Phil's 50th year

Ken Piesse profiles an evergreen 61-year-old who still bats as well as almost anybody in the Sub-District lower grades.

Phil O’Meara this summer celebrated his 50th year in club cricket in typical style, by winning yet another batting average, this time with the thirds at the Kingston Saints, one of the newest of the Victorian sub-district clubs.

The 61-year-old is still sharp and keen to achieve, his favorite back cut as lethal now as when he was making his name in the golden West as an outstanding country prodigy from the Central Wheatbelt.

“Cricket is in the blood. Always has been, always will,” he says.

His distinguished career has taken him from his old home town of Trayning – three hours from Perth – to Fremantle, Perth and onto Melbourne where he played and captained at both Premier and Sub-District League level with St Kilda, Port Melbourne and currently the Kingston Saints.

O’Meara says cricket continues to breed outstanding individuals from lawyers, QCs and captains of industry to the backroom boys and hard workers inherent at every successful club.

“It takes a lot of hours but it’s worth it. To see the young ones come on and take their place in the first and second XIs and become good cricketers in their own right is very satisfying.

“It’s also very important for the future and strength of Victorian cricket to offer the best possible conditions and have the kids learn under the best possible coaching structures. This is cricket’s most testing time in history with some kids preferring football or Saturday work. We must web_omeara_phil_st_kmaintain a strong framework of competition with Premier at the top and then the subbie clubs giving kids valuable turf experience and fast-tracking their development onto the higher grades.

“Scott Boland played in the juniors with us, went down to Frankston, got himself really fit and he’s playing in the Shield and one-day teams. It’s a vital role that we and other subbie clubs play.”

O’Meara is particularly proud that Kingston’s home ground, the Walter Galt Oval, is soon to be relaid with a billiard-type surface which will make it, with Caulfield, sub district’s finest ground.

“If we can give the kids the best facilities, they’ll come and play and be proud of having started with us in the subbies,” he says.

Born in Kellerberrin and raised in Trayning in country WA, O’Meara lived in the bush until he was 16. Away games at “neighbouring” town Wialki involved a round trip of 170 miles. Once Walki were short so Phil, then 12 and his brother Kevin, 11, volunteered to play for the opposition and shared a 25 run 10th wicket stand which all but won the match.

“Lucky we played at home that day as they would have probably made us walk home,” he said.

As a 16-year-old at Country Week, he made three 100s in six digs and moved to the city, initially playing with powerful South Perth before blossoming at Fremantle where he played more than 100 first XI games and captain-coached the club.

“Country Week was always a lot of fun,” he said. “For many in the team it was the only time they ever came to Perth and it always was rostered after harvesting so they used to treat the matches fairly casually. A lot of beer was enjoyed.

“Kevin and I would have to open the batting, the bowling and chase everything, too!”

O'Meara said country games in WA would go on, no matter the condition of the ground, or the heat. ‘We played one match and it was 113 or 114 degrees on the old scale. I could feel the heat through my Dunlop Volleys. I remember coming out at tea and the guys lining up for a cup of tea at the ordinary hot water tap. They didn’t have to boil the water that day! But we played on. Anything for a game.”

O'Meara boarded at Aquinas College in Perth where he first played at Under-23 and first XI club level standard.

In one Under 23 match at Fremantle’s own Stevens Reserve he was not out at lunch and told the break was 40 minuets, he ducked home to have a sandwich with his young wife Anne and on return made a sparkling century. The following weekend, Freo was again at home and O’Meara was not out at lunch, so went home again only on return to find out that the break was 30 minutes and he’d been timed out “We lost the game, too, by just a couple of runs. Never again was I to go home for lunch!”

In 1978-79, he led Fremantle to the WACA senior premiership making 834 runs at an average of almost 60 including 160 in the final. Internationals Kim Hughes (154) and Graeme Wood (107) also made centuries for Fremantle in this game, the team amassing 9-587 dec. against Subiaco-Floreat, still the club’s record score. In the semi he’d surprised by giving Wood a bowl and he responded with six for 37.

O’Meara said the lessons learnt from the club’s previous captain-coach Ross Edwards were numerous, Edwards, an ex-Test player, bringing a fresh vitality and belief to the playing unit.phil_at_galt_reserve

Always involved in the sporting goods industry, O’Meara moved to Melbourne as a 30-year-old having represented Western Australia in one first-class game and been 12th man on six or seven occasions.

He made 9 and 20 in his only Sheffield Shield appearance, against Geoff Dymock and Denis Schuller at the ‘Gabba, in 1977-78. “I was given out lbw just before tea when we declared,” he said. “It was (umpire) Mel Johnson’s first game. Had I been 20 not out I might have got a go in the next match down in Sydney but it wasn’t to be.”

Crossing the Nullarbor, he was told by Melbourne that (at 30) he was “too old for us” and after initial interest from North Melbourne he joined St Kilda where he played for four years, including one year as captain-coach and another as coach.

Among the first-gamers who joined the Saints in his time included David Johnstone and David Robinson, while in his final year Shaun Graf returned from Perth, as captain.

The West Indian express Hartley Alleyne also played his first games before being sacked in mid year and joining Brighton.

“Hartley was ferociously fast, but only for three or four overs,” said O’Meara. “We had 40 or 50 minutes to bowl at Footscray late one night and ‘Tambo’ (Geoff Tamblyn) was standing 25 yards back behind the stumps and I was 30 yards back at first slip. He must have got four or five and he frightened the living daylights out of everyone. But never have I come across anybody whose second spell was so down on pace compared with the first. He just couldn’t sustain it.”

Another memorable game came against South Melbourne at the Lakeside Oval when South, chasing a modest score of 170 were 4-163 and cruising only to lose six for five to go down by a couple of runs. “You never forget games like those,” he said.

O’Meara’s best innings at Premier level, 96 against North Melbourne, came after the Saints had slumped to 4-40 chasing 300-plus. “Andrew Lynch got a 100 and I got to 96 before playing one on. It was a massive win for us at the time and showed that we were building and developing into a side to be reckoned with.”

Having won two premierships at Fremantle, O’Meara won three more as captain-coach at Port Melbourne where his leading players included footballers Graeme Anderson, Robert Tinsley and Vic “Stretch” Aanensen and experienced ex-District players including Glen McBurney and Paul Crocker.

“We had superb facilities, both on the main ground at Port and at Murphy Reserve where the practice wickets were for a time. The wickets were so flat you could bat until it was dark, when the boys got a bit reckless. They wanted to go in and play cards. They weren’t too keen either on practicing on Oaks Day – a friend of a friend invariably had a set of member tickets, so we’d train in the morning instead.”

Often O’Meara would be able to do his entire Christmas shop at Port on a Thursday night leading into Christmas, locals bringing in brand new goods from remote control cars to perfume and watches  – all “hot” off the docks.

O’Meara’s captaincy was always innovative. Once he played set mid-ons against Williamstown’s Steve Sandri, a trio of fielders standing just a yard or two apart like they were in the slips.

“We always wanted to be the best fielding team,” he said. “The first year we won the Championship we had 19 run outs before Christmas.”

O’Meara rates the best innings at club level he has ever seen as a century by Elsternwick’s Rob Gartrell. “He came in around the 10th over and just smashed us,” he said.

Vice-president and chairman of the VSDCA and chairman of selectors at the Kingston Saints, O’Meara attends two and three meetings a week.

“Cricket can’t afford to be complacent,” he said. “We must keep pushing forward, improving our product and encouraging the young ones to stay involved.”

Ken Piesse
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