You can take the man out of Millbrook, but you will never take Millbrook out of the man.
It is an old phrase, but one which could not be more apt for cricket doyen Mark Ryan.
Ryan grew up on a farm in the small rural community of Millbrook east of Ballarat.
His cricket journey began there and that experience remains a major driving force in keeping him to the forefront of the sport in Ballarat and in particular a key figure behind the development of East Ballarat Cricket Club, as he has been from day one.
“It’s a feeling of connection. A sense of community,” Ryan said.
Those memories of Millbrook are never far from the forefront on Ryan’s mind and they will be a major topic of discussion when East Ballarat celebrates 40 years of its junior program at its Russell Square home base on Sunday.
Ryan was the person behind the formation of the club’s juniors and four decades on remains as involved and dedicated to the cause of junior cricket as he has ever been.
A school teacher by profession, Ryan said hardly a day had gone for him over the years without some junior cricket activity.
“I’ve just loved it, bringing children on in sport and as young people.”
Ryan said there had also been the added satisfaction of coaching second and now even third generations.
There have been many developments in juniors along the way, but Ryan sees the fostering of girls’ cricket as major turning point.
Ryan was instrumental in launching female cricket, setting up an all-girls junior side at East Ballarat to play in the BCA under-14s with the help of Lany Johnson more than a decade ago.
Ryan said the emergence of female cricket had been one of the biggest changes in the sport in his time.
“It’s been one of the best things to happen – enhancing the future viability of the sport.”
He said cricket was now much more of a family sport.
“Brothers and sisters are playing, fathers and daughters. It’s engaged the whole family.
“The future of cricket has never looked better.”
Ryan said as facilities continued to be developed to cater for female cricket communities, the sport was only going strengthen even further.
There is not much, if anything, that Ryan cannot tell you about East Ballarat, especially the years leading up to its official arrival in the BCA.
Ryan is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the Hawks and the formative years of the club, which had its origins in Millbrook.
Millbrook was formed in 1929-30, playing in the Mt Edgerton competition.
It joined the Ballarat Cricket Association in 1953-54 and in 1965-66 relocated to Russell Square.
The missing link for the club in those days was an absence of a junior team and it was in 1978-79 that Ryan stepped up to form a junior side.
Ryan said it was small beginning, but an important beginning.
He said it all started with an under-14 team, playing under the banner of Black Hill to promote a link in with the eastern side Ballarat.
Ryan said an under-16 side was formed the next season and what would be an ongoing growth at junior and senior levels was under way.
He said it was not long before the whole club began reaping the benefits of a junior program.
Black Hill won the BCA under-16 premiership in 1980-81 – going through undefeated.
Ryan said two seasons later Millbrook-Black Hill secured a B grade premiership, with a significant number of youngsters in the side.
He said as the years passed by the importance of providing a full pathway for the juniors became more evident.
Ryan said the club had four senior teams in the BCA district competition, but the missing link was the lack of a side in the first XI competition.
A full contingent of first XI teams and the lack of a turf wicket – a condition of playing at the highest level – were the sticking points.
He said the club took the first step with the installation of a turf wicket at East High, but there was still no spot in the BCA.
Ryan said it was then that the call was made to join the Maryborough District Cricket Association firsts. “We had a young group. It was ideal.”
He said it important for the long-term future of the club to keep these players together and the move to Maryborough could not have worked better.
Ryan said the big move into BCA firsts came in 1986-87 after a vacancy had been created by the departure of Sebastopol.
Ryan says one of the biggest moments in the club’s history came with the appointment of now BCA hall of fame member Terry Davies as first XI captain-coach to coincide with Millbrook-Black Hill’s the move to Maryborough.
“His experience was priceless.”
Davies had won an EJ Cleary Medal while with North Ballarat in 1976-77 and already played his way into legendary status in the competition before making the switch to Russell Square.
Ryan said Davies provided outstanding guidance during that initial move and then the transition into the BCA firsts.
He said Davies’ contribution had been decisive in getting the club to where it was now.
It was not until four years after joining the BCA’s top tier that the club decided it was time for a name change – adopting East Ballarat.
IN association with the junior anniversary celebration, East Ballarat is also recognising every player to have represented it at first XI level since joining the BCA with the presentation of a numbered cap, as well as its two premiership sides of 2004-05 and 2005-06.