Bendigo football has a lot to thank the Athenaeum Hotel for.
The once popular drinking establishment hasn't operated in View Street for decades, but it plays a major role in a Bendigo football dynasty that has spanned more than 70 years and three clubs.
The patriarch of the football dynasty - Frank Lenaghan - passed away last Sunday, aged 91.
In early 1949, two South Bendigo Football Club officials made the trek south from Bendigo to Ballan.
They went with one intention - to recruit a skillful rover named Frank Lenaghan, who in 1948 had led Ballan to a premiership and won the then Bacchus Marsh and District League best and fairest award.
The Bloods had heard that Lenaghan and his family were moving to Bendigo to take over the Athenaeum Hotel.
Their initiative to make the long trip was rewarded with Lenaghan's signature and a remarkable BFL career was born.
"There was a big flood that year and we had an horrendous trip from Ballan to Bendigo,'' Frank's youngest brother, Brian, said this week.
"When we arrived in Bendigo there were two officials from Sandhurst waiting for us that wanted to sign Frank.
"They didn't know that South Bendigo had beaten them to the punch. If South Bendigo hadn't have made the trip to Ballan, Frank probably would have ended up a Sandhurst player."
Lenaghan played in five premierships with the Bloods in their golden era of the 1950s - 1950, 51, 54, 55 and 56 - and won the club best and fairest twice.
Nicknamed "Lefty", Lenaghan was a classy rover, who legendary South Bendigo coach Alan "Fox" McDonald liked to use across half-forward as well.
Lenaghan bagged five goals in the Bloods' 1951 grand final win over Eaglehawk, including four in the first quarter.
"You didn't see Frank use his right foot much at all,'' Brian said with a chuckle.
"He was a very good kick...usually the drop kick."
He was chased heavily by VFL club Carlton in the early 1950s, but his commitment to his family and the business saw his stint with the Blues restricted to a couple of reserves matches.
"The reserves matches with Carlton cost Frank the chance to play a game with St Kilda,'' Brian said.
"St Kilda were struggling at the time and they rang Frank and asked him to go down to Melbourne to play against Fitzroy at the old Brunswick Street ground.
"They'd never seen Frank play or train, but they named him in a forward pocket for the game.
"Before the game on the Saturday Frank was told he couldn't play because he needed a full clearance from Carlton.
"He'd only played two practice games with Carlton on permit from South Bendigo, but back then you needed a proper VFL clearance and there was no fast communications in those days.
"He had to miss the game and the next week he was back with South Bendigo in Bendigo football.
"Back in those days there wasn't the financial enticement to play football in Melbourne, so he stayed in Bendigo."
While Sandhurst missed out on Lenaghan's signature in 1949, the Dragons swooped nine years later when they appointed him captain-coach.
"It was like Barassi leaving Melbourne to go to Carlton,'' Brian said.
"South Bendigo and Sandhurst were great rivals... Frank missed out on getting the South Bendigo coaching job and Sandhurst approached him.
"At the time he'd just taken over the Golden Gate Hotel and the Sandhurst job was probably worth 20 pounds a week to him, which back then was a lot of money for a young man with a young family.
"It was a big life change for him."
The Dragons made the preliminary final in Lenaghan's first season in charge.
Even though he didn't experience premiership success as a player or coach in five years with Sandhurst, the move to the Dragons eventually paid dividends for Lenaghan and the club.
Lenaghan went on to coach the club's reserves, was on the club committee and three of his sons - Peter, Denis and Mick - wore the maroon and blue jumper with distinction.
Peter played in four flags with Sandhurst - 1973, 77, 78 and 81 - and was captain-coach of the club.
Denis played in the 1978 senior flag before going on to play with Carlton and Geelong.
Mick's brilliant BFL career included three premierships and the 1981 Michelsen Medal. He went on to play in the VFL with Geelong and Carlton.
"It worked out for Sandhurst really well in the end,'' Brian said.
"Frank really enjoyed his time at South Bendigo. He won five premierships and they were really hard to win.
"He enjoyed Sandhurst as well. He got great enjoyment out of watching his boys play in premierships."
The Lenaghan lineage is now part of a third BFNL club.
Frank's daughter Sue is the mother of Gisborne Football Netball Club's Pat and Eamon McKenna, while Lachlan plays Premier Cricket with Carlton.
Pat, who spent time with AFL clubs Greater Western Sydney and Melbourne, is one of the premier players in the BFNL.
"Frank was very proud of his family,'' Brian said.
"It's amazing to think the family has been such a big part of three Bendigo clubs."
Lenaghan played 269 senior games in the BFL - 176 with the Bloods and 93 with the Dragons.
He also represented the BFL 11 times in inter-league battles.
Fittingly, in 1996 he was an inaugural inductee to the BFL Hall of Fame.
A mechanic by trade, Lenaghan was well known in Bendigo for running the Golden Gate Hotel and Royal Mail Hotel.
He and wife Barbara later lived in Ravenswood before settling in Gisborne where he enjoyed one of his other favourite hobbies - training trotters.
"Frank was a little fellow, but as tough as nails,'' Brian said.
"He was a determined man on the footy field and in life as well.
"Whatever he did in life he put everything into it."
Frank is survived by his wife Barbara, children Peter, Denis, Mick, Anthony and Sue and their families.
His funeral will be held at St Kilian's Church in Bendigo on Monday at 10.30am.
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