Wangaratta shines in the national spotlight

A crowd of 11,000 at the Norm Minns Oval saw Richmond defeat Collingwood. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK
A crowd of 11,000 at the Norm Minns Oval saw Richmond defeat Collingwood. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK

WANGARATTA again sparkled in the spotlight on Saturday.

It attracted a sell-out crowd for the second year in a row for an AFL pre-season match at Norm Minns Oval.

The last 300 tickets were snapped up on Saturday morning to ensure 11,000 people watched the Tigers kick clear late in the match to defeat Collingwood by 48 points.

The 2012 debacle of an Essendon no-show against St Kilda and torrential rain is now a distant memory after the Tigers win over Essendon last year and now their big win over the Magpies.

Saturday’s crowd was the biggest at a regional venue this year under the altered pre-season format.

On the field, Richmond skipper Trent Cotchin and Collingwood forward and former Wangaratta Rovers junior star Ben Reid again showed their class.

The event ran like clockwork as lead-up dramas about altered catering arrangements were put aside.

Fans started arriving at the ground about 11am, chasing the best seats in the Richardson Stand when the gates opened at 2pm.

Late-comers found finding a vantage point tough as the bike track and embankments filled quickly.

Support for the Melbourne-based clubs with large supporter bases was split.

The crowd was well catered for, with the Tarrawingee and North Wangaratta clubs supplying the beer and Wang­aratta Magpies providing plenty of food from more outlets than there were last year.

The Magpies also hosted a function for 220 guests in its clubrooms.

And the Wangaratta Lions Club ensured entry to the ground was smooth for spectators, drawn from a wide area.

The VIP balcony area was flush with guests, including the AFL’s first female president — Richmond’s Peggy O’Neal.

She, Tigers chief executive Brendon Gale, and Simon Lethlean and Jennie Loughnan from AFL head office were among the guests.

Rested Tigers’ duo Jack Riewoldt and Chris Newman also took advantage of the elevated view in the VIP area.

District politicians were out and about, including the member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, and the retiring member for Benalla Bill Sykes.

Wangaratta’s team of administrators, headed by Ailsa Fox, were also there.

The council’s chief executive, Brendan McGrath, who has been in the role less than a fortnight, was delighted with how his city had performed in the sporting spotlight.

“It has all gone smoothly,” he said.

“It hasn’t been without its issues but, credit to everybody, we’ve worked through them and got things sorted out.

“From the AFL’s perspective, there are places like Wangaratta that are really enthusiastic about these events and throw a lot of resources at them.

“We want the AFL to see we are committed to the sport.

“We will have a game every year if it’s on offer.

“Events like this have easily got to be worth a couple of million dollars to the city.

“Plus the immeasurable benefits of the exposure of the town and the cultural experience of people coming here.”

Mr McGrath again laid down the challenge of winning the right to host the Ovens and Murray grand final at the Norm Minns Oval.

“We would love to host the O and M grand final,” he said.

“It is something the council has been pretty keen on for a couple of years, but hasn’t been able to yet do so.”