KEN PIESSE: FAVOURITE SONS FROM THE MID MURRAY

Roy Millar (sitting, right)

Sharrock, Bos, Wallis, Raines, Frèe, O’Bree, Guerra… the Central Murray region has been a goldmine for the big city clubs, some of the VFL’s very best hailing from the townships of Tooleybuc, Jerilderie, Wandella and the like.

As much as I admired the prodigious punting of Sharrock and the pepper-and-salt arrogance of Raines, as smooth a mover as you’d ever see, my all time favorite footballer from the mid-Murray/Golden Rivers area is  someone I never saw play, Koondrook dairy farmer Roy Millar.

So taken was I by his sporting pedigree and performances that I made him captain of my alltime best Australian country cricket team for a book, Bradmans of the Bush.

In all, Millar made more than 100 centuries and so impressed Australian cricket captain Bill Woodfull during a Country Week game down in Melbourne that he said Millar would surely have played Test cricket “but for a paddock full of cows and a blue eyed girl.”

Born in Barham in 1912, the youngest of seven children, Millar was educated at Koondrook Primary School and Kerang High. He made his first century as a 14-year-old for Us-Fellas in 1926. Also in the side were his four elder, equally cricket mad  brothers, Les, Albert, Wilfred and Horace. The rest of the team comprised members of the Kenna and McGowan families.

As a footballer, he was also sought-after, Collingwood and Eaglehawk particularly interested in his services. The Great Depression made farm life even tougher and he opted to stay home, milking the cows and doing his share to keep the farm going.

As full-forward for Northern District club Border (later Barham FC), he topped the goalkicking in all 16 of his seasons, his No. 19 guernsey the most famous in black and white history. In most of these seasons he also led the Association charts…. not bad for a 168cm (5ft. 6in.) key position player!

What Millar lacked in inches he made up for sheer skill, his on-ground thinking, body work and fast leading unparalleled.

Loving cricket as much as I do, his feats took the breath away. As a footballer, he must have been simply scintillating to watch.

Barham-Koondrook, 160 km north of Bendigo, right on the NSW-Victoria border is renowned these days, of course, as a sleepy Murray River golfing paradise, city slickers from the Big Smoke spending long weekends away indulging in their passion.

But back in the ‘30s it was as noted a cricket and football stronghold as the big towns, Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong, thanks to the domination of Roy and his mates.

Roy has been gone almost 15 years now, but his feats will never be forgotten, his scrapbooks being handed on from generation to generation.

My 10 favorites from the mid-Murray area cover a wide range of the old like Roy to the new like Tyntynder’s Luke O’Toole, one of the few footballers I know to have played in two premierships in the same calendar year!

My top 10 of Mid Murray favorites, in alphabetical order are:

MARK BOS: Played almost 200 games at Geelong having been recruited from Wandella. Few were as tough at the ball or fairer. He won two best and fairests in a very talented list and was part of the famous ’89 Grand Final. Would do his pre-seasons back on the farm at home and be cherry-ripe come March. He has as good a build as just about anyone going around in the ‘80s.

TONY FREE: An underrated, quality footballer and person, who rose in the ranks to captain Richmond ahead of more talented types. Was originally from Lalbert and first-played for the Tigers as a 17-year-old. Won several best and fairests. Never took a backward step.

SHANE GUERRA: Has given Koondrook-Barham amazing service, on and off the field. No matter what is required, Shane has always had his hand up ready to help. Hawthorn’s premiership defender Brent

Guerra is part of a sports-mad family.

ERIC LEECH: was known as the unluckiest of all League footballers in the ‘70s, his career restricted to 79 senior games in 10 years on Richmond’s list. He broke  numerous bones but was ever-smiling and ever-grateful for the opportunity to play at Tigerland; a real gentleman. Was originally from Tyntynder.

ROY MILLAR (pictured sitting, on the right) An all-star sportsman who kicked more than 1000 goals for Barham in the late ‘20s and ‘30s. His field kicking and accuracy was unequalled among players of the time. One of my alltime sporting favorites.

RYAN O’SULLIVAN: A son of a gun, Ryan is just about the best CMFL footballer, along with Tyntynder’s Marcus Nalder, going around right now. He won the competition ‘b and f’, the Jack Betts Medal, just a few seasons back and could do it again in 2010.

LUKE O’TOOLE: Footy runs in the family for Luke, who has a rare premiership habit, having played in eight or nine already and he’s only just 30. An athletic ruck-rover, he took a year off travelling in 2005 and played in a Kalgoorlie premiership with Railways before continuing north and playing in another six months later in Darwin. In between were preliminary appearances, one for Ultima and another for his current club Tyntynder. His two brothers are stars at Golden Square.

GEOFF RAINES: A Rolls-Royce among centreman, he started at Swan Hill before breaking into Richmond’s team  as a 17-year-old. Few could kick as far, outmark the ruckman or strut (with justification) as Rainesy, one of the very best footballers, pound for pound, of his generation.

JOHN SHARROCK: Originally from Tooleybuc where he won the Betts Medal in 1962 as a teenager, he could kick a ball out of sight and played every game of the ’63 season for Geelong, including the winning Grand Final. He ran third in a Brownlow and would have been an even bigger name but for knee injuries  which forced his premature retirement before his 25th birthday.

JIM WALLIS: Another whose career was curtailed by knee injuries, big Jim was also a big left footer. He hailed from Quambatook and according to St Kilda’s legendary coach Allan Jeans, he would have been central in the Saint’s back to back Grand Final appearances in 1965-66 but for his breakdown.

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. Phantom says:

    Ken,

    I once heard a commentator say of Mark Bos “He’s a rough and tough customer that Bos, there’s no gags with him”

    All the old rockers from the eighties would know what he was talking about.

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    Ken, a great photo. The facial expressions display a combination of pride, bemusement, get me a beer larrikan, and country bashfulness.

    Love listening to you on Sport 927.

    Andrew

  3. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Kenny,

    A notable omission is the Greatest Pie of All, Bobby Rose…
    from Nyah West.

    Rocket

  4. A couple of other handy footballers that went on to the AFL were Mick Frost (Swan Hill) who played at Footscray and St Kilda and Craig Smith (Lalbert) who played at Richmond.

    Great to see Luke O’Toole mentioned here back at his original club Ultima as playing coach and the Roos winning the 1st semi final over Quambatook on Saturday.

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