Corowa Last to First – A Review by Dr Rod Gillett

Review by Rod Gillett

The Corowa footy club went from last to first Ovens and Murray Football League in 1968.

It was a famous victory. Much celebrated. And it is still being lauded.

Albury-based broadcaster Robbie Mackinlay, who still plays cricket for his hometown of Holbrook, has been putting together podcasts of footy seasons past by district football clubs.

Mackinlay who works for NSW Cricket as the regional manager, has so far put together podcasts on Holbrook’s premierships in 1955, 1964 and 1970, Daysdale’s emotional premiership triumph in 1994, and Myrtleford’s controversial 1983 season when G. Ablett snr played.

But it the Corowa Spiders’ 1968 premiership win that is the subject of this review.

Richmond’s 1967 premiership captain Fred Swift had been lured to the NSW side of the Murray to coach the Spiders, who wore a black guernsey with a red sash. He went to work in Brac’s furniture store and was accommodated in the club’s house for the coach.

The Spiders retained previous year’s captain-coach John Hoiles who had come to the club from Footscray where he was a member of the 1961 grand final team that lost to Hawthorn.

Rugged St Kilda ruckman Ike Ilsley was recruited from Koroit along with players from the district including defender George Tobias (Wahgunyah) and rover Lindsay Jacob (Walla Walla).

A star recruit was rover-forward Jack Clancy from West Heidelberg YCW, who was picked up after a pre-season practice match against Corowa. Clancy is a legend of the O & M. He won two Morris medals in 1970-71 and coached the club in 1972, and later coached Albury. He kicked 3.1 in the grand final and got 19 possessions.

A further boost for the Spiders was the return after the opening two rounds of the VFL season of Peter Chisnall from North Melbourne, aged 19, who would have a brilliant season in the centre. And then return to North to play in the 1975 premiership team.

Mackinlay tracks Corowa’s season game-by-game riding the ups-and-downs of the season.

Corowa only secured a finals spot on percentage with a last-round win over Wangaratta Magpies, then went all the way through to beat reigning premier Wodonga led by tough ex- Collingwood rover Mick Bone in the grand final at the Albury Sportsground in front of a crowd of 12,000: Corowa 14.11.95 d Wodonga 12.16.88.

As usual there is drama in the lead-up to the decider with Fred Longmire (father of Swans coach John) injuring his ankle in the teeth-gnashing preliminary final victory over Myrtleford.

Robbie reveals that Fred was extremely doubtful to play in the grand final but visits to chiropractor Harry Brittain in Shepparton got him up to play.

Corowa coach Fred Swift adopted an unusual ploy by arranging a church service for the players the night before the grand final. The service was conducted by the Rev Tony Winter, who played in the Seconds. Fred and the Rev Winter would often meet to discuss club matters at the furniture store. Robbie interviews the Rev Winter for the podcast.

Robbie Mackindlay captures all the excitement and drama of the Corowa premiership win. He interviews some of the players including Fred Longmire, George Tobias, Bert Tait, Terry “Ollie” Phipps, and Peter Chisnall.

His grand final summary includes part of the call of the game by legendary Benalla football writer and commentator Keith Sherwill on GMV 6 that telecast the game live.

But Mackinlay’s best work is reserved for a description of the celebrations in Corowa.

The team returned from Albury by bus stopping at Wahgunyah – 4 kms from Corowa – and getting up on the back of Bernie Bott’s semi-trailer for the trip across the river into town where over 3,000 people had gathered in Sanger St to welcome home the victors.

“Bernie did three laps of the main street!”, Georgie Tobias told Robbie for the podcast. “I’ve never seen so many people in the main street”. Eventually the truck pulled up outside the Memorial Hall for a civic reception by the Shire President, Cr Fred Nixon.

Then the players and supporters adjourned to the club’s home ground, the picturesque John Foord Oval on the banks of the Murray River, for more celebrations for Corowa’s first O & M flag since 1932 that went well into the night and for the rest of the following week!

Celebrations continued when the Corowa footy club went on their end-of-season trip to New Zealand.

The podcast consists of two episodes:

Episode A

https://yoursportandmedia.podbean.com/e/corowa-1968-last-to-first/?fbclid=IwAR1Wy0Ks9lsQzJRww6jwCgkJ0EWw5K9SqbEQBE6qyWoLDN2ch1X6IfNT_V8

Episode B

https://yoursportandmedia.podbean.com/e/corowa-1968-last-to-first-part-b/?fbclid=IwAR0kNHZH2025OJMzG–iPr7GAUIHsF0i9kjaNjCzn8GTgrNW14DRK0-r8K4

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