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Borough captain Toby Pinwill gets away a handball against Footscray this season.Borough captain Toby Pinwill gets away a handball against Footscray this season.

Port Melbourne champion Toby Pinwill poised to play his 200th VFL senior game

There is a little bit of history between Toby Pinwill and Box Hill Hawks.

In the past decade Pinwill’s Port Melbourne and the Hawks have played out a series of enthralling matches, in home-and-away rounds and especially finals.

If Borough video man Cameron Towson was to cut a compilation disc of them, he would have much material at his disposal; nothing in the VFL rivals the recent Port Melbourne-Box Hill Hawks rivalry.

Pinwill has been at the heart of the battles, brick-hard in his approach and often among the best players on the ground.

The Box Hill president, Tony Pinwill, has presumably been impressed by the Port No 10. Tony is Toby’s uncle. He’s always pleased to see his nephew have a good day, but he’s happier still when the Hawks can squawk about victory.

It was against Box Hill in 2010 that Pinwill was red-carded by the umpires after being reported twice in a final, first for charging Garry Moss, then for planting his elbow in Liam Shiels’s chin. He’s been booked against the Hawks on three other occasions.

Toby Pinwill nose to nose with Sandy’s Dylan Weickhardt. Picture: Mark Dadswell

And it was to Box Hill that he went when he graduated from the Oakleigh Chargers at the end of 2003.

Pinwill’s father, Steve, grew up near the City Oval and his uncle was already involved there. He had a meeting with Donald McDonald. But in the end, encouraged by former Port Melbourne coach Neil Ross, he joined the Borough.

This Sunday Pinwill plays his 200th senior game in the VFL — against Box Hill Hawks at the City Oval.

He admits he had a chuckle to himself when he looked at the fixtures and worked out that, all going well, he would reach the milestone against the gold and brown.

“Yeah, for a heap of reasons,’’ he said. “All those great games — and I reckon the 2009 final is probably the best game of footy I’ve ever played in, high scoring, momentum changes, hard, tough, perfect day — a few reports, my uncle being the president there …

“It would be great to play the 200th at Port Melbourne, but Box Hill at Box Hill on Sunday works out pretty good. It’s probably the one game all my schoolmates can go to, because they all play at Waverley Blues. A lot of my cousins can rock up too.’’

In 2013 the City Oval was also the scene of a verbal clash between Pinwill and Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson, who was fuming over the Port man’s treatment of Hawk Sam Iles.

The VFL pinpointed Clarkson as the instigator and asked him to apologise. He did, apparently admitting he saw in the rugged Pinwill a likeness to the way he went about his football.

Port coach Gary Ayres saw in Pinwill a natural onballer.

He had spent his first year at the Borough in the reserves, winning a premiership, and made his senior debut the following season, 2005.

Strange to relate now, but Pinwill played mainly as a key defender in 2006 (he had spent time as a centre half forward at the Chargers).

“And I played poorly,’’ he said. “I started OK but we were hopeless and every time you stuffed up your man kicked a goal. So as a group we went into our shell and I didn’t end up playing too well.’’

Toby Pinwill takes a kick in the 2011 grand final. He received the Norm Goss Medal as best-afield.

In 2007 he had an outstanding match as a midfielder in heavy and wet conditions at Coburg. Bo Nixon was injured early in the first quarter; Pinwill relieved him and nudged the 30-possession mark for the first time.

Studying tapes as he prepared to take over as coach from Saade Ghazi, Ayres noted the Coburg game and suspected Port had a potential top-line onballer in Pinwill.

The player confirmed it with an excellent 2008 as Port surged to the grand final. Three years later he received the Norm Goss Medal as best-afield in a premiership team that went through the season undefeated.

As he celebrated, Pinwill also reflected on how close he had come to leaving Port at the end of 2007.

“’Ayresy’ came along, a new coach, and I thought I’d give it one more year,’’ he said.

“Luckily he rated me a little bit and gave me a chance. Changed the course of my footy career.’’

A suburban club tempted him after the premiership. He kept saying no, but the club kept increasing the offer. The final sum made him catch his breath. Again he turned to Ross for advice.

“I stayed because I’d always said I’d never make a footy decision based purely on money,’’ he said. “I was never more than 50 per cent of going. I never had one foot out at the door. To me playing at Port is one those money-can’t-buy experiences.’’

Toby Pinwill tackled by Kane Lambert and Rhys O'Keefe against the Northern Bullants in 2011.

Pinwill’s first best and fairest came in 2014, putting him in the same company as Ryan McMahon, John Baird, Sam Pleming, Sam Dwyer and Chris Cain, great mates as well as teammates.

With Baird bowing out at the end of 2014, Pinwill was promoted to the captaincy in 2015, again topping the vote count.


There have been numerous other decorations: club awards, VFL team-of-the-year jumpers, state selection and life membership of the competition.

Pinwill will join Pleming (215 matches), Baird (206) and McMahon (206) in the VFL 200 Club, proud that, like McMahon, he played all his matches at one club.

The legendary full-forward Fred Cook holds Port’s games record on 258, followed by Bob Bonnett (229), Bill Swan (219), Greg “Biff’’ Dermott (209) and McMahon.

“Just keep playing,’’ Dermott has told him as he’s weighed up his future in the past two years.

At times last season Pinwill looked like a player whose deeds were done and race was run. But, a strong pre-season behind him, his 2017 has been more in keeping with his reputation as a VFL champion.

He even burst out of a stoppage in one match, every step encouraging him to take another. He felt 22, not 32. “The body’s feeling pretty good,’’ he said.

Pinwill goes to City Oval this Sunday not over the hill, but to make a little more history against Box Hill.

Toby Pinwill marks in the 2008 preliminary final.