'KEEPING AN EYE ON THE FINAL…..'

By Guest blogger Simone Kerwin

“Sim!” A time-worn finger beckons my attention from the perimeter of the WJ Findlay Oval, where it’s owner perches on a bench seat, leaning on the fence.

Of course, I think. Why wouldn’t he be here in spirit, at the culmination of the competition played in his name.

“Hi, Pa. You’ve been watching?” I manage, as I step towards the ghost of my grandfather, who nods, as he peers out towards the middle.

“Terrific. Another generation’s in love with the game,” he says, gesturing towards his great grand daughter, who’s loving every minute of this as her team moves steadily towards a grand final victory.

“Things have changed since my day, but that’s the way of things,” he says.

I smile. Sometimes we forget that our forebears, as much as they would shake their heads in disbelief at the speed of the world’s progress, were the innovators who brought places like this very ground into being.

“The girls more than hold their own,” he says of the mixed contest playing out before him, “and the boys don’t bat an eyelid at the fact they’re there. Great!”

“First wicket of the day – straight through the dangerous opening bat,” he rubs his hands together, recalling Grace’s conquest, and probably the thrill of his own on this ground, years earlier. “I loved that. And she batted so well yesterday. Brave.”

He puts a hand up to shield his eyes from the glorious autumn sun.

“It’s a Yarra team they’re playing, did I hear?”

“Yeah.”

He nods again: “Would have been a rep game years ago.”

“Yeah,” I say, “the landscape’s changed. Not as many playing these days, so they’ve adapted – Dad drives as far as Mansfield to score for Rovers-United Bruck now.”

It’s almost as though he’s copped a jab, the way he flinches at the mention of the combine.

“Still can’t get used to that name,” he says grimly.

“What do you think about your great grand daughter playing for Wang-Magpies, then?” I ask, as I lean on the fence next to him.

“Ah well, whatever it takes; s’pose I was a Magpie once upon a time.” He glances over at the assistant coach, who’s following every ball as though he’s facing them himself. “She was never going anywhere else, and nor should she; he’s her hero, I reckon. That’s as it should be.”

“You’re his hero,” I say, directing his gaze to the figure on the other side of the oval; Dad’s circling the ground he’s traversed countless times throughout his life, lost in the contest and his grand daughter’s imminent success.

“And he’s one of mine, for sure,” he says.

HOWZAT!

A final wicket, and the 2019-20 Len Hill Memorial Shield lands safe in the hands of the Wangaratta-Magpies under 14s. I look over to catch the reaction of the man himself, but he’s gone. Gone, but definitely always here in spirit.

‘THE NICOLL’S OF WHOROULY……..’

Coronavirus has had the last say on the WDCA finals. They’ve been abandoned without a ball being bowled.

It’s an untimely conclusion to a season which has been rudely interrupted by Bushfire-haze, heavy overnight rain, or plus-40 degree heat.

There’s nothing unusual about Finals failing to reach their inevitable conclusion. Inclement early-autumn weather has often intervened in a competition that has spanned 125 years..

But permit me to explain the hiccup that came in April 1948, when Whorouly were sensationally punted from the Finals.

The Maroons, thanks to a contribution from the brilliant Nicoll’s, had overpowered St.Patrick’s in the Semi. Their total of 402 included a bludgeoning 130 from Wils Nicoll and 111 from his brother Ron.

The following Thursday, on Grand Final-eve , a lengthy, and heated WDCA executive meeting decreed that Wils Nicoll had flouted Association rules during the season, and had thus been ineligible for the recently-concluded Semi-Final.

His ‘crime’ ?…….Failing to take part in a WDCA representative match against Albury, after being selected and agreeing to play…………..

The decision caused ripples of discontent throughout cricket circles and rankled Whorouly followers. But the man at the centre of the controversy accepted it on the chin.

His effective response was to guide his side to a premiership the following season – and continue to represent the Association for the next ten years………

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Few families have played as significant a part in the WDCA’s long history as the famous Nicoll’s of Whorouly.

Their patriarch, William Wilson Nicoll, emigrated from Alyth, Scotland in the late 19th century. Excited by the prospect of a new life in Australia, he travelled firstly to Queensland, then in 1893, settled in Whorouly, with his wife, on a property they named after the town of his birth.

He was short of stature, had a troublesome hip and leg and wasn’t the sporting type. Nevertheless, he wholeheartedly encouraged his boys, who displayed an aptitude for cricket.

And he also made available some land, on which the Whorouly Recreation Reserve now stands.

His sons were all blessed with outstanding qualities as cricketers. Over the years debate raged as to who was the best of the clan.

Some say that Vic, who was tragically killed in a machinery accident in 1929, might have been the pick of them…..Ernie was another who had many admirers……Wils and Ron were powerhouses……

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Ron Nicoll’s talent was obvious when he made his debut for Whorouly in 1922, aged 12. But his development was halted when he contracted diphtheria. Seriously ill and reduced to just ‘skin and bones’ at 4 stone, it was to be the best part of three years before he fully recovered.

On his first season back he played with Everton, as Whorouly had disbanded for a year, but in 1926/27 the Maroons returned to the WDCA with a vengeance. The Nicoll’s played no small part in the premiership season, with Vic (649 runs, 39 wickets), Ernie ( 637 runs, 84 wickets) and 16 year-old Ron (492 runs and 40 wickets) contributing strongly.

Tall and rusty-haired, Ron stood upright at the crease. He drove and cut beautifully and was rarely mastered by the bowlers. It’s said that he could play what seemed like a routine forward defensive shot and the ball would scoot to the boundary.

That magnificent timing…….and a fine array of shots, were the key weapons in his armoury.

1938 was a Golden year for Ron Nicoll. At Melbourne Country Week his figures were: 112, 19 and 6/43, 168 retired, 70 and 74 not out. His tally of 443 runs is still to be bettered and helps explain why Wangaratta took out the ‘A’ Group title.

He scored 717 runs for Whorouly in the same season, including four centuries. His knock of 202 in a semi-final was described by the Chronicle as among the finest ever seen at the Showgrounds.

One of Ron’s most satisfying innings’ came three years earlier, when he opened the batting at the Gardens Oval with Benalla’s Tom Trewin, against an all-star New South Wales line-up. The pair added 91 before Trewin was removed. Nicoll top-scored with 65 out of the North-East XI’s total of 207.

Around this time he was approached by Richmond, who were keen to lure him to District cricket. But they were unable to drag him away from the farm.

A quality leg-spinner, Nicoll wasn’t afraid to toss the ball up, and possessed a handy ‘wrong-un’. His 322 wickets complemented the 6673 WDCA runs he scored.

Genuine and quietly-spoken, he was a popular figure in cricket circles and his love for the game had not abated after the War. He was a veteran by this stage and scored the last of his 16 centuries ( still a WDCA record ) in 1950/51, aged 40.

His Whorouly team-mates knew the end was nigh in 1953. Whilst still batting well he did the unthinkable one day, and dropped a couple of ‘sitters’ in slips.

“ ‘Ginge’ has grassed one,” was the surprise reaction to the first. Shock greeted the second.

Ron made 14 and took 3/43 in his final appearance, the 1952/53 Final. He had played 190 WDCA games ( and another 51 in the Myrtleford competition ) and a good portion of these were as captain of Whorouly.

He continued to be a mentor to the Club’s up-and-comers. His three daughters, Beth, Shirley and June were all taught to bowl the googly and leg-break and adopt the correct batting stance.

His service to the community included 15 years as a Shire Councillor and two terms as Shire President. Whorouly’s Ron Nicoll Bridge honours his contribution to sport and public life………

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Ron and his younger brother Wils gelled perfectly at the wicket, despite their contrasting batting styles.

This was best exemplified in a Wangaratta v Benalla Country Week clash at Collingwood’s Victoria Park in 1938.

Sent in on a dicey wicket, Wang were reeling at 2/1. The pair proceeded to put on 221 for the 3rd wicket. Wils was dismissed for 77 whilst Ron retired on 168 in a total of 378.

Ron was a craftsman at the crease, whereas Wils was murderous when in full flight.

Wils was slight and craggy-faced, spoke with a drawl and was completely bereft of style – the epitome of a ‘Bush Bradman’.

The story is told of the day he pushed open the white-picketed gate and sauntered onto St.Kilda’s Junction Oval, in a time of crisis for Wangaratta.

An old weather-beaten hat was pulled down to shield his eyes from the belting sun. Black socks were tucked into his well-worn white dacks , and his trusty, heavily-marked pigskin-covered bat had seen many a battle……

One fieldsman sneered, within hearing distance: “Have a look,at this bush yokel will ya……..”

Wils’s jaw tightened, his eyes narrowed….. and the battle began…….

Two hours later, he returned to the pavilion, having plundered the bowling in his usual ruthless manner. His innings of 130 had set up an easy victory.

He was a run-machine. His tally of 10,710 club runs, amassed in the WDCA and O & K competitions from 1927 to 1961, was staggering. He also took 418 wickets with his medium-pacers and played 293 games.

He won the WDCA batting average five times in eight years during the fifties,and finished with 20 centuries .

I witnessed one of the last of these – 178* at Tarrawingee. Yet to reach my teens, and pressed into ‘subbing’ for the ‘Dogs’ for part of the afternoon, the ball zoomed off the Nicoll blade, as I made countless trips to the boundary to retrieve it.

That was convincing enough for an impressionable youngster, but the thing that got me was that the old fellah smoked throughout his innings.

He would have a couple of drags between overs, then park the cigarette behind the stumps while he dealt with the Tarra attack……..

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Wils shared a 240-run stand with his 15 year-old son Peter in 1959/60, which gave every indication that the stylish left-hander would be a star of the future.

And the youngster certainly carried on the family tradition. His occupation as a stock agent took him away for periods of his career, during which he played with Richmond, Mansfield, Temora and in Wagga, but he managed to fit in 27 seasons with Whorouly.

After he’d negotiated the early overs and got into stride, Pete could turn on a batting ‘clinic’. If you happened to be driving past an Oval and spotted him at the crease it was well worth pulling over and catching half-an-hour of ‘Hollywood’s’ panache.

He scored 7561 runs and took 466 wickets for the Maroons, made 17 trips to Country Week, was selected to open against the West Indies, and played three games against touring Shield sides.

His brother Ian became better-known as a footballer who came from the clouds. He was floating around with Whorouly Reserves, but within two years was stripping with Carlton in an MCG Final.

“I didn’t have the batting skills of Dad or Peter,” Ian once told me. “I just took the advice of my uncle Ron, who said: “Just give it a good crack, son.” and that’s what I did.”

His most famous contribution to local cricket folklore was the double-century he scored, which included 24 fours. His second century came up in 40 minutes. The fifth-wicket partnership of 302 that he shared with his cousin Lex remains a WDCA record for any wicket.

Lex Nicoll’s story is a triumph of courage and determination. The son of Ernie, Lex was tipped to be a champ of the future.

On the eve of a 1951 footy semi-final, however, he woke up with a splitting headache, was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with the polio virus. “You’re lucky to be alive,” he was told.

Doctors informed him that he probably wouldn’t play sport again. But he set about proving them wrong.

Three years later, Lex returned to WDCA cricket and used a runner, as he was obliged to do for the remainder of his career. Opposition sides were pleased to see him playing at first, but soon found him an ‘immovable object’ in Whorouly’s upper-order.

He made 7 WDCA centuries and was part of Wangaratta’s much-lauded 1957 Provincial Country Week championship team. The 30-odd he made against a South Australian Sheffield Shield side in 1957 created a huge impression on the visitors.

But the locals were unsurprised by his fine knock.

After all, he was a Nicoll………..

‘OLD PIE TREADS DOWN MEMORY LANE……’

We first encountered him in the late-summer of 1965, on a sporty Princes Park wicket.

After back-to-back Country Week victories, our reasoning was that a third win, against the formidable Warragul, would have Wangaratta on the cusp of a spot in the Provincial Group Final – within reach of the most prestigious prize in country cricket.

But we hadn’t factored in Trevor Steer – a quickie with a high action, who could move the ball and make it steeple off a good length.

He and his slippery opening partner John Kydd proceeded to scythe through our batting; routing us for 71; then having us teetering at 8/55 when we followed-on – eons away from their total of 201……

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Fifty-five years later, Trevor’s hazy about the finer details of that game, but distinctly recalls a large group of kids from Princes Hill Secondary College clustered in the Robert Heatley Stand, giving him a ‘razz’ as he ran in to bowl:

“They must have been mostly Carlton supporters, and obviously twigged that I was the big, lanky bloke they’d seen trying to get a kick for Collingwood…….”

Less than two years on, he was still wearing a Black and White guernsey, but now it was as the newly-appointed captain-coach of Wangaratta…………….

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He’s 81 now, and has a trove of sporting memories:

….Like the time an uncle, George Hulett , took him for his first visit to the MCG: “I was nine years old, and Australia were playing a Test series against India. I’ll never forget laying eyes on that green oval , the huge stands, and seeing Bradman, Lindwall, Miller, Hasset, Barnes, Morris, Johnston and Tallon in the flesh,….”

“And to top it off Bradman scored a century. It made me determined that, one day, I’d get out there and play on that magnificent arena.”

He was raised at Drouin, spending his early years on a Dairy Farm before the family moved into town. He credits Bruce Tozer, a legendary teacher at Warragul High – and future State cricketer – as a tremendous sporting influence on he and his school-mates.

When Trevor headed off to boarding school at Scotch College he was a skinny, little tacker – just on 5’8”, and barely able to hold his place in Scotch’s Fourth 18 footy side.

But in his 18th year he grew roughly 7 inches. “I was playing with a church side, St.George’s, East St.Kilda. From struggling to get a possession one season, the next I was kicking bags of goals and starting to kill ‘em in the air. I thought: ‘How good’s this ?’ “

He travelled back home for a season, and played in Drouin’s 1958 premiership, before spending two years with University Blacks whilst completing his teaching degree.

That’s when Collingwood came knocking.

“Actually, they offered me a couple of games in late 1960, but I knocked them back. I couldn’t let Uni Blacks down by leaving during the season.”

The Steer VFL career ignited early in the opening round of 1961 when the Sherrin floated over the top of a charging pack, he ran onto it and nailed a goal with his first kick in League football.

He booted two goals on debut, but learned how unforgiving the ‘Pies fans were, as they reacted savagely to a 39-point mauling at Geelong’s Kardinia Park.

That boyhood dream of treading the hallowed MCG was realised two months later, in the Queen’s Birthday clash with Melbourne, in front of 78,465 fans. He nailed four out of Collingwood’s seven, in a 69-point defeat.

Trevor was teaching at Wonthaggi at this stage. His random training appearances at Collingwood mainly came during School Holidays. But the Magpies made sure to arrange a job for him back in the city in 1962.

For the next six seasons he revelled in the big-time atmosphere of League football. He occasionally muses how, but for two cruel twists of fate, he could easily have been a dual-premiership player.

In 1964, it was a dramatic goal from Melbourne’s pocket player Neil ‘Froggy’ Crompton which stole victory from the ‘Pies…….And St.Kilda fans still relate, with glee, Barrie Breen’s long, tumbling kick in the dying seconds of the ‘66 Grand Final, which registered a point and delivered their only flag.

1965, though, was Steer’s finest season. Big Ray Gabelich, the club’s key ruckman, went down early on and the 6 ft 3 inch, 84kg Steer was thrust into the role. He adapted so well that he took out the Copeland Trophy – Collingwood’s B & F – and was rewarded with the vice-captaincy the following year.

Trevor still found time, with his busy footy schedule, to return home to play cricket at Drouin. “Our coach Bob Rose, being an old cricketer himself, had no objection, as long as I organised it around practice-matches.”

His new-ball partner Des Nottage – an accurate medium-pace swing bowler – was a quality back-up, and the pair ran through most batting line-ups in the district. Along with prolific run-scorers like Tom Carroll and Stuart Pepperall, they helped Drouin Gold to five successive flags.

Besides fitting in two years of Country Week cricket (including the 1965 Final against Warrnambool at the MCG), Trevor also made two cameo appearances with District club Northcote.

“Someone from school who was tied up with the club invited me down there to train. I remember Bill Lawry was in the nets when I started bowling. They said: ‘Don’t upset him by giving him anything short, he’s got a Shield game on tomorrow’. I decided to try and get one to move away from him and bowled him. That must have impressed the experts; they picked me for a Cup-Day game.”

“Thinking back, I should have kept on at Northcote, but it was just too big a commitment at the time……..”

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A young Collingwood ruckman, Len Thompson, had arrived on the scene in 1966, and was being touted as, potentially, the finest big man in the game.

“They didn’t really want ‘Thommo’ being stuck in the back pocket, guarding the resting ruckmen, so that job fell to me. It didn’t really suit me, and I wasn’t all that happy,” Trevor recalls.

“I was teaching at Murrumbeena, but had received a promotion to Monbulk, which would mean a fair bit of extra travel to get to training. I gazed out the window of the classroom one day and saw these two bushy-looking blokes wandering around the school……Someone knocked on the door and said there were a couple of chaps who’d like to speak to me.”

“That was my introduction to Jack White and Gus Boyd. They said: ‘We’re from the Wangaratta Football Club and we’d like you to coach us. Are you interested ?’ “

“Sure,” I said, “but there’s one problem, you’d have to do something about organising a teaching transfer.” “Leave it to us,” they replied.

“The long and the short of it was that I went to Parliament House and met the local Member, Keith Bradbury, who somehow negotiated a transfer to Beechworth High.”

So, after calling it quits on his 88-game VFL career, Trevor and his wife Jill settled into a house in Swan Street, and embraced their new Club.

Wangaratta had been the ‘Bridesmaid’ in the previous three Grand Finals, but held high hopes that their new coach, and ace ruckman, could guide them to that elusive flag.

Wodonga, led by an old Collingwood team-mate Mickey Bone, were a revitalised unit in 1967, and loomed as the early favourites, but the ‘Pies were among several other worthwhile claimants.

Their hopes were vanquished by wayward kicking in the First Semi-Final at Rutherglen. Former coach Ron Critchley booted 0.9, as the Rovers prevailed by 3 points.

They remained contendors in each of the four Steer years, missing the finals by percentage in 1968, losing the First Semi to eventual premiers Myrtleford in 1970, and bowing out to powerhouse Wodonga in the 1969 Grand Final.

They felt the loss of their skipper in that game. He watched on as the ‘Dogs gained control; having sustained a broken hand in Round 18.

Trevor ranked among the best of a talented band of big men who ruled the air during this strong late-60’s era of O & M football. He represented the League each year and turned in one of his finest performances in the Country Championship Final of 1968.

10,000 spectators converged on the Horsham City Oval, as O & M turned on a paralysing last half to defeat Wimmera by 35 points.

The Wimmera Mail-Times reported that : “……It was ruckman Trevor Steer who made sure the O & M’s dominance in the latter part of the game never flagged.”

“Assisted by a mere handful of players, Steer created sufficient energy to keep O & M alive in the first half, and was a giant among giants in the last……….”

Magpies Cricket Club recruited Trevor when he first landed in town. He helped transform them from battlers to a gun combination. In his three and a half years in the WDCA he captured 153 wickets, played in three Grand Finals and helped them to their second flag, in 1967/68.

His strong performances in the North-East Cup competition justified selection against the Victorian Shield side at Benalla. Two years later, and after 49 wickets in just 11 Cup matches he was chosen to lead a Victorian Country XI against the touring West Indies at the Wangaratta Showgrounds in 1969.

That, Trevor says, provided the highlight of his cricket career. “To be rubbing shoulders with legends of the game like Hall, Lloyd, Nurse, Gibbs……. I have a photo on the mantlepiece, of tossing the coin with Garfield Sobers……then to mix socially with them….it was a huge thrill.”

…….That was just one of the many fond memories of his time in Wangaratta, he says….”Two of the kids were born there…..we made some lifelong friends.”

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The Steers moved to Healesville, and Trevor coached Kilsyth in 1971. In his final year of footy- with Healesville – in 1972, he snagged five goals in the Grand Final, to help the Bloods to a premiership.

“That was as good a time as any to go out, I thought. I was nudging 34. It was an privilege to have captained Healesville to both cricket and footy flags in the same year.”

But he continued to play cricket – at Inverloch, Bendigo, Mandurang and Mirboo North finally hanging up the spikes at the age of 53. School-teaching took he and Jill and their kids ( Peter, Leesa and Rodney) to East Loddon P-12 School as Principal, then to Mirboo North Secondary, also as Principal.

After leaving the teaching profession, Trevor operated a 288-acre Beef Cattle farm in South Gippsland for 18 years, but now, in retirement, the Steers are domiciled in the seaside town of Inverloch.

His passion for footy and cricket remains as intense as ever, but he admits that nothing surprises him too much about sport these days…….

Except for the occasion, six years ago, when Life Membership was bestowed up him by the Collingwood Football Club.

“That was the ultimate honour,” says the big fellah……….

“….’WOOSHA’ FIGHTS BACK….”

THE SCENE : Rovers cricket nets…..any summer Saturday arvo…..Mid-to-late eighties………

Two energetic kids are oblivious to whatever drama is playing out on the W.J.Findlay Oval, where their dads are engaged in battle…..The tall, blonde lad can sure bat a bit…..For over, after over, after over, he flails everything that the whole-hearted right-armer can hurl at him.

The budding speedster bends down to retrieve the pill at one stage, and mutters something about being ‘nothing more than a friggin’ bowling-machine’. He’s confident, though, that if he can just pierce that defence he’ll get to have his turn with the willow ……But it never happens……….

Some years later, they both strut the hallowed turf of the Findlay Oval. Decreed by birth that they’ll wear the Brown and Gold of the Wangaratta Rovers, they become footy team-mates for a decade.Their cricket also flourishes, as they star for Rovers-United….until the partnership is broken….. The blonde bloke is lured to District cricket……….

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Shane Welch’s only sporting regret is that he was denied a Premiership at the Clubs he held dear to his heart .

He was just coming of age as a footballer, having been a rabid fan of the Hawks through a Golden Era, when they won four flags in seven years. They handed him a brief taste of senior footy in 1994 – mid-way through an O & M record 36 wins on the trot – the year the Club won the most recent of its 15 titles…….

And when he finally heeded everyone’s advice to try his luck with Carlton Cricket Club, his old side Rovers-United promptly nailed successive flags.

“That’s fate, I suppose. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” he says.

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Shane came through local cricket’s junior ranks, and was in his first year of Under 14’s when he also played as a keeper/batsman for Rovers-United’s C-Grade team. His old man Geoff ( whose aching body had now restricted him to wheeling down guileful, accurate, slow-medium left-armers ) and Greg Rosser ( batting legend ), were the elder statesmen of the side.

His rise was meteoric. At 16 he’d become a regular A-Grade player and a candidate for any form of rep cricket that was going.

That included being part of Wangaratta’s U.21 Mac Holten Shield side which, he reflects, was probably the most enjoyable cricket he played.

“Our team was chock-full of characters. You’d be struggling to manufacture that spirit, even in a club side. We won everything, and after the games, would celebrate accordingly.”

Shane broke into the Colts at the same time as Jaden Burns: “We went through sport together; he was just like my little brother; spent heaps of time at our place in Park Crescent. In the midst of Year 12 exams I took one of those calls you never forget, advising that he’d lost his life.”

“The Burns family asked me to deliver a poem at the funeral. I was talking to the Colts captain Chris Tidd a few weeks later. He said to me: ‘That was great, that thing you did on Burnsy.’……Less than a month later, Tiddy was also gone.”

Shane was elevated to the captaincy. Wang never went close to losing for the next two years, as they cleaned up successive Shield Finals.

In the 1994/95 decider, they knocked over ‘danger-man’, outspoken future NSW and Australia ‘A’ ‘gun’ Domenic Thornley for 3, and restricted Albury to 7/223. .

The Welch innings of 93 in 115 minutes guided Wang to victory. Many who’d been following his progress rated that as his finest innings.

He gained priceless experience, as a member of three Melbourne and four Bendigo Country Week sides, but along the way, admits he learned a couple of valuable lessons.

He’d just turned 18 and had begun to put a few decent scores together, including his first WDCA ‘ton’ – an unbeaten 126 against Rutherglen.

“Up until then I’d hardly missed any rep team I’d gone for,” he says. “There was a pretty extensive selection process for the Victorian Under 19 team, but I’d done well in the trial games and had captained Vic Country. I felt comfortable playing with the likes of Brad Hodge and Brad Williams.”

“Out of the final squad of 20 they only picked one country bloke to go to the National titles in Brisbane, and I missed the cut. I was disappointed…..pretty shattered, but it taught me to accept things, and not to get too far ahead of myself.”

He says he was put in his place one day at the Findlay Oval, when he was dismissed cheaply, nicking down leg-side:

“It annoyed me….more so the manner of the dismissal. I mumbled a few things under my breath ….cracked the shits and whacked the bat on my pad as I walked off. I’d been in the rooms for a minute or so when Max Bussell, one of Wang’s most respected cricket figures, came in.”

“He said: ‘What’s happened to you ? Remember, you’ll get out in plenty of different ways than that in your career. Just cop it on the chin’.”

“I learned that ‘Pa’ didn’t like what he’d seen and said to Max: ‘If you don’t go in and have a word to him, I will.”

‘Pa’ (Arthur) was his greatest fan. The moment he’d stride to the crease, Arthur, who was a laid-back, wise-cracking personality of the local game, would tense up…… He’d embark on a couple of nervous laps of the ground…..once the young bloke had passed 30 or so, his normal demeanour would re-appear.

After a productive 1994/95, which featured 430-odd WDCA runs ( including another ‘ton’), Shane headed to the ‘big smoke’ to attend RMIT University. Carlton and Fitzroy-Doncaster both pursued him.

He opted for the Blues, principally because his cousin Darren had spent four seasons there. It seemed a good fit, and he looked forward to learning off players like Rohan Larkin and Ian Wrigglesworth who’d played at the higher level.

A couple of half-centuries in the Seconds earned him promotion. His debut First XI hand of 58 against Dandenong impressed the good judges, but they nodded sagely a few weeks later when he scored 108 against Fitzroy-Doncaster.

“I just thought the runs would keep coming,” Shane says, “….but it’s never that easy.”

After a very successful opening season he began 1997/98 with a bright 55 against Prahran. Four games later he was back in the Seconds with three or four other youngsters who had been touted as the ‘future of Carlton’.

“I ended up becoming a bit disillusioned; got down on myself. I decided I’d free the arms up a bit….try tonking the spinners and belt the cover off the ball…. ‘Pa’ summed it up. He said: ‘You’re batting like a bowler’. “

“Cricket had lost its charm for me. I gave it away at the end of that season……..”

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His football apprenticeship began at his dad’s old Junior League club, Combined Churches, followed by two years with the Hawk Thirds and one in the Reserves.

Along the way, the Murray Bushrangers slotted him in for a late-season game in which he snagged four goals as a floating forward.

By 1995 he was a permanent fixture in the Rovers line-up, alternating as a forward, tall defender or relief ruckman.

For the next ten years, Shane became one of those fellahs who are vital to the culture of a successful footy Club …..Reliable……Always giving 100%……Disciplined…….Willing to accept whatever role he’d been handed….Rarely in the limelight….And enthusiastically embracing the after-match festivities.

During that period, he was one of a group of 20-25 city-based country players who’d gather at the Princes Park No.3 Oval and improvise their own training schedule.

“Travelling back each week wasn’t a chore for me then, “ Shane says, “It was an easy drive. I enjoyed getting back home.”

His first year of teaching – 1999 – took him to Yea High School, where he politely declined the local club’s invitation to accept the coaching job.

Instead, he assumed ruck duties for the Hawks when the ‘dicky’ knee of big Paul Greaves caved in early in the season.

In 2002, the year the Rovers built momentum and developed into a flag threat, there were also plenty of stints in the ruck, relieving another ‘man mountain’, Aaron Schenke.

They had beaten North Albury three times that season, but the Hoppers got out of the blocks quickly in the Grand Final, and established a big lead. A dramatic fight-back ensued; the Hawks wrested the momentum, but eventually North ran away with the game.

“We had two or three blokes who were a bit proppy. We’d expended a lot of energy getting back into the game, and had nothing left when it counted,” Shane says.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….He played just four games in 2005, and was finding that other things in life had taken priority over football. Besides dealing with a niggling quad injury and heavy work commitments, the travel had now become a burden.

Additionally, Jo (his future wife ) was in the throes of transitioning from England.

Inevitably, he was resigned to pulling the pin with his beloved Hawks. After 160 senior games, Shane ‘Woosher’ Welch, Life Member and intensely loyal clubman hung up the boots.

He taught at the same Melbourne-based secondary school for 19 years, and says it took a heavy toll on his health.

“It wasn’t a harmonious place. You were basically just trying to control the kids. I didn’t read the warning signs of fatigue. A heavy VCE workload, high expectations and raising a young family in Melbourne contributed to my burnout / exhaustion.”

“It was an extremely challenging time – a real battle. At 41 years of age I had to dig deep to slowly regain a sense of self-worth.”

At the end of 2018, Shane, Jo and the kids, Rosie ( now 11 ) and Luke ( 8 ) packed up and moved back to his home town.

He maintained his passion for Physical Education. He’s now working at Galen College, has written, and overseen the curriculum for the Peak Football Academy, and is coaching the ‘talls’ at the Murray Bushrangers.

He’s in his second year back at the Rovers as their Phys-Ed Advisor, and has guided the players through a gruelling summer of fitness work .

He has also designed an Out-Door training Program , comprising circuit-based 50-minute sessions. It involves 12-15 stations, using resistance, weight, running and sporting equipment.

It’s his intention to launch it in the near future.

“Thanks to the support of family, colleagues and mates, I’ve been able to work my way back to now be able to make small contributions within the community,” he says.

“And I’m prouder of that than any of the centuries I made” ………………”

‘BILLY…….YOU’RE A HERO……’

A few years back I penned a tribute to WDCA veteran Jonny Hyde after he had extricated Bruck Cricket Club from another on-field crisis:

“If I had my choice of one present-day player to recruit to a struggling side it would be the little fellah. The thing about him is he’s never out of the game and you can rely on him for a consistent effort every week. His ability to produce when it matters is an indication of a top-shelf performer.”

The 39 year-old ‘Pocket-Rocket’ is now one of the competition’s elder statesmen and among its best of the past two decades. He struggles to get to training these days and his senior appearances have been sporadic. But he was slotted back into the Rovers-United-Bruck senior line-up for the clash with Delatite.

It was a crucial game, as the teams, perched Fourth and Third on the ladder respectively, needed the points to shore up their finals prospects.

A steady tumble of wickets last week had seen RUB collapse to 6/53 when ‘Hydey’ strolled onto Lord Oval, Mansfield, to perform yet another rescue mission. The Delatite quicks had their tails up and their leader – Shane Jacobsen look-alike Matt Stevenson – was in full cry.

Hydey was watchful at first, but in the next two and a half hours re-shaped the Hawk innings to score 68 of the next 96 runs. When he lifted the bat to acknowledge his team-mates’ appreciation of his unbeaten knock, he had at least given his side a fighting – if outside – chance of victory……..

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The 67-minute, 102km trip up the Midland Highway today, offers time for silent contemplation. 149 runs is a meagre target, but then again, as they say, they’re ‘On the Board’.

Delatite have been notoriously fragile with the bat in recent seasons, but have been stiffened by a few handy players. The recruitment of the Mahoney brothers – Adam and Brett – the improvement in their cousin Harry, and a couple of others, has revitalised their line-up.

As I wend my way through Swanpool, I’m seriously dubious about our chances. By the time I reach Lima South I’m convinced……… I don’t think we can do it.

Lord Oval is one of the more pleasant places to play and watch cricket. It’s ringed by statuesque Pine trees, the pitch is usually firm and true, which suits ‘Stevo’s’ propensity to drop them short and achieve good bounce.

A fence, adorned by white pickets, kindly donated by the Glue family, whose residence overlooks the ground, adds character. There’s usually a buzz of activity around the pavilion, as locals drift in and out to check the state of the game. You really feel like you’re part of the action here.

One of the fixtures is Naomi, the lady who’s always on duty in the Clubrooms. She’s been on the go since the juniors started this morning, and will probably finish about ninish tonight. The boys always like to hang around for a bit longer, she says, but heck, she can’t stay forever.

Paul Duncan is another popular, familiar character. A life-time cricket ‘nut’ and former star, he’s been in charge of the Delatite score-book for years……..

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Delatite open with two youngsters – Nick Scales and Harry Mahoney – who are in no hurry to force the pace. Why bother, when the run-rate required is just two per-over.

Out of nowhere, there’s a mix-up, and Scales is caught in mid-pitch and run out by quite a way. When things settle down the war of attrition continues. Even the loss of another wicket leaves the home team in control.

They’ve got talented leftie Brett Mahoney at the crease. Brett’s sporting career took him from G.V footy to the West, where he once won a B & F with WAFL club Subiaco. Finally, Delatite have enticed him into lining up with them this season.

He signals his intent with a delightful lofted on-drive which charges into the pickets. Eager to get on with the job, he has smacked four stylish boundaries, and is threatening to take the game away from the visitors.

In the meantime, the long-limbed lad from Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Tsiga, after deciding to keep up on the stumps, tries to glove one and dislocates his finger. He’s off to hospital and returns with the prognosis that he’s gone for the day.

It is a cruel blow for the Hawks, whose usual tactic is to convince ‘Faz’ to discard the pads, then wheel down several overs of tight off-spin. With their bowling resources already severely-tested, the odds are stacking up against them.

But Jacob Schonafinger manages to ease the pressure by slipping an ‘inny’ through the defences of Brett Mahoney, thereby rattling his stumps. He’s gone for a well-made 22 and the reliable ‘Schona’ has effected a timely break-through for his side.

At the long break, with 3/89 on the board, and just 61 required off 34 overs, there is quiet optimism, as the Delatite camp tuck into Naomi’s afternoon-tea offering……..

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The RUB bowlers toil assiduously. Left-armer Paddy McNamara has torn in with reckless abandon and troubled the batsmen, without being gifted a skerrick of luck.

His opening partner, Paul Szeligiewicz yields just four scoring shots from his first nine-over spell. As the day draws on, the big fellah’s bulky frame appears to be labouring. He’s dragging his feet, but soldiers on.

Enter Jonny Hyde.

The little bloke immediately drops onto the spot, and in his third over, traps Harry Mahoney in front for 30. The opener had done a sterling job for his side and withstood everything that was hurled down at him in his vigilant 147-ball stay.

Without addition, Szeligiewicz removes Joe Cousins; the score is now 5/94 and the door is slightly ajar for the Hawks.

But in a matter of minutes, the burly Chris Anderson, who never mucks around, restores order. His most ominous shot, a straight drive, sails over the boundary. Suddenly, his authoratative stroke-play has taken the home team to within reach -18 to get, with four wickets in hand, and 18 overs still to play.

But then, catastrophe. Anderson rashly lunges at a Hyde delivery and is on his way for 28. Next ball, Mitch Purcell is caught behind.

Collective breaths sigh among the crowd. Is this another capitulation ?

With no further addition, Lochie Scales nicks one to the ‘keeper.

It’s up to the skipper, Stevenson to restore order. He’s no slouch with the willow and would be expected, with nine wickets down, to defend stoutly, farm the strike and maybe find a way through this situation.

Alas, Hyde gets one through his castle, and removes him, with no further addition.

In an amazing transformation, the Hawks have captured the last four wickets for 0 and pulled off the most unlikely, and exciting, victory.

Jon Hyde’s last five overs are maidens, and his match figures, 9.5 overs, 6 maidens 4 wickets for 12, have proved pivotal in his side’s victory.

‘Billy’ Hyde has done it again…….