The Broads: West Wyalong’s Hard Corps

West Wyalong was a hard place. In this driest part of Maher Cup country the mallee is more scrub than forest.  When disturbed the fine sandy red soil generates dust that just hangs. Making a living was hard, the football fields were hard, the man were expected to be hard.   The hardest of them often had the surname Broad. Three generations over five decades, thirteen family members, more if you include the Broad girls’ sons and the in-laws, were at the heart of the town’s Maher Cup passion.

The Broads first came to notice outside the Bland Shire when four of five brothers: George, Fred, Alf and John made up most of the forward pack in the town’s 1925 Maher Cup winning team.

Source: Ancestry.com

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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

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The following (probably unpublished) verse from 1935 is not about the Maher Cup, but is posted as it reveals much about the casual attitude to the violence of football at the time, and the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

Group 9 in the 1920s.

This is the first instalment of a brief history of Group 9 Rugby League.

Rugby League emerged in the Riverina in 1911, at West Wyalong. By 1921 it had replaced Union throughout the southwest. The NSW Rugby League, recognising the need to join up clubs and to organise this rapidly expanding sport, proposed prior to the 1922 season to divide the rural parts of the state into twelve groups. Group 9 was to include the teams Harden, Wagga, Cootamundra, Gundagai, Tumut, Temora, Barmedman, Wyalong, West Wyalong, Mildil, Ariah Park and Ardlethan. Continue reading

A Pictorial History of Cootamundra Rugby League to 1971

The following has been prepared with thanks to Susan Chambers and the wonderful resources that her father Wal Galvin diligently and painstakingly collected.

A football club was first formed at Cootamundra in 1882. The committee then debated what rules to adopt. Although they decided on the ‘Victorian game’ rather than Rugby the team did play at least one game of Rugby that year. In 1885 the ‘Our Boys‘ team provided the code with some permanence. By the 1895 Rugby was well established and a second team, the Pirates, enabled a home town derby.

Cootamundra Rugby Team 1914

Cootamundra Rugby Team 1914

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Gundagai 1921

Wirth's Circus in Sheridan Street, from Dr. Gabriel's photos.

Wirth’s Circus in Sheridan Street – from Dr. Gabriel’s photos.

1921 was the second year of Maher Cup football and its first under Rugby League rules.  For the first time Mr E.J. Maher’s trophy left Tumut. It was the year of Gundagai.

The transition to League was simple. By the time the Tumut and Gundagai area clubs met to decide whether to stay with Union or move to the more attractive code, nearby Junee, Harden and Cootamundra and just about every other town in the southwest, had already moved. The decision was made without rancour or acrimony.

But there was much more than football on the minds of Gundagai people…. Continue reading

The Murrumbidgee Rugby League & the End of the Maher Cup

This article is largely based on Jack Weeks’ book The breakaway of the Murrumbidgee Rugby League : the forerunner and the aftermath 1960 – 1972.

In 1965 the logic of the Murrumbidgee Rugby League (MRL) breakaway was simply clear from the Riverina’s geography.

Boundaries of Groups 9 and 20 in 1965 in green, with the rebel Murrumbidgee Rugby League background in red.

The boundaries of Groups 9 and 20 in 1965 are in green, with red for the rebel Murrumbidgee Rugby League.

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Drawing the Barassi (Jim Keys) Line

The Barassi Line as determined by Ian Turner. Source: Wikipedia

The Barassi Line as determined by Ian Turner. Source: Wikipedia

Academic Ian Turner in 1978 invented the term Barassi Line to identify the border separating where men and boys played Australian Rules and where they preferred Rugby League. As you can see in the map it is all a bit too linear to be real. The only area along the line containing any significant population is the Riverina. So perhaps we can fine tune that line.

I must say I don’t like the line being called after  Ron Barassi – better to name it after a footballer who lived on the line and played Australian Rules on Saturday and Rugby League on Sunday – such as Eric Kuhn originally from Weethalle or Jim Keys from Gibsonvale.   So I’m calling my line the Jim Keys line. Continue reading

A Brief History of the Maher Cup Clubs in Graphs

Graphically representing the number of matches played by each club helps illustrate the highs and lows of their footballing journeys over the 52 years of the Maher Cup history, and provides the basis of a brief club history.  Failure to capture the Cup meant twiddling thumbs and fretting  on the outcome of the next draw.Cootamundra graph

Cootamundra (224 matches). Playing 62 games more than any other team, Coota started with a bang in 1922 winning in its first game under Phil Regan – the first paid-player coach in the bush. They didn’t let up. Regan’s 1920s blue and whites, featuring players such as Eric Weissel, Jack Kingston, Bill Lesberg and Gordon Hinton utterly dominated their opponents. With a little help they even took on England. During the Depression years, after Regan departed, it all fell apart for a while.  1935 saw the purchase of five paid players, an embarrassing loss to Tumut, and the imports instantly sacked.  Coota rose to the top again in 1939 with a team composed mainly of local ex-De La Salle boys.  After the war Herb Narvo (1947) and Johnny Graves (1954) led teams of extraordinary quality. Reverting to mainly local players the town continued to be consistently competitive into the 1960s. Continue reading