The wounds inflicted by a vicious global war, which had torn nations apart and wreaked untold damage, were still tender in late 1945. Now it was time for communities to rediscover their sporting obsession.

The Ovens and Murray competition had been in recess since 1940. Wangaratta re-joined, along with six other teams. It was almost a case of starting from scratch, as recruiting got under way and the search for a coach began.

Eventually, in early March of 1946, the Pies announced the appointment of one of the game’s legends- Laurie Nash – as their captain-coach. His salary of 12 pounds per week was regarded as an astronomical sum in those days, but the opportunity to play with the ‘Great L.J’ excited many of the youngsters in the town.



Nash is acknowledged through the ages as one of the finest and most controversial Australian sportsmen ever produced. Born in Tasmania, he played two games of Test cricket, despite never having appeared in the Sheffield Shield competition.

His 10 wickets at an average of 12.80 per wicket and 30 runs at an average of 15 make you wonder why he wasn’t a regular Test player, but he reportedly faced opposition from the cricket establishment for his poor attitude towards authority. This led fellow cricketer Keith Miller to write that the persistent non-selection of Nash was “the greatest waste of talent in Australian cricket history”.

The reasons given for the apparent bias against Nash included his reputation for blunt speech and his abrasive personality, which included sledging.

He was probably the biggest name in sport through the thirties. Joining South Melbourne in 1933, he starred in a Premiership triumph in his first season, being credited with 13 marks and 29 kicks in a dominant performance at centre half back.

The following year, selected for Victoria for the first time, he had kicked two goals from centre half forward in the first quarter. An injury to Bob Pratt prompted him to be shifted to the goal-mouth, where he proceeded to finish with 18 for the day.

He later claimed that he would have booted 27 but for the selfishness of the rovers, who refused to pass the ball to him.

During World War II Nash rejected offers of a home posting and instead served as a trooper in New Guinea, stating that he wished to be treated no differently to any other soldier.

He returned to South Melbourne after the war and played a prominent part in the infamous “Bloodbath Grand Final” of 1945, in which the Swans went down to Carlton in a brawling, nasty clash which featured 16 reports.

He was South’s leading goalkicker and still a star, but possibly not the champion who, when asked pre-war who was the greatest player of all time, replied : “I look at him in the mirror every morning when I have a shave”.

Only a couple of weeks prior to his signing with Wangaratta, Nash had played quite well in a South practice match. But he was rising 36, suffering from arthritic knees and knew that he would struggle to get through another League season.

So when Wangaratta came with an offer that he couldn’t refuse, he brought his outrageous talents and wobbly knees up the Hume Highway.


Nash left his wife and young child behind (returning regularly to visit them) and was accorded a room at the Council Club Hotel. He didn’t deem it necessary to work and filled in time during the day playing poker with racing personalities and having the occasional beer.

He had lost a fair bit of fitness and was carrying a few extra kilos when he lined up for the first game against Benalla. He played himself in the centre and guided his team to victory.

In the first few games, he certainly didn’t set the world on fire, although he was being acclaimed for his coaching knowledge and ability to pass on the message.

But, as the season progressed, he started to ‘turn it on’. His move into the forward line proved a winner for the Pies and his 10 goals from centre half forward in the return clash with Benalla proved that the old class was still there.

The Wangaratta side was basically made up of locals and they had improved steadily as the season progressed. Players like big man Tommy Bush, Kevin French and Jack Sullivan, key forward Ernie Ward, small men Max Berry and Jimmy Hoysted and defenders Jack Ferguson and Jack Plaisted formed the crux of the side.

Doug Ferguson, a classy half forward, was still in the Army and used to travel by train from Melbourne on Saturday mornings to take his place in the line-up. He is the only surviving member of the famous 1946 side.

“It was a good, settled team and we were well-coached “, Doug recalled when I yarned with him at St.Catherine’s Hostel the other day. “Nashy topped us off nicely. He was a big, burly fellow and could kick the ball a mile.”

My dad Len, who played across the half-back line, was also a Nash fan. “With the reputation that preceded him, we didn’t know what to expect. But he was an astute footy person”, he once said.

Wangaratta finished second on the ladder to Wodonga at the completion of the home-and-away rounds and belted the Bulldogs by 65 points in a one-sided second semi. Nash and Ernie Ward kicked nine of their 15 goals.

The Pies met Albury at Rutherglen in the Grand Final, before a crowd of around 5,000. They went to an early lead, but Nash went down just before half-time with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

“He laid it on the line to us in his half-time address”, Doug Fergy, now 93, recalled . “He pointed out that his knee was crook and that he was moving to full forward. He said ‘Just kick it up to me in the goal-square. I’ll do the rest’.

Wang trailed by seven points at three quarter-time and had both its 19th and 20th man on the field.

Nash, despite hobbling badly, kicked another two goals in a tense final term to finish with four for the game.

The Pies had hit the front in the dying stages and held on to win by five points – 14.10 (94) to 13.11 (89).

Nash’s coaching had been well-received and he was feted by the town. But he had one more duty to perform. He was good friends with Fred O’Brien, the incumbent Greta coach, who earlier in the season had talked Laurie into taking on his job. As Greta didn’t train during the week, its only non-match contact with the coach was on Sundays, when O’Brien (the match-day leader) would bring Nash out to Greta to take the boys for training.

So Nash was able to oversee their 27-point win over Myrtleford, giving him the unique honour of coaching two premiership teams in the one year.

Laurie Nash was later to take on the coaching role at his old club, South Melbourne, in 1953. He was inducted into the inaugural AFL Hall of Fame in 1996 and was admitted to the Sports Australia Hall of Fame in 2012.

He died in 1986.






Picture this scenario. A struggling Ovens and Murray club, preparing for the season ahead, has endured a barren summer on the recruiting front.

Where are the players going to come from, to lift them from also-rans to contendors ? …..Another problem is that finances are rather precarious and it is necessary to keep a tight rein on the club’s purse.

Suddenly, news filters through that a family has arrived in town and, importantly, the five brothers all play football.

What a recruiting bonanza ! This was the good fortune that befell Wangaratta on the eve of the 1929 season. Two of the brothers proved to be champions and were to be nominated in the Club’s Team of the Century, seventy-seven years later.

The other three were handy players for the ‘Pies and, when the five of them lined up in the same side, they created an O & M record that still stands to this day.

They were the famous Careys.



Walter Steane Carey moved to Wangaratta with his wife and family of 9 ( five boys, four girls), from Devon Meadows, near Cranbourne, just as the cloud of the Depression began to enshroud the nation.

Steane, as he was commonly known, could try his hand at anything, and had a crack at tobacco farming and gold mining.

But building was his forte’ and most of the boys also plied the trade. They had to assume more responsibility when their ‘old man’ sustained syenite poisoning in his knee, from gold-mining and walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.

Steane Street, which was named after Carey the elder, contains much of the family’s handiwork.

The Carey lads were already well-advanced in their football careers by the time they pulled on the Black and White guernsey. Bert had played five games with Fitzroy and was a somewhat controversial figure ; George, Bill and Stan were players of varying talent.

The other brother, Fred, was a highly-rated utility, who had begun with Hopetoun and made a big impression with VFA club, Northcote.

The Magpies were under the coaching guidance of former Hawthorn player, Dermott O’Brien,in 1929, but when he quit during the season, Fred Carey took over.

He had played brilliantly up to this point and a leadership role suited him. Wang finished the home and away rounds in second position, but bombed out in a cut-throat semi-final.

Fred handed over the coaching reins to St.Kilda’s Ern Loveless the following year, but the ‘Pies struggled on-field, and financially, running up a debt of 248 pounds, a huge sum in those days.

Officials felt that they had no option to transfer to the Ovens and King League, where the reduction of travel and playing expenses would ease the burden.

Again they called on Fred Carey to assume the coaching role. Understanding the club’s plight, he agreed to do the job for nothing.

The O & K was of comparable standard to the O &M. The Chronicle of the day reported a big improvement in players’ attitudes: “It is obvious the players are a lot closer this season and it can be attributable in no small way to the efforts of Fred Carey. No players are being paid.”

Wangaratta outpointed Moyhu in a classic Grand Final and notched another flag in 1932, when it outclassed Whorouly.

One of their ‘guns’ was Bert Carey, who won the League goal-kicking in both seasons. He had an uncanny goal-sense, either from running or set shots and booted 21 goals out of a team total of 25 in one match.

Bert was an outstanding all-round sportsman. He was a star in a Golden Era of Wangaratta cricket and old-timers rated him among the all-time greats of the game. A left-arm bowler of considerable pace, he swung the ball considerably, both ways – sometimes too much – and was a hard-hitting batsman with a good technique.

His first Country Week trip, in 1929, produced 20 wickets at an average of 5.6, including successive hauls of 7/21 and 5/39. He was to become the cornerstone of the Wang attack during the thirties.

In the 1933 Carnival he snared 6/11, 5/39, 5/24, 4/57 and 40 not out and followed this up with 4/67 in the Final, which Wangaratta duly win.

Bert was somewhat of an individual, but when on-song on the football field, he was well nigh-unstoppable. In addition to his original stint with Fitzroy, he was twice enticed to Hawthorn, in 1933 and 1937, before answering the call of home ( or possibly the persuasiveness of his brother).

A highly-skilled rover, he could be swung with telling effect to the spearhead, where he produced some of his most memorable performances.

Fortunately, Wangaratta, had wiped off their financial millstone and now boasted a healthy balance. Their return to the O & M in 1933 was greeted enthusiastically by all in the town and the news that Bert Carey was returning from Hawthorn mid-season was icing on the cake.

He formed a lethal liaison with Len Nolan up forward and the pair bagged 18 of the ‘Pies 20 goals in a convincing 78-point Preliminary Final win over Corowa.

But the real architect of Wangaratta’s rejuvenation was Fred Carey, who dominated in a number of positions. It was no surprise when he tallied 18 votes to win the inaugural Morris Medal by one vote, from Yarrawonga’s Harold Ball.

The Grand Final at Corowa was against Border United, who had snuck past Wang to win the second-semi by 5 points. And the Pies were in trouble in the big one, being held to 2 points against a strong breeze in the first term.

In fact, they were also goalless in the third quarter, but managed to storm over the top of United in the dying stages of the game, to win the flag by a point.

It signalled huge celebrations, and Fred Carey was at the heart of them. He was a larger-than-life personality and held in high esteem by the players.

He did ruffle a few feathers the following summer when the constabulary happened upon him on the banks of the Murray, pursuing his favourite recreation -fishing- with the assistance of some dynamite !

Wangaratta were there or thereabouts in the following two seasons, but snared another premiership in 1936.

And they had to do it the hard way. Finishing on top of the ladder, they lost the second-semi to Rutherglen, but played superbly in the Grand Final to win by 20 points.

In Carey’s seven years at the helm they had won four flags.

His magic touch eluded him in 1937 and the Pies slumped to the bottom of the ladder, with only two wins.

At 35, it was time for the old ace to move on and he left his beloved Magpies, much to their regret.

He was a Life Member and in 9 years as a player, had always given of his best, as had his family.

Fred Carey spent two years at the helm of O &K club, Waratahs, before hanging up,his boots for good. He died in 1964, aged 62.






I catch up with Peter Simpson at the Ultimate Boxing Academy gym, where he’s just finished putting 20 or so panting athletes and budding boxers of varying shapes and sizes through their paces.

He is, he explains, just helping out a mate – the owner- who is overseas at the moment, but the repartee with which he engages everybody indicates that he’s a natural for this job.

When I mentioned to someone that I was going to have a yarn with him, I was warned to give myself plenty of time. “The bastard’s got the gift of the gab ! ”

It was the usual greeting : “G’day Pete”. “Good thanks! Yourself ? (He doesn’t wait for you to ask how he’s going). Then proffers a handshake, even though you’ve only seen him a day or so prior !

As you’ve guessed it, Pete’s a friendly bloke and, yes, he can spin a yarn, especially if the subject is sport. His specialty is cycling. He can recall bikies from ages back and not only give you a resume’ of the races they won and the place-getters, but even tells you what gear-ratio the winner was using !

At various stages in his 58 year-old life he has been a concreter, advertising rep, meat-worker, plumbing and sports goods salesman, barman, textile and factory worker, undertaker and, now, cycle mechanic/salesman.

Firstly, I ask him how his dad, Bert, is going. “Good, he’s 87 now and still pretty alert”.

Bert was in the British Merchant Navy, when his boat sailed into Melbourne. He’d served a couple of years during and after the war, but decided that Australia was a good place to be. He jumped ship.

There was a warrant out for his arrest and he had to lie low. A good boxer, he fought as a middle-weight under the alias of Bert Sims. “From what I’m told, he handled himself alright. He reckoned that, if the crowd enjoyed one of his fights, he’d make more money from what they threw into the ring than what his purse was.”

He married his sweetheart, Dot, and settled in Wangaratta. Years later, he was having a beer at the Railway Hotel with his regular drinking companion, the late local police chief, Sid Wright, who joked that he knew Bert was a wanted man, but ‘…if I arrested you I’d have no bugger to drink with ! ”

There was an amnesty granted in 1976, so Bert was officially in the clear, although he’d long ago stopped worrying about it . He and Dot returned to England for a visit in 1980, for the first time.

Pete can thank his uncle, Charlie Larkins for his cycling obsession. Charlie persuaded him to ride in some amateur races, which were organised by the late Pat Toohey. It was a time when cycling was on the rise in Wangaratta and was the prelude to a host of champions arriving on the scene.

He showed gradual improvement. A move to Bendigo, the home of his future wife Di, saw him competing against some of the guns of the bike game. Competition was intense and he was grateful for any little morsel of success that came his way.

But his most memorable sporting moment came in 1980, in his old home town, when he returned to ride in the Carnival.

He was in pretty good form at the time and liked his chances, even though the cream of the nation’s track riders usually converged on Wangaratta.

And after he had qualified for the Wheelrace Final, he was pleased to see that two of the main fancies, ex-national champion and previous winner, Laurie Venn and Olympian Phil Sawyer, had been ridden out in their heats.

For a local lad who had done a paper-round as a boy, to earn enough money to purchase his first race-bike, this was the culmination of a dream. He had idolised the greats who had waged war on the dirt track over the years, such as the legendary Sid Patterson, Gordon Johnson, Keith Oliver, Barry Waddell, Chris Salisbury and the New South Welshman, Bob Whetters, to name a few.

Come the bell lap he was sitting second wheel to the veteran J.J.Stewart and was fully aware that back marker, David Allen would be making a charge. He was riding the race of his life, and, spurred on by the cheering of the near-record crowd of over 10,000, found something extra as he hit the home straight.

In a dramatic finish, he held on to beat the fast-finishing Eric Bishop and Alan Rackstraw and collect the $1,850 prize-money, which was a handy wedding present, as he and Di married the next week.

He was wading out into the Tasman Sea, on the central New South Wales Coast, thinking sweet-nothings a few days later, when he was caught in a rip and saw his life unfold before him.

Fortunately, he survived and was able to add this to his repertoire of tales.

Track-racing was Pete’s specialty, but he decided to have a crack at the ‘Warrnambool’ one year. He knew he would be tested by the distance and the weather, but picked up 5 sprint prizes, before eventually pulling the pin at Colac.

He staged a couple of come-backs, never able to resist the lure of climbing back in the saddle. And when he took out his first Wangaratta club championship, after 17 years, he thought it was as good a way as any to crown his career.

Since then he’s played a hand in just about everything involved in cycling. He went on 10 Sun Tours, as a manager, masseur, driver, handyman….you name it.

He was involved with the big-name riders at close quarters – their mannerisms and idiosyncrasies – and gathered a heap of anecdotes, which he loves to re-tell.

He drove the van on the High Country Charity ride last year, a testing 500km journey over 4 days, which heads up Mount Hotham, Falls Creek and goes as far as Omeo.

You can imagine that the 50-odd riders are just about knackered after a long day, as they settle down for a quiet beer around a campfire. “Simmo” provided the entertainment with his host of cycling stories, most of them true, some R-rated, some incriminating.

He’s having a crack at riding the course this year and is pretty sure he’ll be fit enough to last the distance. As expected, he’s excited about it.

His son Ben and Tate both played footy with the Magpies. Ben has spent the last 8 years in Doha and has played in the AFL Middle East competition with some success. He represented Quatar in Gaelic football and has been employed in the field of Sports Talent I.D.

Ben’s adventurous motor-bike charity ride from Doha, through Turkey,Greece and Albania, ended up in Italy and is another of the hundred and one stories in the memory bank of the inimitable “Simmo”.












They were both on the rise in their respective fields when their paths crossed in the late summer of 1967.

Gough Whitlam, clad in a Collingwood guernsey, was pressing the flesh of all and sundry at the Victoria Park Social Club, as cameras whirred around him.

And when an embarrassed 15 year-old was pushed forward by Wangaratta’s Country Week cricket manager, Clem Fisher, the dialogue went something like this…..”Now, Mr.Whitlam, I’d like to introduce you to our up-and-coming fast bowler, young Geoffrey Welch”…….

The lad never aspired to politics. In fact his chance meeting with the towering figure who was to become Australia’s 21st Prime Minister was the closest he came to mingling with political royalty.

Rather, he went down the pathway of developing a stellar career in Education and Sport. Over a period of almost 50 years, he was to become renowned as a natural leader, an entertaining speaker, a clear-thinker and a diplomat. Ideal attributes indeed, that would have equipped him well for public life – had he not preferred to shy away from the limelight.



As a kid, Geoff Welch was a top all-round sportsman, who achieved distinction as an athlete and represented the state in under-age baseball.

He chose to focus, instead, on footy and cricket and took a wicket with his first ball at Melbourne Country Week at, yes , the age of 15. Two years later he was ‘standing’ the Ovens and Murray’s best full forwards in his role as the Wangaratta Rovers’ dour, close-checking full back.

Not blessed with truckloads of footy ability, he earned the respect of opponents by playing the game hard.

Statistics are not the only measure of a player’s contribution and Geoff was one of those blokes who were vital to the fabric of the side – on and off the field. He helped to ‘create the culture’, as they say.

He was a member of the Rovers’ 1971 and ’72 premiership sides, despite a ‘dicky’ knee that was already giving him trouble.

Eventually, after 100-odd senior games, he bowed to the inevitable and handed over his number 17 guernsey, opting to help out his brother John, who was coaching Tarrawingee.

On one fateful day, at Beechworth’s Baarmutha Park, he reckoned his life passed before him when he and a star Bomber, and  ‘boarder’ at the local Gaol, Frankie Marinucci, became involved in a fierce embrace. Those close to the confrontation in the centre of the ground swear they saw Geoff’s eyes rolling, as muscly Marinucci threatened to…..”knock your f…… head off, Golliwog”.

He survived, but later that season his knee finally ‘caved in’ later and he returned to the Hawks’ Nest, where he joined the Board and took on the role of coaching in the lower grades. In a 12-year stint as a coach he guided the Club to seven flags – five with the Reserves and two as the Thirds mentor.

His was a mixture of firmness and friendly guidance and it worked a treat. Players swore by ‘The Cat’ and in another era he’d have made an ideal senior coach.

A rare example of his discipline going awry came when he consigned a young Thirds player to the bench for the first quarter of a practice match in 1982, as a penalty for arriving just minutes prior to the first bounce.

It was only after Geoff had sought an explanation at half-time that Jurgen Schonafinger apologised and told him he’d had to ride his bike in from King Valley and mis-judged the time of the journey!

As a menacingly quick left-arm bowler, Geoff created havoc right from his first season in the WDCA, as a 14 year-old. An early haul of 5/30 signalled his arrival.

He had a strong physique and, with a long, rythmic run-up, threw everything into his delivery stride. He could cause the ball to move and bounce and he was decidedly quick. And he thrived on bowling!

In his first full season of senior cricket he took 121 wickets – at one stage playing for a month non-stop at Benalla, Bendigo and Melbourne Country Weeks, WDCA and Social cricket.

A couple of years later, he ripped through the heart of the powerful Victorian batting line-up in a match at Benalla. In his first over he all but claimed the wicket of Ian Redpath with a ‘pearler’. He had Ken Eastwood caught, Bob Cowper lbw and Keith Stackpole caught on the hook, to boast the heady figures, at one stage, of 3/18.

Naturally, Geoff was coaxed to District cricket and had a season with the new ball at North Melbourne. But his heart was always back home, and he returned to spearhead United’s formidable attack and represent Wangaratta in rep cricket. And in a career highlight, he matched wits with the West Indies’ finest at the Showgrounds in 1969.

The evolution of Geoff Welch the bowler went as follows: Stage One was the lightning quick who could almost decapitate you. Then, as his knee became more troublesome, he became a slippery medium-pacer, relying on movement. With the limp becoming more pronounced, he reverted to a steady ‘stockie’ with guile and accuracy.

The gift that he never lost was his competitiveness and a streak of meanness and inner-confidence.

He took 788 WDCA wickets and was twice the Cricketer of the Year, but one of his fondest memories was of a swashbuckling, unbeaten 87 that he hammered at Beechworth. His modus operandi with the willow was not to poke around but, in a powerful United batting line-up he was rarely required.

Geoff’s service to football and cricket continued long after his playing days had expired. He coached, managed and organised representative teams. There was no-one better to keep exuberant youngsters in check. Hundreds of kids benefited from his steadying influence and sage advice.

He served a marathon 17-year tenure as the WDCA President and was handed a list of gongs as long as your arm for service to sport. Of particular fondness to him were his induction to the Wangaratta Rovers and WDCA Halls of Fame.

As to the connotation of his nickname? It stemmed back to his days as a Uni student, when he and a mate, Bruce Desmond, would return home for the holidays and do some work for a good friend, tiler Lionel Hill.

Lionel likened the sight of Geoff clambering across the tiled roofs to that of a big, black cat on the prowl.

There’s an old saying that no one’s irreplaceable in sport, but in the case of ‘The Cat’ I wish to disagree.
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The Wangaratta area has nurtured a host of champion footballers. You could argue for hours about who has been the pick of the bunch if you throw up names such as John Brady, Lance Oswald, Bert Mills, Steve Johnson and Nigel Lappin.

Each of them carved blue-ribbon reputations as genuine VFL/AFL champions among the 80-odd local players who tested themselves in the big-time.

But I want to profile a bloke who must surely lay claim to being the toughest of all-time.

His name? Robert Edwin Flanigan, or, to give him his popular pseudonym – ‘Bluestone’.


Bob Flanigan was born at Myrrhee in 1914, one of 14 kids reared on the family farm. Most of the ten boys  started with Myrrhee, which numbered 160 residents at that stage,and were to become star footballers. Les (‘Tiny’) played at Peechelba, whilst most of the others, like Harold (‘The Kid’), Ron (‘Tup’), Ken (‘Plugger’) and Jack moved on to become part of the champion Moyhu teams of the thirties.

Bob always rated Harold as the best country footballer he’d ever seen. “He could high jump over six feet.He won foot-races all over the district.He kicked beautifully. The trouble was, Harold wouldn’t leave the farm.” Bob once said.

Bob went to work on his uncle’s farm at Carboor and was recruited to Milawa. He later played a few games with Wangaratta.

Jack was the first of the Flanigan boys to try his luck in VFL football. He cracked it for 5 games with Hawthorn in 1930.

He and Jim arrived home from Melbourne one week-end and insisted Bob come down to join them. The League lists had been completed when he arrived,so he stripped with Sunday League team, Alphington. In his first game with them he booted 17 goals and was soon swamped with offers from League clubs.

Eventually he was coaxed to Footscray by their coach, Sid Coventry, who lived in the same street as his brothers.Coventry said : “I think I can fit you in”.

So he became a Bulldog in 1936 and he created an immediate impression. Standing 5 feet, 9 inches and tipping the scales at 11½ stone, he was a ball of muscle and attacked the ball with a frenzy that unnerved opponents.

One of his team-mates, Joe Ryan, labelled him ‘Road Metal”, because he reckoned he was as tough as a lump of rock.He settled in at centre half back,often conceding up to six inches to wary opposition key forwards.

Renowned tough man,Bob Chitty always said that, compared with Flanigan, he,Jack Dyer , ‘Basher’ Williams and ‘Tarzan’ Glass were mere creampuffs.

Flanigan once explained his playing style. “I was never very fast and was not a big fellow,so I had to make up for these deficiencies with pure aggression. Being tough was the only way you could survive in those days.”

“Times were bad and at least half the players were out of work. Most of us were playing for our tucker.The three pounds a week we were getting was about the only income we had.”

“You had to be mean,because if you weren’t,you knew there was always someone waiting to take your place.”

Although he held his own with football’s iron-men, there were many people who thought that the ‘human battering-ram’ was too tough for his own good.

Apart from inflicting plenty of damage on opponents,he managed to break a few of his own bones. Whilst at Footscray he broke his nose, collarbone, jaw and ankle.

But he proved worthy of his nickname during the 1937 season, when he was flattened at training one night by team-mate Stan Livingstone and carried off on a stretcher with a fractured skull.

He was transported to hospital, where doctors battled to save his life. Flanigan recalled years later that it was touch-and-go whether he would pull through. “The doctors told me that I was definitely washed-up as a footballer and that there could be some brain damage.”

“Road-Metal” Flanigan played again in nine weeks,prompting a public outcry that he should be forced to retire.

It was little wonder, with the number and severity of his injuries,that he played just 49 games in 5 seasons with the Bulldogs. And when he damaged the cartilage in his left knee, Footscray decided that he was no longer worth the risk.

“The club is tired of paying for everything bar his burial”, the Footscray Advertiser reported.

So Flanigan transferred to Essendon,in a move that was to revitalise his career. Bombers’ coach Dick Reynolds, who re-named him ‘Bluestone’, placed him on a half back flank and urged him to use his vigour and strength to advantage.

A left-footer, who loved charging downfield,he starred in the 1942 premiership win and played in the 1941 and ’43 Grand Finals. He was runner-up best and fairest to the legendary Reynolds in 1942 and won the Most Consistent and Most Effective awards.

Flanigan believed that he missed the publicity of the other renowned tough-men of football because he never got reported.

“I was reported only once in 10 years and beat the charge”, he recalled years later. But he reckoned he was lucky to get off the day he ‘pegged-out’ North Melbourne ruckman, Archie ‘Cast-Iron’ Kemp at Arden Street.

“I’d clashed with Kemp during the game,so he switched to the half forward line and started niggling me. He was about twice my size,but eventually I couldn’t take it any longer.”

“I still reckon that punch moved the big bloke about six feet.He got up again, but didn’t re-appear again after half-time”.

Flanigan retired from League football,aged 31, in 1945,having played 91 games. He accepted a coaching appointment in Morwell and finally hung up his boots in 1952.

There he resided until he lost a long battle with cancer in  1988.

The Flanigan footballing dynasty continued through the ages.Among the descendants, Ian played with Greta and the Rovers, Cliff with Greta and Tarrawingee; Laurie and Des were part of premierships with the Rovers, Darren was a 138-game AFL player with Geelong and, briefly, St.Kilda and Damien was a star with Greta.

And Hawthorn’s Mitch Hallahan, a great-great nephew of ‘Bluestone’, has already won a VFL Liston Medal, and made his debut with Hawthorn this year.

There may never be another ‘Bluestone’ Flanigan. The  reputation he created as a genuine Iron-Man of football will live on.