All the way from Jung to the "G"
THE year was 1968 and a spindly 16-year-old Monivae College student was stepping onto the Jung Oval for his first experience of senior football.
It was an uneventful game, long forgotten by most, but for Michael Delahunty it was the first memory of a football career that six years later would find him running onto the MCG to play a semi-final against Hawthorn in front of 100,000 roaring fans.
Mick was recruited by Collingwood in 1971, after the memorable 1970 grand final clash against Carlton, the day Jezza took the speckie.
He played five seasons at the world-famous football club, mostly at full back or back pocket and occasionally at centre half back.
Mick's team-mates were many of the game's household names - McKenna, Price, Picken, Tuddenham, Thompson, Greening, Moore, Kink, Cooper and the Richardson brothers to name a few.
His direct opponents just at notable - Ditterich, Kekovich, Nicholls, Keenan and Dempsey.
That 1974 clash against Hawthorn was memorable for more than just its crowd size. Playing at full back on John Hendrie, Mick was laid out by Don Scott in the first quarter and played the rest of the game with concussion.
Mick said the funny thing was he finished among the best players that day.
"I played with a bit more courage than usual in that game because I didn't know what I was doing," he grinned.
Despite his affliction, that game was a definite highlight in a time when wearing the black and white instantly created headlines and demanded public attention.
But there were also regrets.
My first night with Collingwood was an eye openerMichael Delahunty
Loaded with natural ability but an aloof nature, Mick believes he never really committed himself 100 percent to the game.
"I started at Collingwood in 1971, fresh from college, the same year as Peter Moore and Rod Oborne, and I played the first seven games in the seniors," he said.
"It seemed to be all too easy and because I didn't have to work my way into the side, my attitude was probably too casual.
"On the other hand, Moore and Oborne started in the reserves and had to do it the hard way."
An example of Mick's casual nature was the day he was playing for Murtoa against undefeated Jeparit in June, 1982.
Mick's racehorse Dangerway was running at Horsham the same day, so he called into the races on the way to the game.
Dangerway was backed from 8-1 into 5-2 and won, sparking instant celebrations at the track. After a few quiet ales, Mick headed up to Jeparit to take on the likes of Glenn Petrie and Loxley Hoffmann.
At half-time, Murtoa was down and sinking and assistant coach Mick decided he wasn't going to have his special day ruined. He came out and put in a blinder for the last half and Murtoa got up to win.
"Donk Delahunty was coach and he looked absolutely shocked when I explained my slow start to him," Mick said.
After five seasons, three reports and two suspensions at the Carringbush, Mick headed for revered Adelaide club Sturt where he was welcomed with extensive press coverage.
Mick eventually settled in well but didn't exactly make the best of starts after drifting from the pack and getting lost on his first training run, a six-mile jog along to Torrens River
Mick's greatest moment came in 1980 with his beloved hometown team. Murtoa had never won a Wimmera League flag and were thrashed by Horsham in the grand final the year before.
The Magpies were to line up against Stawell and Mick's brother Hugh was coach.
"Hugh had a team meeting at his place on the eve of the game and we all knew when we left that night that we were going to win the next day," Mick said.
"The feeling was unbelievable."
Murtoa won by nine goals of which Mick kicked three. Mail-times journalist Stephen Butler named Mick best on ground but the burly redhead wasn't so sure.
"We had a lot of good players that day but Greg Smith, Ron Ward, Donk and Hugh, Simon Caldwell and Jeff Allan stood out in particular," he said.
Murtoa's only premiership was indeed a great day but the last home and away game of the season that year still sticks in Mick's mind as the most memorable game he had ever played in.
"It was against the reigning premiers Horsham at the City Oval and the ground was packed at the Western end," he said.
"We had to win the game to get the double change and we were eight goals up at three quarter time."
There were 17 goals kicked in the last quarter and Horsham kicked the first eight of them. We went on to win by one point
Mick said he still believed that game was the turning point for Murtoa that year.
"We really believed in ourselves after that game."
Mick reckons he created history earlier that year when he was reported and suspended for hitting an unknown opponent while playing Minyip.
"The umpire got up at the tribunal and said I hit someone but he had no idea who," he said.
"I was the reigning Toohey medalist and there were no witnesses yet the tribunal gave me two weeks!"
Mick has many great memories from his VFL days and recalls fondly the professionalism of Collingwood.
"My first night of circle work was an eye opener. If you didn't pass the ball in front of your team-mates, they didn't bother trying to mark," he said.
"There was no room for error."
Mick's toughest opponent was Sam Kekovich but the player who scared him most was Carl Ditterich.
"The called Carl 'Shadow' and he used to run with his elbows at the head height of most opponents," he said.
The team-mate Mick most admired was ill-fated wingman John Greening.
Mick retired from football after a year with Stawell in 1983 and took up squash. The Stawell Hospital manager still plays golf and has been president of Stawell Turf Club for five years.