“THE LONG ROAD TO THE FLAG…..”

Footy premierships are hard to win.

Sometimes they’re the culmination of years of careful planning, prudent spending and nurturing of local talent. Even then, just as ‘Everest’ seems to be within reach, a knee injury to a gun player, or an untimely suspension, can derail the most meticulous of finals campaigns.

On rare occasions, though, a hefty slice of luck by way of a last-minute recruiting coup, can thrust a battling team into flag contention.

This is the story of an unlikely Ovens and King League triumph – the seeds of which were sown during a late-night session in a Darwin pub…………….

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It’s March 1990, and a star Territory goal-kicker, who is enthusiastically celebrating yet another NTFL flag, is yarning with a Tarrawingee lad who’s up in the far north searching for work, catching up with family….and spruiking about his home club, the mighty Bulldogs……..

The next day Paul Nolan rings home: “Chris Long’s interested in coming to Tarra……..”

“Chris who?”

“You know………Michael’s brother…..He played in Yarrawonga’s premiership last year.”

“Terrific. But we’d better run it past Barrett ( Tarrawingee coach and Plough Inn publican, Bob Barrett ) to see what he reckons……”

A couple of nights later, another phone call confirms that Chris Long is in the process of loading up his ute, and is about to embark on the 4,000km trek down the Stuart Highway ………and he’s also bringing his brother Johnny, along for the trip.

Fast forward three weeks: Tarra’s president Peter Byrne takes a call from the West. It’s Noel Long, who has already played three games at East Perth, but explains he’d prefer to line up alongside his brothers. He adds:

“I should be able to get a transfer in my job at the CES………. East Perth gave me a sign-on fee. I’ll pay them back half of it if you wouldn’t mind paying the other half. Oh, and by the way, my younger brother Patrick is with me, and he’d like to come too”.

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Tarrawingee figured in a Preliminary Final in 1986, but by the late eighties had started to tumble down the ladder. The stars who had served them diligently had almost reached the end of their tether, and there wasn’t much talent coming through. The glory of their last flag, in 1975, now seemed a distant memory.

In the lead-up to the 1990 season, with a scarcity of numbers, there had even been talk of a potential amalgamation with neighboring Milawa. Things didn’t look all that rosy.

So, thanks to this out-of-the-blue recruiting windfall, those close to the club got busy lining the newcomers up with some work………. Johnny started as a part-time farm-hand on Peter Byrne’s property, and worked with L & S Coating; Chris was employed at OP Industries; Patrick started as an apprentice at Bob Dewar’s Butchery in Murdoch Road.

And Noel was able to initiate his transfer with the CES . His job alternated between the Wangaratta and Shepparton offices.

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To put into perspective the good fortune that had befallen the Bulldogs, here’s a thumb-nail sketch of the career details of their new recruits:

# Noel Long, a silky left-footer, had won the Chaney Medal, as best afield in St.Mary’s stunning 1989/90 premiership win in mid-March (he finished his career with three Chaney’s). It was the sixth of 11 flags he was to play in with his beloved Saints. He had represented the NT 10 times, played with East Perth and West Torrens, won the Territory’s Nichols Medal and chalked up 215 NTFL games.

# Johnny, elusive and dynamic, figured in seven flags in the Green and Gold, was a 3-time NT rep and played 153 NTFL games – kicking 226 goals.

# Chris shared in four flags with St.Mary’s, represented the NT three times and was ever-dangerous up forward. He made 93 senior appearances with the Saints.

# Patrick’s six senior premierships included a starring role on the wing, alongside Noel, in the ‘89/‘90 flag triumph. He played 172 games with St.Mary’s.

 

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‘Cyril’ Everitt had been a mainstay with the ‘Dogs since arriving from Wangaratta in 1981. A vigorous, hard-working ruckman, he rarely lowered his colours in the big man duels and was one of those ‘heart and soul’ players who are capable of inspiring their team-mates to greater deeds.

“To put it bluntly,” Cyril recalls, “we hadn’t been expecting much. Our previous couple of years had been underwhelming, but the moment the news came through that the Longs were coming, it seemed to give the whole place a lift.”

“I remember Paul Nolan driving Chris up to our first game at Beechworth. He kept asking him to turn the heater up. It was a typically-crisp autumn day at Baarmutha Park, and he wasn’t too keen to brave the elements.”

“From about the half-way mark of the season, you could sense that there was something special brewing within the playing group……The influence of the Longs had a part to play in it, I suppose….. but even the battlers seemed to be swept along…….”

Even so, the Dogs were no certainty to cement a finals spot. In fact, their fate could well have been sealed in a late-season clash at North Wangaratta.

With the bottom-placed Hawks clinging to a narrow lead in the dying seconds, Johnny Long threaded the ball towards the waiting arms of key forward Mal Dinsdale. It’s said that the noise from a passing train drowned out the final siren, which sounded before the mark had been taken.

It was paid by the ump, much to the dismay of the irate Northerners. Big Mal kicked truly, to give the Tricolours a four-point victory……..

The presence of Dinsdale, Lionel Schutt and Chris Long gave the forward line a real presence. Chris booted several big ‘bags’. He accepted a challenge one Thursday night, from a Plough Inn patron, who wagered $100 that he couldn’t boot 10 goals against Greta that Saturday.

It was a breeze. Already with nine on the board, and in the dying stages of the game, he clutched a ‘dinky’ 11-metre pass from his brother Johnny, to notch his tenth. He finished with 11.

Schutt, aged 21, had acceded to the captaincy when injuries forced ruckman Dave McCann out of the side. Playing above his height at centre half forward, the long-haired, swarthy youngster developed an amazing telepathy with the Long brothers. They dubbed him ‘Lionel Long’……..

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Bright’s loss in Round 18, dispatched them from the five and pitted 1989 premiers Whorouly against the glamor team, Tarrawingee, in a mouth-watering Elimination Final.

The ‘Dogs were in control throughout and ran away, to win by 57 points, with Noel, John and Chris Long the architects of a landslide victory.

Prodigiously-talented Noel, and reigning Best & Fairest Wayne De La Rue, were the stars of a fighting two-goal win over Beechworth in the First Semi, the following week.

Flag favourites Chiltern, reeling after being sensationally over-run by Moyhu in the Second Semi, were determined to make amends against Tarra in the Preliminary Final.

The Swans had capitulated, and allowed the Hoppers to boot 12 goals in the final term. Despite being labelled brittle, they were prepared for anything that the Dogs threw at them.

Again, they surrendered a big  lead, after being five goals up with 10 minutes remaining, to allow Tarra to pinch a dramatic seven-point win. Another Chris Long eight-goal haul contributed to the highlights reel.IMG_3391

The Dogs were in the Grand Final……….

A huge crowd, upwards of 5,000, crammed into the Greta Recreation Reserve, to salivate upon the eagerly-awaited clash between Moyhu and Tarrawingee. By now, ‘Long-fever’ had swept the Ovens and King League, and many fans who had only heard of the magical brothers were keen to see them in the flesh.IMG_3386

They weren’t disappointed.

From the moment Lionel Schutt poked through his first major with a snap from the boundary, the Bulldogs were in complete charge. They booted 7.2 to 1.5 in the first term, and despite the Hoppers fighting back bravely in the second, the result never seemed in doubt.IMG_3392

The effervescent Schutt nailed eight straight for the day, and always posed a danger. Noel Long set things up from the middle and Chris assumed centre stage late in the game, when he lined up – and kicked truly – for his 100th goal of the season.

But it was a local boy, Andrew Pryse, who was hailed a hero. The rugged defender played the game of his life in an exceptional performance.

The Dogs had been emphatic in their 27.11 to 15.12 victory……………….IMG_3400

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  • THE AFTERMATH

* Peter Byrne served eight years as President,  six as Treasurer and is the current Chairman of  the O & K Board. He’s chuffed that, although outsiders predicted Tarra’s financial demise during the 1990 season, the Club finished well and truly in the black. “Bigger crowds and extra enthusiasm around the club certainly helped. It kick-started our clubrooms re-building program,” he says. “We had two ladies – Jackie Everitt (Griffin) as Secretary and Marie Pryse (Financials) who did a fantastic job that year.”

 

* After a brilliant season, in which he finished runner-up in the Baker Medal, despite missing five games, Noel Long returned to the Territory, and continued to dominate. He was later inducted to the NTFL Hall of Fame.

* Brian and Paul Judd, both with O & M experience, proved handy acquisitions. Brian was awarded the VCFL Medal for a sterling performance in the Grand Final.

* Johnny Long came back to play a further three seasons with Tarra. He finished with 53 senior appearances in Red, White and Blue. The Longs still remain in contact with the Club. Chris’s son Ben has played several games with St.Kilda this season. Patrick is returning this week-end, and will catch Tarra’s game against North Wangaratta.

*Andrew Pryse never played again, after being seriously injured in a motor-bike accident.

* ‘Cyril’ Everitt soldiered on. When he finally hung up the boots, he had made 288 senior, and 94 Reserves appearances, won four B & F’s and coached the Club. He served as President, Secretary and Treasurer and remains a devoted supporter.

But there’s no question that the most memorable moment of his footy career came on that sunny September day in 1990, when he held the Cup aloft after played a starring role in his one and only premiership……………IMG_3399

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOUGH NUT TACKLES COACHING CHALLENGE

Andy Hill has scant regard for statistics.

You run his impressive footy CV past him and it barely raises an eyebrow. But touching on the fact that he’s following in the footsteps of his grandfather – and his dad Denis – brings the hint of a smile to that otherwise impassive countenance.

Len Hill coached the Wangaratta Rovers to their first premiership – in the Ovens and King in 1948. He stayed around for another four decades, to help build the Club into one of the most famous in country Victoria.

So the young fellah is chuffed to be taking on a co-coaching role – 69 years after his Pa was originally coaxed into the position.

His mates say that he has an innate knowledge of the game which will stand him in good stead.

The many other intricacies involved – like man-management, transmitting the message and maintaining his equilibrium, will be a vital part of the continuing football education of he and his coaching partner, Sam Carpenter.

On the face of it, there couldn’t be a better man for the job……………..

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Andy was destined to become a Hawk. He played junior league football with Tigers, showed promise, then spent a couple of years in the Rovers Thirds. His class was obvious; it was just a matter of when he would be blooded in the senior side.

He played his part in Thirds flags of 1995 and ’96 as the kid who had the potential to turn a game of football.

So when he got that senior opportunity, against Yarrawonga early in 1996, at the age of 16, plenty of eyes were trained on this ‘star of the future’.

It was a dream debut. He picked up a few possessions, the Hawks booted 29 goals, won by over 100 points and there were slaps on the back aplenty for the newcomer.

“How good’s this,” he no doubt mused, as he toasted the debut with a couple of cleansing ales.

Tiredness crept in. He decided to reflect on the day’s events with some silent contemplation in a Bull’s Head toilet cubicle, where he awoke around 4am, stumbling out of the pitch-black hotel onto a deserted Murphy Street.

He played the next week too, then it was back to the Thirds. But when he was selected in the opening round of 1997, he was there to stay.

It was a tumultuous time for any young man to arrive in senior ranks. The Rovers had declared themselves ‘broke’ during the off-season. The seemingly invincible Hawks of the early nineties were bleeding and the players were prepared to accept no payment for a year. The wider football public expected them to fracture.

But the financial demise had no effect on the attitude of the players, or their performances. Maybe it eased the pressure on youngsters like Andy, Daniel McLaughlin and Danny Nolan. They handled senior footy with ease as the club boxed on to finish a creditable sixth.

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Toughness and a fanatical determination were essential ingredients in the make-up of Andy Hill.

He hated the limelight, but when you have the ability to climb through the air and take that spectacular mark, then convert that crucial goal, it’s rather difficult to avoid the accolades that come your way.

And he wasn’t backward when it came to a bit of on-field argy-bargy. Hawk champ Rob Walker, who was embroiled in a scuffle with Mark Duryea in a 1998 semi-final, remembers a fist whistling past his nose, in the direction of the Tiger tagger. It belonged to the 18 year-old in the number 6 guernsey.

Andy was well-schooled by some superb role-models ; playing alongside half a dozen superstars of the club. He learnt to train as intensely and prepare as diligently as they did.

He was soon recognised as a star in his own right. Whilst he didn’t fancy the peripherals, such as team-meetings and pep talks, once he crossed that white line, there was no-one who cared more for the Brown and Gold.

He wore the Ovens and Murray jumper for the first time in 2001 and was runner-up Best & Fairest to the legendary Walker.

In what became a recurring them during the 2000’s, his absence at a vital time proved costly to the Hawks. He ‘popped’ a cheekbone in an Elimination Final victory over Corowa-Rutherglen and was missing the next week when Wodonga Raiders clinched a thriller at Myrtleford.

To his surprise, he received an approach from Collingwood at season’s end, and was drafted. Considering his age (22), he thought he had ‘missed the bus’. He later discovered that a Rovers team-mate, Rob Panozzo, had forwarded a tape of highlights to a suitably-impressed Magpie recruiting chief Noel Judkins.

He had no regrets at not making the grade, even though he played a couple of NAB Cup games, and spent the season with the Magpies’ VFL affiliate, Williamstown. “It was a great experience and I learned a lot from watching the top guys train. I just wasn’t good enough”, he said later.

So he returned to the Hawks in 2003, then moved up to the Top End to play in an off-season premiership with Darwin club, St.Mary’s. Scouts from South Australia and the West, who salivated at the sight of this gem in the sweltering north, were unable to tempt him with their attractive baits. He returned home to the Findlay Oval.

When the older generation of players had hung up their boots, Andy’s work ethic, preparation, performance and consistency, became the benchmark for all other players.

The philosophy that he had taken from his stint at Collingwood, was simply that ‘if you train hard you’ll get more out of yourself’.

And so it proved. He took out five Bob Rose Medals, was runner-up twice, third once, and twice finished fifth in the Morris Medal. He booted 225 goals in his 254 senior games.

He was, indeed, the player to be watched if the Hawks were to be stopped.

But again, fate intervened in a couple of years that the Rovers were running hot. His fractured collarbone in the opening minutes of the 2007 Elimination Final proved costly, as the Hawks just failed to run down Wodonga.

And a painful neck injury, which was to ultimately force him out of the game, saw him operating at half rat-power for much of a 2012 season that saw the club go within a whisker of a Grand Final.

His one regret, in a glittering career – other than not sharing in a senior premiership with the Rovers – would probably be not making himself available for more representative football.

But that was a small price to pay, he felt, for making sure he was in the right nick for club footy.

As a player who could be thrown to either end of the ground with equal effect, was as tough as boot leather, could produce dashes of unbridled brilliance and reeked of team spirit, Andy would have held his own in any era.

He must rank among the greats of the Wangaratta Rovers Football Club.

 

P.S: The  Andy Hill story was penned to coincide with his recent induction to the Rovers Hall of Fame.