Almanac Books (and Lunch): The City of Geelong’s finest





Our next Almanac Lunch on Friday, 28 June takes us on the road to Geelong to chat with renowned sporting journalist, writer and promoter John Craven about his recent book The Conquerors, which recognises the Top 100 sportspeople to come out of Geelong. Click here for details.


In the lead-up to the event, we’ll publish a few snippets from different chapters to give readers a first-hand feel for what we’ll hear about with Craven’s controversial opinions from 1 to 100 of Geelong’s best local sports stars across 33 different sports.


In today’s first installment, we feature cricket and basketball. All italicized narratives below are from The Conquerors. 



  1. Alan Connolly: the Lionheart


Coming in at Number 17, we have former Test fast bowler Alan Connolly.


This is a personal favourite because when I was a young cricketer, this is who I wanted to be. I could even do his bowling action better than he could. One day, he replied with a handwritten letter to one I had written to him after I had found his address in the Geelong phone book. Things were like that back in those innocent days of the 1960s.


Besides. he went to Belmont Primary and Geelong High. Why search for boyhood heroes elsewhere when you have them on your own doorstep?


A big man for his day at 190 cm, Big Al’s career headline figures were 29 Tests for 102 wickets while, even today, he still holds third place in Victorian Sheffield Shield wicket takers with 297 behind only Scott Boland (334) and Paul Rieffel (318). But there is much more behind the raw figures given the lower number of Test series played in the 1960s than in today’s crowded agenda.


“In 262 Test and other First Class matches before his retirement in 1971, Connolly bowled an astonishing 52,932 balls for Australia, Victoria and the English County team Middlesex, and took 676 wickets. Four times he netted 10 or more wickets in a match – on 30 occasions he claimed five or more scalps in an innings. His best return was 9/67 for Victoria against Queensland. Then there were the further 197 dismissals he engineered for South Melbourne. Former English paceman Frank “Typhoon” Tyson branded him “Lionheart” in a newspaper column.”


After attending Belmont Primary School and Geelong High School, Connolly “engaged in a couple of earners to generate vital pocket money” given his family finances were quite modest. But it was cricket he was almost exclusively focused on – and he was very good at that.


Al Pal quickly became a regular at the newly admitted Geelong Cricket Association team, South Barwon in 1954. At the age of 17 with his statistics in lower grades hammering the door down, “he was elevated into South Barwon’s First XI.” By this time, “his pace had risen to frightening levels especially when bowling to colleagues on the club’s suspect training wickets. Some of his team-mates refused point blank to face him.”


However, “his work ethic on the training pitches was transferred into the heat of battle. In his First XI debut in the 1956/57 season’s opening round, he brutalised Geelong West which boasted the smartest batting line-up in the GCA; his 7/33 off a sterling 16 8-ball overs included a hat trick. Then followed a demolition job on reigning premiers Newtown & Chilwell – 7/29 in the first innings and 4/19 in the second. In Round 5 he savaged Geelong City with a record 9/45.”


Victorian Cricket Association metropolitan clubs in Melbourne very soon came down the highway to sign up the young tearaway teenage quick.


Not long afterwards, he became a regular with South Melbourne where he opened the bowling with the soon to be banned Test bowler Ian Meckiff.


In one of cricket’s great ironies, Connolly was selected for his first Test against South Africa in Brisbane in 1963 to play alongside his club team-mate Meckiff blissfully unaware of the storm of controversy awaiting them. The pair of them combined with Graeme McKenzie as the pace attack threesome alongside spinners Richie Benaud, in his last Test series, and Queensland off-spinner Tom Veivers.


After Meckiff “was no balled for throwing by umpire Colin Egar, The Gabba stadium erupted when Aussie captain Richie Benaud threw Connolly the ball and asked him to bowl in place of the humiliated Meckiff.

“I bowled my first delivery for Australia with the crowd booing me,” he says.”


After this bumpy introduction, Connolly subsequently “gained great respect as the perfect backup for the country’s best fast bowler of the 1960s, the West Australian Graeme “Garth” McKenzie.”


Big Al is still alive and well aged 84 and living locally in Anglesea.


  1. Trish Fallon: Queen of the Castle


Coming in at Number 5, Craven rates basketballer Trish Fallon as the finest legacy of the golden years of Australian basketball in the 1980s and 1990s. He claims she is not only Geelong’s best ever basketballer, but also, Geelong’s best female sports star of all time.


“It requires a calculator to tally up Trish Fallon’s basketball accomplishments. The three times Olympian represented Australia an astonishing 224 times; 34 as captain. She played 251 games in the Women’s National League, shooting a mesmerising 3500 plus points. She was head-hunted by five overseas clubs from four countries, stacking up another 335 appearances. Her on-court career spanned 20 years.

Trish’s medal haul on the international stage ensures her elevated status as Geelong’s greatest- of-all-time female sports star; two silver and a bronze at the Olympic Games, a World Championship bronze, a premiership gold with her Valencia team in the Spanish League; and a lot more.

At a gangling 190 cm and 76 kg, the agile girl with the long-flowing blonde hair and cartloads of determination was inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010; hardly surprising.”


Born in Melbourne in 1972, her family moved to Geelong four years later where her local credentials are exemplary. As a young girl she attended Oberon South Primary School then Oberon High School at which point she was a keen tennis player.


“We travelled all over Victoria playing tournaments on weekends and were members of the Geelong Lawn Tennis Club. I guess when you’ve got four kids it’s easier for everyone to do the one sport. I started when I was six or seven but once I began playing basketball at 14, I dropped tennis pretty quickly.”


But tennis’s loss was soon to become basketball’s gain – big time.


“Trish became a target for Melbourne talent spotters after a sequence of outstanding displays at Victorian country championships and other representative matches.”


At the age of 16 in 1989 she was awarded an all-expenses paid scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport where she became shell-shocked by the full-on AIS schedules starting at 5.30 am. “We would sleep in our training gear so we could get a few extra minutes in bed,” she laughs.”


Into her twenties, Trish found herself playing in major European leagues in Spain, Germany and Italy but it was her time in America she regarded as her most career improving move.


“By 1999, she was in America playing for the Minnesota Lynx in the Women’s National Basketball Association – the pinnacle of world women’s basketball; she transferred to the Phoenix Mercury in 2000.

“America is the cream of the crop,” Trish declares. “They have their own great local born players and recruit the top available internationals. It’s a very tough environment over there. If you can make it in American basketball, you can make it anywhere.”


Having played in the three Australian teams beaten by the Americans in the Olympic Games of Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004) – where Trish was Captain – she should know all about how hard the Americans are to beat. That said, a bronze and two silvers across three consecutive Olympics in a sport where no Australian team had previously won a medal was an outstanding achievement.


Trish is currently Basketball Australia’s Opal’s Team Manager and is looking forward to renewed conflict with the Americans at the 2024 Paris Olympics.


“It will be a very tough environment, as it is with all Olympics,” she says. “But the Opals will be ready.”


To RSVP for the lunch Click here.



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