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A LIFE WELL LIVED – (Excerpts from WOGI Jack Donnelly’s Memoirs) – Part Twenty-one

“Of Running, Rugby, Awards and Family. “

Prior to returning to the Navy I had begun slow long distance running and I had caught the “Bug,” so every lunch time I would be out running the shore for up to an hour. From that I progressed to running half marathons throughout the Auckland area. My first attempt was in the Hobsonville half, it was a disaster! I went out fast, was almost down to a walk at about the 14 km mark, was being past by 60 year old ladies and men who literally “shuffled” past me, then to rub salt into my wounds I was passed with just 200 metres to go by bloody “Boof” Stronach, that old codger and ancient rugby player who gave me a pat on the back and said, “Come on Jack finish with me” but I had nothing left in the tank and virtually fell across the finish line.

At the Bar B Q later “Boof” explained to me how I had to pace myself, run my own race and prepare properly. From that conversation I learnt so much about myself and running ½ marathons. I went onto complete many more with several Navy matelots. One of the most gratifying runs was to mentor my good friend Alan Meihana in his first attempt in the Auckland ½ marathon, we completed it in 1hour 49 minutes.

“The loneliness of a long distance runner” is so true, and I was very appreciative of people like “Shorty” Rayner, “Beeps” Hambrook, Alan Meihana, “Chalky” Chambers, Don Ripia, Ricky Derkson and many others who would run alongside me on many of my runs. Both myself and Reece Golding also ran for Navy in the Inter service cross country in Lower Hutt one year and boy! that was tough. But without a doubt the highlight of my running was being in “Shorty” Rayner’s relay teams who ran the Wellington to Auckland route for various fund raising adventures. Eve Van graf, the little girl with Aids, the CANTEEN appeal, which was for teenage cancer kids, and for the building of our RNZN Marae. Both Alan Meihana and I actually weighed ourselves prior to the Marae run and on completion we discovered that we had PUT ON weight!! How can that be?

All those very hospitable Maori Marae’s we stayed on with ”Boil Ups” for breakfast before we began the days run! “Shorty” always managed to put together a great team with people like, Liza Chui, Reece Golding, Jenny Harris, Jamie Hohapeta, “Rocket Socks” Palmer, Alan Meihana, Claude Wehi, Athol Corbett, Ian Russell (A Royal Navy PTI ) Kevin Stinson, Mark Harvey, Clare Dendy, Malone Wallace, Clare Jones and many others who contributed to this worthy cause, and we certainly had fun. We ate really well and had a few “quiet ones” at local RSA’s. On some relay runs we had The RNZN Band play us into a town or city. They were always a good promotion.

Leaving my whanau back in Gisborne was one of the “down sides” to having rejoined, but I had a “special” routine which my superiors were unofficially happy with. I would be present for Friday Divisions, as soon as I had dismissed the parade, it was off uniform, into civvies (Just like Superman) jump into my car and away down the Southern motorway I would go. Stopping for petrol and lunch before being behind the shop counter and talking with the locals by 1500. I did this for two and a half years and loved spending those weekends helping Amy and my family in our shop.

I began taking an interest in rugby again and was selected as assistant coach to Bob Lucas with the Navy Senior B squad in the North Harbour competition. I found it really hard to be a good assistant coach and found myself out of my depth in the fact that the game had changed so much and I had not. With players of the caliber of team Captain Steve Dravitzski, “Butch Hornby, Grant Simpkins, and Carl McDuff, we were competitive and played good open attacking rugby. In 1990 I was made a life member of the RNZNRFC for my services as a player, captain, coach, manager and club captain.

Then in 1995 I was voted sports administrator of the year. Both these awards meant so much to me as a person and someone who has always been loyal to Navy rugby. Gordon Hunter was a Policeman, a friend and “Will of the wisp” type winger whom I had played against and known through Inter services rugby tournaments. When Gordon was appointed coach of the NZ Combined Services team, “Buffy” Milner, Trevor Mulligan, “Baldy” White and I became his selection panel for a three year stint. In my final year as a selector I became the team Manager for the NZ Combined Services team tour of England, an honour indeed, I believe it was a reward for the service that I had given to services rugby. The contingent manager was Commander Mike Franklin. We had been the “team” that had been together as Parade Commander and Parade GI for the “Changing of the Queens colour,” I enjoyed Mikes company.

Selecting this touring team of 26 players from 3 military services and the Police created a huge headache, much debate, trading off, personal preferences, differing views and at times heated debate, were all a part of a very long and rigorous process. In the end though we were all happy with the outcome and touring squad that we had settled on. Six Navy players made the team, Steve Dravitzski, Carl McDuff, Rene Rangi, Grant Simpkins, Roy Statham and Nick Moen. The Captain was Steve “Ox” Hansen, the current All Black coach.

I personally had wanted Steve Dravitzski who I firmly believed had better leadership and motivational skills. I was not impressed with the team talks that Steve gave throughout the tour. But today he is acknowledged as the best coach in the world, so who am I to argue? Whenever I see Steve Hansen on TV with our All Blacks I am so pleased that he was part of that tour. As the manager and in charge of the equipment/gear one of the hardest tasks is to ensure that you lose little or no equipment or gear. I will always remember the initial speech that Gordon gave the team on assembling. In his very authoritive harsh tone voice, and his one eye glaring at you, he said, “You steal from Jack, you steal from me, and you steal from me, I’ll lock you up!” He was so direct, a good man with a great personality and a heart of gold. I only lost one pair of socks on that UK tour.

Gordie was such a character especially for his famous “Kangaroo court” sessions; they called him the “one eyed judge” as Gordie had lost an eye in an accident. To see him give his version of “Enie meanie minie f…n mo!” his face would grow red! His one eye would bulge! The veins on his neck would protrude out! He would shake all over! Saliva would ooze from his mouth! as he would shout out each word, it was just so funny to watch. The tour was very successful both on and off the field; no major incidents and we went through undefeated. Played open running rugby promoting the way it should be played. The Navy players all played well with Nick Moen, Grant Simpkins and Steve Dravitzski being selected for the “Test match” against the British Combined Service and Police team. For the record we played 7, won 7, points for 228, against 57. On returning to New Zealand I decided to retire from all rugby and today I remain a “couch potato” but still enjoy watching the game being played.


Thank you Jack for allowing us to share in your memories. I have had so many positive comments that I have decided to reproduce the memoirs in full. – Ed.

(to be continued)


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