Rochy’s local heroes do it for the jumper

When the Rochester footy team took to the field in last year’s Goulburn Valley Football League Grand Final, it ran through a home-made banner that proclaimed “Local heroes”. Their rivals, hot favourites Seymour, who were aiming for their fourth flag in a row, ran out through an AFL club cheer-squad banner.

 

But it was the composition of the teams that was most telling. Most of the Rochester team came from the district or had close family ties; nearly a third of the Seymour team came from Melbourne, which is only 100 kilometres away. The composition of the teams was even more telling when you consider that the town of Rochester, with 2500 people, has the smallest population of any town in the Goulburn Valley league.

 

It was a famous victory for Rochester in their first year under coach Daniel Schmidt, a Bendigo builder, who had succeeded popular local David “Dirty” Williams. Dirty, the 1980s Melbourne forward, was at Rochester’s helm for 16 years, from 1992 to 2007. During that time, Rochester became a force by winning two premierships and playing in seven grand finals.

 

Except for Schmidt and his apprentice Ben Deuscher, the only other non-locals were Clint Whitsed and Brad Collins. Whitsed is now the coach of Strathfieldsaye, the new entrant into the Bendigo Football League.

 

The formula of recruiting the best players from its district was a major factor in Rochester’s great run of success in the then mighty Bendigo Football League in the late 1950s/early ’60s, when they played in a staggering eight grand finals in a row, winning four.

 

The first premiership in that run, in 1958, under former Melbourne premiership captain Noel McMahen, was the most celebrated flag, mainly because it was the club’s first in a senior competition since it had won the Goulburn Valley title in 1914. With the exception of McMahen and David William’s father Ron, both of whom came to live in the town, all the players were from the town or district.

 

Of those from the district, we had the likes of Spencer Broom from Bamawm, Brian Jones from Lockington, Ken Ingram from Elmore, even Ken Colvin from Gunbower – all became stars in the Bendigo league. Bruce Watson, the current Rochy secretary, said: “When Dirty was in charge, we used to recruit from Rushworth, Stanhope and Colbo (Colbinabbin) as well.”

 

 

Watson has been a stalwart of the club since making his senior debut as a sixteen-year old in 1970 under Kevin Shinners (ex Richmond) in the Bendigo league. He subsequently played more than 300 games in the GVFL, but that includes games with Stanhope in 1972 when Rochester was forced out of football for one season. (We wanted to swap from the Bendigo league to the Goulburn Valley league but the Victorian Country Football league was reluctant.)

 

Watson, a physical education teacher at the Rochester Secondary College, was the team runner and conditioner after retiring, then chairman of selectors under Williams, and he coached the thirds to a premiership in 1996. He is the father of Ashley, who was a leading player in last year’s premiership side and won a number of media awards for best player in the league.

 

Fifty years on from 1958, Rochy did it again. And the influx of locals is set to swell the ranks for this season.

 

Former Rochy players are coming back: Sam Brennan (overseas), Ben Anderson (West Perth), Brodie Montague (Ainslie, ACT) and Heath Aiken (Blackburn). The only major losses are Whitsed, utility Brad Hynan and club record games-holder Anthony McPhee, who retired after 400 games at the club. (Although he did happen to pull on the boots for the seconds last week.)

 

The club’s major signing is former Sydney rookie-listed ruckman Guy Campbell, who’s joined the Tigers from arch rival, Echuca. Campbell played last season with Echuca. In the previous two years, having returned from Sydney, he played at his original club, Echuca United.

 

Campbell will experience a different dimension to the Echuca-Rochester rivalry, which is one of the oldest and fiercest in country football, when he takes the field for the Tigers against Echuca today. The occasion will be fuelled by Rochester’s unfurling of the flag.

 

The Rochester Football Club was formed in 1874 with the express purpose, according to a newspaper report from the time, of “soon playing and beating Echuca”, which had been formed two years earlier. The Rochester club’s founding brief has sustained it through long, hard times in both the Bendigo and Goulburn Valley leagues.

 

Rochester and Echuca play for the George Oglivie Trophy – a trophy introduced many years ago to acknowledge the influence of Ogilvie, a 1920s Richmond star, who coached both clubs in the Bendigo league in the 1930s. The trophy is in a state of disrepair, but Rochester hold it after eliminating Echuca from the finals last season.

 

The trophy is up for grabs again today.

 

Footnote: Rochester defeated Echuca by 68 points, 20.20 (140) to 10.12 (72).


 

 

 

 

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