True Blue Indigenous Star

As the AFL celebrates the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round we recall the contribution to the game of NSW-born and bred indigenous star Newtown’s Ossie Grose.

Ossie Grose gets boot to ball to score a goal for
NSW against Tasmania at the 1947 Carnival.

By Rod Gillett

When John “Ossie” Grose came to Sydney from Kempsey with his family and settled in Erskineville in 1941, he had not previously played Australian football.

However, his speed, skills and courage enabled him to quickly adapt to the Australian game and he became one of NSW’s greatest-ever players.

He gained first grade selection with Newtown after a season in the Under 18s.

A diminutive 5’2” (1.57m) rover, “Ossie” became a key player in the Blood-Stained Angels premiership team of 1942 continuing on to play in another three premierships for Newtown between 1945-47 when the club dominated the Sydney competition.

He was described in the Sydney Football Record for the 1947 grand final as “Newtown’s classy rover. Intelligence and unselfishness are the key notes of his play”.

Ossie Grose

“Ossie” (pictured left) played over 300 games for the Newtown club in his career and represented NSW on twelve occasions including the 1947 ANFC Carnival in Hobart and the 1950 carnival in Brisbane. He often featured in the best players and was a renowned goal-sneak

At the 1947 carnival he was in the best players against Queensland (3 goals), Tasmania (3 goals) and South Australia (2 goals)

In 1948 he was recruited by the Leeton Redlegs in the Riverina where he was a contract player. The following year he became the club’s captain and coach.

“Ossie” returned to Newtown in 1950 to play in the team that won the premiership for the sixth successive season. He played until 1968, in his later years, mostly in the reserves.

John Mervyn “Ossie” Grose was admitted into the Sydney AFL Hall of Fame in 2008.

ANZAC DAY

Each year we commemorate ANZAC Day and remember the service of those Australians and New Zealanders who served in various conflicts over the past 100 plus years.

And football is no stranger to recognizing this service.

In fact, and ironically, football in Sydney itself and several parts of NSW, benefited from the recruitment and transfer of many of these men from football states to areas in and around the state’s capital where they played the game with various clubs.

In 1940 the Sydney Football Record, recognized the service of those who served before them by a poignant article in the ANZAC Day issue which we have attached here.  Click to read.

Because of the era, this article basically refers to the period of a solider in WWI, however it all relates to all service personnel to date.

We hope this read brings your recognition of this very special day.

Peter Clark, who won the NSW History Society’s Harry Hedger award for the best historical work in 2022 for his history of the Rannock football club entitled In the True Sporting Spirit, is writing a series called A Season in the Country on the Footy Almanac site featuring the Farrer and Wimmera football leagues in 1975. The series kicks off with the Prologue at the link below.

Prologue
Lockhart Recreation Ground

Country football is a winter Saturday afternoon institution across broad expanses of Australia. It is a chance for men, women and their families to get away from the tractor, the farm chores, from behind the counter of the shop in town, the kitchen and the backyard games to drift into another world for a few hours of association, pleasure and excitement.

Across the fertile cropping and grazing country of the Wimmera and the Riverina regions, 1975 was just another year.  As farmers looked skyward in anticipation of rain during March and April, football clubs started up again, likewise full of hope and expectation. In the end only one would be the local premier but the promise of the season’s journey never failed to win the hearts and minds of the players and their loyal supporters.

In the Wimmera country of Victoria, a football league has shared the same name as the region for over a century. Meanwhile, the eastern Riverina region has been home to a handful of footy leagues, with one named after the wheat-breeding pioneer William Farrer.

A season in the country is set in the Wimmera and Farrer Leagues, football territories where town names like Dimboola, Rupanyup, Warracknabeal, Mangoplah, Cookardinia and Collingullie roll off the tongue. In this series we will stand behind the goals and sing along in the sheds at the footy grounds of the Wimmera and the Farrer Leagues. Among the backdrops we will tour the main streets, see the landmarks and visit the historic sites, drive along the country roads, follow the creeks and rivers and climb the heights on offer.

We will also celebrate the shared German heritage of the two regions established by the wheat-growing pioneers from South Australia who, with great adventure and optimism, took up land at places such as Temora, Henty, Lockhart, Holbrook, Warracknabeal, Nhill, Jeparit, Murtoa and Minyip. Land was not the only thing they took up, as the football and netball team lists continue to reveal.

The iconic image of the Lockhart Recreation Ground, with its peppercorn trees shading the fence-side car parking spaces and the grain silos standing witness in the background, will invite readers each week into the world of country footy in the wheat belts of NSW.

The Farrer League
The Farrer League has been an important part of the fabric of Australian Football in the Riverina region of NSW for over 60 years. This is wheat and sheep country situated north of the Murray River and both sides of the Murrumbidgee centred on the inland sporting mecca of Wagga Wagga.

The city is not just a sporting mecca but also a sporting nursery. With its Riverina Sporting Hall of Fame bulging with tributes to home-grown heroes including the Mortimers, Kelly, Lawson, Carey, Slater, Taylor, Brentnall, Twitt, Elkington, Roche and Sterling, to name a handful, Wagga is mighty proud of its sporting sons and daughters.

Location of clubs in the Farrer League (1975)

In its several incarnations, the Farrer League has existed since 1957 although its spheres of influences have shifted geographically over time. Born out of the Albury and Border District League in the late 1950’s, the Farrer League’s affiliated teams have changed almost as often as the weather and market conditions experienced by the farmers of the region. Initially the league served the southern parts of the region from Wagga Wagga down the rail line to Culcairn and with a sprinkling of clubs from locations both east and west. Gradually new teams entered as others departed, some into oblivion, some into recess or into adjoining leagues only to re-join some years later.

The winds of change arrived with full force in 1982 with a major reformation and realignment of the teams from the three Riverina leagues: the South Western District, Farrer and Central Riverina leagues. The new concoction of football associations from 1982 consisted of the Riverina Football League and the Riverina and District Football League (with two divisions). Most of the old Farrer League clubs went into the two Riverina and District League divisions, with the stronger South Western District League teams dominating the new Riverina Football League.

The Farrer League was reincarnated in 1985 with a collection of clubs from both south and north of the ‘Bidgee. Clubs have continued to enter, exit and re-enter the league, much like sheep dogs at work around a shearing shed. Others amalgamated for greater strength and the hope of survival, while some took on emerging partners from around the city of Wagga Wagga. In the 21st Century the Farrer league’s geographical centre has shifted to the north and west of the Murrumbidgee.

One club may lay claim to being the best ‘combine’ of all, The Rock (later and for a long time, The Rock-Yerong Creek) has remained faithful to the Farrer League for a shade over 60 years. The Rock joined the Farrer League in 1958, the league’s second season, and in 1962 amalgamated with the nearby railway and farming settlement of Yerong Creek. The Rock-Yerong Creek has remained an affiliated club with the league ever since, winning six premierships, while some twenty or more football club entities have come, gone and occasionally reappeared.

The Farrer League has been fertile recruiting ground for South Melbourne/Sydney Swans securing, among others, Paul KellyJohn Pitura (Wagga Tigers) and Colin Hounsell (Collingullie), while North Melbourne champion Wayne Carey and St. Kilda’s goal kicking legend Bill Mohr started their football with North Wagga and Wagga Wagga (Imperials) respectively.

Away from country footy, 1975 is remembered as the year North Melbourne won its first VFL flag. It was also a year in which threatened court action concerning player transfer rights and restraint of trade, with a former Wagga player at the centre, threatened to rip the zoning system apart.

Back to the events at the MCG on the last Saturday in September, the ‘Shinboners’, well stocked with country players, upset powerhouse Hawthorn. Among the country ‘boys’ playing with North was a former Horsham (Wimmera League) full forward who talked his coach and selectors into picking him for the last Saturday in September. Despite his indifferent form leading up to the Grand Final, the decision-makers at Arden Street took a risk and were rewarded in spades.

In the end 1975 was the year of the Rats (Ararat), the Tigers (Wagga) and the Kangaroos (North Melbourne). And as Lou Richards predicted, wherever you were, it was “a hot time in the old town” that night.

In A season in the country we will follow the progress of those three clubs throughout 1975 and reflect on how each achieved their premiership success. Unlike my previous Footy Almanac series, 1966 and all that and Geelong’s Record Run, the focus will be squarely on country football. Each week of the home and away season the focus will alternate between the two country leagues. Episode 1 next week starts in the Riverina with the clash between Farrer League rivals  Mangoplah Cookardinia United and Culcairn.

We will also tune into the speculation in the Wimmera that Ararat might succumb to the overtures from the Ballarat League. Would geography and financial considerations outweigh loyalty and a long term affiliation with the Wimmera League?

Among the players profiled throughout the series we will meet a Farrer League legend who racked up close to 550 games and a Wimmera League great whose coaching career spanned almost 50 years. Along the way we will catch up with two former South Melbourne teammates from the late 1960s – one who came from Rupanyup and the other from Holbrook. Forever linked, the Wimmera man was in the bridal party at the wedding of his ‘Bloods’ football companion who later starred with the Wagga Tigers.

Meanwhile in Canberra that year… The Member for Wannon (a Federal electorate in western Victoria, including parts of the Wimmera) was busy plotting the downfall of the Whitlam Labor government.

Apart from the ‘The Dismissal’, national and world events in ’75 included the fall of Saigon, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, the Tasman Bridge disaster, the inaugural Cricket World Cup and the introduction of colour television in Australia. In harness racing it was the time of Paleface Adios, the “Temora Tornado” vs. Hondo Grattan, the “Bathurst Bulldog”.

At the cinema Australian films were drawing them in to watch classics including Picnic at Hanging Rock and Sunday Too Far Away, while the footy-themed comedy The Great McCarthy promised more than it delivered. On the Australian music scene 1975 was a feast of Sherbet and Skyhooks, with Countdown compulsory viewing every Sunday evening after a big weekend of footy and fun.

Throughout the 2022 AFL season come on a football journey across the wheat fields of the Wimmera and eastern Riverina as we turn back the scoreboards to 1975.

St Kilda FC in Newcastle

Newcastle and the Hunter District has had a few visits by VFL/AFL clubs over the years.

In 1888 the strong Fitzroy club spent some time in the area then in 1922 the St Kilda club, following their exhibition game against North Adelaide at the Sydney Showground a week before, travelled north to Newcastle where they took on a combined team of locals. 

This team though included several from the Newtown club, Sydney’s 1922 runner-up.  A Newtown eighteen also played a second Northern Districts side in the curtain raiser.

The competition at Newcastle in the early part of the last century was very spasmodic.  The game was resurrected following WWI and a semi formal competition established in 1919.

However in 1922 only three teams comprised the Newcastle league: Newcastle, Abermain and BHP. It would have included two more clubs however the temporary closure of the steel works there reduced the employee numbers from 6000 to 900.  Many of the players who had transferred from BHP in Broken Hill to their Newcastle establishment, too found themselves out of work.

The grounds used in Newcastle in that year were the Recreation Park at Abermain and Waratah Park in Newcastle.

     Caricature of St Kilda
       captain Bill Cubbins
              in local media

Interestingly too was a game played in Kurri Kurri Reserve on July 8.  This was between a Newcastle Rep side and the Railways Club, one of the eight clubs in the Sydney competition.  The match drew a reasonable crowd with a win to the Newcastle combination 16-11 (107) to 10-6 (66).

Then, two months down the track, St Kilda arrived in Newcastle on Friday, 29 September, the day before their game where they were entertained at a civic reception by the Lord Mayor.  Later that evening they were guests of the Northern Districts Football League at the Victoria Theatre.

The Newtown contingent arrived on the Saturday morning and were almost immediately transported off to the Newcastle Sports Ground for the early match which they won easily.

In the main game, the Newtown club only supplemented the local side with five players: Jacky Foskett, Roach, Smith, McFarlane and Cooper.  The team was captained by Roy Petney, a former West Broken Hill FC captain who then played for the Newcastle Club.

The Northern Districts team was made up of: Roy Petney (capt), B. Odgers, Len Galliford, Ross, Roberts, Frank Elvldge, Jack Ford, C. Cook, Vince Henneberry, Hicks, E. Torpey, Kellaway, Ted Winthrop, Jacky Foskett, Roach, Smith, McFarlane, Cooper and Hicks, 

The crowd at the game was described as reasonable and the visitors did not have such a runaway win as was anticipated in fact the northern side had a one goal lead at quarter time, 4-3 to 3-3.

St Kilda though gradually moved ahead and but for poor kicking, the margin would have been far greater than their 11-23 (89) to 7-12 (54) victory.

St Kilda 3-3 8-12 9-17 11-23 (89)
Northern Districts 4-3 5-10 5-11   7-12 (54)

Best
St Kilda: Eicke, Cubbins, Leaver, Mason, Tymms, Mordern                                   
Nthn Dists: Ford, Odgers, Foskett, Roberts, Galliford, Petney, Torpey,  Elvidge

Sydney umpire, David Harrod had charge of the game.

All teams were later entertained at a smoke concert held in the Wolfe Street Masonic Temple in Newcastle.

 

Moving the Goalposts

By Rod Gillett

                            Giants players put AFL goal-posts back up at the Olympic Park Stadium at Homebush this week

AFL goal-posts are back up at the Olympic Park Stadium, now known as Accor Stadium.

The GWS Giants will host cross-town rivals the Sydney Swans at the stadium on Saturday (19 March) in Round 1 of the 2022 AFL season with the anticipation that Lance Franklin might kick the five goals he requires to reach the magic 1,000 figure.

The last AFL match to be played at the Stadium was 2016 qualifying final between the Swans and Giants which attracted a crowd of 60,222 won by the Giants.  

This is the 53 rd AFL match to be played by the Swans at this venue. They played a series of “blockbusters” and finals games at the Olympic Stadium from 2002 through until 2015; this included ten finals.

                       Callum Ward helping with directing
                                  the posts into the ground

As a matter of interest in the 10 games played against Collingwood the crowd was in excess of 50,000 each time.

” The game was opened up to a greater range of people from all over Sydney, especially western Sydney, as well as those to the north and south of the metropolitan area”, former Swans chairman Richard Colless, who was the key driver of the push to Olympic Park, told me in an interview recently in his office suite in Edgecliff.

Colless convinced the AFL hierarchy to invest in the re-configuration of the ground after the 2000 Olympic Games to provide for an oval – suitable for AFL football.  The cost to the AFL was a modest annual rent. Neither Cricket Australia nor Cricket NSW were involved in any of the negotiations but were potential beneficiaries. 

Colless told me, “The prevailing view was that post the Olympics the facility would be naturally configured for football codes that used a rectangular field”. He took the view this was literally a once in a century opportunity to take the game (i.e., AFL) to the people. Rather than the reverse given half Sydney’s population lived west of Homebush and found it difficult and at times impossible to get to the SCG. 

“It required a compelling pitch to the AFL for them to grasp the opportunity as well as a strong argument to a cross-section of Swans administrators including coaching staff, of the benefits”, he added.

In summary, it exposed the game to an additional 2 million people (in the west of Sydney) and broke the monopoly the SCG held as to where AFL games could be staged. 

The Sydney Swans set a record crowd for a home-and-away game outside of Victoria when 72,393 attended the Swans v Collingwood match on 23 August 2003. This was followed by a crowd of 71,019 at the preliminary final that year, between the Swans and (eventual premier) the Brisbane Lions.

AFL matches at Homebush enabled the Swans to leverage a better relationship with the SCG. In 2016 they played all their games at the SCG under a new 30-year deal with which to probably for the first time both parties were genuinely comfortable.

Richard Colless

According to Colless, who served on the SCG Trust from 2014-2016, the first Australian football official since original trustee Phillip Sheridan (1876-1909), “The relationship is today an extremely professional one and it’s doubtful there is a more shared vision between any sporting facility landlord and a major tenant.  For example, on two occasions when major work was being undertaken at the ground the Trust took the opportunity to extend its length.  And it is now circa 10 metres longer than it was when the club first played there”.

For the Giants it will be just their third game at the Olympic Stadium. Their first-ever game in the AFL was Round 1 2012 when they were “home” to the Sydney Swans; they were convincingly beaten by 63 points, 5.7(37) to 14.16 (100). The crowd was an impressive 38,203. As already noted, they beat the Swans at the venue in the 2016 qualifying final.

The ledger going into Round 1 2022 is Swans 13 wins to the Giants nine.

(The extracts from the interview with Richard Colless are from an article published in the NSW Australian Football History Society’s forthcoming journal, Time On, to be released in April. This year’s special edition will be published at a commercial printery and  again sent to all members of the Society.

The views expressed by Mr Colless are his, and his alone, and are not to be construed as the official view of the Sydney Swans Football Club)

If you haven’t yet joined the NSW Australian Football History Society click this link to become part of saving Australian football history in this state.  You can join and pay online.

Don Keyter – Enigmatic Character

The doyen of Riverina football writers Jack Luhrs, recalls the enigmatic character Don Keyter as captain coach of Griffith in a story in:  The (Griffith) Area News of (14 January 1987).
Keyter was one of the first indigenous country football coaches; after Griffith he went to coach Nhill in the Wimmera League then to Moe in the Latrobe Valley League, and then after successful stint with East Hawthorn in suburban football finished at Rochester in the Bendigo Football League in 1968. The original story can be found at the Griffith footy club’s outstanding history website:  https://www.swansonscreen.com/don-keyter .
Born:  13 Sep 1931    Died: 11 Nov 1986
Came from (to Griffith): South Melbourne   Went to: Nhill
First game: 12 Apr 1959    Last game: 21 Aug 1960
Appearances: 31   Goals: 58
SWDFLeague Rep.: 3

Other clubs played for:  Merbein, 1953-58 South Melbourne, 1956-61, Nhill (c-c) 1961-62, Moe (c-c) 1963-64, East Hawthorn (c-c) 1965-67, Rochester (c-c) 1968.?

Premierships: East Hawthorn 1965, 66, 67.

Don Keyter was the captain-coach of the Griffith Swans in the heady days of 1959 and 1960 when the South-West Football League was one of the strongest in the land.

Don Keyter came to Griffith direct from South Melbourne following a colourful career with the VFL Swans encompassing 86 games and kicking 81 goals.

According to The Encyclopaedia of VFL/AFL Footballers (2003), “He was renowned as a great protector of his rovers”.

Keyter quickly established himself as one of the best ever footballers to play South West League football. His ability on the football field and his personality off it established Keyter as one of the greatest talking points in Riverina football.

Keyter soon become a legend in his own time. His on-field battles with Ian Gillett, coaching Coolamon and a team mate of Keyter’s when they both played with South Melbourne, soon became game-of-the-year attractions.   A recent press article concerning Keyter said he was known as a “character”.  He certainly was this … as many Griffith and Riverina football fans and players could tell. The (Griffith) Area News has reprinted the Melbourne article. We believe it tells of Keyter only too familiar to the Riverina people who knew him.

The Melbourne story began:
“In his heyday Don Keyter was one of the league’s most colourful men; the type we like to refer to as a “character”.
Sadly, he was probably one of the last of the fascinating footy species. For in the strictly controlled, sterile atmosphere of modern-day club life even smiles are at a premium.
Keyter’s views about what was good about being alive would never have been tolerated, not for a day.
The rawbone, nomadic South Melbourne ruckman of the 1950s would have gone bush at the first mention of a rigorous, full pre-season. His earthy philosophy was that a man got fun out of playing the bloody game, and not practicing it until his bones ached. The Swans, according to clubmate Bob Skilton rarely sighted Keyter before the final practice night when the jumpers were handed out. Then he would arrive, as he did on every match day, with what he could find of his football gear wrapped in brown paper or even newspaper. Skilton recalls the time one sympathetic supporter presented Don with a new gladstone bag and before it was unlatched he had sold it and returned the wrapping paper.
Dressing room tales about Keyter were legendary wherever members of Lake Oval fraternity meet. Not all are true; a few Hans Christian Andersen material, said Bobby. “I never once saw Don step into his street clothes after a match without showering,” said Bobby. “But I did see him get the boot studder to pull the stops out of his footy boots so he could wear them to the dance on a Saturday night. “And most likely he would wear the hooped socks as well.
On an interstate trip Don would always travel light. On one he only had a shirt and a toothbrush in his case. Keyter wore No. 1 with the Swans and used to like “breaking it in” by wearing the jumper to work on chilly days.
The triple Brownlow Medallist rated Keyter as a fine ruckman for his height and considered him one of the toughest in the game at a time when Roy Wright, Geoff Leek and Murray Weideman were around. “They were not fibbing when they tell you that Jimmy Sharman actually paid Don to stay out of his boxing tents when he toured the Murray River looking for challengers for his fighters,” said Bob.

(By Jack Luhrs –  Area News 14 January 14, 1987).

East Sydney Put the Centenary Flag in the Bag

Back row: James O’Callaghan, Guy Sherrington, Jim Richardson, Grant Luhrs, Stuart Allen, Petar Ruscuklic, Danny Staklum, Stephen Maclure, Wayne Goss, Greg Luhrs, Frank Ward, Reg Dew (team manager)
Middle row: Steve Byrnes, Steve Davis, Rob Claridge (Capt.), Jack Dean (Pres.), Austin Robertson (Coach), Ian Geddes (Vice-capt.), Ted Pleming, Laurie Axford, Lionel Potter (fitness trainer)
Front row: Enzo Corvino, Ian Allen, Jeff Carruthers, Wayne Hardie, Brendan Higgins, Geoff Spaulding, Phil Ingles

By Rod Gillett

East Sydney with mega-star full forward Petar Ruscuklic booting 9 goals cruised to a resounding 121-point win over North Shore in the 1980 grand final at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

It has been the last local competition grand final played at the SCG.

The match was also televised live in NSW on Channel Seven and attracted 120,00 viewers.

A live kick-by-kick radio broadcast was provided by Sydney radio station 2KY with special comments by SFL media and footy stats guru Kevin Taylor.

Final scores were East Sydney 30-24 (204) d North Shore 12-11 (83).

It was a major triumph for East Sydney that celebrated its centenary season in the best style possible by winning premierships in all three grades.

Easts adopted a special strip for the centenary season, a white guernsey with red and blue bands (pictured right), with white hose with red and blue stripes at the top. This was one of the first adaptations in Australian football of a specially designed jumper for a celebratory occasion.

After the disappointment of going out of the finals in “straight sets” the previous year after going through the home-and-away season undefeated, the Bulldogs regained the services of former South Melbourne and Subiaco star full forward Austin “Ocker” Roberston as coach; he had previously coached Easts to the 1976 flag.

And they retained Petar “Snorkel” Ruscuklic who had booted 136 goals in 1979; Petar did not follow the coach, his brother, Alex (ex Fitzroy and Carlton star) to Western Suburbs. East Sydney president Jack Dean ensured that there was a sufficient incentive for “Snorkel” to remain at Easts for the centenary season.

Despite the Bulldogs winning by a then Australian senior league record margin score, they were actually behind by ten points at quarter time but led at half-time by 42 points as a result of an eight goal burst in the second quarter.

According to Lionel Beale’s report in Inside Football (25 September 1980) “…another eight goals in the third quarter and 12 more in the last was champagne football by the best team seen in Sydney for many seasons”.

Easts’ had outstanding players on every line with skipper Robbie Claridge brilliant on the ball taking advantage of the dominance of ruckman Steve Byrnes and former Narrandera follower Stuart Allen.

The best player on the ground was Jim Richardson in the centre with five goals. Originally from Eastakes in the ACT, Richardson had trailed with Geelong but was recruited to Easts for the centenary season from WAFL club South Fremantle.

In defence, Guy Sherrington was “unbeatable”, according to the Inside Football report along with centre half-back Ian Geddes and classy back pocket Ted Pleming (both from UNSW).

Up forward, Petar Ruscuklic was in superb form with nine goals, along with fellow forward Geoff “Hammy” Spaulding (3 goals), centre half-forward Grant Luhrs (4 goals), and Laurie “Wally” Axford (2 goals).

North Shore were best served by defender John Tuckwell, winger Henry Townsing and utility Bruce Wickham.

Unfortunately, captain-coach John Pitura (ex-South Melbourne and Richmond), who was the match-winner in the 1979 decider succumbed to a shoulder injury suffered in the preliminary final win over Newtown and had negligible influence on the game.

Speaking to me by phone from Perth, dual premiership coach Austin “Ocker” Robertson, told me that that the 1980 team was more talented than the 1976 team “…but the 1976 team had more larrikins!”.

“We recruited well from WA where I used my contacts to secure Wayne “Cowboy” Hardie from South Fremantle along with Jim Richardson, Guy Sherrington (Perth), former St Kilda player Enzo Corvino (Subiaco) and Grant Luhrs from Claremont as well as Laurie Axford (Sutherland) who returned from study in WA and playing with West Perth” ‘Ocker’, one of the architects of Kerry Packer’s World Series cricket, told me.

But the star of the show on grand final day was prolific full-forward Peta Ruscuklic, who booted nine goals to take his tally for the season to 156, a new Sydney record, which he subsequently broke the next season with an astonishing 213 goals.

               Grant Luhrs

“Petar was mecurial, unstoppable” according to centre half-forward Grant Luhrs (pictured right), who after playing in the 1976 premiership went to Claremont in the WAFL for three seasons and returned for the centenary season.

“He was such a strong mark, especially one-out against an opponent and such an accurate kick for goal from any angle. He had “The Rat” (Robbie Claridge), “Gossie” (Wayne Goss) and “Richo” (Jim Richardson) pumping the ball forward from out of the middle”, Luhrs told me in an interview for this piece from his Flying Fox recording studio in Wagga.

“We were a group of itinerant and nomadic footballers loaded with talent that were bonded together by the coach (Austin Robertson) and his match committee chairman Jack Dean”.

“Off-the-field we had great support with club stalwart Reggie Dew (team manager), fitness guy “Long Bay” Lionel Potter and electic butcher Glen “Globie” Gasser as the runner”, added Luhrs.

Vice-captain Ian Geddes told me in an interview from Griffith for this piece that it was a great thrill to play in the grand final on the SCG, “We had the chance to play some curtain-raisers to VFL matches on the ground during the season which enabled us to get to know the nuances of the ground; it also meant that we weren’t over-awed on grand final day”.

A win by 121 points was a clear manifestation of East Sydney’s superiority on grand final day on the SCG.

Former Newtown player is Recognized by State Government

            Capt Reg Saunders

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following story contains images of deceased persons.

Former Newtown premiership player, Reg Saunders MBE, an Australian indigenous WWII and Korean War veteran, will have the new metro station in Pitt Street Sydney named in his honour.

Transport Minister David Elliott, is keen to see Reg’s legacy live on.

Reg played in Newtown’s 1948 premiership team, coached by Jack Darling, that beat Sydney Naval 16-17 (113) to 8-11 (59) in the grand final at Henson Park.  Also in the Newtown side were state players, Arch Pilling, Harry Free, Ossie Grose, Billy Cottis, Frank Larkin and Emrys Owen.
“Reg was still about when I started playing in 1955” former Newtown player, Greg Schroder said this morning. “He was a great bloke, a true gentleman.”

                     Reg Saunders in Korea

Born in Purnim Victoria, north of Warrnambool, Reg joined the army in 1940 as a private.  He saw service in both Europe and South West Pacific campaigns in the in the 2/7 Battalion.  In 1944 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, the first indigenous Australian to attain that level.  Reg was discharged from the army in 1945 and found work firstly as a shipping clerk and, later a builder’s labourer in Sydney. It was during this period that he played for Newtown. 

As conflict developed on the in Korean peninsula in 1950 he re-joined the army serving in the Australian Staff Corps and was promoted to the rank of captain.  He saw service in the Korean War with the 3rd Battalion in tours of duty from November 1950- November 1951.  

Reg playing       district        football in     Melbourne

On returning to Australia, Reg was posted to National Service Training but, dissatisfied with the training regimen,  he left the army in 1954 and found work first as a logging contractor in Gippsland, Victoria then upon returning to Sydney, worked at the Austral Bronze factory in Alexandria, Sydney, near Erskineville Oval.

In 1967 he joined the Office of Aboriginal Affairs as a liaison and public relations officer and was awarded The Order of the British Empire – Member (Civil) (Imperial) in 1971 for services to the Aboriginal community.

Reg died in Sydney in 1990.

Breen’s Bears

By Rod Gillett

                           Barry Breen (second left) celebrates
                     North Shore’s 1985 premiership triumph
                             (Image courtesy of Gerard Dignan)

The banner sign in red and black placed up on the Falcon St exit of the Warringah Expressway announced to the commuters on the north shore that North Shore had won the 1985 Sydney Football League premiership.

It was Barry Breen’s first premiership as coach after two grand final losses with Balmain and also Norths to the all-conquering East Sydney outfit that dominated the competition in this period, winning five consecutive premierships 1980-1984.

However, it was undefeated Campbelltown that North Shore dramatically beat in the grand final after four losses to the Blues during the season, including a 75-point drubbing at the SCG on 25 August.

Also, it was Breen’s first taste of premiership success since 1966 when he famously kicked that wobbly punt that bounced through for a point which sealed St Kilda’s historic first, and thus far, only premiership.

Richard Damien Finbar Barry Breen made his debut for St Kilda in 1965 whilst still at school. “Finbar”, as his Saints team-mates called him, played 300 games until his retirement in 1982 which also included the brutal 1971 grand final loss to Hawthorn and three games for Victoria.

After retiring from the VFL, Breen came to Sydney to coach the Balmain Tigers in the Sydney Football League in 1983, and never left. “I just love Sydney, it’s got it all. Lifestyle, weather, beaches and fine golf courses” he told me over a coffee in Cammeray recently.  

His main preoccupation these days is golf which he plays golf twice a week; he is a former club captain and president at the NSW Golf Club and is currently a Board member of NSW GC Foundation.

And Breen also has history with Sydney’s most famous sporting landmark, the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Breen first played on the SCG in a VFL exhibition match against Carlton in 1968 attended by 22,472 “enthusiastic fans”. The Saints thrashed the eventual premier, 21-12 (138) to 11-14 (80) with champion St Kilda premiership captain Darrel Baldock, turning on “an inspiring exhibition of goal-kicking, ball control and all of the other skills of the code” (NSW ANFL Record 9 June 1968).

“The Doc (Baldock) was the best player ever” declared Breen over our coffee which will brook no argument from this writer.

Breen (6’3’’) played alongside Baldock (5’10’’) on a half-forward flank in the premiership team. Stringbean Ian Cooper on the other half forward flank was 6’2’’. “He never said much, he just led by example, and he was truly inspirational, a wonderful leader” Breen told me.

When Baldock returned to his native Tasmania at the end of the 1968 season Breen inherited his #4 guernsey and the centre-half forward position, a position he would hold until the twilight of his VFL career until moved to full-back by then-coach Alex Jesaulenko.

Breen played at full-back when the Saints next played on the SCG in 1980 against  Richmond; it was a most forgettable 152-point thrashing by the eventual premier.

In 1982, his final season with the Saints, Breen again played full-back at the SCG against the Swans at their new home-ground in round 15; the Swans winning by 96 points, 30-19 (199) to 15-13 (103).

After getting Balmain into the 1983 Sydney grand final, their first since 1919, he coached North Shore into three grand finals, winning a flag in 1984 when the Bears beat undefeated Campbelltown in a “boilover” but going down to Easts in 1984 and Campbelltown in 1986.

He also played six games for NSW including a stint as captain-coach in 1984.

“It was always a thrill to run out onto the SCG whether it was with St Kilda or Balmain or Norths. I even played for NSW on the SCG. It was a good ground to play footy on”, Breen told me in our interview.

Later, he served the Sydney Swans as CEO in the difficult transformation from VFL ownership to proprietorship by a consortium headed by Mike Willesee from 1988 till 1991, followed by five years at as the AFL general manager in Tasmania.

This provided a far different perspective on the SCG. “It was hard work dealing with the SCG management to get better facilities for the players, to get access to corporate hospitality, and even to get on the ground for training. No pre-season games either because of the cricket. They’d never had a club actually based at the ground so they really didn’t understand all the requirements for a modern-day AFL club” he recalled.

“But gradually we made some progress. A major break-through was getting Swans members into the SCG Members area and the Dennis Carroll Room in the Bradman Stand for pre-match and after-match activities”.

Breen still occasionally goes to Swans games, as well as North Shore matches at Gore Hill; when he coached, they were called the “Bears” and played at North Sydney Oval.

He maintains his passion for the Saints, whom he has supported since he was four years old and serves on the Board of the St Kilda Football Club Foundation.

Paul Kelly’s Brownlow Medal Minted on the SCG

Rod Gillett continues the series on SCG Heroes as part of commemoration of 140 years of Australian football at the famous old ground

                 Paul Kelly and his statue outside the SCG

A statue of Paul Kelly, the champion Sydney Swans captain and Brownlow medalist, stands proudly outside the entrance to the Swans administration office in Driver Avenue and greets Swans fans entering the ground on match days.

When he won the Brownlow in 1995 with a tally of 21 votes, he received the bulk of his votes for games on the SCG including his 3 best-on-ground votes and 2 votes for each of the last two games of the season at the SCG.

“The SCG is sacred turf” ‘Kel’ told me recently while driving his Kenworth cattle truck between Cootamundra and Junee on the way back to his home in Wagga, “It was a privilege to play on the ground. I was in awe of it. Even after training I would walk across the ground to go home and take it all in”.

“I was so rapt when the SCG Trust gave me a piece of turf in a trophy when I finished up at the Swans”. It sits in pride of place on the mantle piece alongside family photos.

When asked about his highlights at the SCG he names the match against the Eagles for the Swans to claim the minor premiership, Plugger’s point after the siren, Plugger’s 1300th goal, the win over Melbourne in 1993 to break a 26-game losing sequence and his 200th game.

An unabashed humble country boy from the Riverina, Paul Kelly came to the Swans in the darkest days of the early 90s and was a major factor in the club’s dramatic rise, becoming captain in 1993, winning a Brownlow medal in 1995, and leading the Swans into the 1996 AFL Grand Final.

When he came to Sydney in 1990, putting his apprenticeship as a plumber in his hometown on hold, to try out in the AFL with the expectation of “maybe playing a few games” then heading back to resume his apprenticeships and playing footy for Wagga Tigers.

Instead, “the skinny kid from Wagga” became an AFL legend. He played 234 games captaining the club from 1993 until his retirement at the end of the 2002 season, in addition to the Brownlow medal, he won a string of awards including four club best and fairest, three All-Australian guernseys (including captain in 1996-97), and the AFL Players’ Association most courageous award for four consecutive seasons.

According to the Wagga’s Sporting Hall of Fame citation:

“Courage was certainly one of Paul’s most inspiring character traits. Another great talent was his ability to grab the ball and accelerate down the field. His explosive pace over the first five metres, a strong mark and fierce tackling made him an invaluable player and a constant inspiration to his teammates”.

That “fierce tackling” was honed playing rugby league as a junior for Wagga Brothers despite him spending his early boy-hood in the AFL strong hold of Ardlethan (situated just off the Newell Highway mid-way between Narrandera and West Wyalong) where Kel’s father, John was a speedy winger for the Ardlethan Stars in the strong South West DFL.

                     Barry Connolly

John famously saved his captain-coach Barry Connolly from an accidental explosion at the tin-mine at Ardelthan that Connolly told me over a cup of tea at half-time of a Goulburn Valley football grand final in Shepparton in 2002, saved his life.

“He (John) saved my life. I only suffered minor burns, but I was knocked-out. He got me out. I only missed the next game, and our families have remained firm friends ever since”, said Connolly, who was then president of the GVL for eighteen years after coaching Nathalia, Shepparton United and Waaia. His son Chris played for Melbourne and later coached Fremantle.

Tragically, Paul lost his grandfather in an underground mining accident at the Ardelthan mine.

‘Kel’ eventually took up footy and with the urging of his father’s friend and prominent local coach, Johnny Hawke (father of ex-Swans and Collingwood star, Paul) started with Wagga Tigers in the juniors aged 15. He quickly moved into senor ranks winning the club best and fairest in 1989 an honour he shared with club legend Gerald Pieper.

Former team-mate Bevan Rowe recalls “a very determined, pacey wingman who was never daunted by the size and strength of the opposition. He was absolutely fearless. He just had such a fierce desire to get the ball”.

Rowe, along with Swans regional recruiting manager Greg Leech, played a pivotal role in convincing the shy, unassuming Kelly that he could make it in the AFL. I can recall Rowe taking me to Robertson Oval in Wagga between the service and the reception of a mutual friend’s wedding to see ‘Kel’ play; alas, he was injured and not playing, so we had a beer with him instead.

Paul Kelly has had further honours bestowed on him after retirement including membership of the AFL Hall of Fame, vice-captain of the Swans Team of the Century and inclusion in the NSW Greatest-ever team.

But his most enduring, and perhaps best-known honour, is the Paul Kelly Cup for the winner of the primary school football competition in NSW and the ACT.