HAYDN BUNTON SENIOR
(Albury, West Albury)
THE career of arguably the best player to ever grace a football ground had its starting point in the Ovens and Murray league.
Haydn Bunton was destined for greatness the moment he made his debut for Albury in 1924 as a 13-year-old, making him the youngest player to ever play at senior level in the league’s 125-year history.
The mercurial Bunton played school footy on Fridays before joining his brothers Cleaver and George the next day in Albury colours with younger sibling, Wally, destined to follow.
The Tiger teams of the 1920s had talent in spades including brothers Gordon and Doug Strang as they took on the might of St Patrick’s led by their own champion, Maurie Hunter.
They were epic encounters as they met in successive grand finals for one win apiece with the Bunton boys playing starring roles in the Tigers’ 1928 premiership.
But the intense rivalry between the two clubs, based largely on religious grounds, had risen to such a level St Patrick’s and Albury were disbanded and West and East Albury clubs created at the end of 1928.
Incredibly the new entities played off in the grand final the following year with Haydn one of four Buntons in the premiership winning West Albury team.
Haydn had also become the hottest footballing property in the country with frenzied attempts to secure his services being launched by VFL clubs after winning three successive best and fairests for the Tigers from 1926-28 still in his teenage years.
He signed with Fitzroy, but fell foul of a rule known as the Coulter Law and he returned to play another season for West Albury which finished runner-up to Hume Weir in the grand final.
But his brilliant ahtleticism and ball-winning abilities were finally put on show in the VFL when he debuted for Fitzroy.
At the end of his career his status as an all-time great was confirmed _ three Brownlow medals, including back-to-back wins in his first two seasons in the VFL, three Sandover medals and official legend status in the AFL Hall of Fame.
(Wangaratta Rovers, Yarrawonga)
Wangaratta Rovers had a cavalcade of stars in their golden era of the 1970s.
But one player from the mighty era who had the added, vital ingredient of toughness in his armoury was Mark Booth, who found his way to the Hawks’ nest in 1972 via junior club, Combined Churches.
Booth forced his way into the powerful senior line-up in 1973 where he remained a permanent fixture until 1992 with the exception of one season at Yarrawonga in 1981.
His reward was no less than five premierships, but the tally could have easily been seven with an overseas holiday in 1979 and a two-match suspension incurred in the final round of 1988 against the Pigeons preventing him sitting alongside another Hawks’ 1970s superstar, Steve Norman, as a seven-time premiership player.
Booth set a benchmark for courage and determination as he also captured three club best and fairests and recorded top-three finishes in two Morris medal counts in 1984 to North Albury’s Rudy Yonson and 1989 to joint winners, John Brunner and Brett Allen.
Booth also won a best and fairest in his one and only season for the Pigeons.
As another generation of Hawks stars began to emerge in the late 1980s under the coaching of Laurie Burt, Booth was still motoring strongly.
He relished the responsibility of minder and mentor and led by example by burrowing into every pack and more often than not emerging with the ball.
Booth represented the Ovens and Murray 13 times which included country championships success and twice represented the VCFL.
He played a total of 319 matches for the Hawks and after a stint coaching Mulwala in the Murray league he took his turn at administration as both an O and M board member for three years followed by a stint as president of the Rovers.
Booth’s two sons Darcy and Mitch are present day Hawks’ players.
(North Albury, Myrtleford)
North Albury welcomed a ready made star when Travis Hodgson arrived at Bunton Park in 1999.
The Hoppers were on the up and the addition of a high quality defender via Sunbury where he made his senior debut at the age of 16 and a brief stint with Woodville-West Torrens in the SANFL soon helped them become a premiership force.
North Albury downed arch-rival Albury in the 1999 grand final to bring flag glory to Hopper-land for the first time since 1984 and after a hiccup in 2000 when they encountered a red-hot Corowa-Rutherglen, the Hoppers went all the way two years later.
They downed Wangaratta Rovers in the grand final with Hodgson well and truly entrenching himself among the O and M’s elite with three club best and fairests.
Always prepared to test himself at a higher level, Hodgson also relished the regular senior roles he played for the O and M and the VCFL.
Being adept at using both sides of his body often came to the fore, plus his ability to read the play unfolding further afield served him well when he encountered bigger and stronger rivals.
A born leader, the coaching bug inevitably began to bite and Myrtleford presented him with his first senior coaching opportunity in 2005.
The Saints were rock bottom, but Hodgson wasted no time putting them on the road to redemption.
They charged into the grand final in his first season at the helm only for a second O and M flag to elude them in heart-breaking fashion when Lavington’s Darryn McKimmie kicked truly after the siren to sink the Saints by the smallest possible margin.
Myrtleford went all the way to the grand final again in 2006, but was outclassed by Yarrawonga which had the flag in the bag by quarter time when it cashed in with a gale force wind at their backs.
Hodgson returned to Bunton Park as coach in 2007 and led the Hoppers into the grand final only to fall to Wangaratta.
He coached North Albury for four seasons in total before returning to Melbourne to continue coaching and last season he was at the helm when Bacchus Marsh won the premiership in the Ballarat league.
Almost six decades have passed since Jack Jones last pulled on the yellow and black jumper of Albury.
But the World War II veteran remains a favourite son of one of the Ovens and Murray’s oldest and most successful clubs.
Jones’ arrival at Tigerland after 175 matches for Essendon was a more a case of good good luck than good management.
He and his wife Mary just happened to select a bed and breakfast cottage which was owned by a Tigers official, Jack Adams, as they passed through Albury at the end of the 1954 VFL season
As often is the case, one thing led to another, and Jones suddenly had a deputation of Albury officials on his doorstep wanting him to coach when he had arrived back in Melbourne.
He accepted the offer and continued to don the No.24 jumper he had worn with distinction in three premierships for the Bombers from seven grand final appearances in teams which included legendary full-forward John Coleman.
It was the same number of his army battalion during World War II when he saw action in the jungles of New Guinea and Bougainville.
His first season in charge in 1955 ended on a disappointing note when the Tigers just missed the finals.
But they more than made amends the following year when they beat North Albury in the grand final by 35 points.
Albury was a force to be reckoned with as it dropped just two matches on its way to the premiership with Jones booting two goals.
A marking machine at centre half-forward, Jones had a more than capable support cast including Lance Mann, Jim Robison, Reg Gard and Leon Pain.
Jones was a big match performer, but a premiership slipped from the Tigers grasp in 1957 when it entered the final quarter of the grand final leading by 27 points only to go down by two points to Wangaratta.
His 59 goals for the season was his best in charge of the Tigers in a stint which included a preliminary final finish in 1959.
Jones also played in the successful O and M country championships campaigns of 1955 and 1957.
He later coached Kergunyah before returning to Melbourne with his growing family.
The long and distinguished career of a smooth moving Corowa-Rutherglen wingman began in illustrious company in round one, 1987.
Spencer had come across from his hometown of Rutherglen to test himself at the highest level and found himself making his senior debut alongside John Longmire, who would take the O and M by storm and later carve out a successful playing and coaching career in the AFL.
But Spencer’s contribution to the Roos has been equally significant.
A magnificent kick who rarely missed a target on either side of his body, Spencer is one of just two Corowa-Rutherglen players to play in all three grand finals the Roos have played in since the merger in 1979.
The first brush with grand final glory eluded Spencer and the Roos in 1992.
But his day in the sun would come eight years later when he helped the lift the premiership cup as captain in 2000 following a rout of North Albury by a league record margin of 108 points, helped along by a 10-goal haul to Damian Houlihan.
Three years later the Roos saluted again and Spencer’s trademark loyalty and dedication were rewarded in the twilight of a fine career.
Spencer passed the 300-game mark late in his career, but after almost two years in retirement he made a comeback and added six more senior appearances to equal the club’s games record held by Dennis Sandral of 333 matches.
Among those extra games was a bag of seven goals.
His two sons Tyler and Callum have made their debuts for the Roos.
A footballing dynasty dating back 80 years was started when Jack "Hopper” McCormick’s father launched the Wangaratta junior league.
The onset of World War II prevented McCormick from spending much time in junior ranks, but his service to the competition would come at the end of hugely successful career with Wangaratta Magpies.
McCormick found himself in the right spot at the right time when the war ended.
Mac Holten’s arrival at Wangaratta as coach was the spark for a record-breaking run of premiership success which remains unmatched in modern times.
The Magpies won four successive flags from 1949 and McCormick formed part of a formidable backline which had Jack Ferguson and Lionel Wallace as its two generals.
All three were selected in the Magpies team-of-the-century with McCormick making the half-back flank his own in 183 matches in black and white.
Wangaratta beat Wodonga twice, Benalla and Rutherglen in grand finals, but the battles with the Wangaratta Rovers, where he played before their entry into the O and M, were among some the hardest fought.
McCormick spent four years coaching King Valley before returning to the Magpies as a 31-year-old in 1957 and being part of another flag _ his fifth in seven years.
At the end of his career, McCormick re-connected the family ties to the Wangaratta junior league and spent 18 years as secretary.
His son Ian graduated from the junior ranks to join his father as a Wangaratta premiership player in 1976 and grandson Jon was to have an bigger impact on the O and M when he returned from Carlton to be part of two Magpies flags in 2007-08 and also win a Morris medal.
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