Team-mates who hadn’t seen one another in decades rekindled friendships, while those who were once bitter enemies on the field came together to share laughs and a beer at Saturday’s Maher Cup reunion, held at the Cootamundra Country Club last Saturday.
It was probably the final Maher Cup reunion, and about 180 former players representing about 20 teams enjoyed a night to remember.
It was a special occasion, with Gundagai well-represented by players such as Bronc Jones, Bruce McCarthy, Rex Murphy, Brian Reardon and Allan Bassett.
There was also George Ballard, who, now in his 90s, was the elder statesman among the group.
Tumut’s Barry Madigan read a speech penned by the late Pat “Scoop” Sullivan and first delivered by Pat some 10 years earlier at another Maher Cup reunion in Tumut.
“The Maher Cup story is packed with fascinating football facts, but it is also packed with legend and myths which have grown over the years,” Pat wrote.
“When Tumut hotelier Ted Maher donated the cup way back in 1920, he could have had little idea that this was to become the most coveted and famous of all football trophies in country NSW.
“Maher Cup football was the toughest. It was a grand final every week, for each week the Cup was either won or lost. Even a draw meant a loss for the challenging team.
“Club officials looked on the Cup as the horn of plenty of Rugby League, cash cascading from it. And for players, it was honour and glory, and a chance for a special place in a club’s history. For fans, there was the vicarious pleasure of seeing your town’s sporting idols belt the socks off some other town’s hopefuls.”
There were 728 Maher Cup matches in total, featuring about 3000 players.
The Cup itself cost just 15 guineas – but it became the centre of rows and ructions which cost thousands, in one case at least even leading to an action in the NSW Supreme Court, when Harden and Cootamundra became desperately serious about who owned the Cup.
At first it was a rugby union trophy, but as rugby league took over the territory it became a challenge trophy first played for between Gundagai and Tumut and later spreading to the old Group 9 area. Even in those earliest days it had crowd pulling power, with reports saying over 1000 spectators were present at a match between Gundagai and Tumut in 1922.
At its height, crowds were spoken of as being 4000, travelling by special trains, sitting on benches on the back of trucks, getting there any way they could.
The final match was played in 1971, when Tumut defeated Young to hold the Cup, forever.