When I first spotted Luke Norman, he was performing acrobatics behind the wicket.

As an up-and-coming ‘keeper in Wangaratta, he had a bullet beside his name. The experts predicted that he was undoubtedly destined for higher honours.

He possessed all the attributes of a top gloveman – agility, an eye like a dead fish, clean hands – and an abundance of confidence. Medium-pacers who had the knack of troubling the batsman by way of swing and guile, had an ally in Luke. He took them up on the stumps – and would have the bails off in a jiffy.

Like so many of his era, though, he drifted away from cricket – seduced by his first sporting love…………….


He was born to be a Magpie. An uncle, Basil Schubert, patrolled the wing in their 1961 Premiership team. His dad Tom was a tough-as-nails back flanker who played 150-odd games in some fine Wangaratta sides of the sixties, including three losing Grand Finals.

It would have been four, only for Tommy, in a moment of madness, smacking Rovers hard-man Ken Boyd during a frenzied third quarter of the 1966 Preliminary Final.

There was an element of Tom’s toughness, and well-muscled physique, about Luke when he first arrived on the scene.

He’d played his junior football with Tigers, and graduated to the Magpies’ Thirds, providing a glimpse of his promise during an outstanding 1989 season. But he probably still reflects, with bewilderment, on what transpired at Morris Medal night that year .

Luke was one of six players who had finished equal top in the voting for the Thirds’ Award. The O & M opted for a count-back to decide the winner, and the young Pie was declared the Leo Dean Medallist.

Acting on advice from Wodonga Raiders the following day, League officials re-checked the team sheets and found that votes in one game had been allocated to the wrong players. Philip Partington, of the Raiders was handed three extra votes, to move him one vote ahead of the unfortunate Norman.

But that was a mere hiccup. He had debuted with the seniors that year, and was regarded as a star of the future. His first senior coach, Ray Card, saw his rapid improvement from one season to the next.

“All of a sudden, he developed from promising, to a player with the X-Factor about him……. Strong overhead, rather impetuous, dynamic and adept on both sides of his body……I could see he had the potential to be a star,” Card recalls.

Norman was part of a Wangaratta side which scraped into the finals in 1993. Pumped up by hot-gospeller Brian Walsh, they comfortably accounted for Corowa-Rutherglen in the Elimination Final, then survived a thrilling First Semi against Yarrawonga.

“Walshy had us really convinced we were on the march to the flag,” Luke recalls. “It should have been a Rovers-Wang Grand Final. We had most of the play in the last quarter of the Preliminary Final against Wodonga, but couldn’t put them away. Jon Henry had a shot for goal with the last kick of the game, but it went out on the full. Wodonga had held on to beat us by four points.”IMG_3519

A mate of Walsh’s put Melbourne in touch with Norman. They added him to their Supplementary List, and in 1994 he played 15 games with their Reserves, interspersed with occasional appearances back with Wangaratta.

The Demons had liked the look of him, and decided to give the bullocking utility his opportunity. Selected at pick 68 in the National Draft later that year, Luke Norman’s prayers had been answered.

He made 16 AFL appearances over the next two seasons. “I certainly wasn’t a standout,” he says. “I played some handy games, I suppose, and it was an enormous experience, but there were too many of my type of player on the list.”IMG_3510

The highlight, in Luke’s opinion, was his final game – the so-called ‘Merger-clash’ between Hawthorn and Melbourne. “It was billed as a dress-rehearsal for the ill-conceived marriage of the two clubs, and there was a fair bit of hype surrounding it. Hawthorn got up in the dying stages, to beat us by a point, in front of 60-odd thousand.”

Flicked by Melbourne at season’s end, he was enticed over to Adelaide by a team-mate, Clay Sampson, who was heading back home, to play with the Crows.

Luke signed with Sampson’s SANFL club, South Adelaide, and played 38 games with the Panthers. Standing 6’0 and weighing a touch over 13 stone, he proved adaptable, and well-suited to the South Australian game.

Then came the call of home. Wangaratta had fallen on hard times, winning just the one game in two seasons. They pleaded with one of their favourite sons to help extricate them from the mire.

He gave them good value. Now nearing his thirties, Norman probably played his best footy in the Black and White guernsey. A far more-rounded player, explosive, and difficult to contain, he was Best and Fairest in 2000 and ‘01, represented the Ovens and Murray League five times and won VCFL selection. And in 2001, he finished fourth, behind Robbie Walker, in the Morris Medal.IMG_3517

But unfortunately, in his three years back at the Norm Minns Oval, the Pies remained entrenched on the bottom of the ladder; seemingly eons away from the glory that was to await them seven years later.

After chalking up 140 games with Wang, he and his now-wife Mardi ( a South Australian ) decided to head back across the border. A good mate, Ian Borchard, had taken on the West Adelaide coaching job, and was keen for Luke to join him.

It proved an handy decision. Borchard was succeeded by Sean Rehn in 2003, and Norman, now in the veteran stage, hit it off well with the big ex-Crow.

“He introduced an AFL touch to his coaching, and the players loved him. Opportunities were provided to a few young kids, like Adam Cooney, Sean Tuck and Beau Waters. There were 11 players drafted from his three years as coach. We improved to the extent that we were a genuine challenger for the flag,” he says.

‘Westies’ nipped at the heels of the dominant Central Districts in the Second Semi, before going down by 18 points. Having earned the right to have another crack at them in the Grand Final, they weren’t quite strong enough. Districts controlled most of the game, to win the flag by 34 points.

Rehn appointed Norman captain in 2004, and he responded with a fine season, taking out the club Best and Fairest and Best Team Player awards.

He was again voted the Best Team Player the following year, but at the age of 34, knew that the end was nigh.

He retired at season’s end, after 67 games with Wests and a total 105 SANFL games under his belt. Sean Rehn, in farewelling him, said that : “……Norman was a player who extracted 100% effort from himself every time he played. As captain of West Adelaide, he typified the best qualities in a footballer and a person………..”


Luke took on a role as Assistant and Forwards coach at Woodville-West Torrens in 2006. The SANFL colossus of the 2000’s that was Central Districts, were chasing their fourth straight flag. But WWT dismantled them by 76 points in a boil-over of a Grand Final, that shocked the large crowd.

Rick McGowan, who had been a fellow Assistant at Torrens, was appointed coach of Sturt in 2007, and snavelled Luke as Reserves and Assistant-Coach of the Two Blues.

Then, when McGowan was lured to Hawthorn in 2009, Sturt opted for Norman as senior coach.

“There are only nine people who can coach League footy in South Australia, so it was a privilege, and a great opportunity,” he says.IMG_3512

He took Sturt to the Grand Final in his first year, with a young, talented side, but found Central Districts too strong. It was Centrals’ eighth SANFL flag in ten years.

“We reached the finals again in 2010, despite missing a bunch of kids who’d been drafted. Then we had to deal with the loss of 18 players at the end of the year. It put a hell of a whole in the list, and in 2011, I played 24 first-gamers. We finished equal-bottom.”

“I’d been busy recruiting for six or seven weeks when I was called in early in November and told  I was being replaced. There was still a year to go on my contract.”

“But that’s footy. I was a bit hurt, but pretty philosophical about it. Coaches come and go…..and the club’s bigger than the individual.”

“It gives me a bit of satisfaction that Sturt have won the last two premierships with many of those 24 kids we introduced in 2011 playing an influential role.”

“I loved coaching. It’s an emotional roller-coaster. There are a lot of negatives, of course, like telling a player he’s been dropped……..But I enjoyed playing my part in educating kids about footy……and life.”

Luke stayed in touch with coaching during another two-year stint as Midfield Coach at Woodville-West Torrens in 2014-15, before moving over to Glenelg as Assistant, and forward coach last year.IMG_3513

He’s been running his own business – Norman Family Transports – since he retired from footy. It involves plenty of interstate travel and long hours, and Luke and Mardi have been contemplating re-locating back to Wangaratta with the kids – son Carter and the girls, Tommi and Milla.

The ‘welcome mat’ would certainly be rolled out for this local boy made good………….IMG_3515


The scene is a concrete pathway at the rear of Wangaratta’s main thoroughfare. It’s mid-winter. Two boys, still clad in school uniform, are absorbed in kick-to-kick.

Night after night they drill the footy at one another, leather-on-leather, mostly hitting the target, but occasionally forcing an unwitting passer-by to duck for cover. Only the rapidly gathering dusk disturbs their routine. That, and the fact that their parents have shut their respective shops and declared that it’s time to head home.

Years later, the left-footer of the duo is on a plane to Sydney to make his AFL debut……….



Sean O’Keeffe is one of the ‘good guys’ you meet in football. Quiet and unassuming, he has achieved much in his 16 -odd years in the game. He’s a ‘coach’s dream’, as any of the dozen-or more blokes who have guided him throughout his career, would testify.

He is the son of Vicki and Greg (a former star Hawk winger-turned sprinter). The family’s Rovers’ genes extend back to his great-grandfather, Martin Shelley, who had been a footballer of note in the 1920’s and threw in his lot with the club when it was formed in 1945.

And his great-uncles John and Kevin played in the 50’s. Kevin,so highly-rated by coach Bob Rose that he was thrust into a key defensive post at the age of 16, showed touches of rare class. Tragically, coming home from a Rovers Ball at the end of that 1956 season, he was killed in a car accident.

So young Sean was destined to be a Hawk. He started with Centrals, graduated to the Thirds and played in their 1998 premiership side.

He had been identified by Murray Bushrangers chief John Byrne as an elite talent. But Byrne had to press the issue with the youngster before finally persuading him to train with them.

“I paid him two-or three visits.He wasn’t convinced he was good enough, but I rated him highly. He was excellent overhead, had footy smarts and had a good foot on him”, Byrne recalls.

He played in the Victorian Country U.16 and U.18 teams and in 1999 represented the Australian Under 16’s in an International rules match against Ireland. In late 2000,after a good couple, of years with the Bushies, he was drafted to Carlton.

Sean spent all of 2001 in the VFL and wouldn’t make his debut in the big-time until Round 17 of the following year, against the Swans at the SCG.

He recalls getting a phone call soon after the Carlton side had been announced. “I bet you’re glad you went to the Bushies”.

It was John Byrne.

The early 2000’s were a period of upheaval at Princes Park and probably not the ideal scenario for a youngster to be making his way in League footy.There had been considerable blood-letting after Carlton had been penalised for compromising the salary cap. And nobody was happy when they plunged to the bottom of the ladder.

After a fair performance in his first game, Sean was chopped when Collingwood belted the Blues the following week. And, at the end of the season, with the arrival of a new coach, Denis Pagan, he was delisted.
Continued good form in the VFL the following year saw him reinstated and he was selected in the Carlton side for another four games, before he was again delisted, this time for good.

His move to Sandringham in 2004 proved a winner. The Zebras took out the VFL flag and Sean, now playing with plenty of confidence and very comfortable in the environment, had a fine year.

He toyed with the idea of returning to the Rovers in 2005 and was, in fact, selected in the Hawks’ opening-round line-up. But Sandy held firm and convinced him he was a required player.

Fortuitously, he played in another premiership team and won Sandy’s best and fairest award. During the year he had represented the VFL against South Australia and he was named in the ‘VFL Team of the Year’ at season’s end.

Sean had completed a teaching degree, but had a gut feeling he would like to have a crack at being an electrician. He’d done a bit of fill-in work with a Sandringham committeemen during the holidays and really enjoyed it.

So, in a bold career move, he headed to Adelaide to start an apprenticeship and joined Sturt. His form was patchy at times, but in his second season he finished fourth in the best and fairest for the SANFL club.

In 2008, with a sense of adventure in his nostrils, he and partner Kerrie shifted to Kalgoorlie, the historic old mining city across the Nullarbor. Besides boasting more than 30 pubs to service its thirsty population of 30,000 and a reputation as a rollicking frontier destination, it has a serious football competition.

The Goldfields Football League has a rich history and most clubs bolster their ranks by flying star players in from Perth.The realisation that a former AFL player was in their midst created a flurry among recruiters.

Sean signed with Railways, who had been a bottom-runger the previous year. He was a star in his two seasons in the west and won the League’s Mitchell Medal in 2009.

It was a nostalgic homecoming when he returned to the Findlay Oval on the eve of the 2010 season. Having completed his apprenticeship and secured a job as an electrician in Mulwala, he and Kerrie were freshly betrothed and he was eager to throw himself into his career renaissance with the Rovers.

It had been 11 years since he had played the last of his 6 senior games in Brown and Gold, but he has an outstanding return season, winning the Best and Fairest in style. His ability to read the play and set things up was uncanny and he quickly became an O & M star. He garnered an impressive 23 possessions when the Hawks bowed out in the Elimination Final.

In the past five seasons he has been a model of consistency. He is rated as a superb player at stoppages and, thus, absolutely vital at the centre bounce. Yet he is a past-master playing as a ‘sweeper’ across half back.

‘Okey’ is a finals specialist. His best-afield performance in last year’s Elimination Final steered his side to a tight win over North Albury. And, who could forget that beautifully-weighted kick in the dying stages of the 2012 Second-Semi, that allowed Barry Hall to run onto the pass that should have guided the Rovers to a Grand Final.

He averages 21 possessions in the six finals he has played with the Hawks. On Sunday, in his 100th senior game with the Club, the now-seasoned assistant-coach will again shoulder much responsibility.

But, for ‘Mr.Dependable’, it will be just another day at the office.
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