Jones files: My top ten in the Bendigo footy league

THE Almanac’s Paul Daffey asked me recently whether I’d considered compiling a list of the best players I’d seen in three decades of reporting on the Bendigo Football League.
That got me thinking. My first season of writing about Bendigo footy was way back in 1977 — 33 years ago. Is it fair or reasonable to compare players from the ‘70s with those of the free-running, handball-dominated style of the 2000s?
The answer is, yes, I think it is. After all, the AFL Hall of Fame committee continues to induct players from 60 and more years ago into its august company.
Richmond’s Bill Morris, a star of the 1940s, is a case in point. His wife accepted her late husband’s nomination a couple of weeks ago.
So I delved back through some records and carefully hoarded BFL guides to come up with the 10 best I reckon I’ve been privileged to watch.
Not surprisingly, many of the Top Ten have won the BFL’s top accolade: the Michelsen Medal for the fairest and best in the competition.

Not in any particular order, here they are:

Ron Best (Golden Square, Sandhurst, Northern United): the highest goalscorer in BFL history and one of the all-time greats in country Victorian history. Finished with 1624 BFL career goals and his last game — the 1984 grand final win with United — yielding an astonishing 11 majors. Coached the Hurst to grand final victories and also spent time with Boort in the North Central league. Headed the BFL goalkicking tally 10 times. Just an amazing player and leader. The medal for top goalsneak in the BFL each September is named the Ron Best Medal.

Peter Moroni (Golden Square): legendary 3BO match caller Dick Turner always referred to Moroni as “the fleet-footed market gardener from Epsom”. Not only was he quick and elusive on his wing or around midfield, Peter was extremely durable. To rack up more than 400 games with the one club speaks volumes for his loyalty. Up to his 300th game he had missed just four matches, an astounding record. I will always remember the 1979 grand final when he booted six, match-winning goals for the Wade Street Dogs.

Derrick Filo (Castlemaine, Kyneton, Kangaroo Flat, Eaglehawk): still playing at the top level even though now in his early 40s. Captained Castlemaine to the 1992 flag after the all-in barney before the first bounce, coached Kyneton to three successive grand finals for two flags, then led the Flat into the finals after a lean spell. Playing coach of Eaglehawk’s last two premiership sides. His two, booming majors for Kyneton from outside 50 metres in the second quarter of the 1995 grand final rank as two of the finest pressure goals ever kicked on the grand old QEO.

Brendan Hartney (Sandhurst): one of the handful of players to have won two Michelsen medals as the league’s fairest and best. A centre half-back, he regularly took on taller key forwards. Brendan’s courage in contests and his uncanny ability to read the play were the hallmarks of his performances. Captained the BFL interleague team to a memorable VCFL Division 1 premiership over Geelong in 1989, but also considers Sandhurst’s consecutive premiership wins in 1977-78 as career highlights. Sandhurst club best-and-fairest winner seven times.

Alan ‘Bruiser’ Williams (Eaglehawk): if there’s been a tougher player going around in the BFL, I haven’t seen him. Centreman Alan was the backbone of the Two Blues’ midfield and captained Eaglehawk for five seasons. Four-time premiership player (1968, 1971, centenary year 1980 and 1982) and eight-time winner of the club best and fairest. Michelsen medallist in 1974 and runner-up in 1975-76. My enduring memory of Alan is his 1980 effort in the then annual interleague challenge against LaTrobe Valley in the slush and freezing sleet at Traralgon.

Steven Oliver (Castlemaine): still playing at the age of 38, Oliver’s five goals late last month at the Square took his BFL career total to 1026. Played 13 games and booted eight goals for Carlton but his heart has always remained at the Camp Reserve. Unstoppable on the lead and a booming left-footer, I once saw him nail a lazy 13 goals when, as a 17-year-old, he first played interleague footy for the BFL at the Western District’s Coleraine oval. Five times the BFL’s top goalkicker, Olly’s 1992 tally of 146 goals (136 regular season, 10 in finals) has been topped only by Best’s all-up 161 in 1980.

Jamie Bond (Maryborough): as a big man myself I love what ruckmen and key position players can do. Jamie won the 1996 Michelsen Medal, played in two Magpie premierships (1998-99) and now in his late 30s he’s still pulling on the teal, black and white jumper for Maryborough. Another player with a booming kick, I watched Jamie nail a goal from the defensive side of the centre circle at Maryborough one afternoon. He is hard, fearless and still the Magpie enforcer if any teammate is roughly treated by opponents.

Greg ‘Diesel’ Williams (Golden Square): was still in his teens when he won Michelsen medals in 1982-83. Played senior football with Tony Southcombe’s Bulldogs when still only 16, and was 17 when he was selected in the BFL representative side which played Riddell. The best exponent of handball I’ve ever seen, Williams was also a magnificent kick and deadly around goals. His ability to team with big brother John was legendary and it was a brave opposition player who would clean up Diesel — on most occasions Johnny would be hovering just a few metres away.

Robert ‘Ninga’ O’Connell (Golden Square, Eaglehawk): could play as effectively at centre half-back as he could at centre half-forward. One of the best overhead marks in the BFL, his one-on-one battles with Brendan Hartney were annual highlights in the 1980s. Ninga was another player who was an accomplished user of the ball — whether by foot to a teammate or when shooting for goal. Coached the Two Blues in the ascendancy in the mid-‘80s. Gave the Borough great service. At 125th anniversary dinner (1880-1925), he was named captain of Eaglehawk’s Team of the Century.

Tony ‘Bluey’ Southcombe (Golden Square, Northern United): dual Michelsen medalist, in 1972 and 1975, ‘Bluey’ remains the best ruckman/follower I’ve seen in the BFL. Poor eyesight didn’t hinder him as not only did he play in four Square premierships as player or playing coach (1972, 1975-76, 1979), he led Northern United to the 1984-85-86 flags, and he led Boort to the North Central league flag in 1982. A tremendous overhead mark, Bluey was also a fine kick and was very accurate when lining up for goal.


  1. pauldaffey says

    Richard, I did the In the Sheds show with Ian “Covey” Cover on ABC Radio on Saturday and Besty was our main guest. (The theme was the best players to shun a league footy career.) Besty was brilliant. He explained in very cogent fashion that, after growing up in poor circumstances in West Heidelberg, financial security was important to him. He could have gone to a VFL club but it would have meant letting go of the considerable business interests he was building in Bendigo from his early 20s. At 24 he played one practice match with Geelong and that was it. He returned to Bendigo to run the Fifeshire Arms and his branch of the food distribution company PFD, whose logo you see behind Mick Malthouse during Collingwood press conferences. Besty’s done very well out of business. It’s just a shame for footy fans that he never had a decent go in the VFL.

  2. Rod Gillett says

    Wow! This is an impressive list – all wonderful players. I had a chance to see Best, Southcombe, the “fleet-footed” Peter Moroni, and Bruiser Williams play when I followed Rochester in the Bendigo League in the period 1964-1971. I recall Rochy beating Square at home in the drizzle in 1971 when the spring-heeled Barry Riordan (normally a half forward) out-rucked Tony Southcombe – who wore glasses from the same optometrist as Essendon’s Geoff Blethyn.

    The best player I have ever saw in the Bendigo Football League was Ray Willett – who topped the league goalkicking and won the Michelsen medal in 1962 when Rochy were premiers and champions – when he returned from Collingwood after another stint (he had played in the 1960 VFL Grand Final)in 1964 ostensibly because he could earn more money. He was a giant of a man who wore size 16 boots. He later won 3 Morrison Medals for Mooroopna in the Goulburn Valley League. He then went to play Corowa in the O & M where I think he finished up runner-up for the Morris Medal.

    Echuca also had many good players, but the one who had the most impact in my view was Bill Serong (a team-mate of Willett at Collingwood), who came to coach the Murray Bombers after finishing his VFL career with North Melbourne. They had been in the doldrums since Carlton Bloodbath premiership player Jim Clark had got them into a preliminary final in the mid-50’s. Serong ignited Echuca to the extent that they beat Rochy in home-and-away games but couldn’t beat Rochy in finals – even when they bought ex St Kilda skipper Neil Roberts out of retirement.

    Great players. Great memories. Thanks for sharing the feats of all these players with us Richard.

  3. Peter Lenaghan says

    Impressive stuff, indeed, Richard – but where are the Bloods?
    Surely Peter Bradbury and Peter ‘Tiger’ Tyack must have been very close to making the final cut? I was only a young fella when those men were in their prime but they were dominant on the Queen Elizabeth Oval. I also remember Francis Burke being unstoppable on his day, and then there’s Phil Hetherington plucking marks out of the sky in the forward line.
    I also think there must be a case for Gisborne’s Luke Saunders among the more recent BFL stars.

  4. pauldaffey says

    Peter, Peter Bradbury and Tiger were great players but I especially liked Frank Burke. The Bloods team seemed unshakeable when he was coolly patrolling centre half-back. As for Pip Hetherington, I remember him as a ratbag full-forward in the Golden Square under-18s (he and Phil Kennedy were a great pair — very entertaining). It’s a shame I never saw him play senior footy.

  5. Richard E. Jones says

    G’DAY Pete. These were my Top Ten. Other people would clearly hold different opinions about the worth of various footballers.
    However, you’ll be pleased to know that I have penned a second list of my all-time greats over my 30-year BFL journey.
    The first list was extremely well received in Bendigo and judging by the comments so far on Footy Alamanac 2009 also here. The second list of 12 does contain a couple of South Bendigo stars.
    Which ones will they be ? A full-forward, who although handy, would you describe as one of the “greats” ? Or other spearheads, say at Kyneton and earlier at Eaglehawk, who both have snagged more than 800 goals each ?
    And as far as Gisborne players go, don’t two Mich. Medals rate higher than one ?
    Anyway, have a read next Friday.
    By the way the good old Bloods are doing what you and I know they do only too well —- when the heat is on, a few of them go missing. The Flat belted them last Saturday when South were the clear pre-match favorites !

  6. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Came across this snippett on the Country footy scores website:

    Peter Moroni and Golden Square
    Golden Square legend Peter Moroni says he would love to still be playing today. “It’s all run and bounce. It have suited me down to the ground,” he said.

    “They’re not allowed to king hit you, whack you or anything like that. “When I played against teams like Rochester they’d come at you hard. They were big blokes and only too willing to knock your head off. That’s why I ran so fast!
    “Footy is still hard and tough now, but you’re pretty safe from the rough stuff.”

    Rochy had been gone from the Bendigo league for more than 10 years before the fleet-footed one retired – he clearly remembered the impact Rochester had on the league! And himself!

  7. Richard Jones says

    ROCKET: was out at the Wade Street oval, where Daff used to patrol the wings in 1990 and 91, to cover the Golden Square-Castlemaine game for Monday’s Bendigo Advertiser.

    Guess what the GSFNC webmaster Arthur Doye handed me? A Dick Turner disc which apparently you place in your DVD player and listen to the audio.

    It contains the last half of Dick’s 3BO call of the 1964 Square-Rochie grannie and the last quarter of the 1972 Square-South playoff.

    I’ll get the aforesaid Square winger Daff to send me your snail mail address and you also can have a listen to old Dick’s dulcet tones. Apparently he used to call the whole game himself.
    These days it’s segments of 90 seconds tops before caller 2 springs into action.

  8. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    WOW! What a discovery! Really look forward to that – even though Rochy lost….

    I see where John Ledwridge who coached Eaglehawk with such success was captain of Square’s premiership team in 1964 – think he’s mentioned in dispatches in a piece you did on great coaches.
    No Peter Moroni, but I remember the Bonney brothers, Bill and Derek, from Heathcote.

    Dick’s call of a Square premiership will be great to listen to!

  9. Warren Barker says

    As brothers go, how brilliant were the Roulston boys – Russel and Doug?

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