DURING Myrtleford's years of ups and downs, Michael Quirk has been a constant. Along with a loyal group of Saints, Quirk has weathered the storm and is delighted to see the club back as a force even though the 2020 season was put on ice this week due to coronavirus. He spoke to The Border Mail's BRETT KOHLHAGEN this week.
BRETT KOHLHAGEN: How does a kid from Bright go on to play 172 matches for Myrtleford, win a best and fairest and represent the league four times before coaching at senior and junior level and serving as club president?
MICHAEL QUIRK: I played all my junior football at Bright and had one season in the seniors at 16 under Greg Taylor before coming down to Myrtleford. I always wanted to play Ovens and Murray after starting in the Ovens and King.
BK: It took you a few months to find your way to Myrtleford though didn't it?
MQ: I actually did a pre-season with Wodonga before going to Myrtleford. 'Shocker' Murray rang me up as well as 'Butch' Greenhill, Michael Garvey and David Byatt from Cudgewa. I was coming out of school and looking for an apprenticeship and they said they could get something for me but nothing came through. I was working at Moore Paragon and riding my bike to work in the mornings and night shift and that sort of stuff. Col Trevaskis was coaching at the time. Anyway, Myrtleford got in touch later in the pre-season and found me an apprenticeship and I've been pretty much been here since. I keep in touch with Mick and 'Butch', they are good guys.
BK: How did Wodonga find out about a kid from Bright?
MQ: Apparently a few of the old Wodonga boys were having a beer at the Alpine Hotel in Bright and there was a footy photo of me on the wall. By the sounds of it someone said 'he goes OK' and they followed it up. It was just a random chat.
BK: After a few years at Myrtleford you were picked up by St Kilda?
MQ: I got drafted at the end of 1987 and spent 1988 and half of 1989 down there. Darrel Baldock was coaching at the time with Gary Colling my reserve grade coach.
BK: What went wrong in 1989?
MQ: I ended up walking out as I got a bit disillusioned and lost my love of the game. It was funny as St Kilda would split the firsts and seconds up and you used to change depending on how you were going. The reserve squad would warm up in the car park at Linton Street and then you would jump the fence and train when the seniors finished.
BK: You didn't quite feel part of it then?
MQ: I was young and a bit down. I probably should have worked my way through it and stuck around. Anyway, you live and die by the sword.
BK: How close did you get to cracking a game?
MQ: I kicked four or five in a couple of games but 'Plugger' (Tony Lockett) was at full-forward and I was obviously never going to move him. 'Plugger' broke his ankle in early '89 and I thought I was a chance to go in but they picked Rod Owen which was fair enough because he was a good player. I wasn't knocking down the door for a game.
BK: They were wild days at St Kilda weren't they?
MQ: The disco was always full. I just thought that was how it was back then and didn't think much of it. The first bloke I met at St Kilda was Trevor Barker as when you walked into the changerooms the No.1 locker was closest. He was a superstar and great guy. 'Plugger' used to run the joint though. If you needed socks or shorts you had to line up, but he would just brush the property steward aside and go and get what he wanted.
BK: You then joined Norwood?
MQ: Neil Balme was coaching and I pulled a groin on the first night I trained trying to impress. The SANFL had a lot of good players back then as it was before the Adelaide Crows got going.
BK: You then went back to Myrtleford a few years later and it's fair to say you have been on a roller-coaster ride since
MQ: There have been some pretty tough times but one thing about Myrtleford is that we really enjoy our success when it comes. The club has become resolute and I'm proud of that. What other club deals with floods and fires like we do? When it comes to hard times we lock down and deal with it because it's nothing new to us. I think it's why we enjoy our wins so much.
BK: Talk us through some of the hard times
MQ: The 62 losses in a row was tough for a start, really tough. We used to get to mid-season and there would be eight or 10 players on the track. Our ground was awful back then as well. There was a function one night after a game with Rodney Vincent (comedian) and we had 12 people turn up. You just hang in there and do what you can.
BK: I remember Ian Wales saying it, but Myrtleford has always been prepared to think outside the square hasn't it? Like paying for Brendan Fevola to play against you when he was at Yarrawonga.
MQ: For sure, that was an interesting call by the club (laughs). There was controversy around town about it, but can I say I've never seen a crowd like it at the footy club. He kicked about 10 goals, the car park was full, the club made a lot of money and he stayed back and did a Q and A after the game on the couch. I remember he took off his boots and we raffled them for $800 that night. It was a bit unheard of and controversial at the time but they are the sort of things we try at Myrtleford.
BK: You played with some really good players at Myrtleford didn't you?
MQ: Three of four of them were the heart and soul of the club in my time like Brendan Breen, the Crisp brothers and Dave Mattasoni. 'Mamba' (Mathew Crisp) played centre half-forward but he was crucified because we battled most of the time to get it down there. If we were a good side he would have played 150 games at centre half-back and been a superstar. He was feared throughout the league. 'Breeny' was a beast and so competitive.
BK: A lot of people talk highly of 'Breeny' at McNamara Reserve don't they?
MQ: I remember when Andrew Dale was coaching. Andy would address us and just before we ran out he would say: ''Mullet' (Breen) take the boys into the showers for five minutes'. So we would all go in and he would give us a real fire and brimstone talk. He was incredibly passionate and would just grind away even if we were 10 goals down. He was a ball player but would fly the flag when it was needed.
BK: You played under a lot of coaches. Was there a stand-out?
MQ: In my time I rated Andrew as the best. Tactically he was fantastic and his professionalism and feedback was outstanding. He worked very hard at it. He is the best recruiter I've seen as well. He put the Dawson Simpson package together and has done a lot of work over the years. I can see why he's doing well as a horse trainer because he's very thorough with everything he does. Martin Cross was another good coach.
BK: When Dale stepped down, the club appointed Ken Holmes. That appointment didn't last too long did it?
MQ: Six weeks. I'd missed the previous season through injury and was trying to get back playing. Kenny liked to do things differently like going to the golf club for a run which is something we had done during pre-seasons beforehand. The difference with Ken though was that he would get us running up and down the fairways signing the club song. That's when I thought my time might be up.
BK: He liked a sing along then?
MQ: He did. I think the boys would even be running on the streets and he would wheel them into a pub and they would be signing the song in the bar. It didn't go down too well with everyone (laughs). He was just trying different things though.
BK: You were a big fan of Martin Cross, but not everything he tried worked either did it?
MQ: There was a day down at Wangaratta Rovers when we were getting ready and 'Crossy' sat us down and started to recite a psalm out of the bible. 'Crossy' is a religious man and we loved him but it just didn't work. As soon as he started talking 'Mamba' is kicking the dirt on the clubrooms floor, Simon is looking at the ceiling and 'Breeny' was looking at something else. He was trying to get across a message about how the underdogs were taking on the giants or something like that I think. I think we got a hiding that day.
BK: Bill 'Fox' O'Donohue is another passionate Myrtleford man isn't it?
MQ: We had a big win one day when Andrew was coaching so we went around to his place that night to celebrate. 'Fox' was working in the bottleshop at The Buffalo and really keen to get out of the pub to join us. Anyway, he knocked off and arrived at Andrew's and we could see him through this big sliding glass door. He had two slabs on his shoulders with a huge smile on his face. He started walking towards us and just went bang straight into the glass door. It knocked him on his arse and he dropped the two slabs. 'Fox' was president through some tough times and just loves the club.
BK: Myrtleford has always enjoyed a good footy trip. Tell us about the fundraising idea when John Favier was coaching?
MQ: We were doing it pretty tough when John Favier was coaching. We trained on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights and someone came up the idea to raise some money by having a few beers, barbecue and playing some cards after the Monday night session. For the first few months it was going well with players getting home at 8.30pm or 9pm but then it started to get out of hand.
BK: A few late finishes crept in?
MQ: As the weeks rolled on blokes were getting home at 1am or 2am and crashing cars and driving through fences and things like that. We had to put an end to it as it wasn't the best preparation and things were getting a bit dangerous. If you were there after 10pm the mice would start running around the footy club and players would catch them and put them in the lockers and things like that. They were funny days.
BK: Although wins were had to find when you coached Myrtleford's senior side, you led the club's under-18s into the 2010 grand final
MQ: We were the Alpine Eagles then and had a really good side. Three kids got drafted from that side in Frazer Dale, Jack Crisp and Matt Taberner which is pretty incredible. We lost the grand final to Wodonga Raiders but a lot of good players came through from Myrtleford and Bright that season.
BK: You finished your career at Beechworth with two flags. That was a great way to go out
MQ: I went to Beechwoth as assistant-coach to Mark Perkins in 1999 and took over the next year when Brendan Breen came over. He won back-to-back and went for three in a row but Moyhu got us in the grand final.
BK: Why Beechworth and not home club Bright?
MQ: There was a bit of interest in Bright but one of the attractions at Beechworth was they hadn't won a flag for 20 years. Beechworth always had talent but lacked a bit of discipline from time to time. Andy Carey played in the first premiership and then Justin Carey and Gareth Pritchard came along. It was an enjoyable time in my career.
BK: You were involved in a serious work injury near Bright about 10 years ago weren't you?
MQ: I think it was 2011. I was doing some hand-falling and felled a tree but unfortunately what I didn't realise was another one was resting or feathering in it. It went down fine but the next minute I woke up sitting on the side of a hill with blurred vision. Then I felt something run down the side of my face thinking it was sweat but it was blood.
BK: It sounds like you were very lucky?
MQ: My helmet saved me. I called a bloke on the other side of the hill who was working with me and he took me to hospital. As we were walking I had to stop and catch my breath a few times so I knew something wasn't quite right. I went to Bright and then Wang and they reinflated my lung and I'd fractured my T7 and C6 vertebra. I was ambulanced down to Melbourne and stayed there for a week. I think I was in a brace for six weeks in one spot and three months in another so I was pretty lucky.