“WHOROULY BOY MAINTAINS LIFETIME BOND WITH THE SWANS…….”

Clem Goonan’s attachment to his old VFL club stretches back sixty years.

He’s remained true to them through good times and bad, and admits that only once has he seriously considered turning his back on the mighty Red and White………..

“I wasn’t too happy when South Melbourne was pressured into moving to Sydney…… I went lukewarm there for a year or so,” he says.

“I was part of the ‘Keep South at South’ brigade when things started to unravel in the early eighties, and went to a few pretty hostile meetings…….They weren’t good times…..But you eventually get over it….. I soon got back on the Swans bandwagon……”

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Clem’s love affair with footy has consumed most of his 82 years.

He’s a Whorouly boy, born and bred, and spent much of his childhood gallivanting to and from the town’s Memorial Oval. The Goonan property was a three mile jaunt on his bike. He’d watch (and take part in) training, then throw the bike in the back of the family Ute for the trip home.

His dad ( Alan ), a Club diehard, was at various times President, Secretary and committeeman, so Clem found himself saddled with the Boundary Umpire’s job in 1952.

It was a historic year for the Maroons. After being runners-up to Beechworth for the previous two seasons, they outlasted the Bombers in a hard, slogging Grand Final, to win their first flag in 27 years, by two points.

Clem can still reel off most of the members of that side, like Silas McInnes, Mick Jess, Bill and Alan Newton, Bill Power, Tony Harrington, Kevin Mauger, and the coach, Rex Bennett, who played a starring role in the win.

The following season he made his senior debut at the tender age of 14. Several members of the Premiership side had gone their seperate ways and Whorouly spent a few years among the lower echelons of the O & K ladder.

But it was a ‘no brainer’ to punt on this talented, well-proportioned stripling, and he rapidly became one of the team’s stars. He blossomed under the coaching of the brilliant left-footer Billy Dalziel, and took out successive Club B & F’s in 1957 and ‘58.

His outstanding season in 1958 also saw him land the League Medal, as well as sharing the Chronicle Trophy with Bogong’s Eric Tye and Bright champ Tony Quirk.

For a mere 19 year-old, already with 90 senior games under his belt, that was the ‘green light’ to attract the attention of talent scouts far and wide:

“You received a letter in the mail those days,” Clem recalls…….. “Jim Cardwell, the Melbourne Secretary, wrote, asking me to come down. I thought : ‘They’re way too strong. I’ll never get a game there.’…. I knocked Geelong back because I reckoned they were too far away…….And St.Kilda were having a few internal problems. That put the kybosh on them……..So I decided to sign a Form Four with South Melbourne.”

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In the meantime, Bill Dalziel had decided to move over to Myrtleford, and helped entice Clem to have a run with the Saints, to enhance his footy education:

“I joined the Police Force on the 1st of May, 1959, and was stationed at Fitzroy. It meant travelling back to play with the Saints each week.”

“ I did a lot of my training at the Police Gym, and had a few runs with Fitzroy because their ground was close handy. They knew I could play a bit, and talked me into putting in for a clearance from South, with whom I was tied. But, of course South said: ‘No way known.’ “

Myrtleford, under the inspiring leadership of dual Magarey and Morris Medallist Jimmy Deane, were loaded with talent in Clem’s two years with them.

His last game still sticks in his mind.

The Saints held a 21-point lead over defending premiers, Yarrawonga, going into the last quarter of the 1960 First Semi. But the game turned on its head, and the Pigeons, with all the momentum, led by 3 points, with just seconds remaining.

With one last desperate thrust, Myrtleford attacked again, and half forward Wally Hodgkin marked 45 yards out, right on the final siren……It was a dead accurate kick and just about everyone at the Benalla Showgrounds deemed it a major – except the goal-umpire – who signalled that it was touched on the line.

“A few of the wealthy tobacco-farmers had given the players a ‘sling’ before the game, in appreciation of our efforts during the year. Some of the senior players rated our chances so highly they suggested we use the money to back ourselves,” Clem says.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but the Yarra supporters handed the money back to us because of the conjecture over that disputed goal.”

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Clem’s senior debut with South Melbourne came on Queen’s Birthday week-end 1961, in front of 30,000 fans at St.Kilda’s Junction Oval:

“I felt pretty much at home; my opponent was Brian McCarthy, a Yarrawonga boy. And one of my old Myrtleford team-mates, Frank Hodgkin, was in his first season with St.Kilda.”

Lining up mostly on a half back flank, with an occasional stint as a ruck-rover, he had established himself in League football by the following season. He finished fourth in the Swans B & F, and was voted their Most Determined Player.

Melbourne premiership star Noel McMahon had been lured from a stint at Rochester to take over the coaching reins from Bill Faull. He was pronounced as the VFL’s first full-time coach. Clem immediately struck a chord with the likeable McMahon:

“He was a great coach, and a terrific guy, Noel. I loved playing for him. He’s coming up 95 this year……. I still pick him up and take him to South Past Players Functions.”

The South Melbourne sides of the early sixties contained stars such as Skilton, McGowan, Hughie McLaughlin, Jim Taylor, John Heriot, John ‘Mopsy’ Rantall and Graeme John.

But there weren’t nearly enough of them, and the Swans were never a major threat.

However, they always came into their own when the popular VFL Night Series was staged, between the non-finals combatants.

“The games were played at South’s Lakeside Oval, because ours was the only venue that had match-standard Lights,” Clem says.

“What an advantage it was for us ! . There were a few dark spots in the pockets, which we were accustomed to. We had a fair bit of success….I enjoyed playing in them, and the crowds always flocked to the mid-week games because they were such a novelty……….”

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After playing 50 senior games with the Swans Clem received a transfer to Wodonga in the Police Force.

“The locals said: ‘Seeing as you’re living and working in the town it’d be the right thing to play with us’. So I wasn’t too popular when I signed with Albury. (Murray) Weideman was coaching them and they were on their way to the 1966 flag.”

Unfortunately, Clem ‘did’ a cartilage in a mid-season Inter-League game against the Bendigo League, which laid him up for the rest of the season, and robbed him of his only chance to share in premiership glory.

He recovered, to play strongly over the next two seasons with the Tigers, before his old mate Frank Hodgkin talked him into helping him out with O & M rivals Rutherglen.

“They’d been a famous old club, of course, but were probably batting a bit out of their depth at this stage. I played two years under Frank, then took over the coaching job from him for ‘71 and ‘72. Despite their lack of success there was a wonderful spirit within the Club.”

His swansong as a player came in 1973 – as captain-coach of Burrumbuttock. Towards the end of the season he received notification of his promotion in the Police Force.

So he, Irene and their four kids made their way back to Melbourne.

“Graeme John, who was back coaching South Melbourne at this stage, got wind of it and rang me. He asked what I was up to and I said: ‘Dunno, I’m thinking about playing a bit of local footy.’ “

“He said: ‘Give it away, you silly old bugger. I want you to be my runner.’ “

“That was an experience; particularly when Ian Stewart took over from Graeme a couple of years later.”

“ ‘Stewie’ used to get so excited that it was impossible to understand a word he was saying……You’d be out there delivering a message…..The crowd would roar, and you didn’t know what had happened because you had your back to it………’Stewie’ would be there abusing me and mumbling something…….You’d ask him again and he’d almost go berserk, and grab you…push you….You daren’t ask him again, in case he went right off the air ! “

“I’m not sure if he was a good coach…..He expected everybody to be able to play to the standard that he did……He probably had good ideas…..if you could understand him !………. “

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Clem did some Specialist, and Junior coaching with local clubs Norwood and Donvale, and got back to following South Melbourne, once his involvement as a Runner concluded.

He retired from the Police Force in 1989 with the rank of Sargeant.

In hindsight, he says, things worked out really well with the re-location of the Swans to Sydney:

“Feelings ran really high at the time, because of the pressure that the VFL were putting on the Club……. We were all pretty devastated with the way it was done, but there was no use remaining cranky about it……. At least the Swans have managed to maintain a presence in Melbourne.”

“They needed all the support they could get……. I’ve been on the Past Players’ Committee for the past 20 years or so………… Tony Morwood does a great job, along with one of my good mates, John Heriot.”

Clem’s been working part-time at the MCG, as a member of the Event Day Staff since 1999 which, he jokes: “has allowed me to have a sneak look at the action occasionally………”

Particularly when the Sydney Swans took out the flag in 2005 and 2012……..”Yeah….they were two of the most memorable days of my life………”

Ovens and King League Hall of Fame Inductees 2006. Richie Shanley, Clem Goonan, Ray Burns,

‘JOSH NEGOTIATES THE OBSTACLES ON HIS FOOTY JOURNEY…….’

Lennie Greskie was a granite-like, seemingly indestructible small man, who wore the number 3 guernsey for Wangaratta Rovers through the late fifties/ early sixties.

Starting out as a livewire on-baller in the great Hawk sides of the Bob Rose era, he morphed into a no-holds-barred back pocket player who could make life hell for resting rovers.

Four premierships, 236 games and Hall of Fame Induction was the legacy of Greskie’s 12 years at the Findlay Oval.

The fascinating aspect of his career was that those 236 games were all played consecutively.

Ironically, in his first appearance with North Wangaratta, after taking over as captain-coach in 1970, Lennie broke his leg. He recovered in due course , and eventually led the long-suffering Northerners to their first O & K flag in 1973…..

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If you thought that the durable Greskie provided the template for the ideal Ovens and Murray career, spare a thought for a fellah who, after 10 years, is still making his way in the game…….

Josh Newton’s family has been part and parcel of the Whorouly Football Club for a good portion of its 130 years.

His Grandfather Bill and great-uncle Alan, both long-serving players, were members of the Maroon’s 1952 Premiership side.

Two other great-uncles – Stuart and Brian ‘Barney’ Elkington- played for decades. ‘Stuey’ coached the Club and won the Baker Medal In 1970; ‘Barney’ also included a B & F among his CV.

Josh’s uncle Rod and dad Wayne, also champions of the Club, played key roles in flags, and performed just about every chore on the agenda at Memorial Park. Rod ( now better known as Magpie goal-kicker ‘Juice’s’ old man ) had a brief, highly-promising 50-game flirtation with the Rovers, but returned home to resume a stellar career.

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Josh and his twin Andy were recruited to the Rovers Thirds in 2011. The word among the scouts who had pushed them in the Hawks’ direction was that they were lads of considerable potential. Those who’d locked horns with their dad were certain that they’d have inherited the competitive Newton genes.

The boys were just 16 – ‘bottom-age’ kids who were expected to spend a developmental year with the Thirds before making an impact the following season.

Josh, however, produced a few slashing performances, which prompted Hawk coach Mick Caruso to blood him in the struggling senior side.

His introduction to senior footy came in Round 13 , against Corowa-Rutherglen. After showing promise in three games he returned to the Thirds, to help them into the Grand Final.

The following year he was one of a number of youngsters, such as Marcus Panozzo, Ash Pollard, Sam Caruso, Toby Ryan and Ryan Cobain, who were part of a revitalised Hawk line-up. They’d risen from irrelevance to be labelled premiership threats, but Josh Newton wouldn’t be there, as they embarked on the Barry Hall-inspired push for finals.

A dislocated shoulder against Lavington, in his sixth senior match for the season, sent him back to square-one. He returned, after a lengthy absence, to play a handful of games in the Thirds.

What followed was a continuing litany of disaster……..and would certainly test any youngster’s resolve.

Two weeks into 2013 Josh ‘did’ a Posterior Cruciate Ligament in his right knee. After a five week recovery he was set to return when his shoulder ‘popped’ at training. The result ?….. Season over…….

The Shoulder ‘Reco’ was carried out in early 2014, which put him on the sidelines for the rest of that season.

Up and firing again, he approached 2015 with renewed endeavour…….Three weeks prior to the kick-off, though, he went down with another serious knee injury – an ACL.

That put paid to another season…… by the time he’d recovered from the resultant ‘Reco’, there was time for 10 senior games in the back half of 2016.

But there was sunlight on the horizon….2017 proved to be a breakout year.

Fully fit and firing, he missed just the one game , collected the Peter McGuire Memorial Award, as the Club’s Most Consistent Player, and finished fourth in the Club B & F.

Surely, those around the Findlay Oval surmised, the injury Gods are now looking kindly upon young Josh……

No way !

After playing seven games in 2018, he did his left knee against Albury. The result?………..Another ‘Reco’.

Of course, he lost 2019 with an extensive recovery period, then the Pandemic naturally ruled him out last season………..

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Josh hadn’t played a senior game in three years……….until last Saturday……..

The impact of his low-key recall for the important clash at the Albury Sportsground was probably lost among the nine changes ( the majority of them big names ) which were made to a winning line-up.

Confusion reigned amongst the commentators, in particular, as the bloke in the Number 29 guernsey, who was bobbing up in attack, and impressing with his assault on the pill, was indeed Josh Newton, and not Cam Nottle.

He was up and about, had a couple of snaps on goal, a few telling possessions, and, as coach Daryn Cresswell complimented him later, ‘had a crack’….

Who wouldn’t, after four comebacks and 44 games in 10 years……………..

# Thanks to ‘SWITCHED ON SPORTS’ for the photos.

‘A MASTER OF HIS CRAFT…..’

Stuart Elkington is recounting one of his countless sporting memories………..

It’s the early sixties, and he’s the baby of Wangaratta’s North-East Cup Cricket team , fielding at short mid-on in a tight Final against Euroa. The match is reaching its climax……. You can almost sniff the tension in the air….He’s just praying that if a catch does happen to bob up in these dying moments, it won’t be heading his way.

Alas, an attempted drive miscues in Stuie’s direction. He’s perched under it, and can hear the whooping of his team-mates, as they sense they’ve snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Blokes like Trebilcock, Bussell, Welch – giants of the local game…….he can’t possibly let them down by dropping this absolute ‘sitter’….

“I don’t know how it happened, but the ball has slipped through my fingers. It was the most embarrassing moment of my career……”

The next day, the Border-Mail’s headlines accentuated his ‘clanger’. He shows me the now-faded match report: ‘…ELKINGTON DROPS CATCH, WANG LOSE MATCH…’

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Elkington-territory is prime Dairy country; just three or so kilometres from Whorouly’s heartbeat, which includes the Pub, General Store, Hall and, of course, the Recreation Reserve .

On my way here, I can’t resist calling in to pay a nostalgic visit to the lovingly-maintained Memorial Oval, scene of the township’s many sporting triumphs.

It brings to mind the imperious left-hander, Peter Nicoll contemptuously hoiking me over the fence, and over the road, necessitating the fielder to extract the ball from the garden bed of a neighboring house……..of his cousin Lex, curtailed by polio, patiently manoeuvring the bowling and accumulating runs……and of the blonde Stuart Elkington setting off on his elongated run-up and making the Kookaburra spin, curl and bounce on this traditionally batsman-friendly track.

It was on this very Oval that Stuie mastered the craft of spin bowling, plundered thousands of runs, and played the majority of his 212 games of footy in the Maroon and White guernsey……………….

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He was the youngest in the family, by quite a distance, behind his brother Brian and  sister May, so had to find ways to entertain himself in his boyhood days.

In summer, it would be relentlessly throwing a ball against a wall in the Dairy. The pill would ricochet onto the uneven concrete wash-down gutter, breaking this way or that, and forcing Stuart to improvise with his shot selection.

After he played every ball, he jotted down the runs – or wickets – in his scorebook. He’s explaining this intricate exercise to me, when Jo, his wife, pulls out the 60-odd year-old book, which painstakingly recorded his version of ‘Test Match Cricket’. The performances of the ‘players’, such as ‘Tom’, ‘Phew’, ‘Hard’, ‘Peter’, ‘Clown’, ‘Elk’ and ‘Zip’, are preserved for posterity.IMG_3768

Later, on match days, he’d pedal down to the Oval and spend the afternoon scoring in the same book…..and paying particular attention to Whorouly’s smattering of star batsmen.

Eventually, the opportunity came for him to play alongside them. At 14 he made his debut, and shared in a useful partnership with the phlegmatic veteran Wils Nicoll.

That was an education in itself. Wils was a renowned run-machine; unstylish, but determined. One of his quirks was that he usually smoked a roll-your-own during his innings; retrieving it from behind the stumps between overs to have a reflective puff.

In one of these instances he sidled up to offer a quiet word of advice to Stuie, who had begun to get a touch cocky, and played a reckless shot during the over.

“These fellahs coming in behind you, they’ll get their turn…..There’s no rush to get the runs, you know,” he said.

Yes, there was no shortage of advice for the youngster. After he’d wheeled down a coupe of overs of his leg-spin, someone suggested: “Just slow it down a bit, Stu….toss it up…..Give the ball a chance to turn……”

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As one of a group of emerging youngsters who promised a bright future for Wangaratta cricket, he was sent to hone his skills at Bendigo Country Week.

In their early years, WDCA officials had the lads billeted at the outer-suburban residence of a kindly old soul, Mrs.Tredinnick. The idea was that they, in their innocence, shouldn’t be exposed to the perils of the city’s night-life.

That failed. They discovered the demon-drink, bounced off each other, and formed long-lasting friendships. The nonchalant Elkington was one who savoured the social life, shrugged off the occasional hangover, then hurled himself into his cricket under the blistering January sun.

He made six trips to Bendigo, once taking 8/39 to rout Emu Valley and, on another occasion, figuring in a 257-run stand against Tyrrell. Having already taken 4/18, he and Greg Rosser opened and had a race to be first to reach 50, then 100. Rosser was dismissed for 112; Elkington soldiered on to 148*.IMG_3779

He recalls his fate being decided one day, by a gnarled old Bendigo umpire, who had a habit of providing a running commentary on each decision:

“I’ve been rapped on the pads, and he’s gone: ‘Well, son…….It was pitched in line……..but then you were playing forward….. the wicket’s doing a bit…..and he is moving the ball….’ “

“After what seemed like an eternity, he’s slowly raised the finger and testified: “I think you’re out…..”

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Stuie’s first adventure took him to Hobart, where he undertook a two and a half year Phys-Ed Degree, and played TCA cricket with the University of Hobart.

He came under the influence of former English Test player John Hampshire, who opined that he had a rare talent and plumped for his selection in a Tasmanian Colts team, which met the NSW Colts at the SCG.

“He’d bring me on first change and bat me high up the order. I had a bit of success in Tassie, and, in hindsight, probably should have stayed longer. But when December came around I’d head back home for the holidays. I’d feel bad about leaving them, but the lure of home always brought me back.”

With a Degree in hand, he headed over to Adelaide for his first teaching job, playing two years of District cricket with Sir Donald Bradman’s old team, Kensington, and footy with Barossa Valley club, Freeling.

On his return home one year, he received a phone call from the Principal of Benalla Tech School…..Said he’d heard good reports about him and wondered if he’d be interested in a teaching job there.

“I said sorry, I’ve already got the car packed. I’m about to head back to Adelaide. But on my way through Benalla I thought to myself: ‘It won’t hurt to have a look at the place and see what it’s like.’

“Funny, I walked in and my concentration was diverted to this young teacher with nice legs. It was Jo. That settled it…..One thing led to another and I decided to take the job.”

But he found he needed more qualifications and took study leave later that year, to undertake a Science Degree, majoring in Geology at Melbourne Uni. At the same time, Jo did a Degree in Pottery.

“Les Stillman was Melbourne Uni’s coach and he encouraged me to come along to practice,” Stuie recalls.

He went from the Thirds to First XI in three games and, in one of his first Senior appearances, lined up against Essendon and State speedster John Grant, who proceeded to give him a baptism of fire.

“He whistled a couple past my ear, and I was most uncomfortable. After I’d played and missed a few times, he continued his follow-through and eye-balled me, muttering : ‘Why don’t you have a go, you weak little prick’……”

Stuart and Jo eventually returned to teaching at Benalla, and he provided a huge boost to a Whorouly cricket side which was now blossoming, after being forced into recession a season or two earlier.

For the next dozen years he proved a stellar performer in the WDCA, as one of its premier all-rounders. And there’s no doubt that his figures as a spinner have been beyond compare over the last half-century.

He took 744 wickets, scored 6,500 runs and hit nine centuries in his 236 games for Whorouly. And if you needed proof of his influence with the ball in big games, have a look at his figures in the Maroons’ three winning Grand Finals: 7/36 in 1971/72, 6/22 in 1974/75, and 6/27 in 1981/82……

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He had a particular fascination for Melbourne Country Week; loved the tough, no-holds-barred aspect of the games. Stuie found that he needed to push his leggies through a bit quicker against the good bats, but that was all part of the challenge.IMG_3778

He captained Wangaratta on two of his 11 trips to the ‘big smoke’ and, as we talk we’re reminiscing about some of the quickies who used to have you ducking and weaving.

…Like George Skinner from Maryborough, who, one day, threatened to ‘go through’ Wangaratta on a softish green-top, which was causing the ball to skid through alarmingly.

We recall left-hander Terry Hogan copping one delivery on the ‘moosh’ and taking ages to be revived – and assisted – from the field of play. Stuie was next in……

“I arrived at the crease and took block in a pool of blood. George was back at his mark, raring to go, and I’m hearing the fielders urging him on: ‘Here’s another one…Take him out.’ “IMG_3780

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Apart from stints with Federal League club Oakleigh Districts, Freeling (S.A), Old Hutchins Amateurs (Tas) and Benalla, the bulk of the Elkington football career was played with Whorouly.

As a skilful mid-fielder/half forward, he saw plenty of the action and would count winning the 1970 Ovens and King League’s Baker Medal among the cherished highlights of his 14 years with the Maroons.

Conversely, he’d rate as one of his roughest times when he was persuaded to take on the club’s coaching job in 1974. They’d been hit heavily with player departures, blooded many youngsters and battled through to win two games.

Three years later, he was part of a dominant line-up which completed an undefeated season by defeating North Wangaratta in the 1977 Grand Final.IMG_3770

He was lured out to King Valley the following year, and thrived in the role as captain-coach. The Roos, who had won just three games in ‘77, improved dramatically to storm into the finals.

“We had a great year, but it fell apart in the first half of the Preliminary Final. We were 56 points down at half-time, then came home with a rush. But the siren beat us. Beechworth held on to win by eight points,” Stuie says.

The Valley reached the finals again the following season, but the end was nigh for the veteran. His hips were giving him hell and decided to pull the pin……..

For the school-teacher, turned Public Servant, turned cockie – and fanatical sportsman – it was time to focus on the Dairy Cows……IMG_3774

MICKEY WHO ?…….

The sun shone brightly on that late September day in 1971, when a decade of dominance in Ovens and Murray football began.

If you were a long-term Wangaratta Rovers fan, you might remember the Hawks coming from the clouds to storm to victory in a last-quarter onslaught that turned the Grand Final on its ear.

If pressed, you may recall many of the blokes who wore the Brown and Gold. Some of them were to become legends of the Club ; a couple went on to play League football.

Mickey McDonald was proud to line up alongside them.

Mickey Who? you might say……………

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Michael Andrew McDonald maintains a low profile these days.

He worked at Bruck for many years…but retired about three years ago. Now he keeps himself busy pottering around his Irving Street backyard.

You used to be able to catch him regularly blowing the froth off a coldie at the Sydney pub, but the doctor warned him last November that it’d be a good idea to give the grog away. The alternative, he said, would be a one-way trip out to South Wangaratta.

If you’re in the foyer at the Rovers rooms you’ll see him in the 1971 team photo, wedged between two blokes with a similar sense of frivolity, Steve Norman and Ric Sullivan. Mick occasionally reminds himself of the emotion that overcame him when the final siren blew and the fans went berserk…………

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.Mick’s days at St.Patricks School were, in short, forgettable. There’s little doubt that his teachers, Miss Finck and Sister Annunciata shared a sigh of relief when he walked out of the gates for the last time.

The lunch-time breaks, when he could kick the footy around, were about the only time he got serious. He was one of eight kids and his dad had a bread-round. Mick occasionally hopped onto the horse and cart and helped him with his deliveries, but had no designs on following in his footsteps.

His mum, Marge, started following the Rovers when they joined the Ovens and Murray League. Her and a great mate, Iris Perso, were probably the most vocal -and fiercest – supporters the Hawks had in the fifties and sixties.

So she was a trifle disappointed when Mick, after showing plenty of promise with Centrals, headed out to Whorouly. I ask him how that came about.

“I was walking down Reid Street one day when Johnny Welch drove past and yelled out : “I want to see you.” He had just accepted the coaching job at Whorouly and asked if I’d like to join him. “I thought, Why not? ”

Even though Welchy had just the one year with the Maroons, Mick enjoyed himself so much that he stayed for three.

It was 1970 – and Neville Hogan had just succeeded Ian Brewer as coach, when Mick belatedly found his way to the City Oval – much to his mum’s delight.

Ask any contemporary for a description of the Hawks’ new recruit and the following adjectives would flow : ” tough…hard-at-it….a team-man….rugged….feisty……stricken with white-line-fever…..”

He cracked it for his first senior game twelve weeks into the season. Named on the bench against Rutherglen, he was given his chance in the third quarter. Twenty seconds after his arrival on the ground, he found himself in the umpire’s book.

“I just got a bit excited,” says Mick, who triggered an all-in brawl when he connected with Redleg ruckman Tim Reeves.

He was back at Rutherglen’s Barkly Park three days later, for the tribunal hearing, rather apprehensive about facing the ‘judiciary’.

What made him even more nervous was that the Yarrawonga player whose case preceded his, stormed out of the tribunal room in a fury, slammed the door, and simultaneously uttered “F…… me dead, four f……n weeks.”

He was dragged back in and given another two.

The three elderly gentlemen facing Mick across the table, were sympathetic towards him, gave him a good hearing – and suspended him for a fortnight. They probably wondered what the hell a stocky 5’7″ rover was doing, taking on a 6’4″ beanpole.

Mick proved a handy spare-parts man and made the most of his opportunities in the senior side in his first couple of years. But salt-of-the-earth blokes like him also enrich the club off the field, and he proved a popular figure.

The players were distracted by some vicious, swooping magpies during his first pre-season, and after being dive-bombed a couple of times himself, he decided to do something about it.

He eliminated the problem one Sunday morning, before training.

Mick hit form at the pointy end of the 1971 season. He had been outstanding in the two’s ( good enough to pick up the B &F after playing just 11 games) and knocked the door down for senior selection in the Finals.

With a couple of goals in the Hawks’ win over Myrtleford in the first semi, he played his part, and also savoured a convincing 33-point Prelim Final victory against Benalla.

Nevertheless, he held his breath when the Grand Final side, to clash with Yarrawonga, was named. But there he was – named as 20th man.

Mick didn’t recall much about the game itself. When I remind him that the Hawks were 20 points down at three quarter-time, then booted 7 goals to one in the final term, the memories start to flood back.

“I didn’t come on until deep in the last quarter. I got a run when Simon Goodale came off with cramp. With my first kick I hit Norman on the chest, lace-up,” he jokes.

When the siren blew, the Rovers had triumphed by 17 points.

“My Yarra opponent asked if I’d swap guernseys. I said, no. It’s been my ambition to get one of these bastards all my life and I’m not gonna let it out of my sight.”

And Mick meant that literally. He says he wore that treasured jumper for a week. There was no argument about who earned the 3 votes for the best performer during the premiership celebrations.

“I was working as a brickie’s labourer for Alfie Stevenson and he caught up with me on the following Friday. He asked : ‘Any chance you might get back to work some time soon ? ”

The Rovers Ball was held not long after. It used to co-incide with the Wangaratta Show, and Mick occasionally accepted the challenge to fight a member of the visiting boxing troupe.

This time the drums were loudly beating and his mates cheered, as he climbed onto the platform and the old promoter, Roy Bell, screamed: ” Your local football hero fights this session………”

To complete the festivities, Mick headed off on the Rovers trip-away – a cruise around the Pacific Islands. He nods in agreeance when I ask him to confirm the story that he saw the sun come up every morning.

“Old Jack Maroney was still President and was on that trip. I think it was his mission to keep an eye on me. Much to Jack’s dismay, I’d bought a grass skirt and a matching bra at one of the ports and wore it a couple of times. He probably feared I was on the verge of causing an international incident ! ”

Mick played two more seasons with the Rovers before heading out to Moyhu for a couple of years, and then concluding his career at North Wangaratta.

He still enjoys watching his footy, but thought his number might be up late last year. He got the ‘silver service’ treatment, when he was rushed to Melbourne, via air ambulance, for an emergency operation.

He survived, after ‘the worst fortnight of my life.’

Yes, the hell-raising days of Mickey ‘Mac’ are long behind him. But that Flag of ’71 still brings a lump to his throat……….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KENNEDY’S COMMANDO

The lanky volunteer swapping banter with patients at the Wangaratta Hospital, remains anonymous to all but the most perceptive football person.

As a retired male nurse  of 36 years standing,  he’s seen first-hand the fillip that a caring visitor can bring to someone who’s been consigned to bed for a week or more. Even a ‘hello’ can bring a broad smile to their face and brighten their day.

Nowadays he comes across as a soft-hearted, kindly soul – a far cry from the flint-hard key defender, who played an important role in one of the toughest of all VFL/AFL Grand Finals.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Norm Bussell didn’t play a game of football until he was 14. Not because he didn’t want to, mind you. It’s just that his arm was broken so badly at the age of nine that he couldn’t straighten it fully for many years.

Instead, his dad, who was the resident Lands Department dingo-trapper in Whitfield, would take him out at week-ends to help trap and shoot the pests, which would prey on local livestock.

The Bussell home backed onto the King Valley Oval and Norm spent many hours honing his football skills, soon winning himself a spot in the ‘Roos’ senior side and an invitation from the Wang.Rovers to play three games on permit towards the end of 1961. He was just 16.

The next season he became a regular with the Hawks and relished playing under Bob Rose, soaking up the wisdom of the great man. Rose, for his part, rated the lightly-framed, athletic 193cm Bussell highly.

When he took on the coaching job at Collingwood two years later, he immediately lured Norm down to Victoria Park for the practice matches and Magpie officials coaxed him into signing a Form Four, binding him to the club for an indefinite period.

But he never did take that next step.

He had just started an Auto-Electrical apprenticeship in Wangaratta and was happy at the Rovers. Besides, he was loving his footy, playing at centre half back and thriving in a close-knit group that gelled superbly, as the charismatic Ken Boyd extracted the best out of them.

The Rovers won back-to-back premierships in 1964 and ’65 and played in another Grand Final, which they lost to Wodonga, in 1967. Norm had won the club’s Best & Fairest and represented the League during the season and when Hawthorn secretary Ron Cook came knocking one Saturday morning, he was interested in what he had to say.

What perfect timing ! Collingwood’s Form Four had expired the previous night and the VFL’s Zoning scheme was due to kick-in on the following Monday. This meant that Norm would have become automatically tied to North Melbourne.

“I liked the way Ron Cook went about things. I signed with Hawthorn and decided to go straight away. I never regretted that decision”, he said.

Without playing a Reserves game, he went straight into the senior side for the first game of 1968. And he became a fervent disciple of the coaching methods of John Kennedy.

“The conditioning at Hawthorn made the players so much more physically strong than our opponents and John built an entire game plan around this ascendency. It was a real family club. They were champion blokes and it was a privilege to be involved “, he recalled.

He thrived on what his team-mate Don Scott described “the spirit of Hawthorn”.

“It came from the players staying together away from the ground. there was no need for the administration, the coach, or anyone else, to re-in force any kind of discipline. We had our own code of ethics and it worked, ” Scott once said.

Norm forged friendships with the ‘Hawthorn family’ that have lasted to this day.

Whilst never a glamour player, his ability to do the job in defence enabled him to make a name for himself and he was to play 114 senior games with Hawthorn over six years. The highlight was undoubtedly the 1971 premiership.

Hawthorn were dealt a hefty blow in the second semi-final when champion centre half back Peter Knights tore ligaments and was ruled out for the Grand Final. It meant that they were forced to move Bussell across from the flank to the key defence post. He played a significant role in the triumph over St.Kilda, in a rough-and-tumble decider, ever-remembered for its brutality.

It’s interesting, in this current era of exorbitant player contracts, which can sometiimes be upwards of half a million dollars a year, that the players in Bussell’s era were earning around $20 per game, with an extra $10 salted away in their Provident Fund.

A back injury shortened Norm’s League career and he returned to the Rovers in 1974, accepting the appointment as assistant-coach to Neville Hogan, with whom he had shared a flag ten years earlier.

The family settled on a small farm at Whorouly and he enjoyed his footy. “I was very happy to be home. There was never any question about coming back to the club which had given me my original opportunity. But out on the ground it wasn’t easy. I was a bit of a marked man and some of the young blokes wanted to knock my block off”, he said.

Injury problems confined him to just 10 games in 1974, but he played a starring role in the premiership win. He had a stellar year in ’75, winning his second Best & Fairest and helping in another flag win. His toughness added a touch of steel to a talented line-up.

The last of his 143 games with the Rovers came early in 1976, as he succumbed to his ‘dicky’ knee and aching back.

He retired to his farm and commenced a mature-aged nursing degree. The inevitable visit came from his local club, Whorouly, who asked him to take over the coaching position. Successive premierships in 1977 and ’78 were sparked by his aggressive on-field leadership. There was little doubt that his players would ‘go through a brick wall’ for him.

At one stage they had chalked up 29 wins in a row. The winning margin in the 1978 decider against Beechworth was a whopping 119 points.

Myrtleford approached him in 1985 and he spent one, largely unsuccessful year as non-playing coach of a side that had suffered from mass departures during the off-season.

That was the final curtain-call for his active footy career, although he was a proud onlooker as his son Aidan helped the Rovers to the 1993 flag in a 44-game playing stint during the 90’s.

The once-laconic youngster, who had become a proud member  of ‘Kennedy’s Commandoes’, left a strong imprint on the football scene and is a member of both the Ovens & King and Wangaratta Rovers’ Halls of Fame.
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