A team representing Tarrawingee is recorded as having engaged in matches against the likes of Milawa and Oxley as early as the 1880s. In 1903, the Tarrawingee Football Club was one of the foundation members of the Ovens and King Football Association, precursor of today’s Ovens and King Football League.
Tarrawingee’s involvement in the competition was not continuous. In particular, whenever near neighbour Eldorado fielded a team, Tarrawingee did not. When football resumed after the second world war, however, the fortunes of the two clubs underwent a reversal, with Tarrawingee gradually emerging as a league power for the first time, while the once highly successful Eldorado went into decline before disbanding at the conclusion of the 1954 season.
During its intermittent appearances in the competition between the wars Tarrawingee was never particularly successful, and indeed it was not until 1953 that the side even qualified for a finals series. It quickly made up for lost time, however, scoring convincing wins over Beechworth in the second semi final and Greta in the grand final to clinch a premiership that was widely hailed, and exuberantly celebrated. Tarrawingee’s triumphant team was coached by Kevin French.
Since making its belated breakthrough to the winners’ circle Tarrawingee has enjoyed intermittent success, with its teams of the early 1960s warranting special mention. After reaching the first semi final in 1961, the Bulldogs qualified for their second grand final a year later, but lost to Moyhu by 33 points. They quickly made amends, however, downing the same opponent in the following season’s flag decider by a single point. Rubbing salt into Moyhu’s wounds was the fact that Tarrawingee was coached by Ray Burns, who had been at the helm of the Hoppers the previous year.
Tarrawingee remained the team to beat in 1964, and ultimately made it two flags in succession thanks to a 9.9 (63) to 7.5 (47) grand final victory over Greta. Scores were close for most of the game, but the Bulldogs had their noses in front at every change before finishing with something of a flourish. Ray Burns was again the successful coach.
Tarrawingee’s next senior grade flag was won in a 1975 season that saw Victoria’s state premier, Rupert Hamer, installed as the club’s number one ticket holder. In the grand final the Bulldogs were pitted against Beechworth, and for the first two quarters of the game there was nothing to choose between the teams. In the third term, however, Tarrawingee sprinted away with a match-sealing burst of 7 goals to 2, and won in the end by 16 points. Profligate kicking for goal undoubtedly hampered Beechworth’s prospects, but there could be no real doubt that Tarrawingee was a worthy premier.
The Bulldogs’ fifth premiership, won in 1990, was in some ways their most memorable. In fourth place after the home and away rounds they battled their way through to the grand final on the strength of a hefty 20.14 (134) to 10.17 (77) elimination final trouncing of Whorouly, followed by narrow wins over Beechworth in the first semi final and Chiltern in the preliminary final. Few people gave Tarrawingee any hope of overcoming Moyhu in the grand final, or even of getting close, and so what transpired must rank as one of the biggest boilovers in OKFL history. A first quarter barrage saw the Bulldogs open up a 6 goal lead, and after that they went from strength to strength, stretching their advantage at every interval en route to a veritable massacre, 27.11 (173) to 15.12 (102).
Recent seasons have yielded mixed fortunes for Tarrawingee: seventh place (of nine) in 2004 with a modest 6-10 record; a creditable march to the preliminary final from fifth in 2005; a disappointing drop to seventh again, with just 5 wins from 18 matches, in 2006; another finals appearance, for fourth place, in 2007 before, in 2008, a long overdue premiership breakthrough courtesy of a convincing 14.10 (94) to 8.11 (59) grand final defeat of Bright. A year later the Bulldogs again qualified for the grand final, and went into the match against Milawa as favourites only for the Demons to score an unexpected, but deserved, triumph by 9 points. Tarrawingee rectified this in 2010 when they downed the same opponents in a thriller by a couple of points, 15.9 (99) to 15.7 (97). Since 2010 the Bulldogs have contested every finals series but it was not until 2018 that they made it through to the decisive match of the year. Opposed by Milawa they led at every change by 2, 11 and 23 points en route to a 9.7 (61) to 5.4 (34) triumph, giving them their eighth senior grade OKFL premiership.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications