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Graham Willey - My Redan Story


September 2016


Where did you grow up and what are some of your earliest football memories and highlights of your junior career?


I grew up in Hawkesdale in the Western District of Victoria.


I played football at the State School, boarded in Warrnambool and went to the high school for three years but have no recollection of football there.


My parents then moved to the outskirts of Melbourne. I boarded at Scotch College for five years to 1952. The House Master (also the football coach) had a big influence on my personal development while there.


Apart from being Captain of Football in 1951 and 1952, I was able to play in most of the school sports.


Who or what was it that attracted you to join Redan in 1953 and what are your recollections of the club in the early 1950s?


I was introduced to Keith Rawle, at his home, while attending the Ballarat School of Mines in 1953 to 1955.


I was impressed by his manner, and came to appreciate his coaching methods, which was unlike some of the 'screeching' I had heard from other football coaches.


His outlook, I thought was reflected on how most of the Redan members acted and played. I also played Cricket with him.


Following the undefeated season in 1952, the side finished minor premiers only to lose the Grand Final to Golden Point by 35 points. What are your memories of the Grand Final itself where you were named Redan's best player kicking three goals?


I have no recollection of the 1953 Grand Final but can remember a losing semi final against Geelong West.


Bomber Wells kicked 116 goals that season, a club record. What can you tell us about him as a player and the way you worked together in the forward line?


Bomber was a very good goal sneak and an accurate kick. I believe he and I had an unspoken agreement that I would try to deliver the ball to whoever I thought was in the best position to score.


The side took on Essendon at St Pat’s Oval in 1953 and you were named Redan’s best player. Who was your opponent and what do you remember of that game?


I have no memory of this game.


Share with us your memories of Keith Rawle the coach and player.


As far as I am concerned, I could not have had a more understanding person as a friend and football coach. As a player he would be one of the best in the teams that I had played in.


What can you recall of his game plan, coaching methods and favourite sayings?


I don't recall any of his favourite sayings, but as far as his coaching methods, they suited me.


Who were the best five players you played with at Redan and you could give a brief

description on each?


Keith Rawle - As above, and always had an encouraging and meaningful word under all playing conditions.


Bill Ebery - strong player, cool, calm and collected.


Denis Lyons - remarkable for his ball getting, as well as looking after his opponent.


J.Ritchie - reliable, played well and centre half back.


Frank Murphy - seem to control his back flank, regardless of the team's position.


Who was your toughest opponent in the BFL?


Vic Chanter at Maryborough was a big guy who used his weight.


In three seasons with Redan you won two Dalton-Bayly medals, the 1955 Henderson Medal and would in years to come feature in the Redan Team of the Century. Where do you rate those three seasons against the rest of your playing career?


Probably the most enjoyable games regardless of my form, because of the approach and help from the team as a whole.


Winning the Henderson Medal came as a surprise. I expected one the Ballarat players to win but in the end there were two Ballarat players who finished second and third who took votes off each other. 


Very lucky and honoured to be part of the Redan Team of the Century (Graham was named the forward pocket). I played mainly in the forward line and ruck and the forward pocket towards the end of my time with the club. I attended the dinner for the announcement of the team at North Ballarat.


What role did Keith Rawle (if any) play in getting you to play with Essendon?


Apart from introducing me to the people at Essendon, Rawle described the club as a good place to play football.


What can you tell us about playing under the great Dick Reynolds with Essendon during 1956 and 1957?


I found Dick Reynolds approach to people and football very similar to Rawle's. The fact that I might not be available sometime in the future, did not seem to interfere with my training on and off the field, or upset the management at Essendon.


What do you remember of your first game with Essendon and what were some of the main highlights of your first season in which you topped the club goal kicking with 33 majors?


My first game at Essendon was on permit in 1955.


There were a few situations which have stuck in my mind. My first touch of the football in the game, I dropped the easiest of marks without any opposition and the ball went out of bounds.


Later in the game I took a contested mark in front of the goals, and the Collingwood captain screamed at his players for not spoiling the mark. I was so amazed at the carry on, it momentarily took my mind of the football and result in my kicking a point.


At the end of the game, before most of the players had left the field I was inundated with a crowd wanting my autograph. The highlight of 1956 was my topping Essendon's goal kicking.


Who were the toughest opponents you faced during your 17 games with Essendon and the best player you shared a field with?


I think it would have been North Melbourne as the toughest side and the St Kilda Full back (Keith Drinan?) the toughest opponent.  Geoff Leek, Reg Burgess and Jack Clarke were probably some of the most outstanding Essendon players while I was there.


What are your memories of playing matches at Windy Hill?


In those days training was only twice a week and the game on Saturday made my football as exciting as I could wish for. Even so my stay at Essendon was a full time occupation.


I lived with the Essendon Social Club manager's family, and Howard Okey from the football club found me a fill in job with a Small Goods company, owned by one of the board members so there was no trouble getting to training as required.


I recall kicking four goals against Henderson from Footscray at Windy Hill and think it was the same day I won a shirt for the best player. It was from a shop near Flinders Street Station.


Do you recall any talk of John Coleman making a comeback during your time with Essendon and did you see him play in the handful of scratch matches he played in following his VFL career?


I have a recollection of him training to check out injuries, but no word of him playing. I used to stay at Coleman's hotel a few times in the early stages of training and also after I went to Broken Hill.


Tell us about some of the champion players you played alongside such a Bill Hutchinson who was coming towards the end of a stellar career? Which player did you feel provided the best delivery into the forward line?


Jack Clarke and Bill Hutchinson were two of the best to deliver the ball into the forward line.


In Dan Eddy’s ‘King Richard’ it says you moved to Broken Hill following your time at Essendon looking to establish a career in the mining industry. What was it like playing and working in Broken Hill during this time? 


Once again football was a game I loved to play, so Broken Hill was no exception. However, training was less demanding and the hard grounds played a large part in reducing my fitness. Working at the North Mine was for me all important.


You coached South Broken Hill to a Premiership in 1962, tell us about that experience and whether you were still playing at this stage?


Very pleased with the result and to watch, but I did not play in the game. 


How would you describe yourself as a footballer and which position did you feel you played your best football?


Early in my football, Centre Half Back felt like home. Later I believe Centre Half Forward was my best football. Biggest problem was poor kicking for goal. My first game in Broken Hill I kicked 9 points before scoring a goal.


Have you had an involvement with football following your time at Broken Hill?


I joined the past players at Essendon with very little activity as my work required a great deal of travel.


What did you make of Redan’s plight during the 1990s and subsequent turnaround and have you been fortunate to witness any of the premierships during the 1970s or 2000s?


I heard Redan was having a problem but was not aware of what. I wasn't living in Ballarat during these times so didn't see these Grand Finals.


Where are you living these days and which of your Redan teammates have you had the most contact with over the years?


I lived in country Victoria for a period of time before moving to Geelong and Drysdale for the past ten or so years.


I've had a bit to do with Frank Murphy over the years through tennis and some trips up to the Murray River.


Graham attended a 1952 re-union in 2016 at The Den.


What advice do you have for the boys and girls starting their football and netball careers with Redan?


Never forget that it is a game. Always aim to be the best and fairest in your sport, and keep in mind that being well trained will show up in your match play; particularly if you want to make your sport your life's work.

Best player against Essendon at St Pat's oval in 1953

2016 Re-union of 1952 side at the Den.

Keith Rawle addresses the side

Left with Essendon Coach Dick Reynolds

BFL Inter-league side

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