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FeatureSport

Better than a briquette.

We asked writer Shane Reid to create a dream team of the greatest Gippsland footy players of all time. Who'd make your list?

May 18, 2023


Words: Shane Reid

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There’s something powerful about the word “ours”. I feel a sense of local pride when some poor forsaken soul who has to endure a life in Melbourne, Sydney or the French Riviera waxes bold about the beauty of our region.

Our pride is tribal. It speaks to an “us”.

In 1993, our Gippsland Power joined the nascent Victorian Under 18 Football League, then known as the TAC Cup. Over the last 30 years, many of our boys have used their time at the Power as a springboard into the AFL. The good people at Gippslandia have invited me to create a first 18 team based on these last 30 years and prior. Imagine this Power team of my making taking to a field of dreams together as one. Could the old Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy or Richmond create a team that bests it? How would other regional districts in the state go – Ballarat? Bendigo? Unapologetically biased, I think our boys here would take some beating.

“Unapologetically biased, I think our boys here would take some beating.”

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Putting together a team like this is a hubristic exercise that is a recipe for raised eyebrows. People either love or loathe these types of circular ‘Greatest Of All Time’ (GOAT) discussions. Who is the best of Nadal, Djokovic or Federer? How do you compare their deeds to Laver’s historic ones? What of Borg, whose premature retirement means his greatness will always be seen through the lens of what could have been?

I started my planning with some social media research, asking on a Gippsland Facebook page for names worthy of inclusion. The page was so overwhelmed with nominations that it automatically closed down responses after a day. The parochial pride of residents from places like Fish Creek, Lucknow, Yinnar and Bairnsdale became feverish as they extolled the virtues of their town’s favourite sons.

A lot of my selections are gut feels.

There are Brownlow, Coleman and Norm Smith medallists as well as one Gary Ablett Snr, perhaps football’s individual GOAT. Despite some impressive resumés, this was not a statistical exercise, but an aesthetic or poetic one. I want to watch a team with Barry Round as captain, taking the centre bounce and finding Scott Pendlebury, who delivers it laces out to the princely Bernie ‘Superboot’ Quinlan, whose 70m drop-punt soars through the goals.

Some of these players are widely associated with our region – there’s a Roughead Street in Leongatha, and up until very recently, when the business was sold to Brown and Wigg, one could purchase their livestock needs from Jack Scott and Sons. There are also some whose Gippsland connection is lesser known. Queensland champion Michael Voss was born in Traralgon and lived his early years in Orbost. The first-ever Brownlow Medallist in 1926, Carji Greeves, came from Warragul.

My selection methodology has faults. There is clearly recency bias, probably a slight preference for players with Latrobe Valley connections and deferential respect to any player whose name and deeds have echoed for generations after they played – like Greeves and Phonse Kyne. Darren ‘Doc’ Wheildon and Alex Ruscuklic may not have earned a spot were it not for my personal penchant for Fitzroy. Stratford’s Bill Young was my dad’s childhood hero – that’s reason enough for me to find a spot for him. Paul Dear on the bench and his brother Greg not getting a run doesn’t make a lot of sense. Can I plead ‘team balance’ on that call?

It’s worth doing some research on the names you know and the names you’ve never heard of. There are a couple of players listed who are perhaps there to fill a spot, or based on future promise, not to mention some champion utilities playing out of position.

Roll your eyes at my choices, scratch your head in wonder. Maybe even come up with your own team!

There are some incredible stories here. Champions all.
FB: Gary Ayres (Hawthorn), Rick Kennedy (Footscray), Bob Murphy (Western Bulldogs)

HB: Michael Tuck (Hawthorn), Neil Cordy (Footscray/Sydney), Brendon Goddard (St Kilda/ Essendon)

C: Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood), Brian Royal (Footscray), Dyson Heppell (Essendon)

HF:
Jarryd Roughead (Hawthorn), Bernie Quinlan (Footscray/Fitzroy), Gary Ablett (Hawthorn/Geelong)

F: Bill Young (St Kilda), Kelvin Templeton (Footscray/ Melbourne), Darren Wheildon (Fitzroy)

Foll: Barry Round (Footscray/ Sydney), Michael Voss (Brisbane), Carji Greeves (Geelong)

Interchange: Jack Scott (Richmond), Alex Ruscuklic (Fitzroy/Carlton), Ben McKay (North Melbourne), Paul Dear (Hawthorn), Daisy Thomas (Collingwood/Carlton)

Coach: Phonse Kyne (Collingwood)

Gippslandia - Issue No. 26

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