Revelling in the Riverina: Episode 12 – Rams and Rovers

REVELLING in the Riverina

 

 

The vintage years

 

 

Episode 12:                                                                                 Rams and Rovers

 

 

Deniliquin, NSW ( the Rams, Murray FNL; the Rovers, Picola and District FNL)

 

Stage 12: Hay to Deniliquin

 

Swinging south at the huge roundabout on the edge of Hay we head off down the Cobb Highway to Deniliquin via Wanganella and Pretty Pine. Our route is named after the Cobb and Co coaches that once plied the outback tracks with passengers, mail and goods deliveries.  And it is exactly 100 years since Cobb & Co’s last horse-drawn mail coach service in Australia. This country is part of the Hay Plains, the flattest place in the Southern Hemisphere.

 

We are driving along a section of ‘the long paddock’, a network of old stock routes linking the Murray at Echuca with the Darling at Wilcannia. Let’s start our day with a stop at Wanganella, 40 km north of Deniliquin, to enjoy the morning sun beside the Billabong Creek and to see the Peppin Merino Memorial, just down the road. If you hadn’t noticed the tens of thousands of sheep on our drive from Hay, you will certainly know you are in sheep country soon when we pass the wool bale-stencil Deniliquin town sign. 

 

The Peppin Merino breed of sheep, well suited to the Riverina environment, were developed at Wanganella Station over 150 years ago. Bred for the superior quality and quantity of wool they produce, Peppin Merino sheep belong to one of the four main strains of Australian merinos and are a foundation of the country’s wool export industry. What better symbol could a local football club have adopted? Only a kangaroo jumps out as a contender,

“If you are driving to Deniliquin the road goes on and on.” Let Dragon Tier expand on their musical theme … Driving to Deniliquin:

 

 

The sun is well and truly over the yardarm now. Why not halve the last leg of this stage of our journey by pulling-in at Pretty Pine where a cold beer or a cuppa awaits at an old Cobb and Co rest stop. 

 

Deniliquin is situated on the Edward River, an anabranch of the mighty Murray. The town hosts two annual events that draw followers from far and wide – the Deni Ute Muster and the Play on the Plains festival. In episode 13, on our way to Jerilderie, we will take a closer look at the Ute Muster. The Play on the Plains festival is held on the site of the Ute Muster but the sights and sounds people come to experience are musical – provided by rock, pop and punk performers.

 

With its proximity to Victoria, Australian Football is strong in the southern Riverina. A mid-sized town, Deniliquin (urban area population: 6400 in 2021) supports two footy clubs, a feature shared with two towns along this section of Murray River country  – Echuca and Swan Hill. The oldest of Deniliquin’s two football clubs, the Deniliquin Rams has a long affiliation with the Murray Football League. The Murray League identifies itself as the “family oriented league” – all games at the one venue on the same day. The ‘youngsters’, the Deniliquin Rovers, play in the Picola and District FNL, a league which has boldly broken away from AFL Victoria and AFL Goulburn Murray. For more on that score, I refer to episode 17 of Up the Mighty Murray:

 

In 2023 the P&DFNL made the decision to disaffiliate from AFL Victoria. For the second occasion in recent years the league took the bold move out of dissatisfaction with the returns from the AFL to the league and its “one size fits all” style of decision making. Many clubs felt they were not receiving the assistance they required to be competitive under the player points system.

 

Rolling into the Deniliquin Rams’ homeground, Hardinge Street Oval, we drive under an arched gateway featuring two rams, which remind us of the club’s mascot and the pastoral country we are in. Whenever I drive past the big ground I think this looks like an intimidating venue for opposition teams – gravel surfaces and steel sheds everywhere you look, with few trees nearby or grassy embankments to soften the expectation of a hard day ahead. The footy oval is almost entirely encircled by a wide gravel bank where cars can park nose to the fence. 

 

The Deniliquin FC was formed in 1933 and joined the Echuca Football League. Football had been played in the town decades earlier, with the Imperials and the South Deniliquin clubs starting out as early as 1892. A local competition, the Deniliquin FA, was formed in 1900 with three clubs from the town initially joining, and later, clubs from the district, including Mathoura, Walliston and the Moonacullah (an Aboriginal Mission Station on the Edward River near Morago) participating.

 

Deniliquin had immediate success in the Echuca League, winning the first three premierships of that competition (1933, 1934 and 1935). The club moved to the Murray League in 1949 and has been a strong competitor in that company for 75 years, winning 14 premierships. The 1970s decade was one of the golden eras for the Rams with four flags in five years (1972, 1973, 1975, 1976). Vintage years came again after the turn of the century, with four premierships on the trot (2001-2004). 

 

After falling at the final hurdle in 1999 and 2000, the Rams eclipsed three fellow NSW clubs and an emerging powerhouse, from the Victorian side of the league, in that era of dominance. In the first of four they accounted for Moama, then followed that with victories against Mulwala and Tocumwal before completing the quadrella with a win over the ‘Purples’ from Nathalia in 2004. Nathalia then repeated Deniliquin’s record with their own version of four on the trot. 

 

Australian Football followers associate Deni with Sydney Swans defender ‘Leaping’ Leo Barry who was recently inducted into the NSW Australian Football Hall of Fame. Leo played his junior footy with the Rams before making his AFL debut with the Swans in 1995. Forever remembered for his match-saving mark in the final seconds of the 2005 AFL grand final, Leo was named as the full back in the NSW Greatest Team of All Time in 2019.

 

The ‘new kids on the block’, the Deniliquin Rovers, have in fact been in existence for almost 50 years. Their home is at Memorial Park in Deni and their competition is the Picola and District FNL. The Rovers, who wear the blue and white ‘Kangaroos’ jumper, are yet to drink from a football premiership cup in the senior grade. P&DFNL runners-up in 1995 is the closest the Rovers have come. They fell to Waaia by 16 points, with the Bombers claiming their sixth flag from seven grand finals. The Rovers had a season in recess in 2003 but bounced back immediately and since then have made the finals more often than not. After 47 years the big prize continues to elude the Deni Rovers.

 

An inductee from the Riverina in the NSW Australian Football Hall of Fame, Greg Verdon, is linked to the Deniliquin Rovers. Greg, who hails from the Farrer League stronghold of The Rock-Yerong Creek, captain-coached the Rovers in 1982 as he approached the end of his long and fruitful football career in the Riverina. He took on the club presidency of the Rovers upon hanging up his footy boots in 1983. Greg Verdon has been a leading administrator in Riverina football for a quarter of a century in roles as either president or chair of football organisations including the Farrer League, the Murrumbidgee Valley Football Association and the Southern Regional AFL Board.

 

Deniliquin Rams in 2024

 

It was a general bye in the Murray League on July 6th. The Deni Rams sit seventh on the table but are close enough to make the finals, although tearaway leaders Congupna (‘The Road’) will be hard to rein in.

 

Deniliquin Rovers in 2024

 

Similarly, the P&DNFL have a general bye round on July 6th. The Deni Rovers currently occupy seventh place with a 50-50 win/loss ratio. In the 15 club  competition eight teams make the finals, so a spot in the September action is well within their reach.

 

Riverina Spotto

 

All among the wool shed rung and there are seven to go.

the last post Irish pub a slice of pizza
faithful canine sheep and dog the family club
22 yards two felines 31.12.74
truckie’s stop submarine a shearing team
all among the wool one pub town Sherrin
three  bees square footy hub

 

Next episode: Stage 13 – to Jerilderie

 

Previous episodes of Revelling In The Riverina, and more from Peter Clark can be read Here.

 

 

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About Peter Clark

is a lifetime Geelong supporter. Hailing from the Riverina, he is now entrenched on the NSW South Coast. His passion for footy was ignited by attending Ovens and Murray League matches in the 1960's with his father. After years of watching, playing and coaching, now it is time for some serious writing about his favourite subjects… footy, especially country footy, and cricket.

Comments

  1. Interesting as always, Peter.

    As Deni Rovers are a relatively new club, I was just curious as to the reasons behind their founding? Was it disaffection among some with the Rams?

  2. Liam Xavier Fleming says

    The Rovers were formed largely due to the amount of people in town looking for a game of football, rather than any dissatisfaction with other clubs

  3. Greg Verdon says

    Deni Rovers commenced in 1977, Ron Jennings was the first Capt/Coach. The club was formed by Barry McIntyre, Peter Morris, Ian Chessells and others. Deni Rams was very strong at the time and with the Edward River Junior League producing many youngsters quite a few were missing out on football. Added to this a number of senior players who were close to finishing wanted to continue playing without the rigors of a major league. There was quite a bit of rivalry between the 2 teams eventhough they played in different comps. Deniliquin was big enough to support 2 teams and it meant that many young players were not lost to football.

  4. Good stuff Peter, we’ll be popping into Deniliquin at the end of July. The better half will wake up in Deniliquin for her birthday.

    The O’Donnell family certainly have strong football links in the town. After playing 49 games for St Kilda Kevin O’Donnell went up to Deniliquin to captain coach them in 1950. Obviously he liked the town as he then raised a family there. Yep, he’s the father of former St Kilda footballer, Australian cricketer, Simon O’Donnell.

    Peter, I await the Ute Muster story in the next episode.

    Glen!

  5. Peter Clark says

    Thanks Liam and Greg for your local knowledge and answers to Smokie’s question.

    Greg, I see that John Glowrey is the current Rovers’ president. He would be Ed’s son no doubt.

    Glen, thanks again for your input. You certainly get around. Enjoy the birthday celebrations in Deni.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Inaugural Crow Peter McIntyre played his early footy for Deni Rovers; his father Barry was one of the Rovers’ founders.

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/the-horseman-by-kb-hill/

  7. Thanks for the responses, all.
    Much appreciated.

  8. Riverina Rocket says

    Do it Deni! (bumper sticker from the 80s with a family of rabbits on it)

    Head the best 3/4 time address ever by Sam Kekovich to the Sydney team at the 1980 State Championships in Deni against the Farrer league – Sydney were well down being run over by the speedy Farrer team under Doug Priest who knew the size of the ground – its wide and very long, almost 190 m.

    When Sam read out the team to start the 4th quarter, young Jock Spencer (son of the great North Melbourne full forward) then playing with Sam for Newtown in Sydney, called out, “Where am I playing Sam?”

    Sam replied, “Here’s ten bucks Jock, you can go to the pictures!”

    Farrer won in a canter.

  9. Peter Clark says

    Swish, thanks for the link to KB Hill’s story on Peter McIntyre. Always an informative read,

    Rocket, it was a famous victory for the Farrer League in 1980 and a great disappointment for the SWDFL who lost both their matches. Jock Spencer must have been having a shocker after booting eight goals in the first game that weekend. Obviously Slammin Sam’s reverse psychology failed.

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