Jason McInnes was a skinny teenager weighing 69kg when his father dropped him off at Martin Park for training the first time after making the trek from Corryong in 1989. McInnes would go on to win the Bulldogs best and fairest in 1994 and boasts an enviable record of four flags from nine grand final appearances. The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE caught up with McInnes during the week.
BRENT GODDE: You were born and raised in Corryong and played all your junior football for the Demons?
JASON McINNES: I made my senior debut as a 17-year-old in 1988 under coach Andy Whitsed and played in the losing grand final that season.
BG: You were only a skinny kid?
JM: Yeah I thought I needed to hit the gym and put on a bit of weight but Whitsed told me not to because I would lose some pace if I bulked up and my speed was one of my biggest assets.
BG: Did you listen to Whitsed's advice?
JM: As I got older other coaches told me to bulk up but I avoided the weights because I agreed with Whitsed and thought I didn't need to.
BG: You finished top-three in the best and fairest in your debut season?
JM: I finished third which gave me a bit of confidence and I decided I wanted to have a crack at the O&M.
BG: No doubt there would have been a bit of travelling involved?
JM: Credit to my dad but he would drive me to Wodonga three times a week. Twice for training and then to play on Saturdays.
BG: You did a pre-season with Wodonga Raiders in 1999 which was their first season in the O&M?
JM: I did all the pre-season and was told I was picked in the seniors for their first practice match. But I had a family commitment where my mother had only just got in contact with her long-lost brother for the first time in a couple of decades after their parents split-up when they were kids. So we flew to Queensland for his daughter's 21st that weekend.
BG: That's fairly understandable?
JM: When I went back to training the following week it was like the playing group didn't want to know me. Dad told me if you are not comfortable you don't have to hang around there, so I decided to head to Wodonga instead.
BG: Why Wodonga?
JM: A lot of the boys I'd grown up with from Corryong and Federal were at Wodonga and dad also knew Ernie Whitehead and 'Butch' Greenhill.
BG: What was it like when you arrived at training at Wodonga?
JM: Dad drove me there and I thought I was at the Black Uhlans clubhouse. Some big bloke on a Harley nearly knocked me over as I was walking through the carpark. I watched him as he walked towards the changerooms and took off his helmet and he had this big bushy beard and a shaved head. I later found out his name was Steve Murphy. I also found out he was a fairly handy ruckman and forward who would go on to win a Morris medal.
BG: You end up spending the season in the thirds and win the best and fairest?
JM: I thought I had a good season and the club asked me if I was right for next year but I was going wherever I could find a job because I had just finished school. The club looked after me and gave me a choice of three apprenticeships.
BG: The following season is 1990 and it's hard to believe the Bloodbath grand final was nearly three decades ago?
JM: I played in the winning reserves grand final and I'll never forget it. Lavington's Barry Wise won us the grand final by king-hitting Richard Bence in the third-quarter and he had to be stretchered off.
BG: That triggered an all-in-brawl?
JM: I remember I was standing near their ruckman Scott Parkhouse when it broke out. Obviously I was outsized so I just grabbed hold of him and tried to wrestle him. Then I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye as one of my teammates came to help me. I was still wrestling with Parkhouse but his body went limp - he was knocked unconscious.
BG: Bence was playing coach of the reserves, what was it like at the three-quarter-time huddle when you were down a couple of goals?
JM: We came into the huddle and didn't have a coach to address the players and everyone was just sort of looking at each other. We had a theme that season about climbing to the top of the mountain. So Vin Glass steps up and says 'We climb no mountain for no bastard, let's go.' Everyone was pumped with adrenaline and we went back to our positions and had to wait while Lavington was still in their huddle.
BG: You run over the top of Lavington?
JM: David Bardy kicked two goals from outside 50m, one on his left and one his right early on in the quarter. That gave us the momentum and as far as momentum swings is one of the biggest I've been part of in a final.
BG: Did you get to see the all-in-brawl between Wodonga and Lavington in the seniors.
JM: I remember I was in the changerooms at Albury Sportsground and having a beer, celebrating our win. Somebody yelled out there is a massive blue happening so we all ran out of the changerooms and I just had a towel wrapped around me with a beer in my hand.
BG: It must have been eye-popping to witness?
JM: You didn't know where to look in case you missed something. Usually with all-in-brawls it is in just one part of the ground but with the Bloodbath there were spot-fires everywhere as blokes went toe-to-toe.
BG: What was it like back at the clubrooms after the match with Wodonga winning both the seniors and the reserves flags.
JM: A lot of blokes had to go to hospital after the match and then discharged themselves because they didn't want to miss the celebrations. I remember there were a couple of blokes who you just couldn't even recognise when they first walked in they were that bad. Bencey walked in and he was still in his dressing gown. Andrew Nicholls was the unlucky bloke standing next to Ray Mack when the fight broke out and he was probably in the worst nick of anyone.
BG: You won the best and fairest in reserves that season?
JM: I played a couple of senior matches in 1990 but Jeff Gieschen told me he wouldn't pick me as a regular senior player until I got to 73kg - I weighed 69kg.
BG: Did you take his advice?
JM: I tried to put weight on but nothing I tried seemed to work at the time. I ended up playing more than 100 senior matches before I finally got to 73kg. I think being a tradesman I was active all the time and kept burning calories.
BG: These days you can't lose weight?
JM: Obviously things have changed and it seems if I eat a celery stick now I put on weight.
BG: By 1992 you had established yourself as a regular senior player and played in a flag under coach Ernie Whitehead?
JM: We had a cracking side and beat Corowa-Rutherglen. Big Murph (Steve) won the Morris medal that year and we had plenty of stars in the side like Mick Garvey, Nev Nugent, Mark Stockdale and Vin Glass.
BG: You are well-known for your nickname 'Sheepy.' How did that come about?
JM: I went to the hairdressers before training one night and she asked me if I wanted my hair permed for a new look. I reluctantly agreed and I rocked-up to training with the new hair do and Michael Garvey and Craig Cleary were roaring laughing and started calling me 'Sheepy' because I was from Corryong and thought I looked like a sheep. It stuck from then on.
BG: In 1993 you narrowly missed winning your first senior best and fairest at the kennel and played in the losing grand final against Wangaratta Rovers?
JM: It was a bit controversial at the time. I got beat by one vote by the last card that was read out at the count. The bloke that got the maximum votes played three-quarters of the match on the bench and won the best and fairest. He came up and apologised to me and told me his father had a vote card that day and had given him maximum votes. I won't name the player but he finished up with a couple of best and fairests at Wodonga and was a ripping player and even better bloke.
BG: You make amends the following season when yourself and Dean Stone tie for the best and fairest but you once again play in a losing grand final against Wangaratta Rovers?
JM: It was good to get my name on the honour roll at the kennel but it hurt losing back-to-back grand finals against Rovers who were a gun side with Robbie Walker at the peak of his powers.
BG: In 1995 you started the season with Wodonga before joining Tuggeranong in the Canberra competition. What led you to that decision?
JM: Ernie Whitehead decided I was a half-back flanker and not a midfielder.
BG: Please explain?
JM: Ernie said give me one game on a half-back flank which I reluctantly did and I played OK.
BG: I can't see the drama in that?
JM: Ernie gave me best on ground when I clearly wasn't and the following week picked me across half-back again.
BG: I can sense a fraction too much friction building?
JM: Your spot on so I thought I would show Ernie who was boss. We run out and I can't stand in the middle because I would give away a free for too many in the square so I trot down to the half-forward line. The runner comes out and says 'I think you are at the wrong end' and I said 'I don't think I am.'
BG: Did Ernie cop his medicine?
JM: No he didn't. Ernie sent the runner out again and said 'if you don't go to the back flank you are coming off.' I said 'Whatever' and stayed where I was.
BG: This is building to a classic stand-off?
JM: The runner comes back out and said 'Ernie wants you off the ground.' Looking back I was a bit young and dumb so I start jogging off the ground, ripped my jumper off and jammed it at the coaches box and headed straight for the shower. I was sucking on tinnies with the rest of the reserves players before half-time.
BG: What was the fallout?
JM: The short version is two weeks later I was playing in Canberra.
BG: How did you enjoy the change of scenery?
JM: I played one match for Tuggeranong and the following week I was picked in the state squad.
BG: That's an impressive effort?
JM: We flew over to Darwin to play and I did my ankle in the first five minutes.
BG: Did you have AFL ambitions at the time?
JM: Essendon were interested in drafting me. In 1994 I played a handful of matches in the reserves on permit after having a few training runs with the Bombers over the pre-season and played in a practice match against Port Adelaide in Adelaide.
BG: I heard you didn't last long in the practice match against Port Adelaide?
JM: I went to tackle Josh Francou and he got me with his elbow and it was lights out for me.
BG: You didn't last long in Canberra?
JM: After I did my ankle in Darwin the medical staff thought it was a six to eight week injury. Tuggeranong also promised me a job and hadn't delivered so I came back to Wodonga.
BG: Ernie was happy to have you back?
JM: Yeah I was straight back in the seniors. I think I only missed one match while Ernie was coach.
BG: I'm guessing it was for off-field discretion?
JM: I had my cousins deb ball at Corryong on the Friday night and told the club so they said we won't pick you and we will put it in Friday's paper with the team selection you have done your ankle which was fine by me.
BG: So you wanted to have a few beers at the deb then?
JM: A few of the old blokes at Corryong at the deb ball who knew me had seen in the paper I wasn't picked because of my ankle. The only problem was after a few beers at the deb I hit the dance floor and it soon become evident there was nothing wrong with my ankle.
BG: You also had a stint with West Brisbane in 1996 in the QAFL?
JM: I had a terrible first three-quarters of a season there trying to adjust to the different style but averaged 40 possessions over the three finals.
BG: You were lucky to play in the grand final that year when you wrote you car off the morning after the preliminary final?
JM: I was driving through Paddington and was checking out some chick who was walking on the footpath and ended up crashing into the rear end of another car because I wasn't concentrating. I was also over the limit at the time.
BG: Did you get pinged for it?
JM: Luckily for me one of the boys at the club was a copper, so I gave him a call and there were no charges pressed.
BG: You won the flag that season with Corey Lambert one of your teammates?
JM: I played on Gilbert McAdam in the decider and I ended up with 42 possessions. Lambert got best on ground and won $2000. During the celebrations Lambert said whoever is still partying on Wednesday, I will shout them a tattoo.
BG: I'm guessing you would have lasted the distance?
JM: There was six of us still going and true to his word Lambert shouted us a tattoo of a Bulldog which was the club emblem.
BG: West Brisbane folded the next season so you head back to the Border?
JM: Ernie was coaching North Albury in 1997 and was the first one to contact me about playing for the Hoppers. I spoke to Lavington and Wodonga as well but decided to head to Bunton Park because my cousin Darren McInnes was fitness adviser at the club.
BG: You were instrumental in getting Corey Lambert to the Hoppers in 1999?
JM: Lambert was playing over in Adelaide and we got talking and one thing lead to another and he also signed at Bunton Park and we won the flag that season.
BG: In 2001 you decide to head bush and play for Jindera and finish runner-up in the best and fairest despite playing on 10 matches?
JM: I was good mates with Joel Styles who was coaching and he lured me out there. I missed a lot of football with a cyst on my knee.
BG: The following year you are back at North Albury and win another flag with Lambert as coach?
JM: We had some stars that season in Lambert, Simon McCormick, Travis Hodgson, Brent Piltz, Mark Bush and Mark Hilton.
BG: You didn't mind being a prankster in your playing days. I heard you got Clint "Blinky" Eckhardt a good stich-up during the celebrations.
JM: Yeah we nicknamed him "Blinky" because he was always falling asleep. Anyhow I saw him slip into the change rooms to go to sleep in the coaches room. He was lying on his back asleep so we got a heap of tape and taped him from head to toe to the floor so he couldn't move. He later told us he thought he was paralysed when he first woke up because he couldn't move his body at all.
BG: In 2003 you head bush again, this time for Yackandandah?
JM: Norm Ritchie was coach who I played with at Wodonga and I was his assistant. I only played two matches because of bone spurs and I helped coach from the sidelines but my playing days were over. I think I was 35 so I can't complain.