Local Footy: Heidelberg reveal size of task for Northern league rivals

By Paul Daffey

In 2000 I went to the Eastern Football League grand final between East Burwood and Vermont. It was the last match held at Waverley Park before that ground was closed down as a venue for footy matches. I remember a cold, crisp night and a match of ill-humour. The sprinkling of spectators around me on the old members’ wing had their collars turned up against the cold. Cans of drink were held in cuffs that had been shifted down over palms.

I remember watching Alan Richardson, the current Essendon development coach, who was East Burwood’s playing-coach. Richardson is famous for missing out on Collingwood’s 1990 premiership team because of injury. He almost missed out on this premiership because of injury as well. Richardson’s parents had been volunteers at the East Burwood footy club for years. His 100-watt smile suggested it clearly meant something to him to guide the Rams to the premiership and be a part of it as a player.

After the match I wandered on to the oval for the presentations. Besides almost being bowled over by Vermont centre half-back Todd Power as he tried to take on the East Burwood team just before the handover of the medals, I remember being struck by the size of the East Burwood players. It first hit home when Derek Coghlan stepped on to the podium to receive his best-on-ground medal. Coghlan was about 188 centimetres with a perfect athletic build, and yet sometimes he played on a wing. At least half a dozen of his Rams teammates were around the 190-centimetres mark, and offered clear evidence of hours spent in the gym. Eastern league footballers get paid decent money. They know that to be the best in their competition, which is considered the best suburban league in Australia, they need to have body strength.

On Saturday I went to the Bill Lawry Oval in Northcote and found reason to remember my jaunt to Waverley Park almost a decade ago. I went to see Northcote Park, the club whose website I edit, host the undefeated Heidelberg in the final round of the Northern Football League home-and-away season. Northcote Park needed to beat the Tigers to make the four. They battled hard, but for most of the game they were moved off the ball like flies being swatted from a plate of old snags.

During the third quarter, as Heidelberg took control, I counted 10 Tigers players I would class as solid. All of the others I would class as slightly too lean to be solid, but they were strongly built nonetheless. The only exception was Dean Haydock, a back pocket who wears long sleeves. Haydock looked like a runt compared to teammates like Michael Gay, a ruckman who could block out the sun. Centre half-forward Matthew Seiter was so strong from his shoulders through to his calves that the howling wind failed to blow around him. Even Jess Sinclair, the former North Melbourne defender who was a stripling early in his AFL career, looked thick-set in his Tigers jumper. Every Heidelberg player took his turn when the ball was in dispute. Haydock was a vital part of a rebounding defence. This was a formidable footy team.

The Northcote Park team featured a handful of recruits from Albury who arrived at Westgarth Street before the season. Most of the Albury recruits are teenagers and most of them are skinny. Wingman Nick Carter showed an aptitude when he had the ball but you feared for his safety when he was getting it. Koden Colman was creative at half-forward but more than once he was collared by a bigger opponent. The longer the match went on, the more the packs cleared with a player in yellow and black emerging with the ball. Heidelberg won by 56 points to maintain their unbeaten record. They’re going for their fourth successive flag.

In speaking to Northcote Park people after the match, I mentioned that I’d never seen such a solid team as Heidelberg. The Northcote Park people shrugged. Coach Matt Amad said the Cougars’ 1999 premiership team, of which he was captain, was a solid team. This year’s top four teams in the Northern league—Heidelberg, Montmorency, Bundoora and North Heidelberg — all feature a majority of players with seasoned bodies. Northcote Park were just too young and slight to keep up with those teams over the course of the season.

A couple of Northcote Park people mentioned their admiration for Heidelberg’s boxing program. At every training session at the Tigers’ Warrigal Park home, a boxing trainer is on hand to take the players through their paces in the football club’s boxing ring. Players spend 10 minutes in the ring at a time. The Northcote Park people said they had an old boxer who’d offered his services. It’s time they took him up on his offer.

Heidelberg is known throughout Melbourne’s northern suburbs as the club with the money. Anecdotal reports suggest the Tigers spend three times more than most rival clubs on player payments. Their president, Trevor Barrot (Billy’s cousin), is an energetic man who makes things possible. He’s also a millionaire trucking magnate. Under his leadership, Heidelberg have rarely been beaten.

Northcote Park officials were loath to complain about Heidelberg’s expenditure; it was only six or seven years ago that the Cougars were the competition’s big spender. But it seemed undeniable in watching Heidelberg that money has been a big factor in enabling the club to assemble its powerful team.

In the AFL, the draft system ensures that clubs develop players and teams over time. In local footy there’s no such need. Clubs like Heidelberg, with money and a savvy committee, can buy players according to their needs. Such players are generally mature footballers. Heidelberg’s team on Saturday was wall-to-wall mature footballers. I can’t remember seeing one player in black and yellow who was obviously a teenager.

Heidelberg have depth despite the fact that they’ve struggled to field an under-19 team in recent years. On Saturday former AFL midfielder Justin Murphy spent much of the match in a back pocket. Blair Harvey, a cousin of North Melbourne’s Brent, is a premiership captain but he spent much of the match on the bench. Ty Zantuck, the former Richmond and Essendon defender, has played in the reserves this season. All Heidelberg players know their positions are up for grabs. Such conditions breed success.

Besides a marked advantage in body mass, the other discrepancy in Saturday’s match was ball use. The Northcote Park players tried to pinpoint teammates but often they were under too much pressure to do so. After every turnover the Heidelberg players swarmed downfield to present options. The ball often passed seamlessly from the Tigers’ half-back line to the teeth of goal. Matt Amad noted that the Heidelberg team was well-drilled. He admired the fact that the Heidelberg players had complete faith in each other when taking the ball forward.

During the last quarter I acceded to my kids’ requests to go to the playground in the gardens behind the grandstand. By then it was clear that Heidelberg would continue to drive their way to victory. Most teams that are undefeated on top of the ladder have the capacity to kick eight goals in 10 minutes, but the Tigers seemed more interested in forging a steady path. As Matt Amad said, they concentrate on doing the little things well. Their habit is to win every quarter by three goals. By the end of the match, they have a 12-goal victory.

Heidelberg are most likely to meet Montmorency in the Grand Final at the Preston City Oval. I am among the many northern suburbs fans who would be astounded if the Tigers fail to hoist the cup.


  1. Daff – The boys at Heidelberg are huge. I’m just hoping the Monty boys make the Grand Final then cause an upset and knock Heidelberg off. Monty is a bit like Collingwood – they go better as the underdog.

  2. pauldaffey says


    I’ve got a friend at Monty who says his club is a chance against Heidelberg, but everything would have to go right.

    Monty seem to almost get there every year. Not sure when their last premiership was.

    I love the natural amphitheatre effect of the Monty ground.

    Mark McGough, ex-Collingwood and St Kilda, and his brother are apparently enormous hits at Monty. Very nice, club-minded blokes.

  3. Damian Watson says

    Great piece Paul,
    I thought that the 2000 VFL Grand Final between Sandringham and North Ballarat was the last game held at Waverley Park, but I guess I have learnt something new.

    I remember the digraceful display the Park was left in after that game, seats and doors were stolen, graffiti and rubbish was left all over the place and the grass grew to about ankle height.

    Good to see Brent Harvey’s cousin playing for Heidelburg.

    Do you know where Shane Harvey, the former Essendon and North small forward, is currently playing at the moment?


  4. Hi Damo,

    You’re right. There was a last-weekend extravaganza, with Eastern footy league finals (divisions 1 and 2) on the Saturday and the VFL on the Sunday. Silly mistake on my part.

    Blair Harvey played at North Heidelberg before having a disagreement with the club and going to Heidelberg. Heidelberg have won four of the last five premierships and Harvey has been captain in at least one of those flags.

    Shane Harvey has been here and there since leaving North Melbourne but now he’s back at his home club, North Heidelberg. His three goals in a losing first-semi final team last week, to Bundoora, left him on 105 for the year.

    I saw him kick six goals against Northcote Park. He was a complete natural, kicking them from all angles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a deadlier radar in local footy.

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