” ‘I’LL BE A SAINT, TO BE SURE’…. SAID HANRAHAN………”

It was a red-letter moment for Frank Hanrahan, that early-January morning in 1956…….

The family had just arrived home from Sunday Mass when he noticed a big Yellow Plymouth sedan pull up outside their Kyneton residence………

A deputation from the St.Kilda Football Club – President Graham Huggins, and star players Alan Jeans and Jack McDonald – alighted, and began enquiring whether the young fellah might be interested in doing a pre-season with the Saints………

“That’s for sure. I’ll be down as soon as I can, “ Frank blurted, almost before Huggins had time to complete his salutations………..

At that moment, he envisioned, his boyhood dreams were on the verge of materialising……..

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Frank is derived from solid Irish stock…….” My forebears virtually lived on potatoes in the old country……..When things went bust they headed out here…….Mum’s family were Hart’s from Trentham…….Dad’s mob ran cattle and sheep at Reidsdale……….”

He was born and bred in Kyneton, where his dad Martin was a Cinema Projectionist….He attended the local Marist Brothers College…..

“It was one of the best things that happened to me, going there…..the discipline, their ability to teach…..they loved their sport…….it was all about footy in winter; cricket in summer……I loved it…..”

“The Brothers must have seen something in me because when I was about 16 they sent one of their ‘Recruiters’ around to ask if I’d consider becoming a Marist Brother……..I must admit I had a bit of an interest in it at the time……The Noviciate was only 20 minutes away, at Mount Macedon, so I thought: ‘I’ll give it a try……it might show a bit of a lead to some of the other boys who may be thinking of it…..”

“I lasted about three months, but it wasn’t for me……..I was too keen to play footy…….”

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Frank’s active involvement with the Kyneton Football Club began when he started running the boundary for the Reserves.

“Mum warned: ‘You’re not to play Seconds, because you’re too young’……But they were short of players when we went up to Golden Square one day, and they talked me into playing………I hurt my leg…..instead of my parents giving me a burst when I arrived home, they said: ‘Bugger it, you might as well keep going now…..”

Next year, aged 17, he lined up for his first senior game, on Bendigo’s spacious Queen Elizabeth Oval, opposed to Sandhurst’s highly-rated mid-fielder Brendan Edwards………..

They were to renew acquaintances in League ranks a couple of years later, but in the meantime, both came under attention for some eye-catching displays with their respective BFL clubs in 1955.

That’s what prompted the visit from the Saints, who’d been given the mail that, after one senior season, the lightly-built, 5’10”, 70kg Hanrahan was a likely prospect………….

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“I arrived down there at the same time as a few other boys from the bush……..(Alan) Killigrew had just been appointed coach…..He turned over a lot of the old list, and would jump in his car and drive around the country on recruiting trips…..”

“He got ‘Jeansy’ from Finley, Peter Clancy and Brian McCarthy from Yarrawonga……Geoff Feehan from Wodonga……..picked up Billy Young and Big Bill Stephenson from Sale, Eric Guy came from Carrum and Jimmy Guyatt from Maffra…….”

“ ‘Killer’ became famous for his ‘hot-gospelling’ speeches….That’s where the Saints got wind of him….they went up to see him coaching in a Ballarat League Grand Final and liked what they saw ……He brought Paul Dodd and John Mulrooney down from there as well………”

“We liked ‘Killer’; everyone respected him…..he helped put St.Kilda back on the map………But he wanted things done his way, and got into a bit of bother with the committee at times………..”

Frank found work as a junior clerk at the SEC (Transport Branch) at Fisherman’s Bend, for the meagre sum of two pounds seven and sixpence a week…..He was boarding at Moreland, and what little money he had would be gone by the end of the week.

“I don’t know how I ever lived in those days, but it didn’t matter……I was living my dream…….I loved it at St.Kilda…. the best three years of my life…..socially…. whichever way you look at it………”

“I formed some lasting friendships and became great mates with Clancy, McCarthy and Jeans..”

He played 17 senior matches with the Saints, interspersed with 45-odd Reserves appearances.

It was a massive thrill when he made his senior debut, on a wing, pitted against Essendon star Greg Sewell (who later coached him back at Kyneton)………But he just wasn’t consistent enough to command a regular spot……..

“My best run of form came towards the end of 1957…….I managed seven games on the trot on a back flank, alongside Eric Guy and Neil Roberts……I thought, gee this is terrific…..”

At the end of ‘58 he was gone from the Junction Oval…..

“A bloke called Norm McLeod had resigned as Secretary of St.Kilda and had become involved with Glen Waverley, in the Oakleigh & District League…….He obviously thought Peter Clancy and I were not going to kick on at St.Kilda, so he talked us into going with him…….”

Glen Waverley played off in Grand Finals in successive years; losing both of them to East Malvern………. Hanrahan’s direct mid-field opponent in each game was Tommy Hafey, who’d recently departed Richmond……..The games were as tight as they come…….

“We drew the 1959 Grand Final, and in the re-play they pipped us by a point……It was a tragedy from my viewpoint…….” Frank recalls.

“With seconds remaining I took hold of the ball just forward of centre…..had a bit of space……and launched into a drop-kick…….The centre half back just got his finger-tips to it and deflected it……”

“If I’d tried a punt kick I’m sure it would have cleared him and we’d have scored……..It still sticks in my mind, you know….”

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Frank’s health wasn’t all that flash, and he missed a bit of footy. He was working at Girton Tyre Service in the city when he decided to travel back each week to play at Kyneton in 1963.

It evolved into a brilliant season, in which he took out Kyneton’s B & F, and was selected to represent the Bendigo League in the Country Championships.

Rochester and Kyneton had ignited an intense rivalry over recent seasons, having met in three of the previous four Grand Finals.

The encounter in 1963 represented Frank’s best opportunity to clinch an elusive flag with his beloved Tigers.

But it wasn’t to be……..He picked up 24 possessions in a dominating display in the centre, but ‘Rochie’, guided by hard-hitting policeman Con O’Toole, proved too strong, as they ran away to win by 44 points.

Later that year, a Wodonga livestock agent, Mick Vague, was visiting family in Kyneton when he and Frank crossed paths.

“We were still pretty downhearted after the Grand Final loss, and I was a bit restless, so I asked Mick what sort of a place Wodonga was………I said I’d come over and play if they could line up a job……”

“The Club President, Bill Black, shot back a letter, inviting me to come up……Bill was the Manager of Bradford-Kendall Foundry at the time, and arranged employment there as a Safety Officer.”

“They teed up some board….it developed into a good job….and I played some pretty good footy….so it worked out well all-round……It’s hard to believe that, 58 years later, I’m still here…..”

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Hanrahan was one of a number of classy O & M mid-fielders in the mid-sixties. He says he keenly anticipated his battles with players of the calibre of Billy Gayfer, Neville Hogan, North Albury’s Bill Barton and Benalla champ Neil Hanlon.

“Hogan always gave me a bit of trouble……He’d just been announced as the 1966 Morris Medallist the week we met the Rovers in a First-Semi at Yarrawonga…..I said to Ron Harvey ( our coach) that he loomed as a threat: He said ‘Don’t worry, Frank, we’ve got full confidence in you’…”

“Hogan starred again, of course, but we were hanging onto a slender lead in the dying seconds that day, when Johnny Welch swooped on a loose ball on the wing, bounced it four times, evaded two of our fellahs, and kicked the winning goal…….”

That was one of Frank’s last games for the ‘Dogs……

“I’d been invited to a party out at Baranduda during the off-season……Half-way there I ran off the road, careered over a bank and missed a tree by a whisker…..Someone found me a few hours later and took me to Hospital….”

“They were all at me to come back, but I just wasn’t tuned in to playing again……I gave it away….” Instead, he watched on, as Mickey Bone’s Golden Era unfolded…….

He continued to play cricket, though, and was a member of the powerful Tower Cricket Club, sharing seven consecutive premierships with a side comprised mostly of Wodonga footy team-mates.

Then Wodonga Turf Club advertised for a Secretary, and Frank landed the job…….It was fulfilling, he says. Though he’s never been an avid punter, he’s always loved going to the races…… and meeting people.

His long-term service to the Race Club, as Secretary and later, as a Committeeman, was duly rewarded with Life Membership.

His involvement with the Sport of Kings also included 14 years as a Steward for the NEDRA…..That, and his business – as a distributor of Quell Fire-Fighting Equipment – meant that life was pretty full-on. But his strong alliance to the Wodonga Footy Club continued long after his retirement………..

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Thus, when John Perry was appointed coach of the ‘Dogs in 1977, Frank was prevailed upon to be his Assistant.

The return of favourite-son Perry elicited considerable excitement among their fans, but they were dumb-struck when he was badly injured in the season’s opening-round clash with Myrtleford.

It necessitated him spending the remainder of the year in hospital……..Suddenly, Hanrahan was thrust into the hot-spot as the replacement senior coach………….

Wodonga lost just four home-and-away games to finish second, and when they skarped to a 35- point lead over Wangaratta at half-time in the Prelim Final, a Grand Final berth beckoned……

Then they faltered……..the ‘Pies slammed on 7 goals to I in the third term, and, in a nail-biter, held on to clinch a five-point victory………

Chiltern came knocking in 1979, and appointed him non-playing coach…….

“(My wife) Helen’s a Chiltern girl, so I felt pretty comfortable there,” Frank says……”They were most welcoming……on the first training night Billy Peake, who hadn’t played for several years, arrived in a track-suit and said: ‘Do you mind if I lend a hand ?’…….From that day on Billy was my unofficial assistant-coach…….”

“We had 12 Lappins on the list and many of them were ‘guns’……Jock, who kicked 90-odd goals that year, was one of the most under-rated players I’ve seen.”

Chiltern were jumped by Milawa in the early stages of the Semi-Final that year, and couldn’t get back into the game…….

”That’ll do me,” Frank decided……..His coaching sojourn was over…….

Among the number of volunteer roles he’s take on since, he has been President, and a committee-member of the Association of Independent Retirees – an organisation which works to advance and protect the lifestyle of retirees.

But he has never lost his zest for footy……….or more particularly, the Wodonga Football Club in the six decades since he hung up his boots……..

You’ll still find him in a quiet spot, somewhere around Martin Park on match day, closely analysing the fortunes of his beloved Bulldogs……….

PREMIERSHIP TIGER DREAMS OF A 1967 REPEAT

Is there no stopping this Tiger army ?  Like an invading force it marches on….. plundering those in its path, and converting new disciples along the way.

90,000, or more of them, proudly garbed in the tribal Yellow and Black, convened at football’s citadel on Saturday night. After another battle had been won, multitudinous, decibel-shattering renditions of the army’s War Cry rang out across inner-city Melbourne…………..

John Perry was there.

“It was moving stuff,” he says. “To see families – parents, their kids and grandkids – so happy; sharing the joy of a Richmond victory……I’d forgotten what it was like.”
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John’s football lineage is impeccable. His grandfather, Bill Strang, a hard-hitting ruckman and key forward, came from the bush, to play 69 games with South Melbourne,  including  the 1907 Grand Final.

Bill’s son Allan, followed him to the Swans. Another lad, Colin, made a couple of appearances with St.Kilda, whilst Doug and Gordon became household names when they arrived at Richmond in 1931.

Gordon (‘Cocker’) took 12 marks on debut , and proved a champion at either centre half forward or back, in 116 games with the Tigers. Doug was renowned as a magnificent mark. His ability to scale the heights, was balanced against his sometimes wayward kicking. However, this was not apparent in his second VFL game, when he booted 14 goals against North Melbourne.

Doug’s son, Geoff ( John’s cousin) – a dashing half back flanker – was  also to become a dual premiership star in Richmond’s strong sides of the late ’60’s……
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John’s mum Edna (‘Bobby’) was just 12 when her parents first took her down to watch her brothers, Doug and Gordon, in action with the Tigers. One of her idols was their team-mate, the great ‘Captain Blood’, Jack Dyer.

“Jack made a bit of a fuss of Mum. She loved him,” John says.

“Our family owned the Blazing Stump Hotel, and, later on in Jack’s life he used to spend the week between Boxing Day and New Year with us. That was his annual ‘pilgrimage’.”

“He just enjoyed being among Richmond people, away from Melbourne. Fishing, shooting and relaxing – that was his ‘go’.”

“ Jack would regale me with the same footy tales that he’d told Mum, about my uncles. I couldn’t get enough of them.”
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Thus, it was inevitable that John’s pathway would lead to Punt Road.

One of the many qualities of the legendary Tiger administrator Graeme Richmond was his unparalleled skill as a recruiter. “If someone played a good game at a place like Swan Hill, Graeme would know about it on Saturday night and be up there on Sunday to talk to the guy,” President Ian Wilson once reflected.

So when John Perry took out Wodonga’s Best & Fairest and finished runner-up in the 1963 Morris Medal,  aged  18, the astute Richmond invited the youngster to the Tigers’ pre-season training early the next year.

“I think he wanted to make sure that someone with a strong Richmond pedigree didn’t slip through their fingers,” John says. “And, just to re-inforce it, old coaches Des Rowe and Jack Dyer came up to visit me.”

Through circumstances beyond his control, Perry’s League career stuttered for the first three seasons. In just his second game he sustained a broken shoulder in a collision with Essendon’s Barrie Davis ( “Probably the only time Barrie ever hurt anyone,” he jokes.)

Then, having been conscripted to National Service, he was able to fit in just a handful of games in each of the ‘65 and ‘66 seasons.

He gave Richmond fans a taste of his capabilities, though, when slotted in against Geelong, late in 1966 . With 25 disposals on the wing in a losing side, the pacy blonde left-footer was a standout.

The Tigers missed the finals by just half a game that year, but it was obvious that they were on the rise. Tommy Hafey had introduced a tough edge to their game, and the host of young players coming through were beginning to blossom.

“We all loved Tommy and played for him. He was such a caring person, but he worked us hard.”

“One of his greatest assets was his wife Maureen, who brought all the wives and girlfriends together, “ says John.

1967 proved to be the coming-of-age for the Tigers. They lost only three home-and-away games en-route to belting Carlton by 40 points in the Second Semi.

John was selected on the bench for the epic Grand Final clash with Geelong, played in front of 109,000 fans. Grainy highlights of the game always feature the two long goals from lanky ruckman John Ronaldson, and a ‘screamer’ from Royce Hart, who rose to the heavens at a telling moment in the last quarter. It went down to the wire, as Richmond hung on to win by 9 points.

There was an out-pouring of emotion from Tiger fans, who savoured the club’s first flag in 24 years.

That victory lap and the celebrations that followed, were made all the sweeter because he shared them with his cousin Geoff Strang. They are still clearly embedded in John Perry’s mind………
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A bout of Hepatitis, and its after-effects, provided another impediment to John’s bid to claim a regular senior spot over the next couple of seasons . He also found himself typecast as a winger, and the brilliance of the incumbents – Dick Clay and Francis Bourke – resulted in scant opportunities.

But he remained deeply involved at Tigerland. He continued his education in the ‘pub game’, working at his future brother-in-law Graeme Richmond’s Vaucluse Hotel, and pushing hard for senior selection.

John played only four senior games in 1969, but tied for Richmond Reserves B &F, was runner-up in the VFL’s Gardner Medal and represented the VFL Reserves in a State game. He was named as first emergency for the seniors’ Grand Final – and ultimately – Premiership side.

So when North Melbourne coach Keith McKenzie came knocking at the end of the season, dangling a regular senior game in front of him, he decided to take the plunge and leave the Tigers.

“I knew I was good enough to play League footy and wanted to give myself the best chance. A good friend of mine, Frank Dimattina, went to the ‘Roos the previous year, and it seemed like a good fit.”

“I loved my time at North. I was still living and working in Richmond although, a bit later on, I moved over to the Junction Hotel in St.Kilda, which was run by Graeme and a business partner, Todd Shelton.”

John established himself as a regular in his four seasons at Arden Street, becoming a prolific kickwinner in his 56 games. A season at Caulfield, which was coached by an old team-mate Tony Jewell, saw him finish fifth in the VFA’s Liston Trophy.

After another year at Williamstown, under Ted Whitten’s coaching, he decided it was time to head back home, to play his part in operating the family’s businesses.

Wodonga promptly appointed him captain-coach in 1976 –  a coup for the ‘Dogs, who welcomed the return of a favourite son. But in his first game at the helm, against Myrtleford, he copped a heavy knock, which necessitated spending the rest of the year in  hospital.

His career was over…

John was actively involved in the early development of Birallee Park, the home of the Wodonga Raiders, and still follows the club’s fortunes from a distance.

Nowadays he has an interest in the Blazing Stump Motel, which is situated next to the family’s old landmark pub. And he spends plenty of time on the 40 acres he has ‘out the road’, on which graze several thoroughbred racehorses.

But this week John’s attention has turned to the Tigers. He rates them a real chance. “The way the forward line’s operating”, with those little fellahs around Jack Riewoldt, is terrific. They’re ferocious. I reckon 90 per cent of Victoria will be barracking for them.”

In an idle moment, John might permit himself to dream what might be, come 5 o’clock on Saturday. “……The siren sounds……Richmond have hung on to record a famous victory…….The players, delirious with excitement, begin their victory lap……Waving the Premiership Cup…….Offering salutations to the screaming, long-suffering fans……..”

It will be a reminder of that day in 1967, when he took the same journey………….

‘DOGS CAME OUT SNARLING FOR MIGHTY MICK……

I’ve always regarded Mickey Bone as a latter-day version of Lou Richards. They had plenty in common. Both were cheeky Collingwood rovers…….Pint-sized…Ruthless……Effervescent……..Irrepressible……… Always a quip on the tip of their tongues…….

I first laid eyes on Mick at Victoria Park. We’d just finished a Country Week cricket match, and this young fellah was leaving pre-season training, bag slung over his shoulder, cheerily whistling, as he waltzed blissfully out of Magpie-land………

Three years later I met him at close quarters, in the 1967 O & M Grand Final. A ‘blue’ started; naturally the little number 24 was in the thick of it, zeroing in on the first Brown and Gold Guernsey he came across…..

He coached Wodonga to their first-ever Premiership that day, thus entering the ranks of the immortals at Martin Park.

Mick hasn’t lost his happy-go-lucky demeanour, half a century on. “Rosie (his wife) goes crook at me; tells me I should take life more seriously. But the more you laugh, the better you are,” he says……………..
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Mick’s a city boy – one of a tribe of seven who all grew up loving their footy. Dad, a ‘salt of the earth’ type, was a plumber, and his mum, who was born in Easy Street, near the Victoria Park station, had a lifelong passion for the Mighty Magpies.

She passed it onto all of the kids. One of them, John, tried out for Collingwood and, despite booting four goals in a practice game, was ditched. “They told him: ‘Many come, but few are chosen’ “ said Mick. John was later to have a season under the great Morris Medallist Jimmy Deane, at Myrtleford.

Mick originally lined up alongside his mates at Thornbury. He used to play with the CYMS side on Saturday, and the Thornbury YCW every Sunday.

Undeterred by his brother’s ‘cold-shoulder’ from the ‘Pies, and when barely old enough, he rode his bike down to Victoria Park, to train with their Thirds.

He describes the reception he received upon his arrival:  “Someone asked: ‘Who invited you ?’ I said : ’Listen, I’m as good as any of these blokes’ “.

“ Anyway I trained all right, but one of the officials – Charlie Pannam, I think it was – told me I’d have to stop playing with the YCW. I said: ‘Righto, I’m off then. Those kids are all my mates.’ “

“He said: ‘Ah well, let’s see how you go’. So I kept on with the YCW on Sundays, and played in a Premiership with Collingwood Thirds. Seven or eight of the kids in that side went on to play VFL footy in the next couple of years.”

The same Charlie Pannam later predicted that Mick was headed for ‘a brilliant VFL career’.

He played a season with the Reserves and was rewarded with senior selection the following season.

His ferocious attack on the ball – approaching every contest as if his life depended on it – soon made him a favourite with Magpie fans.

The Bone-David Norman roving combination was considered one of the reasons for
Collingwood’s success in Mick’s third season -1964- but he was surprisingly named on the bench for the Preliminary Final.

His outstanding last half, when unleashed onto the ground, earned him a spot for what was to prove a highly dramatic Grand Final, against Melbourne.

He again played well, but will always remember the dying stages of the game.

“There were only a couple of minutes to go and we were two points up. I was resting, and thought I’d go down and see if I could get a kick. I dived for a mark, missed it and their back pocket, Neil Crompton, who’d followed me down, kicked a goal.”

“If only I’d kept my nose out of it, we’d have won.”

Mick played with Collingwood for another two seasons, and admits he didn’t hit it off all that well with coach Bob Rose.

“He gave me the arse in the end, but I reckon he played favourites a bit. ‘Gabbo’ and his brother Kevin were in the first ruck, I was their rover. Trouble is, Kevin used to sit back 30 yards behind the play, as a loose man. I told Bob: ‘ If you’d get your bloody brother into the centre, where he should be, we’d be a lot better off.”

“So I was on the outer. We were playing Carlton late in 1966, and this bloke John Ryan, a mad Collingwood fan who came from up this way, sidled up to me at half-time and whispered: ‘Would you be interested in coaching Wodonga ?”

”I said: ‘Piss off, will ya, I’m trying to get a kick.’ “

“I didn’t even know where Wodonga was. Dad brought me up and we met the officials at the Carrier’s Arms Hotel. Things went along okay, until they said: ‘We reckon you’re too dear.”

“ ‘Jeez,’ I told ‘em. ‘I’ve wasted a couple of days getting up here and you tell me that.’ I made out as if I was heading off. Until I heard: ‘Hang on, You’ve got the job.’ “

So Mick, Rosie and baby Simon packed up and headed for the bush……..
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Mick had never given much thought to coaching, but adapted immediately. “The Wodonga club was terrific…..all good family people. I was everybody’s mate.

But as soon as I put my coach’s hat on, I was the boss. Friendships didn’t come into it……..”

He took over the reins of a Wodonga side which had been under-achievers, and moulded them into a powerful unit.

Those 1967 Bulldogs would stand tall alongside any of the great O & M teams. With stars of the calibre of Gary Williamson, Brian Gilchrist, Dick Grimmond, Ronnie Hill, Ken Goyne and Eddie Rogalski, they were well-balanced, disciplined and skilful.

And inspirationally-coached.   Bone personally enjoyed a terrific season, and finished equal-fourth in the Morris Medal, nine votes behind his champion team-mate, ruckman Williamson.

The ‘Dogs lost just three games during the home-and-away rounds, finishing 6 points clear of second-placed Myrtleford, who they belted by 61 points in the Second Semi.

12,000 fans flocked to the Albury Sportsground to watch the Wodonga-Wangaratta Rovers Grand Final clash. ‘Dog fans shuddered when Williamson, a key to their hopes, broke down in the warm-up.

Little separated the teams all day. As the Hawks fought back strongly in the closing stages , Brian Gilchrist stood firm, pulling down seven marks in the last stanza. Wodonga held on, to win by 18 points.

Amidst the euphoria of that first premiership, the popular assumption in O & M circles was that a dynasty had been created.

As the dominant side of that era, Wodonga were to snavel two flags, but it
could realistically have been four in a row.

Corowa, which had snuck into the finals on percentage, came from the clouds to pinch the flag from them in 1968. They were always in charge against Wangaratta the following year, but the one that always sticks in Mick’s craw is 1970.

“We were unbeaten going into the Second Semi and had won 27 games on the trot. Trouble is we got a bit ahead of ourselves. The Rovers shocked us, then Myrtleford knocked us off in the Prelim.”

“It was heart-breaking.”

He says the Corowa fans never let him forget that 1968 boilover. “They gave us a hard time every time we played ‘em , and there were usually a few stoushes. After one game,  a woman hurled a shoe at me. I just picked it up and kept walking…..”

“You know, they invited me to their Premiership re-union a few years back. I took a shoe with me. When I got up to talk, I held it up and said: ‘That lady that hit me with her shoe 40 years back, here it is ! “

Neville Hogan regarded Bone as one of his most uncompromising opponents, yet gained new admiration for the hard-man when he played under him in inter-League sides.

Mick once told me: ‘When you’re only 5’6” you fight with everything you’ve got….Anything goes…’ recalls Neville.

Mick elaborates: “I used to cheat as much as I could. I whacked plenty of blokes, but some people just got in my way……And they claimed I kicked on purpose….. I wouldn’t say that, but then, I never jumped over anyone to avoid them….”

The eight-year Bone coaching reign ended in 1974. He played on for another couple of years at Wodonga, under Johnny Smith, before finally hanging up the boots, after 144 games with the ‘Dogs.

And Wodonga’s where he and Rosie propped. They raised Simon, Justin, Josh, Megan and Jessica in the town and Mick worked for himself, as a Plumber, until he retired just on ten years ago.

He goes on the gate at Wodonga two or three times a year, but spends a lot of time on the golf course these days. That, and keeping tabs on his kids and grandkids.

If you happen to run into a chirpy character with an engaging personality, it’ll be the old Magpie who became a legend of the bush……….

 

P.S: Mick and Simon Bone have been inducted into the O & M’s Hall of Fame.  Josh and Justin both played at the Wodonga Raiders for several years.

 

 

NOSTALGIC VISIT FOR OLD HAWK

Once a year, Dean Harding pays a nostalgic visit to his spiritual football home – the W.J.Findlay Oval.

His old mates gather – many with a link from school, or Junior League days, or the Rovers Thirds, where he first began to reveal his exquisite talents.

And there might be the odd former drinking or punting companion from a group that has ‘stuck fat’ throughout the years.

On Saturday he’s back again – as Wodonga’s coach.

Twenty-six years after his last game in Brown and Gold, he still finds it hard not to have a bit of an emotional ‘pull’ towards the Hawks. But when his Bulldogs are in combat with them they are the mortal enemy.

A couple of blokes had a bit of a chuckle when they sneaked over to his quarter-time rev-up last year, and heard him bellowing : “……..they’re an arrogant mob, these blokes……Get into ’em’ ”

That’s all part of footy with ‘Hards’, whose long and winding journey in the game that he loves, was touched upon by the ABC’s ‘Coodabeen Champions’ last week-end.

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The Hardings were a staunch Rovers family. Dad Neville was a long-time supporter ; Joan, Dean’s mum, was a member of the Social committee, and his younger brother Terry was to play over 100 games in all three grades.

Dean came through the Tigers, the junior league team which also produced AFL players of the calibre of Paul Bryce, Luke Norman and Chris Naish, during the same era.

The good judges agreed. This slimly-built kid had the goods – he was classy, self-assured, had a bit of the larrikin about him. He’ll probably be a star, they surmised.

You come across youngsters who are just naturals. Besides also being a talented wicket-keeper/batsman, he seemed capable of turning his hand to anything. The only doubt was whether he had the application to ‘go on with the job’.

He arrived at the Rovers as a Golden Era dawned. The Hawks, with a youthful senior team, swept to the flag in 1988. Dean played in the centre in a Thirds side – comprising several future O & M stars – which won the Grand Final by 14 goals.

His progress was steady. The next year he had a few games in the Thirds, but spent it mostly in the ‘twos’. There was talent galore ; he just had to bide his time.

In 1990, after a couple of reserves games, his opportunity finally arrived. His body had matured and he looked every inch a senior player. Even then, his education, at the hands of Laurie Burt, was not complete.

“With Laurie, you had to earn your spurs. The first couple of weeks I did a fair bit of bench-warming, but then, he started to give me more time on the ground. He was good for me, Laurie. I loved his coaching”, Dean says.

The Rovers ‘lucked’ out in the finals series. A brutal Elimination Final saw them overcome Benalla, but they met their match against Yarrawonga in the first-semi. ‘Hards’, however, had provided a ray of sunshine amidst the disappointment.

Laurie Burt recalls a clever, creative player, who had the capacity to influence a game: “I saw a lot of Joe Wilson in ‘Hards’ “.

He was voted the Hawks’ Best First-Year player and shaped as a potential champion of the Club in his 18 senior games. With a steady job in the Commonwealth Bank and as a popular member of the playing group, he looked a long-term proposition.

He was in the Rovers’ usual haunt, the Pinsent Hotel, having a relaxing few ales with his mates over the summer, when Hawk identity and ‘Pinno’ barman, ‘Crusher’ Connolly, calmly delivered the news: ” ‘Hards’, apparently you’ve been drafted.”

“Be buggered !”, was the reply.

Indeed, it was true. The downtrodden Fitzroy had chosen him with their pick number 78. Essendon plumped for a kid from Canberra, James Hird, with pick 79.

‘Hards’ couldn’t wait to get down to Melbourne and experience the blue-chip facilities and rarified atmosphere that, he imagined, prevailed at every AFL club.

Instead, the Lions shared their training base at the old Brunswick Street Oval with frisbee-throwing adults, yuppie dog-walkers and kids playing around the boundary.

But he fitted in beautifully to a club which was scant on resources, and huge in spirit. In his first season, 1991, playing on a wing or up forward, he made 12 senior appearances.

Undoubtedly the highlight was the final round, at Princes Park, when Fitzroy hosted West Coast, who were sitting 4 games clear on top of the ladder. The Lions, entrenched on the bottom, had won just three games for the season.

The match was proceeding according to the script, as the Eagles coasted to a 26-point half-time lead ; their hapless rivals having been kept to a solitary goal.

It was big-hearted Matty Rendell’s final game for Fitzroy, and in the third quarter his team-mates found something, to boot 6.5 to three points in the third quarter, and lead by 12 points at lemon-time.

‘Hards’ snared one of those goals, but, to the accompaniment of raucous cheering from the delerious, but sparse crowd, he kicked three more in a pulsating final term, as the Lions held on to win a true boilover by 10 points.

Dean was plagued by hamstring and thigh injuries over the next two seasons. He managed just two games in 1992 and five in ’93 and sensed that his cards were already marked – ‘injury-prone’.

He toyed with offers from both Port and South Adelaide. The Rovers were more than eager to get him back home, but he finally decided on a move to Wodonga.

“Two of my good mates, Robbie Hickmott and Dean Stone had joined Wodonga and the club made me an offer with work and footy that was pretty hard to refuse”, he says.

Apart from one season, when he was enticed to coach Rutherglen, he has been at Martin Park ever since.

After 80 games, again interrupted by injury, but highlighted by a couple of Grand Final appearances and three inter-league jumpers, he has served the Bulldogs on the football-front for more than two decades.

His first coaching stint was with the Under 18’s, whilst he was still playing. He has been a selector, assistant-coach and ‘general dogsbody’ around the club.

‘Hards’ was helping in the gruelling search for a coach in late-2014 when somebody suggested : “What about you ? ”

“So here I am. It’s been hard work, but really enjoyable. I love being involved with the young fellas”.

He runs his own Financial Planning business and, combined with family and footy, life is pretty hectic. But it’s hard to imagine the laid-back ‘Hards’ letting it get him down.

As he wanders through the gates of the Findlay Oval on Saturday and sees some familiar faces – many of them perched exactly where they were when he was just a fledgling Hawk – he’ll probably cast his mind back to those days of yore……….