Shattered Walla mourns Merv Neagle after truck crash
HE came from Dimboola, made his name at Essendon and didn’t set foot in Walla until he was 30.
He married a Walla girl, played cricket and tennis for Walla, drove trucks and, after a nomadic coaching career, finally took the reins of the Walla Hoppers as senior coach this year.
The footy club and the town joined his family and the wider footy world in mourning
Neagle, who was killed in a truck accident near Griffith yesterday, aged 54.
Tributes poured in for the former Essendon player, who played more than 200 games in the then VFL for the Bombers, and the Sydney Swans.
Walla Football Club president Garry Mickan led the chorus, saying he had lost a friend first and coach second.
“Every Sunday we would talk,” Mr Mickan said last night.
“He would come out to the farm and sometimes it was a pain in the backside, but it made us close.
“You can’t always say that about a president and coach.
“I think Merv had friendships like that with a lot of the people from Walla.
“He was respected as Merv Neagle the person and not Merv Neagle the former Essendon champion.
“The town is hurting.”
Neagle put his hand up to coach Walla late last year.
He then quickly set about lifting the Hume league’s most successful club off the bottom of the ladder.
With the help of a handful of recruits from his days in the Northern Territory, including former Richmond player Relton Roberts, he took the Hoppers to the brink of finals action before tragically losing his life yesterday.
But Mr Mickan said Neagle was about more than the wins and losses columns.
“Merv was a larrikin, but a lovable larrikin,” he said.
“He could come down hard as a coach and then have a joke.
“I think that’s one of the reasons people liked him.”
Neagle’s youngest sons, Matthew and Jaxon, play in the Hoppers’ fourths and, true to form, were on the training track last night with their mates around them.
While Mr Mickan said the passing had traumatised the 700-strong community, there was never any thought of Walla forfeiting its final-round match against Lockhart tomorrow.
“I spoke to Donna (wife) and she made it pretty clear that Merv would have wanted us to play,” he said.
“That’s the way he was.
“He loved his family, his footy and the town and has made a remarkable impact in the time he was with us.”
Neagle, who coached Merbein, Sale, North Albury, Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes, Balranald, St Mary’s and Mount Barker before joining Walla, was no slouch with the cricket bat, either.
He donned the whites for the first time in the Brocklesby and District association in the late 1980s when free of training commitments with the Sydney Swans.
Former Walla publican and cricketer Danny Milne, who had stayed in touch with Neagle since moving to the Riverina, said Neagle didn’t have to be asked twice to play.
“After a couple of weeks, you would have thought Merv had lived in Walla all of his life,” Mr Milne said.
“He was just one of the boys.
“He loved his cricket ... and didn’t mind a few beers after a game.
“In a lot of ways he was what country sport is all about.”
Neagle drove trucks for Hehir’s Transport and the Rand-based business was devastated to lose the “good bloke and great employee”.
Managing director Ross Hehir said Neagle’s love of a chat made him a popular figure among farmers while he was carting grain around the district.
“He got caught at a farm one night and the bloke rang up and thanked us very much,” Mr Hehir said.
“He just said what a great bloke Merv was, and he didn’t even follow Australian rules, but that was the sort of bloke Merv was.
“That’s the way Merv left people.”
Police investigators believe Neagle lost control of the fully laden grain truck in a series of S-bends on the Kidman Way near the village of Tharbogang.
The truck rolled and came to rest in a nearby orchard.
Neagle died at the scene.
Neagle is survived by his wife, Donna, and six children, Stacey, Jay, Jydon, Nathan, Matthew and Jaxon.