The Nolan name is well known around the Wangaratta region after Mick Nolan played at Tarrawingee and Rovers before becoming a much-loved premiership ruckman with North Melbourne in 1975. Nolan moved to Queensland to help grow the game in the rugby league-dominated State, where his children were raised, but Danny wanted to play where dad did, so he headed to Rovers as a teenager for the 1997 season. The Border Mail's ANDREW MOIR spoke to him about his time with the Hawks and a grand final run you won't believe.
ANDREW MOIR: You came down to your cousin Mick Wilson's wedding and stayed three years, that's one heck of a party?
DANNY NOLAN: Yeah, just the family connections, it was the old man's original club and having the three cousins (Mick, Joe and Andrew Wilson) there, they were the main reasons.
AM: It was a baptism of fire, you were only 18, just out of school and coming to this super successful club and not long after you arrived the club announced it was broke and couldn't pay the players, what impact did that have on you?
DN: I was probably too young to understand what was going on. The footy was so different to Queensland. The investment and passion in Victoria was another reason that attracted me the most.
AM: You played with some of the club's finest players, but five-time Morris medallist Rob Walker was the standout, what set him apart?
DN: Robbie's work ethic is what he taught me, how hard you had to train to play good footy. He pushed himself harder than anyone, even though he was just so talented, he was amazing with his dedication to training.
AM: Who was the greatest character at the club?
DN: It would have to be Ross Hill, he was comfortably the best character at Rovers. He was the guy who made Thursday night fun and we were enjoying our late teenage years together.
AM: You also played a game for the O and M against Gippsland?
DN: My memory of that game was Bob Craig put me in the midfield and I didn't even play midfield for Rovers at the time and it probably started my passion to be a midfielder. At one stage I looked over to the bench and there was Joey (Wilson), Corey Lambert, basically the star-studded midfielders from the league and for some reason I was in the centre. I think we won by about two points, it was an unbelievable game, it was the highlight of my time in the O and M.
AM: Many of your team-mates still talk about that mark you took in the final quarter, running with the flight of the ball, a la Wayne Carey, Jonathan Brown, Nick Riewoldt.
DN: I remember going back, I thought I was going to die, I thought I was gone, but it stuck.
AM: Just moving to cricket briefly, I heard from a team-mate you took the match-winning catch in a grand final. The story is the opposition team needed about 10 runs from the last over. You were fielding on the square leg boundary and took an absolute screamer, a one-hander, jumping up in the air like a baseballer. The same team-mate said you text every team-mate on the corresponding grand final date every year, true story?
ALSO IN SPORT:
DN: I don't know about every year but I do quite often. I tell them they witnessed one of the best catches in Tarrawingee folklore, it put 'Tarra' on the map I say that catch.
AM: I know you are very proud of your family and links to this region and your dad Mick was an enormously popular figure, how did you get along with your dad?
DN: He ended up being my closest friend (he died in 2008). There weren't too many pats on the back and he made you earn your 'well done's', he certainly never let us get ahead of ourselves and made sure footy was played for the right reasons. We appreciated everyone around the club and all the work that people did for us and how much work goes into it. I think it is when you get older you realise how good he was at relaying that information, you looked up to the type of person he was, not so much the footballer he was.
AM: He was known as a great character, what's a memory you have of dad?
DN: I remember as a kid going to the shops and leaving an hour later. There would be three or four people just wanting to have a chat. I would ask him later, 'who was that'? He'd say he had no idea who it was. Now an AFL player might brush someone they didn't know, but back then it could probably have made that person's day, but that's just who he was.
AM: After leaving Rovers, you went to St Mary's, how did the football differ?
DN: It was just a different culture, the passion of the league and passion of the indigenous players towards their footy was different to anything down here (south). It was bruise-free footy, but so fast. Once they got the ball, their skill level was amazing, they hit you lace out every time and playing full-forward up there, it was great to be on the end of. There were so many talented players and just at an age where they were getting drafted. The history of St Mary's is amazing, the amount of premierships they've won (31). It took me to my third premiership to feel comfortable at the club, so to speak, to be able to walk in with your head held high when there's guys like the Rioli's, the Long's, with eight-plus premierships.
AM: Who was the best player you saw in the Northern Territory?
DN: I know he was probably 35, maybe older, but it was Cyril Rioli's old man, Cyril senior. He was a freak, unbelievable, as good as Robbie (Walker).
AM: What made Cyril senior (a 12-time St Mary's premiership player and AFLNT Team of the Century member) such a good player?
DN: Like his son I guess, one touch below the knees, just didn't break stride
AM: Did you see much of Cyril junior?
DN: He was only a kid, but he was always around the club.
AM: You won four premierships at St Mary's and then moved to Melbourne and played with Northern Football League club Heidelberg for a decade, only retiring in 2013 in your mid-30s, after five flags, you must have felt blessed?
DN: I think I went through 15 grand finals in a row. I went nine out of 10 wins from 2003, I was the luckiest footballer around I think, but then I dropped five in a row.
AM: That is one rollercoaster ride, nine flags in 15 deciders.
DN: I'm comfortable with it, I think I over-achieved.
AM: You're being a bit harsh on yourself, you won five flags and four best and fairests and was recently named at number six in the strong Northern Football League's best 20 players since 2000.
DN: The results helped there, being in so many premierships and good sides. I don't think I was in the top six in our side, let alone the league.
I think I went through 15 grand finals in a row. I went nine out of 10 wins from 2003, I was the luckiest footballer around I think, but then I dropped five in a rowDanny Nolan
AM: You've had some top O and M players at Heidelberg, like Jarrod Hodgkin who won last year's Morris Medal for Wodonga Raiders and multiple Albury premiership player Charles Gaylard.
DN: There's always been a strong Wodonga-Heidelberg connection over the years, Chris Hall was a gun, he was from Wodonga, Matt Seiter was there for a long time and he's another premiership player.
AM: Matt remains one of the Border's great current day characters, what was he like then?
DN: He was a very big character. We got him when he was young and, let's just say, he was hilarious. I don't think any of his stories can be written in the paper. He was a very, very popular boy.
AM: And there's an O and M link this year too in your debt as Heidelberg coach, if you get a start due to COVID-19?
DN: Fletcher Carroll from Albury is there, Joshy Minogue (North Albury), Chaz Sargeant (Lavington), Nick Richards (Wangaratta) are there.
AM: Why did you want to coach?
DN: I would never have thought I would, just due to my employment being a shift worker. I think it's in our blood, the old man was a coach, my brother (Rick) has been a pretty successful coach, so I think I looked at the game in a different way to some players, a lot more tactical and I was a deep thinker in footy. It wasn't something that I was expecting, but I enjoyed the limited role I had there last year and when it was offered to me, I really couldn't let the opportunity slip, it's just a thrill to coach a club I had so much success at, it's a dream come true I guess to coach Heidelberg.
AM: Will you get a season?
DN: I'm hearing different stories every day. I don't know what the feeling is up there, but for the volunteers and club officials it's going to be a lot of hard work for them. The players are all systems go, but obviously administrators will want it for jobs and it keeps kids off the street playing footy, which is important to the community.
AM: And away from footy, you're an aviation firefighter?
DN: Yes, I've been doing it for nearly 20 years. I'm training all the new recruits, there's a lot of training involved and we do a lot of first aid as well, along with other areas.
AM: And I believe when you were in Darwin at the airport in late 2002, you were involved with the survivors from the Bali bombings?
AM: How does a young fellow around only the 30 mark deal when confronted by that frightening and almost hard-to-believe situation?
DN: They all affect you, we've been to car accidents, so it can be daunting, but you work as a team to come to grips with it and there's great support here (in Melbourne). It's a fantastic job, it's like going to work with a lot of your good mates, similar to a footy club I suppose with that team aspect, I love it, it's a great job.