NEALE McMonigle has no regrets. Although the former Wangaratta Rovers full-forward spent some of the best years of his footballing career in the Ovens and King league, he's more than happy to have played in two premierships at W.J. Findlay Oval. "I don't believe in what ifs," he told The Border Mail's BRETT KOHLHAGEN this week. "I think the Ovens and King helped my football."
BRETT KOHLHAGEN: You played 108 games for Wangaratta Rovers and kicked 377 goals. They are impressive numbers. Almost 'Fev-like'?
NEALE McMONIGLE: I don't think so. I just enjoyed playing with a great bunch of blokes.
BK: In just your fourth senior game for the club as an 18-year-old, you played in the 1978 grand final win over Benalla. How were the nerves?
NM: I can't remember a thing about it to be honest. I remember Darryl Smith speaking before the game and we would have ran through a brick wall that day because everyone was so fired up. I was picked at centre half-forward and they just told me to take my opponent out of the play. I recall running out on the ground but that's about it. The rest of the day escapes me.
BK: I'm told you kicked three and played well?
NM: I honestly can't remember anything about the day. Everything is a blur.
BK: The following year you played some senior and reserve grade football before shocking everyone and going out to North Wangaratta in 1980. Why did you do that and how was the move received?
NM: I just thought I'd try it out there. I enjoyed it. I probably stayed out there for a bit longer than I should have. I was pretty casual I guess.
BK: What got you back in 1985?
NM: I just thought I'd play at a higher level again.
BK: Training wasn't your thing was it? How did you get on with a hard task master like Laurie Burt?
NM: I hated training. I shouldn't say hate because it's probably not the right word. I had to make up a fair few excuses like being held up at work and things like when I wasn't.
BK: How did you get on with Laurie?
NM: He was that far ahead of the pack. He knew more about opposition players than the blokes I was playing on. He had that much information for myself on my opponents it wasn't funny. He was before his time. He was doing stuff then that they are doing now. He was a great coach and I tried to use some of that when I coached myself.
BK: You kicked 98 goals in 1985. Was it disappointing to go so close to cracking the ton?
NM: I've never spoken to anyone about this, but on the Thursday night before the last game while we were having tea I looked up on the honour board and saw Steve Norman's name up there three or so times for kicking 100 goals. I felt I wasn't good enough to have my name up there with his. I just didn't feel comfortable about it. I wouldn't say I didn't try but I looked to give them off whenever I could. I think I kicked four in the last game.
I was lucky I had good coaches who didn't hinder me from going as they knew I would come back. I'd signed a contract where it said I could be released. Sam Perna, Laurie and I had a mutual agreement.
BK: You went back to North Wang in 1987 before Laurie got you back for one last crack in the O and M in 1989
NM: I was lucky I had good coaches who didn't hinder me from going as they knew I would come back. I'd signed a contract where it said I could be released. Sam Perna, Laurie and I had a mutual agreement. People often say I could have played in more premierships had I stayed at Rovers but I'm not really into what ifs. I firmly believe it helped my football playing in the Ovens and King because you had to go and find the football where in the Ovens and Murray it got delivered a lot better.
BK: You played in two Ovens and Murray flags in 1978 and 1991. That's a big gap isn't it?
NM: It certainly is. I was very lucky with injuries and stuff like that
BK: Did you appreciate the second flag more?
NM: Definitely, mainly because I don't have any recollection of the 1978 one. I enjoyed the second one with the boys.
BK: Were you a big stats man when you played?
NM: Not really. Mum and Dad came to the games and Dad would come out at quarter-time and half-time and I'd ask him what I was doing wrong, whether it was leading too early or going to the pocket too much. He was a huge help. I was pretty laid-back.
BK: Was it an easy decision going to Wangaratta Rovers instead of Wangaratta as a kid?
IN OTHER NEWS:
NM: I remember Wang tried to get me as I'd won the junior league best and fairest. Phil Nolan tried to get me. I would have played with Wang but the thing that swayed me was Dad playing 50-odd games at Rovers under Bobby Rose. I thought I should stay there.
BK: Youwere well known for having a bet onSaturday afternoons when you played
NM: A bloke called Jack Prendergast knew I liked a punt. At the breaks he'd come up to me and say something like: 'What'd you back in the sixth at Caulfield, 'Macca'. 'Number 2, Jack. How'd it go?' I'd reply. 'You lucky bugger, it got up by a nose'. Then he'd come back at half-time and ask the same thing and he'd say: 'No good this time Macca, it got beat'.
BK: Did you ask the runner for race results as well?
NM: No, just Jack. He and his wife were terrific around the club. I liked a little flutter, nothing big though.
BK: You also had a habit of leaning against goal posts. What was the go there?
NM: There were two reasons for that. Firstly, it was something to lean against to save some energy and the other was to keep my opponent to one side of my body. I enjoyed a spell against the post.
BK: If you were leading out of the goal square at W.J. Findlay Oval, who would want to have the ball in his hands?
NM: Probably Robbie Walker. I only recently found out how much money Robbie was on a game money-wise. The good thing about Rovers is nobody knew what anyone was getting. He was on five times as much as me and, I thought to myself, that's good as he should have been on 10 times as much. The amount of ground he covered was incredible. He would run himself into the ground.
BK: Toughest opponent?
NM: They were all hard. They made you earn it. It didn't matter if it was Keir (Brett) or Pendergast (Wayne), they were all class footballers. One year we went to Myrtleford and Brendan Breen came to me. I thought this will be alright as I've got six inches of height on him. Well, the ball wasn't even bounced and my jumper was ripped to shreds. So much for the easy day.
BK: I'm told your biggest haul for Rovers was 11
NM: Was it? I wouldn't have a clue. I can't remember that far back. Mum kept a scrap book on my cricket and footy but I've never sat down and gone through it.
BK: Your dad, John, played in two flags at Rovers in 50-odd games. That's a fair strike rate
NM: He doesn't talk much about his footy. He came in from Glenrowan with two other players when Bob Rose was coaching. I was born in 1959 and he worked at Bruck so he had to train a lot by himself.
BK: He wore long sleeves, is that why you did the same?
NM: I liked them because when it was hot you could wipe your brow with your sleeves and when it was wet I could mark the ball better as it wouldn't slip through your arms. I've never really asked Dad if he did it for the same reasons.
BK: A well-known Rovers historian once described you as lackadaisical but magical. Were you as casual when it came to coaching North Wangaratta, King Valley, Glenrowan and Rutherglen-Corowa in the Ovens and King?
IN OTHER SPORTS NEWS:
NM: I modeled myself on Laurie. I tried to be fair and the players' mate to a certain extent but not get too close. I had respect from my coaches and I expected that from my players.
BK: Once you finished up playing at Rovers you went to Rutherglen-Corowa who had just switched from the Coreen to Ovens and King league. How did that go?
NM: It didn't start too well. After the fourth or fifth game we were 1-4 or something like that. I got a call from one of the people who had got me to the club and he told me they were going to drag me before the committee and ask for some answers. I was thankful he gave me the heads-up as they had just come from the Coreen league and were used to winning everything.
BK: How did the meeting go?
NM: They pulled me aside and asked some questions and I tried to explain the players were still getting used to my coaching and how itwas a pretty big step up from the Coreen league. After a while I just said it's my way or the highway which put them on the back foot a bit. I was prepared for the conversation so that helped. We sorted it out and things improved.
BK: You had some real pressure late in the season with Rutherglen-Corowa fighting for a spot in the finals?
NM: We played North Wang in the last game of the season and had to win to make the five. I marked the ball outside 50m on the boundary and the siren went. We were behind by a few points and thankfully I kicked it.
BK: You attracted some interest from North Melbourne as a youngster didn't you?
NM: I think I was 17 or so when they invited me down to the club for a look. I thought about it for a few days but just decided it wasn't for me.
BK: I'm not sure they would have appreciated your goal post antics?
NM: I reckon they would have got that out of me pretty quickly (laughs)
BK: Even though you loved Laurie Burt, you weren't a fan of his Friday night meetings were you?
NM: After work on Fridays we would grab half a dozen bottles and go and play pool until 7pm. Then I'd have to go home and get around to 'Burty's' place for the meeting. I'd always grab some chewy so he didn't smell grog on me. Then when the meeting had finished I'd go home and Denis Sheahan and Barry Sullivan would come around and we'd keep drinking until 11 or 12pm. 'Sully' thought he could drink but he couldn't and he'd walk out with his legs dragging behind him like a shot water hen and Sheahan was just Sheahan. I'd usually get up as crook as a dog on Saturday and go and play footy. The old man always said if you didn't drink before a game you weren't worth two bob.