‘SAINT RICK ABDICATES……..’

Dusk has already enshrouded the Findlay Oval on this balmy Thursday evening.
As the glow of the floodlights takes effect, eighty players or more burn up the track….. jabbering excitedly…..moving frenetically……footies zipping here and there, like tracer bullets……
A hardy group of regulars survey proceedings……Then we spot a lone figure…a massive fellah, who’s following the action intently, up in the shadows of the Hogan Stand.
Funny, we’d only been swapping yarns a few days ago, about the exploits of Michael Nolan, who first pulled on the Brown and Gold guernsey 50 years ago.  Someone jokes that, maybe the ghost of ‘Big Mick’ is re-visiting us ……..
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Well, not exactly, but Mick’s spirit will always live on whilst his eldest son is around.
Rick has forged a sizeable football reputation of his own. When I greet him he’s momentarily distracted by a post that has come through on his I-Phone, announcing his decision to relinquish the coaching position at one of Australia’s most famous footy clubs, St.Mary’s of Darwin.IMG_3265
He told them that he wasn’t going on about a month ago, he says, but they’ve only just made it public.

 

How does he feel ? “Yeah, I’m comfortable with it. After five years in the job, I could sense my energy levels dropping, but I’ve maintained good relationships with everybody. And I didn’t want to damage those by going on for an extra year.”
So he took the opportunity to escape down south for a week or so. Being the football ‘nut’ that he is, he watched three AFL games last week-end, caught up with a few people, then headed to Wangaratta, where his family roots are, of course, deeply-embedded.
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Rick’s has been a fascinating football journey .
He was just a whippersnapper when his dad, mum Nettie and the kids moved to Queensland.  Mick had drawn the curtain on a fine career at North Melbourne and was enticed to take up a coaching position with Brisbane club, Mayne, in 1981.
Charged with spreading the ‘gospel’ in this rugby-oriented state , Mick became the face of Queensland football, whilst turning the Mayne Tigers into a QAFL powerhouse.
Tracing his every step was young Rick, who began with Mayne’s juniors as a seven year-old and moved through the ranks, to play 50-odd senior games.
He had just left school, when an uncle, Graeme Smith, the vice-president of St.Mary’s, suggested that a season of summer footy in their Under-18’s would do him the world of good.
He loved it ; grew fond of Darwin and decided to hang around. When he was 21 he qualified as an Aviation Fireman – a job he’s held ever since.
And he began to make his mark as a strong, hard-working ruckman, protective of the will-o-the wisp, magical small men who abound in Top End footy.IMG_3263
Deceptively agile for his size, he inherited ‘Big Mick’s’ gift for deft tapwork and his sound understanding of the game.  Some also attested to his healthy appetite, which was again, a family trait.

A decent feed of Spaghetti Bolagnaise would be Rick’s standard post-match fare, along with a side dish of a couple of rounds of toasted cheese sandwiches.  His hangover-cure was a full Chicken, washed down with two or three stubbies.
Beneath a stern-looking visage  is a warm-hearted, friendly fellah. He loves yapping about footy – and is keen to elaborate when  I quiz him on the reason for St.Marys’ amazing run of success.
They’ve won 32 of a possible 65 NTFL flags since they entered the League in 1952, and have missed the finals only twice.  Rick says the Club was originally formed to give full-blood aboriginals on the Tiwi Islands the opportunity to play regular, organised football in Darwin.
At the time, none of the other clubs would allow full-bloods to play. Thus, a long line of Long’s, Rioli’s, Dunn’s and Virgona’s, among others, have helped create the Saints’ tradition, blending in with the diehard locals.
One of the legends of the Club is the patriarch of the Long family, Jack, who used to sell crocodile skins to Darwin businesses to pay his way from the Tiwi Islands, to play with St.Mary’s .
The assembly-line of champions who have worn the Green and Gold over the years includes 21st century stars Anthony and Iggy Vallejo, Peter ‘Noodles’ McFarlane, Xavier and Raph Clarke, John Anstess and the Illett brothers – Cameron and Jarred.
“People are envious of our great culture, but it’s a culture of hard work. We train harder than any club, but we also have unbelievable bloodlines,” Rick says.
“Every year you’ll be watching a junior game and a Rioli or a Long who’s been living on the island, will bob up from nowhere.”
Rick played in two flags in his 125 senior games with Saints. In between, he fitted in a season at SANFL club Woodville-West Torrens, then realised a long-held ambition when he spent a couple of months with the Rovers in 2001.
He dominated four or five Reserves games and, when belatedly swung into the senior side, fitted in like a glove in two finals matches. He wishes time had permitted him to play more.
He’s always been a keen student of the game, and did a couple of internships with AFL clubs. In the period he spent at the Gold Coast Suns, Rick noticed that Shaun Hart, one of the assistants, had a computer with him at all times.
“His computer was a vital coaching tool. I was pretty impressed. I reckoned that was the way to go,” he says.
Thus, he was instrumental in creating SportsClipMaker, a video analysis software program and sports coaching app.
“Many Victorian country clubs are using it, but it has the potential to spread world-wide,” he says. “Hopefully, I can now devote more time to promoting it.”
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Rick first put his toe in the coaching water, as an assistant at St. Mary’s. Then the opportunity presented itself to take on the big job in 2013.
He was apprehensive. “One of my best mates, Stewart Sceney, was putting a bit of pressure on me. He told me: ‘It takes courage to coach, but it takes extra courage to coach St.Mary’s.”
So he took the plunge. Sadly, not long after he’d been appointed,  Stewie, his wife Karmi Dunn and their two kids, died in a plane crash at Anson Bay, on the west coast of Darwin.

The news devastated the St.Mary’s club, but strengthened their resolve for the season ahead. The Saints took all before them and went through the season undefeated.IMG_3260
That was certainly a highlight for Rick, but the flag win he cherishes most came in March 2016.
He’d lost key players John Anstess and Ryan Smith in the lead-up, then Ben Long was rubbed out after a gruelling Preliminary Final.

“Within five minutes of the start, two blokes did ACL’s, and just before half-time one of our stars, Justin Cooper, broke a collarbone. Mickey Coombes, another key player, was out of the game with an ankle injury at three quarter-time.

When the last quarter started we had no bench, it was 33 degrees and 95% humidity. We were two goals down and barely hanging on”
“With a minute or so remaining in the game, Shannon Rioli threaded his way through a few Wanderers players and booted the goal that gave us victory by two points. It ranks as one of the best of our 32 flags.”

(to see vision:  https://www.youtube.com/watchv=lSwnIpEq3wk )

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The following season St.Mary’s belted old foes Wanderers by 57 points, to clinch Rick’s third title in four years.

This year they started sluggishly, recovered, but were always just off the pace – bombing out in the First Semi Final against Nightcliff.
He concedes that coaching in the Top End is a tough gig.

“You’re allowed a maximum of four fly-in players ; there are the boys from the Communities, like Wadeye . You have to make sure they’re picked up, fed and accommodated .My wife Danielle was terrific in helping me with this.  “
“Additionally, the blokes from down south need to be settled in Darwin by October 1. You try to ensure that they all fit into the Club okay……And most of all, hope they can get a kick .…………”IMG_3266
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Rick likes to think his coaching methods were strongly influenced by watching his dad in charge at Mayne. His younger brothers, who  both made a considerable imprint on the game, have also carried the Nolan name with aplomb.
Dan started with Mayne, played 54 games with the Rovers, 100 at St.Mary’s, close to 200 with Heidelberg, and finished with two seasons at Mornington.
Dale’s career followed a similar trajectory – Mayne, St.Mary’s, Heidelberg and Mornington.

Rick will certainly find time this year to visit his 14 year-old son Noah, in Sweden. He’ll also take his usual trip to Bali, to play in the Over-35 Masters Football Carnival.
But the next stage of his career awaits. He’s unsure what it will involve at this stage, but there’s no doubt he’ll remain heavily involved in the game……………..IMG_3254

A FOOTBALL DYNASTY

I’d like to escort you back through the ages – almost 130 years, in fact – to a tiny farm near Lake Moodemere, on the outskirts of the busy, booming gold-rush town of Rutherglen.

Irish emigrant Dan King is yarning with his friend Jack Hiskins about a new game that was being spoken of by visiting bullock-wagon drivers. It had, they were told, become very popular in Melbourne and all the young fellows were aspiring to join clubs that had sprouted up in the city and surrounds.

“Let’s have a bit of a look at it”, King said to his mate. Dan had been brought up on Gaelic football ; Jack knew a fair bit about the British game of Rugby. This new code was apparently a mix of the two sports…..

Dan King, a bootmaker, roughly fashioned a football. The cover was made of leather and kept in shape by an inflated pig’s bladder.

Soon the seven King boys and all of the Hiskins clan had mastered the art of kicking and marking. So much so that they were to become the backbone of the fine teams that represented Rutherglen and it’s surrounds for the next couple of decades.

The ‘Glen chalked up flag after flag in an era of dominance in the Ovens & Murray League in its fledgling days. Bernard King was seconded to coach the side and his brothers Jack, Jim, Pat, Chris and Francis were some of the stars.

Jack and Jim both played League football and Jack was to return and play with the Redlegs for a staggering 26 years.

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Jack Hiskins had 14 kids and the nine boys all played in the O & M, which is a record that will, in all likelihood, never be broken.

But they spread their favours between two teams in the district – Rutherglen and Lake Rovers. Clashes between the arch rivals incited plenty of feeling, particularly in the Hiskins household, where brothers would, at times, line up on each other.

Fred was the first of the family to be enticed to the ‘big smoke’, when he joined Essendon in 1900. A fine half forward, he topped the League goalkicking the following season, with 34, but occasionally had a bout of the ‘yips’ . There was one ‘shocker’ against South Melbourne, when his favoured place-kick let him down and he finished the day with 2.10.photo copy

He represented Victoria in 1902 and disappointed Essendon at season’s end by walking out and seeking his fortune on the gold-mines of Kalgoorlie, where he spent three fruitful years with Mines Rovers.

Fred sustained a nasty eye injury at work and headed back east to receive treatment. Essendon pounced, upon his return, and placed him at the goal-front. 1906 was to be his swansong season of League football and, after 50 games and 78 goals, he chose to play out his career at Rutherglen.

Arthur found his way to South Melbourne in 1908 and was to play a prominent part in the ‘Bloods two–point premiership win over Carlton the following year.

Nicknamed ‘Poddy’, he usually lined up on a half back flank and was renowned photo 3for his long-kicking and tenacity, despite being only 178cm.

He enlisted in 1916, aged 30, having played what, one would have thought, was his last game, as he headed to the front-line in France.

A photo on the Australian War Memorial website, shows Arthur standing knee-deep in mud, in Belgium in 1919. He was a world away from the game that he loved with a passion. Seven months after the photo was taken, he ran onto Princes Park Oval, in his return to League ranks.

He was appointed playing-coach of South in 1920, but they slipped out of the four and he was relieved of the job. However, he played on until the end of 1923 and finished what had been an outstanding career, with 185 games.

He then officiated in 52 games as a VFL goal-umpire.

‘Poddy’ enticed another brother, Stan, to come down and have a run with South in 1913. Stan was of similar build and was a versatile player, who spent a lot of time in defence. He possessed ample doses of the trait which ran through the Hiskins family – toughness.

Stan was a back flanker, but had proved a reliable goal-kicker in his forays up forward. Three months after he had played in the 1914 Grand Final – his 30th game – he was heading off to France, as part of the frontline.

He lost four years of his career to the war, but returned to his occupation as a carpenter and was selected in South’s side for the opening round fixture of 1919.

He had played 66 games and kicked 34 goals when he called it a day in 1921.

Carlton scouts headed up to Rutherglen in pursuit of Neil Hiskins. Considering that three of his brothers had already made their mark on League football, they were excited by reports that the solidly-built Neil was the pick of the crop.

They found the boys having a kick in the paddock, near the family’s watermelon patch. But the youngster was having none of the suggestion that he join the Navy Blues. “No, I’m quite happy here”, was his response.

Neil was a star with Rutherglen but never ventured past ‘Pretty Sally’. Nevertheless, his older brother Rupert agreed to give it a go.

But before he had the opportunity to play a senior game, Rupe enlisted and joined the Light Horse Brigade. By October of 1916 he was in the Middle East, where he was trained as a machine-gunner.

He contracted skin infections, which saw him regularly in hospital throughout his military service. The problem only cleared up when he returned home in 1919.photo 2 copy

Rupe then began a superb League career. Although he was 26 years-old he made an immediate impression as a free-running six foot-plus defender.

He was soon thrust into the ruck and formed a lethal combination with established stars, Bert Boromeo and Lyle Downes. He was an extrovert and a big-occasion player, who revelled in the finals atmosphere. Besides his long kicking and ability to do the heavy work, he was agile at ground level.

Rupe was a six-time Victorian representative and had become one of the game’s big names. By 1923, however, he was asked to carry the ruck division. Downes collapsed and died after training one night and Boromeo had controversially exited the club.

Rupe retired in 1924 after 74 games and joined Boromeo at VFA club, Brunswick, where he concluded his career with a flag.

The other brothers in the prolific family, Jimmy, Vic, Bert and Clem gave yeoman service to Rutherglen and Lake Rovers.

A veritable assembly-line of Hiskins progeny has continued through the generations….

Jack Hiskins followed his father Fred to Essendon in the thirties………Barry Richardson was a triple premiership player in a great Richmond era of the late photo60’s and ’70’s……….Paul McCormack was a Carlton player who later won a South Australian state jumper……..Karl Norman had a brief stint with the Blues between 2003 and ’05…….

But to catalogue the rest, who became stars ( and champions) in Ovens & Murray ranks, and beyond, would be a decent yarn in itself.

Young  defender James Smith is the latest product of this football dynasty that was created by his great-great-great grandfather all those years ago, on a dry, dusty little property at Lake Moodemere.image

SENTIMENTAL FAVOURITE GETS THE CHOCOLATES…

Walter Pasquali wears a permanent grin on his welcoming Continental countenance.

He’s a jolly fellah, Wal. But if his smile could get any broader, it happened on a hot January evening in 1995, when he stormed home to win the Wangaratta Gift.

The sentimental favourite had scorched down the floodlit 120 metre track, to breast the tape in 12.21 seconds, and ignite wild celebrations. Hands held aloft, he commenced probably the longest celebratory journey in Gift history, and finished his ‘lap of honour’ by acknowledging the roar of the crowd in the Richardson Stand.

He still rates it as his finest sporting moment, even though he can entertain you with scores of other anecdotes and highlights of an eventful career which has hummed along for nigh-on 30 years……..

 

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He was brought up on the family’s King Valley tobacco farm, one of three sport-mad kids. An older brother, Anthony, had fulfilled a long-held dream to come in and play footy with the Wang Rovers, where his name was to become indelibly etched into the club’s record books.

Wal was eager to follow suit and in 1985 featured in a Thirds’ premiership, alongside players of the calibre of Mick Wilson,  Howard Yelland and Rick Marklew.

His progress was steady. A lengthy apprenticeship in the Reserves included a Runner-up Best & Fairest trophy in 1987 and universal recognition as a terrific clubman.

A smaller edition of the lean, versatile ‘Pas’, he was mainly a winger, with pace to burn and a lethal left boot and was rewarded with 3 senior games in 1987, Laurie Burt’s first year of coaching.

“Wal’s bubbly personality helped create a positive vibe around the club. Everyone loved him.” Burt said.

“But I wasn’t in his good books one Thursday night when I announced the side and left him out. The next thing we heard was a loud bang. Wal had taken his frustrations out on the toilet door. I pointed out to the boys, that’s how much it means to him to play senior footy.”

It was on the suggestion of a team-mate, Nick Goodear, that Wal decided to have a crack at foot-running. The extra edge in pace would, he believed, be the weapon that would earn him a permanent senior spot.

But disaster struck, in the guise of a damaged knee early in the 1988 season, which required a full reconstruction and effectively put the kibosh on a footy career which was really only just starting to crank up.

And, as his rehab progressed, so did the thoughts that he might focus on running. He was working as an electrical sub-contractor at the time, doing plenty of training under wise old Bernie Grealy and finding an adrenalin-rush in his adopted sport.

Within eighteen months he was lining up in the final of the illustrious Stawell Gift, on Easter Monday, 1990. It was to be the year of the brilliant West Australian Dean Capobianco, who blitzed a field which included two other eventual ‘Stawell’ winners.

Nerves got to Wal, who finished sixth . But he was richer for the experience.

For the next five years or so he was super-competitive, despite running off a tight mark. Always explosive off the blocks, he won successive Broadford Gifts, and took out the 70m events at Werribee, Bendigo and Broadford (twice).

During a big 1993 campaign, he finished fourth in the coveted Bendigo 1000, and was invited to contest Jupiter’s Gift in Queensland, where he ran a close second. He was fourth in the final of Adelaide’s rich Bay Sheffield Gift, regarded as second only to Stawell on the pro running calendar.

To top the season off, he took out the time-honoured Burramine Gift. So, with those sort of performances, there was little wonder that the handicapper was always scrutinising him closely.

He was flying in early 1995 and began to focus on the Wang Carnival even more intensely after his win in the Rye Gift two weeks prior.

“It meant a lot to me to run well at Wang, in front of my home crowd.  Mum and Dad, who didn’t usually attend the Carnival, were there, all my mates were egging me on and I felt good in the lead-up to the Final,” he recalled.

So how did it feel, Wal, when the ground lights were turned off, the floodlights were trained on the Gift track and commentator Eddie Bush gave your resume’ as you paraded down that familiar stretch of turf, just minutes before the big event ?

“I was pretty sure I’d do OK. It was all about getting away to a good start, which I did, and I was determined to catch the front-marker, Adrian Campagna, who was another local, by the 60-metre mark, then peg back the other blokes in front of me.”

” I’ve never run faster than I did that night and when I got to Phil Harloff, the Albury runner, I knew I was home. There was about a metre in it in at the finish. And then the celebrations started……..”

Wally started to experience trouble with his achilles the following season and it became a continual battle to get his body right.

But he kept running and his love of training and competing remained as strong as ever.

One ritual he maintained was his journey to Stawell every Easter. It was there that his romance with a star 400m runner, physiotherapist and his future wife, Anna Deery, blossomed.

Anna had been close to Australian selection as a junior, restricted only by a navicular foot injury. She was later in contention for a spot in the 400 relay squad for the Commonwealth Games, being rated No.5 in the squad and narrowly missing a spot.

So, with a mutual love of athletics, they had plenty to offer Wangaratta sport when they moved back here in 2009.

Wal re-ignited his considerable passion for the Brown and Gold and has helped out in several capacities. Of particular assistance has been his work in fitness and conditioning. He is held in high regard by the Hawk playing group.

Greg O’Keeffe, who has seen all of the top local runners come and go over the years, rates Anna as one of the hardest female trainers he has seen. She has a zest for junior development and is heavily involved with Little Aths.

Their contribution to the Athletic Club has increased by the year, both by sponsorship through their Optus business and their considerable physical input.

The whole Pasquali brood – Wal, Anna and the kids, Christian, Isabella and Sofia – will be competing this Saturday, when the Carnival kicks off.

And Wal will be forgiven a touch of nostalgia when the finalists are asked to take their marks for the running of the 95th Wangaratta Gift…..It’s 20 years ago, the butterflies are in the tummy and he’s the second back-marker… Oh,what a memory that is……….

 

 

FOOTNOTE:   The other Wangaratta winners of their local Gift have been: Maurice Maroney (1930), A.W.Whittaker (1938), Frank Seymour (1947), Jimmy Doolan (1958), Greg O’Keeffe (1985), Jason Boulton (1997 and 2006).
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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 YEAR MR.FOOTBALL CAME TO TOWN

Everyone with the remotest connection to the Wangaratta Rovers was abuzz with excitement as spring gave way to the summer of late 1955.

Mr.Football had come to town.

This wasn’t a whistlestop promotional visit at the behest of the VFL. No, the man popularly acknowledged as the best footballer in Australia, had arrived – with his wife Elsie and sons Robert and Peter – to take up his appointment as the playing-coach of the Wangaratta Rovers.

The procurement of Bob Rose to take the reins of a battling club stunned not only local fans, but footy people around the nation.

After all, the Rovers had been in existence for 11 years; had only gained admittance to the Ovens and Murray League in 1950 and were largely unsuccessful in that time.

It seemed ludicrous that Collingwood had allowed their  champion player to be prised away by a bush club which appeared to have little or no credibility. And secondly ,why didn’t  he take the offer of East Perth, which had promised to make him captain-coach and the highest-paid player in Australia ?

Those were the unanswered questions. But it was obvious that the Rovers had made a convincing presentation to the four-time Copeland Trophy winner. The hunt for a top-line coach had begun months earlier, but once the Hawks got the inkling that Rose may become available,they made him their target.

In their favour was that he had strong family ties in Victoria, which counted against a move to the west. Also, as a lad brought up in Nyah West, he liked the prospect of moving back to the country.

When he began to warm to the Rovers’ approach they formulated a package which included a sports store proprietorship and a salary of 35 pounds per week to coach the club.

He had many people suggesting that he would be foolish to give up his future at Collingwood and also advising him of the pitfalls of taking the job. Among those was the warning by a former team-mate that the Rovers were a ‘Catholic club’. He gave this little credence and decided that a trip to Wangaratta to have a look at the town would be a good idea.

Unfortunately, on his first attempt at the journey he had to head home ,as he realised that his old Singer car wouldn’t handle the steep inclines of the Hume Highway’s ‘Pretty Sally’.  He rang the Rovers to postpone the appointment and headed north the following week in his brother Kevin’s flasher vehicle.

Manny Cochineas, a prominent Wangaratta businessman ,who had become a godfather-type figure at the Rovers (a’ la’ Colin Joss) was the man who planted the idea among his fellow officials that they should aim high and go for the best. ‘Cochy’ was a dreamer and relished the prospect of snaring Mr.Football against all odds.

Keith Ottrey, who was a star player of the fifties, remembers that the Rovers hierarchy did a great job of keeping the Rose-hunt under tabs. “It was a bit of a case of …’don’t tell the Arabs’. We weren’t told a thing. The only inkling I had that things were going all right was when I heard ‘Cochy’ whisper to a bloke , “I think we’ve got him”.

So, when they had indeed snared Bob Rose, preparations moved into full swing for the 1956 season.He and his young family settled into a small Housing Commission residence in Lamont Street. It was hardly salubrious but the Roses were unfazed. The Rovers later found them a house at  102 Swan Street, which became their abode for the rest of their time in Wangaratta.

With the task of setting up his new business and traversing the area on recruiting trips, life was pretty full-on for the new coach.  But he was buoyed by the enthusiasm of the Rovers people .

He had to sit through some drama at the Club’s Annual Meeting in late November, when President Harry Klemm faced a no-confidence motion ,moved by his brother,Tom. Harry was deposed from the position and indeed, was voted off  the 23-man committee.

But that was barely a ripple on the landscape, as new members clambered onto the Hawk bandwagon. The club’s first practice match attracted a crowd of 1,000 to watch Bob Rose and a new wave of recruits in action.

Unfortunately, in the lead-up to Rose’s much-awaited O & M debut against Benalla, he suffered a groin injury and had to watch from the sidelines, as his old Collingwood team-mate Len Fitzgerald led the Demons to victory.

A fortnight later he took to the field against Wangaratta and ,in a day of triumph ,led the Hawks to a nine-point win against the arch rival. He was chaired from the field by delighted supporters, who loved the influence he had exerted on his new charges.

After a slow start to the season, the Rovers won nine of their last 11 home and home games to sneak into the O& M finals for the first time.

Though beaten by Benalla in the first semi-final, Hawk supporters liked what they saw in 1956.And they positively adored  the coach. Club membership had risen from 325 to 670 in 1956 and a new breed of supporter gained a fascination  for  the Brown and Gold.

Italian tobacco-growers, who had shown scant regard for footy ,were introduced to the game via the exploits of Rose, whom they called ‘Bobby Rossa’. They were generous and loyal and many became Hawks for life.

To young whippersnappers like yours truly, he was bigger than Ben Hur. It was an era of scant exposure of VFL players; you just relied on newspapers and footy cards to bring them to life.To have a superstar in our midst was beyond belief. We couldn’t wait for training nights and would race down to the ground to see what Guernsey he was wearing,or try to attract his attention whilst having kick-to-kick.

The Rovers doubled their profit in 1956 and well and truly covered the financial outlay .But more importantly,Rose  developed a culture among the playing ranks which would set the standard  for decades to come . He had lifted the profile of the club to unforeseen levels.

In the years to come he was to achieve fabulous personal and club success with the Hawks. Within two years the first of 15 flags was fluttering at the City Oval and he had won the first of his two Morris Medals.

The dream of Manny Cochineas and his mates had come to fruition.

 

 

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