BEN Hollands spent the first six years of his life in Myrtleford.
But the scrawny 16-year-old was afforded little hometown hospitality when he made his debut for North Albury against the Saints at Bunton Park in 1994.
Hollands was pushed into the centre square that day by coach Martin Cross Snr and Myrtleford hard man Brendan Breen took it upon himself to warmly welcome the young Hopper to the Ovens and Murray.
“He nearly killed me,” Hollands said yesterday.
“I remember as clear as day ‘Breeny’ coming off the line and seeing him coming out of the corner of my eye at the last second.
“I wouldn’t be here today if he had got me.
“I don’t think there was any malice. He was just introducing me to the Ovens and Murray.
“Little Marty Cross Jnr was good mates with “Breeny” and he got stuck right into him.
“I‘m not sure what he was going to do because ‘Breeny’ would have just picked him up and crushed him.”
Hollands’ ability to stay out of trouble and kick clutch goals has been the hallmark of a brilliant career which will end when he coaches Wodonga for the last time, against the Wangaratta Rovers at John Flower Oval tomorrow.
While stints in the SANFL, AFL and VFL have restricted him to 138 matches in the Ovens and Murray, the quality has been unquestionable.
Wodonga Raiders co-coach Simon Bone, who will also bow out tomorrow, believes Hollands sits comfortably with the league’s greats of the modern era.
“He’s been an absolute superstar of the Ovens and Murray,” Bone said.
“Really, he has had the ability to do what he likes when he likes.
“That’s why he was able to play at a higher level.
“He wasn’t one of those classy blokes who got it eight to 10 times a game — he is really classy and gets a heap of it.”
While Hollands has found wins much harder to come by later in his career than at the start, the clever forward yesterday said he had no regrets about returning to John Flower Oval from South Australia four years ago.
Wodonga has taken two wooden spoons in that time.
“The last couple of years have been pretty tough but that’s how it goes sometimes,” he said.
“I was lucky enough to play in a premiership at Wodonga in 2004 and a lot of finals earlier in my career.
“It’s evened out a bit since then, I guess.
“I’m just looking forward to Saturday and being around the boys.”
Although Hollands is likely to be lent on over the summer when Wodonga finds a new coach, he is adamant tomorrow will be his 99th and final match for the Bulldogs.
“The time is right,” he said.
“This weekend is probably the best illustration of it.
“My son Ollie and wife Lisa are on the way to Albany in Western Australia for a national cross country event and that’s a sign to spend more time with the kids.
“I don’t want to go on a year too long either.”