WHEN Kain Robins began as Charlton's playing-coach before the 2018 season, he was well known throughout country Victoria as a dynamic key forward. I was curious to see Robins play because I had heard about his performances in front of goal. But I was also keen to see him play because I had heard about his father, the late Peter "Doughy" Robins, with whom Kain was close before his death in 2018 at the age of 65.
Doughy Robins was a wheat and sheep farmer on his family's property outside Hopetoun. After selling the farm, he worked as a shearer and harvester. As a footballer, Doughy was renowned for his leadership and toughness. He was a ruck-rover and half-back who ran straight at the ball. His clashes with fellow hard men remain the stuff of legend.
Doughy Robins spent most of his career with his home club, Hopetoun, but he did take on the role of captain-coach at other clubs in the Mallee. For two seasons, in 1973 and 1974, he was the captain-coach at the famously named Tempy-Gorya-Patchewollock, which played in the original version of the Mallee Football League.
During the Mallee league's finals series in 1973, Doughy Robins met Don Pohlner, the anvil from Kiamal, in a clash that shook the red earth around the Ouyen oval. All who were at the game claim they can still hear the sound of the two men meeting each other with equal and opposite force. After the two had fallen to earth, neither could move. Doughy Robins eventually got to his feet and took himself down to the forward line to recover. He kicked six goals to lead his team to victory.
Later I heard about other clashes from which Doughy Robins emerged in briefly diminished shape. His clash with the Nullawil centreman Ken Townrow at Nullawil raised the dust to the height of the nearby silo. From that day onwards, Robins had a special name for Townrow; he smiled broadly and called him "Shirtfront".
Robins's clash with Allan "Bull" Bailey - yes, a Mallee Bull - from the Woomelang-Lascelles footy club left both men badly shaken. Col Barber, the secretary of Woomelang-Lascelles for almost 30 years, said in an interview for this book that tremors from the clash between Doughy and Bull at Woomelang rippled all the way to Canberra, where they scored a reasonable reading on the Richter scale. "Neither of them was a dirty player," Barber said. "They were going for the ball."
Doughy Robins's four boys, Luke, Joel, Nigel and Kain, were all talented footballers who began their playing careers at Hopetoun. Kain, the youngest, was 182 centimetres and already strongly built when he made his senior debut for his home club at the age of 14. In 2002, Kain was 17 years of age when he moved to Bendigo to join the TAC Cup club Bendigo Pioneers. Now 190 centimetres, he was a decent height, but not quite tall enough for a key forward's role in the AFL.
The next year, in 2003, Kain Robins joined the local VFL club, the Bendigo Bombers, who were aligned with Essendon. When registering with the Bombers, Robins nominated Eaglehawk as his home at community level.
Early in the 2004 season, Kain Robins was struggling to establish himself in the Bendigo Bombers' line-up. Having missed selection for one match, he remained in Bendigo to play for Eaglehawk against Kyneton at Canterbury Park. Robins, aged 19, played on a wing and in the ruck. He had 30 kicks and 17 handballs. He took 15 marks and kicked five goals. Eaglehawk defeated Kyneton by 107 points.
Under the headline "King Kain", the Bendigo Advertiser ran an article in which Kyneton's coach, Peter Foster, the former Footscray centre half-back, likened Robins to Wayne Carey, the North Melbourne champion, when Carey was coming through as a key forward in the early 1990s.
Kain Robins played most of the next season, in 2005, with the Bendigo Bombers, but he was often brought from the field because the club wanted to play the emerging Jobe Watson at centre half-forward. With matches in Springvale, Frankston, Werribee, North Ballarat and Tasmania, Robins found that he was travelling a long way to spend limited time on the ground. At the end of the 2005 season, he was invited to join Hawthorn for their training program over summer. When he failed to earn selection on an AFL list, he resolved to give up on his dream to play at the highest level. Now 21 years of age, he would remain in Bendigo and play with Eaglehawk.
In the second round of the Bendigo league's 2006 season, Kain Robins played as a midfielder for Eaglehawk in their match against North Ballarat's fledgling team in the Bendigo competition, North City, at the City Oval in Ballarat. According to Eaglehawk's statistics, Robins had 38 kicks and nine handballs, giving him a total of 47 disposals, the same as the tally he had accrued in the famous match against Kyneton two years earlier. He took 13 marks and kicked two goals as the Two Blues defeated their North Ballarat opponents by 89 points.
At the end of the 2006 home and away rounds, Kain Robins was awarded the Michelson Medal for the best and fairest player in the competition. He attributed his victory in the medal count to the fitness he had gained during his pre-season with Hawthorn.
In 2007 and 2008, Robins was a member of the Eaglehawk teams that won successive premierships. In 2010, the Two Blues lost the 2010 Preliminary Final to South Bendigo. By now, Robins was considering a future as a coach.
This is an edited extract from On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football (2020), by Paul Daffey. The book is available in book shops for $35.
Later I heard about other clashes from which Doughy Robins emerged in briefly diminished shape. His clash with the Nullawil centreman Ken Townrow at Nullawil raised the dust to the height of the nearby silo. From that day onwards, Robins had a special name for Townrow; he smiled broadly and called him "Shirtfront".Paul Daffey
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