Way Out West – 100 years of Northern Riverina FNL

By Rod Gillett

Soaring above the skyline of Ungarie is the Big Footy, a spectacular 800-kilogram fibreglass red Sherrin, proclaiming the village as the “Home of the Danihers”.

To find the Big Footy you need to travel north west out of West Wyalong for about 45 kilometres along the West Wyalong-Condobolin road, drive into town down the main street, you can’t miss it….

According to the Federal member for Riverina and former Wagga Daily Advertiser chief football writer Michael McCormack, “Ungarie is football central, it is at the heart of country football. So it is only appropriate that the Big Football is located in this great little community.”

As just as about everybody in football knows, the Daniher brothers, Terry, Neale, Anthony and Chris were raised on the family farm, Hillview, and played their first games of football for Ungarie.

All four subsequently played VFL/AFL football and between them played 752 games for Essendon and the Swans. However, they never played together at Ungarie. The first time they all played in the same team was when they represented NSW in a famous Origin victory over Victoria at the SCG in 1990. Later that season they all played together for Essendon.

The Ungarie Football Club, which was formed in 1916, was a foundation member of the Northern Riverina Australian Football Association in 1924. The inaugural captain was Jim Daniher Snr, grandfather of the four brothers.

Terry, Neale, Chris and Anthony Daniher during the 2022 AFL Round 13 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Carlton Blues at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 10, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

Celebtrating 100 years

In 2024, the Northern Riverina Australian Football League will celebrate its centenary.

This is a remarkable achievement by a competition situated well north of the so-called “Barassi Line”. In fact, just 80 kilometres north is Condobolin, the geographic centre of NSW.

The original clubs were Burgooney (merged with Lake Cargelligo in 1960), Lake Rovers (Lake Cargelligo), Tullibigeal, Girral (moved into West Wyalong in 1984) and Ungarie.

The Northern Riverina league is down to five clubs after Barellan left for the Farrer league in 2015, and the Cobar Blues (1995) disbanded – it was a seven-hour round trip from Ungarie.

For the league’s centenary there will again be five clubs: Lake Cargelligo, Tullibigeal, West Wyalong-Girral and Ungarie (all foundation clubs), and the Hillston Swans, which entered the competition in 2000. The Swans won last year’s grand final over Tullibigeal at Lake Cargelligo.

It is unlikely that Condo-Milby, which entered the league in 1965 (after Milby moved into Condobolin) and played up until Covid hit in 2020, will re-form.

The structure for the 2024 season: for football – seniors, under 17s, under 14s, and Under 11s; and for netball – six grades from seniors to under 13s.

The major centenary event is the Black & Red Ball on 13 April at the Ungarie War Memorial Hall.

League president Mark Bryant told me over the phone after a hot day working on a new shed on his farm at Ungarie that the first round of the season will be played on the Friday night to enable all the clubs to attend the centenary function. This year’s annual presentation function will also be held at Ungarie. It really is Football Central!

RIP Keith Rees

Sadly, the author of the league’s excellent history book, Keith Rees (below) recently passed away. He had been working on it for the past ten years with a view to publishing it for the centenary.

Long-time player/official Pat Daniher told me over the phone from his family farm at Girral that the close Northern Riverina football community was “devasted” at the passing of Keith Rees.

“Keith was a real gentlemen who made an enormous contribution to our league for almost 50 years as a player, coach, umpire, administrator and historian. He will sadly missed,” Pat lamented.

However, it is understood that Keith’s wife, Paula, who so ably assisted Keith with the production of the first book will be able to complete the history of the league for the past ten years.

Also, the Tallimba club, that Keith Rees almost single-handedly started up in 1980, after a season coaching Girral, will get-together for a reunion during the league’s centenary season.

He will be sadly missed from that gathering as well.

From Northern Riverina FNL: Brothers (L-R) Chris Daniher, Terry Daniher, Neale Daniher and Anthony Daniher of Essendon Bombers pose for a 1980’s VFL feature.