Almanac Footy: Ron Reeves – I’ll do it my way

Ron Reeves in 1958, a premiership year

I never questioned Barry Harrison or Murray Weideman. It was so deliberate, it was a set plan. Kyne came back and said don’t take any notice of what’s going on around you. He virtually said we’ve got a few blokes who are going to rough them up but don’t you get in on it.

 

  • Ron Reeves in October 2020, talking tactics for the 1958 grand final

 

A full game…

 

For three years, Ron Reeves had been at Collingwood. His debut in the final round of 1957 was as 19th man, and he only played a couple of minutes. As the 1958 season slipped by, Reeves waited impatiently for his first full game.

 

Late May, Collingwood coach Phonse Kyne called Reeves out from training and glared at him. ‘We’re going to put you in for your first full game,’ he said. ‘But I’ve gotta tell you son, you’re only going to play one. Lerrel Sharp sprained his ankle tonight. The job is his, right or wrong.’

 

Kyne stomped off.

 

On 31 May 1958, Collingwood played South Melbourne at Victoria Park. Reeves, wearing number 16, ran to the back pocket to pick up Brian McGowan.

 

Twice during the first quarter, Reeves left McGowan to attack the ball. The first time it bounced over his head, and McGowan kicked a goal. The second time it flashed past Reeves’s outstretched hand, and McGowan kicked another goal.

 

‘Oh well,’ Reeves thought. ‘I only wanted to play one full game for Collingwood.’

 

On the bench, Kyne yelled instructions to the runner, Spider Webb. As Webb sprinted onto the field, Reeves knew what the message would be. ‘Ron, the coach is going mad,’ Webb said. ‘You’ve gotta stay with your player, don’t give him an inch. You’re not out here to get kicks.’

 

Chastised, Reeves trotted over to pick up Bob Skilton, who had changed with McGowan. When a loose ball came into defence, Reeves sprinted away from Skilton, gathered it and kept running. From the wing, he kicked long to Mick Twomey who kicked a goal.

 

‘All I ever wanted to do was play one full game with Collingwood, just one,’ Reeves said. ‘I made a decision that day to do it my way. If I didn’t, I would never have played another game for Collingwood.’

 

Collingwood for life

 

Reeves was born in Abbotsford on 6 December 1938. With five sisters, he grew up in the shadows of Victoria Park, in a narrow terrace house his parents rented from the Catholics next door.

He learned to play football in the street with a bunch of kids. Footballs were made from scrunched up newspaper tightly tied with string. Being short, Reeves couldn’t out mark his mates, and learned to time his leap as the paper football floated into the pack.

 

‘I had to get a run at the blokes in front of me,’ Reeves said. ‘If they were under the ball I could run up their back.’

 

On those streets, he suffered the hardest knock he ever took in football. One day, a mate brought a real football, with the bladder protruding from one end. Though it was tattered, the kids had never seen or used a real football. Reeves recalls taking a screamer, and watching his mates flee over nearby fences.

 

‘Run Ronnie, run,’ they called out.

 

Reeves turned, seeing a riderless draft horse fleeing from the dairy. Tucking the ball under his arm, he headed for home. As he swung into the yard on the fence post, the draft horse collared him.

 

The injuries included a broken arm, broken collar bone, front teeth knocked out and three broken ribs. He bled on the Collingwood jumper knitted by his aunty, when his father Charles gathered him from the street.

 

Reeves was nine.

 

‘I knew you’d play for Collingwood,’ Charles said later. ‘Because you still had the footy tucked under your arm.’

 

Despite living in Collingwood, Reeves played junior football in Richmond, captaining Richmond Technical School and getting named captain for the Victorian School Boys side. The national championships were being held in Queensland, and his mum, Sylvia refused to let him fly in fear of the plane crashing.

 

‘You can imagine how I felt,’ Reeves said. ‘I’d been picked as captain for the Victorian School Boys and my mother says I’m not allowed to go.’

 

Selection was enough to interest Richmond, and club officials gave Reeves football boots, jumpers and shorts. Those gifts stopped suddenly when Richmond officials realised he was tied to Collingwood by his address.

 

At 15, Reeves followed a few mates to East Melbourne YCW (Young Catholic Workers) Football Club. His mates were all Catholics, and Reeves expected to be turned away by Father John Brosnan, who presided over the club. ‘I was a Protestant of course,’ Reeves explained.

 

That year, East Melbourne YCW won the premiership. Reeves finished second in the competition’s best and fairest award, and wasn’t called to the stage on presentation night. ‘I didn’t get a trophy,’ he said.

 

The following day, he banged on Father Brosnan’s door. ‘I know why you’re here,’ the priest said. ‘I’m sorry son, but its policy that Protestants don’t receive any benefits.’

‘I was good enough to help you win the bloody flag,’ Reeves growled. ‘But not good enough to win a trophy?’

 

Ron in a promotional photo at training

 

Getting to Collingwood

 

Early January 1955, one of Reeves’s sisters ran down the passage to answer a knock on the door. ‘Dad,’ she said. ‘There’s a Catholic priest here.’

 

‘Tell the bastard they live next door,’ Charles said.

 

Unperturbed, Father Brosnan called out. ‘Mr Reeves, I’d like to have a chat about your son because I think he’s got the potential to play for Collingwood.’

 

‘Well, that’s different,’ Charles said.

 

A few weeks later, when Collingwood’s pre-season began, Father Brosnan took Reeves to Victoria Park and introduced him to Jack Ross, the under 19s coach. The next Saturday, Reeves played on the wing in an under 19s practice match, and got plenty of the ball. Just before halftime, the opposition captain punched him on the chin.

 

‘Being born and bred in Collingwood you never take a backward step,’ Reeves said. ‘You were brought up streetwise.’

 

As the halftime siren sounded, Reeves stood toe-to-toe, punching on. In the rooms, Ross told him to sit out the second half. Misinterpreting the message, Reeves sulked home. ‘I thought they’re not going to put up with that behaviour,’ he recalled. ‘That was the first time I thought I’d never play for Collingwood.’

 

Sunday night, Ross and Charlie Pannam knocked on the front door. Charles answered. ‘We wondered where your son got to,’ Ross said.

 

‘He came home like a spoilt little brat,’ Charles said. ‘Reckoned he ruined any chance he had of playing league footy.’

 

Pannum shook his head. ‘We thought he’d done enough. We’re putting him in the thirds for the first game.’

 

Reeves stood 175cm tall and weighed 76kg. He got his speed running SP booking slips for his father. After two seasons in the under 19s, he honed his craft in the reserves in 1957, regularly named among the best. ‘I thought I’m getting close now,’ he said.

 

In the final round, Reeves was selected as 19th man against St Kilda. He debuted in number 12 on 24 August, the same day his sister Sylveen was getting married.

 

In that era, the interchange rule was rigid. A player taken from the field couldn’t return.  Reeves sat on the bench, worrying he wouldn’t get a run. With Collingwood trailing badly, Kyne put him on with a few minutes left.

 

About 4:30pm, as Charles walked Sylveen down the aisle, he was listening to the game on a transistor radio. When Reeves kicked a goal, Charles stopped in the aisle. ‘He’s kicked a goal,’ he yelled, and the wedding guests erupted into cheers.

 

‘Syveen never forgave me,’ Reeves quipped about missing and interrupting her wedding.

 

Working on Collingwood’s grandstand

1958 – Slow beginnings

 

Reeves started a carpentry apprenticeship and would help build Collingwood’s grand stand. He also started the 1958 season in the reserves, before playing against South Melbourne and giving up those two early goals. Wanting to play his way, Reeves attacked from defence, getting named in Collingwood’s best.

 

‘I didn’t expect to get another game,’ Reeves said. ‘But they thought we can’t drop him.’

 

Although Sharp returned from injury, he couldn’t budge Reeves from the back pocket. Collingwood finished second to Melbourne, who had won three consecutive premierships.

 

In the semi-final, Melbourne held Collingwood to four goals and won by 45 points. ‘Finals football is something else,’ Reeves said. ‘You’ve gotta raise up to another level.’

 

Collingwood rebounded in the preliminary final, defeating North Melbourne by 20-points. Melbourne loomed large and unbeatable. After training on Thursday night, Kyne ordered the players to the President’s room, where Collingwood identity and barrister Frank Galbally waited.

 

‘He gave us a fire eating, ball bouncing, rally round the flag, take no prisoners speech,’ Reeves said. ‘It was incredible. I was just a young bloke and very impressionable.’

 

Friday morning, Reeves was exhausted. Overwhelmed by nerves, he’d barely slept, playing the game all night in his mind. ‘I’ve had 35 dashes from the back pocket,’ Reeves told his father. ‘Taken 28 marks and given Ian Ridley and Bluey Adams the biggest hiding those two blokes ever had.’

 

Charles suggested a few hours of trout fishing to relax. Reeves drove to Marysville in the Yarra Valley, about 100km from Abbotsford. Totally absorbed in fishing, he lost track of time, and suddenly realised the trees were throwing long shadows across the stream.

 

‘Tomorrow I’m playing on the MCG for Collingwood in a grand final,’ Reeves said. ‘And here I was up this damn stream.’

 

Packing up, he trekked down the mountain in the darkness, falling several times. ‘I could’ve sprained my ankle, I could’ve sprained my wrist,’ he said. ‘You can imagine what Phonse would say if he knew one of his players was stumbling down a mountain on the eve of the grand final.’

 

Reeves walked in about 10:30pm, just as his parents were about to call the police. That night, he slept well.

 

Getting a kick away in the grand final

Grand final day

 

Saturday morning, Charles showed his son the paper. ‘This will stir you up,’ he said. The headline, in big bold black letters rankled Reeves: The hottest favourites since Phar Lap – Melbourne unbeatable.

Collingwood had lost 10 consecutive games to Melbourne, and hadn’t beaten them in a final for 20 years. Melbourne had played in seven consecutive grand finals, winning five. Victory would ensure they equalled Collingwood’s record of four consecutive premierships.

 

Reeves was one of five teenagers in Collingwood’s grand final team. They were huge underdogs.

 

Walking into the MCG rooms, Reeves made eye contact with his teammates. No one talked. ‘There was something different,’ he said. ‘This wasn’t the same side that was beaten by Melbourne two weeks before.’

 

Dressed to play in number 17 instead of 16 which he’d worn throughout the year, he retreated to a bench seat. Elbows on his knees, deep in thought with his head in his hands, an arm crossed his shoulders.

 

‘How are you feeling Ron?’

 

Reeves gazed at Syd Coventry.

 

‘Ron, hundreds of true Collingwood champions have passed through the hallowed halls over the years,’ Coventry said. ‘Few of them can call themselves Collingwood premiership players. If you win today, you’ll never be known as Ron Reeves who played for Collingwood. You’ll always be known as a Collingwood premiership player.’

 

Coventry got up and walked away.

 

When Kyne called the players together, he stood on a chair, towering over his men. ‘I want you to bleed for Collingwood,’ Kyne shouted. ‘I want you to bleed for the black and white. I want you to bleed for the jumper.’

 

‘Whenever Phonse gave his pre-match address, he’d get really wound up and froth at the mouth,’ Reeves said. ‘I could feel this fine spray over my face. I didn’t blink. I thought this was our leader showing us victory.’

 

In sodden conditions, with the centre square a bog, Melbourne led by 17-points at quarter time. In the huddle, Reeves glanced at the Members stand, seeing grey smoke billowing from the cigars and cigarettes. ‘I could almost hear them say here we go again, another boring game,’ he said.

 

Collingwood ruggedly clawed their way back, kicking five goals and leading by two points at halftime. In the rooms, Reeves sat beside Harry Sullivan as their coach approached them. ‘Ron, you and Harry are doing a sterling job,’ Kyne said. ‘There’s nothing I can tell you. Just keep going the way you are. That’s all I can ask.’

 

Kyne took a couple of steps and turned. ‘Don’t take any notice of what goes on after half time,’ he warned.

 

Reeves shared a glance with Sullivan. ‘I thought that was rather strange,’ Reeves said. ‘Didn’t take long to find out what he meant.’

 

During the third quarter, Reeves said Mike Delanty, Murray Weideman, Bill Serong and Barry Harrison went on a rampage, knocking their opponents over, fair or not. ‘Melbourne started to roll over,’ Reeves said. ‘Putting in the short steps. Frightened that every time they got the ball they were going to get bowled over.’

 

At the last change, Collingwood led by 33-points, a remarkable and unassailable lead in the conditions. Melbourne attacked in the final quarter, but Collingwood held them out.

 

‘I walked past Barassi halfway through the last quarter and said it’s all over mate,’ Reeves recalled. ‘He was standing there, head bowed, shoulders stooped, like he’d just given the pallbearers the slip. He give me a snarl, which only Barassi could with his teeth out. He knew it.’

 

Despite kicking just one point for the term, Collingwood won by three goals.

 

When the siren sounded, Reeves stood in the centre of the MCG and wiped his eyes as 97,956 people roared or booed. ‘It was absolutely incredible,’ he said. ‘My whole body reverberated. I looked up at the sea of faces and thought, Jesus Reevesy, you’ll never pass this way again.’

 

After ignoring Kyne’s orders in round eight, Reeves thought he’d never play another game. Twelve weeks later, he was a premiership player. ‘It was the stuff of dreams,’ he admitted.

 

He was only 19, and had played 13 games.

 

Ron punching above his weight

The aftermath

 

The players went to the Exhibition Building to celebrate with 1000 supporters. Reeves can’t remember too much about the night. ‘I certainly didn’t have a swelled head,’ he said. ‘But you felt invincible. I started drinking too many beers which I never normally did.’

 

Kyne usually kept a tight reign over his players. Drinking was frowned upon, but he let them party after the premiership. ‘I don’t remember a great deal,’ Reeves said.

 

Journalists criticised Collingwood for their brutal tactics. They also criticised Melbourne for seeking revenge during the second half, instead of seeking the football. Melbourne’s chance at equalling Collingwood’s record of four consecutive premierships was lost.

 

‘The only side that could stop Melbourne from equalling our record was Collingwood,’ Reeves said. ‘Man for man, they were a far better skilled side than we were. But they lacked a bit of ticker when the going got rough.’

 

In the following days, the players celebrated hard. Invitations to pubs and restaurants. Feted throughout the community. ‘The last thing I remember was getting on a train and going to Western Australia,’ Reeves said. ‘I don’t know why.’

 

Attacking from defence – and the end

 

Reeves never spent much time with teammates after a game. A devout trout fisherman, he had mates pick him about 6pm, and they’d head for the hills. He’d also met Julie, who would become his wife. Occasionally, he was criticised by committeemen who wanted him to socialise with teammates and supporters.

 

‘Fishing and football,’ Reeves said. ‘I managed to combine them well.’

 

Reeves became the best back pocket player in the VFL, anticipating the play and leaving his man to get the ball or marking over a pack. Strength in his legs allowed him to hold his ground and out-mark an opponent. He said he played on instinct.

 

‘It’s something that can’t be taught,’ Reeves said. ‘If you didn’t back your judgement you were gone. The only way to stop your opponent is to get the ball.’

 

Reeves crammed a lot into the next five years. On 25 February, 1961, he and Julie were married. The welcomed Jenny in 1963 and Sally in 1965. Reeves also represented Victoria and played in Collingwood’s losing grand finals against Melbourne in 1960 and 1964.

 

A ball-player, he was never reported, but retaliated once after being kicked in the head by a North Melbourne opponent. Harry Sullivan stood him up and pointed him in the right direction. ‘That bastard over there, he sunk the slipper into you.’

 

The next time the ball was nearby, Reeves ignored it and punched the kicker. The umpire, Harry Beitzel saw the punch but ignored the square-up. As he ran past, he offered a caution. ‘That’s not you, Ron,’ Beitzel said.

 

In 1964, Bob Rose took over from Kyne. By 1965, Rose hardened his attitude to Reeves, and dropped him after round five. Believing he’d been playing well, Reeves didn’t understand the demotion. Later that night, he called Rose and quit.

 

‘Give my position to someone else,’ Reeves said.

 

‘Ron, there are other positions on the field,’ Rose said. ‘You’ve still got the ability to play senior football.’

 

Having achieved everything he wanted in football, Reeves didn’t want to play reserves. ‘I never went back,’ he said. ‘I suppose you could say I cracked the darks, which is not like me, but I thought I can’t be bothered. I just cut clean straight away. At the time, I couldn’t care less.’

 

He was just 26.

 

Ron and Julie announce their engagement

Going to Waverley and beyond

 

Reeves ran a menswear business in Glen Waverley for a few years, but thieves broke in three times, cleaned out the stock and sent him broke. With his house aligned to the business, he lost everything. ‘I drove out of the street with Julie and our daughters, $600 and some clothes,’ he lamented.

 

They moved in with Julie’s mum. Reeves went back to the construction industry.

 

Late in 1965, Reeves was in a pub when Les Allen, the Waverley Mayor, walked in. They had a beer and a chat. Aware Reeves was struggling, Allen thrust $2000 into his hands. ‘I want you to put a deposit on a house,’ the Mayor said.

 

Reeves stared at the money. ‘I can’t do that. That’s not my go.’

 

‘Put your pride in your back pocket for a bloody change,’ Allen said. ‘Pay me back whenever you get it. I don’t care.’

 

Reeves deposited the money on a house in Glen Waverley and moved the family in.

 

January 1966, he met Allen at the Waverley Football Club, where Allen was president, and his club were reigning VFA premiers. ‘I have a chance to repay you the only way I know,’ Reeves said. ‘I’ll spend a couple of seasons playing for Waverley. I don’t want any money.’

 

In 1966, Waverley lost the grand final to Port Melbourne. Reeves had a good year, but his heart wasn’t in it. ‘I didn’t really take much interest in Waverley,’ he said. ‘All I wanted to do was help them out for a couple of seasons. Met some nice blokes there like Carl Brewster and John Gallus.’

 

Reeves spent a lot of time fly fishing around Thornton, near Eildon Weir, and became known in the community. Thornton Football Club had won a handful of games in five years, and club officials asked Reeves to captain-coach. He agreed to coach for one season without pay, and rejected an offer of 10 acres of land for a long-term deal.

 

Some weeks, only 16 men turned up to play. Reeves led Thornton to one victory for the season, against Alexandra who were on top. The victory gave Reeves something to work with, but the following week, an act of brutality against Seymour forced him to quit in disgust.

 

In pouring rain, Reeves bent to gather the ball from the mud. A boot flashed in. Instinctively, he shielded his face with his right hand. The kick broke his right pointer finger at the first joint, sending the bone through the skin, and split his forehead open, a four-inch slice across his eyebrows.

 

‘I thought he busted my right eye open,’ Reeves recalled. ‘I’m lying there semi-conscious. Blood is pouring out of the wound. The trainer came out with a dirty towel he’d used to rub the liniment.’

 

The trainer held the filthy towel on Reeves’s head. Someone drove a Holden utility onto the ground. Reeves was bundled into the back.

 

Eildon Hospital was about 15 kilometres away. Down mountain roads, Reeves rolled side to side and banged into the ute’s walls. At Eildon Hospital, a nurse provided a pillow and sent him to Alexandra Hospital. ‘We can’t handle him here with head trauma,’ she said.

 

Alexandra Hospital was about 30 kilometres away.

 

Reeves emerged from surgery about 2am. With his head and finger bandaged, he told Julie it was over. ‘I’m not playing another game of footy,’ he said. ‘I’m sick of this crap.’

 

Still wearing football boots, he stood and slipped to the floor, re-breaking his finger and pushing the bone through the stitches. The same doctor had to redo his work, and discharged Reeves about 5am. The finger remains misshapen, the first joint almost at a right angle.

 

Reeves never played again. Too many opponents in the local league wanted bragging rights. ‘A lot of them had a go at me,’ he said. ‘But at least they were standing up doing it. It was a feather in their cap to say I bowled Reevesy over. To sink the boot in when you’re on the ground is just not on.’

 

Playing for Victoria against South Australia

Representing Australia at fly fishing

 

Reeves was President of the Red Flag Fly Fishing Club for a number of years, organising camping trips at Lake Eildon and beyond. He won a couple of Australian Fly Fishing championships and represented Australia in the Commonwealth Games, winning two Gold medals.

 

In 1981, the World Fly Fishing Championships were held in America. Reeves finished sixth in fly skish accuracy and fifth in spinning accuracy. ‘I didn’t win any medals in open competitions,’ he said. ‘It was quite exciting. To drop a little fly into a round hoop 40 or 50 feet away requires a lot of skill.’

 

At 57, Reeves ran his first Melbourne Marathon. He competed in the event three times, the last when he was 60. ‘When I crossed the line in my first marathon I broke down like I did in 1958 because it’s a self-achievement,’ he said. ‘Nobody helps you. When you run 42k you do it on your own.’

 

About 30 years after Reeves bought the Glen Waverley house, the council rezoned the land. He built three units on the block and sold up. Moving to Cleveland in Brisbane in 1998, he brought his love of Collingwood across the borders.

 

His phone ringtone is the Collingwood theme song. Collingwood stickers adorn his four-wheel-drive. ‘I’m Collingwood to my bootstraps.’ Reeves said. ‘I bled for Collingwood long before I ever pulled a guernsey on for them.’

 

Ron at 82, in Collingwood corner at home

Good old Collingwood – forever

 

Reeves played 122 games for Collingwood and kicked two goals. He was the original attacking back pocket player, in an era when defenders were trained to be negative.

 

Football didn’t make him rich. He described his match payments as very little. He remembers a 28 pound bonus for a final series, and won a golf bag without clubs and a wall heater for being the second best player in a preliminary final. ‘Nowadays they give them televisions and cars,’ Reeves said.

 

Collingwood celebrated their 125th anniversary in 2017 by naming their best 125 players. ‘They gave me a guernsey,’ Reeves said. ‘I don’t know why. I’m one of the 125. There’s only about 60 of us alive.’

 

Reeves took Jenny and Sally to the event and they loved it. ‘That’s the kick I’m getting out of it now,’ he said. ‘These kids share in the accolades. I know they’re proud of me. Even the grandkids. They’re all proud I played for Collingwood.’

 

In 2018, Collingwood invited the 1958 premiership veterans to Crown Casino for the 60th anniversary of that famous victory. Reeves chatted to Eddie McGuire about the prohibitive cost of the event and accommodation, and wanted to know if his daughters could attend.

 

‘Don’t worry about it Ron,’ McGuire said. ‘We’ll pick up the tab.’

 

Jenny and Sally never saw their father play, but 60 years after the premiership, they celebrated with him. ‘That meant a hell of a lot to me,’ he said. ‘They’re a terrific club, Collingwood.’

 

Reeves is now 82, and a Collingwood life member. He was at the MCG when Collingwood won premierships against Essendon in 1990 and St Kilda in 2010. Occasionally, he’ll get the family together and head to Melbourne for a game. The extended family, including grandkids, all love Collingwood.

 

Playing in a Collingwood premiership opened a lot of door for Reeves. ‘I had nothing,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t a businessman, but it put me on the map with a lot of people. I’m not being egotistical, but a lot of people wanted to know you.’

 

Over the years, Reeves has been invited to golf tournaments, football clubs, pubs and other sporting events to talk about his career. ‘I’m introduced as Ron Reeves, Collingwood premiership player. I didn’t put the importance on that, other people did.’

 

Other people are still doing it…

 

 

 

No chance at victory?

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE

 

 

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About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. Blindingly good. The past is another country. Well played Ron. A life well lived. Great research and writing. Thanks Matt.

  2. John Gallus says

    Great job on the Ron Reeves story Matt.The way you captured his early days,the drama of Finals in the 50’ and 60’s , the successes of his life and the disappointing finish to his career through a mongrel act only to be uplifted by Commonwealth Games Gold.Wow.I have great memories of Waverley days with him.and thankfully feel I probably dodged a bullet in the violence department.Well done Ron.Great to see you celebrate your club and achieved 125 status.

  3. Carl Brewster says

    Great read Matthew Ron had a sterling career played the game hard but fair.He is very enjoyable to be around and and is thorough gentleman.

  4. David Lambert says

    Great story Matt typical of the day where players only played for one club. Seemed to be a great fisherman too!! Wonderful reading.

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