‘THE STORY-TELLER…….

(By Simone Kerwin)

The subject of this article will be aghast when he sees it published. But he’ll get over it. This is his sporting story………

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It’s one of those 40 degree Wangaratta days; the kind that make you feel as though you could sizzle as soon as you step outside, or melt into the concrete like a dropped ice-cream.

You’re just relaxing into the air-conditioned comfort of your car when you round the bend into Evans Street, and spot him. Though it’s possibly the hottest part of the day, he’s jogging along behind a mower in front of the W.J.Findlay Oval, headphones on, seemingly oblivious to the oppressive heat.

It may appear to the outsider to be some kind of exercise in self-flagellation, a bit of manual labour as self-discipline. However, those close to KB Hill know that what brings him to this point is a combination of dedication, community pride, and the opportunity to clear his mind and allow words to fall together as they bring his latest story to vivid life.

For, while he wears a range of hats (as loving patriarch, faithful parishioner, businessman, passionate Bulldogs fan, history-keeper, sports fanatic, and devoted servant of the Wangaratta Rovers Football-Netball Club and Rovers-United Bruck Cricket Club), the role for which he’s becoming best known is that of story-teller.

Dad began his blog, KB On Reflection: The Random Jottings of an Old Sports Buff, in late-2013 as a challenge to himself to produce 52 pieces in 52 weeks.

He did just that, bringing the stories of local sporting champions to a new audience, and to those who delighted in reminiscing about the performances of stars they knew as mates, family members, neighbours or idols.

Then, prompted by the positive response, he kept going beyond his initial brief. Despite regularly questioning his ability to find and tell a great story, he’s still at it, to the delight of his fans – of which I’d claim to be one of the most fervent.

I clearly recall the moment when I recognised that my dad was a brilliant writer. Of course, I’d been part of the audience for his storytelling skills as he told us about his adventures playing footy in Queensland and the Territory, and about growing up with his five brothers.

But one day I happened upon a piece he’d written for the Wangaratta Historical Society. This story transported me to the Wangaratta Showgrounds velodrome, and the early days of eventual Olympic gold medallist Dean Woods.

For those familiar with the world of Harry Potter, it was as if I had gained access to Professor Dumbledore’s pensieve, and been fully immersed in the events of the past. And I was hooked.

Dad’s command of the English language is masterful, but also gentle enough that his prose engages not only those of a literary bent, but anyone who simply enjoys reading a good story – and isn’t that all of us? His style is completely natural, that of a self-taught wordsmith with an intimate knowledge of his core subject: the sporting life of the Wangaratta district.

That thirst for that knowledge began when he was just a toddler, trooping around the ground that would become his spiritual home, behind his father and hero, Len.

Len had been a premiership player with the Wangaratta Football Club in 1946 – fresh from his World War 2 service – before he agreed to coach and play for then-Ovens and King league club Wangaratta Rovers.

He led them to their first flag in 1948, then encouraged the club to join the neighbouring Magpies in the Ovens and Murray league.

He stepped back from playing to join the committee and help sculpt a successful environment at what would become the Findlay Oval. After joining the O&M in 1950, the club won its first O&M flag in 1958 under star coach Bob Rose, whose services Len had helped secure.

Another 14 senior premierships followed over the next four decades, and the club expanded with time to include netballers, who added to the success.

Dad’s arrival on the scene in 1947 – the third of six sons born to Len and wife Margaret (Madge) – was timed perfectly to allow him to witness the build-up to that Rovers success, and to knock around local cricket grounds watching his highly competitive father in action.

He developed a passion not only for what was happening on-field, but for the people around the contests, and the friendships and rivalries they developed. I think the colour and atmosphere on the periphery has always been almost as important to him as the game itself.

Dad is a master of humility and self-deprecation’ The ‘about the author’ section of his blog says ‘His boyhood dream was to be a champion footballer and cricketer. He fell spectacularly short’.

In fact, he sells himself spectacularly short. For not only has he been a servant to the executive and behind-the-scenes aspects of the two sports he loves most, he did exhibit some talent on the field.

While footy and cricket were his bread and butter, the young Kevin and his mates would have a crack at any sport, and enjoyed following the national and international proponents of all pursuits.

Dad honed his skills in the backyard of the Hills’ Maxwell Street home. With six boys in the family who had watched their Dad wring every ounce from his sporting contests, you can only imagine there must have been some hard-fought matches of backyard cricket and a few ‘speckies’ attempted during willing kick-to-kick sessions.

KB officially began his footy career with the Wangaratta Junior League’s South Wanderers, and after graduation from junior ranks, pulled on his beloved brown and gold for the first time in 1964 .

He played in the Rovers’ grand final loss to Wodonga in 1967, and in 1970 he was a member of the Rovers’ Neville Hogan-led grand final team which tackled Myrtleford at the Wangaratta Showgrounds.

The latter resulted in the Saints winning their first and only Ovens and Murray flag, but recollections of those at the game include KB’s strong marking at centre half forward, and his “no-nonsense” approach to physical clashes with his Saints opponents.

He missed the chance to take part in a Rovers’ premiership in 1971 when he embarked on what he says was a plan to play footy in every state of Australia. He spent a season in Queensland with Coorparoo, where his brother Denis also landed, shortly after.

He then travelled over to play for Nightcliff in Darwin, where many would be surprised to know the famously affable KB was suspended for two matches for verbal abuse…the competitor inside always emerges.

He returned to the North East in 1972, and set about assisting his mate, John Welch, in rejuvenating Ovens and King club Tarrawingee.

The Bulldogs won the flag in 1975, but by then Kevin had moved on to coach Moyhu, the same year he married ‘the girl around the corner’, Moira Clohesy.

Dad’s mentioned before on his blog that Moi “had an inkling of what she was in for…when she discovered two books in our honeymoon luggage – ‘Fingleton on Cricket’ and ‘The Australian National Football League Coaching Manual’.

She seamlessly shifted from coach’s wife to mum when I arrived in the October of ’75′

She says I should have vivid memories of the Moyhu Hotel facade, as the two of us spent a fair portion of my babyhood sitting in the car out the front, waiting for Dad after games. He was reappointed to the Hoppers’ top job in 1976, which was to be his final year at the helm.

From there, life got even busier. The late 1970s saw the start of Dad’s administrative work for the Rovers, including as secretary from 1977 to ’79, as the Hawks claimed a hat-trick of flags. Meanwhile, he and Mum welcomed three more kids to their brood: Jacqui and Ross as ‘Irish twins’ in the January and December of 1977, and Stephen early in 1979.

Dad was also involved in the advent around this time of a key Rovers fundraiser in Monday night bingo, which continued to run until 2014 and raised almost $500,000 for the club’s building fund over 37 years. He also helped oversee the Thursday night Rovers sweep for 34 years.

Mum and Dad experienced the toughest time possible for any parent when Stevie succumbed to leukaemia in August, 1980 – just two days after the birth of their fifth child, Kerrie.

An experience which could understandably rip a couple apart only galvanised Mum and Dad’s bond, as they called deeply on their faith to draw them and their young clan through.

Four more daughters, Anna, Lauren, Paula and Justine, arrived to complete the family over the next nine years.

We could have been a netball team if any of us had been as serious about playing sport as Ross was, but we passionately followed the games our Dad loved, and were all indoctrinated by KB to adore the Rovers and view the Magpies as a necessary evil.

If you’ve ever seen KB Hill at his scoring post at the cricket, you’ve seen a man in his element. The kids and I dropped in to say g’day one Saturday last season when he was stationed at a Rovers-United Bruck game at the Barr Reserve.

We were perched behind him waiting for a break, to have a quick chat. There he was: shoes off, his array of coloured pens at the ready, and keeping an eye on every ball while still managing some friendly banter with the opposition scorer – possibly even researching his next blog. I have a feeling, as much as he loves footy, that cricket would win a battle for his heart.

As with footy, Dad’s introduction to cricket began by following in Len’s footsteps at Rovers, his involvement even extending to assisting and then taking over – with Denis – curating duties on the wicket at the Findlay Oval.

We all have memories of sitting on the roller while Pa or Dad prepared the pitch, and to this day, I think twice before setting foot on a cricket wicket, with Pa’s gruff “Uh, uh, uh!” echoing in my ears from the times I made to run on the pitch as it was being watered after games.

We quickly got the idea it was hallowed ground. KB also assumed the mantle of ensuring all was in order for afternoon tea – the urn boiled and the milk in the fridge – for many years, just another of those behind-the-scenes roles he prefers.

Onfield, Dad played with Rovers Cricket Club for about 25 years, and was part of A grade premiership teams in 1980-’81 and 1984-’85 with the likes of Jock Lowry, Geoff Billman, Rod Davis, Jimmy Radford and Stuey Marshall.

A medium pace bowler and left hand bat, his cricket career famously included facing West Indian quick Wes Hall when the Windies visited Wangaratta to play a Victorian Country XI in 1969.

KB could probably recite most WDCA records by heart. However, he’s reluctant to draw attention to the fact he holds the title for the association’s highest innings in an Ensign Cup match. His 151 against Lake Rowan in 1964-’65 just keeps him in front of son-in-law Duane Kerwin’s 144 against Euroa in 1993-’94.

At an official level, KB served as WDCA treasurer between 1974-’75 and 1978-’79; was made a life member in 2002.

He is the association’s long-time historian, a role which has involved him producing a series of albums, The WDCA Diaries. They include records and stories of leading players, told in his inimitable style, and have earned him accolades from Cricket Victoria.

It could be said that recording sporting stories in this manner is KB’s life work. For as long as I can remember, he’s been painstakingly working his way through bound copies of the local paper to ensure he has all the finer details about sport in Wangaratta included in his extensive files.

It’s this passion for and knowledge of local sport which has developed his reputation as one of the city’s key historians. Local newspaper sports editors know he is a valuable resource when they’re writing about highest scores, winning streaks, and games played, especially as they can be confident in the accuracy of the information he provides.

His natural affinity for words and stories developed through his role as sports editor at the Chronicle Despatch in the ’60s. His expertise was later sought by former City of Wangaratta Mayor Bill Findlay when he compiled ‘The Hawk Story’, and the pair also collaborated on ‘The Hawks Hall of Fame’, as well as many well-received articles in The Chronicle, before the advent of his blog.

Dad’s eagerness for sporting feats and milestones to be recognised has seen him form part of Hall of Fame selection committees for the Rovers, WDCA and O&M.

For many years, he has been known to present 100-gamers at the Rovers with a carefully-curated collection of news articles in which they’ve featured during their careers with the Hawks, all coloured-in with the signature style he initially tried to claim was his daughters’. They are always gratefully received, and have become part of the club’s folklore.

That’s the public side of KB. Those of us lucky enough to be part of his inner circle are privy to some extra special aspects of his character.

There are the impromptu songs he composes on the spot to delight or spotlight his kids and grandkids; the speeches at weddings, birthdays, Christmas gatherings and other occasions, which are always brilliant despite his reluctance as an orator; and his ability to cover everything from religion and philosophy to current affairs and celebrity gossip in kitchen- table chats.

In recent years, he’s attended university graduations, school assemblies and grandparents’ days, and brushed up on his knowledge of basketball, netball, gymnastics, and even dance, while following his family’s pursuits.

Then, of course, there are the phone calls. The grand-kids know that if they’ve had a big day, whether it be sporting, academic or otherwise, it’s likely the home phone – which rarely sounds in these days of mobiles – will be ringing that evening, and “that’ll be Pa” at the other end of the line wanting to hear all about it.

If only every kid had that sort of cheerleader in their lives. I’ll be forever thankful that I have.

‘STABBER’…..THE MINI-MARVEL FROM MARYBOROUGH’…….

‘Michael Angelo Caruso’…….

The name slides off the tongue as smoothly as ‘Sergio Silvagni’, ‘Mario Bortolotto’ or ‘Vinnie Catoggio’, three of the Carlton premiership heroes to whom he’d formed an attachment in the blissful days of his youth.

He dreamt of playing League football, but it wasn’t to be. The closest he came to attracting the attention of talent scouts was possibly when Carlton Under 19’s played a match against the cream of young Bendigo/Ballarat talent at Eastern Oval, Ballarat.

He won a fair bit of the Sherrin that day but admits: “……..Kids my size were a dime a dozen. …Besides, I wasn’t good enough for the next level”.

Instead, ‘Stabber’ proceeded to carve out a brilliant country footy career….. 481 senior games, six flags and inclusion in three ‘Teams of the Century’/ ‘Halls of Fame’……earning widespread recognition as an out-and-out champ………

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His mum Maureen belonged to a famous sporting clan – the Noonan’s of Maryborough. Of solid Irish stock, there were 5 boys in the family….. followed by 5 girls.

“There would probably have been a few more,” says Mick,”only that Pop died in his early forties……” Several uncles became stars at Royal Park, the Maryborough Magpies and surrounding clubs …..So did a fair swag of his 40-odd cousins.

Maureen was a colourful personality, and loved the game, When Mick started to make his way, she and Giovanni – his dad – were readily-identifiable, and sometimes vociferous, figures on the sidelines.

The Royal Park ground, Hedges Oval, was, conveniently, just a stone’s throw from the Caruso household. Mick had a rapid ascension at his home club. He played in three U.15 flags, and another in the Reserves, before cementing his senior spot.

He capped his four years – and 76 senior games – with a premiership in 1981. The fond memories of ‘Bushie’ Park still linger. He and at least ten old ‘Bushies’ head off for a week-end every year, and ‘chew the fat’ about old times……..

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Several of his mates were already playing for Maryborough when Mick rocked up at the Ballarat League Club in 1982.

He was 20, and became an immediate success. The attributes that served him well throughout his career were already evident; supreme fitness, the knack of being able to run all day, and work like a beaver in extracting the pill from the congestion.

“Princes Park’s a lovely little ground, but like all of them over there, you learn to play in-tight. And you develop strong quads……. The conditions are horrific sometimes…….. mud half-way up your lower legs, hailstones pelting down horizontally…..”

“We’d play at Daylesford, for instance, and carve mud and stones off our legs after the game, then go to the showers…..and they’d be dripping cold water….”

After a fine debut season, Mick represented the Ballarat League in 1983 and won the Club B & F. He was appointed captain of Maryborough the following season – a stint which lasted seven minutes.

“I fell over someone in the opening game, broke my Tib and Fib and needed screws and plates.” . He’d graduated from Ballarat Uni after four years, and was teaching P.E/ Maths at Maryborough Tech School, with the leg encased in plaster.

Completely recovered, he again won his way into the rep side, which met the Ovens and Murray in a Country Championship semi-final at Wangaratta.

“The thing that struck me was how nice the Showgrounds looked. It was a pleasure to be playing on top of the ground, in fine conditions.”

The following season he received the first of several phone calls from Rovers President Sam Perna. “I’m not sure what prompted him to contact me. Maybe he’d got my name off someone after the Inter-League game,” Mick says.

There’s no doubt he was an established BFL star (and automatic inter-league selection). But Maryborough struggled. “We never played finals whilst I was there, but had the occasional cracking win. In the last game of ‘86 we knocked over North Ballarat, the ‘gun’ side, who went on to win the flag.”

After picking up his second B & F, he thought: ‘Heck, I’m 25 and still in Maryborough. Maybe I need a change.’ That’s when he relented after another of those Perna phone calls and decided to throw in his lot with the Rovers.

“Originally it was only going to be a one-year thing. I’d been talking to Ronnie Wearmouth, the ex-Collingwood player, who was coaching in Brisbane, and there were also some nibbles from WAFL club Subiaco.”

“But the Rovers found a teaching position for me at Rutherglen High. It was a great school and I stayed there for 17 years. I fitted in well with the Rovers – and met Michelle ( and we had the kids, Rikki, Sam and Ben)……. As they say, the rest is history………….”

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At first, Mick found it awkward adapting to the open spaces and extra pace of O & M footy.

“To be honest, I started slowly. But I had a good yarn with Neville Hogan, our Chairman of Selectors, who suggested playing smarter footy, rather than ball-chasing. They even threw me in as a ‘tagger’ for a while. That taught me more about the craft of cutting angles.”

The Hawks were on the cusp of a ‘Golden Era’ and Caruso was to become a vital cog in the wheel of a powerhouse side. He lent valuable experience and class to an otherwise youthful line-up.

The Rovers swept to four flags in seven years. He enhanced his reputation as a big-occasion player by winning the Did Simpson Medal in two of them – 1991 and ‘93 – and contributing solidly in the others (1988 and ’94).

Mick was Best & Fairest in 1990 and assumed the captaincy when Laurie Burt retired from playing mid-way through 1991. He proved an inspirational leader. His penchant for fitness also enabled him to remain a valuable contributor as he moved into his thirties.

It was Burt who made the move to slot ‘Stabber’ into the back pocket around 1994. “I was usually matching up on the small, young quicks. So I had to use my footy smarts to try to prevent some carnage,” he jokes.

He injured his hand in his 200th game, on the eve of the ‘96 finals and knew, the moment it happened, it was a bad break. He nursed the injury – and a dicey hamstring – through the finals.

Mick finally relented to the persistent arm-twisting of Greta President Kevin Naish. He was keen to prove that he could cut the mustard as a coach; also sensing that he was struggling to keep pace with O & M footy.

His three years as coach of the Blues were spectacularly successful. He made a private pact not to snavel any Rovers players, but two long-term Magpies – Andy Haring and Chris Crimmins – proved valuable recruits.

“They’d been through five wooden-spoon years at Wang, and it was nice to be able to provide them with the opportunity to win a flag,” Mick says. “They gave great service to Greta and remained there long after I departed.”

The Blues lost to North Wangaratta in the 1997 decider, then unluckily bowed out in the Elimination Final to eventual premier Chiltern the following year.

After being a shaky 1-2 after three rounds of 1999, they remained unbeaten for the remainder of the season, holding out a persistent Moyhu by five points in a nail-biting Grand Final.

Greta, a proud old club with a rich history, hailed Caruso, the magician. He’d given them three stellar years, winning B & F’s in two of them…….

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He returned to the Findlay Oval, ostensibly as coach John O’Donohue’s right-hand man. At 38, it was anticipated that his playing days at O & M level were behind him. But he soaked up the pre-season training, and was coaxed into again wearing the Brown and Gold.

‘Stabber’ didn’t miss a beat. He was third in the B & F in his first season back, and played the majority of games over the next three years. His 250th was celebrated raucously – by the six veterans who had shared his journey with the Hawks that began 16 years earlier – and the young team-mates who idolised him.

The accolades continued to flow. He was invited to return to Maryborough, where he was named in the Magpies’ Team of the Century. The previous week-end he’d been similarly feted by Royal Park, who also included him in their Team of the Century.

It was hoped that the fairytale end to the Caruso career would be his participation in another glorious Rovers triumph – the 2002 premiership. The Hawks hit the front early in the final term, only to be over-run by an on-song North Albury.

That was that ! He helped out with the Club’s fitness work the following year, and enjoyed being a keenly-interested onlooker.

But when the Hawks suffered a spate of injuries and were spluttering on the field early in 2004, coach Peter Tossol talked the battle-worn warrior, aged 42, into another come-back. He resumed service in the back pocket. At season’s end, though, after 265 games with the Hawks, ‘Stabber’ finally put the cue in the rack.

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Following more than a decade as an assistant, he accepted the challenging role as the Rovers’ non-playing coach in 2011. The Hawks slumped to 1-8, but improved markedly in the latter half of the season. The encouraging factor was that several youngsters had developed significantly.

And they continued to flourish the following year.

“We didn’t recruit extensively over the off-season, but the arrival of Barry Hall topped us off. We had an agile, unpredictable forward-line; the whole side grew in confidence,” Mick recalls.

“We were 16-3 going into that fateful Second Semi-Final.”

Does he still mull over the errant Barry Hall shot after the siren, which cost the Hawks the game ?

“Well, it’s hard not to. Someone brings it up every week. But it wasn’t the missed-shot so much ; we were 34 points up in the last quarter, and let the game slip. What a roller-coaster of a finals-series, it was….A huge disappointment.”

Mick had decided that his third year as coach -2013 – was going to be his last : “I was running on empty. You under-estimate the time and effort that’s required. Other things, like work ( with AFL SportsReady) and family, suffer.”

It was time for the Hall of Famer and Club icon to follow the Hawks from the sidelines………………

‘BIDDING ADIEU TO AN OLD HAWK…..’

Tom Tobin had just turned 24 when he lined up for his first season with the Wangaratta Rovers.

It was 1957. The attraction of playing under Bob Rose’s coaching was enough for Tommy to sign on the dotted line.

A Tatura boy, he’d transferred to Wang in his job as a Postal Clerk, an occupation which was to take him far and wide, and see him eventually become a Postmaster.

Despite his zest for sport he’d accepted at a young age, that his limited ability wouldn’t propel him to superstardom.

When you’re in the ruck and give away height every week, or line up in a key position and find yourself two yards too slow; then have average skills to boot, it puts you behind the eight-ball. But he played every game as though it was his last.

He made 11 senior appearances in his initial two-year spell with the Rovers, and figured In Reserves Grand Finals in both years, the second of which resulted in a Premiership.

He spent a season with Greta on his return to the area five years later. Then, in the evening of his career, the Hawks suggested that they had the ideal position for him – as captain of the Reserves.

Many youngsters like me were just coming out of the Junior League. Tommy was our ‘protector’, besides coming down hard on us if we strayed on, and off, the field.

He’d often say: “The tougher it becomes, the better I like it,” and would rarely finish a game without ‘wearing’ one wound or another.

I liked his style. When tempers flared in a typically feisty clash with Myrtleford at the Findlay Oval one day, Tom decided that he needed to make his presence felt.

He charged in with all guns blazing just on siren-time, and his ‘two-man war’ with opposition skipper, Vic Garoni, had the crowd roaring. The commencement of the senior clash soon after seemed somewhat of an anti-climax.

Tommy decided to hang up the boots as Reserves skipper. He’d won the B & F (1964), and finished runner-up and Third in the following two years.

He moved seamlessly into the role for which he was lauded, as a brilliant administrator. He became assistant-secretary and a Selector for four years, then succeeded Ernie Payne as Secretary in 1970.

For the first time in the Club’s 20-year O & M history, they’d plumped for a local boy as coach. Neville Hogan’s appointment was panned by many experts and supporters, who predicted the demise of the Hawks.

It was to prove a master-stroke, of course, as the Club embarked on its fabulous ‘Super Seventies’ era. Jack Maroney, a gruff, tough old campaigner, was a fine President who could go off on a tangent. Tobin took it upon himself to keep ‘Old Wally’ in check; also ensuring that the rest of the off-field stuff ran smoothly.

After losing a tight Grand Final to Myrtleford , the Hawks won the first of their seven 70’s flags in 1971 . Tom moved on after this and was honoured with Life Membership.

He followed from afar, but his last (unofficial) duty for the Club came 22 years later. Laurie Burt had heard a whisper that there were one or two Wodonga players under an injury cloud for the Grand Final, and asked if he’d mind subtly ‘sussing’ them out at training.

Tommy was chuffed at that prospect; ‘spying’ for his old club, under-cover, in his adopted home town…….

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His summer passion in those days was cricket. As a lower-order batsman and a medium-pacer with an elongated run, he played for Rovers and City Colts, in the Wangaratta and District Cricket Association, and served as WDCA Secretary for two years.

Postals appointed him as their inaugural captain when they joined the Sunday Association. And the Tobin combativeness was always close to the surface.

Like the time he fronted a West End fieldsman who’d been annoying hell out of him and doing his best to get under his skin: “Don’t call me a bad sport, or I’ll wrap this bat around your bloody head…………”

Footnote: Tommy passed away in Wodonga last Wednesday, aged 87. He leaves wife Marlene, six kids and nine grand-kids.

” ‘MOUSE’…….THE OPPORTUNIST……..”

Denis Wohlers passed on some notable characteristics to his son…….among them, a shock of blonde hair…….the Diabetes gene…..one of the most recognisable nicknames in town……..and a passion for the Rovers, Essendon and fishing.

Thank heavens young Shane didn’t inherit his minimal footy ability.

The kindest testimony to his old man’s skills with the Sherrin is that, mercifully, he found a more suitable pastime as a drummer……..

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Shane was part of a couple of Rovers premiership teams that have been classified among the greatest of all-time. Even though he was one of their unsung foot-soldiers, he’d have no trouble plucking out a host of career highlights.

But his mates always vouch that the best of ‘Mouse’ was encapsulated in a scintillating six-minute burst at the Albury Sportsground in 1998. I’ll try to re-construct the scenario:

After being near-unbeatable in the early part of the nineties, the Hawks’ reign is terminated by Albury, who have snared the last three titles.

The ladder-leaders exemplify their ruthlessness in this mid-season match, arrogantly stretching a 32-point lead at the long break to 40 at lemon-time. Even the most ardent Hawk fans sense a debacle and are mournfully contemplating the long trip home.

The pendulum swings ever so slightly ……The formerly-frazzled visitors begin to exhibit a sense of abandon and charge forward. Three early goals provide the inspiration……

12-minutes into the last term the will-o-the-wisp Wohlers swoops on the ball and kicks a great running goal from 40 metres…………A minute later, with the Hawks deep in attack, he successfully snaps from a near-impossible angle……..And, deja vu……He boots a sensational goal on the run, from 45 metres out, tucked up against the boundary, just as the clock ticks over 14 minutes……..At the 18- minute mark it’s the elusive number 36 again ! His destruction continues, with his fourth on the trot ( and fifth overall) to level the scores……..

By now he’s on Cloud Nine, dominating the game in a way that he’d never have envisaged . The Rovers continue attacking relentlessly, and, after Tim Scott kicks his fifth to regain the lead for the Tigers, it’s Rohan Graham who puts them back in front.

Precious seconds tick by. At the 30-minute mark, Albury’s Manny Edmonds breaks clear. His shot from 35m towards an open goal, drifts across for a minor score, just as the siren blares…..the Hawks have sneaked home by four points……

Amidst the pandemonium, ‘Mouse’ – the hero of the moment – bashfully acknowledges the plaudits of the fans…….

His dad, the Club’s resident Video-Operator, packs up his equipment and enters the jubilant rooms, fobbing off the praise directed towards his son.

Someone remarks: “What’d you think of the young bloke.? “

But ‘Old Mouse’, a hard task-master if ever there was one, drily comments: “Where was he for three quarters……….?”

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Shane laughs when we reflect on his favourite ‘moment in the sun’: “Robbie (Walker) used to do things like that every second week.”

Indeed, he says, he was privileged to have a box-seat to the ‘Walker-Show’. But really, he’d long been destined to make a mark at the Findlay Oval. When he was a toddler in the mid-to-late seventies he was forever trailing behind his heavily-involved dad .

His heroes weren’t the VFL household-names of the day, but stars like Merv Holmes, Steve Norman, Eddie Flynn and Andrew Scott, who indulged him as part of the Hawk family.

He progressed from playing with Junior League Club College, to the Rovers Thirds, where he finished runner-up in the B &F and featured in their 1988 Premiership side. It seemed a ‘fait accompli’ that ‘Mouse’ would be yet another to join the assembly-line of budding champs.

Within two years, one of his Thirds flag team-mates, Dean Harding had been snapped up by VFL club Fitzroy after some eye-catching performances……..Shane’s journey couldn’t have provided a starker contrast…….

He found himself unable to even squeeze into the Rovers Reserves side in ‘89…….

“I wasn’t going to hang around not playing, so ‘Boofa’ Allan talked Chris McInnes, ‘Rolls’ (Steve Ralston), myself and Dean Stone ( who hadn’t played footy for a year or so) to head out to Milawa for the rest of the season.”

“We enjoyed it too, but it was only going to be a one-year thing for me. I still reckoned I was good enough to eventually crack the Seniors at the Rovers.”

Even then, he had to earn his spot the hard way. He was the Reserves B & F in 1990, Third in ‘91, and shared the Award with Mark Nolan in 1992. The reward for his consistency was the sum total of 15 senior games in three years.

He was going on 23. “I really thought I might have been given more opportunities,” Shane reflects,”…but I realised I had to be patient. It was a pretty hard line-up to break into.”

After playing a handful of early games in the Two’s in 1993, Laurie Burt pulled him aside one night and said: “You’re in.” “ ‘Sorry, I can’t play’ I told him. ‘I’m going to a mate’s wedding.’”

“I thought, shit, now I’ve done my dash. I knew what Laurie’s attitude was to blokes who put their social life in front of footy.”

“But surprisingly, I got a senior game the following week – and didn’t get dropped for the next seven years……………”

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Included in that was a run of 35 consecutive wins, which took in the 1993 and ‘94 premierships.

A myriad of memories flick through his mind when he recalls those flags……..for instance, the half-time brawl in the player’s race in the ‘93 decider against Wodonga…..the inspirational Laurie Burt speech which stirred them back into action….. Leading by just one point at the main break, they went on to kick 12 goals to 6, to win by 40 points….He even managed to ‘snag’ a couple himself…….

And the multiple stoushes in the ‘Big One’ the following year, when the ‘Dogs had three players off the ground – ‘yellow-carded’ – in the third term……He played against his good mates – Dean Harding, Robbie Hickmott and Dean Stone that day……The Rovers triumphed, this time by 10 goals….

‘Mouse’ was creative….. skilful…..an opportunist……and an ideal club-man. He was often accompanied at training by his faithful Corgie-Kelpie-Cross companion, Sid, which would usually lead the sprint-work during the Sunday morning ‘warm-down’.

In early 1999 Shane headed north for an eight-week Gold Coast summer safari . He trained alongside his old team-mate ‘Hicky’, who was now at at Southport; and also with Beenleigh, the home club of another ex-Rover, Rob Panozzo.

“I was playing two practice matches some week-ends……. got super-fit. I’d thought about staying up there, but when I came back to Wang I was raring to go. It proved to be a disappointing year, though. I ran out of form. In the final round we played well against Lavi and I had a day out on a young kid called John Hunt.It was my last senior game for the Rovers………..”

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His association with Moyhu began in 2000 when he was appointed assistant-coach to Des Smith.

It probably wasn’t obvious at the time, but the Hoppers were about to embark on a Golden Era, which would see them snare five flags and play in seven Grand Finals.

However, Shane’s stint began disastrously. A broken cheekbone, which he sustained in a torrid clash against Chiltern left him on the sidelines for eight weeks. It spurred a frosty relationship between the Hoppers and Swans which never really thawed.

He took over the coaching reins the following year, but copped another setback – an opposition player fell across his leg, he fell awkwardly and underwent a knee reconstruction.

Ruled out of action indefinitely, he returned to the Rovers as Coach of the Reserves ( non-playing for the first year and playing-coach in the second).

The Hoppers were riding high when they welcomed him back. They atoned for a last-gasp four-point defeat at the hands of Bright in 2004 by clinching the next two flags, both against Whorouly.

“The first of these was played at the Showgrounds, and turned out a ripping game,” he recalls. “Gerard Nolan kicked ten of our 15 goals and we got up by 10 points.”

“In 2006 we took the game away from them in the third quarter and finished up winning by about nine goals. ‘Higgsy’ (Mark Higgs) came off the bench and marked everything, which helped turn the game in our favour.”

He had another two-year stint as coach in 2008/‘09. “They had someone else teed up, but it fell through, so I agreed to take it on. We made the finals both years, but I was glad to hand it over to Johnny McNamara when he became available.”

His career came to a fitting end when he played in Moyhu’s enthralling win over Tarrawingee in the 2011 Grand Final. It had been nip and tuck all day. The Hoppers reeled back a 10-point deficit in the last quarter to sneak home by two points.

He was going on 42, and it was his 409th game ( 139 at Moyhu – and 139 Senior, 92 Reserves and 39 Thirds games with the Rovers).

“ I was buggered, and could hardly raise a gallop when the siren blew……. I knew it was time to give it away…………”

P.S : Another blonde-haired, talented young ‘Mouse’ has just begun his football journey. Shane will be coaching Kaiden in the Centrals Under 12’s when footy kicks off again, whilst the two girls, Tahya and Kyia are playing Netball under the coaching of their mum, Sharlene, at Moyhu.

“PURE FANTASY ?……HAWKS AND PIGEONS IN A NAIL-BITER…….”

Rovers fans have been sweating on this day for more than four months.

After another fruitful recruiting campaign, which has netted more than a dozen newcomers, there’s an air of optimism at the Findlay Oval.

And you pick up the positive vibe as you walk into the ground. They’re doing a roaring trade in Member’s Tickets and you detect a buzz about the place. It’s great to catch up with some of the old-timers who have been seemingly welded to their favourite vantage spots for more than 30 years.

Rex Hartwig is one who has a spring in his step. Old Rex celebrated his 90th birthday during the footy hiatus . But he has a glint in his eye, akin to the focus he had in his halcyon sporting days when he’d face off against tennis legends Kramer, Segura, Gonzales and Sedgman.

Of course, there’s a good reason for Rex’s enthusiasm. His grandson Tyson is back, after a sabbatical of four years. Tys has done it all with the Hawks – Captain, champion defender, Best and Fairest, All-Australian Country rep…… Now he just wants to add to the 139 games he has accumulated…and play a part in the revival of his home club.

I stumble upon another permanent fixture; perched on the steel railing to the left of the Hogan Stand. That’s been Steve Norman’s domain ever since he hung up the boots.

He used to say how handy it was because he was within reaching distance of the Can-Booth, and right in the midst of the most one-eyed section of the crowd. Most of his fellow-protagonists of yore, like Herbie Day, Alfie Onslow, ‘Spud’ Patat, Theo Hall and Ken Johnstone have gone to their mortal coil, and others have drifted off, to be replaced by fans of a more tolerant bent.

No one was able to split the big sticks at his spiritual home quite like ‘Superboot Steve’. He had a sixth-sense. You don’t boot 1016 O & M goals without possessing something out of the box. He ‘owned’ the 50-metre arc, and his team-mates upfield could read him like a book.

There’s another bloke hobbling past who delivered a fair few of those ‘lace-up’ passes to Steve. It’s Andrew Scott, who’s become synonymous with the Rovers since he arrived in town as a ‘cop’ 45 years ago.

Geez he could play. In his first year with the Hawks he won the Morris Medal and became the idol of those hard-boiled fanatics around the Bar.

And he was so adaptable. In the latter part of his career he had a turn on the forward flank. He snagged a lazy 10 one day against Lavi, to the delight of the ‘diehards’ . The other thing about ‘Scotty’ was that he always rose to the big occasion when he was needed.

Get yakking to him and you wonder at first if he’s still carrying the weight of the footy club on his shoulders. But then he emits a huge belly-laugh, to lighten the situation. He’s continued to contribute to the Club, has this ‘rough-nut’ plumber . What an institution……. !

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Anyway, I’d better pop into the rooms to wish Sammy Carpenter all the best. Playing his 100th game today, is ‘Carps’. I don’t recall too many mediocre ones in that lot, either.

I know the veteran rates the ‘ton’ as a real highlight. He’s been a bit of a journeyman and must be nudging the 300-mark in his glittering career. There wouldn’t be a fan anywhere who doesn’t admire what ‘Croc’ has achieved.

I interrupt a chat with his old man – and greatest fan – Leigh (who also has young Sonny in tow), to shake his hand. He’s suitably chuffed and says he’s honoured to join the greats of the Club.

Heck, he’ll play an important role in this clash with Yarrawonga. His cool head will be a crucial asset, particularly considering there are so many new faces in the side.

There’s an electric atmosphere in the rooms. The Reserves have their game well in hand, so the fans have been drifting in to catch ‘Crezza’s’ pre-match build-up. It’s packed in here; you could cut the air with a knife.

One of the stars of the pre-season, in my book, has been the boy from Manley-Warringa, Tyrone Armitage. He’s a damaging left-footer who played with VFL club Northern Blues at one stage. I love his zest on the track and he seems to have fully ingratiated himself into the Club. It’ll be really interesting to see how he performs in this footy. I’m tipping he’ll be a star.

Glancing across the rooms, I guess this must be one of the tallest Rovers sides for some years. Besides young Ed Dayman and ‘Gatto’, there’s another giant in the ranks, Nick Redley from Langwarrin. Could be a surprise packet, this fellah.

I notice Ryan Stone edgily flicking the pill from hand to hand. It’s great to have him back. He developed into a top-flight player at Heidelberg since leaving the Hawks after the 2013 season. I’m sure he’s relishing the opportunity to play his first Senior game with the Rovers alongside his young brother, Dylan.

I sneak outside for a bit of fresh air and spot a familiar face ; underneath that trademark Pigeon cap, he’s wearing his usual pre-game furrowed brow. It’s old ‘Jinxy’ Clarke himself – one of Yarra’s best-known fans.

“Whattya reckon Jinx ?”. “Ah well, you blokes have had all the publicity about your recruiting, but we’re happy with what we’ve got,” he replies.

“Just remember,” he adds, “apart from those couple of hiccups last year, we had the wood on you for more than 10 years.”

I do remember, because ‘Jinx’ would remind me every time. “What’s that up to now ?…. 23 on the trot…….. ?”

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Not long after, the siren sounds to launch the 2020 opener.

It’s the usual nervy, frenetic start, but the Pigeons appear to have settled down nicely. Their first major comes from tall Matt Casey, who’s managed to find a yard on Hawk champ Nathan Cooper, and nails one from just 20 metres out.

There’s no doubt that the big wraps on their gun recruits Willie Wheeler and Leigh Masters are spot-on. Wheeler – and his brother Harry – are in everything in the mid-field, negating the ruck effectiveness of Dayman and Redley.

In fact, the Hawks look listless and a couple of sloppy turnovers prove costly. You can detect the blood of coach Cresswell rising, as normally cool customers make mistakes under pressure.

He gathers his troops at the quarter-time break for a good, old-fashioned rev. They’re 22 points down, the Hawks, and look a far-cry from the glamor-side they have been pronounced in pre-season tittle-tattle………..

Things don’t improve much early in the second term, either. But an intercept from veteran defender Sean O’Keeffe finds the ball in the hands of Carpenter, who feeds off to Sam Allen.

The long kick from the youngster – well beyond the 50-metre mark, sails through for a timely goal. Surely that will have the Hawks up and about.

Slowly they begin to creep back into the contest, despite not making a huge impact on the scoreboard.

Mark Whiley, Yarra’s first-year coach, has been in everything, as has the evergreen Xavier Leslie. Whiley is certainly an inspiration and Cresswell will need to make a move to shut down his effectiveness.

Despite the Rovers’ best efforts, the lead has crept out to 31 points at half-time.

The Hawks are quickly ushered into the coach’s room. Meanwhile, shell-shocked fans wait about, but it’s a good 12 minutes before they file out – suitably chastened and grimly determined……..

The third term produces a stunning turn-around. Shaggy-haired Will Nolan has been swung onto Whiley, and curbs his influence. And Tyson Hartwig begins to create a presence up forward.

Yarra’s dominance around the ball, which has given them control of the game, now wanes, as the dynamic Charlie Thompson, Jamason Daniels and Raven Jollife continually get their hands on the pill.

In a 16-minute burst, the Hawks have reduced the margin to less than a kick. By three-quarter time it’s the Pigeons who are looking rather ragged……..

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But they’re not done with yet……

They register early last-term goals through Jess Koopman and talented youngster Jack Sexton, to regain the ascendancy. Then, dashing Jack Gerrish takes possession from just beyond the half-back line and scoots off, dodging and side-stepping in typical fashion.

He’s within kicking distance ( there’s a player loose who he doesn’t see), and lines them up.

Goal !……… The faithful in the Maroney Pavilion rise as one.

The Hawks slot another, after Armitage swoops on the ball and kicks truly with his left boot from the angle.

It then becomes goal-for-goal, in what has become a classic contest.

Entering time-on, the Pigeons hold a slender four-point lead. Both sides are tired, but desperate, as the ball bobbles between the respective half-back lines.

I’m tuned in to OAK-FM and ‘Gamby’ breathlessly informs us that there are less than 15 seconds left.

Suddenly, Carpenter, the 100-gamer, retrieves the ball out of nowhere and spots Ed Dayman. A pass, delivered with surgical precision, thumps the young fellah on the chest….15 metres out….straight in front….just as the siren blares…….

What pressure !……..Big Ed lines them up and sneaks it through.

It’s a Hawk victory by two points……..!