AS a Copeland Trophy winning Collingwood ruckman in the 1960s, Trevor Steer never expected or received any admiration from opposition supporters.
The Magpies were and still are hated by those outside the black and white brethren.
But on a July day 50 years ago when Steer had left VFL Magpies to join the Ovens and Murray equivalent, Wangaratta as coach, something strange happened.
Steer was the first ruck for the O and M country championships winning team coached by another former Magpie in Mick Bone against Wimmera at Horsham.
After a starring role he came off in the final quarter to allow 20th man and Wangaratta teammate Jeff Hemphill to have a run late in the match.
As he walked the boundary line to cool down from his battle against two up and comers, Steer was warmly applauded by a section of the pro-Wimmera estimated crowd of 10,000 people.
“It’s one of the nicest things in footy to ever happen to me,” he said half a century later, ahead of a reunion for the team in Albury this weekend.
“The crowd was 10 to 15 deep in that part of the ground.”
Confirmation of one of his best matches in a four-year stint in the O and M came afterwards when he won the trophy for best player on the ground.
But Steer is the first to admit if legendary goal-kicking Stan Sargeant didn’t kick 6.6 and converted a few of those misses he would have been trumped.
Steer, who is attending the reunion with the added bonus of also watching his old team in a preliminary final, never missed a chance to test himself at inter-league level.
There are quite a lot of players who are very good players at club level,” he said.
“But when they go to the next level of interleague, where virtually every bloke is a best and fairest at the club they come from, some can’t make the step up.
“For me I was protecting my reputation and didn’t want to have a dud game.”
Noel Long, who joined Yarrawonga after also playing in the VFL, said the country championships success 50 years ago was among the highpoints of his O and M career.
“In all the grand finals I played in at Yarra, the Rovers were our bugbear, and beat us three bloody times in grand finals,” he said.
“To represent your league is one thing, but to win a country championship and be the best in Victoria is another.
“We were the underdogs and there was no way we were going to win.
“We were written off as being too old, but we proved them wrong.”
But midway through the second quarter the O and M was in deep trouble, trailing by 22 points.
A key moment came when Long’s Yarrawonga teammate John Hayes was flattened and took almost two minutes to recover and take his free kick.
The O and M slammed on four goals to trail narrowly at half-time before racing away to a 35-point victory with a tongue-lashing from Bone at the long break still ringing in the players’ ears.
Long coached the O and M interleague team in the early 1980s, but couldn’t replicate the success he had as a player as a red-hot Ballarat coached by John Northey proved a regular nemesis.
And not even Gary Ablett at Long’s disposal in 1983 could stop Ballarat beating the host league at the Albury Sportsground.
The O and M’s successful team in 1968 defeated Latrobe Valley at Yallourn by 34 points earlier in the season when Bone blooded two Wodonga players, 17-year-old Ron Hill and goal-kicker Eddie Rogalski, who both held their spots for the championship winning match two months later.
Hill just pipped Corowa’s Peter Chisnall, 18, as the youngest member of the team.
Wangaratta Rovers champ Neville Hogan, by his own admission had a poor game at Yallourn, and was originally selected as 19th man until he was a late call-up in the centre to replace Albury’s Bob Spargo, who was forced out late.
Peter Chisnall was the only Corowa Spiders representative even though they won the flag in 1968.
The team made the long trek to Horsham by bus and no inter-league trip was complete without the league’s two biggest supporters, legendary administrators Did Simpson and Cleaver Bunton, on board.
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