Bay rules the roost in 1920
Gisborne was a province of sporting champions a century ago. 1920 was a golden year with national championship-winning teams in cricket and hockey and four national boxing champions, including the legendary Tom Heeney. The Herald’s Wynsley Wrigley looks back at the highlights of the sporting year of 1920 . . .
The Hard Rock from Down Under as he was know in the United States, Gisborne boxer Tom Heeney won the New Zealand heavyweight title in October 1920 when he defeated Aucklander Albert (Alf) Pooley in Gisborne.
Heeney went on to become the country's most famous boxer, with a world heavyweight title challenge against Gene Tunney in 1928.
The Poverty Bay women's hockey team were New Zealand champions in 1920, thrashing Auckland 6 goals to 1 in the final of the national tournament played at Childers Road Reserve.
The Hawke Cup, cricket's equivalent of the Ranfurly Shield, contested by the country's minor associations — that is excluding the then first class provinces of Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago — was won by Poverty Bay in the previous 1918-1919 season, and three challenges were successfully repulsed on home soil in 1919-1920.
Tom Heeney defeated Bill Bartlett and George Modrich in 1920 before winning the New Zealand heavyweight title on October 27.
All three fights were held in the Gisborne Opera House, which was demolished after the 1966 earthquake. It stood on the site now occupied by Briscoes and Watts Motors Mitsubishi.
The bout with defending champion Pooley offered a purse of £150 and expenses.
The Poverty Bay Herald's preview said Pooley was a skilled and clean fighter but “is not the prime age for boxing”; harsh words for a man aged only 29.
Pooley was seven years older than Heeney and had first won the national heavyweight title in 1914.
Heeney “will take no shame from a beating by a man of Pooley's reputation, and should he gain the verdict, will gain considerable kudos,” said the Herald.
The opera house was packed to near capacity with many out-of-town visitors on a day which also featured a Poverty Bay Turf Club race meeting and the A&P Show.
“The feeling in the house was one of intense excitement and expectation when the curtain rang up on the professional heavyweight match of 15 three-minute rounds for the championship of New Zealand.”
The fight went the full 15 rounds and then “an uproar of cheers greeted the referee's announcement of Heeney as the winner of the contest”.
The Gisborne Times quoted the referee as giving three rounds to Pooley, three as even and nine to Heeney.
Pooley said he accepted the referee's decision, but was disappointed.
He believed he was ahead after 10 rounds.
Tom Heeney's older brother Jack had won the vacant New Zealand middleweight title 18 days earlier in Dargaville when he defeated Aucklander Laurie Cadman.
Jack Heeney defended his title in Auckland on December 1920 and retained it until 1924.
His son Darcy won a silver medal at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney and was killed in World War 2, along with 149 other New Zealanders, when HMS Neptune struck enemy mines and sank off Libya in 1941. There was only one survivor from 757 men.
Another Gisborne boxer, Lin Robinson, was the featherweight national champion between 1919 and 1922.
He defended his title four times in 1920, in Te Aroha (twice), Hamilton and Blenheim.
Robinson was champion again from 1925 to 1927, successfully defending his title another three times.
Des Lawler, also of Gisborne, was the national amateur welterweight champion in 1920.
The success of the local boxers led the Gisborne Times to say “it could be said without contradiction that there is no town in the world, certainly none the size of Gisborne, that could lay claim to such a proud fistic record”.
Poverty Bay women were a major force in 1920s hockey at a time when rural provinces dominated the sport and hockey was more popular among women than netball.
According to Mackay's Historic Poverty Bay, the women were national champions in 1915, 1918, 1920 and 1922 and came second in 1921 and 1924.
Four national tournaments were held in Gisborne between 1920 and 1938.
According to Sport and the New Zealanders by Greg Ryan and Geoff Watson, Poverty Bay won a hat-trick of national titles from 1920-1922.
The strength of women's hockey in the Bay had been shown as early as 1914 when the touring England side suffered their only defeat at the hands of Poverty Bay by 5 goals to nil.
In the 1920 national tournament, Poverty Bay won their first three pool games with victories over Wanganui 2-1, Hawke's Bay 3-0 and Manawatu 3-0.
The final pool game against defending champions Canterbury was described by the Times as “the big match” and attracted 1500 spectators.
Canterbury scored first in what was effectively a semi-final.
The equalising Poverty Bay goal resulted in “the tooting of motor horns and prolonged, vociferous cheering, which called to memory the peace celebrations of 1918,” reported the Times.
The 1-1 draw was sufficient for Poverty Bay to play the other pool winner, Auckland, in the final played on September 11.
The final, which attracted 3000 spectators, was an even match for much of the first half before two late Poverty Bay goals, according to the Gisborne Times.
Auckland spent most of the second half on defence and home captain Mrs L. Lynex accepted the trophy “amidst a scene of indescribable enthusiasm”.
Eighteen months before, the Poverty Bay cricket side had captured the Hawke Cup from Wanganui at Cooks Gardens and defended it against the same side at the Oval on December 26 and 27, 1919.
The first challenge of the new year came from Wairarapa in a match played at Gisborne's Oval on February 23 and 24.
Poverty Bay won the toss and elected to bat.
Opening bowler Tom Southall, who played first class cricket for Wellington, “created a sensation” when he bowled opener William Blair with the third ball of the match for a duck.
The disastrous beginning was of no consequence with Poverty Bay going on to win the match by an innings and 38 runs.
Poverty Bay scored 244 and dismissed the visitors for 80, and when enforcing the follow-on, 126.
William Schollum took 6-23 in Wairarapa's second dig.
Batting for Poverty Bay, New Zealand international Len McMahon, coming in at first drop, scored 14, while future All Blacks great Jimmy Mill, halfback for the 1924 Invincibles, batting at seven, was run out for 10.
The Times described the result as a tremendous achievement and “suggests the local team is going to be a hard nut to crack for the other Hawke Cup contenders”.
The third defence of the season, played on March 13 and 15 (no playing on Sunday), was moved to Childers Road Reserve where Manawatu expressed concerns about the pitch and outfield.
The Times described day one as featuring low scoring, despite a good batting wicket.
Manawatu scored 108 and 103 with Poverty Bay compiling 111.
“The bowlers carried too many guns for the batsmen,” said the Times.
Poverty Bay bowlers Schollum, 5-41, and Duncan McLachlan, also 5-41 in the first innings, and 6-61, were “veritable demons”.
The Bay would need 101 on day two to win outright.
Poverty Bay cantered to an eight wicket win on day two with opener Reverend Tasman Drake providing “splendid batting”.
He scored 45 not out, and with Blair, 24no, were “accorded an ovation on coming off the field”.
Poverty Bay defended the Hawke Cup one more time in the following 1920-21 season, beating Wanganui by two wickets before losing to Wairarapa.
The defenders collapsed to be all out for 56 in their second innings and couldn't quite save the match.
A valiant effort saw them take eight wickets before Wairarapa scored the 108 runs required to win the trophy, which is still competed for today but has never returned to Poverty Bay.