Almanac Footy: Two Saints but not Saintly?


Covid has certainly helped when going through your sporting archives.  Here are two such stories about Milne McCooke and Eric Guy.


You boys play football and I’ll take care of Longwarry” Milne McCooke KooWeeRup Captain Coach   13th September 1969


The 1969 football season in West Gippsland had been uneventful.  The all-conquering Longwarry team had gone through the season virtually unscathed and unbeaten and a premiership was a foregone conclusion.  The Blues had been able to recruit star players from other clubs and in local terms had ‘spent big dollars’.  It was a team of journeymen backed up with some fine locals.  Their opponents on Grand Final day were the young inexperienced KooWeeRup team made of sixteen young players, nine of whom were still teenagers, who had gone to KooWeeRup High School and a colorful coach by the name of Milne McCooke. In his younger days McCooke had played with St Kilda (13 games 8 goals) and later on went to coach in the country. McCooke was a big man with a strong voice and physique to match.  He was also well known for his ability to get players ‘in’ both physically and mentally.  He was ‘The Protector’.


In the second term McCooke took control of the Longwarry back men while his young teammates added seven goals to one in a match winning quarter.


Longwarry went in to the game as the hottest favorites on record.  With such a star-studded team they had strength all over the ground.  On the other hand, KooWeeRup had the one element that was missing from the Blues line-up – local content.  The Demons had 16 of the 20 players who had spent their lives in the swamp.  The Blues had six.  This factor was to prove the difference between the two teams; a point emphasized by McCooke during his three-quarter-time address when his team was six points up. “You boys are playing for your home town; they are just a mob playing for the money. It’s your home town pride that will bring us the premiership,” he said.  And so, it came to pass with the young legs of the Demons running all over Longwarry in the final term to win by 25 points.


If there is one thing associated with country football that stands out it is the case of the hometown versus the imports.  Many clubs have tried to ‘buy’ premierships over the years but very few succeed.  They can go through the season virtually unchallenged but when it came to the premiership end of the season they would fall by the wayside.  Nothing can replace hometown loyalty and support those players receive. It often sounds like mind over matter but in the home stretch it is the size of the heart that brings results.


Milne McCooke’s son Steven represented Victoria at cricket.



“We pick the side this way – seniors, reserves, thirds and fourths – Eric Guy Pakenham coach


Eric Guy was a tough uncompromising player for St Kilda and was well known as the hardest man in VFL football during his time with the Saints.  Guy played 93 matches with the Saints after a stellar career at Oakleigh in the VFA. Guy’s credo was always run in a straight line.  Many an opponent felt his bone crunching tackles and runaway train clashes during his time as a player.  He was not called ‘The Tank’ for nothing.


Guy coached both Longwarry and Pakenham in the West Gippsland Football League and besides his ranting and raving in the coach’s box which always ended in him crashing his fist again the wall he gave many young players their big opportunity to show their skills at an early age.  Away from the hurly burly of the game he was a shy and introverted person and hard to engage in conversation.  He was seen as ruthless and mean spirited but he saw the best in young players and knew that if they wanted to make it to the top, his way was a catalyst to a burgeoning career.


Guy picked his teams not by age but by ability and in the case of young players by their potential.  His first star was Peter Knights (Hawthorn, 267 games & 202 goals) who made his mark as a 15-year-old with Longwarry.  He followed this up by playing youngsters Ray Jencke, Peter Russo and Stuart Nicol as young tyros at Pakenham. Jencke was not quite 15 and went on to play 194  games with Hawthorn, Nicol played 7 games with Footscray and won the JJ Liston Trophy (Best & Fairest VFA) whilst playing with Springvale.  Russo played in three premiership teams at Hawthorn as well as a stint at St Kilda where his father Felix (14 games) had played.  Peter Russo played 162 games and kicked 102 goals for Hawthorn and 33 games and 20 goals for St.Kilda.


Milne McCooke and Eric Guy were never ‘Saints’ on the football field but their love of the game and their awareness of young talent gained them great respect at the country clubs they were involved with.


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 Bob Utber

At 80 years of age Citrus Bob is doing what he wanted to do as a 14 year-old living on the farm at Lang Lang. Talking, writing, watching sport. Now into his third book on sports history he lives in Mildura with his very considerate wife (Jenny ) and a groodle named "Chloe On Flinders". How good is that.

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