Local footy: Amazing Country comeback on a windy day

By Paul Daffey

Wind is a variant that’s going out of AFL games in Victoria. The Docklands Stadium is like a bowling alley with turf. The MCG’s stands are so high that the wind dare not breach its walls. Only Kardinia Park is exposed to the elements.

Only Kardinia Park offers the uncertainty of difficult conditions, as happened on Saturday when a big wind howled from the city end during the Cats’ match against Melbourne. Joel Selwood surprised himself when he let fly from sixty out and the ball sailed through for the first goal of the game. Even Geelong players are taken aback when the conditions throw a kink in meticulous plans.

Wind can have a dispiriting effect. I played my junior footy at St Bernard’s College in Essendon, where the school buildings were cut into the side of a steep hill. The ovals were at the bottom of the hill, while another steep hill faced the school from the other side of the ovals. In effect the ovals were at the bottom of a deep valley. When the wind raced in from the Keilor Plains, it funnelled through the valley like it was cycling in a hectic finish, head bent over the handlebars. I remember turning up to the footy on the two or three days a season when we had a north wind and feeling utterly dejected. I’d been waiting all week to play footy and now the wind was racing towards the tape. I knew it would be tough to kick 20 metres against the wind. I knew it would be almost impossible to score a goal at the clubrooms end.

After I left school I played in an amateur footy match with the St Bernard’s Old Boys on a day when the wind was bullocking through the valley. We were playing Therry Old Boys, and our team was flat. It was as if the wind had scooped up our enthusiasm and dumped it in the nearby Maribyrnong River. I remember breaking out of the centre square and heading for the left forward flank, from where I saw Cory Klaaysen leading out from the goal-line. I curled the ball back in towards the hot spot 15 metres out from goal. It was a judicious kick, nicely weighted in normal circumstances, but the wind carried the ball over Cory’s head and through the goals. Teammates jogged in to congratulate me with little enthusiasm. I sensed they knew I was lucky. Next time I might look like a fool. You don’t argue with a mighty wind.

Last Sunday in Melbourne was another day on which the wind was bent over the handlebars, racing for the finish line. I went to the Victorian Amateurs versus Victorian Country match at the Junction Oval. The wind blew towards the St Kilda end, and on this occasion it had no effect on the players’ enthusiasm. That’s what happens when you play in a representative game that’s held only every two years: you go like the clappers no matters the conditions. The match was tough and the skills were as precise as a clockmaker’s. The wind gave the game an extra edge.

I thought the canny players shone. The Amateurs’ Cameron McLaren, a forward from Marcellin who looks unprepossessing in his long sleeves, had too many tricks for Ben Cosgriff, a Corowa-Rutherglen defender whose torso is carved from granite. McLaren kicked at least one goal against the roaring wind after judging the ball better in the air. The country boys had no problem with the physical clashes. It was the clever forwards and the midfielders with slick hands who worried them.

Country’s Paul Kirby also fascinated me. Kirby is a big block of a ruckman who plays for Tatura in the Goulburn Valley. His strawberry hair is receding and his face is red, like a farmer who’s been in the sun. He scowls. He has no definition in his arms; he just has brute force from years of being a man. Early in the last quarter Kirby bullocked past the Amateurs’ Paul Wintle, a superb defender from St Bede’s Mentone, through strength and force of will. He snatched the ball and threw it on his boot for a goal. It served to keep his team in the game. Kirby was happy for the wind to reduce the match to a base contest.

The Amateurs led by four goals at three-quarter time. The wind gathered strength for the last quarter. Every time the Country team moved forward of centre, they threatened to kick a goal. But every time Paul Wintle and his fellow Amateurs defenders managed to sweep the ball away through handball or a precise kick to a teammate thirty metres away. The wind kept the ball in the Country team’s attack. It served to heighten the suspense. Often the ball went over the boundary line in the dead pocket near the St Kilda Junction. When it did I had to bounce my son’s little green footy to relieve the tension.

The Amateurs somehow held the Country team at bay throughout the last quarter. The nerve of the defenders was extraordinary. The suspense was extraordinary. The Amateurs still led by twenty-six points in the shadow of time-on. Then the Country team’s Chris Irving, a nuggety, dreadlocked rover from Seaford, pounced on the ball before it could tumble over the boundary line next to the behind post. He snapped the ball on to his boot. I watched in astonishment from behind the goals as the wind held the ball up and then pushed the ball over the goal-line for a major score.

Irving’s goal ignited a withering comeback. Brodie Filo, a nineteen-year-old from Eaglehawk, swept in from half-forward and sent a drop-punt curling over the defenders’ heads. The Country team clawed to within four points.

At the thirty-one minute mark, Daniel Leslie, a centre half-forward from North Albury, tried to mark in front of his opponent, Daniel Cooper, on the centre square line. Cooper, a flint-hard defender from Old Essendon, punched from behind and the ball spilt free. I thought then that the Amateurs might be able to corral it and save the game.

Several seconds later the umpire blew his whistle. I couldn’t believe it. The players could scarcely believe it. It had been a good few seconds since the marking contest and a free was being paid for too high. The ball went to Dan Leslie. He must have been tempted to boot long and hope for the best, but all match his team had resisted the long bomb. All match they’d resisted blazing away on account of the wind.

Leslie spotted Dave Clark, a Corowa-Rutherglen wingman who once played amateur footy with Uni Blues, about twenty-five metres out. He popped the ball up for Clark, who rose on to the back of a teammate (in slow motion, in my mind) and grabbed the ball as if he were afraid the wind was going to rip it away. Clark went back to his mark. With the wind at his tail, he kicked truly for a goal. The Country team was up by two points. I couldn’t hear the siren but spectators poured onto the ground.

The wind kept blowing.

Comments

  1. Steve Healy says

    Daff,

    Did you hear about Heatherton beating Morabbin 50.25 325 to 0.9 9?
    I saw this game in the paper and thought you might know about it.

  2. Peter Schumacher says

    Hi Paul,

    This was a great report, you really know your footy, and I loved the atmosphere you conjured and descriptions of some of the players who took part. Must have been a fantastic game.

  3. Danielle says

    St Bernard’s College in Essendon?
    St Bernard’s boys have never failed to impress!
    if i remember one time they were seated behind my school and me and my friends just wanted to turn our chairs around to face them. ( i go to an all girls school)
    They all looked like potential future footy stars!

    Danni

  4. I don’t know about the St Bernard’s boys but whenever we played footy or cricket there, I was always impressed that they had a real St Bernard. Now he was cute!

  5. Hey Steve, apparently Moorrabbin were a bit unlucky in that match. I heard that at least one of their 9 points went very close to being a goal.

  6. Steve Healy says

    I don’t actually think they were playing Gigs. In the paper their best players were “unavalible”. As were their goalkickers of course.

  7. In situations like that, they should always show the lead pointkickers…

  8. Steve,

    I must admit I hadn’t seen that score, and I also admit that I shy from reporting on them when I do. It’s always a team that’s battling to get enough players being flogged by a good team whose full-forward has a day out. Then all the local papers report that he’s kicked 28 goals, and he gets his boots framed, and the vanquished feel even worse.

    I reckon there’d be three or four 200-point victories in the paper every week, but not many 300-point wins.

    Do you know the Heatherton boys? Or maybe the Moorabbin boys?

    I remember about five years ago the Moorabbin team featured half a dozen Kiwis who’d never previously played the game. Apparently they took to it fairly well. Clearly Moorabbin are now missing their Kiwis!

    I remember playing your school, De La Salle, when I was at school. When I was in Year 12 (several epochs ago) De La beat us by six goals in Herald Shield quarter-final at the Punt Road Oval. I was spewing. I wanted to play in the final.

    Then we played De La in the ACC comp two months later and flogged them by 15 goals.

  9. Danielle,

    St Bernard’s is very much a footy school. When I was there you studied maths and chemistry and played footy. The Christian Brothers were never too big on the soft subjects like English, history and rowing.

    I’m guessing the boys you saw could play. They’d be good footballers as well.

  10. Peter,

    Thanks very much for the feedback. I’ll have to get up Shep way and watch Paul Kirby one of these days.

    He’s a great, old-fashioned country ruckman.

  11. Gigs,

    I was on the student council when it raised the money to buy the school St Bernard, who amazingly was called Bernie.

    Bernie was taken care of by old Brother Carey. As with all close relationships between dogs and their owners, Bernie and Brother Carey came to look like each other, except Bernie was better groomed.

  12. Daff,
    What’s this about English, Humanities and being soft?

  13. Crio, he didnt mean it ‘that’ way.
    its like asking a guy if he prefers to play footy or read the about the Cold War.
    To me the guy would go straight for the physical stuff and far away from the reading.

  14. Must agree with Peter. I felt like I was at the game next to you, Daff. I notice your report of Ezard’s demise was number 2 on the most-read list today at realfooty.com.au. Let’s hope these readers are finding there way here to read your other great stories.

    Regarding Bernie, would you regard him as the crowning glory of your time on the student council? And did the council form a sub-committee to choose the name?

  15. Gigs and Steve,
    Story is that Moorabbin were very unlucky. It is suspected that the thieving bastard from Prelim ’97 was goal umpiring and may have once again misjudged a clear six-pointer. Rudi Koertzen’s cousin, so I have heard.
    With regard to listing scorers, it was always very cute in the SANFL when the Sunday Mail (which did little other than run LeCornu ads) would publish goals and behinds scorers. As distinctive as red point posts!
    Finally, St Bernards are a strong and fine footy school. Their reputation is of ruthless winners, at whatever cost (in what ever sport). Playing there is considered hostile, although I’ve always marvelled at the passion and, nowadays, facilities. It is fair to say they are widely disliked. This may be a by-product of success, but is understood also to be due to their attitude towards competition and the SA-like determination to repel any North-West stigma. So it is partly thrust upon them and also regenerated. Francis Leach, esteemed old boy but awfully jaundiced Sainter,famously called it (something like) the Hitler Youth of EssendonFC.
    I remember the dribbling Dog.

  16. Danielle,
    Sorry! Daff knows my angle. Should keep such interchanges for email not website.

  17. Danielle, aren’t you supposed to be writing an essay on Banquo’s relationship with Macbeth and which of those two blokes the three witches thought had a better body as they were brewing a coffee down at Cafe Coven…? Or something like that?

  18. pauldaffey says

    Crio,

    You remember the Brothers. They meant no disrespect to the humanities. They just thought Catholic boys needed to study the maths and sciences to give us the best opportunity of succeeding in the workplace and pushing the Protestants’ faces in the mud.

    Besides, we had terrible humanities teachers when I was in year 12.

  19. Don’t worry Crio. Let it all out in the public domain. We love it!

    Coming from St. John’s/Chisholm College in Braybrook, I don’t really remember knowing about St Bernard’s reputation. I remember Bernie and the steep-sided cliffs. And I remember it as another victory along the way to the only ACC Cricket premiership we ever won (1981/82). Undefeated that year. Alan Dodemaide was our keeper. Tony had gone through a year or two earlier.

  20. pauldaffey says

    Gigs,

    Our task on the school council was to offer guidance and fellowship to students throughout the school. I think it was a very good thing that we bought the dog.

    There was no name sub-committee but there was some consideration to playing Bernie on a half-back flank in the footy team.

  21. St Bernard’s were nobly pushing up the rungs in those days Gigs. Whilst St John’s was delivering refraction experts, Bernies turned out good stock like Daff (in spite of the Humanities staff- glad you’ve eased off the English Dept mate!
    Balancing arrogance and “tall poppy” is a constant question in australian life.

  22. Daff, I too was on the SRC. I don’t know about fellowship but we did offer guidance. Specifically, we counselled our boys to steer clear of the Totty Tech (Tottenham) boys if they wanted to make it through high school alive.

    I reckon Bernie would have been Mr Dependable down back. A bit like St Francis at Richmond but not quite as lithe.

  23. pauldaffey says

    Crio,

    Everything you’ve written about the St Bernard’s footy culture is true, but perhaps only for the last two decades or so. We weren’t ruthless when I was there because we were the smallest school in the competition. We never won anything. We just prided ourselves in punching well above our weight.

    It was in the 1990s, when the school doubled in size, that the truculence and north-west suburban defensiveness developed into the ruthless winning culture of which you speak.

    When I played for St Bernard’s in the Amateurs after leaving school (although you never really left school if you play for a Catholic old boys’ team), I had a couple of mates at uni who laughed their heads off at our logo, which was a slobbering St Bernard with a whisky cask around his neck. How could anyone take that seriously, they asked? The logo remains unchanged. We like that droopy-eyed dog.

  24. Crio, I think the only thing we ever learnt to refract were the bodies of the teachers’ cars.

  25. pauldaffey says

    Crio,

    I presumed English was part of the humanities department.

  26. Gigs,
    I was back to Snell’s Law on refraction.
    Daff,
    I was defending my role in the English Dept!

  27. I know Crio. I just couldn’t resist throwing that line in. Your Mr Snell was 4 years ahead of me at school and I don’t know what subjects he did. Does he actually know anything about the real Snell’s law?

  28. pauldaffey says

    Gigs,

    St Bernard’s school teams were no more rugged than St Joe’s, North Melbourne or Parade in Bundoora. They were just more rugged than the schools from the other side of the Yarra, which is like saying they were more rugged than a Twisties packet.

    They were certainly not a patch in Chisolm College, Braybrook in this regard. I remember playing in Year 11 on Steve Macpherson, who was already playing Footscray seniors. Super got interested enough to hit me in the back of the head on one occasion but for the rest of the match he just strolled around. About a decade ago, when Super was coaching Coburg, I asked whether he remembered hitting me on the head in school footy. He said no, the liar.

    I’ll never forget playing on Darren Hitch, who was 6’4′ and the scariest player in a generally unscary competition. He had tatts when they meant something. The ball came down to us, we bodied each other for a nanosecond, he raised his arms to take the mark, I went cartwheeling out of the goalsquare, he took another grab and kicked another goal. He ended up with 10. I learned more that day about bodywork than I did in any other match.

    Hitch’s brother Greg was a year younger than me and the most spectacular mark in the competition besides my St Bernard’s teammate Greg Lane. When we were in Year 12 Laney and Greg Hitch played a game on each other, with Laney at centre half-forward. It was like a screamer-fest.

    I never understood why the Hitch boys never made it at the Bulldogs. I think both played seconds.

  29. “Obscurely”, he taught me a science lesson one day, by referring to parallax vision. I knew nothing of the term, having been exited from so many Science classes during my patchy education.
    Martin, however, remedied that partly at the University of Western Oval, when I argued that it was time for some more cans and he explained the complexities of parallax vision…in this instance, our tight angle at the time clock and hence misapprehension that a run on the bar was imminent. Never forgotten. Prac Learning 101!

  30. Daff, I’m getting slightly confused. I remember the Hitch family. Paul was in my year but I thought Greg was older. And I don’t remember Darren. I did HSC in ’82. Super arrived in ’82 and he and Gary Walpole (from Fish Creek) led us to our Herald Shield win in ’81 and he was there again in ’82. I played in the twos in those years.

  31. That should read Super arrived in ’81.

  32. And he played his first game for Footscray in Round 1, 1982, a 109 point loss at Windy Hill. From memory, that was Ryan Hargraves’ dad’s first (and almost last?) game too.

  33. I think Shaggy’s Dad has sired again recently. Father/Son/Brother 2025

  34. pauldaffey says

    Gigs,

    You might be right about the names.

    I played in the First 18 in 1982 and ’83. I played on Super and the elder Hitch in 1982. The younger Hitch had the screamer-fest against Laney in 83.

    Wonderful to read the name Gary Walpole. The Dogs did well out of Fish Creek, especially when they recruited a ruckman called Ian Salmon from there.

  35. I didn’t know Ian Salmon hailed from there. I think Barry Standfield did. And the “Weed”, Wayne Weidemann, who spelt his name different to Murray Weideman but was apparently related. I can identify with that. Our name is Gigacz but we have relatives who are Gigac.

    I remember Paul Hitch being a scary type but not a bad bloke underneath. Super was pretty quiet at school but happy to say g’day from memory.

    I was wrong about the Essendon game being Steve Hargraves first game. He played his only two games in rounds 4 and 5 that year. But it was Simon Beasley’s, Allan Jennings’ and Terry Love’s first game (as well as MacPherson). I suppose 2 out of 4 ain’t bad.

    It was also one of the 37 games that Alan McConnell played under coach Royce Hart. Such was the impression that he made on the coach, when he was appointed stand-in coach of Fitzroy during 1995 and Hart was asked what he was like, Royce had no recollection of him whatsoever. Possibly an indictment on McConnell as a player but more probably an indictment on Hart as a coach.

  36. Gigs,

    You’re right about Barry Standfield, who seemed an unfulfilled talent. I once saw him kick five in a game for Adelaide at Princes Park (those were the days).

    Wayne Weidemann does indeed come from Fish Creek. His mother’s side of the family is from Coolamon, outside Wagga. Weed coached Coolamon to a rare flag in the Riverina league and he’s very popular up that way.

    I met his brother Shayne (yes, Wayne and Shayne) when Shayne was coaching Osborne, which is to the west of Wagga. Good bloke, Shayne. Friendly family.

    Super seems a very good bloke. Speaking as a journalist, he’s been easy to get along with on the few occasions I’ve spoken to him. Never seems to get worked up about much, and I like the youth-work emphasis of his later years.

    Ah, yes, Royce Hart. You hear the odd story, all about what a terrible coach he was, but I’m a bit suspicious of those stories. I reckon Footscray was a terrible club all round in the early 80s.

  37. Gigs,

    Re-names. I have Daffey and Daffy. There are various stories of two brothers who had a split (daffy means quarrelsome in Irish) and one stuck an “e” in his name. But I believe that, essentially, there was a literacy problem with Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century. Someone from my (smaller) branch of the family just stuck an “e” in there through ignorance.

    I’m always asked by people from the Colac and Camperdown area whether I’m related to the big Daffy mob down there. Yes, we are. My name is just spelt funny.

  38. Danielle says

    CRIO: about the Macbeth essay, NO i studied Macbeth last year!! The essay i wrote was a modern interpretation on the scene of my choice AND i received full marks thank you very much!!
    :) DANNI
    P.S Macbeth is SOOO MUCH BETTER than Romeo and Juliet.

  39. Steve Healy says

    I’m actually studying Romeo and juliet at school at the moment. Don’t know Macbeth but i’m sure nearly everything is better than Romeo and Juliet.

  40. Danielle says

    apologies Crio my comment was meant for GIGS!

  41. Danielle,
    That was Gigs giving you H/W grief, not me.
    Steve,
    Know what you mean. I’m trying to teach Hamlet now!

  42. Danielle says

    Yer i just noticed that i got the wrong name.. SORRY times 347328437847397492!!!
    Hamlet havent done that one yet.
    do you teach english only or do you also teach lit?
    Danni

  43. Gigs will also make something of that number!

  44. Danielle says

    By the way Gigs, that would depend on which movie you watch. the newer version of Romeo and Juilet makes Romeo Much more good looking since he is being played my Leo DiCaprio!!

  45. Josh Barnstable says

    This story reminds me of a Waaia vs. Blighty grand final about 20 years ago. Have you heard about that match Paul? Waaia came from behind deep in the final quarter and, despite an idiot from the Blighty camp blowing a fake siren, Waaia’s Mick Cleeland marked in the centre. The real siren blew this time and Blighty players and fans starting celebrating a narrow victory. The umpire kept a keen eye on Cleeland though, and saw that a crazed Blighty player had crossed the mark. The umpy paid a 50m penalty, Cleeland went to about 50m out and booted it through for the winning goal and Waaia players and fans alike went into hysterics. Probably Waaia’s biggest claim to fame, and Mick is actually featured in the AFL Hall Of Fame in Melbourne. Too bad i wasn’t born to witness the amazing event. I hear about the story plenty enough though :)

  46. pauldaffey says

    Josh,

    In 2002 I did a book on country footy around Australia with photographer Ian Kenins. The book is called Beyond the Big Sticks.

    In deciding what to cover, we ranked the Waaia win 1990 as one of the great country footy stories. I’ve seen the footage of those frantic past couple of minutes and it’s a classic. Ian got a nice pic of Mick Cleeland leaning on a gate post in his Waaia jumper (Essendon colours, boo!) and it’s a great feature in the book.

    During the course of that season of our travels for the book, 2002, we went to a Picola league game, Blighty v Katunga, because we wanted to do something on Blighty coach Damian Sexton. (Big pic of him in his red Blighty jumper in a wheat field.)

    The subsequent night spent socialising in the Tuppal Hotel, Finley, is one of my favourite experiences in my country footy travels. The publican, Darren Jackson, kicked 1200 goals for Finley but he’s also just a classic bloke. I loved that night.

    My favourite story from my evening in the Tuppal relates to Jacko’s brief career at Geelong. In 1984 the Geelong Advertiser ran a big pic of the Cats’ three star recruits on the morning of the opening game. The three in the pic were Jacko, Gary Ablett and Greg Williams.

    Jacko played two senior games for the Cats. The other two played a few more. Jacko tells the story against himself beautifully.

    Unfortunately, he’s no longer mine host at the Tuppal. He’s an ag salesman. I’d like to drop into his old pub to see what it’s like in his absence.

  47. Josh Barnstable says

    The footage from the Grand Final was done by my mum :), even though many of the credits of it don’t go to her. I think i’ve got that book, i’ll ask Dad anyway. I’ve got the book Local Rites i think its called, written by you.

  48. Yep, Josh, written by me.

    I always associate Waaia with Anthony Stevens. About a decade ago, I was reading Stevo’s player profile in the AFL Record. When asked to nominate his favourite nightspot, he didn’t nominate Motel or the Tunnel or Studio 54 or whatever.

    Stevo’s favourite nightspot? Waaia Hotel.

  49. Great day for Waaia but, more interestingly for me, is the Blighty Footy Club. I had friends who lived between Deni and Wakool ( there’s some tales) so had cause to be up that way a bit. Went past Blighty one time. How could I not be fascinated with a Club named after one of my footy heroes ( behind Fabulous Phil in my rankings)? What a comp! Incredible schellackings. But most notably, the fantastic nickname, The RedEyes.

  50. Pamela Sherpa says

    Great report Paul- whoever employs you ought to give you a pay rise!
    I love the unpredictable elements of footy – such as the weather.Players have to show what they are really made of in poor conditions and there is always that wonderful thing called luck to add a twist.

  51. Spectators, too, need to have contingencies. I saw the rain slash Footy Park. Morons though they may well be, it is a hearty or twisted footy soul who fronts West Lakes and its traffic and awful facilities on a Sunday evening in horrid weather.
    Incredibly, Daff, despite reading your tome this week, I headed down in the morning sunshine to the Snakepit (St Bernard’s) this morning in moderate winter attire. The light zephyr in Flemington was, just like you recalled, a biting iced northerly in their funnell! Can’t say I wasn’t warned. And also as documented, we failed to goal at the changerooms end, although many bold forays were launched. End of season for the FJFC U14D’s which we marked with a brief net session at Holland Park before the stirring end to the El Salvadorans and Timorese soccer clash on the Oval next to North Footscray and Flemington Aussie Rules U16s!
    On the back of Moonee Valley races yesterday (though Tommy opted instead to play golf) it has been a pleasant weekend of sport.

  52. Paul Daffey says

    Crio,

    You could have impressed the hell out of the Flemington Juniors powerbrokers (such as they are) by offering a spot-on prediction on conditions and how to counter them (kick to the Rosehill Road end for four quarters).

    Sounds like the wind still funnels through that valley!

  53. I impressed by arriving with my own coffee and egg and bacon sanga.
    At least the wind went straight down the ground. Earlier in the season, at one of the Werribees, there was a gale directly across the field and neither end was “scoreable”.

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