Local Footy: Little Lions roar in Tassie Midlands grand final

By Daryl Sharpen

About an hour’s drive north of Hobart is the town of Oatlands, in the Tasmanian Midlands. In a long forgotten past it served as a carriage stop for travellers as they made their way north or south in a penal colony known as Van Diemen’s Land. It is generally considered to be about halfway between them up North and us down South. I reside in the capital!

If you didn’t already know, Tassy has a real North (norf)-South (souf) divide. An imaginary (?) line has split the state on almost everything since Naval Lieutenant John Bowen landed (circa 1803) in Hobart’s Risdon Cove – now the site of the state prison – followed a few years later by Colonel William Paterson, who lodged in the north near Launceston and promptly named the settlement Patersonia! I like me who do you like?

The Tassy divide is akin to the Mason–Dixon line in the USA but, like all feuds, families included, when challenged we unite; albeit only for a day or two or till the skirmish subsides.

History aside. Last Saturday I decided to travel out of my comfort zone and head north, but only halfway mind you, to Oatlands. My papers were in order and I had provisions. I was interested to see what these guys in the Midlands were like and where they fitted into the social fabric of the state. Were they Northerners or were they just like me? A local anthropologist suggested they were different again. Another breed, I pondered.

Coincidentally it was Oatlands District Football Association grand final day. Nowadays the association comprises just five teams: Woodsdale, Campania, Swansea, Mount Pleasant and Campbell Town. Interestingly Oatlands, almost the largest town in the district, scene of the grand final and home of the local League Headquarters no longer have a team per se. They, along with nearby Bothwell and Kempton, morphed into the Central Hawks. They play in the ‘big’ (read ‘a bigger’) league.

Saturday’s grand final saw the Campania Wallabies coached by Jason “Gully” Gulliver take on the all-conquering Woodsdale Lions coached by Paul “Spud” Tate. Woodsdale Lions is a contemporary name. There are no Lions in Tasmania. In fact there are not a lot of anything in quantity left in Tasmania. If it moves shoot it; if it grows chop it down is a recurring theme. The Campania Wallabies? I love that word, wallaby. It has all sorts of demeaning, illiterate, uneducated, foolish, connotations. Remember ‘Wallaby’ Bob McMaster, the Australian wrestling referee? How dumb was he?

Woodsdale were the favourites. They have set the standard in this association with 18 premierships since joining as a foundation member in 1952. They have not been without their trials and tribulations, however, including a premiership drought that lasted for over 20 years at one stage. When that broke in the mid-’80s their domination of the league has seen them twice string together four successive flags. Then, almost as incongruously as you can get, the Lions, took a seat in the recession cubicle for the 2002 season after winning the flag the year before! Not financial woes or lack of helpers …  simply no players!

Their opponents, Campania, are a relative newcomer to this league. They’ve had an intermittent and sometimes nomadic existence in various competitions and associations in and around the southern part of Tasmania for well over 100 years. Included in this past was a recessive period throughout the ’80s where they merged with neighbouring Richmond. In 2007 Campania ‘reinvented’ themselves and emerged again in their own right, suffering some torrid defeats, before establishing a competitive side this season.

Does all this sound familiar?

Form? Heading into the big one Woodsdale were unbeaten. Campania were second best, having lost each time they played Woodsdale, including the second semi that saw the Wallabies 39 points adrift. Wallabies? I love that word. I’ll try and use it again. Oddly, Woodsdale are the Lions yet their home ground is Wallaby Park. There’s a lack of consistency here, but isn’t that the beauty of this island we call home? In Tassy expect the unexpected.

Cruising up the Midlands Highway I arrived at Oatlands just before the 1.30pm kick-off. In this league there are no reserves any more, so there is just one grand final.

There to greet me are three esteemed gentlemen manning the Midlands Municipal Centenary (1961) gates. One sells me a ticket to the game, one a footy record and the other hard sells the old margin tickets at the going rate of two for two dollars. You can’t win anything with a footy record but you can with these margin tickets – well, that’s his line. I fall for it, as I always do. Inside the gates are the Seddon Mitchell Memorial Club Rooms. From all reports Seddon was a great bloke and staunch supporter of the Oatlands footy club. Memorial sounds a bit terminal and enquiry reveals he bequest a substantial part of his estate to the club for the express purpose of constructing the building, thereby establishing his status as “a bloody good old bloke”.

The footy record revealed all and sundry about the league, its past premiers, goal kickers, club champions and sponsors. Dick Adams, the Federal Member for Lyons, sent his best wishes with a timely “Good luck to all teams playing in today’s Grand Final” advertisement. I thought he may have just wished “both” of them the best but in typical political fashion I suppose he wanted to cover everyone.

A visit to the “new rooms” (no longer dressing sheds thanks to Seddon) the smell of liniment and the sound of stops on the floor have sent a few old timers into a frenzy. Reports are that the unbeaten Woodsdale Lions have trained well during their two-week break and are all set. Meanwhile the Campania Wallabies, whose training regime included a night digging the footings for their new ground lights, reckon “we can knock ‘em off!”

Woodsdale are first onto the ground. They run through a cluster of red and green streamers with a few balloons mounted on some old fence posts. “Run through together,” someone remarks. Quite possible, I thought. They are a small side, very small indeed. Was the anthropologist right? Campania were similarly greeted by a metre square banner stating among other things that it’s been 46 years since the last flag. Nothing like negativity in the face of adversity, I say.

Siren sounds and the game gets underway right on time. Underdogs, Campania, kick to the scoring end and rack up 5 points, including a poster,  before registering their first goal. In a seesawing affair the Wallabies lead at the first change 2.6 (18) to Woodsdale 1.2 (8). The second quarter is more of the same with Woodsdale outscoring their opponents to lead at the long interval 4.7 (31) to Campania’s 3.8 (26).

A half-time visit to Woodsdale’s rooms resembles a morgue. Things haven’t gone quite the way they’d planned. Their president (AKA Demetriou), who had been expecting a comfortable lead, is more than a little anxious and, sensing a boilover, moved his car closer to the gate. Two players adjourn to the rooms and consume an African (cigarette) to settle the nerves.

After the break the Woodsdale Lions improve noticeably and although going to the non-preferred end manage to be ahead at the last change. They could be further in front but for some undisciplined play from several of their on-ball brigade. None more so than the late tackle from Trent “Roochie” Graham that results in the Wallabies’ Daniel “Bucky” Buck getting a 50-metre penalty and goal after the three-quarter-time siren. Heading into the final stanza it’s  Woodsdale 7.10 (52) leading Campania 7.8 (50).

The final term sees an early arm wrestle before a steady stream of gaols from Woodsdale takes them to deserved back-to-back premierships.

Man of the match went to Trent “Biggun” Wiggins, who seemed to be somewhere (and everywhere) around centre half-back and managed a vital third quarter goal. Scott “Wish” Wilson and Chris “Clara” Claridge ably supported him while “Roochie” Graham chipped in with 3 majors.

For the losers Stuart “Coops” Cooper gave great service in the midfield and Simon “Tappy” Tapp was like the Rock of Gibraltar all day in the backline. Gregg Harris’s effort at full forward where, from limited opportunities, he snared five of the Wallabies’ seven goals was full of merit.

Worthy of special mention was Woodsdale’s Daniel “Boonie” Davis who decided to holiday in Fiji following their second semi-final victory. From all reports he was poured from a plane late on Friday night in a somewhat inebriated state before taking his place in the line-up. His effort in sparking a second half revival and chipping in with two goals of his own was remarkable. Seems “Boonie” is an all round sportsman; he won the Runnymede Cricket Club’s most catches award last season, with two (catches).

Anyway it’s all over for another year. Oatlands District Football Association Grand Final Day 2009 in the heart of Tasmania has come and gone and was one to remember. And, from all reports, the Woodsdale boys drank “a shed full” after match and celebrated with their B&F count on Sunday where “Roochie” Graham took out the award from “Wish” Wilson and “Biggun” Wiggins. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Comments

  1. Daryl, with reference to the Mason Dixon Line what’s The best way to see Hobart – through the rear view mirror heading North.
    Dang Yankies. Cheers, Phantom (North West Coast)

  2. Daryl Sharpen says:

    The “rear” method you mention is a somewhat risky way of seeing Hobart, North West Phantom. You run the chance of missing the turn off at Perth and ending up in Inceston er, I mean Launceston. So my advice to you Cats from the Coast is to keep a sharp eye out and never drop your guard (or apparel)! God Bless.

    DS

  3. Daryl Sharpen says:

    Footnote: Rumour emanating from the Woodsdale valley has it that “Boonie” after his Fiji trip and grand final exploits took things to another level. Seems he’s one of those blokes who can genuinely drink “a clutch” then just get up next day, dust himself off and get on with it. Made of Tungsten they say.
    Rumoured he drank after the final on Saturday right thru until Sunday at 9pm. Yes 9pm!
    Fair effort considering his Fiji experience on the Friday.
    Unfortunately he missed mad Monday, as he had to shear sheep.
    He did 140 and said that’ll do.
    Stating it was one of the hardest days he’d ever put in (the shearing that is).
    Now you’ve gotta be happy with that.

    DS

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