‘Diamond Des………’ – KB Hill

It was the famous American humorist Mark Twain who once pronounced that : ‘Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated……’.

 

Des Griffin relates to this line. He was flicking through the national newspapers one Monday morning in 1974, when he read that he’d been killed in a car accident two nights earlier.

 

“I felt pretty crook,” he jokes. “But I wasn’t that bloody crook……..”

 

I’ll let ‘Diamond’ take up the story.

 

“ We’d been down to watch Hawthorn play their first game at their new ‘home’ – Princes Park – and it’d been a pretty solid day….and night. I don’t remember much about what happened, but from all reports I went through the windscreen of a car on the corner of Reid and Murphy Streets around about midnight, and ended up in hospital.”

 

“Apparently, when the journos rang the nurses to receive an update on my health the next day, they were told I’d suffered facial injuries. They misinterpreted that to be fatal injuries.”

 

He spent 4-5 days in hospital, and the docs patched up his dilapidated dial with 173 stitches. All he was interested in at the end, was ‘going home to see Mum’. Long-suffering Pat Griffin, who had enough on her plate keeping tabs on eight kids, gave him a good dressing-down – and a lecture on the perils of the demon drink…………

 

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That’s just one of the many adventures of ‘Diamond Des’, who enlivened local sport for more than three decades…. He was solid – and unspectacular – on the field, but a gem off it….. Someone who could brighten the darkest moments and find a way to bring the shyest of kids out of their shell.

 

The Griffins were raised on a Boorhaman farm, but when Des’s dad became ill they moved into town. That’s when he ran into Norm Minns, a rep for Dickens and Carey (a homewares firm), who occasionally visited the family home in Greta Road.

 

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Norm, a football disciple, if ever there was one, invited 15 year-old Des to have a run with Junior Magpies. A year or so later, he gave his recruit – and his mates – the imposing task of finding a new Junior League coach, to fill a vacancy on the eve of the season.

“I’ll give you a week to find one,” said Norm.

 

“We started hunting around, and got a few knock-backs. Finally, we went to see Ron Wales and told him how desperate we were. He said he’d try it for a year. Nearly two decades later, he was still coaching………….”

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But Des didn’t hang around long enough to soak up much of his new coach’s footy wisdom, as he joined the Rovers five weeks into the season. At the time, he was the ‘baby’ of the all-conquering United WDCA cricket side, and several of his team-mates were Hawk stars. So that’s where he headed.

 

He loved his four years at the Rovers, but when his cricket captain John Welch, who had taken the footy coaching job at Tarrawingee, put the hard word on him to play, he couldn’t resist.

 

“I signed up for two dozen Long-Necks, and it was the best decision I ever made,” says ‘Diamond’, who was to spend 16 years with the Tricolors.

 

He was occasionally tempted to leave. He had a cousin playing with Hopefield-Buraja, and was talked into signing Clearance Forms to go there a couple of times. But, when it came to the crunch he stayed – particularly when, on each occasion, a box of Long-Necks was dangled in front of him.

 

In fact, Des timed his arrival perfectly at Tarra. They hadn’t won a flag for eleven years, but coach Welch, who was a master-recruiter, had assembled a quality line-up.

 

“We lost the first two games, though, and, as a result, Welchy, who hadn’t played for some time, surprisingly selected himself in a forward pocket. He just wanted to set the example of how to attack the ball ferociously, even though he had a bung leg.”

 

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“We soon got the message, and turned the corner…..Then he hung up his boots again,” Des recalls.

 

Beechworth were the form side in ‘75, but Tarra overcame them in the Second Semi – thanks to a six goal haul from diminutive rover ‘Curly’ Kerris.

 

And the Bullies were too tough and tenacious when the sides tangled again in the Grand Final. Des played a starring role in the centre, and managed to overcome some close attention from his Bomber opponent, fearsome Frankie Marinucci.

 

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It had been 11 years since the flag had flown at Tarra, and the club celebrated accordingly. With talent in abundance, you’d think that more premierships would follow, but they succumbed to Beechworth in successive Elimination Finals and were to wait 15 years for another tilt at the flag.

 

But ‘Diamond’ continued to be one of their shining stars.

 

Local sporting legend Mick Wilson recalls watching him play in the late-seventies:

“He was Tarra’s captain for a few years and a real spiritual leader, “ Mick says. “Strong and fearless; a bit of a hero to us kids – and a terrific role model. No matter how bad the situation got on-field, ‘Griffo’ always remained positive…….Then, after games, with sufficient liquid fortification, he’d grab hold of the mike and belt out his repertoire of songs, like ‘Johnny Be Good’ or ‘Get a little dirt on your hands’……..”

 

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“He coached Tarra Thirds when they started up. He’d pile a few kids in the back of a Panel Van and head off to away games. Myself, my brothers Joe and Waldo, and Robbie Hickmott were only little tackers then, but he made sure we were just as much part of the group as the older kids.”

 

“ He emphasised getting enjoyment out of the game. They’d be getting belted, but he’d say: ‘Don’t worry about the scoreboard, just play footy’……….“

 

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Des juggled playing seniors and coaching the Reserves for the last three years of his 300-game career with the Dogs, then was enticed into Wangaratta, to coach their Reserves for two seasons.

 

Again Tarrawingee came calling. He coached for three years ( 1992-94 ) during some fairly bleak times. “ ‘Diamond’ could coach, no worries about that, but we just didn’t have the cattle,” said one old Dog.

 

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He returned to Wang for another two-year stint as Reserves coach, then headed across the laneway to be Runner and assistant to an old mate, Greg Rosser, with the Rovers Twos.

 

His son Trav was, by now, playing at King Valley, so Des found himself linked up with the Roos, as Chairman of Selectors to Mick Newton.

 

Then it was back to his original ‘home’ again, as the right-hand man to Rovers Thirds coach, Johnny McNamara……

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Footy clubs recognised that ‘Diamond’ was a good man to have around, and the same could be said about his lengthy involvement in cricket.

 

He was a left-hand bat, and didn’t deem it necessary to wear gloves, thigh pad or helmet. It would be an apt description of his batting that he wielded the wand with reasonable proficiency. But his greatest asset was as a team-lifting captain.

 

There was always plenty of mirth amongst he and his team-mates when they were batting. In the field, he’d be forever talking things up and encouraging the youngsters.

 

He played six years for the newly-formed Tarrawingee when they joined the Sunday competition, but spent most of his career with United, which morphed into Rovers-United in 1988/89.

 

“A few of the old United blokes weren’t too happy when the merge came about with the Rovers. We were always arch rivals. But I didn’t mind it one bit,” he says.

 

He was handed a new nickname – ‘Dezzy Whites’ – when he’d follow up the after-match drinks with a session at the ‘Pino’, then a Mixed Grill at a Murphy Street cafe – still clad in full cricket regalia….. And in his younger days, a visit  to the Saturday night dance in his grass-stained whites was also on the cards.

 

He ran the club’s juniors for five years, eventually playing with most of them after he’d slid back through the ranks to be captain of the C-Grade team.

 

In his last season – 2001/02 – he led them to a flag. They’d scored three for plenty  after the first day’s play, and the opposition enquired as to whether a declaration might be in the offing, early on the second day.

 

“Yeah, about 10-to,” he replied. “Okay, 10-to what ?, “ they queried.  “10 to 6………

 

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‘Diamond’ prized the Life Memberships he received from Tarra Football and Rovers-United Cricket clubs.

 

A new job with Veolia, required him to travel the nation, overseeing the materials required to repair Kilns and Furnaces on Mine-Sites. A mine shut-down sometimes took four weeks, so he was away for long periods.

 

He’s still working, but taking things a bit easier now, giving he and Carol time to spend with their four kids and 10 grand-kids. And he still keeps a close eye on the fortunes of his old clubs……

 

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You can read more of KB Hill’s great profiles on local sportspersons HERE.

Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Just love these stories about club stalwarts. Many of these clubs would never survive without them. KB Hill….you’ve done it again!

  2. Terrific yarn KB. Your region has so many characters.

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