From April 2009
...By Paul Amy
(On the eve on the Willy v Port game it is a good time to post the story)
WHEN he was in his prime as a player and the VFA was enjoying spectacular public support, his nickname established his identity. They called him Monster.
Someone once told Gerry Callahan that he was a household name in the 1950s and 60s when he was playing for and coaching Williamstown. He is a man without ego, but he could not disagree with the assertion.
What about the nickname? Callahan has spun the yarn hundreds of times and never tires of it: he was getting around with a crewcut, he had a crooked nose, he was missing a few teeth and, an asthma sufferer, he used to froth at the mouth when he was exerting himself. ``What else could they call me?'' he chuckled.
That's the story he likes to tell. But the truth is he got the handle during a practice match, when he tore into a pack and five players in his path fell like dominoes. A teammate -- he thinks it was Len Kent -- said to him, ``Look what you've done, you bloody big monster''.
The nickname stuck and its imagery helped create a legend in the VFA. Williamstown thinks Callahan's standing in the game warrants his inclusion to the AFL Football Hall of Fame and has asked AFL Victoria to put his name forward.
A week out from his 80th birthday, Callahan says he was taken aback at the news.
He says he never played football for personal gain or glory. ``It was always about the result, about getting the job done for the team,'' he said at his Beaumaris home. The Monster was not drinking some toxic or evil potion, just a cup of tea as he nibbled some of his wife Peggy's chocolate cake.
A framed portrait of Williamstown's team of the century hangs in the loungeroom and is the only obvious indication that he played in the VFA. Ron Todd and Barry Round were named in the team, but Callahan was selected as captain.
His teammates from the powerful Willy sides of 50-odd years ago testify that no tougher footballer has played the game.
Whenever they copped a hit, they could count on their lanky ruckman and key position player to administer retribution.
Having prepared for a season by boxing, wrestling and lifting weights, he could look after himself, and feared no one. The only thing that frightened him was the thought of losing.
Revered by the Seagulls faithful, he was reviled by opposition supporters, most notably Port Melbourne.
Port people embellished Callahan's reputation by putting a pig's head on a tray, taking it to the ground before a match against Willy and sticking skewers in it. Callahan thought it was hilarious. ``I've never eaten pork since,'' he said, dusting off a gag that never fails to earn a laugh.
He played junior football at Moonee Ponds in the late 1940s and attended the school of hard knocks. At 17 he was an SP bookie, acquiring a lot of phones, some good money and a few threats.
Jack Rennie, later to be a great boxing trainer, was a mate and had an uncle on the Williamstown committee. Callahan accepted their invitation to try out, first playing under Spud Dullard, Billy Williams and then Wally Carter, from North Melbourne.
Carter trained his players hard and had them extremely fit. ``When he spoke it was like the Archbishop of Canterbury talking at Westminster Cathedral,'' Callahan said.
In 1954 Callahan was nominated as captain. He called it a ``shot out of the blue'' but immediately embraced the greater responsibility.
These were golden days for Williamstown: it defeated Port Melbourne in the 1954, '55 and '56 grand finals.
Callahan considers the second premiership the most satisfying. By his recollection Willy trailed by five goals at three-quarter-time but hustled home to win by nine points. He can remember saying to his teammates, `Look, they've dropped their heads, they're gone'.
Callahan knew Perc Cerutty and the athletics coach told him ``you can be anything if you can break the pain barrier''.
Callahan says he dwelt on the advice whenever he became weary, and is proud that in the '55 grand final he got the better of the great Frank Johnson in the final quarter. ``Kicked one out of my arse from about 60 yards, too,'' he said.
That night the Williamstown players had a crayfish dinner at the club before being loaded on to the back of trucks and driven to the town hall, there to be introduced by Carter from the balcony. ``A fantastic feeling,'' Callahan said.
In 1957 the Seagulls were unbeaten in the home-and-away games, but lost both finals. Carter returned to North Melbourne and the committee asked Callahan to take over, for 12 months. He was disappointed, thinking he deserved a longer tenure.
But he accepted, and the season had a remarkable conclusion when Willy and Moorabbin drew in the grand final.
At training a few days later, Callahan saw his three ruckmen walking into the rooms, their shoulders hunched as they carried their bags. ``They looked like tired racehorses, like they'd just gone two miles,'' he recalled. ``I gave them 20 minutes of work and sent them home. They were so much fresher for the replay.''
The Seagulls won it comfortably and committeemen pulled him away from the celebrations to offer him another 12 months. ``I said, `Well, gentlemen, I want it for three years. And you had me cheap this year. You know I'm getting married, so why not throw a little extra into the bag?'.''
The contract signed, he walked out with the words, ``I'll get you another premiership next year''. His head a little clearer the next day, he cursed himself for creating such expectations, but they were met when the team defeated Doug Bigelow's Coburg in the 1959 grand final.
He was strong on discipline and loyalty -- in Callahan's mind, you only left a club if you were no longer good enough to play for it -- but there was always room for fun. Callahan coached Willy until 1967. In all, his association with the club spanned 17 years, 171 games as a player (including five premierships and two best and fairests) and 202 games as a coach.
A few years later he was talked into coaching Beaumaris, which, he said, was a laughing stock of local football. ``Put a bit of steel into them, Monster'' he was told. His response was to boot out players who couldn't commit to a whole season -- the door you walked through is the door you can go walk out of, he told them -- and in 1977 the club won the flag.
Later still he coached Cheltenham.
Callahan loves getting back to Willy games, catching up with old teammates and meeting the new boys. He thinks the standard of football is excellent, but he misses the one-on-one battles of his days.
The Monster knows it no other way.
When I was a kid living in Willy I had a Seaguls jumper with Gerry's No1 on the back. Gerry was a hero to the boys of Willy. He was a champion player and a great clubman. Nice read Paul's story and to look back Willy's "golden days'" of the late 50's, I recall the reception at the Town Hall.
Sad news that another legend of the VFA has died.
My thoughts go out to his friends, family and the Williamstown community.
Arguably the greatest name in the 150 year history of the WFC, Ron Todd included, phenominal record & larger-than-life character, our B&F is fittingly named after him, huge loss ....
He was asked on SEN a few years ago who he barracks for in the AFL. He said he barracks for Williamstown & Williamstown is his only club. Huge loss!
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