‘BRINGING HOME THE BACON IN THE LOCAL GIFT………’

Wally Pasquali occasionally harks back to the most memorable night of his sporting career……

He was feeling the weight of expectation pressing down upon his slightly-built frame, as he stepped onto the blocks for the Final of the 1995 Wangaratta Gift.

Moments earlier, under the glare of the floodlights, the second back-marker had sauntered down the 120-metre track whilst being introduced by the ground announcer .

The accompanying applause from the locals sent a tingle down his spine.img_3924

Wal was 27, and already an accomplished pro performer. He’d contested a Stawell Gift Final, won two Broadford Gifts, finished fourth in South Australia’s prestigious Bay Sheffield, fourth in a Bendigo 1000 – and two weeks prior, had taken out the Rye Gift.

But this one would give him special satisfaction.

He got away to a flier and breasted the tape in 12.21 seconds, a metre clear of his nearest opponent – Peter Harloff of North Albury – to whom he’d conceded five metres.img_3925

It was a dream run. With hands held aloft, he commenced probably the longest celebratory journey in Gift history. He completed his ‘lap of honour’ by acknowledging the roar of the crowd in the Richardson Stand…………..
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Twenty-four years on, the prestigious Wangaratta Carnival still means the world to Wally Pasquali. He plays a key role in its organisation. His company – Optus – heavily promotes the event.

He regards that as his duty, just as he did when the Wangaratta City Soccer Club – and his old footy team, the Wangaratta Rovers – both asked him to be their President.

Wal has a keen eye for history, and he’s proud of the fact that he’s one of only seven locals to have taken out the Carnival’s ‘Blue Ribbon’ event in its 97-year history……..
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Mick Maroney was the first, in 1930.

Maroney stood just 5’4”, was beautifully proportioned, and was handled by a wise old coach, Marty Bean, who had a number of Wangaratta runners in his ‘stable’.

Bean was only an average runner himself, but had a terrific influence on the careers of several champions.

Marty, who was born in 1896, had played in Wangaratta Football Club’s 1920 premiership, and acted as Head Trainer for the Pies for 17 years. It was whilst performing this role that he recognised the talent of the elusive, courageous, determined Maroney, who was a star winger.img_3930

The bookies adjudged the 18 year-old a 7/4 favourite for the Gift. Given a liberal handicap of 12 metres, he cruised home in style, and completed the double, by taking out the Warby Sprint.

The following year, Mick continued his good form, despite being handed a much stricter mark from the handicapper. He ran impressively to win the Shepparton Gift, and pocket the accompanying purse of 130 pounds.

He moved to Melbourne soon after, but would make the annual pilgrimage home to compete at the Carnival each Australia Day week-end. In 1937, his final success at Wang, he won the Ovens Handicap and Warby Sprint………..

 

Alf Whittaker had gained employment locally, with the Railways, when he prevailed in 1938 . After winning a re-run of the 100 yard sprint in effortless fashion on the Saturday night, and effortlessly winning the twelfth Gift heat , he stormed into contention.

The Final proved a thriller, as front-markers Stevens, McCorkell and the Echuca sprinter C.R.Collins were locked together nearing the end of the 130 yard journey.

But Whittaker lunged at the line to take out the 100 pounds prize-money, finishing six inches in front of the fancied Stevens, with McCorkell a further six inches away in third place……….

 

When Frank Seymour bobbed up, the town was in raptures.

Seymour’s adolescent years co-incided with the advent of World War II. He was an ardent footballer and played his first senior games with Wangaratta in the Murray Valley Association.

The cessation of hostilities saw O & M football resume and Frank, at the tender age of 17, was selected for his share of senior matches with the Pies. Wangaratta went on to win the 1946 premiership, with the youngster in their line-up.

By now, Marty Bean had convinced Seymour that he possessed the wherewithal to make his mark in the world of pro-running. He gave him the advice that he no doubt passed on to all up-and-comers:

“Son, you have to be dead keen, not just to run, but to listen to what I tell you. If you’re half-hearted I’m not interested in you.”

After experiencing success at a few unregistered athletic meetings, Seymour reasoned that he’d like to give it a go in pro ranks

‘Old Marty’ decided to set him him for the Silver Jubilee Gift of 1947.

A blistering-hot January day reduced the afternoon attendance, but when dusk fell, the crowd had swelled to almost-capacity.

When Seymour registered the fastest time of the day in his semi, he was installed as warm favourite for the final.img_3929

Running off seven yards, he scorched to the tape, to edge out Sydney taxi-driver J.C.King, who was also well-fancied. A large contingent of Wangaratta footballers could hardly contain their glee, having backed their team-mate for a considerable sum…………

 

The Doolan family moved to Wangaratta in 1950, and young Jim, who had attended Assumption College, soon made his mark in local sport.

He came under the influence of the ageing Bean, who was sure that he had the talent to go a fair way as a professional athlete.

Doolan’s big moment came in 1958, but it was not without its share of drama. He dead-heated with W.Dinsdale in the semi, but won his way through to the Final on a soggy Monday evening.

He ran the race of his life to take out the Gift, then completed the double with a win in the Ovens Sprint…………..

 

Greg O’Keeffe was jogging around the Galen College Oval, trying to maintain some fitness after an exhausting 1980 football season with the Wangaratta Rovers, when a car pulled up and a voice called out: “……Ow ya goin….”.

It was Bernie Grealy, a local running legend and two-time Stawell finalist.
He told the panting O’Keeffe that he’d seen him on the footy field, and reckoned he could do all right as an athlete.

He must have sold the message okay, as, within months, Greg had his first run, in the Carnegie Gift. He was unplaced, but the adrenalin had started to flow. He ran in his first Wangaratta Gift in 1983. The next year he finished second in the Final.

He was to reach his home-town Final five times, but in 1985 ‘ran the house down’. Off a mark of 7.5 metres he clocked 12.23 to narrowly defeat Murray Dineen in a famous Gift Final.img_3931

Greg continued to compete with considerable success all over the state, and is renowned as an icon of pro running. He has been inducted into the prestigious Stawell Athletic Club Hall of Fame, in recognition of  his devotion to the sport over nearly 40 years.

He’s another stalwart who decided to put his shoulder to the wheel when the Wangaratta Carnival faced the threat of extinction several years ago.

He was President for 13 years and will be floating around in some administrative capacity this week-end, besides keeping an eye on a couple of the runners he now coaches…….

 

Jason Boulton was one of Wangaratta’s up-and-comers in the early nineties. He showed his potential by figuring prominently in many meets around the state. But there was a bullet beside his name when he finished runner-up in the 1996 Gift – pipped by Scottish-born Kevin Hanlon.

The following year he turned the tables with a strong performance, outlasting Hanlon in a tight finish.img_3926

By now, Jason had re-located to Melbourne, but he continued to return for the Carnival week-end. In 2006, nine years after his initial triumph, he coasted to victory in 12.36 seconds, off the handy mark of 11.5m, to become one of only four dual Gift winners.

Boulton had overcome some niggling injuries, including three shoulder reconstructions emanating from his football career. But he kept persevering. He made the Gift Final four times, won the 70 metre event twice and also took out the 400m handicap in 1998.img_3927
These days he keeps a close eye on his four kids, who are keen Little Athletes and shaping as stars of the future…………
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One of the host of great Wangaratta Gift stories concerns, not a local winner, but probably the most famous runner to have contested the event…….

American negro Barney Ewell ( a 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist ) won his heat and semi-Final of the 1950 Gift, then came up against Carlton footballer Laurie Kerr, who was favourite to win the Final.img_3922

Ewell badly wanted the prize-money.

At the start he walked across the track and saluted each finalist. When he came to Kerr he said: “Hiya Laurie, see you at the tape……but you’ll be looking at my back.”
Vintage gamesmanship indeed !

There was a sensation, and the hushed crowd sighed as Ewell and Frank Banner appeared to break. It was revealed that the fault was caused by a ‘snapped cap’ from the starter’s gun…..

Ewell later said: “I went and Frank followed. I gave that goddam starter the raspberry when I went back to the blocks.”
Ewell burned up the track to set an all-time record of 12.1, beating Laurie Kerr into second place.

In presenting Ewell with his sash, long-time Carnival President Arthur Callander said: “ Great run, Barney. You have done so much to put this town on the map…………”img_3928

OLD MARTY, THE ‘SHADOW KING’ & THE CHAMP

FullSizeRender (12)Hundreds of aspiring athletes – or maybe footballers looking for that vital extra yard – came under the tutelage of a wise old owl, who regarded the Showgrounds as his domain for  almost 50 years.

Marty Bean was his name. Although he was nothing more than an average runner himself, he had a terrific influence on the careers of several champions.

Marty was born in 1896 and was always interested in sport. He learned about the conditioning and tactics of running by asking questions of others involved in the sport. In time he became renowned as a superb judge of a runner.

He had played on a wing in Wangaratta’s 1920 premiership side and acted as Head Trainer for the Magpies for 17 years. Hence the tendency of many footballers to keep fit over the summer months by ‘doing a bit with Marty’.

One of his first ‘protege’s’ was a footy team-mate, Jim Larkings, who had incredible endurance and competed for 28 years, after first winning the 400 yard event at the inaugural Carnival, in 1919.

Gentleman Jim became known as the ‘Shadow King’, a nickname coined because of the regularity with which he filled the minor placings at Wangaratta.

In his prime there were few better runners in the state, but he just couldn’t greet the judge in the final of his home Gift. He finished second twice (1919 and 1926), third twice and fourth once.

He was a regular training partner of Mick Maroney, whom Bean guided to the Gift, off 12 yards, in becoming the first local winner of the event in 1930.

What’s more, there were always promising schoolboy athletes approaching the cagey veteran and asking him to take them under his wing.

One such youngster was Frank Seymour……..

 

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Seymour’s adolescent years coincided with the advent of World War II. The nation was pre-occupied by the goings-on of the battle-royal being waged on several overseas fronts, and sport had been placed on the back-burner.

But the lad was an ardent footballer and played his first senior games with Wangaratta in the Murray Valley Association, under the tutelage of a tough old ex-VFL star, George Robbins.

The cessation of hostilities saw Ovens and Murray football resume and Frank, at the tender age of 17, earned his share of senior matches with the Magpies.

Wangaratta went on to win the 1946 premiership and the youngster was a member of the line-up, which included Laurie Nash,Doug and Jack Ferguson, Tommy Bush and Kevin French.

By now, Marty Bean, the strict disciplinarian, had convinced Frank that he possessed the wherewithal to make his mark in the world of pro running. He gave him the advice that he no doubt passed on to all up-and-comers :

“Son, you have to be dead keen, not just to run, but to listen to what I tell you. If you’re half-hearted I’m not interested in you”.

Unregistered athletic meetings provided plenty of opportunities for runners to test their ability in those days. Handy pocket money was available at places like Eldorado, Whorouly, Stanley, Bowman’s Forest and Moyhu.

After some success against a few talented sprinters, Frank realised that he was good enough to give it a go in the pro ranks.

He enjoyed the atmosphere of the big meetings and the camaraderie which existed among the athletes.

Wangaratta was the big one for him, though. ‘Old Marty’ had been setting him for the Silver Jubilee Gift of 1947 and was confident that his charge could become the third local to take out the ‘Blue Ribbon’ at what was rated the best mixed Carnival in Australia.

A blistering-hot January day had reduced the afternoon attendance, but when dusk fell, the crowd had swelled to almost-capacity. You could literally hear the buzz around the oval, as Seymour and other members of the Bean stable – Jack O’Keeffe, Max Christie and Maurie Morley – were roared on by the local supporters.

And when Frank registered the fastest time of the day in his semi, to be installed as warm favourite for the final, he carried the weight of the crowd on his shoulders.

Morley also ran well to reach the final, but it was to be Frank Seymour’s night.

Running off seven yards, he breasted the tape, to edge out Sydney taxi-driver J.C.King, who was also well- fancied and well-marked off 10 yards.

A large contingent of Wangaratta footballers could hardly contain their excitement, having backed their team-mate for a sizeable sum.

Frank continued to compete on the pro circuit for many years, but this was to prove his greatest triumph.

He made the trip to Stawell on six occasions, but experienced little success. He was never comfortable, he reckoned, on the uphill camber of Stawell’s Centennial Park track.

His professional career lasted into the early ’50’s, before hamstring-related injuries forced him out of the game.

He focused, instead, on helping the enthusiastic Bill Eaton to get Wangaratta’s Little Athletics off the ground in 1957.

The emergence of many keen youngsters prompted them to organise training, and then meetings, which further enhanced their development.

Seymour sought re-instatement as an amateur, which permitted him to compete in the senior Harriers competition.

Just as his old mentor had done for decades, Frank Seymour continued to make a lasting contribution to the development of local athletes.

 

Footnote:

Some of the footballers who sought the assistance of Marty Bean, to ‘pick up a yard’, lacked the necessary patience to succeed.

He was well in his ’70’s when I reported to the running guru, and expected him to wave the wand which would magically transform me from a plodder to a pacy utility player.

Instructed to run a few laps, which seemed to go on for hours, I concluded that the ‘old bastard’ had either (a) forgotten about me, (b) reasoned that I was suited to distance running, or (c) deduced that I was one of those half-hearted blokes who were wasting his time.

I disappeared off the track after two nights, never to return…….

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SENTIMENTAL FAVOURITE GETS THE CHOCOLATES…

Walter Pasquali wears a permanent grin on his welcoming Continental countenance.

He’s a jolly fellah, Wal. But if his smile could get any broader, it happened on a hot January evening in 1995, when he stormed home to win the Wangaratta Gift.

The sentimental favourite had scorched down the floodlit 120 metre track, to breast the tape in 12.21 seconds, and ignite wild celebrations. Hands held aloft, he commenced probably the longest celebratory journey in Gift history, and finished his ‘lap of honour’ by acknowledging the roar of the crowd in the Richardson Stand.

He still rates it as his finest sporting moment, even though he can entertain you with scores of other anecdotes and highlights of an eventful career which has hummed along for nigh-on 30 years……..

 

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He was brought up on the family’s King Valley tobacco farm, one of three sport-mad kids. An older brother, Anthony, had fulfilled a long-held dream to come in and play footy with the Wang Rovers, where his name was to become indelibly etched into the club’s record books.

Wal was eager to follow suit and in 1985 featured in a Thirds’ premiership, alongside players of the calibre of Mick Wilson,  Howard Yelland and Rick Marklew.

His progress was steady. A lengthy apprenticeship in the Reserves included a Runner-up Best & Fairest trophy in 1987 and universal recognition as a terrific clubman.

A smaller edition of the lean, versatile ‘Pas’, he was mainly a winger, with pace to burn and a lethal left boot and was rewarded with 3 senior games in 1987, Laurie Burt’s first year of coaching.

“Wal’s bubbly personality helped create a positive vibe around the club. Everyone loved him.” Burt said.

“But I wasn’t in his good books one Thursday night when I announced the side and left him out. The next thing we heard was a loud bang. Wal had taken his frustrations out on the toilet door. I pointed out to the boys, that’s how much it means to him to play senior footy.”

It was on the suggestion of a team-mate, Nick Goodear, that Wal decided to have a crack at foot-running. The extra edge in pace would, he believed, be the weapon that would earn him a permanent senior spot.

But disaster struck, in the guise of a damaged knee early in the 1988 season, which required a full reconstruction and effectively put the kibosh on a footy career which was really only just starting to crank up.

And, as his rehab progressed, so did the thoughts that he might focus on running. He was working as an electrical sub-contractor at the time, doing plenty of training under wise old Bernie Grealy and finding an adrenalin-rush in his adopted sport.

Within eighteen months he was lining up in the final of the illustrious Stawell Gift, on Easter Monday, 1990. It was to be the year of the brilliant West Australian Dean Capobianco, who blitzed a field which included two other eventual ‘Stawell’ winners.

Nerves got to Wal, who finished sixth . But he was richer for the experience.

For the next five years or so he was super-competitive, despite running off a tight mark. Always explosive off the blocks, he won successive Broadford Gifts, and took out the 70m events at Werribee, Bendigo and Broadford (twice).

During a big 1993 campaign, he finished fourth in the coveted Bendigo 1000, and was invited to contest Jupiter’s Gift in Queensland, where he ran a close second. He was fourth in the final of Adelaide’s rich Bay Sheffield Gift, regarded as second only to Stawell on the pro running calendar.

To top the season off, he took out the time-honoured Burramine Gift. So, with those sort of performances, there was little wonder that the handicapper was always scrutinising him closely.

He was flying in early 1995 and began to focus on the Wang Carnival even more intensely after his win in the Rye Gift two weeks prior.

“It meant a lot to me to run well at Wang, in front of my home crowd.  Mum and Dad, who didn’t usually attend the Carnival, were there, all my mates were egging me on and I felt good in the lead-up to the Final,” he recalled.

So how did it feel, Wal, when the ground lights were turned off, the floodlights were trained on the Gift track and commentator Eddie Bush gave your resume’ as you paraded down that familiar stretch of turf, just minutes before the big event ?

“I was pretty sure I’d do OK. It was all about getting away to a good start, which I did, and I was determined to catch the front-marker, Adrian Campagna, who was another local, by the 60-metre mark, then peg back the other blokes in front of me.”

” I’ve never run faster than I did that night and when I got to Phil Harloff, the Albury runner, I knew I was home. There was about a metre in it in at the finish. And then the celebrations started……..”

Wally started to experience trouble with his achilles the following season and it became a continual battle to get his body right.

But he kept running and his love of training and competing remained as strong as ever.

One ritual he maintained was his journey to Stawell every Easter. It was there that his romance with a star 400m runner, physiotherapist and his future wife, Anna Deery, blossomed.

Anna had been close to Australian selection as a junior, restricted only by a navicular foot injury. She was later in contention for a spot in the 400 relay squad for the Commonwealth Games, being rated No.5 in the squad and narrowly missing a spot.

So, with a mutual love of athletics, they had plenty to offer Wangaratta sport when they moved back here in 2009.

Wal re-ignited his considerable passion for the Brown and Gold and has helped out in several capacities. Of particular assistance has been his work in fitness and conditioning. He is held in high regard by the Hawk playing group.

Greg O’Keeffe, who has seen all of the top local runners come and go over the years, rates Anna as one of the hardest female trainers he has seen. She has a zest for junior development and is heavily involved with Little Aths.

Their contribution to the Athletic Club has increased by the year, both by sponsorship through their Optus business and their considerable physical input.

The whole Pasquali brood – Wal, Anna and the kids, Christian, Isabella and Sofia – will be competing this Saturday, when the Carnival kicks off.

And Wal will be forgiven a touch of nostalgia when the finalists are asked to take their marks for the running of the 95th Wangaratta Gift…..It’s 20 years ago, the butterflies are in the tummy and he’s the second back-marker… Oh,what a memory that is……….

 

 

FOOTNOTE:   The other Wangaratta winners of their local Gift have been: Maurice Maroney (1930), A.W.Whittaker (1938), Frank Seymour (1947), Jimmy Doolan (1958), Greg O’Keeffe (1985), Jason Boulton (1997 and 2006).
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