, mate.”

He tells me he was a professional fisherman a few years back , but lost his license when the AFA (I don’t want to interrupt him, but presume that’s the Australian Fisherman’s Association) introduced drug-testing.

“I got done for testing positive to cannabis. So now I just do me own thing.” I’m wondering whether this fellah’s having a lend of me, but then, his crazy eyes tell me he’s probably fair dinkum.

I leave him in peace………..

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There’s a smorgasbord of sport in the Top End at any given time. This week-end you have the choice of Kenya’s national cricket team playing a couple of one-dayers against a Territory XI, the local Rugby League and Union competitions, among assorted others.

And my luck is in. The Territory Thunder, the representative Aussie Rules team, is pitted against Canberra Demons . Marrara is my destination on this warm, balmy evening.

The Thunder, the reigning NEAFL premiers, are almost invincible at home, but dropped a rare match to Southport last week and are keen to atone. They do so in no uncertain manner by blitzing Canberra to the tune of 98 points.

They are irresistible; too quick and skilful, and produce a brand of football which shows up the Demons.

The roar of the crowd in the cavernous Marrara grandstand, boosted by a contingent of U.S marines, gives you the impression that it numbers a couple of times more than the 500 in attendance. But they create a good atmosphere, even though the locals don’t seem to get as rapt up in it as their own unique, Wet Season footy.

There was talk at the end of the NTFL season that players from a couple of clubs – St.Mary’s and Wanderers – were at loggerheads. It followed a Grand Final bust-up and they were reportedly not keen to play alongside each other at the Thunder.

But strained relationships have been repaired and everything seems to have been smoothed over.

Former St.Kilda player Xavier Clarke is the coach of the Thunder and has the job of moulding this group into a cohesive unit.

Xav learnt his football at St.Mary’s, the fabulously successful premiership factory. He suffered a number of back and hamstring problems at St.Kilda, which restricted him to 105 games over seven years.

When he was traded to Brisbane, the injury curse hit again and he lasted just a half a game in his one and only appearance with the Lions.

But he’s a Darwin boy at heart and is thriving on the coaching job. His brother, Raph, who played many of his 85 AFL games alongside him at St.Kilda, is now back home and is also on the N.T list.

Xavier led the Thunder to a flag last year and is a fair chance to emulate that feat in 2016. He harbours a desire to further his coaching ambitions and would come under the radar if he clinched another title.

But, would he be able to forego the Top End life-style again ? He’s a laid-back fellah and loves his fishing and family.

It’s my bet that he’s a Darwin lad for life……..

 

 

 

 

THE MEMORIES THAT LINGER…

Ian Rowland occasionally gazes wistfully at the photo of St.Kilda’s 1966 premiership side and reflects how close he was to football immortality.

His mind harks back to that most celebrated day in the Saints’ 118-year history, when the VFL’s perennial underachievers snatched a dramatic, last-minute one-point victory, thanks to a wobbly Barrie Breen kick.

And in this Grand Final Week, as conversation swirls around who might be the unlucky Hawthorn player to make way for the returning Jack Gunston, he’ll spare a thought for him, as the axe begins to fall.
Because he faced the same predicament 49 years ago………..
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But, firstly, here’s the backdrop to the ‘Doggy’ Rowland story.

His ascension to League football came via the typical grassroots path of the 50’s. Born into an ultra-keen Wangaratta Football Club family, he was an impressionable eight year-old when the Magpies won the first of their four successive premierships.

It was his dream to follow in the footsteps of some of those club greats, like Timmy Lowe, Kevin French and Bill Comensoli.

His mum died when he was just 11 and there were some good people in, and around the club, who became a positive influence on the lad.

A year later he followed his brother Bob, down to Junior League club Imperials and was planted in a forward pocket, conceding plenty of age, height and weight, but snagging the odd goal.

His improvement was rapid over the next couple of seasons and coaching guru Mac Holten, a discerning judge of football talent if ever there was one, sneaked him in for the odd Reserves game with the Magpies.

At the tender age of 16 he made his senior debut.

“It was over at Corowa and I came on as 19th man. A few minutes later, someone flattened me in the middle of the cricket pitch. Immediately, Bill Comensoli came in and ‘evened up’ for me. It was great to have a bloke like Bill keeping an eye on you,” he recalls .

Wang were looking good in 1957 and he was given an occasional run on the ball with Lance Oswald, who was four years older but somewhat of an idol to the young ‘Doggy’.

Any wonder that he was keen to emulate the feats of the brilliant Oswald, who, in a dominant season, shared the Morris Medal, won the League goal-kicking, represented the O & M and booted the goal which clinched the flag for the Pies.

Ian had played six senior games and was named as an emergency, alongside Bob Comensoli, for that Grand Final. But the following year, with Oswald moving on to St.Kilda, he settled into a permanent on-ball role.

There were stars aplenty in O & M football in this era, some of them having stepped out of League ranks in the prime of their careers. And there were few better small men than the clever 173cm, 75kg Rowland.

After 42 games with the Pies, the inevitable offers came from the VFL. No doubt worded up by his old team-mate Oswald, St.Kilda secretary Ian Drake hot-footed it to Wangaratta and gained his signature…….

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The Saints teed up a job at Phoenix Engineering in his trade as a Fitter and Turner ( Oswald was a co-worker ) and he walked straight into the opening round line-up as a rover.

It was an average year for the boys at the Junction Oval, who finished middle-of-the-road.

But, in a unique scenario, his team-mate Alan Jeans was appointed senior coach in 1961 and helped to inspire a revival in the downtrodden club.

Ian had now become established as a top-line League rover. He won St.Kilda’s goal-kicking in ’61, as the club reached the finals for the first time in 22 years. Although some critics had a bit of a knock on his perceived lack of pace, he made up for this with his cleverness and innate ability to read the play and ‘sniff a goal’.

Jeans began to use him as a ‘tagger’ on the gun small men like Skilton, Goggin, Aylett and Birt, and he relished the role.

The Saints’ upward surge continued. By 1965 they had moved their home to Moorabbin and had become a genuine power. A one-point win over Collingwood in the second semi-final took the club into its first Grand Final since 1913.

It proved a let-down, as Essendon broke away in the last half to win by 35 points. ‘Doggy’ did a fine job that day, running with Bomber champ Jack Clarke and finishing as St.Kilda’s leading possession-winner.

But, he said, the club just got caught up in the euphoria of the occasion and didn’t handle it very well.

“Nobody had been through the Grand Final experience. A lot of time was spent on peripheral things like organising tickets and coping with backslapping fans. We just took our eye off the ball.”

But, he acknowledged, everyone was better equipped to handle the occasion the following year.

Ian chalked up his 100th game during 1966. Apart from missing two matches mid-season, he played every other game in the lead-up to the Grand Final.

He’d noticed his form tapering off a bit and sat on the bench, as the Saints belted Essendon in the Preliminary Final.

Nevertheless,  he felt  he had something to offer for the Grand Final against Collingwood.
But he heard the bad news on the radio on the Thursday night,  after training.

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“To make matters worse, I had to front up for work the next day and put up with my mates all raising the subject !” he recalls.

Ian sat in the stands with other unlucky Saints – Carl Ditterich (suspended), Ross Oakley and Ray Cross – as the crowd of 101,000 roared themselves hoarse at one of the greatest VFL/AFL deciders of all time.

“The significance of it all didn’t sink in until later. It stung to be left out of the team photo, for instance. But, as the years wore on, you realise the life-time bond that those 20 players shared,” he said this week.

He advised his coach and good friend Jeans that he would be moving to Finley to coach the Murray League club. He had played 110 games and booted 97 goals with the Saints.  “My time in VFL footy was up. I wasn’t a city person and Finley suited us nicely. We were reasonably successful in the four years I was there, and played in one Grand Final (1968).”

” I had a job selling farm machinery, which was enjoyable.  I would head out to places like Colleambally fairly regularly, to deal with the rice farmers. It was great to get out in the bush”.

With a growing family, Ian felt it would be best for their education to move to a bigger town, so he accepted the position as assistant-coach of North Albury in 1971, and was employed at engineering firm, Borg-Warner.

His playing career came to a dramatic halt after two games with the Hoppers, when he ruptured a hamstring. It was time to hang up the boots.

But he continued his association with North for the next 37 years, in a variety of roles connected with the football department,  and cherishes the Life Membership that he was awarded.

There’s still no more fervent foFullSizeRenderotball fan than ‘Doggy’ Rowland, and he’ll eagerly park himself in front of the telly to watch Saturday’s big game. And he’ll no doubt have a soft spot for the unfortunate bugger who has been squeezed out of the side at the last minute…..

LITTLE MAN – BIG PERSONALITY

What happens when the roar of the crowd has faded away ?…………When the adrenalin-rush that led to you performing deeds of brilliance in the greatest competition in the land;  in a game that had consumed you since you were a little tacker, is there no more……….

Some are unable to cope with the demands that confront them in football’s after-life. Others, like former Magpie Danny Craven, adapted well to this new frontier. This is the story of the perky, tiny, confident, likeable Craven…………

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The fact that he is height-challenged was never a problem to Danny Craven. He had a self- assuredness and a lively personality that made him a magnet to team-mates. And the fact that he had a great love for footy and knew how to pick up a kick, didn’t hurt, either.

He spent most of his winter week-ends during his formative years chasing the Sherrin with Chiltern in under-age competitions. He would play in the U.13 Wodonga JFL on Saturdays and was just 12 when he first lined up in the Swans’ U.17 team each Sunday.

He attended Galen College and joined Wangaratta in 1984, playing five years and about 60 senior games with the Pies. “I’ve got great affection for Wang and I’ve always regarded it as my home club…….and I’ve been connected with a few over the years”, he says.

1988 was his break-out season. A seven-goal, best-on-ground performance for the Ovens and Murray against the Essendon District League was the highlight. But his consistent form also saw him finish fifth in the Morris Medal, and threw him into draft calculations.

He was duly picked up by St.Kilda, and at 162cm,  became the 11th-smallest player of all-time to line up in League footy when he made his debut early in 1989. It was just before his 22nd birthday. Before he had much of a chance to make an impression, he suffered a badly broken leg when a player fell on him.

It was his fourth senior game and there was to be a lengthy recovery. He missed the rest of that season and all of the next and when he was selected in the opening round of 1991 his opposite number in the Richmond side was his old Wangaratta roving partner, Chris Naish.

Danny’s come-back game was a huge success. He picked up 32 possessions and was able to land the ball on the ample chest of a leading ‘Plugger’ Lockett on a few occasions. Naish was equally impressive, with four goals and 19 ‘grabs’, further enhancing his reputation as a dynamic small forward.

Danny averaged 20 disposals in 1991, his finest AFL season, and became somewhat of a cult hero, whilst rubbing shoulders with champions like Harvey, Bourke, Winmar, Leowe and, of course, Lockett.

I queried him about a tale that has grown legs over the years. It goes something like this:

…..He and ‘Plugger’ are sharing the bench and Danny, hyperactive bloke that he is, gets up and jogs along the boundary-line…. up and back a couple of times. Just as he passes the Saints fans, a huge roar erupts, he raises his arms in acknowledgement, only to realise that,  at that very moment ‘Plugger’ is peeling off his track-suit and preparing to come onto the ground !……..

“Can’t remember”, he laughs.

‘Plugger’ and he became good mates. Danny inherited the number 14 guernsey that the big fellow vacated when he changed to the familiar number 4.

And Craven occasionally reminisces about the bullet-like pass that he delivered to ‘Plugger’, which brought up his 100th goal towards the end of 1991.

Two seasons later, after 33 games with St.Kilda, Danny moved to the Brisbane Bears, where he was to chalk up another 25 senior appearances,  before his AFL career ended in 1995.

He and his wife Kim (a Wangaratta girl) were well-settled in the Sunshine State by now,  and decided to take the plunge into business, investing in a Captain Snooze franchise.

21 years later it is still flourishing.

But Danny has also continued to maintain his football passion in a few diverse areas. To those who were familiar with him, it would be no surprise that he took to coaching like a duck to water.

His first appointment was as coach of  wooden-spooners West Brisbane, which he took to a flag in his first season in charge – 1996.

In the restructure of Queensland football that was in vogue at the time, Wests folded a season later and in 1998 he became the playing captain of the Brisbane Lions Reserves, and assistant-coach to Roger Merrett.

When Leigh Matthews was appointed coach of the Lions later that year he brought in his own coaching panel.  Danny did the running for ‘Lethal’ for a season, before heading to North Brisbane as assistant-coach. Then, in 2002, his second year as coach of Mt.Gravatt, he steered the club to its maiden AFLQ title.

He was at the helm of the Queensland State side for four years and was also involved with the State U18 team.

He has also found time to be a special-comments man for the National Indigenous Radio Service, covering the Lions’ home games over the last 15 years or so.

Last season, with his son Jasper coming up through the Reserves, he took on a role as Football Manager of Mayne, one of Brisbane’s oldest and traditionally successful clubs.

They had fallen on hard times and hadn’t won a flag since  they were triumphant in 1982, under the guidance of a famous ex-Wangaratta boy, Mick Nolan.

The Tigers won the seniors and reserves premierships and, according to Danny, are looking good for back-to-back flags in the coming Northern AFLQ season, with former Albury star, Sean Daly in charge.

Danny and Kim are taking a keen interest in the sporting progress of their two boys . Xavier and Jasper have both represented the nation in under-age handball . 17 year-old Jasper, who played in Mayne’s Reserves premiership side last year, is showing plenty of promise.

Danny’s most recent visit to Wangaratta was in December,  for the birthday of an old Magpie team-mate. As happens on these occasions, tales tall and true are told and reference is sure to have been made to the famous Craven competitiveness.

They say that he hates being beaten,  a trait which was obvious in his footy career. It  can carry through  even to a game of golf, which starts in a leisurely fashion and ends in a full-scale contest.

Just as Mick Nolan, the ‘Galloping Gasometer’,  proved  a god-send to Queensland football when he headed up there in 1981, Danny Craven has also been a wonderful ambassador for the code.

 

Danny Craven and Chris Naish (next week's 'On Reflection ' subject) at a Magpuie re-union.
Danny Craven and Chris Naish (next week’s ‘On Reflection ‘ subject) at a Magpuie re-union.

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