Winning in Wyche – Part 4: Shaking up the finals


Sean Mortell continues his series on the Wycheproof Under 16s of 1969 with this account of the Grand Final.



Finals football is an interesting beast. Characterised by closeness and evenness, it punishes an overreliance on the few. Many on the outside would have thought the Wycheproof/ Narraport Under 16s team of 1969 relied on a selection of stars throughout the season, players of VFL/ AFL calibre like Richmond’s Merv Keane. But having finished second on the ladder come finals time, Wycheproof/ Narraport were out to prove they possessed the even spread of contribution required to win a premiership.


Injuries and school commitments had decimated their brigade throughout the season, taking away star players at critical times. But by the time cut-throat football came around, Wycheproof/ Narraport had done well enough to finish second on the ladder. Their consistency was set to be tested in their first final.


Having secured the double chance, Wycheproof/ Narraport were to face the daunting prospect of Charlton, who had coasted to the top spot on the ladder and had only lost one game for the year in their final round clash with the Demons.


But the hardest part of footy can sometimes be backing up such brilliant performances, and Wycheproof/ Narraport were being asked to repeat their gritty final round effort in the first week of finals. In a top-two play-off that would allow the winner to fly straight through to the Grand Final, the Demons once again dug their heels into a tight fight.


Just like their final round match, Wycheproof/ Narraport and Charlton played out a close encounter. It would take something special, something different, to split the two sides when it came down to the clutch final quarter. With so many strong players filling the Demons’ side, it came as a great shock when their greatest aid was from a Charlton midfielder. Merv Keane, despite his many years in footy, still remembers this moment fondly.


“The thing that sticks out in my mind from that final was we started the last quarter a few points behind and Charlton won the ruck and knocked it straight down to a chap called Ronny White, who was their rover and probably the fastest player in the League,” Keane recalled, his voice rising with excitement.


“I can remember him taking two bounces and kicking it the wrong way down our full-forward Lindsay Heffer’s throat.”


“Lindsay went back and drilled it through, and from there the game was just an arm wrestle.”


Other players, like Sandy Denney, can also still clearly see White “grabbing it and kicking it down our end”, as it ended up being a critical juncture of the semi-final. When Wycheproof/ Narraport fell over the line by a handful of points to book a Grand Final spot, that last quarter play became the moment that would sink Charlton.


It was a watershed moment – a result that Hayden Kelly, nearly 52 years after, still remembers.



The 1969 Under 16s Demons booked their way into a Grand Final with another nail-biter over Charlton (Photo – Wycheproof/ Narraport FC)




“We were underdogs in that semi-final – I can’t believe it was that long ago,” he said.


Robert White also remembers the tense final, mainly for key moments where he “finally learnt how to take a mark.”


“I took a couple of good grabs and thought ‘woah’ – Charlton had blokes who had dominated us for years, so we didn’t beat them very often,” he remembers.


“I remember doing thinks like taking a mark against a bloke I had never beaten before, it was crazy.”


Having now beaten Charlton twice in two games to shake up the 1969 finals series, Wycheproof/ Narraport had to ensure they made it three from three if they were to claim a historic premiership. Attending the next week’s preliminary final between Charlton and underdogs Wedderburn, they expected to see the top of the table Charlton win their way through to a rematch. But what they witnessed shocked them yet again.


Geoff Dixon remembers the game “as clear as yesterday.” Played at Charlton, everyone took the challenging Wedderburn “as just a walk in the park.” With a massive breeze at their tails, Wedderburn slammed on four first quarter goals to get clear. Expecting the wind to favour them in the second term, Charlton were stunned when it “absolutely bucketed rain at quarter time.”


It completely changed the complex of the game, and Wedderburn got away with not having to kick another goal for the rest of the game. The conditions meant Charlton didn’t score enough to peg back the margin, and Wedderburn ended up triumphing in the pouring rain by a stunning two-point margin.


Led by star full-forward Alan Jackson, Wedderburn benefited from a wildly unpredictable band of rain. Wind howled straight down the middle of the ground, creating chaos. The infamous football gods had struck again; conditions dropped to ensure Charlton couldn’t back up their 1968 premiership.


“Charlton lost only three games that year and lost by probably a total of six points – I don’t think there would’ve been anyone more excited than us because we were pretty certain we had Wedderburn’s measure, but we didn’t think we could beat Charlton again,” Dixon said.


In the most unexpected of fashions, the 1969 Under 16s Grand Final would be between Wycheproof/ Narraport and Wedderburn at the nearby St. Arnaud ground, with the Demons now suddenly surging into premiership favouritism after flying under the radar all season long. But as they themselves had proven, the 1969 season was full of surprises, with one last effort needed to get them over the line and into the promised land of premiers.


Geoff Dixon remembers Grand Final conditions as the complete opposite of the week prior, with “the sun blazing on a nice, fine day” in a “nip and tuck” contest.


“Merv Keane and Lindsay Heffer were the two fellas that stood out in my mind from the day,” Dixon recalled.


“Sandy Denney was another one who played a great game down back, as was Hayden Kelly in the middle, but it was Heffer and Keane who controlled the game.”



The NCFL Football Recorder’s team listings for Grand Final day in 1969



Despite being favourites, the amalgamated Wycheproof/ Narraport failed to break away from the defiant Wedderburn, who were once again led ably by Alan Jackson up forward. In need of a change in the tight contest, it was time for coach Greg Goldsmith to shine in a defining moment.


Described by Hayden Kelly as “a really good fella and a good coach who would give you a bit of a serve but was always friendly”, Goldsmith had become a popular mentor for the side through his own playing efforts at senior level and his personality as a local teacher. As well as being “one of the best kicks of a football you would ever see”, Sandy Denney knew Goldsmith as a patient and strong communicator to emerging footballers.


“I was notorious for being a big strong fella and not turning onto my left foot, and he sat down and he just told me ‘If you don’t learn to kick on your left you will not play good football’,” Denney reminisced.


“So I had to go out and practise on me left all the time. He could pick a kid’s weaknesses and get the kid to improve on them.”


Goldsmith may have already had a rich impact growing Wycheproof/ Narraport’s next wave of senior footballers, but his tactical nous came to the fore at half time in the Grand Final. In a risky move, star player Keane was swapped with the Demons’ other key weapon in Heffer.


“Goldsmith must have been a genius, I was in the ruck and wasn’t really the right size for it, so we decided to change the set up with Lindsay Heffer, who was the centre half forward, and things just clicked,” Keane explained.


“We seemed to get a run on from memory, we got about three or four goals in front and just held the lead for the rest of the match.”


In front of a building crowd at St Arnaud’s Lord Nelson Park, Wycheproof/ Narraport clicked into gear and suddenly snatched the lead. Despite the move exposing Heffer’s dominance in the ruck and Keane’s talents around goal, it took until late in the last quarter for the Demons to settle the contest.


Geoff Dixon remembers the switch, resulting in Keane slotting two crucial goals in the premiership quarter. But when the clutch moments arrived in the final term, it was Dixon who put the exclamation mark on the decider.


“Merv handballed it to me when there was about two minutes left – I just happened to be out on my own just sheep dogging it, probably too scared to get in there,” Dixon laughed.


“Merv went for a mark and as the ball bounced up he gave a big long handball so I could wheel around and run into the open goal. That sealed the game, there wasn’t much Merv didn’t do that day.”


“Once I kicked that goal I knew the game was over, we were ecstatic – we were certainly the underdogs all year until the Grand Final.”


Keane also fondly remembers that moment, where he lived the dream of boyhood idol Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer, and specifically his famous long handball in the 1967 VFL Grand Final for Geelong.


“I just looped this Polly Farmer style handball over the top to little Geoff Dixon in the pocket, and he’s just wheeled around, slotted it and gone crazy to celebrate with everything he could,” Keane chuckled.


“It was a great memory for him to kick that goal, it might’ve been to seal the win.”


After a tough struggle, Wycheproof/ Narraport had completed a famous premiership victory, pulling away as 10.6.66 to 7.8.50 winners over a valiant Wedderburn side.


The local paper’s report on the tight Grand Final



Fifty-two years on, it still shines as a highlight of many of the Under 16s players’ careers. But many of the players, although united at the time while in the throws of celebrating a remarkable premiership, would soon forge their own different paths post-1969.



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  1. Hermione Sakolevas says

    great read, 10/10

  2. Love that a 1969 season up the bush can be so interesting. Played, Sean. Looking forward to the finale.

  3. David Lloyd says

    Thanks again Sean for the reminiscences. I wore number 9 In the game. Unfortunately l don’t have any great memories of the match, which is odd considering l never got anywhere near a GF again.
    I wonder who played on Alan ‘Wellsie’ Jackson that day, he was unstoppable all year.
    I remember that our team had been together for a few years, we copped some awful hidings for a while but in 1969 we were able to hand them out instead.

    Wedderburn under 16’s never had much success, it was 2014 before they won a flag.
    The jumpers: the combine wore the red and blue of Melbourne FC, while we were in red and black stripes, known as the redbacks. Our victory song was strange: “Come on boys, make a noise, we are the red hot savelloys, we are the boys from Wedderburn…”
    l notice a P. Credlin playing for Wyche, l wonder what relation he was to the former acting Prime Minister

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