Bob Donnelly remains totally loyal to the Star club, reports Don Wright.
Star Rugby Football Club co-patron and sporting identity Bob Donnelly says clubs now face a tough row to hoe, and more mergers might be necessary as some form of rationalisation.
One of eight surviving life members of the historic club, the devoted 76-year-old, who has been a tower of strength with his tremendous voluntary input, said too many clubs were feeling the strain of insufficient numbers.
"We are going to lose four good players from Star ranks next season, and Blues, another club steeped in history, is in the same dire straits as us," he said.
"Club mergers seem the only solution to what is becoming an increasing problem. It is sad to see what is developing when you take into account what Jack Borland and his mates have done for the Blues club as just one example."
Rugby faced an enormous challenge in luring secondary school players to the club scene, with more appealing social attractions than four months of training at nights and playing most Saturdays, he said.
"We probably can't blame young men for taking that attitude at a time when they are free to pick and choose what they want do after leaving school."
Donnelly is widely acknowledged for his all-round sporting prowess and his voluntary input to rugby officialdom and administration.
His fellow surviving Star life members are co-patron Lindsay Bell, Alan Blackler, Bob Anderson, Noel Jones, Shaun Flynn, Brian Russell and Kevin Boyle.
The 1955 Southland junior 440 yards running champion, Donnelly was a prominent St Paul's club athlete and Southland fours bowler for those of one to five years' experience and also enjoyed softball for Blue Sox, representing Southland in 1957.
Lindsay Bell was also a member of his Southland bowls team.
Within the ranks of the Star rugby club, Donnelly is known as an unstintingly loyal club member.
Close mate Bell said he doubted if Donnelly would have had a row with any person in his life.
"Bob and I sat down and had a drink at the clubrooms after games for more than 40 years and we never looked like having a cross word."
Donnelly's rugby career was kickstarted when he became a Southland primary schools representative, and he played on the wing for Western Southland sub-union before joining Star in 1961, later coaching the club from 1965, winning the Galbraith Shield and Presidents Cup in 1966, 1967 and 1969 before coaching and selecting Town junior and senior teams in 1970 and 1971.
From 1972 to 1977, he selected and coached the Southland senior team before coaching the Star seniors again in 1978.
He coached the touring Star team to Fiji in 1969, something not lost on his wife Jan. "He was away in Fiji having a great time when I was giving birth to our only daughter, Trudi," she quipped.
The couple, married in 1961, also have four sons - Martin, Kirk, Nathan and Quentin - all Southlanders. Trudi lives in Auckland.
Jan is a member of the prominent Bickley family, established Western Southland farmers. She operated a coffee bar in Invercargill while her husband, a former assistant manager of the Alliance meat plant, was largely involved in meat industry positions.
Donnelly said voluntary rugby service cost him plenty, but he would have it no other way if he had his time over again.
He and Jan acknowledged the camaraderie of the Star members and the wonderful support he has enjoyed from some who regularly take him to club days on Saturdays so he can continue to share enjoyment of the game with them.
If there was one thing he would not want to be in rugby, it would be a referee, at a time when control of the game has been "over-intellectualised with too many complicated rules and regulations, especially at the breakdown."
Many old-timers will recall his late father, Bill, who set a world record 10.6sec for 18-inch double-handed sawing with fellow Rivertonian Ernie Hogg in 1957.
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