The Roos of ’79: grand final just out of reach
By Richard Jones
Forty years ago the footy structure in Bendigo comprised two leagues: the BFL and the Golden City league.
Just six clubs competed in the top bracket but the eight-team Golden City F.L. was thriving.
It was my third year at the Bendigo Addy and just my second covering local footy having been the newspaper’s council reporter for my first 12 months.
I was mainly assigned to 1979’s BFL match-of-the-day but from time to time ventured out to one of the GCFL grounds to cover a match in that grade.
Kangaroo Flat was one of the clubs to be reckoned with in the old GCFL and 40 years back Dennis Grotto was the captain-coach.
He’d taken an injury-ravaged Roos to the 1978 grand final but without Bruce and Noel Claridge, John Parsons, Mal Taylor and Kevin Smith Northern United was always going to have the Roos’ measure.
Grotto and his selectors were unable to name a team on Thursday night submitting just a ‘from’ team to the Addy.
The Swallows crushed the Roos by 81 points in the 1978 play-off, but with handy and substantial recruiting over the summer months hopes were high for 1979.
All of we sports journos predicted a big ’79 for the Roos. However they started slowly and after four rounds were 2-2.
The round 6 game against White Hills would have been a loss had Grotto not roosted the winning goal in the dying moments.
Final scores were Kangaroo Flat 13.14 (92) to the Hillies 13.10 (88).
Big men were needed to support Grotto so Ross Ballinger and Geoff Hodge were signed up to give the Roos one of the top big men structure in the GCFL.
The match against Maldon was notable for the efforts of the Flat’s two key forwards.
Tony Brown and Trevor Curram booted 18 goals between them: Brown was best afield with 11 while centre half-forward ‘Trunk’ Curram landed seven.
The Roos won by a massive 138 points: 27.15 (177) to 5.9 (39).
They’d dragged themselves up to second place on the ladder with Brown nailing 16 majors in the return clash against Maldon before Provincial caused a major upset with a 10-point victory over the Flat.
A low-scoring draw against YCW on a muddy and rain-affected ground [2.10 (22) apiece] meant the Roos would finish the home-and away season in third spot.
Ross Ballinger was the joint winner of the GCFL’s 1979 Nalder Medal with John ‘Jerka’ Lynch (YCW) while Allan Ellis took home the Bendigo Advertiser Player of the Year award with 17 votes.
And so the finals beckoned with a do-or-die knockout first semi-final against Provincial at the QEO.
The Roos kicked a lot straighter than the wasteful Pros and earned themselves a preliminary final berth against old enemies, Northern United.
Holding a two-point lead at the first change things looked bright for the Flat.
But the Swallows added 9.18 to 3.6 to overrun the Roos and snatch a grand final spot.
Centreman Alan Ellis was best for the Roos with 25 kicks and 5 marks.
At least the thirds coached by Ron Monro and the Twos under Frank Hill’s skilful leadership eventually won the flags in their divisions – the Reserves taking the first ever flag in that grade for the club.
Moving forward just a couple of years to 1981 and the Roos ended up premiers in Division 2 of the new Bendigo Golden City Footy League.
The recruitment of ace full-forward Steve McKerrow and the return of Peter Hinck as coach were master-strokes by Ian Jackman and his committee.
The Flat went through the season with a 17 wins-1 loss record with McKerrow nailing 107 goals.
He showed what Roo supporters could expect from him as early as round 4. McKerrow was unstoppable against YCW as he hammered home 16 majors.
The Roos won a high-scoring match by 91 points: 31.13 (199) to 15.18 (108).
The McKerrow show rolled on. He drilled 11 goals against Provincial and then in the round 15 clash with Kennington-Strathdale he drove home 12 goals of the Roos 14.7 (91).
On 97 goals going into the final home-and-away round McKerrow nailed 10 to finish the season on 107: the first Kangaroo Flat player ever to register a ‘ton’.
We media folk were convinced the Roos were a real threat very early in that ’81 season.
Despite the wet and soggy winter which descended on us in central Victoria the Flat looked the goods from the start.
A season-opening Raywood fixture had the Green and Whites up against old foes United.
The Swallows jumped out to an early lead, but a match-defining third term put the Roos back in charge.
They booted 10.2 to take a 35-point lead into the last term before Northern United unleashed one of their well-known final quarters.
The Roos hung on to win by 10 points: 20.13 (133) to the Swallows’ 18.15 (123).
Centre half-forward Trevor Curram landed six goals and small forward Ken Chirgwin nailed five.
Curram was a great foil for McKerrow who’d made everyone sit up with those 16 majors against YCW in round 4.
The only loss came in the return fixture against Northern United but they downed the Swallows in the second semi and just got home over United in the grand final.
Simon Jorgensen was the next premiership coach for the Roos when he took the Flat to the 1996 flag.
Kangaroo Flat won an epic BFL grand final by one kick over Kyneton in one of the most memorable play-offs in recent seasons. Jorgensen won the Nalder Medal while skipper Chris Harrington took home the VCFL medal.
Final scores: Kang. Flat 18.8 (116) to the Tigers 15.20 (110).
“Hollywood” Dave Lancaster was the focal point in attack for the Flat in the Nineties: he booted 107 goals in 1995, 86 in the ’96 premiership season and 111 in 2000.
In more recent seasons the Roos have made the finals three times since 2000 when they finished runners-up to a star-studded Castlemaine line-up that season.
Coach Derrick Filo and captain Ronnie Wicks took them to the prelim. final the following season  and senior mentor Darryl Wilson (with captain Tyrone ‘Tigger’ Downie) repeated the achievement in 2009.
Justin Maddern was the new key forward for the Flat. He nailed 96 goals in the preliminary final season of 2009 and then added exactly 100 in 2010 when the Roos just missed the finals, finishing sixth.
It’s been much more of those down-the-table finishes for a few seasons since the great days.
Kangaroo Flat hasn’t played finals since Darryl Wilson moved on finishing up sixth, eighth, seventh, ninth, sixth (again), eighth, sixth, eighth and eighth.
In the past two seasons they have registered an 8-28 win-loss record with seven of those eight wins coming against Castlemaine and Maryborough.
I was present the only time the Roos beat someone else. It was Round 18, 2017 at Harry Trott Oval and Kangaroo Flat downed South Bendigo by 10 points on the back of Dylan Klemm’s five goals.
Nick Lang, Liam Collins and Jono Lanyon controlled the midfield while Ross Turner turned in his usual close-checking role in defence. Daniel Dempster bobbed up with four majors.
Brock Harvey, Alex Hywood and Liam Bartels drilled three majors each for the Bloods.
Final scores: Kang. Flat 15.13 (103) def. South Bendigo 13.15 (93).