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Journalist and country footy author Paul Daffey may have a heavy focus on the Mallee area in his latest book “The Totem Poles of Ouyen United”, but it also contains a visit to the Mid Gippsland Football League.

The following is an edited extract from the book which details part of his Gippsland excursion:

STABLE TALK

The day after enjoying a fine feed in the rooms at the Boolarra footy club on a Thursday night halfway through the 2018 season, I seek to explore the talk around changes to the Mid-Gippsland league. To do so, I drive to Morwell to attend the get together that the Mid-Gippsland league officials enjoy every Friday at the home of the league treasurer, Charlie Cauchi.

Charlie is a boilermaker who played 300 games in the Mid-Gippsland league, mostly at Morwell East, but also at Boolarra. He was a playing-coach at both clubs. He played in two premiership teams with Morwell East, and he won the league best and fairest medal in 1978. For the past thirteen years, from 2005 to 2018, Charlie has been the treasurer of the Mid-Gippsland league.

In the kitchen of his home in a quiet street in suburban Morwell, Charlie Cauchi places a hot serve of party pies on the table while I meet his fellow officials. The men around the table include Stan Kerrigan, Rod Lucas, Laurie Williams and Peter Rennie. Like Charlie, these men are all life members of the Mid-Gippsland league. The other man at the table is Tony Giardina, the Boolarra coach, whom I had met the previous night in the Boolarra rooms.

Stan Kerrigan, the league vice-president, works in operations at the electricity plant. In 1974, when he was thirty-two years of age, Stan and his family emigrated from Northern Ireland because he felt there were more opportunities in Australia. More than forty years later, the edges have been knocked off his Ulster accent, but he still speaks in a way that is uncommon at Australian football clubs.

Stan played soccer on arrival in the Latrobe Valley, but he developed a taste for footy through watching his son David play at Churchill. He became involved at Boolarra, and served as the Demons’ club president for four years. He’s now been a Mid-Gippsland league official for more than a decade.

Rod Lucas is a carpenter who played a few reserves games at Morwell East before moving into administration. He was appointed the club secretary at Morwell East. He’s now been league secretary for twenty-six years. His predecessor, Cliff Greenwood, was the league secretary for twenty-five years. As the men around the table reveal their roles, it becomes clear that stability has been a feature of the league’s administration.

Peter Rennie is a groundsman at Kurnai College in Morwell, but he is better known as the eternal footballer of Gippsland. Peter is slim and wiry, like many footballers who enjoy long careers. Many years ago, I wrote a small profile on him for a book on country footy that I did with the photographer Ian Kenins. Having interviewed Peter by phone, it’s good to meet him in person.

Peter Rennie tells me he has now played 766 games in the Mid-Gippsland league, including 280 senior games, mostly with his original club, Yinnar. After starting with Yinnar in 1966, he played for the Magpies for twenty years. He played for Boolarra for thirty years. He also played at Maryvale and Churchill for a season each, but he regards Boolarra as his home club. He is still on the Demons’ committee. While he’s not on the league committee, he is the Boolarra club delegate, and it would be a rare gathering of Mid-Gippsland officials without his presence. Peter Rennie has been part of the furniture for as long as anyone can remember. At seventy-one years of age, he still puts his footy boots in his bag every Saturday in case the reserves are short.

As the Mid-Gippsland officials dip their party pies into the sauce, they become animated over suggestions of change. While other competitions in Gippsland might well be in turmoil, they see no reason why their competition should be forced to accommodate the problems of others. Charlie Cauchi says the small distance between the Mid-Gippsland clubs is important. The Mid-Gippsland league is a working man’s competition. Players can work on Saturday mornings and still get to their match on time. This might not be possible if the league were expanded to include clubs from the Alberton league, which is based over the hills in South Gippsland.

The most vocal member of the discussion is Tony Giardina, who is not on the league’s executive, but as a life-long Mid-Gippsland man, he is also part of the furniture. The previous evening, in the warm expanses of the rooms at Boolarra, I had found Tony to be a genial man. But here in the confines of Charlie Cauchi’s kitchen he is far more expressive. His main source of frustration is the AFL, which he believes is removed from the people it is meant to serve. It is a refrain I hear from country footy people throughout Victoria, but there is a sharper edge to the frustration of the Mid-Gippsland officials.

Tony Giardina takes me back to the previous night, when we were watching the AFL game between Sydney and Richmond on television in the Boolarra rooms. After every goal, a graphic shot up on to the screen to reveal that a particular sponsor was giving $250 to grassroots football.

“But where?” Tony asks.

“Where in grassroots football?”

Paul Daffey - The Totems of Ouyen United

Paul Daffey is an author, journalist and tour guide. He has a Facebook group called PD Footy (click here to join) where members can keep track of his footy comings and goings. Paul also co-hosts the Country Footy Show on Melbourne Radio Station RSN 927 AM (click here to listen to previous podcasts) and is a regular guest on The Late Show with Kevin Hillier on RSN.

Copies of The Totem Poles of Ouyen United are available to order directly through Paul and cost $30 each plus postage. Anyone interested can contact Paul via email at pauldaffey27@gmail.com. Other country footy books written by Paul such as “Behind The Goals”, ” Local Rites” and “Beyond The Big Sticks” are also available.

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