‘Veteran Simon still making an impact…’ by KB Hill

The mastermind of ‘The Rocket Factory’ is in familiar territory……

Arriving at his destination after a 250km journey he pulls up at the cricket nets, drags his equipment from the car and awaits the arrival of a handful of Wangaratta’s keenest fast bowlers……

He’s here to run the rule over their actions, impart his considerable wisdom on how to sharpen up their techniques and, hopefully, help them become prolific wicket-takers.

Why, it only seems yesterday, someone muses, that he was an enthusiastic nine-year-old kid, charging in at Rovers-United training……his ultra-long run-up and rhythmic left-arm deliveries (even then) doing enough to unnerve the chirpiest of Under-12 batsman…


Simon O’Brien belongs to one of the area’s finest sporting families…….

His dad, uncles and numerous cousins all shone on the footy and cricket fields…….Greta, their spiritual home, and epicentre of many of their most cherished achievements, always contained a healthy number of the clan in their line-ups…..

In fact, Simon credits his early cricket development to following Greta as a little tacker…… then getting his opportunity to play alongside many of the old local identities when they competed in the Wangaratta Sunday Association:

“You’d be up against some terrific players, like Peter Tossol, Duane Kerwin, the Grant twins and Bob Murray…….I remember having the temerity to bowl a bumper to the great Bobby Murray one day…..He probably looked at me and thought: ‘You little shit…..’ “

Simon’s inspiration no doubt came from his dad, Greg – ‘Ab’……He’d slowed down somewhat when they played together but in his heyday they rated him among the quickest bowlers in the region……Kicking off his run-up, seemingly, from near the boundary fence, he would present a fearsome sight, with his black, bushy beard and inscrutable countenance.

The danger, from the batsman’s perspective, was that they weren’t exactly sure whether ‘Ab’ knew where the ball was headed.

That was obviously what was going through the mind of West Australian opener Craig Sargeant after he was ‘sconed’ by an errant O’Brien delivery when the Sandgropers met a North-East XI at Euroa……..

It also helped that Simon’s maternal grandfather was North-East’s ‘Mr.Cricket’, Keith Sherwill…….

“With Mum working and Dad being on the farm, I was often shipped off to Benalla, and a lot of the time we’d spend with the bat and ball…..I’d be going flat out at him, and he certainly didn’t mind……he was usually egging me on….”

“He was a huge influence on cricket around here and was always keen to make sure kids in the bush got the same opportunities as those in the city……”


Simon O’Brien with his grand-father, Keith Sherwill


“The same goes for Geoff Welch and Greg Rosser…..….Those guys were unbelievable, looking after us in junior rep cricket……It was a huge commitment that they made….We were just so fortunate having them teach us to play…..”

Simon represented Wangaratta in Under 14s and 16s, and had stints with Rovers-United, Bruck, Benalla Diggers and Wangaratta-Magpies junior clubs…..He had just broken into the Wang-Magpies line-up for his first WDCA A-Grade game when he moved away to Boarding School at Xavier College……..


He was playing in an APS game against Wesley College when he was first approached to play District cricket:

“Wesley’s Director of cricket Ron Craig (father of state all-rounder Shawn) was walking around the boundary; he bumped into Mum and asked whether I was aligned to a District club………The next week I was invited to St Kilda…..had a bit of a bowl, and got picked in the Seconds the following week….”

At first he was slightly overawed by the tradition of the place:

“It’s a great Club, with an amazing history…….You walk into the Bar at the Junction Oval, which has been their home for 155 years, and spot the names of all the great players on the Honour Boards…..Ponsford, Warney, Bert Ironmonger, Shaun Graf, Bill Lawry…..”

He made his First XI debut in the opening round of the following season………It was in the aftermath of the pulsating 2005 Ashes series in which Shane Warne had snared 40 wickets.

His name was on everybody’s lips and the media headed out, en masse, to Windy Hill to catch a glimpse of the spin guru in his return game for the Saints, against Essendon:

“I suppose it provided them with a good ‘angle’; to interview this young kid who’d come from the clouds to make his debut alongside the legendary ‘Warney’……Before I’d bowled a ball I did interviews with Channels 7, 9 and 10…….I was crapping myself more about the interviews than the prospect of bowling…….”

“After two overs I had 0/24….I thought, gee, this is a dose of reality……But I came back later, to pick up a couple of wickets, and finish with 2/40-odd…..”


Simon held his spot in a crackerjack St Kilda side which was chasing its fourth successive District title.

He was fortunate, he says, to be accepted so readily by star team-mates like Graeme Rummans, Michael Klinger, Rob Quiney, Nick Jewell, Shawn Craig and, of course, ‘Warney’.

“Tim O’Sullivan, our captain, was also an ‘Old Xav’s’ boy, and took me under his wing, as did Mark Ridgway, the ex-Tasmanian ‘bad-man’, an old, fiery, wily swing bowler, who was our coach…..”

The Saints went on to defeat Fitzroy/Doncaster in the Grand Final to crown a magnificent era. ….O’Brien, the developing left-armer, finishing with 35 wickets, in what was a pretty successful personal season.

“To be honest, being a part of that premiership side at 19 provided me with my biggest sporting thrill,” he says.


The Saints celebrate their fourth successive Premier title after defeating Fitzroy-Doncaster


Dandenong burst the St Kilda bubble the following year when they knocked them off in the Grand Final.

Simon entrenched himself as a regular senior player for several seasons but then experienced a couple of injury-riddled years…….He felt he needed a change after eight seasons at the Junction…..

“My cousin Mark Dwyer and good friend Simon Hill, whom I’d grown-up playing cricket with, had been onto me to swap over to Camberwell-Magpies…….I thought: ‘Okay, I need to reinvigorate myself…..”

“I got back to enjoying my cricket, and worked a lot harder (like I should have been doing at St Kilda)……They were four really enjoyable years with the ‘Pies….”

Another factor in the revitalisation of his cricket, he says, was spending two seasons playing in England; the first with Cheshire League club Cheadle, and the second with Alderley Edge, a team in the same competition…..

“As a cricketer I liken it to going to Disneyland…..It’s as good as it gets…..You’re playing three days a week…..Having great fun….you learn so much…”







He had shared something else in common with his new Camberwell-Magpies team-mate Simon Hill……Both had played senior football with the Wangaratta Rovers…….

It was his first year out of school and Simon returned home to follow a long-held ambition………to strip with the Hawks, where his dad had begun his O & M career as a key defender (and retrospective 1976 Morris Medallist).

Sometime later he spent a season with Yarrawonga, playing alongside cousins Matty, Zac and Jeremy…….”I used to travel up the Highway with Zaccy every Friday evening…… It was pretty special for all the uncles, to see us playing together,” he says.


Simon has spent the past eight District cricket seasons back at St Kilda, and admits that he has re-invented himself, to a certain degree…..

“I’m still trying to bowl as fast as I can (around the 130kmh-mark), but you add certain skills along the way……..For instance, reverse-swing has become a pretty important part of my armoury (particularly with the white ball)……And I’ve learnt to talk a fair bit……let a few of the opposition batters know they’re not up to it…..”

“I’ve changed my mentality a bit, too…..Instead of going out there attempting to dominate, I treat it like it’s backyard cricket…..try to enjoy it as much as I can….”

T20 cricket, he consents, has become his strongest format ….

“There’s a lot of it played in District cricket these days…….It’s so fast-paced…….you can get whacked; then you have to think quickly and change your plans very rapidly……As a left-armer you’re always trying to create different angles….It suits me pretty well…..”

“I just wish it’d been as prevalent when I was younger………It would have been interesting to see how far I could’ve gone……”


‘The Rocket Factory’, Simon explains, started out as a bit of a light-hearted thing…….

“I was helping out as a part-time bowling coach, supporting the young guys at St Kilda, when Covid struck, and we went into lock-down…….We decided to start a What’s App (or Text Message) group, as a form of communicating….”

“I’d ask them: ‘What sort of bowling are you doing ?’……Then, because we couldn’t meet, I’d suggest that they send me some footage of themselves bowling, and I’d offer some tips on ways to improve their technique ……Someone suggested: ‘Why don’t we build a Social Media group around this……and it sort of went nuts pretty quickly…..”

“Some of the videos I’ve received have had over a million views…….I do a lot of the coaching on-line to people from all over the world – India, South Africa, England – which is pretty cool….”

“In terms of ‘The Rocket Factory’, I would’ve coached probably 200 people on-line, and there are another 50-60 people with whom I have regular contact face-to-face, or via text messaging….”

“Yeah, to think that something that started as a joke has organically grown to what it is now…..Who knows where it’ll end up…….I’ll just keep on with the coaching side of things and trying to help people improve as bowlers….”

“I love doing it, and it provides a nice distraction from my real job (working in Cyber Security sales with an American Software company).”


The super-veteran chalked up his 158th Premier First XI match last season (104 with St Kilda and 54 at Camberwell-Magpies) and reckons he can eke a few more years out of his 37-year-old body, wherever it might be.

“The last 3-4 seasons, since Covid, have been really enjoyable, and I feel I’m able to contribute at whatever level I’m playing.”

“If I’m fit and firing I can still send ‘em down around the 130-mark….”




This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission.
All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.

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