Jones Files: Hartney’s two league medals place him among Bendigo elite

Richard Jones

BRENDAN Hartney was always destined to play for Sandhurst and follow in the footsteps of his late father, Leo.

Leo Hartney not only donned the maroon and blue colors of Sandhurst, but when his playing days were over was a faithful servant of the club, serving for a period as chairman of selectors.

Brendan’s playing days with the Dragons started when he was 17; 225 games later he pulled the pin on a distinguished career.

He was a shining light as far as club loyalty and on-field courage were concerned. Not only did Brendan lead Sandhurst in the late 1980s and into the ’90s he was the skipper of Bendigo’s successful VCFL Division 1 country championship-winning team in 1989.

He remains a revered Dragon. Finishing on top in the Leo McPherson Medal count as club fairest and best in 1979-80, before five seasons with Carlton, was just the start of a medal-winning spree.

He played 32 senior VFL games with the Princes Park Blues between 1981 and 1985.

Hartney then took out the Dragons’ club McPherson Medal from 1986-89 and added an astounding seventh trophy in 1993.

In between he was adjudged fairest and best in the BFL in both 1987 (29 votes) and again in 1989 (31 votes) to join an elite band of players to have won the time-honoured Michelsen Medal twice.

There are just six players who have won two Michelsen Medals.

One of my most enduring BFL memories is of Hartney opposed to outstanding Eaglehawk key position player Robert O’Connell. The Bendigo Advertiser photographers of the day would regularly focus on the absorbing battle between the two BFL stars whenever they were pitted against each other.

Their marking duels were just riveting, and an object lesson for the younger players of both clubs.

Brendan started as a ruck-rover — a term never used these days when “midfielders” and “on-ballers” are the buzz words — before cementing his place in BFL history as an unrelenting defender.

Regularly conceding height to opposing key forwards, centre half-back seemed Hartney’s natural position. His courage in gathering the loose ball and his uncanny ability to read the play set him aside from his peers.

And he loved inter-league footy. Hartney played more than 20 games for the Blue and Golds. He, as captain, and the late Neville Strauch as coach were the cornerstone of Bendigo’s country championships campaigns.

The BFL representative made the Division 1 grand final in three consecutive seasons two decades back: in 1988, 1989 and again in 1990.

The bitter disappointment of losing the Division 1 grand final to Geelong in the 1988 play-off at East Geelong was wiped away 12 months later.

Hartney was carried shoulder-high off the QEO in mid-1989 as the Blue and Golds earned their revenge on the GFL, winning 15.10 (100) to Geelong’s 9.5 (59).

It was Bendigo’s first Division 1 country title since 1972 and was so momentous that the BFL board of management hosted a special commemorative dinner to celebrate the achievement.

The path to that 1989 VCFL grand final was memorable enough in itself. Bendigo made the dreaded road trip to Ovens and Murray territory for the semi-final and prevailed: 10.10 (70) to 7.12 (54).

It was Bendigo’s first ever win over the O and M on one of their northern Victorian grounds. An even sweeter victory for Hartney and his teammates was to come a few weeks later that ’89 season with the grand final success over the GFL.

Apart from his senior coaching stint in 1988, Hartney has also served as club runner and a selector. These days it’s a family affair at Sandhurst home games, with Brendan on deck as a Dragon senior selector.

Twenty-year-old son Tom has been a key member of the Dragons’ senior backline while in 2009 younger son Pat (19), who has graduated from the under-18s, lined up in the Sandhurst reserves.

Chopper White’s reserves, with Pat Hartney in the side, bowed out to Kangaroo Flat in this month’s reserves first semi-final.

Tom Hartney can glean some valuable advice from his father whenever Sandhurst takes on Eaglehawk.

With Derrick Filo still running around in the Eaglehawk forward line — Brendan used to match up with Filo when the evergreen stalwart was at Castlemaine  –– the dual Michelsen Medallist is able to pass on tips to his son.

“Run him around a lot,” was his succinct advice when the youngster first lined up on the wily Borough veteran.

Brendan Hartney was inducted into the Bendigo Football League Hall Of Fame in August 1996. I rate him in the 10 best BFL players I’ve been privileged to watch in a 30-year career broadcasting and writing about local footy.


  1. Richard,

    Mention of Brendan Hartney makes me want to cry. I played one game on him, the 1990 qualifying final at the Upper Reserve. I was supposed to be a negative half-forward and I had no idea how to do it. I kept scooting past packs trying to pick up crumbs and race towards goal. What a pointless exercise when Brendan stood 10 metres off me and marked everything. He was like a one-man wall.

    Lovely bloke, though. In fact one of the most genuine people in country footy.

    It intrigued me that he never quite made it at Carlton. Maybe he was just too short to play as a half-back who gained a lot of possessions by marking. Maybe there was room for only one Ken Hunter.

  2. PS. I’m curious to know the six dual Michelsen medallists.

    Was Tiger Tyack one of them?

    Garry Mountjoy?

  3. Richard E. Jones says

    OKAY, Daff here they are.
    No, Tiger Tyack and Garry Mountjoy won one Michelsen each. Coincidentally in 1979 Tiger was the joint winner with Square’s Eric Pascoe (a former Carlton player like Brendan Hartney), while in 1984 Mountjoy was the joint winner with South Bendigo’s Marty Graham. Mounty was 29 when he won.

    The 6 dual Michelsen medallists are:-
    Frank Fitzpatrick (Rochester): 1956/1957
    Derek Cowen (C’maine): 1966/1967
    Tony Southcombe (Golden Square): 1972/1975
    Greg Williams (Golden Square): 1982/1983 (also 2 Brownlows and a Norm Smith, as well)
    Brendan Hartney (Sandhurst): 1987/1989
    and Matthew Fitzgerald (Gisborne): 2003/2007.

    The medal is named after Cr Jack Michelsen, a former City of Bendigo Mayor and 1940s-era chairman of the Bendigo FL. He’s the father of the late, long-serving Bendigo Advertiser editor, Cyril Michelsen.
    The very first winner, way back in 1952, was former Hawthorn ruckman Kevin Curran (Sandhurst captain-coach). Curran was 30 when he took home the medal.
    Rocket Rodney G. would remember Frank Fitzpatrick and no doubt other Rochie winners — Frank Maxwell (1961) and Ray Willett (1962) along with Kevin Shinners (1970). What a great name for a footballer, the 1970 winner !!

  4. Thanks Richard,

    I wish I saw Tony Southcombe and Greg Williams in their Golden Square days. Diesel must have been something else.

    So no one has won three? Bendigo must be one of the few comps not to have a triple Brownlow medallist Bobby Skilton.

    I see Redan’s Jarrod Edwards won his fourth Henderson Medal in the Ballarat league this week.

    Robbie Walker won five Morris Medals in the Ovens and Murray comp.

  5. Hi Richard,

    Missed out on seeing Frank Fitzpatrick – too young.
    But I saw Ray Willett – he is the best player I have ever seen in country football.
    In 1962 when Rochy were premiers & champions he also won the league goalkicking award as well.
    After Rochy, he won 3 Morrison Medals in the Goulburn Valley league with Mooroopna (1965, 1967-68), he then went to Corowa where he was runner-up for a Morris Medal – lost by a vote.
    At Mooroopna he played in the ruck – a classic palmer of the ball.
    Kevin Shinners (Richmond and Dandenong) carried Rochy on his broad shoulders in 1970.
    They all stood out in red & black with red sox!


  6. Rocket,

    I saw David Willett play for Corowa-Rutherglen as a high-flying teenager in 2000. I think he was on North’s rookie list at some stage.

    He must be Ray Willett’s son, although a lot shorter. He’d be a Collingwood six-footer (with a massive leap).

    He coaches down Mornington Peninsula way now.

  7. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Apparently Ray used to teach at Rutherglen (the Victorian Education Dept) and would ride his bike to school across the bridge from Corowa every day to school. Guess he’s retired now.
    Of course, Corowa were big rivals with Rutherglen then and were known as the Spiders – black jumper with a red sash all the way around.

  8. Richard E. Jones says

    BENDIGO’S a much stronger league than Ballarat and O and M, Daff !! We towelled up Ballarat in May’s inter-league clash with a team full of youngsters, along with veteran forward Steven “Olly” Oliver.

    We have a wide spread of talented players. Too much ability and skill among the playing group to allow one fellow to snare three medals, let alone 4 or 5.

  9. Richard,

    Funny. O&M people claim they’re the best, and I think I’ve heard Ballarat people claim the same (although not for a very long time).

    The point about Robbie Walker is that his five Morris Medals reflected his influence. He would have won five Michelsen Medals in Bendigo or five Henderson Medals in Ballarat. Ten years ago he was clearly the best footballer in country Australia.

    I’ve seen Redan’s Jarrod Edwards play only once, for Vic Country against Vic Amateurs at the Junction Oval (RIP as a footy venue) in July. He actually struggled in that match. Among the best local footballers in the state, he looked slow. Clearly he still has an enormous influence at state level.

  10. Daff
    I saw Des Dickson play on Southcombe at the QEO one day (finals I think,.Southcombe marked at full forward Dick fell all over him,off came Tonys glasses onto the ground and Dick crushed them under his foot.Tony was as blind as a bat and diabled for the rest of the day.I also remeber seeing ray Willet play in a final and can just remeber he was an outstanding player.
    One of the problems with multiple Michelson medal winners was that those that won it were soo good they finished there carrers in the VFL.
    One of the greatest player I ever saw in the bFl was russell Petherbridge

  11. Mark Willett says

    pauldaffey / Rocket

    Re Ray Willett

    Ray is actually my father, and yes I am a 6 footer, Ray is retired now I have memories as a child reading his scrapbooks which sadly were destroyed in a house fire, I was too young to really remember him play although can remember a few games when he was with Corowa Rutherglen. I wish I had seen him in his hey day, many people have said he was a brilliant player, it was his knee that ended his career really, his body took a battering and he can barely walk today, he has bits of bone and cartlidge floating around his body. He retired from teaching a few years ago now after going through umpteen tyres and about three bike frames doing that ride to Rutherglen, hes living in Corowa at the moment.

    Mark Willett

  12. Mark,

    Thanks for contacting us (and sorry to get your name wrong).

    Are you coaching on the Peninsula?

    I can tell you exactly when I saw you play: it was Easter Saturday in 2000, Lavington v Corowa-Rutherglen. In those days there was a Murray Kangaroos team in the VFL and you and others on the Roos’ list had to align with an OM club.

    David Teague played in the midfield that day for CR. I thought he was best on ground, just ahead of Damien Houlihan, who loped around on a half-back flank, taking lazy screamers and booting 50 metres to a target. Later that year he played at full-forward in the grand final and kicked 10.

    Strange to think that Teague couldn’t get a game with the Murray Roos at that stage. I think he joined North at the end of that season.

    Your father must have been a gun. I love hearing those stories.

    Sad to hear he’s battling to walk now though. Give him our best!

  13. Mark Willett says

    Hi Paul

    I only ever played Coreen league and then O&M thirds for Corowa Rutherglen (Paul Bartlett, Peter kingston era), we won the Grand Final one year and then a few years later I went off to Uni at Charles Sturt in Wagga and Played for the Bushpigs for 3 years before coming to Northern Ireland where Ive lived for a number of years. So, just to clarify it was David Willett you saw play that day which wasnt me and he probably is coaching on the peninsula?

    Sorry I cant be of any further help about some of hose names your recalling, one of the stories Ray used to talk of was when he was with Collingwood, he remembered the huge Ray Gabelich who would hold 22 eggs in one hand.

    will pass on your site address to Ray, he has only just come to using the internet recently

    regards Mark Willett

  14. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Hi Mark,

    I thought you’d played for the Bushpigs – you Legend!
    What number did you wear?
    Are you a teacher like your father?

    As I have said in previous Comments on this site your father is the best player I have seen in country football! And I’ve seen a few go around in quite a few leagues over the last 40 odd years. Southcombe, Ron Best, Serong, Colin McCarten(Shepp – Tommy Hafey loves him!), Dessie Campbell (Shepp Utd, Tongala), Victor Hugo (Narrendera), & Jim Prentice (Ariah Park-Mirrool) were amongst the best I’ve seen, but your father was the best!

    My greatest memory of your father is when he came back from playing for Collingwood in 1963 play for Rochester I think it was to otstensibly because Rochy were a better club to play for at that time… he played at full-forward on Echuca’s Barry Hannan who had played at South Melbourne – they had a great duel – a ding-dong battle, but Echuca won the day!

    Everybody at Rochy still talks about how he wear size 16 boots. Enormous. In all respects, apparently.
    Still can’t believe Rochy let him leave to go to Moooroopna… 3 medals, but no flags.

    Please let your dad know he has many admirers – they still talk about him in Rochester!
    Please refer him to the article on this website for the story I wrote on Bill Serong – Bill and I spoke at length about your father when he was at Collingwood & Rochy. Bill holds him in the utmost regard – even though though he played played for the mortal enemy.

    He wore number 8 at Mooroopna, was this his number ar Collingwood? Pretty sure it was the same at Rochy.

    Mark, you should be very proud of your father, sorry to hear that he is enduring pain. Its great how you referred to his bike riding across the Murray each daty to Rutherglen.

    Bring back the red & back – now that Chisnall has gone Corowa should be Spiders once again!
    The Kangaroo colours ar so AWFUL! And so un-Corowa!!!!

  15. Rocket Rod Gillett says


  16. Hiya Mark

    I used to play with Ray at Eltham High School back in, what, 1957 or thereabouts, before he went to Northcote (to be in Collingwood’s zone). Ray was a big boy then, but not ginormous. He did have big feet and big hands too. He was a lazy trainer, and was often late for school — used to sneak up to the school along the creek, but everyone was a wake up to him, so they would catch him in the dash across open ground from the creek to the nearest building, his open gladstone back dragging behind him. What a dag.

    Great player. He was NEVER in a hurry on the field because he was simply wherever the ball was. The ball seemed to think of him as a kindred spirit which it wanted to be next to. It would suddenly sideways to get past others and fall perfectly for him; it would wobble in the air to reach his hands. Then he’d mark and swing that mighty hoof back and “bang”, the ball was gone through the goals, over the fence and into the creek. Or safely into someone’s arms way downfield.

    In addition to skills and physical size that on their own would have made Ray at least very good, he was a great reader of the play and also deceptively fast. I always remember him as looking a little clumsy and uncertain, which unsettled opponents. It made you think twice about what he was going to do. While you were busy working that out, he had done the obvious, grabbed the ball and passed it on with an absolute minimum of actual activity!


    I was told Ray had persistent back trouble which limited what he could do at Collingwood, but someone in the bush fixed him up later.

    Pity (from our point of view) he didn’t stay at Eltham High (although he would have been in Melbourne’s zone, of course, a fate worse that death) because despite the small size of our school in those days — about 350 boys in total, I think — we actually had a pretty good footy team in my matric year there, 1959. Good enough to give Box Hill Boys High a run for their money (about about trhree times bigger than our male enrolment) and we beat Albury High (a much bigger school and our annual signature game) pretty comprehensively that year.

    Several of the boys went on to play VFL and Association. Kingsley Ellis at Fitzroy, I think Dick Burrows somewhere, someone Adams (I think) also at Fitzroy, possibly one other in the VFL, and I was on Melbourne’s list until I was injured beyond redemption in an early under-19s game (they just shovelled the walking wounded out on to the knackery cart in those days — I discovered only recently what happened then, my diaphragm was partly torn away from my ribs or wherever it anchors).

    One of the great things for footy in those days was having stars like Ray playing in the country (where the pay was much better than in the VFL by the way). Even if they were old, injured or whatever, they gave young up and comers mentoring, competition and benchmarking at the highest skill levels so stepping up to the VFL was not the giant step it often is today.

    Cheers, Geoff

  17. Rocket Rod Gillett says


    If Ray Willett had stayed at Eltham High and been zoned to Melbourne he probably would have played in a premiership team in 1960 instead of in a losing Collingwood grand final team…

    He eventually got to play with the Demons – albeit Rochester where he played in two premierships.
    No flags at Mooroopna and Corowa.

    Still great to know that these postings have revived some wonderful memories for you – I especially like the way you have described how he could effortlessly get to where the ball was – thanks for sharing this with us.

    As I recall Melbourne 1964 premiership fullback Bernie Massey came from Eltham, but I guess he was at “St Josephs”, not Eltham High.

  18. regarding Ray Willett i have recently come to own his 1960 GF jumper he swapped with TAS JOHNSON

  19. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    This posting ought to be renamed – “Ray Willett’s two medals place him among Bendigo elite”!

    The two medals are the Michelsen medal and goalkicking medals – both won in 1962 – plus a “premiership medal” given that Rochester went through as premiers and champions!!!

  20. Back to Brendan Hartney,

    My memory of “Mr Hartney” was as my primary school teacher at Craigieburn Primary School on the outskirts of Melbourne. Back in the days where “VFL” players had jobs outside of footy.
    Being a young one eyed blues supporting grade 6er, I was shocked, yet excited to see him as our teacher.
    He was always a genuine nice guy and I suppose you need that characteristic to be a school teacher.
    I remember him as a handy, reliable back pocket player at Carlton and It’s a shame Carlton was a team full of super handy players, in those days.
    I’m glad to see he has set his own records in the BFL and I will definately drop by some day to catch him.

    P.S I still have my Carlton autograph book back from 1983. First player to sign it – B.Hartney !!

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