A Seagull, through and through

Picture: RUSSELL BENNETT

Tooradin favourite son Matt Finch entered Round 7 of this West Gippsland Cricket Association season with 398 career wickets at the club to his name, knowing the match would be his last before moving up to Queensland. He sat down with Gazette sports editor RUSSELL BENNETT to talk about his journey with the Gulls…

 

Russell Bennett: So this is your 30th, and last, season…

Matt Finch: Yes mate. Technically in my first season I only fielded because mum said I was too young. I was six turning seven.

RB: And this was clearly well before Milo Cricket or any of that…

MF: That’s right. I had to go to under-12s and went there and paid my 50-cent ball fee to Barry Freeman. It was only after Christmas that mum finally gave in. I was pestering her since, I think, February of 1988.

We had a bicentennial cricket game out at Warneet oval between Blind Bight and Warneet. We only played with a tennis ball, and even then mum said I was too young. She just told me to go and sit in the field, but I kept pestering her so she finally gave in.

RB: What made you want to play in the first place?

MF: My grandfather. It was probably the actual arguments that we used to have over the cricket that really drew the passion out. My grandfather got me inspired to play cricket. He taught me how to hold a bat and how to knock it in, how to hold a cricket ball – everything. He played for NSW Country as an opening bat and opening bowler, and he played a bit of Premier Cricket in New South Wales as well. There was actually a story written on him hitting a ball over an aeroplane because in his hometown of Wingham there’s this monument that he hit a ball over. There was this big story – ‘Man hits ball over plane’. My dad wasn’t really a sportsman or anything – he was a merchant seaman. Pop filled that role of a sporting mentor.

RB: So you were living in this area then?

MF: Yeah, I think I was three-years-old when we first moved down this way. I can remember the day we moved down here because I actually s*** myself. No word of a lie! I was crook as a dog though. It’s actually one of my first ever memories. I s*** my pants while dad was trying to set up my bed. I can’t remember some big events just a few years ago, but I’ll always remember the day we moved to Blind Bight.

RB: From when your mum finally caved and let you first play cricket, have you basically played at least part of 30 seasons since?

MF: Yep. I’m 36 going on 37, and there were 10 years there where I went to sea so I only played for half the time in those seasons and I think I retired four or five times in that space of time. It hasn’t been steady cricket the whole time – I think probably around 22 of those years were steady cricket.

RB: So you were in the merchant navy at one point?

MF: Yeah, that’s right. We delivered cargo to oil rigs and that kind of thing. It was a bit of an eye-opener, and it was really a single man’s life. I actually went to sea to provide a good life for my daughter and then when my boy came along I just couldn’t see myself going back… especially when I had to take seven months off for tearing a tendon in my thumb pulling a sock on!

RB: You did what?!

MF: It happened about five years ago. We were on smoke-o at work and some priority cargo was headed out so we had to hurry up and load it up. It was an old footy sock and I was pulling it up and I just felt this bang in my hand, and nothing. My hand just blew up and I told the ship’s captain and he thought I was having a stroke! He was getting me to stick my tongue out and all sorts of things. It was just lucky that we were in port. He sent me to the Broome hospital and they just gave me some anti-inflammatories and told me I had tendinitis.

I went back to work and all the boys were giving me hell – telling me to give them a thumbs up and all sorts of things. I’d completely ruptured a tendon in my thumb. I had surgery and three months into the rehab I still couldn’t move it. The surgery didn’t take, and I had to have it again. All up I had seven months off work for pulling a sock on. But having that time off kind of worked out well because Will was still a newborn, but that also led to that whole downward spiral I had of having to keep going to sea.

RB: What do you mean by that mate?

MF: Well I went back for two more trips. The second trip out – from coming back from the injury – I remember I just broke down. I couldn’t even get out of the cabin and talk to anyone. I was just that homesick with the realisation that I was going to miss half of my family’s life. I couldn’t do it anymore, and they ended up choppering me off the ship on to the rig and getting me home from there.

Work was fantastic about the whole thing, but I did struggle for a while – even when I got back home. It was really hard on Sammy, my wife.

I really wasn’t interested in anything, and I had to even force myself to play cricket because that was one thing I really knew I loved. When you’re struggling, sometimes the stuff that you know you love just doesn’t register. When Gaps (Brenton Adams) took back over at the start of this season, he told me he wanted me back playing and it really brought that passion back.

RB: And you’d played a lot under him before…

MF: Yeah, and he inspires you pretty well. It was a series of things – my wife standing by me, and the boys at the club saying ‘let’s do this’. But then by the time Round 3 rolled around my knee started feeling like crap! I’m just getting old, mate. If I was a horse you would have shot me by now!

RB: Saturday marked your last day playing for Tooradin, didn’t it?

MF: Yeah. When I actually sent the text to the boys that we were going to sell the house, I was out the back sitting underneath the lemon tree just crying. I’ve told the boys once a year for about five years that I’m retiring, but that wasn’t the usual, once-a-year, Finchy’s retirement speech.

RB: You’re moving up to Queensland, mate. Why?

MF: We’ve been talking about it for about five years. Sammy is originally from Queensland and she’s just got so much family support up there. My parents moved back up north too, and you just don’t see anyone anymore because life gets in the way for everyone. We just miss that big support group.

I’ve already contacted a few cricket clubs up there as well, just quietly.

RB: Well you do have some stats to your name if they were to look you up on MyCricket…

MF: I’m just disappointed it doesn’t have all of them! (laughs). I’ve asked the record keepers to have a look at my stats – not so much for my ego, but more for the little man when he gets older so that he knows his dad could do something on the cricket field.

RB: So talk me through some of those stats. You’ve taken a couple of eight-wicket hauls…

MF: Yep. The first one – I was 17 playing C Grade against Pakenham Upper and let’s just say if I bowled a no ball or a wide, I was getting a wicket the next ball. I’d miss the pitch, and I’d bowl a guy straight after. The other one was against Cardinia in A Grade, but the first one was more memorable. I took 7/25 against Pakky Upper and I can’t really remember that one, 7/72 against Footscray for South Melbourne, 8/25 against Pakky Upper, 8/29 against Gembrook, 7/39 in a semi-final against Cardinia, and 8/70 against Cardinia as well.

RB: So you played a bit at South Melbourne as well?

MF: Yeah, I played a season there. It was all going well until I played footy the next year and got dumped into the deck and literally just lost my pace, so I came back and played at Tooradin. I actually played at South Melbourne before I made my A Grade debut for Tooradin.

There were just a lot of bowlers to get ahead of at Tooradin – you had ‘Big Boy’ (Greg Bethune), Richardson, Gray, ‘Dutchy’ (Ricky Holland), and a cast of thousands who came in and out. I was a 17-year-old kid trying to break into a team of legends, and when I finally got a chance it really sunk in. The opportunity to follow these great bowlers was just unbelievable.

RB: At that point, did you have anyone at Tooradin who you looked up to in particular?

MF: It was weird because Greg (Bethune) had only just come into the club from Lang Lang. He’d only been there for a few years, but the guy was a freak. I was almost jealous of him, because I’d do all the hard work of a pre-season and getting myself fit to get the opportunity, and then all of a sudden he’d come in at Round 2 or 3 and just take poles left, right and centre. My idol was really my old coach – Luke Sibley. He was a batsman, though.

RB: I know you were known for your bowling – but you could bat, even though people would tell you that you couldn’t…

MF: Mate, I batted three the other week! …But I might’ve got my expectations mixed up with my capabilities. I came in, batted at three, and made nine. I made an 80 one day in Sub District – I was running late that day because I played golf in the morning for a mate’s birthday, but then ‘Dude Rat’ (Daniel Quinn) and I ended up making about 110 runs in about 10 overs. But my favourite was the 50 I made against Catani when Fergie – the old cricket writer at the paper – was getting stuck into me. Benny Maroney was bowling from one end off his wrong foot and anything he put up I punched over his head, so he started bowling short and he was really slow but I just kept ducking. The umpire – Mick Ralph – ended up giving Budgie a warning for intimidating bowling! (laughs). Dutchy was up the other end, and he just said “Finchy, this is getting embarrassing – just get inside of it and hook the bloke over the fence”. So, he bounced me and I put him over the fence and made my 50.

RB: Mate, when you move up to Queensland what will you do for work?

MF: Well there’s this job in cricket I’ve applied for – that’d be a dream – but I’m a Jack Of All Trades mate! I built my own bar and this entertainment area we’re sitting in. I actually started off as a plumber and realised I didn’t like dirt or being in trenches, and that I was a pretty bad plumber; from there I helped a mate out fencing; from there I went to Jayco Caravans; from there I went to be a merchant seaman; and then from there I became a remedial massage therapist (laughs).

RB: Tell me about when you were younger and you turned the yard of your family’s home into a cricket pitch…

MF: Well it was the only time I mowed the lawn for the old man! It was in the summer and I’d have all my mates around and we wouldn’t just mow a pitch, we’d shave it. Dad used to have an old water heater so my mates and I spent two or three hours each day taking in turns of rolling it over the pitch, and we’d play all day and all night. We’d play juniors in the morning – this was before I started playing seniors at about 13 – and we’d come home and play there too. If it wasn’t that, when dad would take an arvo nap, I’d be outside hitting a ball in a stocking off the clothesline. Cricket was our lives.

RB: Speaking of pitches – and I’ve had this explained to me by someone fairly close to you – there was one time in a semi-final where you missed the pitch a number of balls in a row and had to be dragged, but then the following week you tore Pakenham to shreds in the grand final?

MF: Yeah – I don’t get it. When you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it. If that ball isn’t sitting right in your hand… look, it was a dry day a couple of years ago, but the ball felt like a cake of soap and I don’t know why. Next week I came out and I think I took five, got man of the match, and we beat Pakenham inside a day.

RB: Funny you should mention the ball not feeling right in your hand mate, because I’ve been told by someone else that you weren’t always great at looking after the new ball…

MF: Mate, I cannot hit the seam! (laughs).

RB: I’ve had it explained to me that at one point the mid-off literally had to place the ball in your hand the right way so it wouldn’t get scuffed up…

MF: I’ve got that flick of the wrist, but it doesn’t come traditionally straight down – it’s more to the side. But when it does hit the seam – if it hits the seam – it does heaps! I know this came from Dutchy – he’d look at the ball next over and say “Is this thing seriously two overs old?”

RB: Did you play much Country Week cricket?

MF: I played three years of it, yeah.

RB: And they were some pretty eventful times…

MF: I know where this is headed! (laughs). We’re putting this on record, so I’ll try to keep it PG. I didn’t have any money at that stage because I wasn’t working, so my mum put money into Luke Turner’s account and there were a couple of ex-men – shall we say… he said he’d start releasing some of this money my mum had given him if I went up and asked these ladies a couple of hard-hitting questions. I walked up and it was a bit of a loud nightclub. I went to talk to one of the ladies, and she couldn’t hear me so I went a bit closer and yelled in her ear. I turned around and walked back and here’s Turner and the boys in hysterics laughing! I said they knocked me back, and he said I kissed her. I was adamant it never happened and I lost the plot. I don’t think I ever bowled as quick as I did the next day. That’s the truth… in a PG-rated version.

RB: You bowled with some feeling that following day, but what about that time you bowled 40 overs uphill into the wind at Tooradin?

MF: Well it wasn’t planned! Dutchy broke down and a couple of the other guys weren’t feeling great so the skipper – Trevor Johnston – kept asking me if I was right to keep on bowling. I hated fielding – I always wanted to just bowl. I guess I was well known for my long spells – I think my average for that year would have been around 30 overs or so. I bowled 40 overs and took 4/108 and they made 260-odd. I used to be able to put it on the spot, Russ! These days I hope it just comes out and bounces.

RB: A few people I’ve spoken to about that have actually said that it might’ve been the gutsiest spell of bowling they’d seen at Tooradin…

MF: Well I think it was 34 degrees that day and blowing a gale. The old chafe wasn’t flash, I can tell you that much! I was walking around like John Wayne for a while. I think it was Cal O’Hare’s 18th that night and I think I lasted four or five beers and I was screaming. It was when Sibba (Sibley) had gone to Beaconsfield and it was the first time we’d played against them. There was a bit of feeling in it, so I just tried my best to show him that he’d made the wrong decision. He actually left for the right reasons, looking back now, but it hurt at the time when he left.

RB: One of your great mates reckons you might’ve been Tooradin’s best bowler for about 10 years there…

MF: I don’t reckon, no. I can rate myself – yes – but I don’t rate myself that highly. I was a workhorse and I played my role. That’s it.

RB: Talk about ‘Big Boy’ and the sort of bowler he was back in the day…

MF: He was just fluent. You talk to young quicks about rhythm – not going out there and trying to blast guys off the pitch. Greg was perfect at that – it was this silky action. He was one of those bowlers who just had this complete awe factor, but he was so laidback too! He disgusted me (laughs).

RB: By contrast, you probably bowled a bit better when there was feeling involved…

MF: When it starts getting a bit heated, that’s when you think about harder about how to get the batsman out. There’s a bit of pride in it – you never like being hit, and I’ve been hit for some very large sixes in my time, Russ.

This one guy, playing for the MPCA against us in a warm-up game for Country Week, put me over the new clubrooms at Pakenham – over the pavilion on the front ground and landed on the netball courts. Earlier this season Dale Tormey hit me for a massive on-drive six at Tooradin too. It would have landed in the middle of the netball courts at Tooradin. There must be something about netball courts!

RB: This will be a better memory mate – What about the six wickets you took in a semi-final against Officer about 15 years ago…

MF: Yeah, that was the year we won it in A Grade. Officer was getting on top, and I think I bowled 34 overs into the wind again, because that’s all I’m allowed to do! (laughs)

I keep on asking to bowl with the wind. Who wants to bowl against it, really? But when you’re in a team with Dutchy, Big Boy, and Richo – they’ll be rotated with the wind in these nice four, five over spells and here’s the old workhorse at the other end bowling 34!

RB: And you guys beat Cardy by a couple of wickets the following week?

MF: Yeah, that was nerve-wracking – both one of the most terrifying and enjoyable days of my life. It was the ultimate. Some nights I’ll be asleep in bed and I’ll wake up thinking I’ll have to go out and bat against Doigy (champion Bulls spinner Dwayne Doig). It was a weird day – we were on top with the ball, Gus Gray was doing his thing and Greg (Bethune) and I both took a couple as well. They brought me on for a second spell and Sibba dropped Doigy when they were on about 110 and they made 150-odd. Ashy and Mick Moon then came out and blasted them with the bat – I don’t think we lost one until after the 100-mark – but then all of a sudden one wicket fell, then two when Sibba fell to a ripper yorker, then three, and all of a sudden the nerves kicked in. We needed another 40 or 50 and had maybe five wickets in hand. Then before I know it I’m told to pad up and I’m number 11. Mate, I’ve got sweaty hands just thinking about it now! I reckon I went through about 80 cigarettes that day. But when we won…. Look I dreaded putting those pads on in the first place, but I don’t think I took them off until about 11 that night.

RB: But wait a second mate, as I understand it at the height of the rivalry between the Gulls and the Bulls, you decided you wanted to go to Cardinia!

MF: Look, it was actually my mum that stopped it from happening! (laughs). I was at sea the year before and Tooradin only played me for two games and that was in E Grade. I spoke to the coach at the time and he said he’d rather play blokes who could commit for the whole season, which was fair enough looking back, but at that time I had no idea that Gaps had been appointed coach for the next season. I spoke to Lukey (Turner) about it – who had gone from Tooradin to Cardy, himself – and I said it was pissing me off, that I had more to give than in E Grade. We went down to Tasmania to watch Hawthorn on this boys trip, and for a brief second it was a reality that I was going to Cardy. We were out this one night in Launceston and here comes Benny Darose and out of his pocket comes a clearance form and a phone call from Coops (Mark Cooper). I ended up signing it on a pizza box, but I was pretty pissed mate. It wouldn’t have held up in a court of law! (laughs). The hardest conversation to have about it was with Barry Freeman to tell him I was leaving Tooradin, but he called my mum and she said “there is no chance in hell you’re ever leaving Tooradin!”. I just said “fair enough, yes mum!”

RB: Speaking of Lukey Turner, what was it like sharing a house with him?

MF: It was fun. God it was fun, but if those walls could talk mate… wow. I’d feel sorry for the new owners! (laughs)

RB: On a serious note though – you’re such great mates, you two. What was it like seeing him in that hospital bed after his accident? (when he fell through a roof in a workplace incident)

MF: It was weird. We had a 10-year premiership reunion so I was super hungover when I got the phone call from Lachie Gillespie. He told me what happened and said there was talk he mightn’t make it, and all of a sudden I’m calling my wife stressing out and right at that time the bathroom at home sprung a leak so there was water everywhere. I rush out to turn the water off and I’m just bawling my eyes out. I was an absolute mess. I was on my time off, so Ando (Mark Andolfatto) and I went in to see him every day until he got better. I remember going in to see him when he was in a coma and it just looked like he was sleeping. I said to him “Lukey, you look like Kevin Bartlett!” because he had this shaved head and all of a sudden it was like he was laughing and he heard it. But when I saw him in there he looked so different – he had Gilbert (his helmet) on, and he had a girlfriend!

RB: Righto, let’s mix it up again mate – what about the time at Kooweerup where you turned up for a game hungover and you didn’t have a drawstring in your whites…

MF: Look, everyone’s got one story of a senior cricket game when they’ve rocked up hungover from the night before. I think it was my third season in A Grade, and it was a big learning curve. I got out of the car and still smelled like booze. I went to put my whites on and tie the drawstring of my pants up, and it snapped! I had to bowl with my pants like that – holding them up – until at tea one of the guys gave me some hay bale string to tie them with. It wasn’t a great day that day, put it that way.

RB: And I hear, for a big scary fast bowler, your bouncer was never your strong suit…

MF: Seriously, any time I bowled a bouncer, it was an accident. I remember I tried once and I yorked a bloke and clean-bowled him! (laughs). I actually hit Lukey Turner in the head once and got him out the next ball.

I think I bowled about two or three legitimate bouncers in my entire career. I think it’s just because I’ve conditioned myself to bowl just short of a length outside off, or yorkers. Trying anything other than that just didn’t feel natural.

RB: And, finally, what about the time you basically ended up rolling around on a pitch, slapping it in anger…

MF: Look, I’m not the best sledger Russ. I’ll admit that. The umpire gave one not out, and it was plumb LBW. I’m on the ground slapping the pitch, unleashing this tirade of swearing at the batsman. My sledging is woeful, but I don’t sledge now – I give batting tips!

RB: Well mate, that’s a great way to end this, I reckon – you talking about batting. Thanks for the chat.

MF: Thanks Russ. It’s been great.

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