PETER TOSSOL rates himself a better footballer than cricketer but that's debatable considering his list of achievements in both his sporting passions. Tossol played 17 matches at the elite level for Melbourne before enjoying a highly decorated O&M career as both a player and a coach. The O&M Hall of Famer caught up with the Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: As a teenager you attended Assumption College and Simon O'Donnell and yourself felt the wrath of one of the Brothers after getting pinged playing cricket in the dorm?
PETER TOSSOL: Simon was bowling to me and we thought it was a bit of harmless fun but the Brother who caught us wasn't impressed.
BG: What was your punishment?
PT: You wouldn't get away with it these days but he took us into his office and gave us both a couple of whacks over the backside with the cricket bat. He also confiscated the bat for the rest of the term. The only problem with that was it wasn't my bat and was one of my school mates.
BG: You were talented enough to be named in Assumption College's 'Cricketers of the Century' side. There are more than a couple of handy footballers in the side including O'Donnell, Neale Daniher, Peter Crimmins, Steve Gemmill, Jon Henry and Jamie Sheahan?
PT: It was a huge honour and a cracking night which was held at the Crown Palladium where the Brownlow is also staged.
BG: You boast an outstanding cricket career but the highlight must be playing against the West Indies at Wangaratta in 1985 when representing the Vic Country XI. But the lowlight was suffering a broken hand after copping a nasty delivery from Courtney Walsh?
PT: The batting gloves I was wearing didn't offer much protection and I tried to defend a short-pitched delivery which struck me on the hand. I went to the doctor the next day and X-rays revealed a fracture.
BG: Did any other of the great West Indian fast bowlers play?
PT: Malcolm Marshall, Winston Davis and Joel Garner also played.
BG: You made an unbeaten 69?
PT: I'm quick to tell people that but to be honest, the opposition wasn't fair dinkum that day. It was a stinking hot day and Marshall and Garner were only bowling off a few steps. Walsh and Davis had a crack though because they were still coming through the ranks and trying to establish themselves.
BG: You also represented the Australian Country XI?
PT: We played NSW in a one-day match and won which was a huge thrill.
BG: Also being a talented footballer, you were forced to decide which sporting passion you would pursue as a teenager?
PT: I loved both sports but chose football simply because it provides you with more opportunities to play at the elite level. I also rated myself as a better football player than cricketer.
BG: It proved to be a smart decision because you were drafted by Melbourne in 1982 and played 17 matches in three seasons under coach Ron Barassi?
PT: Barassi was coach and 'Slug' Jordan coached the reserves who were both tough taskmasters but good for my development.
BG: You booted two goals with your first two kicks on debut for the Demons against Richmond?
PT: It was a bit of a dream debut to get a few touches early. Mick Malthouse was my opponent.
BG: Demon full-forward Mark 'Jacko' Jackson wasn't too impressed with you sneaking into the forward 50m?
PT: 'Jacko' owned the forward 50m and after I kicked my first goal, instead of congratulating me, reminded me to keep out of his space. Not long after I kicked my second goal and am on pretty good terms with myself as I was running back to the half-forward flank and I hear 'Jacko' yelling at me, 'I won't tell you a third time, get out of my space.'
BG: You played five senior matches in your debut season and won the reserves goal-kicking?
PT: I was still developing as a player but it was good for the confidence to still be able to play a handful of senior matches.
BG: You went on the Demons end of season trip to the USA that year?
PT: The group did a lot of fundraising throughout the year but we were $10,000 short of being able to fund the trip. So the club said it would chip in the $10,000 if we beat Sydney in the final round. Luckily enough we got the win. It was a mind-blowing experience for a country kid going to places like Hawaai and Los Angeles.
BG: You played in the Demons' reserve flag in 1984?
PT: I played in the under-19s flag in 1981 and to play in two grand finals on the MCG was a huge thrill.
BG: You were delisted at the end of 1984. How do you look back at your time at the elite level?
PT: I don't think I got the best out of myself during my time at Melbourne. I probably lacked the mental toughness and was just satisfied to be able to play a few senior matches instead of making the most of my opportunity.
BG: The following season in 1985 you joined Wangaratta Rovers?
PT: As a kid growing up during the 70s, I would always watch the footy scoreboard every Saturday night and I had a favourite team in every competition. Rovers were my favourite in the O&M and it seemed like they won every week because they won seven flags from nine grand final appearances during that era. John Welch also had a bit to do with me arriving at Rovers.
BG: You added to your highlight reel when you unleashed a 60m torpedo which sailed through for a goal in your first match in the brown and gold?
PT: I didn't set the world on fire that day and I remember it was a fairly tough contest against North Albury who made you earn every kick.
BG: You have always been a big advocate of interleague football and represented the league in your first season under coach John Byrne?
PT: We won the Winfield Championships as it was called back then against Ballarat at Wangaratta. I was really passionate about interleague and enjoyed getting to know the blokes from other sides who you usually play against.
BG: You were forced to miss the following season in 1986 after you injured your knee in the final round?
PT: We went on to play in the preliminary final in 1985, so it was tough watching from the sidelines.
BG: In 1988 you drop a bombshell and return to home club Alexandra?
PT: To be honest, it is a bit of a regret because Rovers won the flag that season. I also played in a flag with Alexandra but I would have preferred to be at Rovers. My brother John was coach of Alexandra at the time which led to my decision.
BG: You return to the W.J. Findlay Oval the following season in 1989 and form part of the nucleus of the club's next golden era alongside Robbie Walker, Mick Caruso, Anthony Pasquali and the Wilson brothers?
PT: We had some unbelievable talent in the side and I was lucky enough to be at the club at the right time. We were an ultra competitive group and had a terrific coach in Laurie Burt.
BG: What do you think was the key to Rovers' success after you won flags in 1991 and again in 1993-94?
PT: I think we just had a group who were all like minded and set really high standards and kept trying to raise the bar with how hard we would work for each other and train.
BG: You had a fair gap on the rest of the competition, winning the three grand finals by margins of 69, 40 and 59 points?
PT: I think one season we went through undefeated and our average winning margin was something like 72 points.
BG: Burt decided that you would have an intra-club match one year before the second semi-final when you finished minor premiers?
PT: It was back when Benalla was still in the competition which created a bye. We had the bye in the final round so Burt decided to have an intra-club match because he didn't want us to have two weeks off in a row.
BG: Don't tell me somebody has cleaned up Robbie Walker?
PT: Andrew 'Waldo' Wilson had a bit of white-line fever and started pushing and shoving his teammate who he was playing on. All of a sudden his brother Mick comes flying in and belts his own brother. It was a bit of an eye-opener watching it all unfold.
BG: Burt was a big advocate for training on most Sunday mornings?
PT: As a playing group we despised it and quite a few of the blokes hadn't been home on the Saturday night and would rock up to training from the night club. 'Waldo' used to walk in with his footy bag and hadn't long left Pinky's. Nobody felt like training which used to rile Burt who could get angry.
BG: Did Burt get flustered much as a coach?
PT: Not really but he did one day in a second semi-final against Wodonga at Myrtleford. 'Boxer' McGhee dominated for the Bulldogs and they were eight goals to one up at the first change. We ended up winning by three or four goals but it was one of the few times I saw Burt lose his cool.
BG: You finished runner-up in the best and fairest during that golden era on four occasions. I'm guessing Walker beat you in all four?
PT: From memory I think I finished runner-up behind Robbie twice and Mark Booth and Mick Caruso on the other two occasions.
BG: Amazingly Walker won the best and fairest a dozen times in 13 seasons. How highly do you rate him?
PT: Champion is a term that is used quite loosely these days but there is no other way to describe Walker. If you got to see how he prepared you would soon realise why he was the dominant player of his era.
BG: You were gobsmacked how much food Walker would eat the night before a match?
PT: His theory was you needed to have plenty of fuel in the tank for match-day. Walker would eat copious amounts of food the night before and it was a real eye-opener.
BG: Some of the biggest highlights of your career involved inter-league including coaching the O&M to the country title and captaining the VCFL side on three occasions?
PT: I was a bit frustrated by interleague at the time in that the league was failing to attract the best players it could. So I decided to put my hand up to coach and do something about it.
BG: How did you turn things around?
PT: I was heavily vested in it and I spent a lot of time getting the necessary support structures in place. I was inexperienced in regards to coaching at the time but the league knew I was committed to the cause.
BG: You were able to get the competition's elite players passionate again about representing the league?
PT: I was lucky that blokes like Bernard Toohey played where he could have taken the easy option and said he was interested in playing.
BG: Bob Craig also played a huge role in turning around the league's fortunes?
PT: Bob was an assistant coach and selector before going on to be coach of the side. Paul Spargo was coach as well one year and was really committed to the cause as well. The league had a period there where it basically dominated for almost a decade which I'm really proud to have been a part of.
BG: A lot of people expected you to be the successor to Burt as coach but you dropped a bombshell when you signed as coach of Corowa-Rutherglen in 1999?
PT: I felt with Rovers being my home club, I had concerns surrounding coaching blokes that I had previously played with. I just thought I needed a fresh challenge and Corowa wasn't far to travel. As a coach I also prefer to build success rather than just sign with a club that is in the premiership window.
BG: What appealed to you most about the Corowa position at the time?
PT: Just the fact that they hadn't had a lot of success and were hungry to turn things around.
BG: It was a bit of an eye-opener for you when you first arrived at John Foord Oval?
PT: Just the laid back attitude and the intensity at training and the willingness to train hard was lacking and something that I had to work hard on to turn around. For example players used to treat Tuesday night as a rehab session instead of it being the main session for the week. That really used to grind my gears.
BG: The club boasted the nucleus of a premiership winning side.
PT: There was some talent including Beau Longmire, Darryl Spencer, Brendan Eyers, Mark O'Donoghue and 'Rocket' Lane who were also really tough players. I probably underestimated just how good they were at the time.
BG: You had a lot of support from club officials including president Rod Campbell and Brian Houlihan?
PT: Rod was a terrific president and I would literally talk to him every day while I was coach. Brian was just a master recruiter and landed a stack of young players that went on to be stars of the competition including Marc Harrap, David Willett, Glenn Joyce and Ben Parker.
BG: You didn't rate Carl 'Ocker' Dickins as a player during your time at Wangaratta Rovers?
PT: When I first arrived at Corowa all the committee were telling me that 'Ocker' could be leaving and to make it a priority to re-sign him. But I didn't think he would be that big a loss. I admit now that I was wrong. The first practice match he played that season he won me over straight away. 'Ocker' was a seriously talented player and although he was a rebel, he was one of the first players I picked each week.
BG: 'Ocker' was notorious for turning up late to team meetings?
PT: I remember one time we were playing North Albury and it was a huge match in the context of our season. I used to get wound up before matches and was really intense as a coach. 'Ocker' wasn't there on time and that really pissed me off.
BG: Did he at least turn up to the meeting?
PT: We were about half-way through the meeting and in walks 'Ocker' with a bucket of chips and a cup of coffee. I suspect he was just seeing how far he could push me before I finally snapped. It would have been easy to fly off the handle but somehow I stayed composed.
BG: You rate 'Ocker' highly for his courage?
PT: He is one of the most inspirational players I have seen in the competition. Some of the things he used to do were ridiculously courageous.
BG: Ruckman Brendan Eyers and 'Ocker' were like Batman and Robin for the Roos?
PT: The pair just seemed to have an amazing chemistry, Eyers was a talented tap ruckman and 'Ocker' used to dine out on the silver service he delivered. I saw the pair put on a clinic dozens of times.
BG: Big Richard 'Wig' Ambrose also used to rock up late to team meetings?
PT: 'Wig' used to travel, so every home match he would call in and see his grandmother who lived in Corowa for a cup of tea and some fruit cake. He would then be late for the team meeting and just casually say 'Sorry Toss, I was at my grandma's.'
BG: You heard a few unusual excuses from players for missing matches during your time at Corowa?
PT: The best one was probably from 'Wig' when he couldn't play one week because he had to attend a climate change conference.
BG: Any others?
PT: Charlie Cay would have to have the record for the most excuses from one player. One time he couldn't play because he had to attend a bull sale, another time he had a mouse plague. Then one Friday morning it was foggy so he couldn't drive his tractor and had to miss playing on Saturday because he had to finish the job.
BG: What was it like to coach Damian Houlihan?
PT: Damian was a different cat but I have got a lot of time for him. His preparation was different and you had to manage him and it's fair to say he wasn't a big fan of training. A lot of the time he would just train on a Thursday night.
BG: His exploits in the 2000 grand final when he booted 10 goals is one of the most dominant performances seen in a decider?
PT: I remember he was telling a few of his mates before the match 'I'm going to kick 10 goals and put on a show for you.' The thing is he was fair dinkum and wasn't mucking around.
BG: The grand final winning margin was 108-points and a record at the time. You couldn't have predicted that?
PT: We knew we had the best side and were flying at the time. We beat Albury in the second semi-final by 90 points and had some amazing support from the community. So we had the momentum and hunger and probably couldn't have executed any better on the big stage.
BG: You were contemplating dropping John 'Juice' Kingston before the grand final?
PT: David Willet missed the second semi-final through suspension and was coming back into the side so somebody had to be dropped.
BG: Wasn't 'Juice' one of the most popular players in the side?
PT: That was my dilemma because I knew if I made the tough call there would be a huge fallout from the playing group even though 'Juice' was probably not in the best form at the time.
BG: So you didn't drop him?
PT: I had a few sleepless nights but came to the conclusion that I couldn't drop him but I still didn't know who else to drop.
BG: Who was the unlucky player to miss out?
PT: I was on the way to training on the Thursday night and I still didn't know what I was going to do. Luckily I got a phone call from Ben Parker on the way to training and he ruled himself out with an injury he copped in the second semi-final. It was music to my ears.
BG: 'Juice' sensed he was a chance to get dropped?
PT: I remember every training session after the second semi-final 'Juice' was in front of me all the time and was like a serial pest. I think he knew he was in the firing line and was just trying to win me over by being in my sight as often as he could.
BG: Sam Carpenter is another inspiring story at John Foord Oval?
PT: Sam in one of the most inspirational players I had the fortune of coaching. I was in awe of the way he went about his football and was constantly telling people around me 'did you see that?' about some of the inspirational acts Sam did on the field. His teammates just loved him and he was a seriously good player who I loved coaching. I don't think I have ever coached a bloke who tried harder than Sam.
BG: You were involved in a bizarre incident one day when you dragged Beau Longmire out the front of the playing group at half-time and made him lay on the ground, pull his jumper up and proceeded to bounce the ball into his stomach several times?
PT: Laurie Burt did something similar to Mick Wilson one day and I thought I would give it a try. In my defence I didn't do it anywhere near as hard on Beau as Laurie did on Mick. I'm surprised Laurie didn't break Mick's ribs. The message I was trying to get through to the playing group was 'have you had enough?' It probably didn't work at the time and I never did anything similar after that.
BG: Some good judges rate the 2000 premiership side among the greatest in league history. Is that a fair assessment?
PT: It was a seriously talented side. I rate the Rovers side of 1994 right up there as well.
BG: In 2003 you masterminded a stunning turnaround when you scraped into the top-five and are one of the few sides in league history to win the flag from the elimination final?
PT: It was frustrating in that I knew we had the talent to be a genuine contender but we were performing below expectations, especially early in the season.
BG: What sparked the turnaround?
PT: I was at my wits end trying to get the side to perform and I decided to give Peter Chisnall a call. Peter spoke to the players for about an hour one night and was really passionate and sent a strong message to the group. We beat Wangaratta Rovers that weekend and never looked back after that and only lost one match for the rest of the season after losing five or six in the first round.
BG: You despised rival supporters telling you that Corowa was their second favourite team?
PT: I did. People only used to say that because they would always beat Corowa and they weren't a threat. That was my message to Corowa when I first arrived at the club.
BG: You returned to the W.J. Findlay Oval in 2004 as coach but departed after only one season at the helm?
PT: It just didn't pan out how I had hoped. It wasn't through the lack of support that I received from the club but I just knew it was best if I moved on.
BG: You have a reputation as a straight-shooter and have never been afraid to be outspoken on the big issues in the O&M?
PT: I call it how I see it but have been outspoken on administrative issues in the past. But I feel the league is in really good hands at the moment.
BG: You were passionate about the introduction of the player points system?
PT: It was an issue that I felt strongly about. You could just see the crowds and volunteers not supporting their clubs because of the lop-sided nature of the competition. I fear where the competition would have headed if they didn't introduce the points system.
BG: It's fair to say that you ruffled more than a few feathers with several O&M board members?
PT: I have but I don't take pot shots behind peoples backs and tell them what I'm thinking straight to their face. People sometimes mistake what I'm saying is personal but it's not, I'm just being honest.