It must have been special to see this gifted athlete and footballing genius play in the days before the city folk and the nation noticed him. Some say those were his best years – witnessed by lucky punters on local paddocks – mostly at Cootamundra.
Eric Weissel, “Weissel the Wizard”, “Ec” to his friends, was a try-scoring, goal-kicking genius. In the Riverina of the 1920s and early 30s his performances helped develop the Maher Cup into a footballing phenomenon.
Playing for small town clubs all his life, his performances were not commonly witnessed by Sydney commentators and experts. Although his brilliance may never have been properly appreciated outside Maher Cup country, many local witnesses consider him to be possibly the best five-eighth the world will ever see.
He came from an extraordinary sporting family and below is an attempt at recording some of their history. Continue reading
Games That Changed the Game No.3
The Grenfell Greens had not achieved much in Maher Cup football. Until 1938 their challenges had been limited to just four – all lost, with just 13 points earned and 80 conceded.
However by the late thirties the best teams – Young, West Wyalong, Temora and Cowra. were from the northern part of Maher Cup country. Grenfell was keen to get into action against its traditional rivals. Not having enough local talent they decided to go and buy a team. Continue reading
Cootamundra Herald 22 March 1949 reported that:
The Gundagai Rugby League has secured the services of Kangaroo forward, Neville [should read Nevyl] Hand, as coach for the 1949 season. Hand, who is 26 years of age, is 6ft. 1 in, and weighs over 15 stone. He was one of the outstanding forwards of the Kangaroos, which last month returned home, from the tour of England and France. It is expected that Hand will arrive in Gundagai at the weekend.
Gundagai 1951. Nevyl Hand with the Maher Cup. Back Row L-R: Jack Lindley, Norm Bounader, Owie Hourn, Len Koch, Noel Goodsall, Harry Gibbs, George ‘Foo’ Ballard, Ron Bower, Des Field, Jim Sullivan, Bill Edwards. Front Row L-R: Trevor Lawson, Kevin Warden, Nevyl Hand, John Ryan, Bill Gardiner, John Biscaya, Harold Etherington
Which games attracted the biggest crowds? Let’s make a top ten list.
Unfortunately this is quite difficult. My memory of rolling up to a Maher Cup match was of a ticket seller at the gate with a bookmaker’s bag taking cash and dispensing tickets. There were no turnstiles to tally the mob. Continue reading
Games that Changed the Game No.2
Roddy Gilmore, farmer of Canowindra, was a pretty useful second rower. He worked a 600 acre soldier settler’s block, carved from the North Bangaroo Estate in 1924. It was said that he “cut off the legs of his working trousers to make his football shorts for his first game (Worboys, p22).
On Wednesday 29 August 1928 he played for the Maher Cup against the champions of the south, Cootamundra. Continue reading
Not everybody in Maher Cup Country loved rugby league.
E.O. Schlunke of Hope Vale, Reefton wrote prolifically about rural life in the Riverina. The stories are not pastoral in the manner of John O’Brien’s Around the Boree Log. They are usually vignettes with a dark edge.
In 1956 he published a collection called The Village Hampden in which the eponymous story positions the Belluga Rugby League Club as the town’s central institution. Although the Club sees its role to foster community and local pride, it has become menacingly authoritarian, seeking to control many aspects of daily life. The story goes….
Tom Matheson, a young school teacher, has arrived in town.
“It was a small town of only a thousand or so people. Normally one wouldn’t expect a town of that size to field a first-grade team that could put up a good showing against towns five to ten times its size, and even hold the group’s challenge cup at times for a significant part of the season” (p.203).
Games That Changed The Game No. 1
This is the first in a series.
“And the rain it gently, pattered down! And the lovely green flats of the ‘Bidgiee silhoutted, as it were, against the sky line as the special train from Tumut, with footballers and supporters aboard steamed over the railway bridge yesterday afternoon. The footballers’ quest was the Maher Cup — they were going to capture it for Tumut— so they said. And their supporters were going to stir them on to deeds of derring do”.
(The Gundagai Independent, 7 June 1923).
Let us step back from the poetry. It was a Wednesday afternoon – the 16th challenge for the Maher Cup was set to be played at Fisher Park Cootamundra. It was less than three years since Ted Maher put the Cup into play. Things were starting to get very serious. The rules were read scrupulously, and Rule 9 was a problem. Continue reading
The Maher Cup was a special event. It dominated the sporting life of towns from Tumut to West Wyalong like no other. To represent your town in the Maher Cup meant you were somebody. Before the Second World War when it was played on Wednesday afternoons, shopping stopped and main streets became abandoned. It became a metaphor for a sporting event significantly more important than others within its field. Continue reading