MORE THAN A ‘SECOND BANANA’…….

The name – Brian Patrick O’Brien – invokes connotations of a bearded, whisky-swigging Irish poet……or perhaps a loose-piselled Gaelic footballer.

Slot the pseudonym ‘Skimmy’ somewhere in there and seasoned locals will automatically recall a star sporting all-rounder of the sixties and seventies.

He’s got a fair idea of the derivation of the nickname. The kids at Glenrowan State School thrust it upon him, he says, probably because his old man, Des, was a dairy farmer, and it had something to do with skimmed milk.

So he’s been ‘Skimmy’ ever since………….
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He remembers riding the bike to and from the farm at Greta West to attend school and play tennis at Glenrowan on week-ends. His resultant disdain for cycling has continued to this day.

When the family moved in to Docker Street, Des, thinking young Brian would continue to work on his promising all-court game, invested in a membership of the Wangaratta Tennis Club for the eldest of his two sons.

But he never got around to treading the hallowed turf of Merriwa Park.

Instead, cricket and football were to become his passions…………..
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‘Skimmy’ became an ‘overnight success’ as a medium-pace bowler of quality, mid-way through his career, when he unleashed a couple of outstanding performances at Melbourne Country Week.

He’d long been typecast as the ‘second banana’ to more highly-rated quicks of his vintage; the sort of bloke who could tie things up, whilst the ‘big guns’ did the damage at the other end.

To be truthful, he’d been under-valued. A prolific wicket-taker in club cricket for years, his outswinger to the right- hander was lethal. It was just that he was a touch unfashionable.

On his first two trips to Melbourne, the selectors overlooked him. He copped it on the chin, he says, but admits it hurt deep-down.

When he finally ‘hit his straps’ in 1970, he did it with a bang, bowling unchanged in oppressive conditions on successive days.

Operating in tandem with his clubmate Robin Kneebone, he sent down 22 overs from the Railway-line End at Glenferrie Oval, to capture 4/58 against Maryborough.  Kneebone snared 4/60, as they restricted their opponents to an easily-accessible 9/127.

The following day, he completed another marathon performance, to snare 9/91 off 23 overs at Richmond’s Punt Road Oval. Central Gippsland ( 203 ), just failed to overhaul Wangaratta’s 5/222.

It remains the only Country Week ‘9-for’ by a Wangaratta bowler. ‘Skimmy’ had finally won the respect of the wider cricket public………..
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His entry to cricket was low-key. The first three years were spent with Housing Commission in the Social competition, alongside good friend Pat Heffernan and such erstwhile characters of the Sunday game as Rob McCullough, ‘Lofty’ Bracken and Bernie Mullins.

Little wonder that an impressionable lad, in his mid-teens, learned plenty, both on and off the field. Moving into the WDCA, he spent time with both Wangaratta and Rovers, before settling on United.

It was a stroke of fortune for both parties. The fledgling club was on the rise – destined to dominate local cricket for more than a decade. And he was to play a key role in its run of success.

In WDCA history, only the Corowa sides of the late-‘80’s and nineties, can rival this United unit for its depth and overall talent. At one stage, eight of their players were walk-up starts in Wangaratta’s representative teams.

‘Skimmy’ played in six premierships in his first eight seasons – and won the competition bowling average in four of them.

Nagging accuracy, consistent pace – and that hooping swing – made him a difficult proposition.

He went to Melbourne to represent the Victorian Postal Institute against the VRI once, he says, and caught the eye of one of the coaches with his ability to ‘move the cherry’.

“But can you control it, lad,” the coach asked. After half an hour  in the nets, into a difficult breeze, he conceded: “You’ve got one of the most crucial parts of a fast bowler’s armoury.”

A couple of his most memorable efforts in WDCA Finals were produced with the willow. He dragged United from a precarious 9/125 to a more comfortable 205 in 1968/69, thanks to his knock of 60, and a last-wicket stand of 65 with Geoff Kneebone.

Then, for good measure, he sent down 18 overs, to capture 3/44, backing up Robin Kneebone’s 6/68, to ensure victory.

A painstaking innings of 80 in the decider against Magpies the following year, along with figures of  3/25, further underlined his value as an all-rounder in this feared United machine……..
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Versatility was the hallmark of ‘Skimmy’s’ footy career. His coaches had the luxury of flinging him around the ground, aware that he’d adapt to any role.

Centrals was his Junior League club. Having  commenced a Telecom Technician’s course in Melbourne in 1959 , he spent half a season with South Yarra YCW. After completing his commitments with Centrals  the following year, he slotted straight into the Rovers Reserves line-up, being selected for the first of his 6 Grand Final appearances with the Hawks.

‘Skimmy’ broke into the senior side in 1961 and was to become a permanent fixture for the next decade . At a little over 6’1” and handily-proportioned, he had pace, and all the skills – bar one.

Surprisingly, he never attempted to kick with his left foot, instead, mastering a side-ways right-footer, which got him out of trouble and was nearly always effective.

He began as a full back, but after receiving a ‘touch-up’ from Magpie ‘Bushy’ Constable one day, was replaced by burly Teddy Pearse, and shunted to the back pocket. They became a formidable combination in the last line.

‘Skimmy’ was one of the youthful brigade who responded to the inspirational coaching of Ken Boyd, who succeeded Bobby Rose in 1963.

Within a year, the Hawks were playing an aggressive, spirited brand of footy which had them ranked as hot flag favourites mid-way through 1964.

But first they had to overcome a worrying slump in form, then a Wangaratta side which had hit top form at the business end of the season. They broke the shackles in a dominant third quarter, to defeat the Pies by 25 points in the Grand Final.

They repeated the dose the following year, this time outlasting the Pies at Martin Park. An O’Brien goal late in the final term had seemingly iced the game, but Wang kept coming and fell short by just three points in a riveting clash.

‘Skimmy’s’ best season with the Hawks came in 1967, when he polled 10 votes in the Morris Medal, playing principally as a winger or centreman. The season, however, ended in Grand Final disappointment, as did his final full year as a player – 1970.

He was appointed coach at Chiltern in 1971 and admits there were some misgivings.
“Especially early on, when I had a yarn to an old Chiltern stalwart, Donny Stephenson. He said: ‘Skim, being an outsider, it might take a while for the players to accept you. I think you’ll probably have to win ‘em over.’ “

“But everyone was great. I just set down one rule: ‘No grog in the pub after Tuesday night.’”

“Old Bill Cassidy, the Chairman of Selectors,  came to me after training one night and took me aside: ‘A couple of the boys have been spotted down at the Grapevine Hotel.’”

“So I walked into the Bar and nabbed ‘em. You could have hung buckets off their eyes, they were that surprised. I said: ‘All right, I’ll have one with ya and then, on your way. And remember, I’m going to run shit out of you at training next week.’”

Chiltern went on to meet Milawa in a Grand Final that had everything. The Swans, with stars Jock and Rowdy Lappin turning it on, regained the lead twice in the final term, to defeat the gallant Demons by six points.

There was no-one more relieved than ‘Skimmy’, that Chiltern had hung on. He’d  played a solid game at full back, but a late Milawa goal – and a drawn game- would have thrown his planned wedding to Marlene the following week into chaos.

So he finished his O & K sojourn with a perfect record.

“They were great people and we made long-lasting friends in our time there. But I was missing the Rovers. I decided to head back home.”

He played just three games in Brown and Gold the next season, before his hamstring gave way.

After 174 senior games with the Hawks, his playing career was over.

He spent three years on the committee, and coached the Reserves into a Grand Final in 1975, before the lure of the Golf course saw this staunchest of Rovers clubmen end his time at the City Oval.

Since then, belting the white ball around has been ‘Skimmy’s’ solitary sporting pursuit. “I don’t hit ‘em as well as I used to, but the game still gets me in,” he says…………..

‘TWO BENDIGO CROWNS IN A ROW FOR W.D.C.A….’

The WDCA won its sixth – and arguably most emphatic – Bendigo Country Week Premiership at Bell Oval, Strathdale, today.

Under a blazing summer sun, and in a match reduced to 35 overs because of the anticipated extreme heat conditions, the Division 2 competition leaders faced off against Colac for the second successive day.

Added to that, play got under way at the unearthly hour of 9am, a time when some of the stragglers of yesteryear would have only just bedded down after a hefty night of commiserations.

But it was worth the effort. The WDCA again batted superbly to reach 8/205 (at just under 6 an over) – a total that was always going to be defendable.

Colac had not troubled the scorers when they lost their first wicket, and were right up against it after gun batsman Des Flanigan fell to the persistent right-arm pace of Richie Worcester. They finished with 7/160, continually tied down by a disciplined WDCA attack………
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The seeds of success were sown on Day 1, when Beechworth pace duo, Worcester and Mark Butters dismantled the Maryborough upper-order at the stately Queen Elizabeth Oval.

Worcester, who has been an unsung hero for the Wanderers for many years, finished with 3/50. Butters – an ideal foil – captured 3/24 off his 11.3 overs.
Joe Thomas, a real work-horse throughout the week, was his usual economical-self. His 2/20 came off 12 overs.

In pursuit of 167, openers Reed Clarke (39) and Luke Whitten (30) got off to a flier, adding 79 runs in quick time. From there, the brilliant Yarrawonga youngster Matt Casey (59) and Greta’s English recruit Tom Nightingale (71), put the icing on the cake, as the WDCA totalled 4/223.
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The clash against Red Cliffs followed a similar pattern. Butters (2/34), Thomas (3/46) and Mitch Howe (2/21) restricted the team from the state’s north-west to 180.

But centre-stage was taken by Casey, who again underlined his immense talent by belting an unbeaten century off just 132 balls, to take his side to 6/228.
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With successive victories, the WDCA had moved to the head of the ladder, but their encounter with Portland was to prove a real nail-biter.

Seven players reached double-figures, but it was a 63-run fourth-wicket partnership between Jacob Schonafinger (39) and Tom Nightnigale (57) which laid the foundations for another sizeable score.

Burly Andrew Squires (31), Cam Notttle and Sam Gladstone produced handy cameos to push the total up to 8/218.

Portland were always there or thereabouts, thanks to opener James Wilson and a punishing knock of 52 off 42 balls from Joe Atwell. They had struggled to get on top of the lanky orthodox left-armer Thomas, whose 12 overs yielded 3/17.

But the telling moment came when Atwell, who threatened to take his side to victory, was dismissed by Sam Gladstone, with the score on 206.

They lost another wicket on the same total and eventually finished nine runs shy – 9/209.
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So the two unbeaten sides – WDCA and Colac – drew swords at Harry Trott Oval on Thursday, with the prize being a certain spot in the Final.

And Wang were soon up against it. Worcester rattled the stumps in his opening over, to have Colac 1/2, but a dynamic Parker- Flanigan second-wicket gave them the ascendancy. Skipper Schonafinger sent Parker on his way for 50, but Flanigan found plenty of support in his classic innings of 98.

Colac’s 6/224 was formidable, but the experts considered that a good start was of the utmost importance.

They could scarcely have been happier when Reed Clarke and Luke Whitten produced another pearler. Their stand of 100 (Whitten’s contribution was 37) was solidified when the Lakers’ pair, Clarke ( 87) and Matt Casey (53) kept the run-rate moving along impressively.

The final total- 6/246 – looked on paper, to be a reasonably comfortable result, but, in truth, there was never a lot in the game………..
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It did, however, give the WDCA an important psychological advantage when news came through that Colac were to be their Grand Final opponent.

But things don’t always go to plan in cricket – particularly at Country Week – where a opposing player who gives you the impression that he’s a ‘scrubber’ can produce an innings of quality. Or two or three of your batsmen, who have been in rare touch all week, are back in the pavilion in the flick of an eye.

Schonafinger, fortunately, won the toss and elected to bat in the furnace-like atmosphere, but that’s when things momentarily began to go astray.

Openers Clarke and Whitten both fell early. At 2/10 it was horror start. It necessitated another fine Casey knock, as he had already totalled 220 runs for the week. But he was soon on his way for 11 and the WDCA were precariously-placed at 3/42.

It required a skipper’s hand. Schonafinger and Nightingale, who had more than proved his worth during the week, knuckled down an kept the run-rate flowing. With just 35 overs to play with, caution could only be applied in small doses.

They pushed the score to 117 before Schona’s bright 59-ball knock ended just one short of a deserving half-ton.

With just 12 overs remaining, it was crucial to push on. Nightingale garnered support from the dashing Squires, Mitch Howe and Joe Thomas, in his first innings for the week, to take the score to a highly-respectable 8/205. Nightingale’s 62 gave him 203 runs for the series.

The two batsmen who had proved such an obstacle on Thursday, were both dismissed cheaply by Worcester, who had excelled on his maiden visit to Bendigo.

There was plenty of resistance from the Colac lower-order, but they found it difficult to regain the ascendency, or up the run-rate.

Joe Thomas, operating superbly, despite the enticingly-small Ball Oval leg-side boundary, sent down his seven overs to capture 3/21, and again be the pick of an impressive bunch.

The boy from Oxfordshire, who will probably never again be subjected to conditions such as this, wheeled down 56 economical overs for the Week, in collecting his 12 wickets.

So the WDCA players returned in triumph from City of Gold for the second straight year. With the benefit of a similarlay-strong outfit, will be keen to acquit themselves well in Bendigo’s Premier Division…….

‘ RAGS TO RICHES ‘……..THE ASHLEY GILBERT STORY….

Ashley Gilbert recalls the moment that a WDCA Final turned on its ear……..

His memory flicks back to March 1992…….. As he assumes his spot in first slip, he’s privately chuffed that his middle-order half-century has pushed ‘Cinderella’ side College to a defendable first innings total of 284.

“We knew that if we could pick up Corowa’s ‘danger-man’ ‘Psycho’ Carroll early-on, we were in with a real show. My opening partner ‘Bouncer’ McCormick takes the new pill; ‘Psycho’, still on zero, slashes at one outside off stump, and I grass the catch. He goes on to score 153 and steer his side to victory………”

What was shaping as a ‘rags to riches’ story for College – the popular underdogs – turned todisappointment, as powerhouse Corowa clinched their fifth straight flag………
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‘Rags to riches’ is perhaps an appropriate way to summarise the career of Ash Gilbert.

He’s a Lakes Entrance boy, and grew up with no great pretensions to sporting glory. “I played a bit of cricket as a kid, but didn’t crack it for any rep sides, or the like. I had a few other priorities,” he says.

When he landed a job in Leongatha, with the National Bank, he was enticed into having a game for a year or so. “But, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t all that keen. I drifted away.”

A transfer to Wangaratta in the bank changed all that. A new work-mate, Donna Grady, suggested that, for a bloke of his size he’d make a good fast bowler. “Well, I have done a bit of bowling, “ Ash replied.

Donna’s husband Pat, recruited him to College. For the first couple of games he rolled his arm over in C-Grade. But the boys knew they had a player on their hands and, once he had qualified, slipped him into the Senior line-up on the eve of the finals.

College had finished on the bottom of the ladder for the previous five years, but surged dramatically, to finish as minor premiers. With their lethal new-ball combination in fine form, they wrecked Magpies in the semi-Final ( Gilbert 4/21, McCormick 3/30 ).

The Final was one of the most gripping – and certainly controversial – in WDCA history. After College had batted for all of the first day, vandals found a way into the padlocked oval that night, and took to the wicket with hammers.

Corowa had misgivings about commencing their innings, but, after a delay, play continued. It was the mercurial Anthony Carroll who then stepped up to take the game out of College’s hands………..
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The two and a bit seasons he spent in Wangaratta revived Ash’s enthusiasm for cricket. Batsmen found him a difficult proposition – a 205cm gangling giant, propelling the new cherry from a great height, and continually forcing them onto the defensive. His batting, too, proved more than handy.

Saturdays were spent with College. On Sundays he turned out for Moyhu in the Social Association. Inspired by the friendships he had created, his competitive juices flowed. He revelled in the argy-bargy of a tough game of cricket.

He shared in a premiership for Moyhu in 1992/93, and just missed out the following season, when they almost had one hand on the Cup. Ash’s 4/23 had limited West End to 9/146. Moyhu, needing just 13 in two overs, with six wickets in hand, fell 5 short.

“It was a good standard of cricket in both competitions,” he says. “People used to knock the Sunday comp a bit, but gee, there were some good players and the top teams were fairly even.”

In the brief time he spent in Wangaratta, Ash made trips to both Melbourne and Bendigo Country Weeks in successive years. He found himself well-suited to the bounce and carry of the good tracks in the city.

He hadn’t given much thought to his cricketing future, but when he received a bank transfer to Euroa, initially decided to travel to the ‘big smoke’ each week, to try his luck with North Melbourne.

“ ‘Bouncer’ (Barrie McCormick) had been down there for a season, and had made a big impact. I think, from memory, he played a game or two with the Victorian Second XI. They gave me a chance and I settled in okay, sharing the new ball with him,” Ash recalls.

He had played 45 District games with the ‘Roos over three seasons, when he and North parted company three games into the 1997/98 season. “To be truthful, I wasn’t very fit, but the culmination of it was that I had a ‘blue’ with the Chairman of Selectors,” he says.

He started training with a suburban club, Caulfield-Glenhuntly, and had just about decided to sign on, when Carlton all-rounder Ian Wrigglesworth, who knew him from their days in Gippsland, contacted him.

“The best decision I ever made,” he says, of the Blues enticing him to Princes Park.
Carlton found him a job reading gas meters, which involved plenty of trudging around city streets.

“I dropped a heap of weight. For the first time in my career I’d got really fit.”
In the off-season he was invited to the Cricket Academy in Adelaide for three months, by its head coach, Rod Marsh.

He worked on refining his technique, rather than just loping in, using his height and strength and letting the ball go. They impressed upon him the importance of getting his run-up smoothed out, and bowling the right lines.

He played for the Academy in a couple of three-day games in Brisbane, against New Zealand, then in a one-dayer against Australia.

“I had a front-row seat to the Adam Gilchrist Show, and looked forward to seeing another great knock from him. But I had to be a smart-arse, and get him caught behind first ball,” he recalls.

When he followed this up by having  Steve Waugh caught at third-man, eyebrows were raised. This bloke had something……..

At the airport a week or so later, Waugh met a Carlton official, who mentioned that he was heading overseas to sign mercurial Pakistani leg-spinner Abdul Qadir, for the 1998/99 season.

“With Qadir and the big bloke, Gilbert, you’ll have the most lethal club attack in the country,” said the Aussie skipper.

Ash’s performances for Carlton duly earned him a spot in the State squad and, eventually, his first-class debut for Victoria against the touring Englishmen.

He earned a pass mark, with figures of 2/44 and 2/63, and the plaudits of the experts, who felt that he was ‘dangerous enough’. It was a run-in with English batsman Mark Ramprakash which produced the headlines, though.

The right-hander didn’t relish the send-off he received when Gilbert dismissed him in the second innings. The English press zeroed in on the aggressive speedster.
Ash played one Shield game – against Tasmania – that season, and featured in four Mercantile Mutual one-dayers.

But he realised his first-class career was limited. “When they were all available, I had Paul Reiffel, Damien Fleming, Ian Harvey and Matty Innes in front of me in the queue. I knew I wasn’t quite good enough,” he said.

He was still rated among District cricket’s top quicks, and played on for another three seasons.

His District career produced 97 games ( 45 with North Melbourne and 52 with Carlton). He captured 190 wickets and scored 911 runs over eight years.

“The end came when I decided to go to the races early in the 2001/02 season, and missed training. ‘Scholesy’ ( Carlton coach John Scholes) wasn’t too impressed. He said: ‘That’s it. You’re finished.’ “

He spent the rest of that season with Bentleigh, where he won a Club Championship, then had more than a decade away from the game, before saddling up with VTCA club Strathmore.

“I was in my forties, but was enjoying my cricket, until I did my knee last season. It was time to pull the pin,” he says.

Ash operates his own business, servicing fire equipment, and is now back at Carlton, as bowling coach. He’s excited about some of the lads coming through at Princes Park, like 16 year-old all-rounder Mackenzie Harvey and talented speedster Xavier Crone.

I suggest that, had he been lured to District cricket as a teen-ager , rather than his mid-twenties, it might have had a big impact on his career.

“Who knows…….. but I’m happy with the way things panned out,” he says………..

‘PETER HARVEY…………AND THAT IMAGINARY WHITE LINE……’

For such a convivial bloke, the darker side of Peter Harvey had a habit of manifesting itself on the sporting field.

Over-officious umpires, ‘arsey’ batsmen, unsympathetic wickets and clumsy fieldsmen often felt the ire of this left-arm paceman, whose volcanic outbursts could enliven the dullest of Saturday afternoons.

He’s always maintained a glass half-full approach to life, has ‘Harv’, but once he crossed that white line, he tended to believe that the sporting gods were conspiring against him.

And while we’re on the subject of his grudges, don’t even mention footy selectors. Those hardhearted bastards deprived him of a spot in three Premiership sides………

Team-mates and opponents alike have a favourite yarn about ‘Harv’. He even tells a few against himself………..Like the time he was spending a cricket season on the tiny island of Jersey – just off the English coast:

He was enduring another one of those ‘nearly’ days; as the ball regularly just whistled past the outside edge of the bat. The lucky batsman was a veteran, Colin Graham, reputedly the best and fastest bowler that the island has produced.

“I was having a bit of a sook and ruing my misfortune, as he kept playing and missing. Then I got one through him and rattled the stumps. He stood at the crease for a few seconds and stared me down: ‘That’s what happens when you pitch the fooken thing up, lad.’………“

‘Harv’ inherited his sporting genes from his dad Bill, who was a handy footballer and basketballer.

Nowadays the old fellah shows poultry, with quite a deal of success. I noticed Bill at one of their events earlier this year. The exhibitors were mingling socially, thermos flasks and picnic lunches laid out, whilst the freshly washed and manicured birds clucked in the background.

I couldn’t help thinking that there’d be no hope of ‘Harv’ following down Bill’s path. If one of the chooks was getting cantankerous he’d just as likely wring it’s neck !…………..
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Even though it’s years since I’ve seen him bowl, the vision of his approach to the crease is still firmly implanted in my mind. He would have carefully measured out his 20-metre run-up, tinkered pedantically with some minor field adjustments, and methodically worked up a shine on the Kookaburra, on his superbly-tailored creams.

At a stretch, you’d call it a rhythmic approach. His left-arm pumped furiously and there was a skip in his final delivery stride; his eyeballs focused on their target from behind a technically-perfect, uplifted right arm………

It had been the same, really, from the first time young Pete began wheeling them down as a 12 year-old for United in the WDCA’s Under 16 competition.

His ambition had been to play senior WDCA cricket and O & M footy for the Rovers – and that’s what eventually happened.

In the meantime, like all kids who show promise, there had been oodles of opportunities to refine his obvious talent. Every summer week-end was consumed by cricket – WDCA games on Saturday, the Social competition, North-East Colts or other rep fixtures on Sundays.

‘Harv’s’ first full senior WDCA season in 1985/86 had been promising enough. After a few tidy hauls, he got to open the bowling in the Final against Rovers – a match which gave him a fair indication that cricket’s not all bells and whistles.

United lost the toss, and Rovers piled up a mammoth 414, to virtually seal the game. The youngster contributed a wicket-less 23 overs, and his opening partner Graeme McMillan a marathon 45 of the 143 overs that United sent down.

Two seasons later, he was representing the North-East in a State-wide Under 21 competition when, over several post-match drinks, a plan was hatched to play some cricket in England.

“Rod Barton, Scott Kay and Andrew Killeen from Albury, were also playing in that side, and we decided to head over some time in the future,” he recalls.

‘Harv’ had broken into the Rovers senior footy side earlier that year, and was a handy contributor up forward. Most of the players were of his vintage, and shared a unique spirit, as they shaped more and more like premiership contenders.

When the Grand Final side was named, he was squeezed out. The Hawks ran away from Lavington to clinch the ‘88 flag. For ‘Harv’, it still remains his greatest disappointment in sport. ( “Come to think of it”, he says,” being named as an emergency in the 1993 and ‘94 Grand Finals runs pretty close.” )

A few months later, at Bendigo Country Week, in mid-January 1989, a seemingly innocuous error of judgement brought down the full force of officialdom upon Pete and his team-mate Scott Clayton.

I’ll let him take up the story : “……..We were ‘winding down’, late one night, as exhuberant youngsters do, when we unhinged a fire-extinguisher off the wall of the motel-room.

One of the boys,’Chewy’ Brezac, was sleeping peacefully and we thought we’d wake him up by giving him a little squirt……”

“We didn’t realise you couldn’t turn the thing off automatically, no matter how hard we tried. There was foam everywhere – on beds, walls, ceiling, bathroom, toilet…… “

“The Motel Manager was aghast at the damage we caused. So were we. The situation became worse when the media got hold of it. ‘Country Calamity – Axe May Fall’, was the headline in one paper.”

“The WDCA was threatened with expulsion; we were made to look lower than a snake’s belly….……..I’ve treated fire extinguishers with suspicion ever since……”

Stern correspondence was still being relayed between the Bendigo and Wangaratta Associations when he flew off to England to play for Huddersfield League club, Paddock.

He relished the opportunity to have up to four games a week if he desired. It proved a marvellous experience, highlighted by plenty of wickets, laughs and refreshments.

Despite an offer to try out with the 2nd XI of County club Sussex, Pete decided to base himself in Greece and tour Europe the following season. He did intend to spend some time playing in Denmark, but instead, after a break, landed in the delightful tax-free haven of Jersey.

He twigged immediately, he says, that he was in for a good time when he was handed his cap on the eve of his debut. The club’s crest depicted a Pint of beer leaning against a Palm Tree……….
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In his absence, his old club, United, had merged with their arch rivals, Rovers. They’d fallen short in recent times, but consoled themselves that: “ All will be well soon. ‘Harv’s’ coming back.”

He took no time to settle back into life at the City Oval. Rovers-United were developing a good young side and he was skipper – and the leader of their attack – when they took out successive flags in 1995/96 and ‘96/97.

There was little doubt that he was a much better bowler after his European Odyssey, as he emphasised by performing well on a couple of Melbourne Country Week trips.

‘Harv’ reckons he was playing his best season of football in 1994. A broken thumb stalled it though, and by the time he was fit again, the Rovers line-up was settled. He had to watch from  he sidelines, as the Hawks completed their unbeaten season.

There was some consolation three years later, when, along with a few old Rovers mates, he shared in North Wangaratta’s 1997 O & K win over Greta.

Undeniably, his favourite cricket moment came in a tense WDCA Final against Wang-Magpies in 2001/02. He had taken 3/33 (giving him 44 wickets for the season) to limit the Pies to 151. But the Hawks proceeded to lose wickets at regular intervals.

They were 9/140 when ‘Harv’ was joined by his opening bowling partner Adam Booth. Amidst high drama, the pair scrounged the runs to secure a memorable victory.

He continued to rack up the wickets – totalling 509 in his 22-year A-Grade career – until a torn hamstring, incurred whilst ten-pin bowling with his kids, brought about his ultimate demise.

On the footy front, he coached the Rovers Reserves for two years, was an assistant with the Thirds for three, and  helped run the bench out at Greta for several years.

‘Harv’ loves reminiscing. Tall stories flow and laughter permeates when he gets together with old team-mates.

And he’s always the butt of plenty of ‘piss-taking’ from blokes who’ve taken their fair share from him, and want to ensure that he doesn’t get too far ahead of himself…….

’JUST A STREAK OF RUTHLESSNESS…..’

Dad lost a few of the best years of his sporting life to the War. He’s not Robinson Crusoe there, of course. Those of his generation, many of them potential top-liners, had to forsake their careers and head off to tackle the pesky Germans and Japanese. Some never returned………

He was born in 1917 – just a fortnight short of a century ago.

Those bleak times, when the world was still embroiled in its first almighty stoush, bred an era of independent, resilient, homespun characters who learnt to cope with the rigours of life.

Is it any wonder that, having stuck up for himself among a tight-knit mob of 10 kids, and helped the family to keep the wolf from the door when the Depression hit hard, he was well-equipped for anything that was hurled his way.

Which included playing his part in defending Darwin from potential invasion…………….
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Dad played footy with O & K Club Waratahs as a youngster. When he returned from the War, he stepped straight into Laurie Nash’s 1946 Wangaratta premiership team as a key defender.

He had aggravated an old knee injury in that Grand Final and was gingerly feeling his way through the early rounds of the next season when he received an approach from the Rovers. Their coach had walked out after a few heavy losses and he was invited to take over.

After initially resisting, he signed on as playing-coach and made an immediate impact. Players who served under him testified that he was tough and durable, and able to play at both ends of the ground, with a preference for centre half back.

After a slight improvement in his first season, they were staring a premiership in the face mid-way through 1948. They lost just two home-and-home games and when he was chaired off after leading the Rovers to their first flag, he reckoned it gave him his proudest moment in sport.

He handed over the coaching reins when the Club gained admittance to the O & M, but played on for half a season before old age and a ‘dickey’ knee hastened his departure from the playing arena.

He struck a chord with many of the people who had been part of the Rovers since the club’s infancy. Old stalwarts like Jack Maroney, Mannie Cochineas, Freddie Booth, Les O’Keeffe, Jack Stubbs, ‘Spud’ Patat, Alan Bell and the like, became cherished lifelong friends.

For the next 36 years he was at various times a Committeeman, Vice-President, Recruiter, Fund-Raiser, Maintenance-Man, Selector, Past-Players’ President, sounding-board for coaches, and finally – reluctantly – President.

He was behind-the -scenes in all of those magical moments of the Rovers early days, like the recruitment of Bob Rose…..the build-up to the 1958 flag……the construction of the Clubrooms……..the punt on the infamous Ken Boyd to succeed Rosey……and more.

When his boys began to filter through to the playing ranks, Dad eased away from the Selection Committee and followed us closely, without burdening us with advice.

The one pearl of wisdom he would proffer on a potential opponent was : “Don’t be frightened to give him a whack behind the ear…..just to let him know you’re around.”

With that train of thought, it’s not surprising that his favourite Hawks were Ken Boyd and Merv Holmes – both fierce, hard-hitting types.

As an old centre half back, he had all the time in the world for ‘Farmer’ and I detected his unwitting vote-selection method: “When in doubt, go for Holmes.”
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Sport was an intrinsic part of our family. Mum had been raised in a footy environment and was more than handy with a tennis racquet. Dad was a competitive animal and was obsessed by all aspects of sport.

Even when he was deeply-entrenched in business with his Rovers team-mate Frank Hayes, and was toiling away for long hours at Wang. Furnishing Company, cricket and football provided him with a release-valve.

He had a streak of ruthlessness which embarrassed us sometimes. He would fight like heck in a game of table-tennis or darts, and on the cricket field, had a touch of white-line fever.

When he eyeballed someone from 22 yards away, they knew there’d be no easy runs.

Dad had many tricks up his sleeve. He needed to, because he didn’t turn the ball a great deal, relying on flight, guile, accuracy and a bit of bluster, to wheedle batsmen out.

He had his ‘quicker one’ – which opponents argued looked suspiciously like a throw – there was the ‘slower one’, then a ball which he delivered from well behind the bowling crease. If that didn’t catch the batsman by surprise he would, next ball, wheel around and be on the poor devil before he’d shaped up.

Well before extensive research was done on opposition players he’d compiled a dossier of batsmen’s weaknesses in his head, and would painstakingly set his field.

He likened it to enticing a fly into a spider’s web. But woe betide the fieldsman who dropped the catch, or the umpire who turned down the decision which foiled his act of subterfuge.

Dad won his last WDCA bowling average in 1970/71 – 18 years on from his first – and 34 years after he began sending down off-spin in club cricket. He took 584 wickets after his 40th birthday.

Some of his best performances came at the tail-end of his career, when he operated in tandem with Geoff Billman, an excellent swing bowler.

He played his final season, aged 54, but continued to roll the wickets at the City Oval, as he had done since he helped install the turf ‘track’ there in 1955.

Years later, he would position himself under the huge gum tree at the town end of the Rovers ground, directly behind the bowler’s arm. “Put your square-leg deeper”……”You don’t need a Third Man for this bloke”……”Attack his off-stump”, would be some of the none-too subtle pieces of advice offered when one of his sons was captaining the Rovers.

Several years later, he got word we were desperately short in the Seconds and offered to help make up the numbers . The theory was that, at 65, he’d be best-advised to park himself in slips on this stinking hot day. But he couldn’t resist suggesting an over of off-spin. Sixteen overs later, he had five wickets and a complexion the colour of rhubarb.

He played with all six of us at one time or another. The post-mortems over the tea-table could become heated, especially if it had been a gruelling day in the field. It necessitated Mum to step in and diffuse the situation…….
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I admired his tenacity in confronting life’s pitfalls, and envied his skills as a Salesman, Businessman, Communicator and leader.

I thought he was just about invincible……..until suddenly, in 1986, he was confronted by an opponent he couldn’t overcome.

But we were comfortable in the knowledge that the greatest legacy he had left was that of a champion Husband and Father………

Happy Father’s Day, old fellah…………