MORE OF FOOTBALL’S FINEST

Emboldened after choosing my version of the Rovers Dream Team, I embraced the task of  selecting the next 22 champs.  It should be a ‘lay-down misere’,I surmised – surely not as difficult as last week’s painstaking affair.

Alas,whereas many of the Dream Team were walk-up starts -Rose,Hogan,Walker,Holmes,etc – the remaining pool of stars were more even .I waxed and waned and,at the finish,still had a list of 20-odd who could quite easily have been slotted in.

So here is DREAM TEAM No.2

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BOBBY ATKINSON had played 40 Reserves games before he became established as a senior player with the Hawks.But he revelled in becoming a member of the meanest,most ruthless backline in the O & M.Aggressive,attacking and with loads of spirit,he settled into a back flank and opponents who had to wear him for the day knew that every kick would be earned the hard way.He played in premierships in 1964 and ’65. He later coached King Valley to their first flag,then returned to play in the Rovers 1971 and ’72 premierships.Played 175 games.

 

TERRY BARTEL’S first game for the Rovers was at the age of 16,lured to the club on permits from Beechworth.A precociously talented small man,he went on the football merry-go-round for years,before returning to rove in successive premierships in 1971 and ’72.Nicknamed ‘Gypsy’ for his propensity to get the occasional bouts of wanderlust,he could win a game off his own boot.Once kicked 9 goals from the pocket in an inter-league game.An enigmatic figure,he should have forged a reputation in League football,just as his  famous son James did.Played 63 games.

 

KEN BOYD’S debut with the Rovers in 1962 was delayed by 8 weeks because he had been suspended for striking Carlton great John Nicholls in 1961. An astute coach and a charismatic figure,Boyd led the Hawks to flags in 1964 and ’65.He was a fit and fearsome ruckman-cum-key forward in his early years.Despite a back injury in his final season he was still useful.His last -and 82nd game- was the 1966 Preliminary Final loss,in which he was reported 4 times.His 8-match suspension did nothing to dent his mighty standing among Rovers fans.

 

BARRIE COOK flew under the radar of the broad football public,but the Rovers had the highest regard for the loping,long-striding winger.He played 215 games for the Hawks and 5 of these were in premiership sides during the seventies.The way he could contort his body at all angles to take marks earned him the nickname of ‘Leaner’. His unflappable demeanour suited the big occasions and he was a star in many of the 31 finals he played.

 

ERIC CORNELIUS played on a wing with poise and grace and was rarely outpointed His early career was highlighted by his role in the 1964 premiership.He spent a couple of years with Shepparton United,then returned to play in premierships in 1971,’72 and ’74.Superb judgement and uncanny aerial skills marked his 169 games.Some heavy knocks to the head finished his stellar career.

 

RON FERGUSON had the looks of a choir boy and the wiry frame of an old ‘cockie’.The Murmungee farmer proved a remarkably durable and hard-working player over 14 O & M seasons and 256 games.’Fergie’ could run between the lines and showed no fear in his customary role as a half back flanker.Opposition fans were not enamoured of him and he had a hard edge to his game that prompted the occasional altercation.Played in 4 premierships.

 

EDDIE FLYNN was a silky-sklled midfielder who had the enviable knack of  being able to find the football.A former jockey,he made no impact in an earlier stint at the Findlay Oval.But after winning the O-K League’s Baker Medal and a premiership with North Wangaratta,he returned to become a star. He was a finals specialist and played in Grand Finals in his first 7 seasons with the Rovers – winning 5.He played 159 games and won a B & F in 1981.

 

LEN GRESKIE was recruited from Moyhu as a tenacious rover and played in the 1958 and 1960 premiership teams before settling in as a mean-spirited back pocket who tormented resting rovers.He was a significant contributor in two more flags and played every game from 1958 to 1969 – 236 consecutive matches.When he moved to North Wangaratta as coach he broke a leg in his first game.Best and Fairest in a premiership year – 1965.

 

The Rovers have boasted some champion defenders over the years and TYSON HARTWIG is right up there with them.A close-checking full back,he thrives on taking a barnstorming run downfield and letting fly with his lethal left foot.He has the physique to out-muscle some of the gargantuan forwards of the current era.He has been an All-Australian defender and a regular VCFL rep and includes a Best and Fairest in his 126- game C.V.

 

ROBERT HICKMOTT had 2 sporting passions -football and racing – and inevitably the two collided. The son of a horse-trainer,his prodigious football ability saw him star in an O & M flag win and represent the League at the age of 18.He was lured to the city by Kevin Sheedy,who would,a decade or so later,say: “You better do well in the horse game,because you wasted your footy talent”.He did play League football,with Melbourne,but returned to the Rovers to share in another flag in 1991.Played 70,often scintillating games with the Hawks and later trained a Melbourne Cup winner.

 

NEALE McMONIGLE’S two premierships with the Rovers were spaced 13 years apart.The first was as a gangling,loose-limbed youngster in 1978; the second as a wizened old full forward in 1991.’Macca’ kicked 377 goals in his 108 games,but could drive coaches to distraction with a nonchalant manner.One minute he would be leaning on a goal-post,seemingly disinterested; the next he would be snapping a miracle goal.

 

RICK MARKLEW was one of ‘Burt’s Babes’,who took the Rovers to an unlikely premiership in 1988.He kicked 4 goals in the last half that day – a portent of things to come in a stellar 229 senior games.A superb overhead mark and an accurate kick,he booted 351 goals,including 6 or more on seven occasions.He could be thrown around the ground with good effect.Played in 3 flags – 1988,’93 and ’94.Continued to give yeoman service in the Reserves,where he played over 100 games as a veteran.

 

ROLEY MARKLEW had the knack of stirring opposition players and supporters into a frenzy,during an eventful 162 games with the Rovers. He was a fresh-faced crew-cut lad of 16 when he was blooded in the 1960 premiership team,but later developed into a tough and unyielding utility player.His outstanding ability was often overlooked by fans,who focused on his rugged style of play.Had 3 years with Tarrawingee,but returned to play the best football of his career,including premierships in 1971 and 1972.

 

Although only built like a rover,MAX NEWTH was durable and could play in any number of positions.Bob Rose liked to use him as a decoy full forward and he booted many of his 202 goals in that role.He was ultra-competitive and tough – as you would expect from a Greta shearer and man-on-the-land.He played in the Hawks first 2 premierships and was a favorite of Hawk fans in his 89 games.

 

Before he was drafted to Carlton,KARL NORMAN was a high-flying key defender.After a colorful odyssey,he returned home to assume a role as an indestructable object at centre bounces and an inspirational player around the ground.Despite his body taking a heavy buffeting,he was a much-loved and astute on-field general in 121 games.Won a B & F and was runner-up in the Morris Medal in 2012.

 

JOHN O’DONOHUE was recruited to the Rovers in 1988 after being on the fringes at North Melbourne for a couple of seasons.He soon established himself as,arguably, the best player in the League.Positioned at centre half back, and superbly fit,his long,probing runs often ended up with him shooting for goal.He played in a flag in his first season and returned,after 4 years with West Adelaide,to feature in two more,as a key forward/ruckman.Played 101 games,won a B & F and later won respect from all,as a coach for 3 seasons.

 

KEITH OTTREY was the heartbeat of the Hawks in the early 50’s.Small,but as solid as a rock,’The Demon’ shared a Best and Fairest in 1951 as a tough,cheeky rover,ever-dangerous around the big sticks.He snared 180 goals in his 134 games and was later to settle into a permanent role in the back pocket.Was an O & M rep in 1953 and ’56.Later filled several important on-field roles with the club,including President and Secretary.

 

ANTHONY PASQUALI grew up on a tobacco farm in King Valley. At 16,he walked into the sports store owned by a couple of Rovers legends and asked how he could join the Hawks.He served a long apprenticeship in the thirds and reserves before cementing a senior position.A great mark for his size and blessed with endurance,he could play in key positions or on the ball.After coaching Benalla he returned to lead the Rovers.Numbered 3 premierships among his 322 senior games.

 

ARTHUR SMITH was a standout for the Rovers in their battling early years in the O & M.So it was gratifying to him when the club finally became a power.He was superbly-built,tall and athletic ,with long arms. His ‘home’ was at centre half back,where he would back himself against any opponent in the air.He won the Best and Fairest in the premiership year of 1958.After coaching Moyhu to a flag in 1959,he returned to play in another premiership in 1960.Played 88 games.

 

A lively little man who played with enthusiasm and fire, JOHN WELCH could be swung all over the ground.He was a vital component in the premiership sides of 1964 and ’65 and was playing at his peak when he left to coach Whorouly in 1967 – aged 22. He returned the following year,but mid-season,his car veered off the Ovens Highway and wrapped itself around a tree. His O & M playing career was over after 88 games.He later coached the Hawks for three seasons.

 

ANDREW WILSON was a football all-rounder,able to play anywhere,with an aggression that coaches crave.Used with equal aplomb on a wing,half back,on-ball or even at full forward,he could provide a contest like few others.Nicknamed ‘Waldo’,after a famous wrestler,he was as tough as his namesake -Waldo von Erich. He once lopped the top off his little finger,but returned a fortnight later,conceding that,yes,it was a little bit sore.Played in 3 flags in his 258 senior games.

 

MICK WILSON played with fearsome determination.He ran harder and tackled and harassed more ferociously than anyone,in 316 games with the Rovers.The half back flank was his usual position and he filled that role in 4 premiership teams.He led by example and was the consummate team man, ever-ready to make a newcomer feel at home.Played 25 games for the O & M and later coached the League’s representative team.

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THE DREAM TEAM

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Of the 689 players who have trod the hallowed turf as senior representatives of the Wangaratta Rovers Football Club, I have seen a large percentage of them. Does that make me an expert? Far from it.

But between Jackie Dillon, Freddie Booth, ’Doodles’ Dodemaide and my dad, who were part of the very first O & M team, to the latest debutant, a skinny, shaggy-haired 18 year-old boy called Mitch Horwood, there has been an enticing cavalcade of stars.

I had the job of selecting ‘22 of the Best’. There was only one proviso. They had to have played 60 games or more. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Well, the more I deliberated, the more complicated it became. So many famous Hawks had a legitimate claim for selection that I weakened. What if I include two teams and label it ’44 of the Best’? Here is the first instalment- 1-22:

 

MATTHEW ALLEN was a champion full back with a strong pair of hands and an unorthodox, but efficient, kicking style. The Byawatha farmer, after dominating in defence for years, spent a couple of seasons at full forward, kicking 14 goals in a game and 80 goals in a season. Retired as the O & M’s games record-holder (416).

 

MARK BOOTH was a nuggety and skilled rover who was born to be a Hawk. Broke into the Rovers side at 16 and played more than 300 games. He figured in 5 premiership teams. It should have been 6, but for a moment of uncontrolled passion against a Yarrawonga player in 1988. A triple Best & Fairest winner.

 

A bustling centreman and prolific kick-winner despite his lack of pace, LAURIE BURT was recruited from Coburg in 1984.he took over as the Rovers’ playing-coach in 1987 and remained as coach for 11 years. Renowned for his football nous, superb tactical brain and great determination. He coached 4 flags and was a renowned leader of young men. Played 152 games.

 

NORM BUSSELL debuted with the Hawks in 1961. Seven years later he joined Hawthorn, where he played 114 games and was centre half back in their 1961 premiership team. He returned to the Rovers in 1974 as assistant-coach and had a huge influence. A strong and rangy key defender, he played 143 games, won 2 B & F’s and featured in 4 premiership teams.

 

MICHAEL CARUSO was a rover with fitness and nous and had pinpoint disposal. Originally from Maryborough, he established a reputation as one of the club’s greatest small men. Won two Simpson Medals as best afield in the 1991 and ’93 Grand Finals and played in 4 flags in his 265 games. Coached the Hawks with success for three years.

 

Labelled the ‘Iron Man’, LES CLARKE was a fearless and flexible utility player who plugged many gaps in the struggling Rovers sides of the early ‘50’s. His durability was legendary. He was vice-captain to Bob Rose in the 1958 and ’60 flags, and best afield in the 1958 decider, slotting into a role in the back pocket. Played 179 games.

 

Built like an Italian weight-lifter, LAURIE FLANIGAN could withstand the rough-house tactics of frustrated opponents, then calmly rip the heart out of a side with a burst of inspired football. He possessed an explosive left foot which netted him 238 goals from 129 games. A big occasion player, he starred in two premiership wins.

 

LES GREGORY dazzled crowds with his artistry on the wing in his 186 games. Lightning fast and able to turn on a three-penny bit,he was highly-regarded by Bob Rose, who said he would be a walk-up start to play League football. He had a few games with St.Kilda in 1959, but returned home. He played in 4 premiership teams.

 

With a distinctive loping running gait, LEIGH HARTWIG had a deceptive turn of pace which enabled him to match the fleetest of opponents. He became a champion winger, but was able to be swung anywhere with ease. Had an ungainly kicking style, but was accurate enough to kick 187 goals. Was rarely out marked. Played in 5 flags and won 2 B & F’s in his 252 games.

 

Tough, versatile and, at times, spectacular, ANDREW HILL was the Hawk’s outstanding player post-Walker, but would have been a star in any era. He was drafted to Collingwood in 2002, but returned after one season. A 5-time Best and fairest winner, he played 254 games – and rarely a bad one.

 

A gifted centreman, NEVILLE HOGAN was a prolific ball-getter and deadly accurate left-foot kick. His list of honours include 4 Club Best and Fairest awards and the 1966 Morris Medal. His 6 premierships included four as a highly-acclaimed captain-coach. His 246 games were of the highest class. Inducted as a Legend of the O & M.

 

A plain-speaking dairy-farmer from Carboor, MERV HOLMES played 302 uncomprimising games at centre half back from 1972 to 1986. He featured in six premiership teams and coached the Hawks for two years. Opponents quaked in their boots at the prospect of lining up on ‘Farmer’, who took no prisoners and was the epitome of toughness.

 

MICHAEL NOLAN played 101 games for the Rovers. His hefty frame, which was sometimes the subject of derision, belied the deftness of his tap work. His casual manner was transformed into ultra-competitiveness once he crossed the white line. Controlled the centre bounces in 2 flag wins and was a dual B & F. Later to become a cult figure at North Melbourne.

 

The Rovers played largely with makeshift forwards until the emergence of athletic STEVE NORMAN, who kicked 1016 goals in 242 games. Norman had the knack of finding open space on the lead and was a deadly-accurate kick for goal. He topped the century in 3 seasons and played in 7 premiership teams.

 

The sublimely-skilled NEVILLE POLLARD enjoyed two stints at the Rovers, sandwiched between a seven-year coaching term at Milawa. The younger Pollard was the focus of League talent scouts. In his second-coming he was a dependable, seasoned champion. He won two B & F’s and played in two flags in his 139 games with the Hawks.

 

BOB ROSE was rated the best footballer in Australia when he was appointed coach in 1956. He transformed the culture of the Club. One of football’s legendary figures, people would travel long distances just to watch him play. Won 2 Morris Medals, 4 B & F’s and coached two flags in his 126 unparalleled games.

 

A classy ruck-rover and half forward, ANDREW SCOTT played 6 games for Hawthorn before moving to Wangaratta in his job as a policeman in 1975. He enjoyed a brilliant debut season with the Rovers, winning the Morris Medal and playing a match-winning last quarter in the Grand Final. A crowd-favourite and great clubman he numbered 4 premierships among his 181 games.

 

Versatile DARYL SMITH was recruited from Hastings in 1972. Earned his reputatuion as a centre half forward, but was adept in most positions. Strong, and a good leader, he succeeded Neville Hogan as captain-coach in 1977 and guided the Club to the first of 3 successive flags. Won 2 B & F’s and 6 flags in his 195 games.

 

You would back RAY THOMPSON against anyone in a marking contest. With hands the size of meat-plates, he could kick the ball a country mile. Played his early football as a back-pocket/resting ruck man, but later became a top centre half forward. A knee injury cut short his career after 143 games, three premierships and a B & F.

 

PETER TOSSOL was recruited from Melbourne in 1985 and proved a brilliant, strong and courageous ruck-rover. Had a great ‘feel’ for footy, was the ultimate team-man and gave everything in 211 games. A four-time runner-up B & F and regular inter-league rep, he played in 3 flags and returned as coach in 2004 after a successful stint at Corowa-Rutherglen.

 

In numerical terms, ROBBIE WALKER is indisputably the most decorated footballer in O & M history. He won 12 club Best and Fairests and 5 Morris Medals. He played in 4 premierships as a hard-running centre half forward before playing another decade as a midfielder. Throughout his career he was considered the best country footballer in Australia. Played 307 games.

 

His two brothers were also stars, but JOE WILSON had the ability to turn a game with his unique skills. Slightly-built and best-suited as an on-baller, he was brilliant at stoppages. He spent time at the Brisbane Bears and should have played League football. Played 240 games, won one B & F and shared in 4 premierships.

NEXT WEEK: PART  II (Players 23-44)

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THE JOURNEYMAN

Hey…. There’s an upset brewing here. The 200/1 outsiders conceded 3 goals in the first few minutes of the match, yet have shot to a 3-goal lead at ½ time.

You’ve got to put this game into perspective. One team is coming off a 189-point win. It boasts a percentage of 871.43, compared to the meagre 36.10% of their opponents, who trudged off last week, humiliated to the tune of 135 points.

As expected, the favourites respond and move a couple of kicks clear in the dying stages. But again, the ‘scrubbers’ fight back and score a goal against the tide, in the best passage of play for the day.

With just seconds remaining, a tall boy streaks towards centre half forward and plucks a mark. He can steal a win for the underdogs…….We catch a glance at his coach, who has been out of the box and prowling the boundary for most of the last quarter, waving his hands like an orchestra conductor.

He runs his hands through his shaggy hair, his eyes fixed anxiously on the lad’s run-up,his kicking action and the ball,as it wobbles through. Schutty and his boys have clinched the unlikeliest of victories………

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Lionel Schutt comes from a football family. His dad Ross is an institution at Milawa, having played a stack of games with the Reserves,took on the Presidency, worked on the gate for what seemed like an eternity and waved the goal umpire’s flags for many years. His mum’s been a lion-hearted worker for the club.

It would be fair to say that Ross was unable to hand down any on-field skills to the youngster. But Lionel inherited an innate sense of what it takes to make footy clubs tick, how to build a happy atmosphere and have people working in the right direction.

He should have played a heap of O & M games, but a combination of work commitments  and a laconic attitude meant that the legend of Lionel Schutt was to be crafted in the Ovens and King League. It ensured that training – particularly in pre-season – could be fitted around his physically-taxing work as a painter and later, a sand-blaster.

He started with Milawa as a 15 year-old, way back in 1983. The following season he and his brother Brendan were members of the Demons premiership side. He had nine games under the coaching of Norm Bussell at Myrtleford in 1985, but suffered a knee injury and returned home in time to qualify for the Reserves Grand Final, which Milawa duly won.

He headed to North Wangaratta three years later, had a season with All Blacks in the Benalla Tungamah League, then crossed to Tarrawingee. He played his part in one of the most memorable of all O & K flags, in 1990, when Tarra came from the Elimination Final to kick 27 goals and defeat Moyhu by 71 points in the big one.

Schutty booted 8 goals that day,in a performance that clinched him the Medal for best afield. It was a satisfying win, in front of a record crowd at Greta that marvelled at the deeds of Darwin’s four mercurial Long brothers,who were strutting their stuff for the Bulldogs.

Another knee injury wrecked his 1994 season, but Ray Card, back coaching Wangaratta, enticed him to the Norm Minns Oval in 1995. Then it was back home to Milawa for a four-season stint as playing-coach, in which he took out three best and fairests.

His arrival at Moyhu in 2000 coincided with a golden era for the club. Schutty played in the 2002,’05 and ’06 flags but was denied another when he was rubbed out on the eve of the 2003 Grand Final. He gave great service to the Hoppers and is universally ranked among the greats of O & K football.

Damien Sheridan, who saw him close-up in his final decade as a player,said: “He gave the impression of being laid-back,but once he got on the ground he played for keeps.”

“As a midfielder or on-baller he was so strong,was a terrific kick and did the real team-lifting things. Besides all that, he was one of the best blokes you could have around the club. Money was never an issue with him. He just enjoyed the football environment”, Sheridan recalled.

His old coach Gil Ould once reflected: “You don’t play 400 games unless you are tough and you don’t get up from the big hits unless you have a heart as big as Lionel’s. No doubt he played and trained with injuries that would have put many off the playing arena,but he never complained. It’s not so much about his football ability, but what he brings to the club as a quality bloke”.

The Schutt career drew to a close at the end of the 2010 season. He had played 416 O & K games and decided it was time for he and Michelle to follow the sporting progress of the kids. Breanna, was now playing netball with the Rovers and Cody was taking big steps in his football development.

Well, he thought he’d retired. He was pressed into service with the Rovers Reserves and showed glimpses of the Schutty of old in 14 games in 2011 and ’12.

And when he was approached to coach the Two’s last season he couldn’t resist.

The Schutt family is now deeply involved at the Hawks. Michelle is on the Board, Breanna plays B-Grade netball, a knee injury has temporarily interrupted Cody’s exciting 12-game senior career.

And Schutty’s still wearing his heart on his sleeve. Amidst the excitement of last Saturday’s win he addressed the players and congratulated them on their win : “I told the boys last year – and it still stands. When I took the job on I wanted to be a coach, a mate and a parent to you all. You should be rapt in the way you stuck it out. Let’s celebrate it with a few beers tonight”.

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ATTACKING LIFE’S DEMONS

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You hear some heart-wrenching  stories about the Vietnam War and what it did to the minds and bodies of young Australian men. Many had their lives ruined by the atrocities inflicted upon them.

This is the story of a man who used cycling to channel his mental problems into physical pain and won the admiration of the Australian public, at an age when most sportsmen are considering retirement.

Barry Burns spent 13 months fighting in Vietnam and Malaysia and came home with his body intact and his mind shattered. He spent 11 years in and out of psychiatric wards, as he tried to cope with his experiences. He battled frustration, aggression and nearly the loss of his will to live.

Burns had been a keen cyclist in his younger days and, in desperation, a doctor suggested that he climb back on the bike, as a form of therapy. So, at 31, Burns began a punishing regime which would entail riding 1000km a week. It was torturous, but it built up his stamina to the extent that he was able to match it with the young riders.

Over the next ten years he became famous for his attacking style. Aware that he’d never master the art of sprinting, he would break away in races, often from the start, and always on his own. Inevitably, he would be swept up by the bunch with the finish not far away.

Burns won his first championship in 1987 – the NSW Road title. He decided to have a crack at the inaugural ‘King of the Mountains Classic’  and finished fifth. The trouble was that he didn’t fully  recover for months and many believed that, in the following year’s race, he was a fatality in the making.

The race covered 183km, from Wangaratta to Mount Buffalo and took in nearly every hill and mountain along the way. It had rained, hailed and, finally snowed, but Burns was in his element.

As the last mountain loomed, 21km away from his destination, he broke away from the leading bunch with Olympian Michael Lynch. They rode side by side for a while, then Burns grabbed an advantage. Lynch fought back. As the summit came into view, Lynch looked to have it.

Mustering one last effort and with both riders exhausted, Burns got to the front and pulled away to win by 5 seconds. Of the 50 riders who started, 23 finished – the last of them two hours after Burns.

Later that year Burns contested  the time-honoured  ‘Melbourne to Warrnambool’, the second oldest road race in the world. It is a 264km ‘slogathon’  and victory in the race has eluded some of Australia’s finest road riders.  The October crosswinds of the western district make it a test of character and it is often fought out in bitterly cold conditions. It is tough on the scratchmen, who have to yield huge distances to the frontmarkers.

There was an attack at Terang and Burns went with it. He went with three or four other attacks, then picked his moment and just went away from the field. “I felt like I was floating”, he said later.

His ride, from scratch, to win the race by three lengths, was monumental, considering that it was achieved at the grand old age of 41.

Burns had also shown his durability in the ‘Sun Tour’ of that year by winning two stages, the first of these in a lone 150km break.

He was awarded the ‘Oppy Oscar’ (named after the legendary Australian cyclist of the 30s) for the outstanding riding performance of 1988. Part of that prize was an overseas trip to compete in the 1989 World Road championships in Europe. Seriously injured when hit by a car in a training accident, he was unable to take his place in the field. But in 1990 he had another tilt at the titles, unfortunately crashing during the event.

Burns was one of six Wangaratta riders who contested the 1992 Sun Tour, but as his career wound down he turned his  hand to coaching some emerging talent, including Rowan Croucher, Brendan McAuliffe and Rhys Lyster.

His prize pupil was Benalla boy Baden Cooke, who went on to a glittering career, as an Olympian and once wore the green jersey in the Tour de France.

Barry Burns, like all old bikies, has never lost the love of the sport, but he will be forever remembered for that period in 1988 when he was literally ‘flying’ and captured the imagination of the cycling public.

P.S:  Wangaratta has an affinity with the  “Warrnambool”  Classic. Graeme Daws took it out in 1959. His Wangaratta club-mate Jack Somner (an Albury resident) was successful in 1960. After Barry Burns’ success in 1988, Dean Woods took it out in 1993 and Brendan McAuliffe was the victor in 1995.  Woods’ sensational ride in 1990, to win the fastest-time honours, came in 5.12.26, still the race record.

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

Glenn Clarke will always be remembered as the unlucky member of Australia’s 1984 Teams Pursuit cycling team. He was the one who failed to make the final four who won Gold in a stirring finish at the Los Angeles Olympics.

Although he produced a world-class ride in the 50km Points-Score event, to finish 5th, that effort went virtually unnoticed by the general media, who were hungry for medal-winners.

After qualifying for the Points-Score final, the brilliant Clarke was two laps up on the field and a big chance for a medal. However, a break from the bunch was made and he was caught unawares and as sprinters surged further away so did Clarke’s chance of a medal.

Watching the race on video later, Glenn realised that, had he gone with that break-away group, he was in with a real winning chance. He had beaten the Belgian, who took out the Gold in the same event just weeks earlier in Europe.

“Glenn is a far better rider than the Belgian who won it,” coach Charlie Walsh said. “But the Points-Score is very much a race of opportunism and unfortunately, it wasn’t Glenn’s lucky day. The integrity of the boy, no, I mean man, is unbelievable. There are few people who could have been as happy for the Pursuit team’s success as Glenn, whilst still realising it could have been him riding on the team.”

It was later revealed that Clarke had caught a cold in Czechoslovakia and at that stage of their preparation there was no question of having time out to get rid of it. “You have to keep going. So it had no chance to clear up and come selection-decision time I was down a little. That’s the way it goes”, Clarke recalled. He approached coach Walsh and his selectors and told them that he was struggling to contend with his cold at training and suggested they should give Dean Woods the chance to ride.

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Clarke’s cycling carer began when he was 11 years-old, delivering papers around the outskirts of Wangaratta. His bike eventually broke down and with the ‘paper-money’ that he had saved be bought a second-hand racing-bike for $65.

His parents – Les (a former football star with Wangaratta Rovers) and Rita, offered the youngster every support and as his potential became obvious he moved to Geelong to live with his coach Pat Shaw – the father of Glenn’s cycling colleague, Dennis. Shaw built a flat for Glenn at his home and supervised his diet, exercises and training regime.

Within 12 months he had been awarded the 1980 Russell Mockridge Oscar, as Victoria’s best all-round  cyclist.

Clarke was one of a group of Wangaratta riders who rose to prominence in the early to mid-eighties. Dean and Paul Woods, the veteran Barry Burns, Dean and Damien McDonald and Brendan McAuliffe, were among those who helped put the city on the cycling map.

At 18, Glenn was described by one  prominent coach as the ‘ best under-19 rider in the world’. Suddenly, he was spoken of as a potential Olympian. Clarke was one of 22 promising Australian sportsmen to receive a grant, in recognition of their championship potential. It was greatly appreciated by the lad, who had to meet living and training expenses out of his own pocket.

During the following five years, Clarke was at the peak of his success in amateur cycling. Besides his trip to the ’84 Olympics, he shared Gold at the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, with Brett Dutton, Wayne McCarney and Dean Woods, in the 4000m Teams  Pursuit. He won Gold at the 100km Madison at the 1985 Australia Games, was a dual 50km Points Score Australian champion and was a member of the Australian amateur cycling team from 1983 to ’86.

His decision to turn professional in 1987 was greeted with shock by cycling officials. “Naturally we are disappointed to lose one of our most gifted and versatile riders “, said national coach Charlie Walsh. “But if we want to hold people we have to offer them something and at the moment we can’t do that.”

Clarke rode for an English team in Europe until 1992, after which he returned to Australia and New Zealand. He was Australian criterium champion in 1988 and won two major cycling events in Britain in 1991.

One of his biggest thrills came when he returned to his home track to take out the Wangaratta  Wheelrace in 1990, in front of an adoring crowd.

For Glenn Clarke, it could hardly have been a more fitting way to crown his career.

Clarke took up football umpiring after he was finished with competitive cycling. He was ranked among the best in the area and had charge of several Ovens and Murray Grand Finals. A stroke, suffered ten years ago put paid to his pursuits as a ‘man in white’.

His son, Jackson, a tall, rangy type, is showing signs of developing into a top defender and is approaching his second season with the region’s elite Under-18 football squad, the Murray Bushrangers. Glenn Clarke is still heavily involved in cycling education and coaching. He rates highly among Wangaratta’s greatest-ever sporting achievers.