” 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.

” SAINTS VERSUS HAWKS – RE-VISITING A CLASSIC……….”

Myrtleford and Wangaratta Rovers meet in a Final on Sunday for the first time in 38 years…….’On Reflection takes you back to that First Semi-Final of 1984; a match that typifies the rivalry of two proud clubs.…..

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The persistent rainfall of late-winter has given way to a delightfully sunny spring day………….They’ve come down from the hills in droves for the clash between the Saints and Hawks, at the Norm Minns Oval…….

The two old foes have endured a love-hate relationship since well before they were jointly admitted to the Ovens and Murray Football League in 1950………Their rivalry stepped up a notch when they met in successive O & K Grand Finals…..The Rovers celebrated wildly after their triumph in 1948, but the Saints delighted in turning the tables the following year…..

The most memorable of their four previous O & M Finals meetings came in the 1970 Grand Final, at this very same venue…….History was in the making………In a ‘battle for the ages’, spiced with niggles galore, the Hawks held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, only to be reined in by the never-say-die Saints, whose fans celebrated like there was no tomorrow……..

In the late-seventies, well-meaning officials struck a Perpetual Shield, commemorating two long-serving Presidents, for competition between the Clubs……….After one spiteful encounter five years later, emotions spilled over and the Maroney-Ablett Shield was banished to a store-room – never again to be exposed to the light of day…..

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In fairytale fashion, Myrtleford rose from second-bottom to become the glamour team of 1983…..The recruitment of Gary Ablett helped, as did the arrival of new coach Greg Nicholls, from Ainslie, via Geelong…..They played off in the Prelim Final, but in the aftermath suffered substantial player losses and were expected to come back to the pack in ‘84.

Peter Ruscuklic, the former Fitzroy and Geelong forward, who achieved fame by kicking successive tallies of 136, 156 and 213 goals in the Sydney Football League, ( and had won the 1983 Doug Strang Medal in his first O & M season) inherited the Saints’ coaching job from Nicholls………..They snuck into the Five by a mere two points from fast-finishing Yarrawonga and Lavington.

The Hawks, meanwhile, reacted to a disappointing ‘83 season by recruiting strongly. One of their coups was a VFA champion, Laurie Burt, from Coburg.

Built like a Sherman Tank, and a renowned in-and-under player, Burt made an immediate impression; as did Robert Perry, a stylish key position player, who was studying Law at Melbourne University and couldn’t spare the time to continue his fledgling career at Collingwood.

Additionally, big Gerald McCarthy, after a quiet first season in Brown and Gold, hit his straps.

McCarthy had started his VFL sojourn at Hawthorn, before being involved in a straight swap with a promising Fitzroy mid-fielder, Terry Wallace. He played most of his 150 VFL games in defence, but Rovers non-playing coach John Welch swung him into the ruck in ‘84, with immediate effect………

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The Hawks were right on song for the first two-thirds of the home-and-away rounds……..With an 11-1 record, and perched well clear on top, they were the raging flag favourites.

But when the rain tumbled down in July, so did their air of invincibility. They lost four of their next six games to limp into the finals……then allowed North Albury to kick 24.16 in registering a 38-point win in the Qualifying Final.

On the other hand, despite errant kicking in the Elimination Final, Myrtleford gained considerable confidence when they scraped to a 12.24 96) to 14.9 (93) win over Yarrawonga…….

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The Hawks took a gamble at the selection table by including ruck-rover Mark Booth for the Semi. He’d been under a cloud for several weeks. The move backfired when the experienced campaigner, after kicking an early goal, left the ground with a groin injury in the first quarter.

Another of their veterans, Andrew Scott, was ‘playing with’carrying’ a painful foot complaint and was parked at full forward. Despite the injury, and in typically courageous fashion, he was destined to have a major influence on the game.

The Rovers opened brilliantly and darted away to a handy four-goal lead by quarter-time. Greg O’Keeffe and youngster Shawn Dennis were magnificent on their wings and Neville Pollard’s run from defence and long, raking kicks were a feature.

The Saints whittled the margin away, as Freddie Baldori and forwards Dale and Darren Holmes continually came under notice. But, try as they might, the underdogs found difficulty in finding the big sticks.

High-flying centre half forward Russell France and coach Ruscuklic were dominating the airways, and energetic rover Terry Burgess was in the action……However, their deplorable kicking was keeping the Hawks in the game.

France, the former Prahran star took 13 marks, yet finished with 1.8 for the match. Ruscuklic, on the other hand, was at his uncanny best, juggling several freak marks and kicking seven goals.

By three quarter-time Myrtleford had valiantly fought their way back into the contest. They held a slender eight-point lead………The stage was set for an exciting run home.

The thrilling contest was to keep the large crowd on tenterhooks and leave the players emotionally and physically drained…..

Coach Welch took a gamble when he moved Scott onto the ball early in the final term. He rose to the challenge as only he could, scouting the packs like a rover, and fighting for possession with tenacity……..

The Rovers bridged the initial gap, and fortunes ebbed and flowed, before goals to Dale Holmes and Burgess put Myrtleford 12 points up at the 24-minute mark.

The little maestro was in everything, and had a few other opportunities to kick goals during the last term. But the Hawk defence exerted just enough pressure to ensure near-misses….

Mark Frawley was another Hawk who lifted a notch when it counted….He cruised the ground with great anticipation and his marking and long-kicking were a feature of his strong display.

As the time-clock edged into time-on the Hawks managed to gain the upper-hand, with stalwarts Leigh Hartwig, Greg O’Keefe and Barrie Cook fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain possession.

Finally, in the dying seconds, a cool pass by 19 year-old Peter Watson to Scott gave the old champ a chance for glory…….

He kicked truly for his fourth…….. The Hawks were home by a solitary point……..

Wang. Rovers: 5.5, 8.8, 9.9 , 13.12 (90)

Myrtleford: 1.5, 5.10, 9.17, 11.23 (89)

Goals: Rovers: A.Scott 4, M.Frawley 3, M.Booth 1, G.McCarthy 1, R.Perry 1, S.Dennis 1, L.Burt 1, G.O’Keeffe 1.

Myrtleford:.P.Ruscuklic 7, R.France 1, Dale Holmes 1, F.Baldori 1, B.Garoni 1.

Best: Rovers: M.Frawley, G.O’Keeffe, S.Dennis, R.Perry, L.Burt, A.Scott, N.Pollard, S.Baird.

Myrtleford: F.Baldori, I.Wales, P.Ruscuklic, R.France, Dale Holmes, T.Burgess, B.Garoni.

Estimated Attendance: 4,750

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THE AFTERMATH

# The Rovers were bundled out of the finals the following week, when Wodonga defeated them in the Preliminary Final: 16.22 to 6.21.

# The Saints fell to the bottom of the ladder the following year, winning just 2 games. Peter Ruscuklic moved on and was replaced by former Rovers star Norm Bussell, who was non-playing coach.

# Terry Burgess finally achieved his dream of an O & M premiership in 1990, with Wodonga.

# Four Rovers players: Merv Holmes, Andrew Scott, Mark Booth and Laurie Burt, were laterInducted to the O & M Hall of Fame.

# Burt took over as coach of the Rovers in 1987, and is recognised as one of the Club’s greatestmentors, taking them to flags in 1988, ‘91, ‘93 and ‘94.

# Ian Wales is the current Myrtleford Football Club President.

# Myrtleford rover Darren Handley was recruited to Collingwood in 1986. He played 12 gameswith the Magpies and later, 10 games with Fitzroy.

# Sean O’Keeffe, Daine Porter, Tyson Hartwig, Hugh and Elijah Wales, Sam Martyn , Mitch and Darcy Booth are present-day O & M players whose fathers were involved in the Semi-Final.

# Shawn Dennis abandoned his football career to concentrate on his first love – Basketball. Heplayed 10 seasons in the NBL before starting an illustrious coaching career. He has coached in the NBL,, in New Zealand and Japan for the past 29 years. He is currently coach of Japanese side Nagoya Dolphins.

# Four months after starring in the Semi, Greg O’Keeffe achieved his most memorable sporting achievement when he ‘ran the house down’ to take out the prestigious Wangaratta Gift, infront of an adoring home crowd. He appeared in the Gift Final five times in his lengthy athletic career.

“THE FILO FILES……..”

Two kids, oblivious to their surroundings, are firing bullet-like passes at one another in the paddock adjoining a Castlemaine home…….

The taller lad looks a ‘natural’……..superbly-proportioned ……..the type silver-tongued recruiting gurus gush over, and instantaneously label a ‘generational player’….

The other boy’s a few months older, smaller, muscly, well co-ordinated, with sure hands….. such is the adroitness of his kicking, it’s difficult to ascertain which is his preferred foot……..

They play for opposing teams in the local Junior League….. Winter’s Flat and Campbell’s Creek………but they’re as thick as thieves, and will eventually re-unite to play with Bendigo Pioneers’ Under-age sides before they go their separate ways……….

Fast forward 17-18 years:

The taller bloke has evolved into a Brownlow Medallist, triple premiership player, and triple Norm Smith Medallist………one of football’s all-time greats…………..

His mate, Brodie Filo, has perveyed his footy skills over the length and breadth of the nation…….A four-time Medallist in three different Leagues…..a dynamic, will-o-the-wisp, ball-magnet with 360 senior games under his belt……and counting…...

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There’s no disputing the Filo footy pedigree…….

When Brodie’s father Derrick retired at 43, he’d chalked up over 450 senior games, four Best & Fairests, four Premierships, and the 1991 BFL Michelson Medal. Save for a season with Balranald, and several appearances with Carlton U.19’s and Reserves, he was content to confine his considerable talents to the Bendigo area.

“There’s not too many people you bump into who don’t know him,” Brodie says.

“He coached four Bendigo League clubs – Castlemaine, Kyneton, Kangaroo Flat and Eaglehawk….I’d describe him as a good, old-fashioned, basic coach………not too tactical…….but a terrific player….A roaming centreman who could go forward and kick goals….”

“He was born and bred in Castlemaine…..My Nan still lives in the house that Dad grew up in. He lives just up the road now……”

“I used to go to the footy with him all the time, pretty well……just became part of the clubs he was involved with….”

Brodie was 9 when he started playing Midget footy at Castlemaine; before moving on to Winter’s Flat, then Castlemaine Under 16’s. But he never got around to playing senior footy with his home-town club.

Derrick had landed a job with Blue Scope Steel in Bendigo, and was appointed playing-coach of Eaglehawk. So the youngster moved over to play with their Under 18’s.

The following season – 2007 – when he was just 17, he and a few of his mates forced their way into the senior side, as Eaglehawk – who hadn’t won a flag in 25 years – began their march towards a famous premiership.

“The team was comprised mostly of locals who had come through the Reserves and U.18’s……They went to school together, knocked around together, and had an unreal bond……I haven’t really experienced anything to compare with it at another Club….”

“Gisborne, who had won four of the last five flags, beat us by 100 points in the final round. We beat them by a goal in the second-Semi, then came from 3 goals down at three-quarter-time, kicking into the breeze in the last term, to win by two points……..It was an enormous win……and great to play in a flag alongside the old man…..”

Brodie spent a good portion of the following season playing TAC Cup with the Bendigo Pioneers.

“I was a bit of a loose cannon in those days,” he says. “Being involved with the Pioneers didn’t do much for me. It just didn’t feel like you were part of a real footy club. I preferred to be back at Eaglehawk, playing with my mates…….”

His suspension in a late-season Pioneers game in 2008 robbed him of the chance to return to Eaglehawk and share in their second successive flag. They held off a final-quarter charge from Golden Square, to win by six points……….

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Whilst Derrick was no doubt the biggest influence on his career, Brodie says his greatest fan was his ‘Pa’ – Sam.

“He was a big part of my life, and used to come to all of my games – from juniors right through – until his health started to deteriorate……He was a massive supporter of mine; a humble, quiet, 6’4” gentle giant……He grew up as part of a large Samoan family. They moved to New Zealand ( where Dad and his brother Shawn were born ) before settling over here.”

“Pa treated us all fantastic, but I was five years older than the next grand-kid, so I think he spoiled me a bit more than the others ……He passed away last year….”

Footy’s ingrained in the family; his brother ( on his mum Sue’s side ) Kane Farrell, is a classy 23 year-old left-footer, who has played 33 AFL games with Port Adelaide, whilst three younger Filo’s – Isaah (16), Noah (14) and Aidan (11) are coming through the ranks.

But they’ve only been able to catch fleeting glimpses of their older brother in action, since he began his football travels……..

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Brodie was 19, and still at Eaglehawk, when he played a starring role for Vic.Country against the VAFA, in a match that they clinched after the siren:

“A rep from Peel Thunder must have been watching, because their President, John Ditchburn got in touch and invited me over.”

“I hadn’t really been out of home before, and was still only a kid……..Peel are based at Mandurah – about an hour from Perth – so the place had a bit of a Bendigo feel to it…….Good weather and lifestyle……..But we were getting pumped by about 100 points every week……”

“The standard of footy was excellent, and it definitely set my career up, I guess…….In hindsight though, I should have stuck it out for another couple of years in the WAFL – or gone to the SANFL………”

Instead, he moved back east, to Koondrook-Barham, where he played for the next two years. His uncle, Shawn was coaching, and they lined up a job for him, stacking fruit boxes and driving a fork-lift.

He finished third in the competition B & F in his first year, and represented the Central Murray League and NSW-ACT.

But he’d become a touch disillusioned with football:

“ I’m very laid-back. If I’m not enjoying something I just won’t do it…..So I wasn’t going to play footy just for the sake of it….I was just going to kick back for the year”

Fortunately, he received a call from a long-serving Eaglehawk team-mate, Luke Dutton, inviting him back to the Two-Blues.

Over the next three years Filo enhanced his burgeoning reputation. He helped Eaglehawk into the finals in 2013, taking out the B & F ( “it was great to win one at my home club “). He represented the VCFL the following year, and in 2015 was added to an illustrious Honour Board, alongside his dad, as a winner of the BFL’s Michelson Medal.

Darwin beckoned soon after, and he began the first of his summer sabbaticals, stripping with the Nightcliff Tigers……..

He admits that the lifestyle in the sultry Far North was right down his alley:

“I was doing Solar Installations up there……I know it’s not much fun being on a roof most of the day when it’s as hot as hot…..But when you finish work there’s nothing better than settling down with a cold beer………. ”

Brodie’s become somewhat of an NTFL legend in the seven years he’s been travelling back and forth.

He stamped his mark on the competition in his first season, when he took out the League’s Nicholls Medal in 2015/16. Nightcliff had been starved of success for decades, and he was a key figure in their transformation into a power.

The Tigers swept to their first flag in 54 years in 2018/19 and completed the hat-trick two years later in the most dramatic of circumstances:

“I’ve never played in a game like it…..We were up by 40 points half-way through the second quarter…..With five minutes remaining we’d slumped to 4 goals down………Amidst a flurry of goals in the dying stages, we managed to tie the game…..”

“It went into over-time, and we won it by seven points……..The Nightcliff fans went crazy…..That’d probably be my biggest thrill in football…..”

Brodie took out his second Nicholls Medal in 2019/20, represented the NTFL against Glenelg the following year, and passed the 100-game mark for the Tigers last summer.

One of the highlights of NT footy, he says, is taking the 15-minute flight over to the Tiwi Islands to play the Bombers:

“They treat you like you’re Gary Ablett; they’re just nuts for their footy…..There might be a crowd of 700-odd, but you’d reckon there were 5,000 when they carry on after the Bombers have kicked a goal….”

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A friendship that had been forged with Shepparton United star Tim Looby in a Vic Country game was the catalyst for Brodie to head over to the Goulburn Valley League in 2016.

He was at the peak of his form, having picked up two League Medals within six months, and enjoyed another fine season, representing the GV and finishing runner-up to Looby in United’s B & F.

The Ovens & Murray League had long held an attraction, and when Daryn Cresswell messaged him in 2017 he jumped at an invitation to join a resurgent Wodonga Raiders :

“I hadn’t played under a coach with ‘Crezza’s’ CV…… So I ended up moving to Wodonga and worked with him……still do bits and pieces for him…….We’ve got an really good relationship, and I think in the two years I spent with him there ( in 2017-18 ) I played some of my best footy…..”

The Raiders looked a really strong contender in 2018. They had the Second Semi in their grasp…….until young Albury ruckman Brady Morton converted a free kick, with just 57 seconds remaining. The Tigers snatched victory by two points….

“That shattered us really, and we lost a bit of momentum,” he recalls .

“Wang ended up knocking us off by 6-7 goals in the Prelim………Then we drowned our sorrows on Mad Monday……”

He’d got a whisper that he was a chance to top the Morris Medal count that night, and was urged to go along. He wishes he could have his time over again…….

“I’d had quite a few, and when I left the stage after accepting the Medal, tripped on the step, fell on the floor and cut my hand.”

“They were a bit shitty on me …….I put my hand up for it and had to apologise, but there were a few who wanted to take the Medal off me……”

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He was still working for Cresswell, who, by now, (2019) had departed for the Wang Rovers, and had been succeeded by Jarrod Hodgkin.

“I was doing a job for Crezza up at Mollymook, on the NSW south coast, and had lost a bit of interest. I said to the Raiders: ‘Look, I’m not enjoying my footy. If I keep playing I’ll be wasting your time and mine……..I’m happy to sit out….or you can clear me back to Eaglehawk. Thankfully, they did…..”

A good mate Travis Matheson was now coaching the Borough, who went on to reach the Grand Final and fall just short of another flag. They finished mid-table last year.

Brodie was re-united with ‘Crezza’ at the Rovers this season, and has produced flashes of brilliance in his 13 games ……..His red-hot 27-possession game against Corowa-Rutherglen last Saturday was the catalyst for a stirring victory. Undoubtedly, if the Hawks can see the best of Filo for the remainder of the season, their finals prospects will be enhanced.

Retirement is still a long way off, and he sees no reason why he can’t pass the 500-game mark before hanging up the boots.

“I’ll go up and play another summer season in Darwin and then come back to the Rovers, I guess. ……….I enjoy it here,” says the little maestro……..

“THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A FOOTBALL JOURNEYMAN……….”

The rain’s tumbling down in Rosebud ……..The temperature has barely nudged into double figures, but it feels two or three degrees chillier, with that icy breeze nipping in off Port Philip Bay…… ……..

Norm Hamill has called the Mornington Peninsula town home for the past 13 years……. eons away from the wide open spaces of the Mallee, where he first saw the light of day……or a few of the destinations around the nation at which he landed during his time as a journeyman footballer………

He was one of the real characters you come across in footy – boisterous, open as a book, loyal, the life of the Club, warm-hearted……….but underneath his ‘big-noting exterior’, as he calls it, lay a sensitive and introspective soul ………

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Normie quips that his ‘shit-house’ kicking style prevented him from being a star………

He was playing in Bendigo at one stage, when Hawthorn coach Graeme Arthur – an old Sandhurst boy – brought the Hawks up for a practice match……He marked everything….was best afield for the locals in what he terms ‘the game of his life’……

“Graeme came up to congratulate me after the game. He said: ‘Mate, if you could do something about your kicking you’d walk into the VFL…….”

I recall when he was making his way into senior football with the Rovers he became an instant fan-favourite due to his competitiveness, exhuberance, and ability to pull down a strong pack mark….. Then he’d line up a shot for goal, and they’d collectively utter a sigh of resignation: ‘Don’t put your house on this one………’

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His dad Les was a typical Mallee cockie……..Farmed 6,500 acres of Mallee scrub through years of drought, then had one good year……. Spurred by success he decided to sell out and move onto the irrigation at Pyramid Hill.

That’s where Norm first cut his teeth in footy, making his debut with the Reserves, aged 15, and graduating to the senior line-up.

He’d been making the daily 90-mile trek to-and-from school at Kerang ( 11 of them by pushbike ), but after gaining his Intermediate Certificate, joined Les on the land.

The family’s next move was to a property at Glenrowan West. When the surrounding O & M clubs heard of a likely-looking, 6’2” , blonde-haired youngster landing in their midst it prompted a flurry of activity.

One day, whilst on the tractor, he glanced across to see a pair of Collingwood officials sauntering across the paddock to have a yarn with him.

“The old man reckoned I wasn’t ready, so I spent the next season and a half with Greta……..then the Rovers got me in to play a few games on Match Permits,” he says.

Not that he was an instant success when he moved in permanently to the Findlay Oval…….He was in and out of the senior side for the next couple of years.

The turning-point came towards the end of 1964………..The Hawks, who had won 16 games on the trot, to be red-hot favourites for the flag, suffered an inexplicable drop in form, losing the next four.

A few regulars were chopped,……and big-man Hamill, was one of those who found their way into the Preliminary Final line-up……..

The Rovers stuttered in the early stages, then blew Myrtleford away. The following week after wresting control in the third-quarter, they out-pointed Wangaratta by 21 points, to win the Grand Final.

Normie Hamill was now a premiership player……

The Hawks also hung on in a dramatic finale’ in 1965, before eventually clinching the decider against the ‘Pies by three points…….Again, the big number 18 had played his part in the tense final stages of another famous premiership victory.

It was probably the acknowledgment that he was now a fully-fledged ruckman in his own right, rather than an understudy, that convinced coach Ken Boyd of Hamill’s importance to the side.

“ Boydy had a big influence on me……I couldn’t believe the aura that surrounded him……No wonder opposition players were cautious about him on the field – he frightened me, even though I was playing in the same side as him…….” Norm jokes.

In Boyd’s swansong season, Hamill played his finest football in the Brown and Gold. His good mate Neville Hogan took out the ‘66 Morris Medal with 19 votes………Normie polled 10 votes to finish equal sixth……….

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A WISE OLD BLOKE

‘But Dad !….I want to go to the Sale.

A big ‘NO’ was his very stern words,

“You’re not really interested in cattle, my boy,

You just want to check out the birds,”

He was right, of course, although I wouldn’t admit it,

I didn’t care much about cattle or sheep,

I was only interested in getting to town,

And some of the sheilas I’d meet,

“Grab the Mattoch and Waterback,

An’ go cut some shoots,

Make sure you dig deep and don’t miss the roots,”

So off I would go with a dent in my pride,

Swaggering along with my dog by my side,

But nevertheless, as you probably can guess, I lost

Most of my arguments with Dad.

If ever I won it was with help from my Mum,

To Mum I could do nothing bad.

It was there at Glenrowan, the seeds he was sowing

Had nothing to do with a crop,

But seeds of knowledge to help me cope

With all the problems I’d cop

For it was here that Dad taught me

What it was to be a worker

He said: ‘Always pull your weight son, and don’t be a shirker………..

Norm says farm-life didn’t really suit him: “I’d be sitting out on the tractor for hours and hours, day after day, ploughing……nobody to talk to………..”

In his early years with the Rovers he decided to leave the farm and go picking tobacco at Everton with the Kneebone family……He says his Dad was not that impressed:

“I left home without a care in the world,

Not realising or worrying about the hurt I’d unfurled,

Then Dad, walking behind the bush with a tear in his eye,

Hell, I couldn’t see too much reason to cry………..”

In due course the Kneebone’s invited him to grow tobacco as a share-farmer.

“They were great to me, and we had two good years……..I bought a brand-new car and was the richest bloke in the footy club…….thought I was shit-hot……then in the third year they had the first floods in December for decades ……..flooded every plant down the river…..”

“We all walked off with the arse out of our pants………I’d been living in a tent nearby, with one of my Rovers team-mates, Frank Sargent, who was a teacher at Everton…….We got home after training one night….there’d been a huge storm….debris everywhere……and the old tent, and all our possessions had been blown away….”

That was the end of his tobacco-growing episode. Instead, he took up Ray Thompson’s offer to work at the local Brickworks for a couple of years……..But he was developing itchy-feet and decided to use footy as his travelling passport………..

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He had a few relations in Bendigo, and decided to head over to renew acquaintances with them one week-end……..Invited for a training run with Sandhurst , he met a few people….. One thing led to another, and they offered him a few bob to play.

The Dragons teed up a job selling insurance with AMP and Norm starred in the ruck, alongside 6’8” man-mountain Carl Brewster, who was to become his best mate.

Together, they represented the Bendigo League against Sunraysia, and Norm’s original League, the Northern District.

At season’s end he and two mates drove over to the Golden West. It was his intention to strip with South Fremantle but – restless soul that he was – he popped down to Albany one week-end.

“We were sitting in the pub having a few beers and the bloke ‘behind the jump’ happened to be on the North Albany committee.”

“He raced upstairs, where they were having a meeting. Next thing 5 or 6 of them came down and offered me a few bob to play…….They arranged a job as a slaughterman with Borthwick’s – cutting sheep’s throats……1,000 a day…and hanging ‘em on a mobile chain.”

“I did that for three weeks, before I approached the boss – who was North Albany President…….I said: Listen, mate, unless you can put me up the line a bit I’m giving it the arse…..Anyway, that worked, and I ended up with a better job……….”

The next move was back east, to Albury.

“I don’t really know how I ended up there, to be honest…….They got me a job as a Slaughterman, then I had a Bread-Delivery run and was finally a Sales Rep for a Tyre company for 18 months.”

The Tigers were a middle-of-the-road side in ‘69 and finished bottom in 1970, with just four wins. Norm played consistently, though, under the coaching of Bob Spargo, and alongside Carl Brewster, who’d followed him over from Sandhurst.

“The biggest kick I got in that disappointing 1970 season, was to toss the coin, as Albury captain, with my old team-mate Neville Hogan, who was in his first year as coach of the Rovers.”

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The sunshine was beckoning………And North Albury star Kevin ‘Turkey’ Weule had been offered the coaching job with Queensland club, Coorparoo.

“ They advised ‘Turk’ the job was his, on the proviso that he could bring a couple of ruckmen along. He arranged for Carl and I to meet their ‘money-man’, Barry Modini, in Wagga, to seal the deal.”

“I got a transfer in my job with the Tyre Company, went Car-detailing for a while and ended up selling cars for the remainder of our eight years, most of them on ‘The Mad Mile’, in Ipswich Road, Brisbane.”

Norm adapted well to the QAFL and, in his first season, was rated a strong chance of taking out the League’s Grogan Medal. He was selected in the State Squad for the National Division 2 Carnival, before a sprained ankle forced him out of the action.

And he was a crucial part of what was a hectic social life at Coorparoo, along with his ‘partner-in-crime’, Carl Brewster.

“We had some great times at Coorparoo, but gee, he was a bit of a wild bastard, Carl…….Got me into a bit of trouble over the years…….I even had a blue with him one night at a Club function…….He clobbered me…..I had blood all over my white jumper…..We were heading out to the middle of the ground to finish it off…..”

“When he saw the blood on me he thought: ‘Oh shit. What am I doing, whacking my best mate.’ So we went back into the Club again…….”

“When we got home we told our wives a couple of Bikies had attacked us……..”

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Norm went on to receive an attractive offer from SQAFL club South Brisbane, where he proved a star in his debut season.

“The incumbent coach quit at the end of the year, and they asked me to take over……..I wasn’t that keen, but we actually rose from the bottom, into the four…..It was a great experience.”

Many years later, they invited him back for a function, and named him captain of South Brisbane’s ‘All Star Side’……

The final stanza in his football journey was penned when he returned home, in the late seventies, to spend part of a season with his old club, Greta…….

But the Hamill family had still not sated their wanderlust ……..He and Christine continued to traverse the nation – from Melbourne…. to Augusta (WA)….to Perth, with their growing family – Adrian, Tania and Daniel….

He got right into Scuba Diving and Absailing and crayfishing in Augusta. “Fair dinkum mate, the crayfish down there were two foot long,” Norm says.

He estimates that he had more than 30 jobs, as diverse as Barman-Cellarman, Tomato-Picker, Hotel Licensee, Caravan-Park Manager, Hay-Carter, Oil-Refinery worker, Shearer, Sales Representative, Solid-Waste Operator, Fruit-Juice Distributor, Florist and Club-Manager…………..After 30 years in W.A, he and Chris finally pulled up stumps and settled in Rosebud…….

You can sometimes get wisdom from a man in the gutter,

Not always the intellects and the words that they utter,

He was a wise old bloke that Dad of mine,

Because I took his advice and I’m feeling fine………...

“HAWKS AND TIGERS PRODUCE A CLASSIC……”

Daryn Cresswell paces around the Sydney Airport Terminal; anxiously watching the live-stream of the game and furiously texting, as his charges wage a battle royal against Albury yesterday……..

In possibly the match of the year the Wangaratta Rovers hold on to pip Albury – 14.9 ( 93 ) to 13.14 ( 92 ).

Fortunes fluctuate wildly during this fascinating encounter……Forty-five seconds into the second quarter the Hawks hold a 29-point lead, and are doing it on the bit; five minutes later the Tigers have narrowed the lead to five points.

The Rovers again produce scintillating football in the opening 15 minutes of the third term, to scoot out to a seeming match-winning lead of 33 points………But their never-say-die opponents flick the switch again to fight their way back into the game……..

The last quarter is last-man-standing stuff……The Tigers finally regain the ascendency and, you’d suggest, have the necessary composure and experience to prevail in this classic contest …….It goes right down to the wire……In a match of inches the Hawks get up by a solitary point, to defeat Albury for only the second time in ten years………..

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If all of that drama was enough to drive ‘Crezza’ to distraction, consider his stand-in replacements, Josh and Chris Naish.

Charged with the responsibility of guiding the Hawks for the day they’d scarcely have visualised such a roller-coaster ride……..But, they’ll no doubt reason, they’re better for the experience.

And, by the way, they’ll probably query, in this ‘game for the ages’, why 22 of the 27 goals were kicked to the town end, when there was scarcely a whisper of a breeze.

This game fascinated from the first bounce……The early star ( and in my book, BOG for the game ) was slightly-built on-baller, Jake McQueen, who booted two early goals and continued to be a dynamo.

At one stage Tiger Brayden O’Hara stuck close in an attempt to dull McQueen…….. That was one of the many match-ups that both sides plotted…..Todd Bryant onto the dynamic Fletcher Carroll also proved effective , but really, most of the ‘big guns’ continued to have their anticipated effect on the game……

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The Rovers had no time to rest on their laurels after everything they touched had turned to gold in the first quarter. Albury soon switched into gear, inspired by the brilliance of coach Anthony Miles, who, in one purple patch early in the second term, picked up 5 touches in six minutes ( and 11 for the quarter).

But it was the curly-haired, fleet-footed youngster Isaac McGrath ( grandson of a former Hawk ) who lit the game up with a couple of majors.

The Tigers were right back in it and went to the half-time break with a four-point lead : 7.6 to 7.2.

Many Rovers diehards on the Maroney Pavilion balcony pondered, and were apprehensive about the prospect of their side regaining the ascendency.

They were ecstatic when they booted two goals in a minute. The latter was the result of a classic piece of Dylan Stone wizardry on the scoreboard-side, when he took six bounces, relayed the pill on to Jayden Bear, who knocked it over to Alex Marklew…..Goal !

And under-rated Dylan Wilson was on the end of another distance-devouring Stone effort, and snapped truly…….It was the third Hawk goal in the opening eight minutes of the third term…….They were back in town.

Further majors to Lukass Webb, Jack Gerrish and Sam Allen ( whose clean disposal had come under notice ) extended the lead to 33 points.

Again Rovers fans breathed easily, and contemplated glory…….

But not for long……

The final stanza had no sooner begun when the pendulum swung for the umpteenth time. Big forward Jacob Conlon slammed through two ‘snags’ in a minute…….Shaun Daly was acquitting himself capably after switching into the ruck, and the usual ‘suspects’, Miles, strong-marking Lucas Conlon, Jake Gaynor, Riley Bice and skipper Jimmy Grills came under notice.

Suddenly, the Tigers trailed by just four points.

When Todd Bryant was interfered with at centre half forward, the relay kick ended up in the hands of tall Hawk Mackenzie Bristow, who nailed it from point-blank range.

Temporary breathing space for the home side…….

But it was short-lived when Jacob Conlon marked on the angle and his conversion put the Tigers back in front at the 17-minute mark.

Then Jimmy Grills snapped his fourth point for the day…..A bad miss……It was desperation-stakes for both sides, as they battled in close.

Two great intercept marks from the gallant Sam Murray, and some outstanding defensive efforts from the reliable Raven Jolliffe, brought sighs of relief to the Hawks……..

The Rovers backline, also supported by Sam Carpenter, Michael Clark, Cody Schutt and Will Nolan had continued to be unstinting in their efforts.

The closing minutes were so drama-charged that roughly 32 of the 36 players were fighting for the ball in front of the Hogan Stand, the end to which the Tigers were attacking.

It was three points the difference with a couple of minutes remaining…….

The dangerous Tiger Jacob Conlon marked right on the line, in front of the point post, played on……and booted a point…….A great escape for the Hawks……A disputed mark to Riley Bice, 25 metres in front, was disallowed…..Then, seconds later, Will Blomely snapped…..and deviated to the left point post…….

There was just a point in it when Sam Murray’s raking left foot again cleared the ball from the danger area towards Jayden Bear and Lachie Taylor-Nugent. Just as Bear toed the ball into space he raised his arms in triumph. The roar of the crowd had drowned out the shrill sound of the siren, signifying a one-point victory in a memorable encounter……

The balcony exploded in uproar…….