A powerful presence on the football field, a thoughtful soul off it.
Kevin 'Cowboy' Neale - one of the Hampden league's most endearing exports - died on Sunday, September 17 in Wodonga after a health battle. He was 78.
He left an indelible mark on the Australian sporting landscape - immortalised in VFL-AFL history when he kicked five goals to lead St Kilda to its first, and to this day only, premiership in 1966 - but also made a special imprint on those closest to him.
Older sister Evie McKenzie, who still lives in Warrnambool, has fond memories of her brother, from their early days in Garvoc to attending St Kilda club functions together.
"He liked to have a bit of a laugh," she told The Standard.
"He breezed along, got along with everybody and loved his footy of course and sport of all kinds."
Neale's promise on the football field was first identified as a youngster at South Warrnambool.
He went onto play for the Roosters' under 19 side in 1963.
The following year he won a Hampden league senior premiership and was then invited to St Kilda where he forged a 256-game career before retiring from the VFL in 1977.
"He was a very thoughtful fella. He took me to the St Kilda best and fairest when he could've taken his wife," Evie said.
"He always included us in everything. He did very well for himself - he was just a character."
Evie said the family "always hoped" he would succeed, given his natural talent.
He surpassed their expectations and was named in the back pocket in St Kilda's team of the century.
"He was a big boy. He could look after himself," she said.
"I loved watching him when he played for South Warrnambool and when he moved all over the place I'd watch him play footy and come home again.
"He was in Canberra, Adelaide and all over the place."
Neale's name is synonymous with success-starved St Kilda fans for his match-winning performance in the 1966 grand final.
The Saints recorded a thrilling one-point win against Collingwood.
"It was unbelievable. We have all those memories," Evie, who was in the MCG grandstand that day, said of her brother's exploits.
Neale was the youngest of Charlie and Gert's three children.
He spent his early years in the south-west Victorian town of Garvoc with older sisters Brenda and Evie.
"We had a fun time there and we moved down here (to Warrnambool) when we got a bit older," she said.
St Kilda paid tribute to Neale, who also worked for the club later in life, describing him as "a beloved figure".
"Renowned for his great physical strength as a footballer, he was also blessed with exceptional skills for a big man which enabled him to play as either a key defender or forward," it said in a statement.
"Truly a larger-than-life character in every way, Cowboy was always able to engage with people across various generations."
Current Hampden league executive member and former South Warrnambool president Gary Walsh said Neale's legacy would live on at Friendly Societies' Park.
"He is an icon of South Warrnambool," he said.
"From a South perspective he is held in high esteem from when he played in 1964 and they won.
"He was a big boy, a strong boy and was rated in the top-five players every year when he played for St Kilda."
Neale, who moved around Australia when his playing days ended coaching different clubs including Ainslie to four premierships as captain-coach, is survived by his wife Georgina and children Fleur and Josh.
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