The good, the bad and the ugly

Eddie Shaw is known as Tractor. I can’t reveal why because even though 2000km separates us, he would seek retribution. Eddie puts the fear of God into me.

Eddie is the lifeblood of the Capella Cattledogs – Central Queensland’s best rugby union club (results notwithstanding). He is the equivalent of Luke Hodge on the field, but with the added responsibility of recruiting players and sponsors, organising the team kit, holding training sessions, team selection, coaching…. He then does this at the regional level as well.

He had no idea what to do with me when I decided to pull on the boots for a year. Normally he’d start me on the bench and play me as a second rower to give others a spell. It suited us both. We won one game that year – the game I missed.

Eddie would play hooker on the field. His body resembled a pub keg on two huge ham legs. (I know using metaphors like that is lazy but it is actually a really good description of Eddie.) What made the prospect of Eddie bearing down on you even more frightening was his enjoyment of body contact on the field. Every tackle was applied at full force and with maximum enjoyment. I don’t enjoy body contact – we had a fundamental difference in philosophy.

I was overjoyed when the Cattledogs won the flag a few years ago – for all stalwarts of the club, including Eddie.

He’s crafty, Eddie. He tapped into the State’s mining boom that year to great effect. Not only did he secure sponsorship through Xstrata Coal, he secured an alignment with one of the new managers. Those employees that could play (including a former State representative) were directed to Capella. Their shifts would coincide with game days. The club was up against Emerald, a town of 15,000 and a regional centre, so it needed to tap whatever resources it could find. Well played.

I only disagreed with Eddie on one thing (and not to his face). Queensland Country Life asked him to write an article on why the Queensland Reds were so bad. This was in 2004 – before the unquestioned talent in the team decided to combine as a unit.

Eddie said they were soft and that they should take a leaf out of the Cattledog pre-season training book. To improve core strength, the pampered full-timers engaged in pilates. The Cattledogs went fencing – lugging heavy fence posts about to improve strength and fitness. (It also doubled as a fund-raiser by working on the farms of local supporters.) He believed the Cattledogs could match the Reds for 15 minutes before the superior fitness of the full-timers led to an obvious advantage. Sorry Eddie, I meekly disagree.

This comment pops into my head every so often, particularly when witnessing a series of sub-par performances like the Demons or the Giants this year. Some enthusiastic coach will say the best VFL or SANFL side could knock off Melbourne, or the best team in the Northern Football League (for example) could outscore them for a quarter or two.

It pops into my head when I watch the Reservoir Mustangs (granted, not in Melbourne’s top 3 teams) on a free Saturday afternoon. I watch these teams attempt to emulate what the AFL teams have displayed the night before on Channel 7.

The best players put the footy where a teammate should be. It’s why young players in certain teams can look so good, and why they struggle when moving to an inferior team for more opportunities.

Older teammates put the ball in the best position for the team. Experienced teammates will be there waiting; younger teammates will bust a gut to make ground and mark the footy. In the right position, the game opens up for them. “He has great awareness, this young fella,” the commentator will say.

In the lower grades, the bloke in the centre has the ball and fires to a loose teammate streaming down the wing. Now, the ball will either be a) sent to where the free player was a few seconds ago; b) sit on top of his head so his teammate has to prop and wait; c) trickle over the boundary line to a soundtrack of swearing.

Similar scenarios play out in the VFL.

The standard of play at the top level of any code can’t be reached by the majority. Although I’d rather watch footy at the Mustangs’ home of Crispe Park (and certainly rugby at Capella) than Etihad, the skill of the game’s best will ensure I always watch AFL.

Watching Geelong at the top of the skills spectrum still leaves me breathless. There are passages of play throughout the year that are still lodged in my memory. One in particular, against Sydney in Round 4, resonates.

During the first quarter, the footy was kicked long to the half-forward flank where Mitch Duncan, running with the flight, keeps his eye on it and takes the mark on his chest.

He plays on and in less than a second, composes himself, assesses the options up field and finds his teammate on the lead with a 40 metre pass. Superb.

That skill sets the best apart. It’s why those playing at the highest level will always have the measure of those below them, even Cattledogs.

Sorry Eddie. (I’m really sorry.)

About Stephen Cooke

Cumbersome ruckman of the garden variety


  1. Cookie your heart would sink if you saw the state of play up there now. Tough to get a team together. Clermont has not had a footy team (AFL) for years. The Bush Pigs (Rugby) are battling along like all sporting clubs out there, not much support from the miners these days…….

  2. Bill, when I moved to Emerald in 2002 I saw that the showground was the home of the Emerald Saints. Unfortunately their last game was 3 years prior – and that was after several seasons of 15 a side.
    The league is massive there – there are 3-5 teams in the union comp at any give time. The Clermont Bushpigs won the union GF about 3 times straight when I was there – the fittest lot of 40 year old farmers you would ever see. They kept saddling up each year and winning. Good blokes too. Not like those Emerald pricks…

  3. My fav memory of you and rugby was watching you trying to clean out a ruck with a gentle push with your two hands on the blokes chest – you weren’t one for dropping the shoulder and stomping over. All that was missing was for you to call out ‘Touch sir!’
    Great column Cookie!

  4. Hey Cookey,
    Was directed to your article today by a friend. Good read mate. I had the pleasure of being in the ARU Corporate Box to see the British and Irish Lions play against the Combined NSW and QLD Country. The amateur team was thrown together with four days preparation. They were beaten by 60 odd points in the end.
    A bloke from Townsville played prop for Combined Country. He held is own.
    A month later he was fronting up for north queensland against central queensland.
    I held my own.

    Great article mate,
    But you are wrong,
    the raw talent of an athlete is only moulded into true champion by the complete professional system.

    To compete well in team sports you need large amounts of time to get the synchronicity to be able to perform at the highest level.
    Amateur players in amateur teams do not have the required time to build up the fitness, skill, and combination base.

    The real question you need to ask , is what sort of park footy club player would the current elite athletes make?


  5. Ahhh Cookie, the memories! Ed, is still playing, so is Ginge!

    And even more remarkable, Geoff Hurrey is STILL playing for the Bush Pigs!

    Just thought I’d let you know, too, there has been a resurgence in AFL in Emerald, they have a training group, that plays in Rocky.

    Last season we had another former AFL player as a convert. All 6’7 and 120kg of him. Has potential.

    Anyway Cookie, Ed found this page and posted it on the Doggies FB page. So be afraid. Very afraid. Lol. :-).

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