Max Duncan is the first to admit he was an "average" footballer. But it certainly didn't dull his passion for the game. A life member at Jindera, Duncan is also well known in Upper Murray circles after coaching stints at Cudgewa and Tumbarumba. The self-confessed footy nut caught up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: Tell us a bit about your football career?
MAX DUNCAN: I arrived in Australia in 1971 from New Guinea and started my junior football with Lavington in the Tallangatta league. I ended up at Jindera in my twenties and played about 140 matches in the reserves and a handful of senior matches. I'm proud to say I'm a life member at Jindera.
BG: How would you describe yourself as a player?
MD: I was average but I still loved playing.
BG: What about your coaching career?
MD: I started coaching when I was 17 when I was assistant coach under Les Waldron coaching the Lavington under-13s. The only senior clubs I have coached are Cudgewa and Tumbarumba. I coached Brocklesby reserves for five years and Burrumbuttock for a season. Even back then in 1994 I told Burrumbuttock that the only way they were going to survive is if they merged.
BG: Is it true when you coached in the Upper Murray you told the clubs that you didn't want to get paid?
MD: I don't coach for money. I get my expenses paid and that's it.
BG: How would you describe yourself as a coach?
MD: Most coaches are stereotyped. I'm way outside the box.
BG: I believe you copped your share of prank calls while coaching?
MD: I used to be home on a Friday night and blokes would ring up and say you are going to get your arse kicked tomorrow and hang up. Which didn't worry me. But one night I was ropeable after someone rang up and said your team on the weekend is going to end up like your daughter.
BG: I'm dumbfounded that someone could stoop so low?
MD: It's sad but true. I've always said that I don't mind sledging but you never ever get personal.
BG: It's been almost a decade since you lost your daughter, Yasmin, who was only 18 when she was killed when the car in which she was a passenger collided with a B-double. I can't even imagine how traumatic that would have been?
MD: I would never wish what my family and I went through on anyone. When I was coaching Tumbarumba I buried a player each year for three years before Yasmin was killed. I remember when we lost the grand final in 2009 and I was going to call it quits. I was walking with Yasmin back to the car and she said "Dad you're going to have to coach again next year so you can get me that premiership medallion."
BG: It is true you found out about the accident when you were watching the news?
MD: Yeah I did. Before Yasmin left for Sydney I told her to text me when she got to Tarcutta and Goulburn but she didn't. So I started ringing her mobile but it just keep dialing out. We were watching the news and it said there was a crash at Tarcutta. I had a bad feeling it was Yasmin. The phone rang and my eldest daughter asked if I knew anything about an accident. I phoned the family of the boy Yasmin was travelling with - only then did the shock set in.
BG: I can't imagine the grief it caused for your wife Donna and yourself?
MD: It took five years before my wife Donna would leave Albury for more than a day.
BG: It must have been a bitter pill to swallow when an inquest found the road markings and signage at the scene of a Hume Highway divergence near Tarcutta played a role in the accident.
MD: From what I understand it did contribute to the crash. We waited four years for the inquest finding which was tough.
IN OTHER NEWS
BG: Back to football, what are some of your coaching philosophies?
MD: I believe where clubs go wrong is they get recruits and pay them exorbitant amounts and then don't pay the locals. In my opinion you have to look after the locals as well.
BG: From the outside looking in, you seemed to have a close bond with most of your players off the field?
MD: If you are just interested in a players' football ability you are going to get nowhere. You have to be interested in what he does outside as football as well. The No.1 priority for me was the well being and the safety of the blokes I coached, both on and off the field. If I knew they were getting themselves into trouble off the field, I would address it with them. I put one of my players in jail mate because he was going off the rails.
BG: That sounds serious, what happened?
MD: He was getting out of control and his friends came to me and said that you are going have to do something or he going to end up hurting someone. He was a great kid with a big heart and I've still got a lot of time for him. But I went to the cops and told them what he was doing and he ended up in jail. It was a gut-wrenching decision but I did it for his own good. I'm proud to say he has since turn his life around and that he learnt from his mistakes.
BG: Any funny stories you can share about your time in the Upper Murray?
MD: I remember one time at Cudgewa and after the match a player arrived at the pub wearing a T-shirt, cowboy boots and chaps and nothing covering his behind. Anyway, we are all leave the pub and head to a party and its getting late and by this time the players is blind. All of a sudden there was a really bad smell wafting and we all look at the player who is leaning up against the 44 gallon drum that was the fire bucket. We then realise what the smell was, he arse was burning and he ended up with third degree burns. I don't know how but he played the following week.
BG: That's gold, what else have you got for us Max?
MD: When I was at Tumbarumba the club used to do the pine tree fertilising for a local company as a fundraiser. So we would play footy, get on it after the game to about 2am and stay the night at Tumbarumba. Then on the Sunday we would get up at 7am and fertilise the trees. I remember we were at one farmers place and I discovered a marijuana crop. I said to the farmer "what sort of crop are you growing up here?" He said "I sold the farm last year, so I don't know what's going on." So I showed him the marijuana crop and he just laughed. A few of the boys ran out of smokes and helped themselves to a bit of wacky tabacky so to speak. It was a funny trip home.
BG: Have you got another one for us?
MD: I remember I used to borrow the Gaudalupe bus because I had a fair few Indigenous players playing for me when I was coaching Tumbarumba. It usually took us about two hours to get home but this night it took us four. The boys had a few slabs on the bus and were arguing who kicked the best goal that day. Things started to get out of hand and a few of the boys started getting a bit slap happy so we had to pull up. One of the Indigenous boys cracked it and jumped out of the bus and took off into the forest and wouldn't come back. So I drove off and thought he would chase the bus but he didn't. So I pulled the bus up and said to the boys if you see him, let me know where he is. We spotted him, so I went charging off into the bush after him and by this time its about 10pm. So I tackled him and we had to drag him back onto the bus otherwise he would of stayed in the forest for the night.
BG: Did you ever cross paths with the legendary Banjo Pattison during your playing days?
MD: Yeah Banjo and Boola sent me off down at Howlong because some old duck on the boundary line was abusing us players. I turned around and said "shut-up you old cow." Banjo said to me "she might be an old cow but you can't say that to her. Go and have a spell."
BG: How many kangaroos have you killed on your 100s of trips to the Upper Murray.
MD: Only three. One when I was at Cudgewa and the other when I was coming home from Tumbarumba I cleaned up two in one go.
BG: It's fair to say the Upper Murray as a competition is on its knees with a chronic player shortage and lop-sided scores. What's the solution?
MD: I think the competition has been on a downhill slide since 2015 with the standard slipping, the crowds dwindling and it has now reached crisis point. It's a very sensitive situation. I think Border-Walwa are on the record as saying it won't be around next season. Bullioh want out and want to go into the Tallangatta league. I think that's a great idea. Bullioh is the only club viable enough to do it as a stand alone club because of its close proximity to Albury-Wodonga.
BG: What about the remaining clubs?
MD: They should amalgamate and become Upper Murray United and enter the Tallangatta league. I think because of the travel factor, Tumbarumba should explore joining the Farrer league. If the remaining clubs merge, it keeps all of their history that way. I have got no doubt within three years they will be very successful. But they have to do it for next season or all the clubs will be further decimated by players leaving. Football is what binds all these small communities together and if they don't merge they could end up having no football at all.
BG: What's the chances of the clubs merging?
MD: As I said, it's a sensitive issue but clubs have to look at the big picture and not only think of next year but where they want to be in five or 10 years time. I know if two clubs are accepted into the Tallangatta league it will make it a 14-team competition. But who is to say there won't be further mergers in the Tallangatta league in the future and then the league will be grateful that they accepted the Upper Murray clubs.
BG: What would you consider the highlight of your football journey?
MD: Matt Molkentin leading Tumbarumba to back-to-back flags in 2012-13. It meant a helluva lot to me.
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