“SPORTING ADMINISTRATION…….IT’S NOT ALL BEER AND SKITTLES…..”

W.D.C.A President Alf Kendall, beside Prime Minister Bob Menzies, as he is introduced to players at a Club match in 1962. Member for Indi, Mac Holten, is at far left.

It’s afternoon-tea-time at the Gardens Oval……..I’m procrastinating whether to dive into the array of ‘Sanger’s’…. try the iced Donuts….or have a crack at the sliced Watermelon …..

Meanwhile, the rich history of the B.D.C.A captivates me……. I’m drawn to the Honour Boards, which chronicle the sterling service of Benalla’s legends of the game who, for decades, helped maintain the town’s reputation as a country cricket stronghold.

Keith Sherwill, for instance, was a dominant presence for more than half a century……..His off-sider Tom Trewin – also the local MLA from 1961-‘82 – was Association President for 29 years……..Now, there’s devotion for you….

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I was a mere whippersnapper when I witnessed at first hand, the influence of two Administrators of similar status……

Jack Maroney was already part of the furniture at the Wangaratta Rovers when they joined the Ovens and Murray Football League in 1950.

‘Old Wally’ was a man of action, commanded respect and didn’t mince words, even though, by calling a spade a spade he fell out with the odd dissenter.

Working-bees were his specialty……In typical fashion, he’d be wielding a shovel as he barked instructions, his shirt unbuttoned, slouching dacks precariously held up by a piece of baler twine.

You’d see him towing a set of harrows around the Oval during the off-season….or with several sheets of re-claimed corrugated iron tied to the roof of his company vehicle, obviously destined for a maintenance project at the ground…..

A Livestock Auctioneer by occupation, he began as the Rovers’ property-steward, and became President in 1959, just as the Hawks were entering a Golden Era……When he retired from the Committee in 1977 he’d left a lasting impression.

They named the Clubrooms after John Walter Maroney, to commemorate the mountain of work that he put in at the W.J.Findlay Oval………

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Clem Fisher was a giant of Wangaratta cricket…….During his playing career, he bowled with tons of aggression and, as a prolific opening batsman, loved launching an assault on the quickies……

Despite his forthright manner people acknowledged his unstinting love of the game and eagerness to do what was best for cricket……particularly as a consultant to clubs who were installing Turf pitches in the early 50’s.

He managed to rub plenty of opponents up the wrong way…….many of whom regarded him as a ‘shocking sport’…..a ‘stubborn prick’…..and ‘as tough as old boots’.

No surprise really……He was reared on the family farm, ‘Glen’, at East Wangaratta, where his father John, a fierce competitor, laid down a concrete wicket, and taught his sons the rudiments of the game.

Clem emerged as a star during the thirties, when Wangaratta established themselves as a Country cricket power.

A decade later, whilst still piling up the runs, he was installed for his first term as WDCA President….

When he took a step back after four years at the helm he continued to exert an influence; as Manager of the WDCA’s representative sides, a sounding-board on Association matters, and as a father-figure of the game…….

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Fisher and Alf Kendall, who became WDCA President in 1956, were polar-opposites as personalities………and were destined to lock horns.

Alf hailed from Cumfelinfach, a tiny coal-mining village in the south-east of Wales……Although his family moved to Australia in 1924, he retained a distinct British brogue, and his tall, elegant stature gave him the presence of a Business Professional…..which he was…….

He was posted to Wangaratta in 1943, as an adviser and accountant during the construction of an aluminium factory.

Scrap metals would be melted down in hot mills and sent to Sydney as aluminium ingots, which would be used for making aeroplane parts.

After the war, Bruck Mills, a Canadian firm, took over the factory and Alf was its first employee, then became a member of the company’s executive staff.

When Social competition team Alumatta, to whom he was connected, morphed into Bruck Cricket Club in 1947/48, he was part of the inaugural team which competed in the WDCA.

A handy, economical off-spinner, his modest ability was dwarfed by his intense love of the game and his desire to see Bruck play a prominent role in Wangaratta cricket.

To that end, five years later, Mac Holten, a prominent post-war District cricketer and star Collingwood footballer, who had led Wangaratta to four successive footy flags, was lured to Bruck as its ‘Sporting Adviser’……

The following season, 1953/54, Holten’s brilliant, undefeated 136 piloted the club to their first WDCA flag…….Kendall, who was rising 47, was one of three members of the original Bruck team to feature in the Premiership win……..

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Alf Kendall retired from the playing-field in 1959, but by now his influence on Wangaratta cricket had become far more pronounced…..

He had succeeded a fellow Bruck stalwart, Stanley Messenger Arms, as WDCA President in 1956, with the stated aims of forming an Umpire’s Board, helping to establish a junior competition in the town, and taking Wangaratta to the top in country cricket.

He played a significant role in the first two……..and was at the helm when rain washed out play in the 1957 Provincial Country Week Final, with Wangaratta being declared the winners.

He helped to procure a match against the touring South Australian Sheffield team, which met a North-Eastern XI at the Showgrounds in 1957.

But It wasn’t all beer and skittles for Alf, particularly in the aftermath of the 1957/58 WDCA semi-finals…….

The Semi’s were scheduled for the Labour Day long week-end……A heavy downpour prompted the Association Executive to transfer the second day’s play ( Monday) from the sodden turf wickets, onto concrete ‘tracks’ at South and North Wangaratta.

The result was that Bruck and Magpies won through to the Grand Final………. Old combatants Kendall and Fisher were involved in considerable verbal parrying after it was alleged that the venues had been transferred so that Kendall’s side – Bruck – would not be denied the opportunity of reaching the Final….

Kendall and WDCA Secretary ( and fellow Bruck clubman ) Bernie Morris angrily refuted the claim, which, they said, was a ‘despicable insult’…… Bruck captain Mac Holten, they maintained, was the person who had suggested the change of venues……

Alas, Magpies went on to win their first WDCA premiership, in a thriller – 170 to 164………

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It was a proud moment for Alf Kendall, and Wangaratta cricket, when the city won the right to host Peter May’s touring M.C.C team on the Showgrounds in February 1959. Considerable planning had been undertaken and a brand-new Grandstand, named after Show Society President, W.B.Richardson, was unveiled for the occasion.

Modern-day cricket buffs, who were just approaching their teen-age years on that memorable occasion, can still recall being at close quarters with legends like Trueman, May, Laker, Dexter, Subba Row and Graveney.

But trouble was brewing behind the scenes…….

The Showgrounds landlord, the Wangaratta Agricultural Society, were incensed that they had been short-changed for rental of the ground for staging the big game.

A matter of £6 pounds 10 shillings was at stake…..At the height of the dispute, when criticism was being hurled back and forth, one Show Society committee member described Alf Kendall as ‘one of the most awkward persons I have ever had to deal with’…….

The disputed amount was subsequently waived by the Show Society.

More fireworks ensued the following season, when Fisher was voted out of his position as Association Vice-President.

It had emanated from a flare-up between Fisher and Kendall at the Annual Meeting….. Kendall accused Fisher of not supporting him in his criticism of the Showgrounds Committee of Management….

The barbs continued to fly at the next Delegates meeting, when the Wangaratta and Magpies Cricket clubs forwarded letters attacking Kendall for his criticism of Fisher and Max Bussell.

The President’s response was that: “There was a personality clash last year, and it must stop, as it creates unrest.”………

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Alf Kendall had served an eventful eight years as WDCA President when he passed away, whilst still in office, in September 1964.

His successor was Clem Fisher, who held the reins for a further ten years. The old warrior, whose name is perpetuated on the cricket pavilion beneath the Showgrounds’ Richardson Stand, died in 1978, aged 73……

Kendall and Fisher, despite their their contrasting leadership styles, had guided Wangaratta cricket through a successful – if sometimes controversial – 18-year period…………..

“VALE ROHAN ROBERTSON……..”

The Wangaratta Rovers Football Club is mourning the passing of former player Rohan Robertson, aged 61.

Rohan, a clever, elusive small man with a spear-like left foot pass, played 19 Senior games with the Hawks in 1981-‘82.

The Robertson’s ( dad Keith, mum Gwen, Rohan, Leisa and Shane) arrived in Wangaratta from Mildura in 1976, when Keith was transferred in the Education Department. They made an immediate impact on the sporting scene ; Keith as a fiery, super-competitive fast bowler and combative left-hander, and his sons as promising footballers and cricketers.

The boys played WDCA cricket alongside their Dad – initially with Magpies, before transferring to United…….

Rohan’s cricketing talent was obvious at an early age……As a teen-ager he played in Wangaratta’s winning North-East Cup team in 1979/80 ( besides being a member of the Under 21 team which took out the title in the same year).

He represented Wangaratta at one Melbourne and four Bendigo Country Week campaigns.

In a dream four days at Bendigo in 1982 he scored 30 not out, took 5/55 on Day 2, followed up with 52, then crafted an undefeated 98 against Kerang on the final day…..

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The Robertson boys made their way from Wang Junior Football League club Centrals to the Rovers Thirds.

Rohan was the Thirds Best & Fairest In 1978; then moved to play Under 19 footy with Keith’s old Club North Melbourne, taking out their B & F in 1980.

He returned to the Hawks to play some top footy in a brief two-year Senior career before North beckoned him back into the Royal Blue and White.

In Round 3 1985 Shane and Rohan replicated the rare feat of the famous Krakoeur brothers – and excited footy’s trivia buffs – when they made their senior VFL debuts for the same club, on the same day……….

In their case it was at Princes Park Carlton, in front of a crowd of 20,000, including a cheering clan of Wangaratta Little Leaguers who, coincidentally, happened to be playing during the half-time break …….

The kids – and their parents – could hardly believe their good fortune, to have happened upon the classic contest that was to unfold.

It had been nip-and-tuck all day, but the Blues seemed to have the game well in their keeping when they stretched their lead to 16 points at the 30-minute mark of the last quarter.

‘Game Over’, you’d reckon, but North attacked incessantly for the next three minutes, and, in the dying seconds David Dwyer booted a long goal to give them the lead, right on the siren.

The ‘Roos had triumphed 22.15 (147) to Carlton’s 22.13 (145)……It was their first win for the season; also the maiden victory for new coach John Kennedy……

What a day for the Robertson boys, who contributed strongly, both finishing with 15 possessions…….

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Rohan’s League sojourn concluded, after 26 senior games and 7 goals. He was awarded North’s Best Clubman Award in 1986 and his four years at Arden Street included 55 Reserves games.

After a stint with VFA club Coburg, under the coaching of Phil Cleary, he drew the curtain on his playing career.

He continued his active link with North Melbourne, spending several years in a recruiting role…….He was later lured to the Sydney Swans in a similar capacity and also spent time scouting for Port Adelaide ……..

Rohan returned to University in his late thirties, to complete an Accountancy Degree and in recent years had been involved in a number of Building Development projects.

His funeral will be held at the Moonee Valley Racing complex on January 14th.

Deepest sympathy to the Robertson family…….

“A TRIBUTE TO ‘WRECKER’…. JUST ONE OF THE CROWD…..”

A local icon passed away yesterday, aged 93……He’d battled ill-health for some time, but never lost his enthusiasm for all things sport….

We penned this ‘On Reflection’ piece during the 2014 footy season after we caught up with Rex Hartwig at one of his favourite stamping-grounds – the W.J.Findlay Oval…….

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He’s one of those familiar faces you see at Rovers games…..Always good for a yarn about footy; knows the game inside out, this old fellah.

We discuss the team’s prospects and agree that…..’If the big guns can fire today, we’re in with a show.’ He bemoans the fact that they’re turning the ball over a bit…..”But the kids are still learning and they’ll be all right eventually.”

I ask him whether he’d been watching Wimbledon on the telly : “ ‘Til all hours,” he says. “It cost me a bit of sleep, but I’ve really enjoyed it……”

What a stupid question, I reflect later…..This bloke’s a Legend…..He won a Wimbledon doubles title 50 years ago and was a star when Australia was the finest tennis nation in the world…..

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Rex Hartwig grew up with the love of the land in his blood. As a student in Culcairn, he was his father’s right-hand man on the farm during the week and his tennis partner at the Culcairn club on Saturday afternoon’s.

The search for tennis opportunity lured him to Albury, then to Melbourne, where he joined the Spalding company and honed his skills against quality players.

He caused people to sit up and take notice in 1952 when he took out the South Australian singles title. His hard-hitting ground strokes and strong volleying game soon earned him the nickname of ‘Wrecker’.

The plaudits of tennis officianados came his way on his first overseas tour.

Hartwig matched up with Mervyn Rose and the pairing clicked, as they reached the Final of the Wimbledon doubles in 1953 and won the title in 1954.

Playing with Lew Hoad in 1955 he added another Wimbledon crown to his expanding ‘CV’.

Rex had been a member of Davis Cup teams in the previous two years, but possibly his greatest triumph came in the Challenge Round at Forest Hills in 1955.

He and Hoad clinched the Cup for Australia by beating American pair Tony Trabert and Vic Seixas in a doubles match still rated by some as the greatest ever seen in the celebrated history of Davis Cup tennis.

The report of the match said: “……it was fitting that Hartwig, the player of the match, made the final point, volleying past Trabert, who sprawled on the court……Hartwig, in his elation, threw his racquet high in the air and danced across the court to wrap his arms around Hoad……..”

Rex represented Australia from 1953 -‘55, playing six Singles and and seven Doubles matches. He was twice a member of winning Davis Cup teams and playing in one losing Challenge Round.

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He turned professional in December 1955, and in a six-month period, played 101 matches as a member of Jack Kramer’s troupe.

They flew 17,500 miles and drove 37,500 miles, playing on all manner of courts, experiencing sometimes deplorable conditions.

But Rex held his own against Pancho Gonzales, Pancho Segura and Tony Trabert; and later, against Frank Sedgman, on the European leg of the tour.

When Hoad, then Ken Rosewall, turned pro, Hartwig was their opponent on Australasian tours.

In 1958 Rex and his wife Madge invested in a farm at Greta……A couple of years later they settled there for good with their growing brood, realising a dream to return to the land.

Tennis and it’s glamorous sidelights became a distant memory. In those days, when amateur-professional wrangling was rife in tennis, the stigma of being a ‘pro’ meant that he was unable to play locally, even if he so desired.

He eventually sought re-instatement as an amateur and was able to play alongside some of his six kids.

Then came a ‘phone call in the mid-70’s requesting him to join the Grand Masters tour.

Despite being a touch ‘rusty’ he returned to the touring life for five years, playing in front of packed houses in resorts around the world.

It was made more enjoyable because he was able to travel with Madge.

Then it was back to a life of relative obscurity, as he followed the kids’ sporting progress and satisfied his competitive urges by playing local Squash and Table-Tennis, in which he was well-nigh unbeatable.

Rex received an unexpected honour three decades ago when he and Madge accepted an invitation to be guests of the All-England Tennis Club at Wimbledon.

It was a ‘Thank You’ for his services to Wimbledon. The Hartwig’s were feted like true celebrities. They were greeted at Heathrow Airport by a stretch limousine and provided with ‘Five-Star’ accommodation, with all expenses paid.

It was a pleasant break from the daily routine of trudging around the farm at Greta and tending to the prized Poll Dorset sheep which populate its ample paddocks.

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Rex started following the Rovers in 1972, when his son Leigh came in from Greta. He saw most of his 252 senior games and delighted in the five premiership teams in which Leigh was involved.

His daughter Janelle later featured in the Rovers first-ever O & M Netball premiership, in 1993.

Now he and the family watch grandson Tyson, the Rovers’ skipper, and the Ovens and Murray’s premier full back, as he grapples with the ‘Glamazon’ spearheads of the current era.

It’s a long way from Wimbledon and Forest Hills, but the sporting atmosphere still gives the old warrior a kick, even if he’s just ‘one of the crowd’……

“THE RED BULL………”

Barry McArthur is of my vintage – a mad-keen sporting fan who can cast his mind back to the fifties and early sixties, when a host of colourful personalities abounded in Ovens and Murray football…..

Lionel Ryan, who passed away recently, aged 87, was one of them……

Barry recalls in a recent email: “If you google ‘White Line Fever’ you may find a photo of Lionel….a great bloke off the field; the ‘devil incarnate’ once he crossed the boundary line.”

“I well remember a game at the Benalla Showgrounds Oval, where Lionel, playing for Yarrawonga, flattened the Demon’s mild-mannered rover Kevin ‘Cheeky’ Morrison……..Women invaded the ground, menacingly armed with umbrellas, giving a pounding to the rusty-haired aggressor.”

“He was as tough as nails, built like Napoleon’s tomb, and put the fear of God in opposition players and spectators alike……..”

“Years later, after a VFL game at North Melbourne’s Arden Street, a mate Barry Bourke and myself were passing a pub in Flemington Road when Barry said: ‘That’s Lionel Ryan’s pub…..He’s a friend of my dad’s…..Let’s go in for a beer….’

“I still held memories of Ryan from the old days, and asked apprehensively: ‘Is it safe ?’ “

“The bar was packed and, as the bar-maid pulled us a beer, Barry observed: ‘That’s Lionel over there…’ “

“The bar-maid enquired: ‘Do you know Lionel ?’……Barry explained that he was a mate of his father’s……they had worked together at the P.M.G in Wangaratta…..The bar-lady replied: ‘When it slows down a bit I’ll ask him to come over……Lionel’s my husband’.”

“You could not wish to meet a more friendly gentleman……He shouted us a few beers and a counter-tea…..He even sent his charming wife upstairs to bring his six teen-age kids down to meet us…..What a lovely, polite family…..I had expected him to have horns growing out of his head….”

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Lionel Ryan hailed from Woomelang in the southern Mallee. His love affair with the game began, he once said, when he woke up on his fourth birthday to find a leather footy beside his bed:

“It was never out of my hands, and I loved the smell and feel of it……I became an expert at mending and patching the leather and the bladder until I’d completely worn it out by the age of fourteen…..I could kick it through the back gate – either foot – at any angle, from 30 feet away……”

He was first rover for Woomelang’s senior side at 14, before transferring to Melbourne to join the P.M.G.

Invited to play with Footscray Fourths he went through the Thirds and Seconds and, after a stint of National Service, the inevitable Senior call-up came – in Round 13, 1954.

He reflected on one of his early games at the Junction Oval, St.Kilda:

“Our coach Charlie Sutton got flattened right in front of the St.Kilda race, and the Grandstand, which was full of their supporters, roared……After making sure he’d got the free kick Charlie picked up the ball about 70 yards out, on the boundary…..”

“The Saints fans started booing and throwing bottles, cans and anything they could lay their hands on…..One of the missiles was a full 26 ounce bottle of beer. Seeing we all enjoyed a beer Charlie stopped in his run-up, picked the bottle up and gave it to ‘Owey’ Gibson, one of our trainers, saying : ‘Here Owey, put this on ice ‘til after the game.’”

“Charlie then waddled back in his arrogant style, and sent the best torpedo you have ever seen, straight through the middle, three-quarter post high…..He then bowed to the stand and got on with the game…Gee, that beer tasted good later on….”

Unfortunately, it was the legendary Sutton who cost Lionel his cherished dream – of playing in the Bulldogs’ 1954 premiership.

Since his debut he’d played seven successive senior games, including an excellent performance against Geelong in the Second Semi-Final victory.

Sutton, who had missed the Semi with a leg injury, had to come back into a side which was at the peak of its form…..There had to be one unlucky player, and it was the 19 year-old, who happened to be carrying a jarred knee and was named first emergency…….

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Lionel departed Footscray after 32 senior games and, aged 23, was recruited to Yarrawonga.

The Pigeons had contested three Grand Finals, but had never won a flag since joining the Ovens and Murray League in 1929. In a concerted effort to take the next step they lured Fitzroy captain-coach Billy Stephen to coach the Club.

“They made an offer I simply couldn’t refuse,” said Stephen……If that was the first step towards achieving the ultimate the second was the arrival of the barrel-chested, 5’10”, 14 and a half stone ‘ Red Bull’, who sent ripples through the League with his vigorous play.

After being in the ‘Four’ for the entire season,Yarra dropped their last game in 1958, to miss the finals by a slender 7.8%. But it became obvious early the following season that their moment in the sun was close at hand.

They finished the home and away rounds in second position, equal on points with the reigning premier, Wang Rovers, then scored an 11-point win over them in a cracking Second Semi…..

When they met again a fortnight later, O & M fans were salivating at the prospect of another nail-biter.

Rovers’ coach Bob Rose swung tall utility player, Ray Burns, a policeman and noted hard-nut, onto Lionel Ryan in the early stages of the Grand Final. The pair waged a two-man war – an added spectacle to a rip-roaring encounter.

The tactic worked to an extent, but Burns was later assigned to a role up forward and Ryan was moved into the centre, where he began to provide great drive.

The Pigeons led by 14 points at the long break; the Hawks hit back to lead by three points at lemon-time.

Ryan gave Yarra the lead when he stormed through the centre and landed a 75-yard ‘bomb’ in the dying stages of the game……But Burns responded when he accepted a hand-pass from team-mate Max Newth a minute or so later, ran on and goaled.

To the horror of Rovers fans, who claimed he was half an acre behind the play, umpire Harry Beitzel blew his whistle and adjudged Newth’s flick-pass to be a throw……Adding to their devestation, the resultant free kick landed deep in the Pigeons’ forward line, where lumbering ruckman Alf O’Connor snapped a major.

The siren blew…….Yarra had taken out one of the O & M’s classic Grand Finals by eight points…….

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Lionel Ryan continued to be a tower of strength for Yarrawonga the following year, but was poached by rival club Wodonga, who were searching for a successor to Des Healy as captain-coach, in 1961.

He led the ‘Dogs for three seasons and was part of a star-studded O & M rep team, before moving on to coach Hampden League club Terang. The colourful Ryan career concluded after another coaching stint, at Lilydale. He was 36………..

Lionel’s venture into the Hospitality game saw he and his family run a handful of Pubs in the city and suburban Melbourne over more than twenty years……… But he always revelled in the opportunity to renew acquaintances with team-mates of his old country footy Clubs.

One of his 18 grandkids, Ryan O’Keefe, played in two Sydney Swans premiership teams, and was awarded the Norm Smith Medal in the 2012 Grand final…….Another, Jake Ryan, was a member of Australia’s Taekwondo team for eight years……..

With help from Barry McArthur

” A ONE-EYED VIEW OF THE SEMI……….”

Darcy Wilson was reared in a blue-blooded Rovers family….

His four Grand-parents are Hawk stalwarts………His dad, Mick, and uncles Paul Grenfell, Joe and Andrew Wilson, featured in multiple premierships, as did his mum Michelle, who was a star netballer in her day…..

Their careers were done and dusted well before the 16 year-old saw the light of day, but he would have undoubtedly been dreaming of one day, emulating their heroics in Brown and Gold.

At the 24-minute mark of the last quarter, in Sunday’s riveting First Semi-Final, the opportunity presented itself ……. He pounced on a loose crumb deep in the forward pocket, and snapped truly, across his body, to ice the game for his side………

On a day when inaccuracy was the only thing that marred an otherwise scintillating contest, Hawk fans roared with a mixture of disbelief and delight…………

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PRELUDE

The sides go into the Semi in contrasting form…….Albury, the power combination of the past decade and a half, have been stricken by the injury-stick in the latter portion of the season and have dropped their past four games……..On the other hand, the Rovers have enjoyed a late-season purple-patch, recording four straight wins.

I’m worried about the Tigers, because of their finals expertise ……..but then again, I excruciate over a game of tiddlywinks, so that’s nothing unusual…….What is absolutely crucial, though, is that we get away to a ‘flier’………

Alas, the Tigers are ‘on song’ in the game’s early stages……Their wise ‘old-stagers’, Brayden O’Hara, Jimmy Grills, Michael Duncan, Shaun and Luke Daly and Jake Gaynor have grown a leg and are leading the way – particularly the dynamic O’Hara, who finds the pill and delivers it with the precision of a latter-day Neville Hogan.

My worst fears are realised, as Albury scarp to a 25-point quarter-time lead…..Their leg-speed and pin-point disposal has the Rovers looking ragged.

They’re fumbling and appear overawed…..Their rare treaties forward are met by stout resistance from a defence led by the strong-marking Lucas Conlan and long-haired Jessie Smith.

In fact, the Tigers have taken such a stranglehold that some experts are preparing to declare them ‘certainties’ – as they control proceedings well into the second term. And ominously, the will-o-the-wisp Jeffrey Garlett has produced a couple of magical goals from nowhere.

It’s not that the Hawks haven’t had their chances…….their two key forwards Alex Marklew and Tom Boyd are finding the ball okay, but just can’t locate the big sticks……..3.9 at half-time is enough to shake the confidence of the most optimistic fan…….and make any team-mate queazy when they’re lining up for goal…..

Surely they’ll find the radar after the break, but is the 35-point deficit going to be a bridge too far ?……..

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THE FIGHT-BACK

One of the key figures in the Rovers’ recent spate of form has been the champion No.10, Brodie Filo. You get the feeling that if they’re to mount any sort of a come-back, he’ll be the bloke to inspire them.

He showed, at the opening bounce, what he’s capable of, as he craftily read the fall of the ball, broke clear, and pumped the ball into attack.

Now, with the game on the verge of slipping out of control, he’s just the man to provide the spark…..

The Hawks have obviously received a good dressing-down at the break…….they come out full of intent, and monopolise play in the early stages of the third term.

In an inspired move, ‘Crezza’ has shifted Sam Murray into the engine-room……he responds by breaking clear from the centre with his usual dash and pumps the ball forward several times……..

But still, the boys in Brown and Gold can’t convert…..The majority of the play is in their forward 50 for the first six-or-so minutes, but their reward is four straight points.

And, to rub salt into the wound, Albury relay the Sherrin downfield with a chain of passes…..it’s O’Hara to Shaun Daly, back to O’Hara; then the elusive Garlett gets his foot to one in a goal-square scrimmage…..Goal.

What’s even more heart-wrenching is that the Hawks respond with another two near-misses……they’ve now kicked eight behinds on the trot……It has become contagious, and 3.15 is disastrous result for the increased pressure that they’re now applying.

But is the tide about to turn…… ?

The unobtrusive, but effective, Todd Bryant fires a pass to Tom Boyd, who’s 35-metres out, directly in front. What a sure pair hands the boy from Nathalia possesses.

But have the gremlins taken hold of him ?……After all, he’s had six shots at goal, for five points and one complete-miss.

He cautiously lines up…….. Hawk fans hold their collective breath………Big Tom nails it…..!

Shortly after, Filo, who is in everything, is awarded a free kick, which he converts, for a major……Then Sam Allen, one of several youngsters who are now right in the thick of things, receives a free kick….and a 50-metre penalty, to be lined up straight in front of goal…….It’s now 10.8 to 6.15………the margin has been whittled to 17 points…….

The Rovers are on the charge.

Sam Murray takes the ball under his arm and, with a head full of steam, darts away from another scrimmage. He’s irrepressible when he’s in a mood like this, but the umpie pulls him up for running something like 25 metres.

Jacob Conlan, the match-winning forward, who has also suffered a bout of the yips today, is the recipient of the resultant pass…..Tall Jace McQuade has worn the Riverina lad like a blanket today, but this time he kicks an important major for the Tigers, to stop the rot.

But soon after, Ryan Stone marks strongly, explodes from a pack and nails the reply. After an injury-plagued season, the classy forward has turned in his two best games in successive finals.

What a contest it has developed into…..Only 18 points seperate the combatants and the Hawks must now rate themselves a fair chance of overhauling the Tigers, as the team’s congregate for the lemon-time break…….

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THE FINAL STANZA

There’s plenty for the highlights package in this final term for the ages.

Momentum has certainly swing in favour of the Rovers, but Albury’s many stars are not going to die wondering.

Shaun Daly, who did such a fine stopping job on Yarrawonga’s brilliant Leigh Masters last week, has been swung onto Sam Murray. The veteran has called time on a stellar career, which began at Corowa-Rutherglen, continued to Queensland and has included seven flags with the Tigers.

He’ll be giving everything in a bid to curb the Hawk danger-man.

The tackling is ferocious and the heat is certainly on……Only a minute or so into the quarter, Todd Bryant flips a handpass over to a flying Filo, who dodges a couple of opponents and snaps a left-foot goal…….13 points the difference.

Now it’s Albury’s turn to miss the targets that they were nailing early. Brayden O’Hara is astray with three shots at goal……He’s also caught high, plays on and finds the classy left-footer, Riley Bice……another minor score.

Then Bice receives a free kick for a blocking offence…….He’s 30-metres out, virtually straight in front, but misses again.

A fine player Bice, but he’s kicked four straight points from his 21 disposals today.

Tom Boyd redeems himself for his early discrepancies in front of goal by booting a couple of majors – the second comes after a slick Alex Marklew handpass.

The margin has now been whittled to four points. The game is right in the balance and excitement is at fever-pitch when Marklew gathers another handball.

Who’s there or thereabouts ? ………Filo, of course…….He motors past and kicks the goal that puts the Hawks in front for the first time, at the 20-minute mark of the last quarter.

With the pill deep in defence for Albury, a couple of minutes later, a Tiger defender assesses his options, kicks optimistically to a contest across goal, and Darcy Wilson’s dreams come true………he snaps the major and team-mates come from everywhere to congratulate him……….His side has now crept out to an 11-point break.

But it’s it over yet…….

Not to be outdone, Albury push forward again and Jeff Garlett caps a good day at the office by kicking his fourth.

The Tigers are coming………they continue to attack, the Hawks desperately defend……..the final siren signals the end of a monumental contest, as a dozen players are scrambling for possession of the bobbling footy……….

WANGARATTA ROVERS: 12. 20. ( 92 ) d ALBURY 12. 15 ( 87 )

Best: ROVERS: Brodie Filo, Jayden Bear, Raven Jolliffe, Sam Murray, Todd Bryant, Sam Murray, Ryan Stone.ALBURY: Brayden O’Hara, Fletcher Carroll, Jeff Garlett, Luke Daley, Riley Bice, Lucas Conlan.