“ ‘Mouse’…….the opportunist……..” by KB Hill

 

Denis Wohlers passed on some notable characteristics to his son…….among them, a shock of blonde hair…….the Diabetes gene…..one of the most recognisable nicknames in town……..and a passion for the Rovers, Essendon and fishing. Thank heavens young Shane didn’t inherit his minimal footy ability.

 

The kindest testimony to his old man’s skills with the Sherrin is that, mercifully, he found a more suitable pastime as a drummer……..

 

***

 

Shane was part of a couple of Rovers premiership teams that have been classified among the greatest of all time. Even though he was one of their unsung foot-soldiers, he’d have no trouble plucking out a host of career highlights.

 

But his mates always vouch that the best of ‘Mouse’ was encapsulated in a scintillating six-minute burst at the Albury Sportsground in 1998. I’ll try to re-construct the scenario:

 

After being near-unbeatable in the early part of the nineties, the Hawks’ reign is terminated by Albury, who have snared the last three titles.

 

The ladder leaders exemplify their ruthlessness in this mid-season match, arrogantly stretching a 32-point lead at the long break to 40 at lemon-time. Even the most ardent Hawk fans sense a debacle and are mournfully contemplating the long trip home.

 

The pendulum swings ever so slightly ……The formerly-frazzled visitors begin to exhibit a sense of abandon and charge forward. Three early goals provide the inspiration……

 

Twelve minutes into the last term, the will-o-the-wisp Wohlers swoops on the ball and kicks a great running goal from 40 metres…………A minute later, with the Hawks deep in attack, he successfully snaps from a near-impossible angle……..And, deja vu……He boots a sensational goal on the run  from 45 metres out, tucked up against the boundary, just as the clock ticks over 14 minutes……..At the 18- minute mark it’s the elusive number 36 again! His destruction continues, with his fourth on the trot (and fifth overall) to level the scores……..

 

By now he’s on Cloud Nine, dominating the game in a way that he’d never have envisaged . The Rovers continue attacking relentlessly and, after Tim Scott kicks his fifth to regain the lead for the Tigers, it’s Rohan Graham who puts them back in front.

 

Precious seconds tick by. At the 30-minute mark, Albury’s Manny Edmonds breaks clear. His shot from 35m towards an open goal, drifts across for a minor score, just as the siren blares…..the Hawks have sneaked home by four points……

 

Amidst the pandemonium, ‘Mouse’ – the hero of the moment – bashfully acknowledges the plaudits of the fans…….

 

His dad, the Club’s resident video operator, packs up his equipment and enters the jubilant rooms, fobbing off the praise directed towards his son.

 

Someone remarks: “What’d you think of the young bloke.?”

 

But ‘Old Mouse’, a hard task-master if ever there was one, drily comments: “Where was he for three quarters……….?”

 

***

 

Shane laughs when we reflect on his favourite ‘moment in the sun’: “Robbie (Walker) used to do things like that every second week.”

 

Indeed, he says, he was privileged to have a box-seat to the ‘Walker Show’. But really, he’d long been destined to make a mark at the Findlay Oval. When he was a toddler in the mid-to-late seventies, he was forever trailing behind his heavily-involved dad .

 

His heroes weren’t the VFL household-names of the day, but stars like Merv Holmes, Steve Norman, Eddie Flynn and Andrew Scott, who indulged him as part of the Hawk family.

 

 

He progressed from playing with Junior League Club College to the Rovers Thirds where he finished runner-up in the B &F and featured in their 1988 Premiership side. It seemed a ‘fait accompli’ that ‘Mouse’ would be yet another to join the assembly-line of budding champs.

 

Within two years, one of his Thirds flag team-mates, Dean Harding had been snapped up by VFL club Fitzroy after some eye-catching performances……..Shane’s journey couldn’t have provided a starker contrast…….

 

He found himself unable to even squeeze into the Rovers Reserves side in ‘89…….

 

“I wasn’t going to hang around not playing, so ‘Boofa’ Allan talked Chris McInnes, ‘Rolls’ (Steve Ralston), myself and Dean Stone (who hadn’t played footy for a year or so) to head out to Milawa for the rest of the season.”

 

“We enjoyed it too, but it was only going to be a one-year thing for me. I still reckoned I was good enough to eventually crack the Seniors at the Rovers.”

 

 

Even then, he had to earn his spot the hard way. He was the Reserves B & F in 1990, third in ‘91, and shared the award with Mark Nolan in 1992. The reward for his consistency was the sum total of 15 senior games in three years.

 

He was going on 23. “I really thought I might have been given more opportunities,” Shane reflects,”…but I realised I had to be patient. It was a pretty hard line-up to break into.”

 

 

After playing a handful of early games in the Twos in 1993, Laurie Burt pulled him aside one night and said: “You’re in.” “Sorry, I can’t play,” I told him. ‘I’m going to a mate’s wedding.”

 

“I thought, shit, now I’ve done my dash. I knew what Laurie’s attitude was to blokes who put their social life in front of footy.”

 

“But surprisingly, I got a senior game the following week – and didn’t get dropped for the next seven years……………”

 

 

***

 

Included in that was a run of 35 consecutive wins, which took in the 1993 and ‘94 premierships.

 

A myriad of memories flick through his mind when he recalls those flags……..for instance, the half-time brawl in the players’ race in the ‘93 decider against Wodonga…..the inspirational Laurie Burt speech which stirred them back into action….. Leading by just one point at the main break, they went on to kick 12 goals to 6, to win by 40 points….He even managed to ‘snag’ a couple himself…….

 

And the multiple stoushes in the ‘Big One’ the following year, when the ‘Dogs had three players off the ground – ‘yellow-carded’ – in the third term……He played against his good mates – Dean Harding, Robbie Hickmott and Dean Stone that day……The Rovers triumphed, this time by 10 goals….

 

 

‘Mouse’ was creative….. skilful…..an opportunist……and an ideal club-man. He was often accompanied at training by his faithful Corgie-Kelpie cross companion, Sid, which would usually lead the sprint-work during the Sunday morning ‘warm-down’.

 

In early 1999 Shane headed north for an eight-week Gold Coast summer safari. He trained alongside his old team-mate ‘Hicky’, who was now at Southport; and also with Beenleigh, the home club of another ex-Rover, Rob Panozzo.

 

 

“I was playing two practice matches some week-ends……. got super-fit. I’d thought about staying up there but when I came back to Wang I was raring to go. It proved to be a disappointing year, though. I ran out of form. In the final round we played well against Lavi and I had a day out on a young kid called John Hunt. It was my last senior game for the Rovers………..”

 

***

 

His association with Moyhu began in 2000 when he was appointed assistant-coach to Des Smith.

 

It probably wasn’t obvious at the time, but the Hoppers were about to embark on a Golden Era which would see them snare five flags and play in seven Grand Finals.

 

However, Shane’s stint began disastrously. A broken cheekbone, which he sustained in a torrid clash against Chiltern, left him on the sidelines for eight weeks. It spurred a frosty relationship between the Hoppers and Swans which never really thawed.

 

He took over the coaching reins the following year but copped another setback – an opposition player fell across his leg, he fell awkwardly and underwent a knee reconstruction.

 

Ruled out of action indefinitely, he returned to the Rovers as Coach of the Reserves (non-playing for the first year and playing-coach in the second).

 

The Hoppers were riding high when they welcomed him back. They atoned for a last-gasp four-point defeat at the hands of Bright in 2004 by clinching the next two flags, both against Whorouly.

 

“The first of these was played at the Showgrounds and turned out a ripping game,” he recalls. “Gerard Nolan kicked ten of our 15 goals and we got up by 10 points.”

 

“In 2006 we took the game away from them in the third quarter and finished up winning by about nine goals. ‘Higgsy’ (Mark Higgs) came off the bench and marked everything, which helped turn the game in our favour.”

 

He had another two-year stint as coach in 2008/09. “They had someone else teed up but it fell through so I agreed to take it on. We made the finals both years, but I was glad to hand it over to Johnny McNamara when he became available.”

 

His career came to a fitting end when he played in Moyhu’s enthralling win over Tarrawingee in the 2011 Grand Final. It had been nip and tuck all day. The Hoppers reeled back a 10-point deficit in the last quarter to sneak home by two points.

 

 

He was going on 42, and it was his 409th game (139 at Moyhu and 139 Senior, 92 Reserves and 39 Thirds games with the Rovers).

 

“ I was buggered, and could hardly raise a gallop when the siren blew……. I knew it was time to give it away…………”

 

P.S : Another blonde-haired, talented young ‘Mouse’ has just begun his football journey. Shane will be coaching Kaiden in the Centrals Under 12s when footy kicks off again, whilst the two girls, Tahya and Kyia, are playing Netball under the coaching of their mum, Sharlene, at Moyhu.

 

KB Hill is Wangaratta’s leading sports historian. This article first appeared on his website On Reflection and is used here with permission. You can read more of KB’s excellent yarns by clicking here.

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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Comments

  1. KB, I love the comment: ‘The kindest testimony to his old man’s skills with the Sherrin is that, mercifully, he found a more suitable pastime as a drummer……..’

    But ‘the old man’ gets his own back with: ‘Someone remarks: “What’d you think of the young bloke.?”
    But ‘Old Mouse’, a hard task-master if ever there was one, drily comments: “Where was he for three quarters……….?”

    More great storytelling by Wangaratta’s best!

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