Back to basics: Local sport in 3 parts

BACK TO BASICS

Local sport in 3 parts

There’s nothing like local sport to help you connect with the community. Corporate demands, overly structured game plans and totally rip-off prices go by the way to be replaced with a cheery welcome, lots of space, family friendly prices and much good humour. It’s good just to be there.

I

Usually, local sport for me is Dolphin Oval, home of the Redcliffe Rugby League Football Club. But this weekend I’m in Gundagai and Tumut visiting my son who covers sport for the local papers. Friday night sees us at the Family Hotel in Gundagai for dinner with local identity Steve Rose. It’s clear that I’m not from around here and there are a few suspicious glances from the regulars at the front bar. But I’m with Steve so we must be alright. It’s a hearty meal with a good Coonawarra red to wash it down.  Steve knows everyone and everyone knows Steve, so I meet heaps of people. We move on to the Star where I jag a meat tray in the club raffle – I’m ahead already. Red-blooded Maroons, Liam and I exchange banter with the locals as Wednesday night looms. It’s welcoming, witty and “good to have you here”. A great start to my stay.

II

Saturday afternoon has us at a cold, wet and uncomfortable Riverglade Oval in Tumut for the Division 3 soccer clash between the Lake Albert Reds and the Tumut Eagles. A crowd of 25 hugs the touchline and pull their jackets tight while a few others sensibly watch from the comparative warmth of their cars on the elevated mound. It’s hoodies and beanies all round but one spectator is also aware of the almost perfect rainbow framed by the mountains behind us after a passing shower.

Players’ ages vary widely. Last year I saw several these Tumut lads playing Under 18s; one of the Reds has a lot of experience – I’d put him about 60, Liam says closer to 50 – and he plays a limited and crafty cameo. The ref has a tough job with no touchies available. It’s a spirited but good-tempered clash on a slippery pitch. The Reds show the early pace before the Eagles find their rhythm. The Eagles go behind after 35 minutes but pull it back by the break. They dominate the second half but can’t get the last touch. The Reds win a dodgy and belatedly awarded penalty to the ire of the locals. With 6 minutes to go, the Eagles are behind again. They push hard but can’t make the key play. A free on half way is floated to the 6 yard box where the athletic Reece Mastellotto heads a screamer into the top left corner of the net. He celebrates as if he’s at Euro 12, and why not? He’s salvaged a deserved draw. I hope he hasn’t overdone it because tomorrow he coaches the League Tag girls before fronting on the wing for the Tumut Blues in their Group 9 clash with Southcity in Wagga.

What I like is the generous rotation of players, the very clean nature of the game and some lovely touches that belie the minor division. The ref makes a couple of errors but does well under the circumstances. For the Eagles, young Caleb Wilks is a standout at left back, Mastellotto has all the skills and Alec Parkinson, probably still eligible for juniors if the locals had a team, shows a good sense of positional play and running into space on the right wing. It’s a good afternoon and I relish the generosity of spirit on display even though soccer is only number three footy code in these parts. It’s not flash, it’s certainly not well resourced, it’s not even all that comfortable but it is genuine, honest, accessible and an opportunity for keen locals to have a go.

III

On Sunday, we spend seven hours at Anzac Park, Gundagai to see the local Tigers take on Wagga Brothers in five grades of Group 9 rugby league. I’ve been waiting a couple of years to come to this ground and it ticks all of my boxes and then some. As I stroll around, I’m impressed and moved by the quality of the Anzac memorial which sits in the middle of this sports complex. It is well laid out, simple, elegant, proud and clearly an important monument for the town.

The surrounding golf course looks in good nick, especially when you consider that it has gone 6 feet under in floods here a couple of times in recent years; the cricket and hockey fields complete the encirclement of the football ground. Taken together, the complex is a perfect example of the centrality of sport to country communities. The angled mound allows for two rows of cars to provide a semicircle of spectators. During the afternoon, the car horns get a good working over when the locals score. I walk past a group congregating around a brazier and ask if I’m welcome to share the warmth on a day that struggles to get beyond single digit temperatures. “Depends who you support, mate”, comes the reply. “What if I said the Maroons?” I ask. “Keep walking” is the laconic response.  The denuded trees which encircle the ground shiver but suggest peace and beauty come Spring and Summer.

They’re friendly to a stranger here with anyone and everyone happy to have a chat. Inevitably it all comes back to Origin III on Wednesday and the tone is hopeful for Blue success but respectful of Maroon achievement. “How do you think Inglis will go at full-back? Maybe Matty Bowen should be on the bench. We’ll miss Glen Stewart and his intensity. What’s this T’eo like?” We agree that the odds for Queensland are generous and that it’s a 50/50 game. The main thought around the place is “where the hell do we go from here if we lose again?”

I head into the announcer’s/press box up a flight of steep, slippery, steel stairs labelled the worst in  Group 9 – but not for much longer. Later this month, the Footy Show crew will be here to extend and rebuild this modest structure complete with a corporate box available for hire and a media room. It’ll be a good boost to the local economy with labour and materials sourced from local suppliers. I think it will be a fair reward and confidence booster for a good local club that struggles from year to year to make ends meet and find willing personnel to run the show. Good luck to Jamie Turnbull and co.!

I share the warmth of the elevated box with Warren Barclay, the very technology-savvy secretary of Group 9, gaining insights into the workings of the competition, the processes and procedures, and an understanding of just why this particular Group gets such a good run with ABC Grandstand. “I simply email the results straight through to David Morrow and he broadcasts them.” Last weekend as I drove home from Dolphin Oval, I heard the Group 9 results on the radio at 5pm courtesy of this particular bloke. Today I hear them on the radio as we’re driving out the gate!

I was told on Friday night that they serve the best pies in NSW at the Anzac Park canteen – and they’re right! An absolute beauty to warm the inner man. The coffee van is here, too, supplied and staffed by the owner of a café on the main street – clearly a discerning crowd in these parts, and a small reminder of cultural changes in the game as time passes. As the lady said to me, “No more instant coffees these days!” The prices? – they suit my pocket very nicely, thank you very much.

The games themselves are a really mixed bag. In the Under 16s, the Tigers have only 12 to start with a lose one of those within a couple of minutes of kick-off. Brothers have a full 13 plus reserves so it is always going to be one-way traffic. The outnumbered Tigers try hard but in vain. It is unfortunate that during the second half, a couple of cocky young roosters trying to claim their piece of territory start a melee which sees 5 (yes, 5!) players sent off leading to the abandonment of the match.

In the Under 18s, classy Tigers half-back, Blake Dean, guides his team around the field in an eye-catching display that shows just why he’s had a couple of runs in the A grade. 30 – 6 to Gundagai. The League Tag girls from Brothers top the table and it’s not hard to see why. Former Gundagai lass, Kayla Hay, puts on a master class with clever running, a turn of speed and 7/8 goals in a 48 – 0 romp. Molly Dean is best for Gundagai and, yes, she is Blake’s sister, so the talent runs in that family.

In the Reggies, the Brethren’s’ Luke Scott reaches a milestone as he plays a club record 261 career games across all grades, mostly Reserves and Firsts. The home announcer gives him a generous mention. It’s a very high standard game which belies the 34 – 4 final score line to the Tigers. The highlight is a bullocking angled run by replacement forward Dylan Cole to score midway through the second half. For Gundagai, Mark Elphick, Dale Piper and Scott Smart remind club selectors that they’re ready to regain their first grade status.

In the seniors, Logan Wright is a bustling prop, built low to the ground and Brothers find him hard to hold out as the Tigers jump to a 12 – 0 lead ahead of the clock. But the locals drop off and Brothers fight their way back into it. But there’s a gap in ability here that ensures a comfortable home win to go third on the table. Cameron Woo puts in a non-stop effort and is rewarded with a late try while captain-coach James Smart is a clever organiser from dummy-half. Brothers half-back Luke Barry is a talented competitor while captain/coach Blake Dunn plays a gutsy, lead-from-the-front game.

I go to the car to wait for Liam as he does his post-match interviews. It’s been a great day at the footy, a great weekend of local sport, colourful personalities, a chance to get back to the grassroots, an opportunity to savour real life as it is for so many of the game’s true supporters.

About Ian Hauser

A happily retired ex-teacher with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through who looks for those beautiful moments in sport (and life) that capture the spirit rather than the law of the game. Love reading and good wine. I run my own editing service for aspiring writers. Check me out at writerightediting.com.au

Comments

  1. Phantom says:

    Car’n the Cane Toads.

  2. A pub in Tumut you recomend ?

    Glen !

  3. Ian Hauser says:

    Glen,

    The Oriental has very friendly staff and a great boss in Col Woodman – I’m having lunch there tomorrow. Hopefully at Col’s expense if the Maroons get up tonight. The Woolpack and the Royal are also good from past experience. Liam tells me that the Star and the Commercial are also good. So you can’t lose!

    Go the Maroons!

  4. Ian Hauser says:

    Phantom,

    Good to have another Nacker onside!

  5. Rocket Nguyen says:

    The Star in Tumut.

    Not called by that name of course – look for the red star in btween the words Tmut Hotel.

    Amazing how people resist calling pubs by the name of the town if there is more than one pub in town.

    Reckon those pies at Anzac Park come from Yass!?

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