That’s Bush League: Cobden edition

Gary Rohan, John Rantall and Zach Merrett were good enough to get together for this photo exclusively for The Hickey Stand. Yeah, nah we nicked it off Google.

LET’S be honest, most of you probably haven’t heard of Cobden let alone been there.

So we’ve decided to run a new series of articles that focuses solely on country towns and the footballers they produce.

There’s something special about country footy. It’s a family thing, a community thing. It’s hundreds of cars packed around the boundary line honking their horns. It’s the volunteers in the canteen pumping out lukewarm hot dogs and mouth-scorching pies. It’s young blokes heading over to the netball court to check the girls out, and vice-versa.

It’s those same netballers and footballers getting married and producing the next generation of local netballers and footballers.

It’s something pretty bloody special, and hopefully we can share a small part of that with you in these articles.

If they get read, of course. Otherwise you ain’t gettin’ shit.

Cobden, bottom left. Wedged between the Great Ocean Road and the Princes Highway, meaning unless you planned on going there (which you wouldn’t), you’ve probably never been,

“GOOOOOOO BombERRRSSSS,” the woman screamed passionately and constantly from the sheds, decked out in her Cobden gear.

That wasn’t unusual in itself for a country footy game. But this was Cobden v Terang under-14s on a freezing Friday night, and she was yelling just as fervently for the little leaguers as she would for the big kids the next day.

As a Terang footballer I didn’t know her name (edit: it was Colleen Sullivan), but that woman was a part of the furniture at Cobden footy games and I can remember her clearly now almost 15 years down the road.

A small dairy town with a population of 1813, Cobden is home to the Bombers, a club that plays in the Hampden Football League and was zoned to Fitzroy during the dark days of VFL zoning.

Their home ground, creatively named the Cobden Recreation Reserve, was always unique in that it was the only ground in the region with lights good enough to play night footy.

Founded in 1930, the club has won six premierships (their last in 1998) and provides a much needed distraction from the fact Cobden is a little bit depressing.

Unless you take a ride on the Cobden Miniature Railway, which is fucking awesome.


THE LORD BROTHERS: Alistair Lord (Geelong: 122 games, 79 goals); Stewart Lord (Geelong: 74 games, 13 goals)

Alistair Lord kicking the ball or preparing to punch an invisible sky demon.

TWIN brothers Alistair and Stewart Lord moved from Cobden to the pumping metropolis (comparatively) of Geelong having starred for the Bombers in 1958.

After Alistair kicked 78 goals in his debut season for Cobden, he was courted by 11 of the 12 VFL clubs before the great Reg Hickey got his hands him for the 1959 season.

Controversially, however, Cobden had not cleared Alistair to play for the Cats, and he was forced back home to finish that season in the red and black.

Returning to Geelong for the 1960 season under new coach Bob Davis, the Lord brothers would become key figures at Kardinia Park on the way to the 1963 premiership.

Alistair, of course, also won a sneaky Brownlow Medal along the way. The cheeky scamp.

Both brothers would go on to coach various Hampden League teams after their VFL careers, with Alistair returning to Cobden to coach from 1975 to 1979.

BEN CUNNINGTON: (North Melbourne: 210 games, 86 goals)

Enjoy that hair young man.

BEN Cunnington’s senior debut for the Bombers as a 15-year-old is the stuff of legend in Cobden.

It all started when Cunnington decided to leave the Timboon Demons, a Warrnambool & District Football Netball League (WDFNL) team, for Cobden; a common thing for young WDFNL footballers to do given the higher standard of footy in the Hampden League.

Making the move at the end of 2006, Cunnington would end up debuting in May, 2007, against arch rivals Camperdown at their home ground of Leura Oval.

Sitting on the bench for the entire first quarter, the Year 10 student plodded onto the ground late in the second quarter and proceeded to punch through 10 goals.

Teammate Brett Taylor, who was tasked with looking after the kid for the day, headed to the hospital that night to visit his wife and newborn son, who had arrived on the Friday.

“Apparently I went back to the hospital and my wife said that’s all I could talk about. It wasn’t about our new son, it was about how well Ben did,” Taylor told the Herald Sun.

To this day Cobden people still talk about Cunnington’s debut, mostly because not much has happened since in the town.

JOHN RANTALL: (South Melbourne/North Melbourne/Fitzroy: 336 games, 10 goals)

Doug Wade, Barry Davis and John Rantall, as the reality dawns on them that North’s big money contract also stipulated that they had to build the fucking stadium.

COBDEN might seem a bit dull to an outsider, but there’s something about the town that just keeps bringing people back.

John Rantall, who would go on to become the VFL games record holder briefly, almost didn’t have a VFL career at all because he loved Cobden so much.

Hailing from nearby Scott’s Creek and attending school in Timboon (like the Lords before him and Cunnington after him), Rantall was spotted by South Melbourne after dominating at country level in 1961.

Dragged to Melbourne kicking and screaming in 1962, he lasted one game before he buggered off back home.

Another dominant season for the Bombers followed, and the South Melbourne honchos headed back down the highway. This time, they managed to get him on a six-game permit, which allowed him to play for the Swans but still head back to the country.

Not satisfied with this given Rantall was a serious talent, the Swans went back down to Cobden one more time to negotiate a permanent swap.

“I was petrified of the city, I hated it,” Rantall would later admit, saying he hoped the Bombers wouldn’t clear him.

“I was living in a boarding house with a lot of other footballers and didn’t like it.

“I thought ‘when my six-match permits are up, Cobden won’t clear me’.

“We drove up (to Cobden) – I’ll never forget this – to the pub and they said ‘sit in the car John, we won’t be long’.

“They came out 10 minutes later and they’d cleared me and sold me for £200, so I was off back down to Melbourne.”

Rantall would end up playing 260 games for the Swans, as well as being involved in one of the biggest player raids in history, when North Melbourne lured him, Doug Wade and Barry Davis to Arden St with stacks of cash, a move that would win them the 1975 premiership.

ARTHUR RAYSON: (Geelong/South Melbourne: 101 games, 127 goals)


ALRIGHT, we’ve gibbered on a fair bit about the other blokes so we’ll keep this short.

Arthur Rayson was recruited to Geelong from Cobden in 1924, becoming both the caretaker at Corio Oval and a premiership half-forward in 1925.

Retiring at the end of 1931, Rayson’s sons would eventually carry his legacy on, with Alan playing 20 games for the Cats, and Noel playing 107 whilst also winning the 1955 VFL leading goalkicker medal.

GARY ROHAN: (Sydney/Geelong: 126 games, 122 goals)

They don’t even have cars in Cobden. People have to run everywhere.

THE 2009 number six draft pick initially missed out on Geelong Falcons selection as a 17-year-old.

So he did what all good Cobden lads do: he headed back home, pulled the black and red jumper back on, and dominated until the scouts came knocking.

The son of Jim, a St Kilda reserves player, Gary is known for going back to the club whenever possible to offer his support, with basically his entire family involved at some level.

“I’m always looking out for the club because they’re the ones who started my career,” he said in 2014.

THE MERRETT FAMILY: Thorold Merrett (Collingwood: 180 games, 148 goals); Zach Merrett (Essendon: 127 games, 44 goals); Jackson Merrett (56 games, 23 goals)

Zach, Thorold and Jackson Merrett.

MOST of us know about talented Essendon brothers Zach and Jackson Merrett.

But it’s their great uncle Thorold who many people forget, despite his name being ‘Thorold’.

Rejected by Richmond legend Jack Dyer as a 16-year-old because he was too small (168cm, 59kg), Thorold was offered a chance at Collingwood after starring in a set of practice matches.

Debuting in 1950, Thorold would go on to play in the 1953 and 1958 premiership, while winning club best and fairests in 1958 and 1959.

Breaking his leg in 1960, Thorold was forced into retirement at the age of 26, giving him time to start up a sporting goods store with Australian cricket captain Lindsay Hassett.

The Merrett-Hassett sports stores quickly spread across Victoria, and with the experience of founding and running those stores behind him, Thorold would go on to found Rebel Sports.

That’s a pretty handy CV for a kid from Cobden.

ANTHONY DARCY: (Geelong/Footscray/St Kilda: 18 games, 2 goals)

Anthony Darcy and Dr Katrina Warren with Toby (last name not recorded).

FULL disclosure, we only put Anthony Darcy on here because he was married Totally Wild and Harry’s Practice vet Katrina Warren for a while.

We even found paparazzi photos of their wedding, but we would have had to buy them. Screw that.

Darcy was a reasonable footballer, bouncing around a bunch of clubs before really finding his feet in the SANFL, winning the Jack Oatey Medal for Port Adelaide in the 1995 Grand Final.

Marrying Warren in 2005, the couple separated after three years and that makes us miserable. If a low grade footy player and celebrity TV vet can’t make it work, who can?

Here’s hoping both parties have moved on to bigger and better things. Love’s tough, ya know? Hang in there everyone.

2 Replies to “That’s Bush League: Cobden edition”

  1. Colleen Sullivan was the lady that yelled out that famous cry at any of her beloved Bombers Games.

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