Bolter – one of the greats

By Seymour Telegraph

League stalwart Don Kilgour vividly remembers being in the Goulburn Valley League rooms at Benalla after the GVL had beaten fierce rival Ovens and Murray League for the first time.

It was in an early round of the 1978 Victorian Country Football Championships and Don can still visualise an emotional GVL president Jack Arthur addressing the packed rooms after the game.

Rising to his feet and commanding the attention of the jubilant gathering of players and fans Jack Arthur declared ‘‘no matter what faith you are, we all should be thanking God today for Bernie McCarthy’’.

It was in reference to the role McCarthy — commonly known as Bolter — had just played in securing the historic win.

Bolter was a star that day in defence with his customary powerful marking playing a key role in saving the game for the GVL.

That win propelled the GVL into a semi-final against the Latrobe Valley League on a Deakin Reserve quagmire a few weeks later.

It was game it also won which secured it a shot at winning the league’s first country championship.

The GVL met the Hampden League at Colac for that honour in what turned out to be a sweet-bitter triumph.

A justifiably proud GVL president Jack Arthur fell ill before the game, passing away early in the next week before ever getting the chance to savour the celebrations of a second history-making win for the league in the one season.

Bolter McCarthy was a star of that series for the GVL, although nearing the end of a magnificent playing career which had included 148 games with VFL club North Melbourne from 1962 to 1971.

He was in his first year playing and coaching Seymour Football Club at the time.

He took the Lions into the season decider in that year and again in 1979, but unfortunately the Lions lost both grand finals — to Shepparton by 45 points in 1978 and to Echuca by six points in 1979.

In 1980 when Seymour finished third his time with the Lions was up — but not before winning the club’s best and fairest award.

Seymour also recognised his talents by naming him in their Team Of The Century.

He later had coaching stints with Euroa and Broadford and also back at Rushworth to finally bring down the curtain on his lengthy and illustrious career.

During his days at North Melbourne, he earned a Big V jumper and held down the difficult centre half forward position, and filled a variety of roles including in the ruck and in defence.

He had a season with VFA side Preston before making his way to Bendigo to coach the South Bendigo Football Club for five years.

He claimed the 1973 Michelson Medal for the league’s best and fairest and in the following year led South Bendigo to the premiership.

After his time at South Bendigo, Bolter was recruited in 1977 by Rushworth Football Club, then competing in the Heathcote Football League, with the portfolio as coach of both seniors and seconds (reserves) teams.

One of the Rushworth players of that era, Alan McLean recalls Bolter making an immediate impact in Iron Bark country.

‘‘With chronic ankle problems he completed just 10 games during the 1977 home-and-away season, kicking just three goals but finishing in the top 10 in the league best and fairest award, the Cheatley Medal,’’ McLean said.

‘‘Then playing as a ruckman he had to leave the field injured in the preliminary final but the Tigers had a strong win over Stanhope.

‘‘In the grand final at Mt Pleasant Bolter coached the undefeated seconds to the premiership, also against Stanhope.

‘‘He then strapped up his crook ankles to play against Colbinabbin at full-forward, moving regular spearhead and century goal-kicker of that season Mick O’Sullivan to a half-forward flank.

‘‘It was no disrespect to Mick but Bolter couldn’t run so it was full-forward or nothing.

‘‘He had to be persuaded to play on after half-time, by which time he had three goals. In the second half he booted another four goals, sealing the game with 10 minutes to play.

‘‘Ten goals for the season, with seven of them in the most important game of all — that’s what Bolter could do.’’

Bolter was reported only once in his life — for striking.

He told the tribunal he only placed his fist on his opponent’s chin and pushed as hard as he could.

Ten years later he returned to Rushworth for a season as non-playing coach, but Rushworth lost the first semi-final played at Stanhope.

Bolter was a guest-of-honour at Rushworth’s 40-year premiership reunion in April 2017, greatly enjoying the day and entertaining the gathering with his warm recollections and his genuine fondness for Rushworth.

Such was their respect for him 10 of his former team mates took the trouble to attend his funeral in Seymour.

He was one of 10 children, was twice married and had six children of his own and 10 grandchildren — all boys.

Cael, one of them, has been a regular with Avenel in the Kyabram League in recent years.

Bernie McCarthy, who had been battling ill health for some time, died at his Seymour home on February 16 at the age of 75.

Gone but not forgotten, with a lot of respect and fond memories.