November 27, 2021

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Lucky business

Ex-North Albury premiership player Corey Lambert on his ‘lucky’ link | The Border Mail

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If mobile phones were around as much in 1998 as they are now, there’s every chance one of North Albury’s best players of the modern era would never have been to the Hoppers’ home of Bunton Park. “I played with Jason McInnes up here in Queensland before I went to Adelaide and I was trying to track ‘Sheepy’ down for a chat and back then, you still rang landlines and I called the football club knowing he’d be at training or at the club at some point,” Corey Lambert explained. “Before I’d spoken to ‘Sheepy’, I’d spoken with (North stalwart and official) Rod Mullavey, (coach) Ernie Whitehead and (sports club’ boss) Rod Maclean, it was crazy. “Before I knew it I was on a plane to Albury and watched the 1998 grand final between (Wodonga) Raiders and Lavington.” Raiders belted the home club by 64 points at Lavington Sportsground on a sunny day with a big crowd and 26-year-old Lambert wanted in. Twelve months later, the solidly built midfielder was an Ovens and Murray representative, the league (Morris) medallist and best on ground in a 27-point premiership win over powerhouse Albury. But that magical season was the culmination of a conversation at SANFL outfit Woodville-West Torrens a few years earlier. “They said, ‘if you don’t lose six-seven kilos, you won’t be playing senior footy here’. From that day on I lost a kilo a week for seven weeks and footy just changed overnight basically,” Lambert enthused. “I was doing things that I wasn’t able to do previously, I really thrived on that and continued that on when I went over to North Albury,” After playing at around 103kgs in Brisbane, Lambert stripped at 93 in Adelaide. An insatiable work ethic was born. “They (Woodville-West Torrens) really taught me that fitness is the key to good football,” he offered. “I think anything in life you do, you’ve got to work hard, so I was the first to training, last to leave. “We all know when you’re fitter you can do things for longer, you’ve got a clearer mind to be able to make better decisions.” Lambert finished runner-up to Yarrawonga on-baller John Brunner in the 2000 Morris Medal, so it was a heck of a first two years. However, the golden run was crushed by Corowa-Rutherglen’s record winning margin of 108 points in the grand final. “It still is to this day (the toughest loss) mate, I’ve never watched that ‘grannie’, which most people don’t if they’ve lost, it was certainly the most humiliating game I think I’ve played in,” he admitted. Lambert had achieved everything in just two years, but nobody was to know that we never saw the best of him again. It wasn’t from lack of trying though. Being the proud person he is, Lambert trained harder than he ever had over pre-season to right the wrongs of the 2000 decider. But in round one, he did his medial ligament and then came back too early to help the team, and chipped a bone in his ankle. “I had a nerve block put in and had a reaction, I couldn’t feel my leg for weeks, I pretty much wrote the year off,” he said. At 29, he was never the same player. “No, definitely not, and I had an operation on a torn bicep tendon and that stuffed up as well, even though I was right handed, my right side wasn’t as strong as my left after that,” he said. It was a battle on-field, but the club wanted Lambert to replace Whitehead as coach. “I learnt so much in the first few games, I was fortunate to have a couple of old heads sitting on the bench in Michael O’Loughlin and David Nichol,” Lambert suggested. “I still thought I had to do it all, I remember in my first three or four games, I was crap and those boys actually sat me down and said something’s got to change and I said, ‘I’ll go and play because that’s my strength and on game day I’ll leave the responsibility to you on the bench’. “We found our balance and they were super in that area, things started to flow for us. I trained the boys pretty hard, as I said earlier, fitness was always a priority.” North players also talk about Lambert’s organisational skills. The program for the night was written on the board, so all players knew what they were doing and for how long. A few months later, he was a first-year premiership coach, but only after Wangaratta Rovers, inspired by 34-year-old Rob Walker, had come storming back in the third term. “I can’t really remember too much of what I said at three-quarter time, but talking to others, they said I was pretty calm about it and then we kicked six or seven in a row,” he recalled. “To get the job done with a pretty young list was something special.” The Hoppers made another decider in 2004, but fell to the red-hot Wodonga. “My back had started to play up that year and in the prelim final against Corowa at Wangaratta, halfway through the first quarter, I got hit and my back went into spasm,” he said. “I couldn’t walk properly and was coming to the bench but as I’m getting close, the ball was almost about to land on my head, so I thought, ‘I’ve got to try my best’, so I went for it and copped another bump and it sort of clicked my back a little bit and freed it up slightly (laughs). “I thought, ‘I’ll keep going’, but at the end of it I was an absolute mess and, in hindsight, there’s no way I should have played that grand final.” It was his last game. And the next two years, unfortunately, were a continuation of that day. The Hoppers lost a stack of players and they finished last and seventh. “I got tapped on the shoulder, Rod Maclean was keen to get ‘Hoggy’ (fellow two-time premiership player Travis Hodgson) back to the club (from Myrtleford) and although I was disappointed, it was fair enough and it was good to see ‘Hoggy’ come back and have a crack,” he said philosophically. Lambert never lost the coaching bug though, leading the Ovens and Murray and NSW Country. “Mate, I’m just a footy tragic, I love football, I love imparting knowledge on others,” he said. ALSO IN SPORT: After two years away from club football, North’s fiercest rivals Albury came calling after the Tigers asked Lambert to help over pre-season. “I actually got a call from (Albury president) David Kefford that I actually got the (coaching) job, there was a day scheduled for the press release, I think it was almost a week after he told me, he did mention that it was unanimous from the board that I’d be given the job,” he said candidly. “The actual date was coming close and nothing had been said, so I rang him (Kefford) and said, ‘what’s going on’? He said, ‘there’s been a development’ and I straight away said, ‘is it (Paul) Spargo’? He said, ‘I can’t tell you that’ and it was, but they obviously made the right decision. If ‘Spargs’ had been available from the start you would pick him every time.” Albury won the next three premierships. Instead, Lambert coached Raiders for four years, dragging them from the wilderness to finalists and did likewise for Murray Magpies in the Hume League. He was always a straight shooter. In 2012, a war or words erupted with Myrtleford coach Stan Magro. Lambert accused the former Collingwood star of sledging his players from the coaching box, while Magro said Raiders had been trying to poach some youngsters over the off-season. “It’s easy being a passenger, you get nowhere in life being a passenger,” he offered. “You’ve got to stand up, not only for yourself, but also for your club. Once I commit to any club or team-mate, they know they can always rely on me.” Married to Albury-raised Lisa, the couple and children, Lara and Zach, moved to Brisbane in 2017, where Lambert is a national sales executive with technology firm, RBC Business Solutions. And he’s still coaching. “I’ve coached Zach’s side for three years, I’ve probably got more enjoyment out of that than any coaching.”

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