BRIAN Gilcrist, one of the undisputed stars of a golden era in the Ovens and Murray Football League, has died.
The champion defender was one of the key reasons Wodonga became a powerhouse in the mid-1960s at a time when every club seemingly had a star who had left the VFL in the prime of their careers to play in the O and M.
He recently turned 80 and has battled a string of health setbacks of recent times.
More than 20 years ago he also had a kidney transplant.
Gilcrist made his debut for the Bulldogs as a teenager in 1956 and finished his glittering career with 232 senior appearances, two premierships, five best and fairests, O and M Hall of Fame induction and earlier this year named as full-back in the competition's team of the century.
He was already a two-time best and fairest winner when VFL heavyweights Melbourne convinced him to train with the club in the lead-up to the 1960 season, but not even the high probability of breaking into the powerful Demons line-up of the time could convince him to stay.
Gilcrist played in two losing grand finals for Wodonga in 1958 and 1960 and after a brief stint coaching Brocklesby _ where his father Fred had played in the 1920s and 1930s _ he returned to the Bulldogs and helped deliver the club's first senior premiership.
Mick Bone, who became one of Gilcrist's best mates, led the Bulldogs to flags in 1967 and 1969 and lost another narrowly in 1968 to Corowa.
"He should have played for Melbourne," Bone said.
"Even though they won premiership after premiership he would have got a game at full-back, but he was a better centre half-back up here.
"In a practice match with Melbourne he played on Doug Wade and Wade didn't kick a goal so he went to Geelong and 'Gilly' came home to Wodonga.
"Melbourne missed out on both of them and would have been shattered.
"He was a great mate for me when I first came up here and not knowing nobody.
"But he was an even better husband and person than he was a footballer."
The Bulldogs entered the 1970 finals series on the back of a league record 27-match winning streak before losing two finals match to miss the grand final.
A badly broken leg suffered by Gilcrist in round 16 against North Albury was a monumental blow to the Bulldogs.
His tibia bone was smashed in three places and fibula bone also snapped with the damage so severe he didn't play for the next two years.
He made an unsuccessful comeback attempt in 1973.
But three years later Gilcrist was lured out of retirement by former Wodonga team-mate Ray Smedley, who was coaching Kiewa-Sandy Creek and the pair teamed up in two more flags before Gilcrist replaced him as coach of the club in a non-playing capacity for two years.
"He was the best player I played with and is Wodonga's best clearly," Smedley said.
"He wasn't overly big, but still played at centre half-back and his marking was fantastic because his judgment was so good.
"He could out-mark blokes 6ft4 and was such a brilliant kick.
"When we won flags we had Ronnie Hill and Dick Grimmond playing on the wings and they would fight over who would play on his right foot side.
"Instead of getting 10 kicks a game they would get 20 because he was such a good kick.
"When he got injured in 1970 our backline fell apart.
"We had a great side and there is no doubt if he didn't get hurt we would have won it again."
The Bulldogs lost the second semi-final to arch-rivals Wangaratta Rovers and then the preliminary final to eventual premier Myrtleford by one point.
The O and M's goal-kicking record holder, North Albury's Stan Sargeant, described Gilcrist as his hardest opponent.
"He was the best full-back I played on," Sargeant said.
"He was very hard to get a kick on and if you kicked three or four goals on 'Gilly' you've had a pretty good day.
He was very hard to get a kick on and if you kicked three or four goals on 'Gilly' you've had a pretty good day. He was a hard footballer, a tough footballer, but a great footballer.Ovens and Murray legend Stan Sargeant
"He was a hard footballer, a tough footballer, but a great footballer."
In the summer months, Gilcrist was a more than handy medium fast bowler for Wodonga and District association club, Tower, which played in a remarkable 15 grand finals in succession.
Gilcrist played in seven of the eight premierships the club won in succession, starting from 1971-72, but his best figures came in an earlier grand final win in 1965-66 grand against Eskdale when he bagged 6/21 and 6/24.
"Cricket wasn't his first priority, but it was something he was very good at," Tower team-mate Bruce Calder said.
"As a bowler he gave nothing away and even though he wasn't a classical elbow in the air batsman, he was a good bloke to come in at No.7 or No.8.
"He played cricket for 25 years and took 39 wickets in seven grand finals and made 222 runs.
"His bowling average in those grand finals was 7.74 and to take 39 wickets at that rate does say something about his talent with a cricket ball.
Gilcrist is survived by wife Loretta, children Merise and Anthony (deceased) and families.
His funeral will be held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Wodonga on June 11 at 11am.