” ‘Buggsy’ and the Lalor clan…a true sporting dynasty…” by KB Hill

 

Stephen ‘Buggsy’ Lalor is consumed by sport…… as he has been for most of his 59 years…….

Much of his spare time is now devoted to helping cart around, coach and follow the latest generation of Lalors – his kids and his nephews – as they make their way through the grades in cricket and football.

“I haven’t had a hit of cricket for three years ………I bailed out once they started going past me……” Steve says of his marathon career…..

***

His nine siblings – Kathryn, Helen, Kaaren, Elizabeth, Peter, Anne, John, Simon and Jane – are scattered around the nation, but there was a time when the Lalor name was synonymous with Benalla.

Despite having departed the town many years ago, Steve remains a Benalla boy at heart……

“One of my favourite sporting recollections is of playing O & M footy when the Demons were flying in the mid-eighties….If we hit the front early in the last quarter…… kicking towards the Clubrooms end…… with a big home crowd roaring…..the atmosphere would be electric…..”

I advise him that one old-timer rates him among the finest Footballer/Cricketers that Benalla has produced……..”Geez, that’s a big rap…….All I can say is, I loved every minute of it…….”

***

His dad, Ray, had a brief District cricket career with North Melbourne, and played half-a-dozen games of League footy with Essendon in 1956, as a 19-year-old.

He’d started with Doutta Stars and, after leaving the Bombers and spent time in the VFA with Dandenong before being transferred to Benalla, as a Surveyor with the S.E.C.

“Not long after Dad arrived in Benalla he ‘did’ his knee, and that was that for footy……Back then, a serious knee injury was career-ending……Besides, he was travelling all around the North-East in his job………And the kids were starting to come along…..”

The Lalors lived a stone’s throw from the Gardens Oval; just three houses up from F.C.J. College, to which they all graduated after leaving St. Joseph’s Primary School.

Steve reckons his mum, Joyce, created some sort of a record for longevity as a school-teacher……”She started at 21 and retired just six years ago, aged 78…….Most of that time she taught at St. Joseph’s……They made sure to chuck us kids out of the classes she was teaching, though…..”

The sporting pathway for the boys was through the junior ranks at St. Joseph’s Cricket Club – where their dad had played – and, of course, the Benalla Footy Club.

“Peter, John and I all made our senior debuts with Benalla at 16……..It was one of the great days of my life when I pulled on the Red and White guernsey for my first senior game against Wodonga…..”

“They’d recently top-dressed Martin Park, and at half-time I replaced Wayne Levy, whose legs had been badly cut by the muddy, sandy surface.”

“Robbie Allen had been a terrific influence on me as coach of the Thirds, and was also playing in that game….. I’m sure he went out of his way to settle my nerves by landing the ball on my chest soon after I came on.”

The following season he was training at Galen College for a Herald Shield school match when he was tackled, snapped a cruciate ligament and had to undergo a knee reconstruction…….It cost him a year of football.

Two years later he underlined his obvious potential when he took out Benalla’s Best & Fairest Award, aged 19.

He kicked 12 goals in one stand-out game against Corowa-Rutherglen and represented the O & M in muddy conditions against Goulburn Valley, at Shepparton’s Deakin Reserve.

 

 

“I had to pinch myself that I was lining up alongside all these big names……..But I missed out on the next game…..They opted for a bloke called Ablett in my place !”

By 1985 Benalla were a developing side under ex-Essendon star Wayne Primmer…..They finished second on the ladder but carried a few injuries into the finals….eventually bombing out in straight sets after going down to Wang Rovers by five points in the first semi.

The aftermath to the season, however, was traumatic…….

One of the young Demons, Willie Ryan, had just celebrated his 21st birthday, and was one of 5 passengers travelling down Nunn Street, towards the North-Eastern Hotel…..

The vehicle crashed after crossing the railway-line……His team-mate – star centre half forward Neil Drake – died instantly, and Willie, who was also a gun basketballer, also passed away.

“The accident had massive implications for the footy Club, and left a feeling of despondency around the place…….a few blokes left…….…we went from playing finals to wooden-spooners……it took a few years to recover……”

Steve was one of those who decided to take a break……..He transferred in his Government Department job to Melbourne, had a season of cricket in the lower grades at Prahran, and helped a resurgent Heidelberg to a Diamond Valley Football League premiership.

He was in hot form upon his return home, and starred as a mid-fielder in inter-league matches against Essendon & District and Geelong, ultimately winning selection in the Vic Country side for the 1988 National Championships.

Unfortunately, a calf injury forced him out at the last minute, robbing him of dual honours that year, as he later represented the VCCL in the Australian Country Cricket titles at Bunbury (WA).

As he approached his thirties, those suspect calves began to cause him no end of trouble…..injuries had limited him to 140-odd games with Benalla………

 

Benalla’s 1990 Line-up. Steve Lalor is third from left, backrow.

***

When the family business that Steve had been involved in at Benalla for seven years drew to a close, he decided to head off on a sporting adventure…….

“I suppose that’s what you’d call it……My brother Peter was in Cairns, so I went up and played football with him at Cairns Saints……A former Collingwood player, Bruce ‘Pancho’ Gonsalves, who had previously coached them, was now President……What a larger-than-life character he was !.. …….

“I was also lucky enough to play in a Cairns First-Grade premiership, with Rovers Cricket Club, under the coaching of a former Tasmanian Sheffield Shield player, Errol Harris……”

Even though I couldn’t train for footy, and was just about buggered, it was great to win two flags in the three years I was there…….including one with Peter…..I’d shared a few games in the Seniors with him at Benalla, but he left home once he finished school…..He had plenty of ability…..”

“So did John, by the way……..When he broke into the Benalla side they were fairly downtrodden, but he had two or three good years in the Seniors before he moved away with work…..He played a lot of A-Grade cricket in Bendigo….. an outstanding left-hand bat…..made a lot of runs…..”

 

John Lalor (right) after making 134 for a North-East U18 Team,
being congratulated by Geoff Welch (centre) and Gerard Robb

 

“Simon was more of a lover on the footy field – not a fighter…..He’d spend more time talking to his opponent rather than worrying about getting the footy……But he was a handy cricketer…..I captained a team in Brisbane that he was a part of….”

“And, I must add, most of the girls were pretty handy Netballers and athletes…….”

***

Steve was a hard-hitting middle-order bat and a quick bowler with the ability to swing the ball….. He became a key component of some strong Ensign Cup sides of the eighties and early-nineties, and also featured in two premiership-winning teams at Melbourne Country Week.

When he first started going down to Melbourne he was a young buck among a team of veterans…..It was a real learning experience…..

His old club, St. Joseph’s, he says, were battling when he arrived on the scene…..

“There were a heap of older guys – not great cricketers, but pretty committed and competitive……We were on the improve, and a few younger kids started coming through….”

 

 

“ Steve Smith, a St. Joey’s stalwart, had helped build the club, along with his brother Philip ‘Psycho’, who was a tear-away quick. Then Trevor Saker arrived and made a magnificent contribution, as did Gary Downie and Adam Ramage.”

“We won plenty of premierships and became a really strong club…… won four flags in a row at one stage.”

“Likewise, when John (brother) was starting to show a bit, you had talented kids like Simon Holmes and Christian De Fazio also starting to blossom, so there was a regular stream of young blokes vying for a game with St. Joey’s…….”

***

He and his brother Peter, and their families, are now domiciled in Bacchus Marsh, where they’ve been deeply involved with the Gisborne Cricket Association……and beyond…..

“Actually, Pete’s a bit of a legend down this way…….He’s still playing…….made a ‘ton’ in the Fourths the other week….”

“The next generation of Lalors is coming through……..I think the real sporting talent must have skipped my generation,” he quips.

There are 32 of Ray and Joyce Lalor’s grandkids, and several of them are showing genuine potential.

Peter’s son Jack was lured to Northcote at the age of 16……He was named in the Premier Cricket Team of the Year last season after making 572 runs at an average of 52, and taking 14 wickets.

After 90-odd First XI games he is now a fixture in the side, batting at number 4 and bowling with genuine pace.

He made his State Second XI debut earlier this year and is a member of the Melbourne Renegades Academy.

His brother Daniel lived out a 16-year-old’s dream in his First XI debut for Northcote in 2019 when he hit a six to win the game off the final ball of a 20/20 clash with Geelong.

 

The Lalor’s of Northcote. From left: Daniel, Jack, Sam, Archie & Will

 

Now 20, he’s come through Vic Country U17 and U19 ranks, and snared 5/29 in just his second District match in 1920/21.

Another of Peter’s sons, Archie (17), plays predominantly in the Thirds at Northcote, but recently returned from representing Vic Country in the National Championships in Hobart…… An all-rounder, he opened the bowling and played alongside Steve’s son Sam (16) at the titles.

Sam, who hammered 68, including eight 6s, in one match, had been playing in the Fourths at Northcote prior to the Carnival, and came under notice when he scored 111 off 65 balls in a blistering innings.

He also plays for the Ballarat Rebels in NAB League football, was selected in the All-Australian U16 team last season, and is currently a member of the Victorian Under 18 squad. He attends prestigious Geelong Grammar:

“That necessitates a bit of travel, getting him back and forth to the Rebels, but he laps it up,” Steve says.

Will (17), another of Steve’s boys, is currently experiencing a few problems with stress fractures in the back, but he’s been playing with Northcote Seconds.

In a Dowling Shield match for Northcote last season, Sam (97 not out ) and Will (an undefeated 48) helped their side chase down the Richmond total.

The five Lalor cousins played more than 100 matches in 10 different competitions last season, so cricket has been a full-on involvement for the two families.

***

Undoubtedly the highest sporting achiever of the Lalor clan is 22 year-old Jordan Petaia, the son of Steve’s sister Helen and Samoan-born father Tieliu.

Initially, after his family moved from Melbourne to Brisbane, Jordan was a Rugby League fan and idolised Storm legend Billy Slater. But the 6’3”, 98kg Jordan switched to Rugby Union when he attended Brisbane State High School.

He began with Wests in the Queensland Premier competition, whilst his brother Ben played with Sunnybank.

Jordan’s was a meteoric rise to international ranks……After starring with the Queensland Reds not long after completing Year 12, he became the fourth-youngest-ever Wallaby, at 19 years 204 days, when he ran out against Uruguay in a World Cup match.

 

 

 

With his second possession he scored a try…….He has now made 24 Test appearances – mainly as a fullback, winger or centre, since his debut in 2019.

But whenever he runs out in the Green and Gold of Australia, Jordan carries the expectations of a widespread, fanatical, sporting family………

 

Joyce & Ray Lalor and the 10 kids at a family function. Ray passed away just on two years ago. 

 

This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.

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