Almanac Country Footy – Central Highlands Football Netball League: Clunes (Magpies) v Buninyong (Bombers)



Source: Central Highlands Football Netball League



I love country footy. I love it for its strong sense of community, rawness, passion, smell of liniment, homemade sandwiches and its hot dog and pies with beer chasers. My nostalgia for attending country football matches is also due to my fond memories of playing and attending country football as a youth in Tasmania.


I find these days that I’m somewhat disgruntled and frustrated with many aspects of the game at senior AFL level (e.g. AFL administration, umpiring inconsistencies associated with confusing rule changes, Tasmanian team procrastination, etc. – it is no wonder the AFL has a ‘crowd crisis’). As a result, I often venture to a country or local game instead of attending or watching an AFL game on TV.


I often walk to Costa Oval (next to Geelong’s GMHBA Oval in Kardinia Park) to watch local Geelong Football Netball League team St Mary’s play at home or to East Geelong’s home games in the Geelong District Football Netball League at Richmond Oval, also a short walk.


Last Saturday (4 June) I attended a Clunes Football Netball Club (CFNC) home game against the Buninyong (Bombers) at the Bull Milgate Oval. Clunes town of course, is known for being the site of Victoria’s first gold strike in 1851 which led to the central Victoriana gold rush and more latterly for its annual Book Town festival.


Bull Milgate oval is named after Neil ‘Bull’ Milgate, a local legend who won five Club Best and Fairest awards.  Bull also played some footy with East Ballarat Football Club and was good enough to play a practice match with North Melbourne during which he injured himself quite severely. After this experience, he returned to country football.  Bull’s nickname came from his aggression towards the ball. Apparently he used to roar like a bull when charging through packs!  In retirement Bull became the groundsman at the Clunes oval working on the cricket pitch as well as the oval in general.


It was a bleak Saturday day in Clunes.  Little wind, but very cold with intermittent showers and a heavy downpour at half-time which helped to further muddy an already-reserves-game-assisted centre. Too muddy, I thought, for our senior AFL players to be allowed to play on! Fortunately, (or perhaps unfortunately for some but not me!), country ovals like the Bull Milgate don’t receive the care and ‘construction’ as do their city cousins. Hence, country teams get to play in mud and an old fashioned winter makes certain of that.  The state of the oval and the weather reminded me of my youth playing in the Fingal Football Association in Tasmania, especially on a wet and sodden St Mary’s oval on an often snowed in oval at Rossarden, on the slopes of Ben Lomond!


At country matches I always like to arrive in time to see the last quarter or so of the reserves (the twos) match.  The interesting array of age, fitness, shapes and sizes and talent is always fascinating and entertaining.  There is also lots of passion and hard work by all players despite their individual skills and weight for age!  Unfortunately for Clunes last Saturday, their reserves were no match for a far superior Buninyong outfit losing 16.12 to 0.6 points.


Clunes seniors however, was able to get over the more fancied Buninyong Bombers and get a 16-point win. It was the Magpies first victory against the Bombers since a semi-final in 2005! Pre-match discussions with the Clunes gatekeeper and several supporters, highlighted reservations about how the Magpies might compete against a perceived stronger Bombers team – a win was not expected so when the final siren ended with the Magpies in front, emotions ran high both inside and outside the community centre and the change rooms.  One would have thought it was a grand final victory!  I was told though, that Clunes has been performing consistently over the past few weeks without securing a win since Round two.  It was a victory that filled the change room with plenty of emotion for players who hadn’t beaten Buninyong in their senior careers.


The CHFNL has 17 teams.  Leading into this match both the Magpies and the Bombers teams were positioned mid-range on the ladder; equal on points and wins (2-5). Clunes is now one game clear with a slightly higher percentage.


The game was a physical encounter played under very slippery conditions. The cricket turf area turned more black and muddy as the game progressed.  Coach Luke Davidson (from Geelong as were several other Clunes players) was very proud of the Magpies effort.  It’s always good to be able to go onto the ground at quarter breaks and listen to the coach as I always do. Davidson addressed his players very well and very strategically – I was impressed with the way he went about his business.


The Magpies started determinedly and had the ascendancy in the first quarter. The Magpies midfield worked hard and provided lots of opportunities for their forwards. Benefiting from the number of inside 50s on offer, Nicholas Clarke led well and was always threatening and strong overhead. The Bombers appeared bamboozled by the Magpies sustained determination, losing and turning the ball over consistently and failing to score a major. At the first break the Magpies led by 3 goals (3.1 to 0.1).


Carrying momentum into the second term, the Magpies accelerated in the trying conditions kicking a further 3 goals to 1 and establishing their authority on the match. The Magpies midfielders were dynamic, winning contested possessions and launching the footy deep inside 50. The Magpies defence continued to stand firm and the Bombers only brought up their first goal during time on in the term. The Magpies Alex Bowd (#16), found himself at every contest under packs and winning hard possessions with Alexander Riches (#17) providing a solid run out of the centre.


At half-time the Magpies were comfortably ahead (6.2 -1.4).



Source: Central Highlands Football Netball League



A much improved Bombers threatened throughout the second half of the game with more clearances out of the centre, good attacking ball movement around the ground and better delivery to their forwards. The Bombers continued forward entry efforts however, were steadfastly defended by the Magpies backline led by a hard working and attacking Josh Thompson (#34). The contested intercept marks and spoiling tactics, combined with composed ball use out of the defensive 50 by the Magpies defence, was a constant irritation to the Bombers.  A very vigorous and attacking Bombers side throughout the second term was foiled time and again by the defensive grit of the Magpies.


In the last quarter the match really was a good old fashioned scrap.  The Magpies were determined to keep applying pressure for the rest of the match, but the Bombers were showing conviction and made work for every Magpies player. There was no let-up. The forward line led by Nicholas Clarke with 5 goals and a superb all over defensive effort by the Magpies, saw them hold on from a fast finishing Bombers to win by 16 points (8.8-5.10).


While the win was a very good overall Magpies team effort, the standout players for me were Josh Thompson #34 (Attacking Defender), Nicholas Clarke #8 (Key forward), Tyrese Nunn #13, Alex Bowd #16 (Strong onballer), Alexander Riches #17 (Strong onballer), Dominic Makur #33 (rucked and tapped well) and Ryan Thompson #55 (very strong physically and overhead – built like the proverbial country ‘brick s**t-house’).



The Magpie goal kickers were Nicholas Clarke (5) Jakob Robertson (2) and Ryan Thompson (1).


Clunes has a ‘500 Club’ presentation which occurs every home game. Membership of $500 entitles select members and a guest to drinks and fooderies as well as a guest speaker.  The guest speaker on this occasion was the Head of Wesley College’s Clunes Campus, Dan Lukies.  Dan spoke about the influence that the Clunes FNC has exerted on Wesley College in its 22-year involvement in Clunes.  He also discussed a $6M investment into a new infrastructure in town, new classrooms, kitchen and two additional residences for teachers. Eighty-five to 100 students per term and around 40 teachers are involved in the project.


Clunes Magpies view the 500 club as a Social Club and are hoping that the concept will be embraced by town folk and encourage them to join in a new venture for the community. The 500 Club was only introduced just prior to COVID and is in its infancy. Presently, it has close to 40 members.


The CFNC club rooms are within the Clunes Community Centre and for every home game or function the club has to roll out five sections of carpet, bring in a mobile bar, chairs and tables and a relocatable wall.  Each time this takes around two hours to setup and roughly three hours to pack away, clean up and vacuum.  Arguably, this sort of situation for any other football/netball club would be rare.


It is an amazing effort from club members but is obviously not ideal.  CFNC has very little space for club memorabilia.  I noted a few premiership flags on the walls in the centre and some photographs hanging from windows in a smaller adjacent canteen room.  The positive side though, the heaters were on and plenty of window space allowed patrons for some decent viewing. Perhaps an application for an infrastructure sports facility grant supported by a local pollie(s) warrants some thought. I have seen many excellent football/netball sporting facilities in and around country Victoria of which I’m sure the CNFC would be envious.



Note:  My special thanks to Chris McLennan of the CFNC committee for providing me with the extra detail/information I needed to write this piece for The Footy Almanac.



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  1. Kath milne says

    Hi Allan
    Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to drive to clunes
    I’m hoping you are thinking it was well worth it !!
    Your perspective on many fronts has hit the Mark – if I could be so bold as to say the situation of setting up and unpacking is as you say not ideal – it’s actually completely unsatisfactory and prohibitive of us making it our permanent every day home and every away game we are reminded of this – we try hard and often to improve our situation but to no avail ! Any further help there greatly appreciated
    Thank you so much for your musings of your day at clunes ! I loved it !!!!
    Please come again any time
    Best wishes
    Go Maggies

  2. Great article Allan. Brings back great memories of country footy. It felt like I was there…but just a bit warmer and sans pies and beer chasers ;-)

  3. Chris McDonald says

    Hi Allan,
    I very much enjoyed your recent story covering a local grass roots football match in Clunes. I found my own memories of country football as a teenage in the Mallee were reignited while reading your account. It seems many country leagues have been obliged to amalgamate covering a wider area over recent decades to maintain enough teams.
    There are stark differences between country and AFL games where teams have the backup of purpose made facilities, playing conditions, services of physio’s, dieticians and the list goes on. The essence of country football is a vital aspect of a rural life strengthening links within the local community, building connections enabling discussions pertinent to the area, supporting each other etc

    Well done Allan and best wishes Clunes

  4. Alan (and Narelle)
    Enjoyed your great company at the The Footy Almanac GF Lunch on Friday. A smashing piece about local/country footy – lots of cars around the the boundary fence and toots on the horn for each goal I hopel? Particularly liked your comment regarding St Mary’s in the Fingal league, I know how bleak that part of NE Tassie is in winter and just about every other time of the year and have driven the St Mary’s pass on many an occasion on my way to Binalong Bay to visit my/our Tassie friends of whom I spoke about at lunch. Keep these stories coming.
    Regards John

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