Almanac Book Review: ‘On the Premiership Trail – More Travels in Victorian Country Football’ by Paul Daffey



Paul Daffey, On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football, Daffey Publications, Melbourne, 2020. ISBN: 978-0-646-82660. RRP $35.00

Reviewed by Rod Gillett


Purple Reign


When the Nathalia footy team win the premiership, on the following Monday morning they take the cup to the aged care retirement village in town to share with the residents; that’s how much it means to this small community (pop. 1902) in the heart of the Murray Valley.


And the Mighty Purples, the ‘Purps’, know how to find the retirement home, they’ve won ten of the last 15 premierships in the Murray Football League. A stunning record for a competition that currently numbers fourteen clubs.


In his latest book on country football, On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football, Paul Daffey goes inside two of the most recent successful country clubs, Nathalia and Kyabram, to find out why.


Daffey finds that there’s nothing in the water at the Broken Creek at Nathalia or the Waranga Mallee Channel at Kyabram; it’s all about the ‘culture’ of the respective footy clubs based on deep community ties and genuine leadership on and off the paddock.


In the change rooms before the 2019 Grand Final at Finley, Daffey finds five former premiership coaches of Nathalia working harmoniously together in various capacities to assist the first-time captain-coach Mal Barnes plot victory over Tongala.


As Daffey notes, “No one appears to have an ego that demands singular attention to his own mighty deeds. All the old coaches pour their memories and experiences into the Purple Pot of Knowledge. They are willing to contribute to the greater good.”


Nathalia win to make it five flags in a row to set a new record for the Murray League, which they entered in 1933; they only won four premierships in the 20th century. Daffey, who trained as a football reporter at the Bendigo Advertiser, provides an excellent report in the final chapter as he does for all the other Grand Finals he attended.


I went on part of the premiership trail with Paul Daffey when I met him in Shepparton on the Sunday, the day after the Purps’ historic win for the Goulburn Valley Grand Final between Kyabram, known simply as Ky, and Echuca.


As an old Ky boy, I was keen to see if they could win their 83rd game out of 84 for three premierships in four years. The only loss was to Shepp, in 2018, Ky’s nemesis in the 60s when Tommy Hafey led the Maroons to three successive premierships, 1963-65 (which I witnessed) before going to Richmond.


Paul Daffey’s quest to find the formula for Ky’s success, which included a visit for several days during the previous season, revealed that it was mostly down to the coach, Paul Newman, known as ‘Paulo’, who ‘… showed true loyalty and humility throughout his long and illustrious career. As a coach, those same qualities have proved vital in gelling together the best playing list in the club’s history’.


Daffey’s findings show that, ‘Every player at Kyabram wants to play for Paulo. Every official loves him. Every supporter loves him. It is rare that I have been at a footy club and noted such a clear fulcrum in the fortunes of his club’.


When he quizzed ‘Paulo’ about Ky’s success, he was told to go and talk to ‘Dirty’.


So Daffey went to see ‘Dirty’ David Williams, the Melbourne 1988 Grand Final full-forward, who returned home to coach Rochester for sixteen seasons, including two premierships.


Williams had been lured to coach Kyabram for the 2008 season after Rochy wanted the euphemistic ‘change of direction’ – even though as the club’s major sponsor (Hotel Rochester), he tipped more money into the club than he was paid to coach! Nonetheless Rochester went on to to dramatically beat Seymour for the GVL premiership while ‘Dirty’ set about building the platform for Ky’s sustained success, including a flag in 2013.


The chapter written about Daffey’s interview with David Williams is enthralling. ‘Dirty’ is renowned for being ‘tetchy’ and he had a blow-up with Daffey over a piece in The Age back in 2003. I was fastened to my chair reading this chapter as they worked through the issues. Williams is highly-regarded in Rochester, not just for his football prowess, but for his generosity of spirit and material assistance.


It is a shame that Daffey was not able to include Maffra and Koroit on his premiership trail. Just like Nathalia, they are minnows in their respective competitions and been equally as successful over the past decade and won a premiership in 2019.


However, he does write a section on Koroit’s triple premiership coach, the intriguing Adam Dowie, who also landed flags at Terang-Mortlake and Warrnambool in the Hampden League and led North Warrnambool into the 2019 Grand Final which they lost to Koroit.


Daffey interviewed Dowie in the coach’s room, a tin shed at Bushfield oval, before training when Dowie cited the example of coaches who demand that every player must run around a particular goalpost during a training drill.


Dowie told him that rather than waste energy on demanding that every player must make his way around a particular post, he demands that every player must perform the role expected of him each and every time he takes the field.


One of the revelations of Daffey’s book is how he saw the future of country football at an outer suburban oval in Bendigo at Maiden Gully, when they took on Loddon Valley powerhouse, the Mitiamo Superoos, in the opening round of 2019.


YCW Maiden Gully are now the largest football-netball club in central Victoria while Mitiamo’s senior team contained no local players, not one. As Daffey points out, the growing regional centres like Bendigo, Ballarat, Albury, Mildura and Warrnambool provide the pool of players for so many of the outlying country clubs.


Paul Daffey is an acute observer of the game and its people, and the trends in country football; he is also a wonderful storyteller with an innate ability to craft a body of work with telling insight that makes compelling reading.



On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football is available from good bookstores and the author [email protected]  



Paul’s new book will be launched tonight at the Nathalia Football Club.



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  1. Great review Roseville Rocket.

    Today’s Bendigo Advertiser contains a full-page chapter excerpt from Daff’s book.

    Specifically on the Mitiamo vs. Maiden Gully-YCW Rd. 1 clash from 2019 where he sits next to Miti legend, John Forbes.

    As noted by you no footballer in the Mitiamo team is from the district. And none of them has any family connection to the Windy Flats town or farming district

    Forbesy told me the other day that 26 people attended the Mitiamo emergency meeting to try and prevent any wind-up of the 2019 premiership club. There’s a lot to be done before the 2021 season kicks off.

    Looking forward to seeing Daff Sunday lunchtime when he drops in for a bite to eat — and a couple of central Vic. reds, of course.


  2. John James says

    I came across a really dominant era when researching Benalla’s history when updating their Wikipedia page and between 1931 and 1941, Benalla’s senior team played off in ten senior football grand finals, winning seven premierships.

    The only season Benalla missed playing in a grand final was in 1934 when they lost the first semi final to Wilby by one point in the Benalla Mulwala Football Association in a real golden era for the club.

    Benalla stepped away from the Ovens and Murray FL during this period to play in a lower standard and less travel, but it would be interesting to know what is the secret formula to their success?

  3. Dr Rocket says

    Thanks John.

    This is certainly a very good run by Benalla.

    Winning the 1940 GVL premiership in the first season was an impressive win.

    Clearly further research needed to unlock their formula for success and to link it to the current club.

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