Local Footy: Oh, we do like to stomp beside the seaside

By Paul Daffey

A few years ago I contributed two chapters to Black and Blue, the history of the Melbourne University Football Club. The uni footy club consists of University Blacks and University Blues, who play in the Victorian amateur competition. One of the striking aspects about my era, which was 1975 to 2005, was the number of times that University Blues were defeated in grand finals by De La Salle Old Collegians.

The two clubs played in four grand finals in the decade from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s and De La won all of them. The Blues were favoured in three of those finals, maybe even four, yet on each occasion the club in the gold and blue panels emerged on top.
The Uni Blues teams of that era featured all-time champion amateur players like Michael Yeo and Michael Sleeman. Yeo was a medical student and ruckman who flew higher than the Ormond College spire to take spectacular marks. He also had a habit of running through opposition players, and one occasion he stitched up his unfortunate victim in the pavilion after the match, squinting as he pushed a needle through his rival’s eyebrow. Sleeman was a silken half-forward who dropped out of an architecture degree to study art history. Amateur footy matches were his canvas. His slalom runs into attack added vivid splashes of colour that are remembered by all who saw them.

My understanding of the De La teams of those years is that they were talented but, essentially, they were greater than the sum of their parts. They were well-coached by Bernie Sheehy, who I’ve come to respect as the person who speaks more sense on footy than anyone I know, and as a unit they were as tight as your fist. After De La captain Bernie Dunn announced that he was leaving to go to Uni Blacks, Barry Lyons, the De La full-back and president, tried to lay into Dunn at a wedding.

De La players grew up together in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. They knew each other’s parents. They went out with each other’s sisters. Like a lot of successful footy clubs, they had an unspoken sense of being part of a tight community. Their closeness served them well in big matches.

University football clubs are essentially transient. Players are drawn together in undergraduate years from all over the state. Often the weight of numbers at a university club means they’ve got a lot of talent. The next year, when the next wave of players jumps over the back fence of the residential colleges and begins training, they’ve got more talent again.  The annual influx of talented footballers means university clubs don’t have to work as hard as their rivals. Once again, it shows in big matches.

On Saturday I was reminded of long-ago stoushes between Uni Blues and De La Salle when I went to the university oval to see Uni Blues host another A-grade rival from a tight-knit community, St Bede’s Mentone. While De La Salle players are from the eastern suburbs, St Bede’s players are from the Bayside area. Like De La players, they’ve grown up together and they’ve formed strong football bonds by playing in premierships. In the three years from 2005 to ’07, St Bede’s won the C-grade, B-grade and A-grade premiership in successive years, becoming the first club to do so. The Tigers begin this season as if they were right on track to win another A-grade flag, only to fall in a mid-year slump.

The Blues improved mid-season with the pick-up of gun midfielder Alistair Neville, a former captain at VFL club Coburg. Jack Watts, the ruckman who won the Woodrow Medal for the best player in the competition in 2008, arrived back from a jaunt in Europe. The stars seemed to be aligning for the Blues, who rose to fourth before last weekend’s round. The clash against third-placed St Bede’s would give a good indication of both teams’ capabilities on the eve of the finals.

The Blues dominated early. By late in the second quarter they were out to a lead of almost six goals. St Bede’s kicked two goals in the shadow of half-time to reduce the margin to 21 points at the main break.

A few weekends ago I became a huge fan of two St Bede’s players, Paul Wintle and Peter McGettigan, when I saw them play for the Victorian Amateur team in its narrow loss to the Victorian Country team at the Junction Oval. Wintle and McGettigan are polar opposites in terms of appearance. Wintle is slim and reasonably tall, with the bandy gait of a cowpoke. A strap of thin tape keeps his long hair in place.

McGettigan is reasonably tall with a low centre of gravity. He uses his weight to bullock into the clear. He always looks as if he’s about to run out of breath but he always he reaches the next contest and he always does something with the ball. He’s solid in more than just appearance. He’s the type of player you trust.

McGettigan and Wintle were heroic in that last quarter against the Country team. As with De Salle battling to keep out Uni Blues all those years ago, the St Bede’s pair kept their cool as the Country team pounded the area at the top of the goalsquare. The Country team had the advantage of a strong wind. Time and again Wintle trapped the ball amid a thicket of players and shot out a handball to a teammate in the clear. McGettigan barged a path and delivered crisply to the pocket, where a teammate would take possession.

In the third quarter of Saturday’s match between Uni Blues and St Bede’s, McGettigan again barged through the midfield while Wintle was a marking option up forward. Neither was dominant; midfielders such as Sam Anstey deserved the bulk of the praise. But Wintle and McGettigan were among the senior players who set the tone. This was a big match for their club and its community. St Bede’s kicked the first eight goals of the third quarter, giving them ten unanswered goals from the end of the second quarter to the end of the third. Their attack on the ball was fierce.

The Blues had excuses. Alistair Neville was away for work reasons while Dave Paton, the big-marking key forward from Tallangatta, was also unavailable. Others were underdone after returning from injury. It’s not as if the Blues players on the field stopped trying, but you could see in the third quarter that they were transfixed by the St Bede’s storm. You could almost see them clinging on to the rails for fear of being washed overboard.

Some of the Blues, like busy midfielder Mark Paterson, tried to wrest back the momentum but by and large they stood no chance against such a fanatical opposition. They stood no chance against a team whose performances reflect on a tight-knit community rather than a team whose families are many miles away. St Bede’s won by 31 points.

After the game, I ventured to the edge of the St Bede’s rooms and watched as the players linked arms in a circle and sang their hearts out. First it was the Tigerland song and then something based on We Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside. Paul Wintle and Peter McGettigan stood next to each other, arms around each other’s shoulders, joyful in the winning moment. McGettigan’s grin lit up his face, and yet he was humble. There was no whooping or punching the air, just a clear satisfaction of achieving a victory with 20 blokes who share your hopes and dreams.

The St Bede’s players followed up their songs with a strange little Cossack stomp on the pavilion’s old floorboards. Wintle, with his height and spring, stood out as the Tigers players jumped up and down in easy unison.

As a long-retired player, I miss that feeling of shared achievement with close friends. In an old university pavilion in inner Melbourne, I, too, wanted to stomp like a Cossack.

Comments

  1. Sounds very like Old Scotch (Launceston) in the decade of mid 70’s to mid 80’s. Seven senior flags and eight 2nd’s.

  2. Except we definately didn’t go out with our sisters – cousins maybe

  3. Mark Lockie says:

    Paul – hate to be a pedant, but that match you referred to as a Uni Blues v DLS GF where Bernie Dunn sat in the dead pocket sounds like it was actually the Uni Blacks v DLS Prelim in 1979, which DLS won by 5 points. A win by the Blacks would have set up the first Blacks v Blues A section GF since 1921. As noted in the MUFC history, its the most talked about match in Blacks history. As one who played that day, I think I’m over it now…. I only think about it once a week!

  4. Mark,

    You’re right. I’ve got my Blues and Blacks v De La finals mixed up.

    One of the main memories of Blues people of the De La Salle grand finals around that time is that the wind always sprang up on the big day. Elsternwick Park in late winter-early spring is a wind-magnet.

    Hence the Bernie Dunn allusion (illusion?)

  5. Phantom,

    Tassie jokes always welcome.

    What’s the situation in the NW competition? Who will make the finals?

  6. Smithton (1st), Ulverstone (2nd), East Devonport (3rd), Possibly Latrobe then Penguin and us last. Final Four.
    Smithton are bolters.

    Tassie true story

    Robert Hope (now 36 and the Wynyard games record holder)has taken a job as Manager of Skilled in Gladstone QLD.
    He went up recently for a look see and got roped (quite easily if I know Hopey) into lining up for the Gladstone Mud Crabs (Yes- Mud Crabs). Loitering at full forward he was lining up for his first of four goals when a wag nearby doubted his capacity to kick straight as he was Tasmanian and they have three legs. Shrinking violet Hopey (6′ 6″ and a hard man) was very offended and snapped back “That’s two heads you idiot and proceeded to kick the goal. He wants to coach the Crabs next year.

  7. That told ’em!

  8. Mark Lockie says:

    Paul
    I’ve always wondered if the MUFC structure has any equivalents around Australia – ie constituted as one club, but made up of two teams each separately affiliated to their governing body and effectively treated by the governing body as separate clubs. None of the other VAFA clubs has this structure, nor other university football clubs around Australia that I’m aware of. I know of some country teams that share share grounds and facilities, but they are definitely separate clubs in all respects.

  9. Rod Gillett says:

    Hi Mark,

    The University of New England Australian National Football Club not only administered the teams playing in the competition from its formation in 1962 it also ran the competition in the New England area. Mind you up until the formation of a club at Tamworth in 1975 all the teams were university based. After nearly 20 years of having 3-4 teams – named after and based on the residential colleges but part of the UNE club – the changing nature of enrolments saw the UNE contingent reduced to one. After a hiatus in the 90’s the UNE Nomads were formed in 1999. In 2001 the Wanderers were re-formed under the umbrella of the UNE club and played in the same competition, the Tamworth AFL – against the Nomads. Alas, they only lasted one season. When, not if, the Wanderers are reformed they will be part of the UNE footy club. Most of the active Old Boy are ex-Wanderers and they are very keen to see the team reformed.

  10. Mark,

    I’d never heard of another example, and I didn’t expect to.

    Rocket is a man never to be underestimated.

  11. pauldaffey says:

    Mark,

    The internet is amazing. I’ve just gone into the “edit” function and taken out the paragraph mentioning Bernie Dunn and the windy final at Elsternwick Park.

    No will ever know.

  12. Mark Lockie says:

    Paul
    Well done to Rocket – if anyone knew it would be him!
    You were right about Yeo and Sleeman – I played on Sleeman most times we played the Blues and was probably the most difficult opponent I ever had (apart from a little bloke from NOBs whose name I can’t recall because he used to whack me every time we played). I always thought I did ok on Sleeman, but have never checked the stats – if I did might be dismayed about the number of goals he kicked against me! De La teams of those days were very talented – they had plenty of stars Bourke, Halasa, Murphy, Beddoe, Nugent, Dunn and a few others that would probably be in their best ever team. Bernie Sheehy was miles ahead the best coach in the VAFA and this was backed up by his various appointments at VFL/AFL clubs when he left De La (always laughed when I saw him next to Sheedy in the Essendon coaches box – he always looked like a unmade bed next to the super smooth Sheeds in his sleeveless vests)

  13. confusing on so many levels, i’ve watched and played alot of vafa footy and its cleary an oversite on your behalf not to mention or notice the exquisite pace and aerial ability and skill of one michael mcgettigan. peters older brother and life mentor. its even more of an oversight to not be dazzled by the below knee mastery and fleet of foot talents of former skipper, life member and older brother of paul”bandy gait” wintle, Luke.these two have not only contributed more on and off field to st.bedes, but have changed the way footb all is played within the vafa.
    regards davey k panther

  14. confusing on so many levels, i’ve watched and played alot of vafa footy and its cleary an oversite on your behalf not to mention or notice the exquisite pace and aerial ability and skill of one michael mcgettigan. peters older brother and life mentor. its even more of an oversight to not be dazzled by the below knee mastery and fleet of foot talents of former skipper, life member and older brother of paul”bandy gait” wintle, Luke.these two have not only contributed more on and off field to st.bedes, but have changed the way footb all is played within the vafa.
    regards davey k panther

  15. pauldaffey says:

    Sorry, Davey,

    I’ll watch a bit closer next time, especially if Paul M and Luke W are playing.

    Mark,

    I love the story about Bernie Sheehy rolling up for his interview for the coaching job at Springvale. He was wearing thongs. The Springvale committee didn’t know what to think, but appointed him, and still rave about his coaching performance.

  16. pauldaffey says:

    Mark,

    I asked a mate from NOBs, Andy Ryan, who the “little bloke” in your comment might have been. Here’s his answer:

    Could have been one of several. As well as Mauro “Bomba” Borcich, there was Steve O’Rourke or Mark Malone, although they were more ’80s players and played in the ’82 premiership team at age 21, 22. Maybe Steve Weir, who had a weird kicking style but was a great player – and tough. Possibly Dennis Fogarty, ’76 premiership player, he liked to play it tough. Possibly Dom Butera. I think he played in both the ’76 and ’82 flags.

    Fog might be favourite. Fog now has a lot to do with Lara Footy Club. His eldest son Luke plays 2s for NOBs when he can get time off as he is an airline pilot, which is a bit disconcerting because he’s a rather baby faced 24-year-old, looks about 19 and flies commercial jets!!

    There’s a lot of candidates, though, as in those (good old) days we had a heap of small tough players.

  17. Mark Lockie says:

    Dominic Butera – definitely him. Although Mauro was a candidate as well. Mauro was strong, fast and tough, but was more of a midfielder so I left him to Ross Booth.

  18. Loved the story Bernie told earlier this year when he applied for the Ajax job. It turned out the reference he gave had been dead for 2 and 1/2 years.

  19. Very funny, Mark.

    It’s actually a shame to see a great club like NOBs slide downhill through no particular fault of their own.

    Their feeder school, St Joe’s, is closing at the end of this year.

    I see your old school (did you go to the Marist Brothers in Holden Street?) is now a German school.

    It and the Preston Catholic school have been swallowed up by Parade.

  20. Pal,

    I think there might be a few such stories about Bernie’s interviews. I’d like to smoke ’em all out one day.

  21. Stephen Longley says:

    Paul

    I work with Ralph McHenry who played for De La during those glory days and showed your article to him. He laughed and said he was the one stitched up my Mick Yeo in the pavvy after the game. Apparently the gash was in the back of the head (and not the eyebrow) and Yeo even sent him a bill the next week, which to this day remains unpaid given. Yeo probably enjoyed the stitches more than the elbow as there was no anaesthetic used so it hurt more than the elbow to head dished out towards the end of the first quarter hit.

    Perhaps your article inspired a late resurgence by Blues in their games against De La last week?

  22. pauldaffey says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Whenever I’m at the Brunton Avenue and Punt Road traffic lights (it’s not very often), I think of you learning about a Melbourne Uni footy club meeting you were supposed to be at during the tumultuous period of a few years ago.

    I think Yeoey (hard to spell, actually) stitched up more than one opponent in the pavvy after an onfield clash. The clash I was referring to happened in 1988, in Yeoey’s comeback year. I wasn’t sure which club so I didn’t mention it.

    Was Ralph still playing with De La in 1988? I think Ralph played in the Bernie Sheehy teams of the late ’70s, so it was a good effort if he was still playing. I can imagine Yeoey enjoying meting out that little bit of extra pain.

    And regarding the Blues’ two-point win last week, it sounds like a great effort. Not sure whether they read the article or not. As you know, uni teams can be up one week and down the next. “Away with the birds,” as one of the old uni coaches told me.

Leave a Comment

*