Local Footy: Peat Bog Champions emerge from Cora Lynn to put stamp on the game

By Bob Utber

Those in the know acknowledge that Cora Lynn has the best football ground in Victoria, nay, Australia. With its peat bog soil it can take six inches of rain and you still do not get muddy. A huge amphitheatre, the ground is famous for staging the Grand Finals of the former West Gippsland Football League and now, the Irish willing, the Ellinbank & District Football League big ones.

The Cora Lynn reserve sits right in the centre square of the Kooweerup swamp. I will bet that you football aficionados do not know what else is synonymous with the area which embraces the peat bog? Oh, you may remember the Coodabeens did a show from there in 2007.

Well just let me enhance your knowledge a wee bit. Do the names Shelton, Dillon, Cunningham, Dineen, Bennett, O’Sullivan and Corcoran mean anything to you? Other than the fact they are all Irish names and obviously come from the Kooweerup swamp they have all been big players in the VFL and the AFL.

For such a small area I am certain that they all must have eaten the soil of the swamp as well as the potatoes to make it to the top in our great game. It is too coincidental. No doubt football at their respective Catholic primary schools was a major part of the curriculum.  Still is at Ballarat and Kilmore.

Let us start with the Sheltons. “Mulga” Shelton only played 6 games with Fitzroy (1957) but is in football folklore as one of the few players who sat Ron Barassi on his backside twice in the same game. Everyone knows Mulga Shelton; go to the football with him on any given day and someone will come and talk to him. He has lived his life on those six games.  His brother Todd never played football at VFL level but was a star with Brighton in the VFA, but he was best known as one of Graeme Richmond’s men and pumped big dollars into the Richmond Football Club in its heady days of the ’60s.

Terry Dillon hails from Cora Lynn and was a cheeky rover with the Cora Lynn for years and still is a major player in the success of the club that has no shops, no town, and no post office. Dillon is now probably the most sought-after AFL official who is not a CEO. He is at present is the chief operating officer at Hawthorn, after a stint at Collingwood before Big Jeff head hunted him.

Jack Cunningham only played 17 games with Hawthorn in 3 years and was a surprise selection in their 1961 premiership team.  His father “Pompey” played a few games with St Kilda and Richmond while brother Barry, in this writer’s opinion, was one of the best players to come from the area, but he never played league football. He had bigger things in mind and later became the MHR for McMillan. A picture of him taking a mark for Cora Lynn won the best country football photograph award in 1965.  He was appointed playing-coach of Rythdale-Cardinia at the age of 18 but wasn’t granted a clearance from his home club.  Their cousin Matt Cunningham was a speedy wingman who played 37 games with Fitzroy.

John Dineen played 17 games with Hawthorn and then went on to a wonderful career with Dandenong in the VFA when they where hot to trot. He was a magnificent left foot kick who finished back at Cora Lynn. Ken Bennett was one of the cheekiest 14 year olds ever to play in the WGFL and was pursued by every League club but eventually signed with Collingwood. He was a member of the famous 1958 premiership team that stopped Melbourne from winning four in a row to equal the Magpies’ 1927-30 record. Bennett played 56 games with the Pies.

The name O’Sullivan most likely doesn’t ring a bell with football fans but the youngest of five brothers and one sister, Chris, played eight games with Brisbane. It was on the administrative side that the family excelled: Shane at Carlton, Brisbane (inaugural CEO), Footscray and then back at Carlton where he is a life member. A pretty good footballer Shane, he has the unique distinction of representing three interstate sides – VFA, ACT and Queensland.

Gary worked as football manager at both Footscray and Richmond and is still working at the Northern Bullants.  Another brother Peter didn’t make it to the VFL but played district cricket with Prahran and coached local side Bunyip to its first premiership in 50 years.  Peter will be remembered for his outstanding work as the honorary curator of the Cora Lynn football ground.

Danny Corcoran went to the same school as the Dillons and O’Sullivans and played at Garfield. Best known for his role as the football manager at Essendon and then Melbourne. Corcoran’s transfer to Melbourne created a great furore at the time as many thought he was taking secrets from the Bombers’ bunker with him.  He is now the CEO of Athletics Australia.

All these personalities came from areas only five kilometres from the centre of the universe at Cora Lynn.  If I was a young man of Irish descent with ambitions to have a young son play League football then I would head east to Cora Lynn and set up your home there. There is something in the soil besides ’taters, believe me.

About Bob Utber

At 80 years of age Citrus Bob is doing what he wanted to do as a 14 year-old living on the farm at Lang Lang. Talking, writing, watching sport. Now into his third book on sports history he lives in Mildura with his very considerate wife (Jenny ) and a groodle named "Chloe On Flinders". How good is that.


  1. The evidence is pretty compelling.

    Like you say, there’s something in the soil that makes greater foot ballers in Cora Lynn.

    At the same time, perhaps the taters pay a bigger role than you think! Could be something special in those spuds as well.

    Bill Walsh
    Business Financing Specialist

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