LONG-TIME Corowa-Rutherglen administrator John Henneman did not know if Richard Ambrose would stick around after he spent a few days at the John Foord Oval prior to the 2005 season.
Henneman wasn’t sure if the man with all the accolades, who they call “Wig” because of his flowing locks, fitted the Ovens and Murray Football League.
On Sunday, Ambrose pulled the curtain on one of the great, albeit short, careers in the O and M as the Roos bowed out of the finals series at the hands of Wodonga at Birallee Park.
While this season has been the best in terms of team success in Ambrose’s four years at Corowa-Rutherglen, Henneman believes his impact cannot be measured purely on-field.
“His association came through (former Roos coach) Brad Campbell at Subiaco over in the WAFL,” the Corowa-Rutherglen president said.
“When he came here, his leadership and training ethics and his contact with the young fellows is what impressed us most.
“We knew when he first came how good he was, we actually thought he might be too good for us — he wouldn’t commit to playing — but when he did there was no doubt that we had a top-line player.
“His association with Jake Ryan, Nic Raines and David Clark has also had a big impact on the club and they, like him, come 100 per cent prepared.”
Ambrose, 36, has been on the brink of retirement for the past two seasons.
In 2007, he missed the opening handful of games with work commitments, but was eventually lured back by Campbell.
Then it was his close mate Dave Clark, with whom he played at Subiaco, promising to play at Corowa-Rutherglen that persuaded him he could eke another year out of his body.
“That’s it for me, third time lucky,” said Ambrose, after the Roos’ 48-point loss to the Bulldogs in Sunday’s first-semi final.
“I get really itchy feet around February, March and just this year had a really good opportunity to play footy with Dave Clark.
“I lived with Dave Clark for a couple of years when I was playing footy in Perth and we’re best mates and he said he would come up and play footy if I went around again.
“It was just a really good opportunity.”
Ambrose has strong family ties to Corowa but was drafted to Essendon from the Shepparton Bears where he played one senior season under Xavier Tanner.
He played under-19s at Essendon before going on to Sydney where he played three senior matches.
He departed the Swans at the end of 1993 and joined Port Adelaide Magpies in the SANFL where he played full-back in their 1998 premiership team.
In 2000, Ambrose won the Sandover Medal for the league’s best and fairest while playing for Subiaco in the WAFL.
The versatile Ambrose was a constant in the WAFL representative teams in his five-year stint and played in Subiaco’s drought-breaking premiership in 2004.
While the team success has not been there at Corowa-Rutherglen, Ambrose has no regrets about heading down the Hume Highway each weekend and representing the combination.
“It’s a really good place and I’ve got five generations of family from Corowa; I didn’t grow up there, but the footy club has given me the opportunity to play in front of the community,” he said.
“It’s one of the things when you play at a state level or in Melbourne you don’t really get that sense of community.
“It’s a pleasure to come back and play footy for them.”
Ambrose has been one of the Roos’ best players this year as they finished second after the home-and-away season under Tossol, who returned to the club after guiding it to the 2000 and 2003 premierships.
You can tell Ambrose wasn’t happy about the way the Roos bowed out of the finals series in straight sets but he is content that the club is on the right track.
“It was a pretty good effort for the year from the club,” Ambrose said.
“I think we came from seventh or eighth last year and we got beaten around last year in a lot of games and I think this year was very open, with Wang standing out, but everyone else defeated everyone else and we even defeated Wang so we were more than competitive.”
Ambrose believes the O and M is a healthy competition which will continue to excel into the future, pointing out the quality of players each club contains.
“The league is a very good standard and I think the comp should be really proud of the level and the standard that they have got here,” he said.
“There is some excellent players in the competition and it’s been an absolute joy to play in it — I mean every week you have got real guns like (Matt) Shir and (Jon) McCormick and week in week out (Kade) Stevens is great.
“Every week there are great players running around.”