Farrer Flag Favourites for ’15

East Wagga-Kooringal Football Club has one of those club songs that also serves quite well as directions to their home ground. Sung to the tune of “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside”, its lyrics begin

“We do like to be beside the ’Bidgee.

We do like to be beside the school.

Down at Gumly there’s a football ground

And that’s where the Hawks all hang around.”

“The ’Bidgee” refers, of course, to the Murrumbidgee River that flows right through Wagga. “The school” refers to the now-defunct Gumly Public School. Find those two landmarks, on the eastern outskirts of Wagga, and you’ll find Gumly Oval. Unfortunately for uninitiated preseason hopefuls, the ground isn’t actually “beside” the river so much as it is roughly 2 kms from the river. So, when the coach says you’re running to the river and back again, it’s a decent hike. It’s also a just reward for a hard day’s training in 35 degree temperature to run down to the river and jump in for a dip.

gumly oval entrance

Gumly Oval, and the Football Club, is the home of close enough to my entire football “career.” It is a place that has seen the involvement of me and at least 20 members of my family for the last 25-30 years. The clubrooms has been the venue for family engagement parties, 21st and 30th birthday parties, wedding receptions and even a 10-year school reunion (a planning committee dissolved around me and I was left holding the baby, so suck it up people-who-didn’t-think-my-local-footy-club-was-a-suitable-venue).

Now, after what seems like forever being the battling club of the area, the club that even when we did well it wasn’t quite enough, are the overwhelming favourites to win the Farrer League premiership. 2015 could be see the end of a 33-year drought and I want everyone to know about it.

HISTORY

The history of East Wagga, as the club is known to most, could be described as “turbulent.” There have been periods of success, as well as periods of seeming hopelessness.

Gumly Gorillas

The club originally formed in August 1945, just a few days before the U.S. bombed Hiroshima, at the home of Gumly resident Mr. H. Bromham and was known as Gumly Gorillas. Wagga’s local newspaper, The Daily Advertiser, mentioned the occasion in their August 7 edition, stating that positions would be help by names such as Argus, Murnane and Bourne. These are names that continued on at the club for the next 60 years.

The Gorillas won a Premiership in the Wagga Australian Rules Football League in 1949, defeating North Wagga Stars. The club went into recess in 1957 and re-emerged as East Wagga, joining the Central Riverina League in 1959. Between 1967 and 1976, East Wagga played in eight Grand Finals, winning three and losing five, before moving to the Farrer League in 1977.

1976 COMBINED UNDEFEATED PREMIERS EAST WAGGA

1976 COMBINED UNDEFEATED PREMIERS EAST WAGGA

The Hawks won the flag in both First Grade and Reserve Grade in 1979. The Best & Fairest in Firsts that year was Greg Smith, who went on to play over 100 VFL games for South Melbourne/Sydney and Collingwood, plus another 100 for Central District in the SANFL. The following year, East Wagga-Kooringal (as they were now known after a merger with Kooringal Junior Football Club) played yet another Grand Final, losing to Wagga, but what was perhaps the proudest moment for the club was to come two years later.

In 1982, after a substantial restructuring of football in the Riverina, East Wagga-Kooringal were a formation member of the Riverina Football League (RFL). They capped off their most successful era with the inaugural RFL premiership, beating Coolamon by 10 points in a classic encounter. They met Coolamon in the Grand Final again the following year, playing a draw and then losing by seven goals in the replay.

A GRADE NETBALL PREMIERS 1989

A GRADE NETBALL PREMIERS 1989

The club repeated the feat in 1988, when their A-grade netball team won the first ever RFL netball Grand Final. An achievement that is particularly special to me, as the winning team contained my own mother as well as three of her sisters. My Aunty, Kellie Byron (now Kimpton), even managed to win a League Best & Fairest as a teenager.

1996 RESERVE GRADE PREMIERS

1996 RESERVE GRADE PREMIERS

 

BEFORE THE 2014 RESERVES FLAG

BEFORE THE 2014 RESERVES FLAG

Since 1982, East Wagga have played in only two First Grade Grand Finals. One in 2001, which they lost to bitter rivals, Wagga Tigers, by 100 points, and one last year, conceded to Temora on their way to a third Premiership on the trot. The only Premiership success the club has known in that time has been the 1996 Reserves flag, coached by club stalwart (and my Uncle) Mark Mullen, and another Ressies flag last year coached by Luke “Grizz” Adams.

D.O.M. (DAD OF MATTHEW) aka “SUCKY”

To fans of today’s AFL players, East Wagga is likely best known as the club at which Hawthorn’s Isaac Smith and Matt Suckling played junior footy. While that is a source of pride at the club, it is a virtual truism that Matt’s father, Barry Suckling, is the greatest talent to have played at the club. His record stacks up against any other in the game, anywhere.

“Sucky” first played senior footy at East Wagga in 1979. A prolific on-baller with exceptional skill, he won the Best & Fairest in 1981, ’82 & ’84, and finishing runner-up in ’83. In 1985 he made the move to Melbourne to take up a spot with Fitzroy in the VFL. While he didn’t make an appearance in the Seniors, he did finish second in the B&F for the Lions Reserves that year. In 1987 he moved to the ACT AFL to play with Queanbeyan, with whom he won yet another B&F, as well as representing ACT at the 1988 Adelaide Bi-Centennial Carnival. Alongside him in the ACT team were names such as Brett Allison, Adrian Barich, Shaun Smith, Michael Werner and Queanbeyan legend, Tony Wynd.

After a stint with Mayne in the QAFL, Suckling returned to East Wagga in 1989. He added another B&F to his mantle that year, as well as in 1992 and 1996 (his final year). Of course, he also came Runner-Up in 1990, ’91, ’93, ’94 and ’95. During this time with the club he was selected in the NSW State team in 1989, ’91 and ’92 (that year as Captain).

So, in 17 years of Senior footy, the great Barry Suckling earned seven B&Fs, seven Runner-Ups and five State selections. Oh, and a couple of flags along the way. His is a record unlikely to be bettered in a long, long while.

BACK TO THE FARRER

2009 was a hard time around the club, by now known as Eastern Hawks. The previous season had seen the Hawks win only two games for the year, both against their rivals from across the river, North Wagga. North Wagga had been readmitted to the RFL after a year in recess and went winless for the year, finishing the season with a percentage in the low 20s.

The ’09 season started with a big signing. Former Adelaide and Sydney-listed player, Ricky O’Loughlin, came on as Captain-Coach and hopes were high for an improvement on 2008. It proved to be a false hope. O’Loughlin was found to be largely unreliable both on and off the field and had his services terminated less than halfway through the season. The coaching reins were handed to spearhead, Ben Perkins, who had returned to the club after a season in Broken Hill. Perkins had kicked over 100 goals in 2005 and 2006, and was seen as another key to success at the start of the season.

Wins were incredibly hard to come by in any grade, football or netball. It was increasingly apparent that the Hawks and North Wagga were not at the level required by an RFL team. Meanwhile, in the Farrer League, Colligullie-Ashmont/Kapooka were on their way to their seventh Grand Final in eight years. Talk began of another restructure to Riverina footy, with the idea of a promotion-relegation system being floated. In the end it was decided that North Wagga and East Wagga would be moved to the Farrer League for the 2010 season, while Collingullie moved to the RFL in 2011 having just won their third flag in a row. Since then no team has been promoted or relegated from one league to the other.

The move to the Farrer League was a controversial one for those involved in the club. Some felt it was a step back, that the Farrer was not worthy of having an RFL team among its ranks. It could be argued, though, that it is the best thing that has happened to the club. Since the move, and a reversion from the ill-conceived Eastern Hawks name to the traditional East-Wagga/Kooringal, the club have played in every First Grade finals series.

The 2010 season saw the arrival of Chris Jackson, recruited from Wagga Tigers, as Captain-Coach. Unfortunately, there was also something of an exodus of players who thought they perhaps deserved a chance at bigger things than the Farrer League. Jackson began the preseason by sharing some home truths with the players about East Wagga from an outsider’s point of view. Essentially, the club was seen by others as mentally fragile and his job was to instil some professionalism and a strong culture. Thanks in large part to Jackson’s coaching tenure, the club is as strong as at any time in its history.

RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON

Gavin McMahon was an outstanding junior player for East Wagga during the late 80s and early 90s. A regular NSW representative, he had an almost mythical presence about him. He was the guy who played First Grade footy when he was only 15. It was a surprise to very few that he was recruited by Sydney in 1993. He only managed five games at AFL level, but did forge himself a short career in the SANFL, playing for West Adelaide. He also took on the role of Captain-Coach at Wagga Tigers, leading them to the aforementioned 100-point drubbing of East Wagga in the 2001 RFL decider.

After 20 years away from the club, McMahon was welcomed back with open arms in 2014 as non-playing coach. Under the coaching of McMahon the Hawks are on their way to a second successive Grand Final. At the time of writing, the Firsts are on top of the ladder with a 11-0 win-loss record, while the Seconds are 10-1. Spearhead Marc Geppert, also in his second year at the club, sits on 75 goals for the season. He is almost certain to become the first player since 2007 to kick 100 goals in a Farrer League season.

All the pieces are falling into place and East Wagga is returning to the top of the heap. The flag is by no means a fait accompli – teams such as Temora and The Rock-Yerong Creek are never easy to beat and often manage to find something extra in finals – but the mood is decidedly positive and the smell of success is in the air. Hopefully a 33-year wait is nine weeks away from ending.

About Josh Pinn

Blogger and Podcaster for footygospel.com

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Great stuff Josh.

    Thanks for Greg Smith, he worked his backside off at the Dogs.

    Did you know that 1988 Bi-Centennial carnival stuff off by heart or are we the only two people in Australia with a copy of the Budget/Record from that epic tournament?

  2. Top stuff Josh, well written.

    Re Greg Smith, i’ve seen his photo taking pride of place in the Ardlethan bowling club.

    What league (S) are Ganmain and Junee in ?

    Glen!

  3. Excellent story josh. Some great history. Oh aunty allison is cut out of the picture.

  4. Thanks, Glen. Greg Smith originally hailed from Ardlethan.
    Junee haven’t had a team for quite a few years, but they used to play in the Farrer League.
    Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong play in the Riverina league. They’re one of the strongest clubs historically. They tend to win a flag every other year.

  5. craig dodson says:

    Great detail in the story josh. No fond memories of gumly for me.. got pumped by about 200 vs the hawks under 18s, while playing for mango in 97.. im hoping mango can also break their premiership drought this year.

  6. Yeah, Mango are looking pretty good.
    That Hawks Under 18s team would’ve had a lot of the players that won the under 16s flag the year before. I played with most of that lineup as a junior, but I chucked it in for a few years just before that flag. Spewin.

  7. Great piece Josh. A rich history and certainly an important one for your family. And why wouldn’t you hold the 10-year reunion there?

  8. Ta Josh. Ganmain no longer a stand alone club, hey ? Quaint little pub @ Grong-Grong, with Tad its publican.

    I’ll be over the border for the footy this weekend, in Corowa to see the Roos play cross border rivals the Pigeons: Yarrawonga.

    All the best for the boys from Gumly oval.

    Glen!

  9. Ganmain haven’t had a standalone team for a long time.
    Funny you say you’re going to watch the footy in Corowa. The Roos are one of my “other teams, which you can read about here: http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/hometowns-and-upside-down-frowns/

  10. Chris Rees @4boat says:

    Thanks Josh, good to know what’s happening up yonder. We drove through there 10 yrs ago, skirted Wagga but I realy liked Junee and a tiny place called Urana. The football+netball thing doesn’t happen here as the distances are a lot less, but I am always impressed by the comon sense of it.

  11. Greg de Kort says:

    Thanks Josh. Great job. How long did Colin “blossom” Hounsell coach the side for. Also, can you name the big forward at that time that had a bad game if he kicked under 10 goals? He came from Centrals in SANFL.

  12. Thanks Chris. Urana is a nice place. I actually work in Junee. You might be interested to read my Scoreboard Pressure piece re: Junee – http://scoreboardpressure.com/2015/05/21/laurie-daley-oval-junee-new-south-wales/

  13. G’day Josh, it’s a while since i’ve been to Urana. Family friends used to have a property there. Re Junee i recall going to the trots back in 1984, cleaning up on the night. My other memory of Junee is popping into the chocolate factory on the way from Ardlethan to Cootamundra.

    How did East Wagga – Kooringal do on the weekend ? Hopefully better than Corowa-Rutherglen.

    Glen!

  14. East Wagga had a good win over Coleambally last weekend. The 2nds had a very big win: over 200 points. I’d say a lot of the Coleambally players didn’t make the trip, though, it’s a long way.

  15. Great article Josh.

  16. Pamela Byron says:

    A great article Josh. Does bring back memories of my family playing there. Still some playing Netball

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