“LEGENDS OF MERRIWA PARK…………….”

Septuagenarians – and beyond – will no doubt remember Wangaratta’s Criterion Hotel…………….

The ‘Cri’, located at the southern end of Murphy Street, was a regular port of call for those who wished to quench a raging thirst, particularly after spending an exhausting afternoon at the nearby Lawn Tennis courts.

Behind its doors the O’Kane family dished out plenty of old-fashioned hospitality for nigh-on fifty years.

Des and Gerald carried on the tradition created by their father, Bill, who was one of those legendary country sporting personalities……………

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Bill O’Kane hailed from Burramine, one of a family of seven boys and three girls, all of whom were deeply involved in sport.

Bill, an outstanding footballer, was a key player with Burramine; his career with the then-powerful Club only being interrupted when he spent one season (1907) with neighbouring Muckatah.

Pace was his principal asset and he used it to clean up in many athletic carnivals in the region, including his best win, as a 19 year-old, in the Echuca Gift.

His brothers sensed that he had the necessary ingredients to win Stawell, but they never got around to convincing him to test himself.

Bill married and moved to Wangaratta, where life as a publican precluded any further athletics, and restricted him to just a handful of games of football with Wangaratta.

Instead, he threw all of his energies into tennis and became the town’s leading player. His finest achievement on the court came well into his 40’s, when he combined with Mick Howe to win the Victorian Country doubles title.

Determination was an O’Kane trait on the sporting field, as well as in business, and everyday life. He amply demonstrated this in striving to procure grass courts for Wangaratta.

In 1924 he and his tennis mates floated a suggestion in the ‘Chronicle’ that courts could be installed in Merriwa Park. But this was ridiculed by council and townsfolk alike.

The matter lapsed for some time, but O’Kane and Bank Manager Charles Henry set about convincing the public that an area designated for tennis would transform what was a derelict wasteland into a splendid asset, in idyllic surroundings that would become the envy of many towns.

They launched a collection, which raised 115 pounds, then sought permission from council to lay down the grass courts.

Having received the go-ahead, work began on constructing the courts. Bill O’Kane did his fair share of the work……rarely a day passed that he was not toiling away on his pet project. He and Henry then took on the job of planting couch and sowing grass seed.

As the Tennis Club expanded, more courts were required and continual ‘Letters to the Editor’ were penned to the Chronicle objecting to the loss of trees. ……But complaints eventually reduced to a trickle and the dream of O’Kane and his off-sider had come to fruition.

Bill O’Kane died in 1940, aged 50.

He had been Wangaratta’s leading tennis player in the thirties, was a low-handicap golfer, and had been vice-president of the Athletic Club.

His sister Aileen was also a champion. She took out Victorian Country Singles titles in 1936 and 1938. Bill’s son Gerald won several post-war Club Singles championships.

A small plaque, erected in Bill’s honour, reminds today’s players of the debt of gratitude that they owe to a man who did a mountain of work 98 years ago.

The granite tablet is simply inscribed: “…..This commemorates the work of William O’Kane, Foundation Member….”

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………Wangaratta tennis in the fifties produced some of the most illustrious names in the WLTC’s history. Male players like Stan McKenzie, Murray Gallagher, Cliff Flanigan, Bill Traill, Ron Beazley and Jock Herd ranked with the finest of country players.

They were joined, around 1955, by a quietly-spoken, prematurely grey-haired medico – Keith Lipshut – who had taken over Dr. Edward Hands’ practice in Ovens Street.

Lipshut received no formal tennis coaching, but possessed immense natural ability. When he was a student at Camberwell Grammar he had won the Associated Grammar Schools singles title…….Whilst studying medicine at Melbourne Uni he played pennant tennis with East Camberwell.

After graduation he joined the Army, with the rank of captain, and served in North Borneo…..Before leaving for the War Zone he was a member of an army team that included Davis Cup players Colin Long and Don Turnbull.

After the War he practiced medicine at Birchip, and led the locals ( with a town population of 650 ) to a Melbourne Country Week A-Grade championship…….Three of the four members of the team were doctors……

Another team-member, Doug Marshall, joined Keith in the Ovens Street practice, and they also formed a lethal doubles combination in Club, Inter-Town and Country Week competition.

Lipshut won the first of his eight Wangaratta Lawn Club championships in 1954/55, and the last in 1967/68 ( at the age of 47 ).

Pin-point accuracy, an ice-cold temperament, and intense powers of concentration enabled him to match – and get the better – of more stylish, and highly-regarded opponents.

They were often reminded of his penchant for precision when he would hold a handkerchief aloft to check the direction of the breeze, prior to serving.

Keith competed in the Australian Veterans’ Championships for many years; won a state title, and was runner-up on a few occasions.

He served as President of the WLTC for three terms, and was awarded Life Membership of the Club.

He was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal in 2010, for his services to Medicine, and the community in general.

Later that year Keith Lipshut passed away, aged 90……

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Mae Osmotherley was a typically sports-mad teen-ager when the country was experiencing the ravages of the Great Depression.

Perchance, she happened to come into possession of a tennis racquet…….and always maintained that it changed her life.

With her natural ball skills she became an accomplished player at University High School, and represented Melbourne Teacher’s College, besides also excelling at Golf, Squash and Netball.

Mae’s first three teaching appointments were at Winchelsea, Ruffy (near Euroa) and Carboor.

It was Netball that first drew her to Wangaratta…….She would ride the 25 miles from Carboor to compete.

She’d never played tennis on grass – until she competed in the first post-war Australia Day tournament at Merriwa Park……..After doing well in the Open Singles, she took an immediate liking to the courts and surrounds.

The following year Mae returned – taking out the B-Grade Singles – and beginning a romance with the WLTC Secretary, Alan Osmotherley.

Upon her return to Wangaratta after marrying, she lost a closely-fought Club Championship Final to Mae Buchanan………It was to be the first of her ten straight appearances in the Final.

The following season – 1950/51 – she won the first of four successive titles. It would probably have been more, only that her time at the top coincided with the arrival on the scene of one of Wangaratta’s finest-ever players, Nora Bennett.

Bennett, an 11-time champion, combined with Osmotherley to win several Doubles events.

Mae remained one of Wangaratta’s leading players until fading eyesight halted her in the mid-seventies.

But she maintained her contribution to the sport in her role as a teacher at Wangaratta High School.

She taught Maths – and would also offer Tennis instructions during the lunch-break…….When the School set about constructing new courts Mae’s advice was solicited. She also insisted on the construction of a 20-metre brick practice hit-up wall.

Mae Osmotherley followed local tennis – and all sport – closely until her passing, aged 84, in 2004…..

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Terry Longton was born and bred in Warrnambool, and inherited a love of all sport from his parents, who were particularly keen on tennis.

He dabbled in football whilst studying and, in fact, played for Monash University in the Victorian Amateur competition.

But tennis was his first sporting love.

He had some success in state country championships…….Then, at the age of 17, was rewarded for his efforts by being selected in Warrnambool’s A-Grade Country Week team. They duly won the title.

Longton’s studies took him to Melbourne, where he played pennant for some time. Along the way he was fortunate to team up with a Monash University contemporary, Paul McNamee, who was later to become the world number 1-ranked doubles player……..They became a formidable combination in inter-varsity tennis.

Terry embarked on an overseas sporting holiday in 1976, playing several tournaments in Europe. It was an unforgettable experience and he enjoyed confronting the joys and pitfalls of the tennis circuit.

On his transfer to Wangaratta he became involved in the local tennis scene. He won the WLTC singles championship eight times in succession – from 1978 to 1985 – and was runner-up to John McVean in the following two years.

As an adjunct to tennis he took up Squash and became Wangaratta champion on six occasions – from 1978 to 1983.

Longton returned home to live in Warrnambool, whilst he operated a private practice as a medical scientist in Melbourne……

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John McVean’s early career was played in the shadow of Terry Longton. He was runner-up to Longton six times in the WLTC Singles Championship before finally outpointing the veteran in the 1985/86 Final.

He went on to win twelve on end, and also picked up 15 Doubles and 4 Mixed Doubles titles.

McVean was hardly born into a tennis family……In fact his father was a keen cricketer. But John’s friendship with Alan Jarrott, who lived on the neighboring farm at Thistlebrook ( four miles from Moyhu ) meant that they spent most of their time playing cricket, footy and tennis.

Jarrott, of course, was to make his name as a VFL star with North Melbourne and Melbourne, but he was no slouch with the racquet either…….The pair played together in the Ovens and King Hardcourt competition.

At 15 McVean graduated to the Lawn courts in Wangaratta, mainly because of his desire to play Inter-Town tennis.

He also took up an offer to play Pennant in Albury, which he did for 14 years, successfully combining this with his commitments in Wangaratta.

His flirtation with senior football didn’t last all that long, but his obvious talent saw him line up in a key position with Moyhu at the tender age of 16. Years later he played a handful of games on permit with Wangaratta Rovers Reserves.

He broke an ankle and made the decision to concentrate on tennis.

Local tennis veterans still remember fondly those epic McVean-Longton battles that were waged 35 years ago or more.

Evenly-matched and both bristling with determination , they seemed to typify the competitiveness that has been in vogue at the picturesque Merriwa Park courts for nigh on a century……………….

‘OLD CHAMP SHOWS HER CLASS…….’

It’s Australia Day, 1981………..

A young university graduate has just landed in Wangaratta to take up an appointment as a Phys. Ed teacher at St.Joseph’s School. Being no slouch as a tennis player, she ‘sniffs out’ the ANA tournament which appears to be reaching its climax on this sweltering afternoon.

She’s immediately taken by the cavernous surrounds of Merriwa Park; its oasis of parkland……playgrounds….neat wooden clubhouse…..and diligently-manicured grass courts……

She spots Ken Wurtz, a familiar face from her home-town of Wagga Wagga, and is soon being introduced to a host of welcoming locals.

Little do they realise it, but the slim, athletic 21 year-old they are meeting is to eventually re-write the record books of the Wangaratta Lawn Tennis Club……….

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Michelle Hill won her 13th WLTC  A-Grade Singles Championship a fortnight ago; 23 years after her last – and a staggering 38 years on from the first title she collected upon joining the Club.

For good measure, she also picked up her 13th Doubles crown – this time with one of her old pupils, Georgia Allen – to add to the 5 Mixed Doubles championships she has shared.IMG_4005

Some say she’s the Club’s greatest-ever. That’s always a contentious subject when comparing different eras…… But there’s no doubt that she’s been one helluva player………….

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Sport runs deep in the Berrigan family.

Michelle’s dad, Tom, played international Rugby Union for Australia, and was a dynamic centre and full back for Wagga Brothers throughout a lengthy career. When his five kids started coming through, they were conditioned to spending hours around Rugby, and tennis, where Tom also was an A-Grade player.

Although their mum Helen didn’t have a sporting bone in her body, she loved watching it.

“Dad owned a Shoe Shop when we were growing up, and couldn’t get away of a Saturday morning,” Michelle says.

“I remember, my older brothers, Anthony and Lou, were playing Junior cricket at one stage, and didn’t have anyone to look after their team. So mum read up all the rules and became their Coach/Manager, besides keeping the other three of us under control. She was a really encouraging person, and the kids responded to her.”

“It delighted her when they won the premiership over the other sides which were so well-organised. It also helped, I suppose, that Geoff Lawson ( the future Test quickie ) was part of the team.”

“It’s funny, even though mum was no good at sport, she could watch me playing tennis and give me clues about flaws in my opponents’ game. She was never far from the mark, either………”

“Mum loved sewing, and made all my tennis clothes. She died two years ago, and not long before that, I was lucky enough to spend some time with her. I lay down beside her, watching the Australian Open. She was more interested in discussing the girls’ dresses than who looked like winning……”

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Michelle was always obsessed with tennis. “Dad used to coach my older brothers, and I’d be hanging around making a nuisance of myself, standing at the back of the courts and hitting back the balls they missed.”

“I pleaded with Dad to let me play, but he was adamant that he wouldn’t let me start until I’d turned 10.”IMG_4014

The Berrigans lived around the corner from Wagga’s Tennyson Park courts, and had a key to the club-house.

“We used to practice all the time. The people over the road from the courts loved it. They said we provided their entertainment.”

She won her first Tennyson Park A-Grade title at 12; and the first of five-straight City of Wagga A-Grade singles the following year.

In one of her earlier tournaments, her dad took her over to play at Deniliquin. Wally Rutter, the coach who helped chart Margaret Court’s rise to fame, saw her in action and wrote to her parents, suggesting that if they’d permit Michelle to move to Sydney to be coached by him – and stay with his family – he’d make her a champion.

“Mum didn’t show me the letter until years later, but said there was no way they were going to let me leave home at such a young age,” Michelle says.

Once she began playing age-group competitions, she took all before her, winning U15, U16 and U17 NSW hardcourt titles, along with the State U17 and U18 grass-court events.

After playing in successive NSW Wilson Cup teams, she finished third in the 1979 National U19 championships in Brisbane, and represented Australia at the World Students’ Games in Mexico City.IMG_4013

When she headed to play in the U.S Open Junior titles, Michelle was ranked Australia’s number 3 junior; seeded in the world’s top 20.

Unlike most of the top Australian juniors, though, she chose to complete her Tertiary Education in Sydney before making a serious decision on her future.

She reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open qualifiers in 1977, aged 17, before being knocked out by the veteran Judy Dalton

She was back home in Wagga the following January, when she received late advice that she’d again been accepted into the Qualifying Rounds.

“I said to Dad: ‘’I’m in.’ ‘Righto, then, I’ll take you down. We’ll leave as soon as I shut the shop at 9pm.’”

“We got down to our motel in Melbourne about 1.30am. I was supposed to be at Kooyong to register by 10am that morning, so I arrived, stood in a queue behind some foreigners, who were trying to book practice courts and were having considerable difficulty communicating.”

“By the time I got to the window to register, the fellah in the office said: ‘You’re too late; it’s two minutes past 10. You’re out of the tournament.’ “

“I was in tears, and I thought Dad was about to ‘do his block’. He went over to nearby Glenferrie Oval and ran a few laps, to calm down……….Then we jumped in the car and headed back to Wagga…….”

But by the time Michelle had finished uni, she was pretty sure the pro circuit wasn’t for her.

“I don’t think I was suited to the ‘dog-eat-dog’ atmosphere. I really enjoyed playing, but deep down, never thought I was quite good enough,” she says.

I compare the course taken by Amanda Tobin, with whom she had a strong rivalry through junior ranks, and suggest that she’d have no doubt made her mark. Tobin created an impression on the WTA tour, and was once ranked number 58 in the world.

“Yes, it would have been nice to find out how far you could go,” she says, “…..but I’m more than happy with the path I took………..”

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Armed with a Bachelor of Education ( with first class honours ), Michelle had little trouble adapting to life as a teacher in Wangaratta.

In fact, there weren’t too many idle moments, as she taught P.E all day, coached tennis most nights, and played all week-end.

When the two single-sex local Catholic colleges merged, she began her 36-year association with Galen College. Eventually, a romance blossomed with fellow teacher Peter Hill, whom she married in 1984.

Of all the WLTC titles she won, she’s proudest of the two Mixed Doubles championships she shared with Pete – the first of which came in 1988.

“I was a cricketer, and only took up tennis when I started going with Michelle,” Pete jokes. “She’d say: ‘You serve, and then get out of the way. I’ll do the rest.’ “

One of the many youngsters Michelle coached – Kate McDonald – also shared a Club Doubles title with her in 1984, and an ANA Doubles the following year.

Kate later spent some years on the pro circuit, and at one stage achieved a world Doubles ranking of 103. Upon retirement, she then embarked on her own coaching career.

Susan Batey, another of the array of talented youngsters in that era, shared seven ANA Open Doubles titles with Michelle. The pair also travelled to Melbourne, to play State Pennant tennis with Caulfield – and later, Dendy Park.IMG_4007

Wangaratta’s Australia Day tournament – the plum tennis event in the local area – gave Michelle the opportunity to prove her mettle against some quality players. She prevailed in the Open Singles nine times.

She also got a kick out of representing Wangaratta in inter-association tennis, and helped to guide the Club to the Goulburn Valley Pennant in 1994.IMG_4017

It was the lure of playing Team Tennis that prompted Michelle and Pete to head over to Wahgunyah, to play in the Corowa & District Association in the mid-nineties.

“John Voss, a good friend, persuaded us to go over. It was great fun.”

By then, their two kids, Jack and Harry, were starting to move through the sporting ranks, and following their progress became a priority.

“It was brought home to me when I came off the court whilst playing State Grade pennant in Melbourne. Pete rang me from Wangaratta, to tell me that Jack had kicked his first goal in Under 7 soccer. I felt terrible that I’d missed it and decided ‘that was that’. I was going to follow their sport from then on.”

“So I became a Soccer Registrar, secretary of Wang- Magpies Cricket Club , soccer Team Manager,  cricket scorer, and then we watched the boys playing footy for a few years.”

Jack, a Lawyer, and Harry, a Doctor, are now both  heavily involved with their own careers and families.

It was only recently that Michelle and Pete decided to pick up the racqets again and play competitively, after a lengthy sabbatical. They took it on with renewed enthusiasm, and there’s no reason to suggest they won’t hang them up any time soon.

Maybe there’s time for another few titles for the unassuming veteran…….

Footnote: Michelle competed in the 55-and Over event at the Oceania Masters, staged at Kooyong last week-end. After an effortless win over a Russian player, she met No.2 seed, Jill Meggs.  After a marathon, which lasted 3 hours 22 minutes, she went down 7/6 in the third set tie-breaker……..

 

 

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 THE BOY FROM PHILLIPSON STREET LIVES OUT HIS DREAM.

In one of the ever-changing phases of our youth, a few of my school-mates became obsessed with high-jumping.

It was in the aftermath of the Melbourne Olympics, when a wiry Aussie, by the name of Charles ‘Chilla’ Porter, rose from obscurity to almost pinch the Gold Medal from American negro Charlie Dumas.

‘Chilla’ jumped almost two inches higher than his previous best, to stretch Dumas (the red-hot favourite ) to the limit, in a contest that was finally settled at sunset on a balmy late-November afternoon.

Inspired by his deeds, we would hare off after school, get changed and head to one of the hastily-constructed high jump pits, set up at each of our homes.

We were a mixed bunch, and our passion for all sports certainly surpassed the effort we put into school-work. In winter the emphasis was on football, then our attention turned to cricket and tennis once the final siren had sounded.

Our high-jumping aspirations faded, and so, in truth, did most of our sporting careers. Except for one kid, who began to shine in his chosen sport and proceeded, over the next half-century, to live out his dream……………

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Dick Hiskins was the Rovers Property steward in the mid-fifties and his son Ken, and I, were two of the Hawks’ keenest young fans.

At one stage we formed the ‘Teddy Reaks Fan Club’. Ours was a sympathetic attempt to support a much-maligned, lumbering former Collingwood Thirds player, who was copping it from Rovers fans for his inability to live up to expectations.

My devotion to the Hawks never wavered, but Ken’s became compromised when his dad, who was also the curator of the Wangaratta Tennis Club, handed him a brand-new racquet.

From then on, the die was cast.

He became arguably Wangaratta’s finest-ever home-grown tennis player, and strutted his stuff on courts around the world. In an exciting era, during which tennis underwent massive change, he was to rub shoulders with the greats of the game……………..

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A travelling tennis coach, Tony Caplice spotted the talented Hiskins during his regular visits to Champagnat College. He suggested extra lessons of a Saturday morning. “Tell your parents not to worry, it’ll be free of charge,” he said.

He jumped at the opportunity. From there, Ken would have a bite to eat, then head down to his beloved Lawn courts, where he began to hone his skills against the likes of local stars Keith Lipshut, Laurie and Cliff Flanigan, Des Stone, Ron Beazley, and Rex Hartwig.

Hartwig, one of the king-pins of a golden era in Australian tennis, had inrex-hartwig-in-actionvested in a Poll Dorset stud sheep farm at Greta in the late fifties and loved playing at Merriwa Park whenever he got the opportunity.

” Rex had an enormous influence on me,” Ken said. “He’s a genius. What he doesn’t know about the game isn’t worth knowing.”

Whilst still a teen-ager, Hiskins won a club championship and a regional singles title. He twice took out the coveted ANA singles crown – the first local to achieve the feat.

And when he won a Victorian Country Junior title, he caught the eye of Australia’s Davis Cup coach Harry Hopman.

At Hopman’s invitation, and following a visit from another former champ Neale Fraser, he spent two years in Melbourne, working at Spalding. He trained with ‘Hoppy’s’ elite squad and was subjected to the intense discipline that was the trademark of the legend’s coaching.

By then he felt he was ready to test himself overseas and, thanks to the 100 pounds that his dad had scrounged together and handed to him, set off on a boat to Europe in 1966.

Ken played mixed doubles at the last amateur Wimbledon championships in 1967 and was part of the mixed doubles and singles draw at the first open Wimbledon in 1968. His win against highly-rated Frenchman Jean Francheau in the first round of the ’68 qualifiers pitted him against Lance Lumsden. The unpredictable Jamaican outlasted him in a tight four-set battle.

He also participated in the world’s first-ever open tournament, the British Hardcourt titles at Bournemouth. The singles event was won by Rod Laver, but the youngster was proud to reach the mixed doubles quarter-finals.

Ken’s most important wins came in Geneva and Kitzbul in 1967, and at Bordeaux in 1968. The Bordeaux championship, which was worth a dozen bottles of wine and about $100 to him at the time, now boasts prizemoney of half-a-million dollars.

He returned to Australia in 1970, to boost his chances of obtaining a ranking, but was forced to put his tennis ambitions on hold when he was called up to National Service. He was headed to Vietnam, but someone in officialdom heard of his tennis prowess and he was re-posted to Puckapunyal as a physical training instructor.

” Conscription put a real dampener on my tennis career, and after my army service was finished, I decided to pursue professional coaching, combined with playing a few tournaments,” he said.

“Tennis Australia gave me a couple of wild-cards to the Open, and I qualified and played singles and doubles in 1973 and ’74.”

With little money, no ranking, and a family to support, Ken became a full-time coach in 1974 and headed overseas with his wife Lorraine and their three kids, to coaching stints in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and America.

He coached Israel’s Davis Cup squad in the mid-70’s and, in 1980, landed the plum job as Head Coach at Germany’s Rot Weiss Tennis and Hockey Club.

It proved to be a life-changing appointment, particularly for the kids, Jeremy, Justine and Rachel, who loved the environment, became adept at the language and developed a deep affinity with the sport of hockey.

Jeremy became a Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist and a dual Champions Trophy silver medallist with the Kookaburras ; Justine also represented Australia, and Rachel was twice named an All-American.

On his return to Australia, Ken was appointed Head Coach at the Booroondarra Tennis Centre, then coached at a centre in Plenty, in Melbourne’s Diamond Valley.

With his coaching reputation highly-recognised, he was sought-after by several rising stars, and spent the next 10 years touring the world and being very much a part of the international circuit.

He had four Swiss boys in his charge at one stage, when a fellow coach, Aussie Peter Carter, asked if one of his boys could work under him for a few days.

“Just run the rule over him if you will, Ken,” said Carter. “He’s a hot-headed bugger, but he’s got loads of talent and I think he’ll be something special. Let me know what you think of him.”

It was Roger Federer.

There were heaps of sacrifices involved in touring globally, particularly being away from his family. “For instance, I’ll always regret missing two of the kids making their hockey debuts for Australia,” he says.

“I was sitting in my hotel room one night, reflecting. I thought to myself: ‘What the hell am I doing here ?”

So he knew it was time to resume a normal life, and he and Lorraine settled in Launceston in 1996, where he took up a job at the local Indoor Sports Centre.

But, instead of slowing down, he found himself as the Tasmanian coach and then head of the Launceston Tennis Academy.

He finally pulled the pin on his marathon tennis journey in 2011, when he retired from the Academy.

He had overseen the development of thousands of youngsters in his 40-odd years as a coach, and knew tennis like the back of his hand.

It had certainly been a dream run for the boy from Phillipson Street…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KEV MAHONEY BATTLES ON……

Kevin Mahoney’s as solid as the old eucalyptus trees that grew strong, and dominated the landscape at ‘Moyhu Park’, the property his parents share-farmed when he was a lad.

Most people in Wangaratta would probably have heard of Kev. He’s devoted years of unflinching service to a number of organisations, principally because he has enjoyed making a difference and being involved.

His sporting career followed a similar trajectory………..he was the the heart and soul of the clubs he served – you’d sum him up as a ‘trusty footsoldier’.

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Kevin was a Moyhu boy. Only the long daily trips on the bus, to Wangaratta’s Brigidine Convent School, dragged him away.

” I didn’t enjoy school all that much. But one bonus  from attending the ‘Convent’ was that I palled up with Barb ( his wife-to-be), who was boarding there,” he says.

But he was a lot more comfortable cutting and carting grass hay, shearing, fencing, and milking cows at Moyhu Park.

He had a brush with death at the age of 16, when a hayshed that he and a member of the property-owner’s family were working on, tumbled over and fell on top of them.

“Unfortunately, my workmate copped the brunt of it and was killed. I was the lucky one to escape serious injury.”

The youngster used to ride his bike down to watch footy training at Moyhu. One of the old stars of the forties, Jimmy Corker, who was coaching, convinced Kev that, even though it was a tad premature, he was going to throw him into the struggling side anyway – on a wing.

He was 12 when he played his first senior game. Five years later, he settled in at full back……and made the goal-mouth his home for the next 16 years.

For a fair period, Kev was rated the O & K’s premier full back. A prodigious drop kick, he didn’t mind a clearing dash out of defence, and became a past-master at fisting the ball away from taller, stronger spearheads.

After all, he was only 5’10” and weighed just 10 stone 7lb. His physique would probably have taken Wangaratta coach Mac Holten by surprise when he took the trip out to recruit the highly-rated backman.

He was still attending school at the time and knocked back the approach, but wonders what might have been had he tried his luck ‘in town’.

For a key defender who had been under siege for years, with Moyhu lurking in the doldrums, he appreciated an upturn in fortunes, as they began to assemble a classy line-up in the late fifties.

They reached successive finals series, then stormed to their first flag in 12 years in 1959, under the coaching of Arthur Smith.

The boys in Green and Gold won a titanic battle in the mud. Maxy Corker’s goal in time-on wrested the lead from a dogged Chiltern. When he booted another shortly after and Brian ‘Woofer’ Martin followed with the sealer on the siren, Moyhu had triumphed by 15 points.

Kevin Mahoney was near-impassable that day. What gave the win extra significance in his eyes, was that he shared it with his brother Les, a stylish left-foot winger.

But of the three flags Kev played in – 1959, ’60 and ’62 – he rates the ’62 unbeaten side the best he’s played in – and among the greatest he saw in O & K footy.

Unfortunately, after a run of eight straight finals appearances, Moyhu’s golden era was over and they spent several years back among the League’s cellar-dwellers.

Kevin’s form remained pretty consistent. He lost a little bit of pace, but captained the side in his final two seasons, under the coaching of his old back-pocket sidekick, Richie Shanley.

He played his 350th – and last – O & K game in 1973.img_2422

By then his son John was stepping up into the Junior League , so Kev was considered the natural choice to take over as coach of Combined Churches.

What was originally a short-term appointment lasted for 11 years, and a number of O & M stars passed through his hands. He appreciated as much as anyone, what a critical role junior coaches played in the development of local talent.

And he also came to realise how light-on the League was for administrators, when they began casting around for a replacement President in 1981. So he took that on too, and gave it his all for 10 years.

In recognition of his services to the WJFL, the Under 12 Best and Fairest award is called the ‘Kevin Mahoney Medal’. The scoreboard at Wareena Park also bears his name.

Besides footy, Tennis was Kev’s other sporting infatuation when he was growing up. He first started belting a ball around the old Greta courts, opposite the cemetery, when he was 8 and didn’t stop until he was nudging 50.img_2420

Barb was also to become one of Wang’s leading players and most summer week-ends, after they were married in 1960, were spent on the grass courts of Merriwa Park.

Their kids – Carmel, John and Heather – came through the ranks too, and were competitive players. The contribution of the Mahoneys to the off-court functioning of the Tennis Club was immense.

Kev had five years as President and Barb was a long-term member of the Ladies Committee. They ran the Saturday morning junior competition for many years and worked tirelessly to make the Club’s Australia Day week-end tournament a signature event.

They were enticed by an old friend, Freddie Ritchens, to help run the new-fangled game of Bingo when it kicked off in Wangaratta in 1977. Many cynics mused that it would pass, like any other fad, but St.Pat’s Bingo on Thursday nights became the biggest game in town.

After Fred’s passing, the Mahoneys accepted the responsibility for running an organisation which required a huge amount of time, clerical work and loads of passion. When it closed down after 36 years, they had helped to raise in excess of 3 million dollars.

Kevin’s working career came to a close in 1997. He had given yeoman service to the Oxley Shire for just on 38 years since coming off the farm, and was looking forward to putting his feet up.

But two years later he underwent a major operation, which involved six Heart-Bypasses. To put it bluntly, it knocked the stuffing out of him. Eventually he recovered, to take up the more sedate sporting pastime of bowls, but he had to tread warily.img_2419

In 2014 he was rewarded for his multiple years of work behind-the-scenes when he was announced as Wangaratta’s Citizen of the Year.   He was taken aback, but stated :”I’ll still be the first to put my hand up if it means helping a community cause.”…………….

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I’m browsing through some old footy cuttings and come across an article to coincide with his 300th game. Someone put the question to him : ” How do you come up week after week, year after year, taking knock after knock ?”

“No worries,” he replied. “If you can take the hits and disappointments on the football field, you can certainly take them in life.”

Well, he copped a hell of a knock recently, when he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. He’d been feeling out of sorts for a while, but when the doc called him in to give his diagnosis, it hit him like a hammer, fair between the eyes.

Kev acknowledges that  the ‘beast’, as Neale Daniher calls it,  will probably get him, but, in the meantime, he’s determined to enjoy life as best he can…………..

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