Maher Cup Book Draft 1959-71

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This final section of the Maher Cup book is currently the most incomplete. It is also the era for which many people aged in their seventies onwards will have recollections of specific matches and events. In posting this draft I hope it may prompt memories to flow and for me to receive further contributions. I would love more information to make the description more complete and accurate. It would also be wonderful to identify original photographs people may have and be willing to share, that would add life to the text.

Neil Pollock
9 November 2021

6/51 Piper Street, Lilyfield NSW 2040

Maher Cup Book Part 1 (Draft)

This draft, which you can read online, and/or download (and then print out), is part of a much larger book in preparation. Part 1 has been prepared to support the activities surrounding the Maher Cup revival match at Tumut on Saturday 3rd April 2021.

The event will mark the centenary of rugby league in the Tumut district. Gundagai District Rugby League Club, who will be competing in the two scheduled Cup matches will also be celebrating its 100th year.

Part 1 starts with the origins of rugby league in the NSW South West Slopes and northern Riverina and describes the first four years of Maher Cup play. It also seeks to reflect on what the communities of the main protagonists: Tumut, Gundagai and Cootamundra, were like in those years of recovery and hope after the Great War.

A list of all known Maher Cup players (from 1920 to 1971) is also available at and will be included in the completed book.

The book which includes descriptions of all Maher Cup matches from 1920 to 1971 will be published in the second half of the year.

Please feel free to download this version, print it out, and distribute it to those who may be interested – particularly people likely to provide feedback, comments and additional information.

4 May 1920 : Ted Maher Comes to Tumut

Maher Cup Centenary

On Tuesday 4 May 1920 Edward John Maher motored into Tumut from Young with his wife Veronica (Ronnie) and three young children to take over the Wynyard Hotel. It was a quality hotel, with staff meeting tourists at the railway and arranged their onward travel up into the Snowy Mountains for fishing and sight-seeing.

Adelong and Tumut Express Friday 7 May 1920

Known as E.J. or simply Ted, and aged 32 he was a busy bloke going places. Within a year he had ticked off the following: donated a football cup in his name; captained a local football team; appointed chairman of the Tumut Ramblers Football Club; refereed and ran the line; led the change from union to league; joined the committees of the agricultural society, the turf club and a tennis club; shot at the Tumut Rifle Club, purchased the local Tattersalls licence, and played cricket.

Later in life. Source: John Madigan. The Maher Cup and Tumut

His first love was probably cricket. He became patron of the local club and donated a bat to the Lizards cricket team, for whom he was an excellent batsman and useful bowler[1]. He was reported to be handy at being ‘able to knock up a century or two’ and had taken ‘ten wickets in an innings’.[2]  At football he played as a half or centre.  He was to played in two Maher Cup matches.

Born at Grant’s Corner outside Woodstock, Maher had establish a farm at Crowther, before swapping it for the local pub, the Calare Hotel in Bendick Murrell. He moved on to the grander Royal Hotel in Young before departing to the hill country. When he left Tumut in 1922 he continued in hotel businesses until his death in 1952.

Ted Maher in a Tumut team on 28 Aug. 1921. Probably vs Mascot from Sydney Source: Tumut RSL Club collection

His sporting cup was purchased in Sydney in 1919. It was much like others that businessmen, and particularly publicans, had long put up in Tumut and elsewhere for mutual promotion.  Some other football cups in play in the southwest in 1920 were West Wyalong’s Chigwidden Cup (publican); Shields’ Cup of Barmedman (publican), Monty Mellor Cup, Temora (publican); Junee’s Monsignor Buckley Cup (priest); Murrumburrah’s Bond Memorial Cup (barber); Cootamundra’s E.O. Mangan (storekeeper) and Prentice Cups (publican) and the Albion Cup, Grenfell (hotel). That the Maher Challenge Cup eventually became famous was a matter of timing and good fortune.

[1] The Lizards were drawn from the northern (sunny) side of Wynyard Street. The opposition were named the Polar Bears.

[2] Burrowa News, 1 April 1949, p.8.,

A Dozen Pictures From Those Days

People have sent many pictures to this blog and the Facebook page that add to our understanding and appreciation of the Maher Cup years.  Photos have also been gathered from various local history Facebook sites.  Below are 12 of my favourites.

1Jack Coulton, Ray Dunn, Vince Sullivan and Gordon Hardwick share a beverage at the Royal Hotel, Gundagai about 1950. Source: Barry Luff via Lost Gundagai  Facebook site.

2Barmedman, the Maher Cup, Jesus, Rusty Gorham. The Gorhams came to Barmedman from Boorowa before WW2. Russell enlisted in the AIF, returning to farm wheat and sheep on “Clear View”. In 1949, aged 24 he married Merle Quinlan, sister of his football mate Col Quinlan. A big man with safe hands Rusty was good enough to represent Group 9 and Riverina. At 44 he was still playing along side his sons Dennis and Frank in the Barmedman team. He also become an administrator, coach and club patron. Photo courtesy of Maureen Gorham.

3Broadcasting on a cold Tumut day in 1965. The callers are John Ringwood and Bill Dennis. Grenfell reserve Wally Gam is trying to keep warm behind. Source: Tumut RSL Club collection. Story:

4Greek-run cafes were in every Maher Cup Country town and village and provide fond memories of our social life as teenagers.  This is the Kovellis family at their Allies Cafe, Grenfell.  Source: Trish Forde on the You Know You’re From Grenfell Facebook site. Story:

5Proud Harden boys 1949. All played Maher Cup – Jack Phemister, Bruce Tozer, Ryan McCarthy, John Dowd and Don White.  Photo from Wal Galvin’s collection.

6Blokes celebrating at a Tumut wedding in the early 1950s. Billy Rivers, Ken Stubbs, Geoff Williamson, Andy Kell, Pop Peel, Mick Rivers, Gary McGrath, Ross Kell, Les Kell.  Source: Steve and Lesley Kell on Tumutians Facebook site.

7The tough and unmistakable Ron ‘Dookie’ Crowe leading out on to a typically dry West Wyalong field. A fearsome place to play. Sorry misplaced the source of this one. Story:

8Reunions played an important role in Maher Cup history. It was not just about sport but friendship and community. Source: Beverley Wellington on Facebook site Gundagai and Its People.

9Brass bands have always been part of the Maher Cup world. Source: Joy Peter Paul Grovenor posted to the Harden Murrumburrah Historical Society Facebook page.

10Gnarled warriors Fred De Belin and Nevyl Hand. International footballers who moved to Maher Cup Country in the 1940s, raised their families in our small towns and contributed to the community for the rest of their lives.  Source: Stories: and

11 & 12

Young Jimmy Dowell holds the Maher Cup in 1957 when Tumut played in red & green instead of their traditional sky blue.  Source: Lost Tumut Facebook site. Photography by Ted Shai-Hee

It’s not always about football. Wally Towers from Muttama who played for Barmedman and Gundagai with his children. Source: Wal Galvin collection.

Trains & Coota : 2 Reasons the Maher Cup Became Famous

Tumut put up a challenge cup in 1920. By 1924 local newspapers had started to call it the now famous Maher Cup. The Sydney press likewise by 1927. The reasons why it became rural rugby league’s most obsessive quest, rather than fade away after a couple of seasons to sit gathering dust, as was the fate of most such trophies offered up by small-town businessmen, is complex.  I contend two elements were fundamental and critical – (1) The regional rail network (2) Cootamundra.

This map is designed to illustrate the argument.

In 1921 only one in 50 people in NSW owned a motor vehicle. While the numbers increased to one in 16 by 1930 [Source: Official Yearbook of NSW 1929-30, p.121], for almost everyone taking the train was the only practical method to travel between towns in reasonable time.

The southwest and the Riverina enjoyed an excellent and still expanding rail network. All the teams that challenged for the Maher Cup in the 1920s were connected to that network. The dates in green on the map illustrate how the more distant teams were quite rapidly drawn into the Maher Cup competition from 1923 to 1927. The latter year could perhaps be designated as that in which the Cup can be said to have become really famous.

If the Cup had stayed at Tumut where it began, or in Gundagai which made the first successful challenge, interest would unlikely have widened so much. It would probably have been sidelined by a trophy from a better located place. That it moved to Cootamundra in 1922, that Cootamundra was THE powerhouse team for the next five years, and that Coota so well promoted it, made all the difference. Situated on the most important intercity rail link in the nation with tentacles running to the Lachlan, deep into the Mallee and beyond the Murrumbidgee, Cootamundra was easy to reach.

Coota remained the centre of Maher Cup country for another 43 years. But by then passenger rail was a mere shadow with almost everyone travelling between towns by car on sealed roads. Wagga, Canberra and Orange grew to become sponge cities soaking up people and services from our towns and villages. When in 1965 the Wagga-based Murrumbidgee Rugby League moved football power further south what was left of Cootamundra’s gravitas went south, as well as any future for the Old Tin Pot.

PS. An earlier post with more reasons:

The Importance of Sydney Imports

While the Maher Cup was about small town locals battling against each other for bragging rights, to do so successfully usually required outside assistance.

For 40 years, beginning with Phil Regan of Glebe being paid by the burghers of Cootamundra in 1922 to captain and to coach some talented youngsters, the usual modus operandi for victory was to import a quality player or two, preferably with the skills to develop players.

Ten players from this match on 5 May 1951 at the SCG later played Maher Cup – five from each side.

Continue reading

Barmedman Rugby League : a brief(ish) history to 1945

The mouse that roared. Regularly defeating towns ten times its size there was something special about Barmedman.   On Maher Cup Days the three pubs overflowed as the population of a few hundred became thousands.  If the Cup was a religion this was its Jerusalem.  Eric Schlunke captured the fanaticism in his thinly fictional short story Village Hampden.

This is an attempt to record some of Barmedman’s social and football history.

Queen Street in 1910 showing the now demolished newsagency, the imposing Barmedman Hotel and beyond the then modest Queensland Hotel.

Continue reading

Phil Regan of Glebe and Cootamundra

Phil Regan (top left) lead the undefeated Maher Cup team in 1923. Others in shot are Ray Sheedy, Eric Weissel and Curtis 'Dick' Pellow. Source: Wal Galvin collection

Phil Regan (top left) led the undefeated Cootamundra Maher Cup team in 1923. Others in shot are Ray Sheedy, Eric Weissel and Curtis ‘Dick’ Pellow. Source: Wal Galvin collection

Phil Regan

He may or may not have been the first paid player-coach to leave  a top city club and take a country team to a higher level, but he was the best. Within weeks of taking up the job in July 1922 he had transformed a tired Cootamundra team into champions.

For the next five years he caught the train back to Coota for the football season, took board at a hotel and inspired and developed the local lads. Phil Regan led the team in 54 Maher Cup matches, prevailing in all but seven. Continue reading

The Poetry of Rugby League

In Maher Cup days many punters penned poetry which ended up published in the local paper.  A sampling of these can be found here.

The following (probably unpublished) verse from 1935 is not about the Maher Cup, but is posted as it reveals much about the casual attitude to the violence of football at the time, and the camaraderie that necessitated that everyone be assigned a nickname. Continue reading

Bill Maizey Popular Pugilist

Bill Maizey

Bill Maizey

Bill Maizey. Source:

If you were tough enough to play Maher Cup you may as well make a quid in the ring as well. If you were good enough the money was better and boxing was probably not much harder than Rugby League Group 9 style.

Men successful in both arenas included Bill Brogan and Baden Broad from West Wyalong, Woody Field and Jockey Bourke at Gundagai, Harden’s Bernie McGrath, Coota legend Herb Narvo, Roy Plummer down at Wagga, Bob Banks from Tumut, Snowy Breasley at Junee, cherry man Alby Arabin and the notorious William George Maizey who played for Cowra in the 1930s. Continue reading