Doug Priest’s Mentors Led to First Class Honours in Coaching

Australian Football celebrates its 140th anniversary in NSW this year after the founding of the NSW Football Association in Sydney in 1880.

Dr Rod Gillett profile the nomination of Doug Priest to the Hall of Fame.

When Doug Priest was appointed captain-coach of Ariah Park-Mirrool in the South West League in 1970, the coach widely regarded as the greatest ever, Norm Smith, then coaching South Melbourne gave him a copy of his prized coaching notes.

Doug had been captain of South’s Reserves team at Smith’s behest as a result of his leadership qualities being revealed at the club after being recruited from Holbrook in southern NSW.

“The notes were very practical and provided a strong basis for my coaching philosophy but I still had the challenge to put the ideas into practice” Doug told me for this interview.

Working as a selector alongside another all-time VFL coaching great Allan Jeans, who coached the NSW State teams playing in the national club championships in 1979-80, provided another dimension to Doug’s coaching.

“Jeansey taught me about ‘man-management’; he really knew how to get the best out of individual players while Norm (Smith) was more old school, strong on discipline and values. I learn a lot from both”, Doug told me.

“My first senior coach, Brian Prior (ex-Footscray) also taught me a lot, particularly in relation to team-work and leading from the front. He was a terrific person as well as an excellent coach”.

And, of course, my first junior coach was my father Merv, who got the juniors going in Holbrook when he went there to work in the late 50s” Doug added.

Doug’s father, Merv is also one of the Riverina’s greatest players with a fine record as a player and coach with Rannock, Coolamon, Ganmain, and ultimately with Wagga Tigers.

A player named Priest on a football field in the area started with Doug’s grandfather Norman, who first pulled on the boots for Methul in 1912. The tradition continues with Doug’s grandson Kobe making his way through the grades at Wagga Tigers.

Doug began playing senior football for Holbrook in the Farrer Football League in 1962 and was a member of the 1964 premiership team under ex Footscray defender Brian Prior that beat Temora.

After stints at South Melbourne in the VFL (1966-69) where he played 26 games, and coaching Ariah Park- Mirrool in the South West League (1970-71) he went to Wagga Tigers in 1972 as coach until 1976 leading Tigers to a premiership in 1975 over Henty.

Doug played a leading role in the 1977 premiership victory over archrivals North Wagga under the illustrious Laurie Pendrick, with whom Doug shared the competition best and fairest award, the Baz medal.

He retired after playing in the 1978 premiership under ex Melbourne and Glenelg player Colin Anderson, who had taken over from him as coach.

Then he begun  highly successful involvement in representative football as a coach and selector while continuing involvement at Wagga Tigers in all manner of off-field roles (including president 2008-09) that continues to this day with leadership of the club’s history project.

Doug coached the Farrer league to great success during this period including three State Championship victories, the most notable being in 1980 when the bush boys beat a star-studded Sydney team coached by ex VFL star Sam Kekovich, then coaching Newtown, at Deniliquin.

Down by 8 goals at half-time, the Farrer team showed enormous spirit and courage to prevail over their more fancied opponent following a spate of injuries. This followed previous coaching triumphs in 1976 and 1978.

Following the restructure of the leagues in the Riverina in 1982, Doug took on the task of coaching the Riverina Football league (RFL) rep team in the Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) championships.

Doug bought together the players from old rivals Farrer and South West to defeat the Wimmera league, but to lost by 7 points to eventual champion, the Ovens and Murray league. It galvanized the players and officials in the new competition.

Doug’s sons, Steven and Andrew, have followed in the footsteps of their forebears. Both have played nearly all their football with Wagga Tigers, and between them have won a staggering fifteen premierships!

Steven played in eight premierships, while Andrew played in seven flag-winning teams for Tigers.

Andrew is the games record-holder at Wagga Tigers having played 423 games; Steven amassed 360 games. Steven also played twenty-two games for the Sydney Swans Reserves in 1995.

The Priests have made an indelible mark on the game in the Riverina in so many ways and at so many levels, with Doug at the top of the class with his superb record as a player, coach, and official.

“…one of the most highly regarded footballers, coach, and later non-playing coaches in Riverina football” according to the history of the Ariah Park-Mirrol Football Club 1953-1983.

The Rannock Football Story

Peter Clark shares an extract on the Rannock football story from his soon to be released book, In the True Sporting Spirit.

 

Rannock Footy Ground

Australian Football was last played at Rannock more than half a century ago. Rannock’s football experience is a familiar Australian tale of a farming community starting out with a healthy stock of fit young men eager to play football only to see that supply dwindle as farms got bigger, families got smaller and distances became faster to travel. From its beginnings in a localised football competition comprising similar-sized settlements, Rannock’s football journey expanded to new frontiers. Later it competed against teams from much larger and more distant settlements.

Rannock is a rural locality, situated in ‘canola country’, 23 km north of Coolamon in the Riverina region of NSW. The settlement was proclaimed in 1899 and grew steadily to a peak population of 285 in 1933. By the 2016 census Rannock’s population had fallen to just 55 people.

Upon my first visit to the Rannock Recreation Reserve in 2017 I was surprised to find the football setting largely intact which immediately inspired me to learn more about the club and football days long past. What I discovered was a club widely respected for its sportsmanship, a proud and successful club and a club in many ways typical of hundreds of small country football clubs once common throughout Australia.

The Rannock football ground’s rust coloured earth, once trampled by young men chasing the Sherrin, is now covered in tall grass. A lone goal post stands at the northern end as a silent reminder of football games in bygone days. Other relics such as the deserted dressing sheds and the vacant luncheon booth stand passively at the cypress pine tree-fringed oval. The galvanised iron dressing sheds remain furnished with dust-covered rubbing down tables and rusty showers that have not run hot water since the last home game.

The Rannock Football Story traces the sequence of leagues the club participated in between 1923 and 1964 commencing with the Tara and District Association and ending with the Central Riverina League. Many of the familiar experiences of country footy clubs are covered: changing league affiliation, club mergers, glory years, struggling times and the recurrent threat of demise, all experienced in the midst of economic, technological, demographic and social change.

A football club was formed at Rannock in 1923. Less than a decade later Rannock was the centre of a ‘bush’ football league, the Rannock and District Football Association. Only four decades after its formation the club went into recess for the last time. In 25 football seasons, spanning 42 years, the club participated in six different leagues, won five premierships, endured two periods of voluntary recess, together with an interruption due to World War II, and experienced a joint football venture with the neighbouring community of Methul.

Rannock initially competed in the Tara and District Football Association alongside the neighbouring communities of Tara, Methul, Mimosa, Pucawan and Walleroobie. According to former club president, A.H. Grinter, “the players though keen and enthusiastic did not win many games, but had a lot of fun.”

In 1932 Rannock became the home of a new league called the Rannock and District Football Association. Other clubs that competed included Bectric, Winchendon Vale, Methul, North Berry Jerry, Pucawan, Mimosa and Marrar. Rannock hosted most finals matches in the league’s six year existence.

Playing in the newly formed Temora and District Association in 1938, against teams from Temora, Clear Hills, Bagdad, Reefton, Pucawan and Winchendon Vale, Rannock were the competition pace setters. This was one of the most successful eras of football for Rannock. The club reached the final four on several occasions in the 1930s and claimed back-to-back premierships in 1939 and 1940. When football resumed after the war Rannock re-joined the Temora League and were successful in winning the 1947 premiership.

Rannock ‘s next move was to the ten-team Ariah Park and District Football Association where they competed for four seasons.  During this era the identity of the club was to change and the geographical focus shifted to the north. In 1950 Rannock and Methul formed a combined team known as the ‘Federals’. The other teams in the Ariah Park competition in 1950 were Tara Stars, West Wyalong, Ariah Park, Temora and Mirrool. The cessation of the league in 1951 prompted the Federals to apply for admission to the South West District Football League (SWDFL) Reserves competition.

Continuing to play under the ‘Federals’ banner, the club participated in the SWDFL Reserves between 1952 and 1955. The Federals immediately became a dominant force in the competition which was divided into east and west sections with the winners of the two zones playing off for the premiership. In 1952 five teams competed in the Eastern Zone: Narrandera, Coolamon, Rannock Federals, Grong Grong and Ganmain. The Western Zone comprised Griffith, Yanco, Leeton and Darlington Point.

The Federals went on to have an undefeated season in 1952 qualifying for the grand final to be played against the Western Zone finalists, Darlington Point. Unfortunately the opposition were unable to get a team together, due to a clash with a wedding, and forfeited the premiership-deciding match. In 1954 the Federals were again matched against Darlington Point in the grand final, but on that occasion there was no prior engagement affecting the ‘Riversiders’’ attendance, the game went ahead and the Federals won the Jas. Quinn Cup. The Federals reached the Eastern Zone grand final again the following season but were defeated by Ganmain. In 1956, when the SWDFL scheduled all Reserve grade fixtures as curtain raisers to senior matches on Sundays, the Federals did not re-join the competition and went into recess.

The club reformed in 1962 and joined the Central Riverina Football League where they played for three seasons. Rannock’s football geography moved to the heart of the Riverina in a league containing a mixture of clubs from within Wagga Wagga and surrounding settlements. Rannock’s opponents included: Army, Boree Creek, Collingullie, Cootamundra, East Wagga, Junee, Osborne, RAAF, Uranquinty and old rivals Marrar. In its sunset years Rannock experienced some big losses, none greater than a 282 point loss against Boree Creek in 1964. The youthful Rannock team went winless for forty consecutive games from the start of the 1962 season until early in 1964 before finally notching a win. The Daily Advertiser celebrated Rannock’s victory over Uranquinty with the headline: ‘Rannock at last! – 41st time lucky’.

Rannock’s brief life in the league ended prior to the start of the 1965 season due to a lack of players. Reluctantly the club followed the fate of many country football clubs from small communities in disbanding. To build and rebuild a football club takes imagination, ambition, enterprise, organisational skill and persistence from those in charge. Rannock was blessed with men and women with those qualities. It also possessed stalwarts who committed to the task for the long haul, year in and year out, in both prosperous and difficult times.

The people of Rannock can take considerable pride in their former football club which frequently punched above its weight. Equally, they were honoured by footballers widely recognised for always giving their best, for never throwing in the towel and most importantly, for being good sportsmen.

Footnote

Extracts are from the soon to be published history of the Rannock Football Club, In the True Sporting Spirit, written by Peter Clark

The Priest’s Family Footy Dynasty Goes Back Over A Century

by Dr Rod Gillett

There’s been a Priest playing footy in the Riverina spanning five generations for over a century.

The focus of this piece was going to be on Wagga Tigers legend and former South Melbourne player Doug Priest – “one of the most highly regarded footballers, coach, and later non-playing coaches in Riverina football” – according to the history of the Ariah Park-Mirrol Football Club 1953-1983 – but then it became apparent that the Priest family football dynasty in the area stretched back over a century.

It all began with Norman Priest in the early part of the 20th century when he started having a kick with Methul in the Ariah Park & District Football Association.

Since then the roll-call of Priests playing football has been Norman’s sons Bob (Betric), Mervyn (Rannock, Ganmain, Wagga), Lionel (Rannock, Wagga) and Warwick (Turvey Park) , grandson Doug (Holbrook, South Melbourne, Wagga Tigers), grandsons Steven and Andrew (both Wagga Tigers), and, now great grandson, Kobe (Wagga Tigers).

The first evidence of Norman playing is in a team photo of 1912 when he was aged 22; it is almost certain that he started playing earlier than that. He later played with Rannock along with his brothers when that team was formed after the First World War

A highlight of Norman’s career was playing in a combined Ariah Park and District team that beat a Sydney representative team at Erskineville Oval in 1913. He was later a league and club official.

Doug’s father, Merv began playing footy aged 14 for Rannock in the district league of the same name in 1932. He won the competition best and fairest in 1938 aged 19. In 1939 & 1940 he played for Rannock on Saturdays and Coolamon on Sundays in the South West League. Then he went off to serve his country in the AIF 29th battalion as a sergeant in WWII; while stationed in Melbourne in 1941 he played Seconds for Footscray in the VFL.

After the war Merv returned home in 1946 and began playing for Ganmain on Saturdays and Wagga on Sundays till Ganmain found out and he had to settle for just playing for Ganmain. He played in the Maroons’ premiership team win over Narrandera and was named best player.

He joined the Wagga club then playing in the Wagga and District Football League as captain-coach 1947-48. His brother Lionel joined him at Wagga from 1947-54.

He stayed on as player at Wagga Tigers as they became known in 1950 and transferred to the Albury and District competition (now known as the Farrer league) until he retired in 1954. In between he squeezed a season as coach of Collingullie, then in the Central Riverina League, to runner-up to Boree Creek in 1953.

Merv captained the Wagga and District league against North Melbourne in Wagga in 1951 and the Albury and District league against North Melbourne in 1952 also at Robertson Oval, Wagga.

Merv and family moved to Holbrook in 1959 to take up a position at the Pastures Protection Board and was instrumental in setting up the Holbrook junior football teams which he then coached for a few years (therefore he was Doug’s first coach). He was also a selector for the Holbrook Football Club.

Doug began playing senior football for Holbrook in 1962 and was a member of the 1964 premiership team under ex Footscray defender Brian Prior that beat Temora.

After stints at South Melbourne in the VFL (1966-69) where he played 26 games, and coaching Ariah Park- Mirrool in the South West League (1970-71) he went to Wagga Tigers in 1972 as coach from till 1976 leading Tigers to a premiership in 1975 over Henty.

Doug played a leading role in the 1977 premiership victory over archrivals North Wagga under the illustrious Laurie Pendrick, with whom Doug shared the competition best and fairest award, the Baz medal.

He retired after playing in the 1978 premiership under ex Melbourne and Glenelg player Colin Anderson, who had taken over as coach from him. He played in four premierships: one more than his father.

Then he begun a highly successful involvement in representative football as a coach and selector at the representative level while continuing involvement at Wagga Tigers in all manner of off-field roles (including president 2008-09) that continue to this day with the club’s history project.

Doug was a State selector in 1979-80 when NSW played in the national Escort championships under Allan Jeans narrowly lost to Fitzroy at the Sydney Showgrounds after leading at half-time. The next season the Sky Blues beat the ACT but lost to eventual premier Richmond by a narrow margin in the next round.

Doug also coached the Farrer league to great success during this period including three State Championship victories, the most notable being in 1980 at Deniliquin when the bush boys beat a star-studded Sydney team coached by ex VFL star Sam Kekovich, then coaching Newtown.

Down by 8 goals at half-time, the Farrer team showed enormous spirit and courage to prevail over their more fancied opponent. This followed previous coaching triumphs in 1976 and 1978.

Following the restructure of the leagues in the Riverina in 1982, Doug took on the task of coaching the Riverina Football league (RFL) rep team in the Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) championships.

Doug bought together the players from old rivals Farrer and South West to defeat the Wimmera league, but to lost by 7 points to eventual champion, the Ovens and Murray league. It galvanized the new competition. He enjoyed enormous respect from the players and coaches in the new RFL.

When asked about his great record as a coach, Doug told me that Norm Smith had given him a copy of his coaching notes when he went from South Melbourne to coach Ariah Park-Mirrool but that working closely with Allan Jeans had taught him about “man-management”.

“Jeansie really knew how to get the best out of individual players while Norm (Smith) was more old school, strong on discipline and values. I learn a lot from both”, Doug told me.

Doug’s sons, Steven and Andrew, have followed in the footsteps of their forebears. Both have played nearly all their football with Wagga Tigers, and between them have won a staggering fifteen premierships!

Steven played in eight premierships, while Andrew played in seven flag-winning teams for Tigers.

Andrew (aka Horse) is the games record-holder at Wagga Tigers having played 423 games; Steven amassed 360 games. Steven also played twenty-two games for the Sydney Swans Reserves in 1995.

Steven won the club best and fairest five times and represented NSW on five occasions including against the VFA on the MCG in 1995. He was vice-captain of the State team that won the Australian Country Championships in 2002.

Just like their great grandfather, grandfather, and father they have served their clubs in various capacities as officials and junior or senior coaches.

Now the baton has been passed to Steven’s son, Kobe, who played in Tigers’ Under 18 team last season. He has big boots to fill, but all the Priests that have come before him have all had the ability and character to be successful as players and contribute significantly to

to the game.

Image: (l to r) – Doug, Steven, Dad (Merv) & Kobe with the football.