Its population may only be in the region of 2,500, but on a per capita basis Latrobe’s contribution to the sport of Australian football is second to none. A total of nineteen senior premierships plus one state flag is creditable enough, but when one peruses a list of some of the illustrious names to have taken the field over the years wearing the Diehards’ navy and red jumper one’s admiration increases still further. Along with regular Tasmanian interstate representatives like Joe Murphy, Len Lawson and Vin Waite, and dual Wander Medallists in Bob Hickman and John Jillard, Latrobe has been home to three champions who would have to be accorded legendary status regardless of either the era or the company. Of these, Ivor Warne-Smith and Darrel Baldock have both acquired Australia-wide reputations, but the third member of the trio, Harry Coventry, despite being less well known, loses nothing in comparison, and might lay some claim to being Latrobe’s favourite son.
Born in 1884, Harry Coventry was an all round sportsman of prodigious excellence, accomplishing noteworthy feats in cycling, boxing, tennis, cricket, athletics, snooker and billiards in addition to football. However, it is for his exploits with the spherical leather that he is best remembered. Aged just thirteen when he made his debut for Latrobe, he was still making sporadic appearances for the club some thirty years later. “Although of small build his ability to kick either feet, turn both ways and pass accurately made him a champion” and it was not long before his talent began to attract notice from across the Bass Strait. However, despite receiving a number of offers, notably from Collingwood, St Kilda and South Melbourne, he remained loyal to coastal football throughout his career, playing briefly for Mersey and Launceston as well as his home town club. He was also a prominent and regular member of both coastal and northern representative teams, although sadly the bulk of his career took place at a time when coastal footballers were not normally considered for interstate selection.
Formed on 19th June 1881, the Latrobe Football Club had already firmly established itself on the north west coastal football scene when Harry Coventry began his career. By the time that career was over, the Diehards were arguably the strongest team in the region.
After spending most of its formative phase in the North West Football League, in 1910 Latrobe, along with Mersey, Wesley Vale, Ulverstone and Penguin, became a founder member of the North West Football Union, where it was to remain until the competition was disbanded at the end of the 1986 season. The club contested its first NWFU grand final in 1911, losing heavily to Mersey, before breaking through for its first flag two years later.
Coastal football went into recess because of world war one in 1916 and did not resume until after the devastating influenza outbreak of 1919. When it did resume, Latrobe was very much to the fore, contesting all five grand finals between 1920 and 1924 for three premierships, and adding another flag in 1926. It was similarly prominent during the first four years of the 1930s, winning pennants in 1930, 1931 and 1933, and finishing second in 1932. A further losing grand final followed in 1939, but the quarter of a century or so following the resumption of football after the second world war in 1945 proved to be an unusually dismal time for Latrobe. Not even the arrival from East Devonport in 1959 of a new captain-coach by the name of Darrel John Baldock could spark an improvement in fortunes. It would not be until Baldock’s return from a seven season stint with St. Kilda in 1969 that the Diehards would, at long last, return to pre-eminence. That the club already possessed a nucleus of highly accomplished players was not in doubt - indeed, Latrobe players would, incredibly, win every Wander Medal on offer between 1964 and 1971 - but such talent was worthless unless it could be properly harnessed. With 119 VFL games under his belt, many of them as the Saints’ captain, Darrel Baldock was perfectly equipped and qualified to mould talented individuals like John Jillard, Bob Hickman, Denis ‘Mary’ Smith, Ken Luxmoore and Rod Butler into a consistently winning combination. Between 1969 and 1972 Latrobe established an all time league record by winning four premierships in succession. The only real disappointment during this period was the club’s failure to perform better in contests for the state premiership; given the abundance of talent available, a record of just one state flag from four attempts has to be regarded as disappointing.
When the structure of Tasmanian football underwent a drastic overhaul at the end of the 1986 season, Latrobe found itself in the newly formed Northern Tasmanian Football League where, after a somewhat inglorious start (a success rate of just 29.3% in its first six seasons), it has established itself as a key member of the competition, capturing a total of four senior grade premierships, including most recently that of the 2016 season. Opposed in the grand final by Penguin the Demons edged home by 3 points, 10.12 (72) to 9.15 (69). Their previous grand final successes had come at the expense of Ulverstone in 2010, and Penguin in 2011 and 2013. In 2017 they again reached the grand final only to lose on this occasion to Ulverstone. A year later Ulverstone again brought an end to the Demons' premiership aspirations, this time at the preliminary final stage.
Whatever the future holds, Latrobe Football Club’s legacy is already unique, significant, and worthy of much greater attention and celebration than it is likely to receive.
- A Century of Tasmanian Football 1879-1979 by Ken Pinchin, page 166.
- In 1931, after Devonport’s withdrawal left the competition with just three participating clubs, Latrobe fielded two separate teams - Latrobe Town and Latrobe Country - during roster matches, only to combine once again for the finals.
- The record had previously been held jointly by Ulverstone (3 wins between 1955 and 1957) and Burnie (3 wins 1958-60).
John Devaney - Full Points Publications