KEN PIESSE’S FAVORITES… from the BENDIGO LEAGUE

Peter Pianto coaching Geelong in the 1967 Grand Final

I love hearing stories about Laurie Nash, the champion’s champion of the ‘30s and ‘40s. He’d take a mark 50 out and ask the bloke on the mark which foot he’d like him to kick it with… his left or his right? Invariably they’d soar through. Post-high.

Laurie was a hero even for the great Jack Dyer and once, when Jack was coaching against  the Magpies at the old Punt Rd Oval, he was down to 17 when one of his troopers ran into an elbow and was helped punch-drunk off the ground. There was less than a goal in it, 10 minutes to play and Jack was desperate to win.

Word came back to Jack that so-and-so was out to it.

‘He doesn’t know who he is, Jack.’

Quick as a flash, Jack replied: ‘Tell ‘im he’s Laurie Nash!’

As a very green cub reporter for the old pink paper, the Sporting Globe, I once got to interview Laurie, who lived close to the old South Melbourne ground where he was such an icon. My boss Greg Hobbs told me to pass on his regards… ‘and young Ken,’ he said, ‘don’t forget to ask Laurie who was the greatest player he ever saw.’

I had two delightful hours with  ‘L. J.’ as he insisted on being called and just as I was going out the door, I  passed on my boss’ best wishes and said,’ By the way L. J, who was the best player you ever saw?’

‘Son,’ he said rubbing his chin. ‘I see him every morning in the mirror when I shave!’

The super-confidence of Nash has been matched by a few over the years, including one very notable Bendigo League player and one of my alltime favorite ‘bushies’, goalkicking champ Steven Reaper.

Selecting 10 of my favorites from Bendigo with all its stars was the toughest of tasks, but one character really stood out from the rest… and like Laurie Nash, Reaper loved to be the centre of conversation.

Importantly, he could back it up, four times kicking 100 or more Bendigo League goals and five times winning the Ron Best Medal. He carried more nicknames than most: ‘Bundy’ (as in King Kong Bundy, the wrestler), ‘Action Attraction’, ‘Excitement Machine’, ‘Big Show’ and my favorite, ‘Revenue’ – Steve reckoned everyone coming through the gates had come purely to see him play!

In his final, chubbier years, opponents would simply call him ‘Fatso’ but even then he had an answer: ‘You would be fat too if you’d eaten all the Medals I’ve won!’

In 2002-03, Gisborne under Collingwood premiership hero Mick McGuane went back-to-back, losing only one match in both seasons. In 2003, Reaper told McGuane on presentation night that he’d win everything, bar ‘runner-up’… and did, being best finals player, best and fairest and leading goalkicker.

‘Mick had a pet saying: “If you don’t blow up your own tyres, no-one else will!” and I always tried to live by that!’ said Reaper.

So sure was he when taking a shot even from a tight angle, Reaper would tell his full-back to ‘mark it down!’… words guaranteed to infuriate!

As a 20-year-old in his first senior season at Kyneton, Reaper lost the Michelson Medal by two votes and still reckons he was robbed. ‘I kicked 14 one day and the umpires didn’t give me a vote,’ he said.

These were the days, like on Brownlow Medal night, that the captains manned the boards and would put up the votes by hand. Reaper made a strategic error this night as he went pot for pot, jug for jug with fellow captain Stephen Oliver from Castlemaine and by the time it came for him to be awarded his  competition goalkicking trophy, discretion and diplomacy had long been forgotten. Having been beaten virtually on the last vote, Reaper told the winner, in front of 400 or so not to get too excited as it was only the umpire’s opinion! And just how can a bloke kick 14 in a game and not get best-on!

The Bendigo League went to power point presentation after that and the umpires rarely gave him another vote, but Steven carried on regardless, kicking centuries of goals most years. He was a genuine powerhouse, good mark and an absolute dead-eye-dick when shooting for goal.

In 2003 at Gisborne, he formed a deadly combo with the almost-as-confident Damian Houlihan who dominated from centre half-forward

“Damian had promised all year that he’d turn it on on Grand Final day and we all fed off his confidence,” he said. “He’d tell everyone just to kick it on top of his head and he’d do the rest and he did. I got my 100th goal for the year in the third quarter after he took a speckie and immediately snapped it over his head to the space he knew I’d be leading into. It was pure gold.’

Reaper was to play in four flag teams, two at Kyneton and two at Gisborne. Other than a  season at Carlton reserves and a few games at Collingwood, ‘playing with the matinee boys’, Reaper never did realise his ambitions and play in the Big League but few had as much fun along the way!

He’s right up there among my favorites from the Bendigo League and this ‘field’ is as hot as it gets!

In alphabetical order, my own particular favorites are:

GRAHAM ARTHUR: Won a best and fairest at Hawthorn in his first year in the Big Smoke (1955), having been unearthed by Sandhurst where he was one of the town’s great sportsmen. He captained and coached the Hawks and was on-field leader in the club’s inaugural premiership in 1961. Is one of nature’s great gents.

RON BEST: The Bendigo League’s all-time goalkicking icon amassed 1624 goals in 16 seasons and won five premierships including his alltime favorite flag at Sandhurst in 1973, the club’s first premiership in 25 years.

BRENDAN EDWARDS: I was lucky enough to meet and interview Brendan Edwards on the weekend of Hawthorn’s Team of the Century celebrations in 2001. He was 65 at the time and looked closer to 50. A lifetime of  fitness and good Gold Coast living had given him a rare energy and exuberance, Was originally from Sandhurst where he was coached by another famous ex-Hawk in Kevin Curran.

JACK JEFFERIES: A 200-gamer at Castlemaine, a feat emulated by his son John, Jack was No.1 ruckman in the Magpies’ 1952 premiership and is one of the Bendigo Football League’s official legends, being just as noted for his off-field roles from president and treasurer to chairman of selectors. Last year he even co-authored a book, Castlemaine FC’s official 150th year history ‘A Day At The Camp’.

DERRICK FILO: Played 400 plus games of Bendigo footy, including eight years at Castlemaine where he won a flag alongside fellow icon Steve Oliver. Played into his 40s at Eaglehawk and was involved with his son in a premiership as late as 2007. Still coaches Eaglehawk now.  One of the best running players of any era any country league has had, he reckons he’s still only mid 30s when in fact he’s closer to 42 or 43… not bad for a bloke who lives on smokes and diet coke!

STEPHEN OLIVER: Budding politician ‘Ollie’ was a powerhouse full forward for Castlemaine after toying with a  League career at Carlton. Is one of only two players to kick more than 1000 Bendigo FL goals. Also happens to have a triple-century to his credit as a cricketer.

PETER PIANTO: A fast and brilliant ballwinner from Eaglehawk, he formed an unstoppable roving combo with Neil ‘Nipper’ Tresize in Geelong’s famous back-to-back premiership double in 1951-52. He was a regular Big V representative in an all-star team and later coached Geelong, including the 1967 Grand Final (see picture).

STEVEN REAPER: Averaged 5.33 goals in Bendigo footy,  a pretty fair effort considering he spent half the ’93  season at full-back

GEOFF SOUTHBY: So talented was Southby that he won back-to-back best and fairests at Carlton aged 20 and 21 on his way to becoming one of the great full-backs of them all.

Originally from Sandhurst, a rich nursery for Carlton over the years,  he was a glorious kick and played in two Carlton premiership sides, in 1972 and 1979.  His daughter Eloise was an Australian netball representative.

TONY SOUTHCOMBE: Is among the ranks of true Coodabeen Champions given his flirt at League footy with Carlton at the mature age of 27. An auctioneer by trade he grew tired of the constant travelling and  Bendigo football was to be the beneficiary. Southcombe notched more than 300 games at club and representative level, including 210 games at Golden Square. He played in a multitude of premierships, including four in a row at Northern United and 11 in all. In one representative game for Bendigo at Narrendera, he was credited with 45 touches, including more than 20 marks, an extraordinary possession rate. And all along, he wore thick glasses… yes, it takes all sorts….

GREG WILLAMS: Among the best running players of them all with many a  decoration, including two Brownlows and a Norm Smith Medal, ‘Diesel’ was determined, dedicated and tough. He’d run at 90 per cent pace all day and one by one the taggers would drop off. He wore calipers as a kid and was twice sent back to Golden Square for being too slow. After he won back-to-back Michelson medals, Tommy Hafey revived his career at Geelong and he became one of the great stars of them all.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF KEN’S FAVOURITE 10 PLAYERS FROM BENDIGO?

GIVE KEN SOME FEEDBACK ON WHO YOUR FAVOURITES ARE: kenpiesse@ozemail.com.au

About Ken Piesse

I am a journalist, commentator and the author of almost 50 cricket and football books. I also sell the new Wisden and cricket and football books and cricket cards and ephemera on the internet via my website www.cricketbooks.com.au

Comments

  1. Richard Jones says:

    OLD Kenny P’s. Top Ten runs to Eleven!! Not that I’d disagree with his Top Eleven, mind you.
    He could have made it a Top Thirteen with the addition of South Bendigo premiership coach Colin Rice (a 1963 Geelong premiership player) and Eaglehawk hard nut Alan “Bruiser” Williams.

    But Top Eleven lists are always subjective and personal.

    Sheikh Rocket won’t be happy. Can’t find anyone in Kenny’s group who played for Rochy or who were born in Colbo!!!

  2. Stephanie Holt says:

    Good article and can’t argue with that list. You mention a couple of the father/son combos, but I think Oliver and Filo are also related – cousins?

  3. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says:

    Richard,

    I’m still laughing heartily at your comment – so true!

    Of course, it just confirms the firm view held north of Elmore that its all a Bendigo conspiracy to deny our boys just recognition…
    not even any mongrel Murray Bombers on the list! Even Graham Arthur’s role coaching Echuca to a flag is not given a footnote.

    Glad Rochy and Echuca went off to the Goulburn Valley league and propelled it to the premier country league in the state following the inter-league win over the Ovens and Murray!

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