2011 Hall of fame Inductee – Eric Leo Cornelius
Recruited From: South Wanderers
Joined or First Played for Rovers : 1963
Last Played for Rovers : 1975
Premierships – 1964,1971,1972,1974 (Seniors)
1962 – (Reserves) Grand Final – 1970
Reserves Coach – 1962
Vice-Captain – 1973
B & F R/Up – 1970
O & M Rep (5 games) – 1970, 1971, 1972
Total Games Played : 169 Seniors 21 Reserves
Total Goals Kicked : 29
Other Honors :
Played Shepparton United 1965-1968 (49 Games)
Premiership – 1967 GV Rep – 1967
Long before the days when kids only had to turn on the telly to become infatuated with the elite sportsmen of the nation, Mark Booth had his own football hero.
He was 7 or 8 when his dad, Fred introduced him to a mud-splattered figure in the Rovers dressing-rooms. Only a mere slip of a lad himself, the player asked Mark if he would mind unlacing his boots and help him pull off his grubby No.28 guernsey.
Mark would follow his idol’s every move at training; watching as he developed into a star. It was to be a huge thrill a decade or so later, when he would run out alongside Eric Cornelius as a member of the Rovers senior side.
Eric Leo Cornelius and his inseparable mate John Welch lived around the corner from one another in the sparsely-populated West End of Wangaratta and their days were filled with playing cricket and kicking a football with the kids of the neighbourhood.
Most of them joined South Wanderers when they were old enough to play Junior League football. The Wanderers were a fruitful recruiting spot for the Wangaratta Rovers in the 50’s and 60’s and eight of their 1960-61 premiership teams were to become regular senior players for the Hawks.
To further strengthen their ties with the Rovers, Eric and John would spend time after school working at Bob Rose’s Sports Store. Many years later, they took over the business.
Their first season in the Rovers side was in 1962 and a solid apprenticeship spent in the Reserves resulted in a very young side taking out the flag. It was a day which saw the senior team pipped by Benalla, in Rose’s final game for the club.
Rose’s successor Ken Boyd placed his faith in youth, as the building blocks for a successful era were put in place. Cornelius was a revelation. His excellent judgement gave him an advantage over opposing wingmen, who were often caught out of position and caught stranded, as he pushed the Hawks goalwards.
It was rare to see him outmarked by players of similar stature and the Cornelius trademark was the ‘spekky’ over the top of the pack.
The Rovers were well-night unstoppable for most of 1964 and they marched to 15 consecutive wins. Eric was a factor in their superiority. He was, by now, working as a bank clerk in Melbourne. This became somewhat of a tricky situation, as the O & M constitution decreed that no player was to reside more than 25 miles from their home ground.
Wangaratta protested on the eve of the finals, that the Hawks had breached the rules. The celebrated ‘Cornelius Case’ was brought before the Tribunal. The Rovers argued the ambiguity in the rule and the decision was handed down in their favour. Overcoming a form slump which saw them lose four games straight, the Hawks recovered to defeat the ‘Pies in the ’64 Grand Final.
Illness forced Eric to miss the 1965 premiership and his bank job then took him to Shepparton, where he spent 1966, ’67 and part of 1968 with City United.
Eric set Deakin Reserve alight with his dominance on the wing and represented the Goulburn Valley League. He loves to tell the tale of a career highlight – United’s 1967 premiership victory……
“We finished fourth and our only ruckman broke his leg before the finals. In the first semi our centre half back broke his leg and two players were suspended. We were flat-out getting a team together. Our Reserves had finished on the bottom of the ladder. In the end we recalled two retired old stars and finished up winning the flag by six goals. “
Cornelius returned to the Hawks mid-way through 1968 and made a major contribution, as another Golden Era dawned. He was regarded as the League’s pre-eminent winger and wore the Ovens and Murray Guernsey in 1970, ’71 and ’72.
He was a handy back-stop to his old Junior League team-mate Neville Hogan, providing priceless experience to a young side. In each of the Rovers Grand Final wins over Yarrawonga – 1971, 1972 and 1974 – he turned in outstanding performances. His 16 kicks after half-time in the 1972 win was a contributing factor, after the Pigeons held a handy lead at the major-break in a fiery contest.
Eric has probably embellished this story over the years, describing the greatest day of his footballing life……It was July 4th 1974, and the Hawks, written-off with three key players missing, met Wangaratta. He was stand-in captain that day, and he felt the urge to utter a few inspirational words to the players when they were in deep trouble.
They came from the clouds to clinch a dramatic win !
The Cornelius career finished quietly in 1975. He had been concussed in a match at Corowa. Later in the season he was knocked out 3 times in 5 weeks. He went to a doctor, who advised him to have a 10-week break.
Rather than take that option he hung up his boots. Eric had figured in 169 senior games and played a crucial role in shaping the famous Rovers spirit.
His involvement in post-playing days centred around the Past Players Association and generally lending support to the Club where required. He is a popular figure when he drops in to the Findlay Oval at intervals on his round-Australia odyssey.