1976: Our first Colts premiership

1976: Our first Colts premiership

1976: Our first Colts premiership

The story of our first ever Colts premiership, in 1976, is a cracker. Tom O'Brien, one of the players who brought the flag home to Garnett Road, takes us through it...

1976 was not a straightforward year. Two junior teams (Northvale U16s and Mulgrave U15s) came together to build our Colts team at Mulgrave. Long story short, the two groups complimented each other well and as the season got underway we started to win a few games.

The club insisted that the colts trained with the seniors and we were therefore expected to train and play like seniors, both on and off the field. Rocky Clifford was senior coach and John Airdrie was our Colts coach, and both made sure that this message was clear and enforced.

The season started well enough, but we started to accumulate injuries almost from the first game. The big injury was Alan Moloney (knee), who in three and a half games of footy got 10 votes in the best and fairest. Alan never played another game of footy. There were others that went down with strains and sprains, typical of any footy season. It was just a slow accumulation - each week someone seemed to get injured or hurt.

When we played Ferntree Gully, we took the field with 15 fit players, including an Under 15, and got rolled. Then a couple of weeks later we played Ringwood and, with 8 players watching from the sidelines, we got rolled by 10 points. We were now sitting second on the ladder.

It was at this point in time that the Northvale Junior Football Club asked their Under 16 playing group if anyone would like to step up and help out. To their credit Neil Crawley, Claudio Cincotti and Phil Warke put their hands up. These blokes fitted straight into the team ethos and all three of them ended up playing key roles in the team for the rest of the season.

The massive setback

Halfway through the year the big bombshell hit. We were pulled off the training track and club secretary Bruce Holmes informed us that he had overlooked the registration details of a player. The Eastern Districts FL had taken premiership points off us for the six games that the player had played. Bruce was in tears... he was a legend at the club, the nicest bloke ever, and ended up being team manager for the Victorian Teal Cup squad (the precursor of today's Under 18 National Championships).

We went plummeting out of the top four but we did get to keep our percentage. The upshot was that to win the flag, we basically had to win 10 games straight. And so started the long haul back.

Finals time

We made the final four... in fourth spot, on percentage. The finals that year were played at Lilydale with colts, reserves and seniors all on the same day. So it was an early start and a good drive for most of us. We blitzed Upper Ferntree Gully in the first semi. An Upper Gully player had won the League Best and Fairest and as a group we weren't happy about that. Our eventual Best and Fairest winner was centreman Graham Styles, a very classy footballer. The bloke from Upper Gully also played in the centre and Stylesie had towelled him up both times we'd played them... and he did it again in the first semi. The edge in motivation was all we needed. It was a shellacking.

Ringwood defeated North Ringwood in the second semi-final, so we met North Ringwood on the bounce in the preliminary final. It was a horrible game of football. At the final siren the scores were tied at 32: MFC 3.14 versus North Ringwood 4.8. Extra time had to be played and we kicked another 2 goals to win the game. The group showed great team courage to get up and win.

Grand Final

So it was Ringwood versus Mulgrave. We had beaten them very early in the year at Mully, which was a remarkable feat - it was the first time in four years that this Ringwood team had lost. In the return match, as mentioned above, we had a swag of players out injured and they beat us by 10 points.

The year before a young bloke named Paul Vander Haar played for them. In 1976 he elected to stay at Ringwood and play seniors rather than go to Essendon. He helped the Ringwood seniors win the flag at Mulgrave’s expense. Then in 1977 he went to the mighty Bombers and a legend was born.

Ringwood jumped us and we were seven goals down towards the end of the first quarter. Wayne Jamieson got a late one in the first quarter and we went in to the quarter time break six goals down. Despite the score, I can remember there being a sense of calm about the group as we realised that it just had to be our turn to play. 

Come half time we were just two points down. This came on the back of two great goals by Wayne Miller - both torpedoes from about 50 yards out, on the boundary line. I watched them both sail over my head, halfway up the goal post. They were huge, team lifting goals. Game on!

Ringwood were a very good team and won the third quarter, and we were about two goals down at the final break. Then in the last quarter we really turned it on. We ran all over them to win by twenty-odd points. It was a great finish to an unbelievable year. It was also a helluva party!

Getting together again

We are trying to find anyone who played or helped us in any way that year. So far we have found 16 of 25 players, coaches and support staff. We are spread from Perth to Hobart and all around Victoria... it's funny where life takes you. Some of us haven't seen each other for 40 years and yet once the phone calls, text messages and old photos started going around, the magic was still there.

Sadly, we know of two players from the team who are no longer with us.

Wayne Miller, the bloke who kicked those two magnificent goals in the second quarter of the grand final, passed away less than a year later. Wayne saw a couple struggling to change a flat tyre on their car and stopped to help. As he was doing so he was hit by another car, with the driver well over the legal blood alcohol limit. A bloody tragedy.

Wayne Jamieson, who kicked the first goal in the grand final, passed away in 1985. Jamo had moved to Albury and was playing footy up there in the Ovens and Murray Football League. Jamo took his own life. It upsets me to this day that this lovely bloke is no longer with us.

We are organising an unofficial gathering at Mulgrave on 25th June 2022, when Mully play the old enemy Ringwood at home. We'd love to see as many old friends as possible at that one.

Were you associated with the Colts premiership team, or the club in 1976? The boys would love to hear from you and maybe see you at Mully later this year. Just contact the club and we can put you in touch with Tom.