Footy Jumper: Mangoplah Cookardinia United (The Goannas)

Craig Dodson Mangoplah

Craig Dodson: Mangoplah Cookardinia United



The Mangoplah Cookardinia United Goannas Jumper

Not sure what Alex Perry would make of blue and gold hoops, however, to me the Mangoplah Cookardinia United Goannas Jumper represents mateship, history, community and pride.

Mangoplah is a town of about 600 people which pretty much contains a pub, primary school, town hall and church (in that order of importance). It is about 30 clicks from Wagga Wagga. Mangoplah and Cookardinia started as separate clubs in 1914 but merged in 1955 to form MCU.

Football gives Mango its heartbeat. Twelve flags since the merger and a handful of AFL players highlight the quality of footballer to come out of the club. Generations of families have represented the club. A scan of the oval on a Saturday arvo will reveal grandfathers kicking with their little cubs and fathers looking on with pride. You can smell the history.

When I was at School Mango dominated the Farrer Football league in the 80s and early 90s, trading flags with North Wagga (coached by Wayne Carey’s brother Dick).

My piece of Mangoplah’s history is short and undistinguished. That being said it remains the highlight of my sporting career.

It all started at about 9pm on a typically arctic Thursday night in June in Canberra in 1999, the phone rang and it was my old school mate Doorse.

Apparently the Goannas U19s were going to be short on Saturday and needed a gun ruckman, unfortunately Simon Madden had long since retired and John Ironmonger couldn’t be contacted so they had to settle for me.

I was heading back to Wagga for the weekend anyway so why not? No boots, no mouthguard. Minor details.

I’d given up footy in the last few years of high school, having played previously with local Wagga Clubs Turvey Park and South Wagga Tolland Dons.  I still reminisce (and tell anyone who cares) about the day I tore apart Cameron Mooney in the under 12s. Our careers then took different paths.

I sit with the old man the night before the game as he helps me fit my mouthguard. It is like I am 12 again. We talk footy. We bond.

Tough road trip first up as we head to Ganmain to take on the Lions. I pile in the car with Doorse and Rocket and spend the next 45 minutes hanging shit on one another. A fine country tradition. I am worried I’ll make a fool of myself. Doorse is worried that the coach may have spies who spotted him out last night at 2am. Brad didn’t even make the trip, his head working out a few too many VBs.

The first thing that strikes you about the Ganmain sheds is the communal showers. Some bloke can kick a bag on you and then you have to share the soap!

A quick scan around the dressing room identified 16 players, two of whom were 22 (played under dodgy clearances and names used from the witness protection program). A quick tactical discussion takes place and it was decided that being five short we immediately should employ ‘Pagan’s Paddock’ and isolate Doorse in the inside 50 in lieu of having any forward pockets.

I line up on a wing. Weird choice for a bloke who is 6”3 and runs like a pensioner. Ten minutes and no touches. The runner comes out, no chance of getting the hook I tell myself with only 16 players. Go in the ruck are the instructions. Shortly after I run onto a loose pill and drill one from 25 for a goal. For some reason I start giving the fist pump to the handful of Mango supporters, most of whom have no idea who I am.

We hang in there but get rolled by a few goals. I get a few touches but am moving at glacier pace by the last quarter. I have rediscovered my love of the game.

I signed on for the rest of the year and made it back from Canberra for eight games. We won once against the Temora Kangaroos. The only bad thing about Mango was the theme song – “hey hey we’re from Mango.. sung to the tune of the Monkeys song! Worse than GWS!

The coach in 1997 of the seniors is the late great Merv Neagle. He didn’t make it out on the park much, but showed glimpses of what a jet he was. I remember his little fella Jay running around the clubrooms. Swerve always made it to watch the U19s and always had a word of encouragement and a smile. Old School man and much respected and missed.

I never played again after that season. Concentrating on my Cricket, where I was more talented. I made the wrong choice that I regret to this day. The time has passed.

My jumper is a reminder of my youth and my mates. It feels familiar. I put it on and I am 19 again. I smile a lot when I wear it. I laugh about the game against East Wagga where Brad decided that he didn’t like the look of the 15 year old skinny kid wearing glasses and when the opportunity arose he put on a hit that would have made Mark Yeates proud. I can still recall the scream from the crowd – “you weak prick”. Doorse and Brad still hang it on me for conceding the first 30 hit outs in the same game. I swear the guy was 7 foot!

I put it on these days to go for a run. I wonder what people think as they see me pounding the pavement. I suspect they cringe at the colours and wonder why some bald prick is running in a relic. It is a small world though and I am sure some driver has recognised it over the years.

A few weeks ago I put it on my two year old son Jack and sent the photos to the boys. They loved it. The thought of passing it onto Jack and then through the generations makes me smile. I hope one day it reminds him of his old man.

The boys tell me Mango is in for a shot at the flag this year. They are coached by a local boy made good, Nathan Irvin, who played a game for the Swans in the early 90s. The Gun recruit is Col Sandbrook who incidentally I played with all those years ago. It has been a long time between drinks for Mango (last flag in 1993). Fingers crossed.

I love my Mango jumper.

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.


  1. Nothing wrong with a blue and gold jumper, whichever way the stripes run. Smokie Dawson will know better but I think the Willi CYs once had a jumper like MCU and are hoping to do so again. One of the local primary schools in Willi has a footy jumper with blue and gold hoops. Go the MCU Goannas.

  2. Dr Rocket says

    A fearsome jumper. Club with a great tradition.
    Lloyd, Robersons, Mahers, Sandbrooks, et al
    You have to be RC to get a game!

    Great to see Mango maintaining the tradition and not switching to AFL club colours.

    Ganmain used to wear a maroon jumper with a white vee. Now gone.

    Alas, also no more Marian Dons…..

  3. G’day Craig, i’m just curious if Mangoplah Cookardinia United play aginst Grong-Grong-Matong. Same league ?


  4. craig dodson says

    Thanks Vinn – a select club to wear Blue and Gold it seems.

    Good summary Rocket..Michael Phyland was a handy Mango player as well and you no doubt would remember him from the Swans..My old man played for the Marian Dons back in the day.

    Glen Grong-Grong Matong merged with Ganmain football club a long way back and they are know the Ganmain Grong Grong Matong Lions. Yes they do play against Mango in the Riverina Football League

  5. Great story Craig – I am loving these old footy jumper stories. I think Vin has started something here. I hope to see a lot more of them. Ganmain Grong Grong Matong Lions – now that’s a mouthful!

  6. Bert Bollard says

    This is also the jumper worn by Sydney AFL powerhouse Sydney Uni.

  7. Dr Rocket says

    Yes Bert – Syd Uni wear current design like MCU – but for most of the club’s history it was a blue jumper with a gold yoke – and woollen when I wore it proudly.

    Craig – saw Snr Det Sgt Mick Phyland on TV news recently….

    Matt Lloyd also ex Mango, and Wayne “Christmas” Carroll went from Mango to the Swans.

    Who was the tall bloke that played rugby league for Wagga Kangaroos then went out to Mango then to the AFL via North Ballarat?

  8. Miles Wilks says

    Hi Dr Rocket, could you be referring to Orren Stephenson? He came from MCU and went to Geelong.

    Great piece, Craig.

    I love this part of the world. One can’t be a real football supporter in NSW if you haven’t seen footy in the Riverinia at least once in your life. I have a soft spot for the Leeton-Whitton Crows and Turvey Park, but all the clubs there have so much history and tradition. MCU are going well this year though. Go Coleambally in the Farrer !

  9. Interesting to read of the meger between Grong Grong Matong and Ganmain. There’s a little pub @ Grong Grong, with its host being former Wagga Tigers, “gun’ full forward Tad Obudzynski. Tad came down to South Melbourne in 1973 but in his two games copped two gun full backs, Geoff Southby from Carlton, then Harvey Merrigan of Fitzroy. Thus Tads’ VFL carer finished up after two games, no goals.

    Ganmain was the home of Frankie Gumbleton, Norh Melbourne premiership defender. Trying to think of other top players from Ganamin.



  10. craig dodson says

    Yeah I saw Michael on the TV as well Rocket – done well for himself in the Police.

    Glen you are spot on, it is Orren Stephenson. I think he rocked up to a mango game with some mates and they saw how tall he was so they threw him a jumper!

    Spot on with Ted Obudzynski, he played with my uncle Neville Miller who came from the Wagga Tigers and played at South in the 70s.. Am sure Rocket will be able to reel of the good players from Ganmain..

  11. Craig i recall Neville Miller. Dark haired, marking forward, played circa 1971-1973, at the same time as another marking forward, Jim Prentice, from Ariah Park, the home of the Quades.


  12. Paul Young says

    Brunswick (VFA) legend Barry “Gabby” Nolan, won the JJ Liston Tropy (shared with Preston’s Trevor Durward) in 1978 the left to coach Ganmain in 1979. After one year at Ganmain, Gabby returned to the Wicks as cpatain/coach leading them to the VFA 2nd Division premiership in 1980, beating the Dennis Pagan coached Yarraville.

    I had never heard of Ganmain until then.

  13. I wonder if ‘Gabby’ was playing for Ganmain at the same time as former Collingwood hard man Kevin Grose played for Ardlethan.


  14. Great colours, Craig. Not so sure about the hoops, though.
    I played for many years in the blue and gold hoops of Williamstown CYMS.
    Many jibes about looking like Hector the Road Safety Cat.

    St Mary’s primary school in Williamstown wear blue and gold hoops,
    as the CYs once donated a set of jumpers to them.

  15. craig dodson says

    Small world Smokie.. I currently live close by in Seddon so who knows one day my son might turn out for one of those teams….

  16. Bert Bollard says

    Kevin Grose, I remember watching him play for North Hieldberg in the early 80’s, he was one of the most heavily tattooed blokes you’d ever laid eyes on. Back when tatts were uncommon and frieghtning. His were hard scramble and old skool – classic Olympic Village mad as a meat axe – tatts, not like the ill judge idiocy of todays players.
    But I digress,
    MILES WILKS asserts that you can’t be a proper Aussie Rule support in NSW unless you’ve watched a game in the Riverena . . .
    I have lived in NSW for the last 20 years, originally in Sydney but more recently in two of Australian Rules Fooy’s great black holes, the Blue Mountains and more recently The Southern Highlands.
    This season I have driven up to Goulburn a few times to watch some Senior footy. The Goulburn Swans play in the C Section of the ACT AFL. They aren’t a bad side, with a few players with some real identifiable footy ability. Sadly the comp is massively uneven and most of the games end in a blow out. But you can have a pie and chat to some fellow travellers . . . it is better than nothing.
    Slightly closer to home are the Wollondilly Knights (it sounds like the title of a porno film, huh?) , who play about 40 Km’s up the road towards Sin-City.
    I haven’t made it to one of their games yet, but it is on the list.
    I chose to head outwards to the country with hope of discovering a better standard of footy. Often, going to games in struggling footy areas is like watching the GWS Giants, as much as you try, it (can) eventually deteriorates to such a level, that it is best to walk away, if you wish to maintain your love of the game.
    I have never seen a game in the Riverena but I did watch Holbrook train one night, does this count?

  17. Miles Wilks says

    Hi Bert Bollard,

    Good to hear you have a passion for grassroots Australian footy. They must be doing something right in the Southern Highlands as I think Tom Young came from Wollondilly, and he is now with the Western Bulldogs.

    I suggest catching a Hume League game, a Riverina Football League or an Ovens and Murray match. Finals time is best. The Hume League is very much grassroots. Ovens and Murray you will get 5,000-10,000 to a match (sometimes more) for the matches in Lavington (Nth Albury). Hume League matches are generally played in Walbundrie and the RFL in Narrandera. All are highly enjoyable – OMFL is the highest standard.

  18. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Craig. Love the jumper. Who did you play for in your cricket career?

  19. Dr Rocket says

    Good workshop. Yes, it was Orren Stephenson that I was thinking of. He was so tall.
    Hard to believe he played rugby league. Guess in the second row.

    My good mate Bevan Rowe was coaching Mango at the time. He couldn’t believe his luck. They hadn’t had a decent ruckman since John Mooney – father of Jason, Cameron and Heath.

    Gabby Nolan was coaching Ganmain when the late Kevin Grose was coaching Ardelthan – and Ray O’Çonnor also ex Brunswick was coaching Coolamon.
    Grosie was a terrific fella. Fearsome on the field, brilliant bloke to have a drink with after the game. His little mate, Les Pugh also came up from North Heidelberg.

    The best known VFL/AFL player from Ganmain was Turkey Tom Carroll, who topped the goal kicking with Carlton in 1961.

    Miles Wilks has captured all the players from NSW clubs that went to play in the VFL/AFL in his excellent book, Australian Football Clubs in NSW

    Miles – you forgot Mick Winter from Ganmain who went to the Swans!

    Bert – great to hear of the progress of footy in the Southern Highlands. Shame there is no comp and clubs have to travel to either Canberra or Sydney.

    Glen! Nice to recall Jimmy Prentice, now sadly passed on. A hard man. Had a pretty distinguished footy career despite carrying a knee for most of it. Won a League B & F with East Devonport in 1978. His heart and soul was always at Ariah Park-Mirrool.
    Never got to play in a premiership team with the Brown Bombers.

    Jim was pretty hard to get to know – you had to really earn his respect.

    A very good cricketer and excellent sheep breeder. He is sadly missed.

  20. Bert Bollard says

    Yes: I remember seeing Les Pugh play too, a fearsome little monkey (sorry Adam), all sinew, elbows and knees. Some little bloke, like that, play within their own (different) time and space, like the bigger blokes are playing slow motion, or are trees and posts for them to run around.
    The late 70’s early 80’s were the last great years of the Association (VFA), with Brunswick and Northcote still fielding competive sides, I can remember patching it across town, into the badlands to watch a gun full forward caller Mark Fotheringham play for the Dennis Pagan coached Yarraville, it was well worth the effort!
    The VFA was a for all its faults was a great provider for local footy, providing coaches and crack players and blokes, experience and a pathway, without the same demands of the VFL.

  21. Bert Bollard says

    Thanks Miles, I realised as typed yesterday that you were the author of the book at my bedside about clubs and players in NSW; so well done and it is a pleasure to speak with you.
    It is a fair old hike up into the Riverena from here. It might take year to ever get away that far. I have, the last few years, dreamt of doing a trip to Tumarumba to see game. I think by recruiting from the some of the bigger clubs and better comps there abouts, Tumby have been having a bit of success.
    I am originally a mountain boy and am always drawn to the hills and high country.
    Another high country club, in the ACT-AFL C Grade, is the Cooma Cats. They have also enjoyed some moderate success, the last couple of years. I visited there home ground, Snowy Oval, on a trip late last year. It is set out on the outskirts of town amidst the lunar scape of alpine plains; it would be an awesome place to play (or watch) footy!
    Goulburn Swans have “the showdown” with the Cooma Cats there on the 14 of July, so I might make this my major football expedition for the year.

  22. Bert Bollard says

    The Southern Highland of NSW is a pretty much a footy blackhole. With only a junior club, the Highland Hawks, flying the flag at a postage stamp sized ground, in the back blocks of Bowral.
    The Highlands talks a big game when it comes to sport but really is pretty dorminant, with a few grassroots rugby league clubs ( notably the Robertson SPUDDIES), a rugby club and a bit of hockey. It is an aging community and must have more golf courses, per head of pop than just about anywhere in the free world.
    From some perfuctionary research I have been unable to uncover any signs of any senior Aussie rules historically, though I’ll keep digging.
    Fascinated to learn that a (almost) local has made an AFL list . I would imagine that he learnt his footy at Cambelltown, one of stronger clubs here-a-bouts . . .

  23. Dr Rocket says

    Tom Young learnt his footy at Sydney Uni – not Campbelltown.

    Got offered a Collingwood scholarship which involved playing Colts at Uni under Rocket Carter. Tommy soon advanced to first grade and then like Jarrod Witts went to the Pies.

    You’re right about the VFA – great footy, great community, awesome characters!

    The VFL admin dudes in the AFL made sure they killed it off….
    calling the old VFA, the VFL, a cruel joke. Height of pettiness. Hallmark of Hamilton, Schwab et al

  24. Paul Daffey says

    I once met Mick Winter at Vermont in Melbourne’s east.

    After leaving the Swans, he went to the Hobart Tigers. Then moved to Melbourne and played suburban footy at Vermont.

    On the day I met him he was standing around with old teammates talking premierships. They’ve won a few at Vermont.

  25. Miles Wilks says

    Dr Robert, it is great to hear your angle on Riverina footy. You have a unique story to tell there. Very interesting. Would you have any old photos of Jimmy Prentice and the footballers of that period that you could post up here? Unfortunately not much remains in terms of photos so whatever you can impart is a welcome addition. In regards to Micky Winter, did he play first grade for the Swans? I couldn’t find a reference to him for first grade.

    Bert, glad you liked the book. I like your description of the “lunar landscape” of Cooma. I can see the mist and feel the cold just thinking about it. I know exactly what you mean, as Yass’s home ground is beautiful in spring but in the middle of winter it is pretty damn cold and has that same feel. That is just a “bit” up the road as you know. If you take a few photos and put in a report on the Cooma match I would be interested to read about it. Hope you do….

  26. Well, always good to hear about footy from around the boundary of the Barassi line. Dr Rocket, any chance of you being on track at Corowa Saturday week ?


  27. Bert Bollard says

    Thank MILES, it is a distinct possibility ( a trip to Cooma, a match report and some photo’s). I will sign post it with the President(wife) and Commitee (daughter), who knows, we might//I might get away to do it.

    (I wonder where the highest used ground is? Cooma, is mountainous, but still only about a hundred meters higher than here (Berrima). Woori Yallock, might be a surprise contender for this honour.)

    Dr ROCKET, it is an interesting exercise in counter history to contemplate what might have been if the VFA survived, and the AFL had a legitmate rival. Given the way the game is being played at the top level, I would be tempted to defect to a comp that had less players ’round the ball, and featured long kicking, high marking, torps and player using DROP PUNTS TO THREAD GOALS ON AN ANGLE, not those atrocious dog leg kicks they use now..
    (I have often thought that if they televised the footy from Darwin nationally, that it could gain an audience, from this angle.)

    It is hard to comprehend after the reign of Comrade Gomez, that has turnt the AFL into the most politically correct sports comp in the country, that the VFA use to be darling of left (in state politics) and the VFL the big end of town, and this was one of the great drivers of how the game developed. The VFL being forbidden to play footy on Sundays was one of the drivers of sending South Melba to Sin City, for instance.
    But there is a story for another day . . .

    In closing, I think we should all hope that the AFL doesn’t do to Country Footy what they did to the VFA !

  28. Bert Bollard says

    Paul Daffey, Vermont seem to have a bit of a pipeline for older blokes to Wandin in the YVMDFL. I remember reading about one bloke, a few years back, who played in ten premierships with Vermont, who then took Wandin to a flag.
    Fair dinkum, when I was a kid Mitcham use to be the powerhouse of the EDFL and Vermont were an outfit noted only for there outrages jumpers.
    (they were more staid times)
    I did scan the EFL ladders the other day and noted were uncharacteristically mid table.

  29. Dr Rocket says

    Mick Winter is a top bloke. Very popular at the Swans when he was there.
    Played in a premiership team at Hobart under ex-team-mate Jargon Browning.

    Miles – it may be that he didn’t crack a senior game. Must find out.

    The best collection of photos of Ariah Park Mirrool is the book published circa 1980 about the history of the club. I would offer you a copy but its packed away in a box in a garage in Sydney and I’m in Vietnam.

    Pat Quade – the only one not to go to play in the VFL – is regarded as the club’s greatest-ever player. His ruck clashes against Ganmain’s Mick Grambeau are still talked about.

    Jim Prentice and Rick Quade went home to the Park in 1975 as coaches – they punched well above their weight with a young Terry Daniher and got into a prelim final. Beaten by Turvey Park, I think. Leeton won the flag that year.

    Rick went back to South Melbourne the next year – and Jim stayed at APM.

    Glen! Will be at the Rochester v Lemnos (I can’t bring myself to call them the Shepp Swans) on Saturday week. Will miss Corowa races – if you can’t back a winner, back another!

  30. Bert Bollard says

    My winner for higest club and ground used for senior footy is, in fact, Cooma at 800 meters.

    The Highest Top 5 is,

    Cooma (NSW) 800 mtr
    Trentham (Vic) 701 mtr
    Amata (SA) 692 mtr
    Omeo (Vic) 660 mtr
    Tylden (Vic) 591 mtr

    It must be the flu medication, but Woori Yallock is only 154 meters.

  31. Skip of Skipton says

    New England Nomads from Armidale NSW trump Cooma at 980m elevation.

  32. Dr Rocket says

    We sometimes played in the snow in Armidale, usually sleet. Always cold.

  33. Bert Bollard says

    Thanks Skip.
    Elevation and altitudes is one area where the oblong sports clearly trump Australian Rules.
    We played in snow at Warburton a few times. They use to have an enormous fire place and open fire in the rooms.
    In the Yarra Valley Mountain Districts FL, we played in sleet and hoar frost, mist and rain; it always rained . . .
    Back in the 80’s they had a comp game at Gembrook where the weather was so inclement that the supporters and officials petitioned the players to abandon the game at half time.
    Given what the weather is like week-in-week-out in the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenongs, it must of been pretty rugged!

  34. Jim Quade says

    Could you please forward me any information on Pat Quade that you have please, I am trying to write his football career, he played for Ariah Park and any information you have would be very good , thankyou.

  35. Hi Jim,

    More info about Pat Quade and his brothers.
    Father Leo played in Berrigan’s 1919 premiership team.

    Also there was a major piece on Pat in the AFL Record by Adam McNichol a few years ago.

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