Frank Legena learnt a lesson in 1970. Last in 1969, South Fremantle had won six of their first seven matches of 1970 when the wingman commented to coach Hassa Mann at Thursday night training that he felt a bit “sluggish.” One of the leading players for the side to that stage of the season, Legena didn’t bother to listen to the radio, read the paper, or check the Saturday teams at the club, he thought his form was good enough, and it was his sister in law who told him he’d been dropped from the side. “I wasn’t happy, but ran around in the reserves and never got a kick,” he said. “Hassa was right.” A stirring display the following Saturday saw Frank back in the league twenty and he stayed there to be part of a premiership. “The lesson was: “never tell the coach a thing,” Legena laughed. Born in Italy and arriving at Fremantle as a two year old, Frank Legena spent his toddler years at Kalgoorlie, where his uncle Phil had the Federal Hotel. Three years later the family moved to Beaconsfield, and he played football in his junior years with Cockburn, where among team mates was Malcolm Brown. In those days the young Legena was a somewhat reluctant footballer. “Former South wingman Jim Matison would pick me up at John Curtin High to make sure I’d get to training,” he said. “On leaving school I worked at Mayne Nickless alongside South forward Peter Dougan’s father, and he talked me into having a run in the thirds, which was an under twenty one competition.” The thirds made the finals, but the all-conquering Perth combination, which featured many of the players who would later bring a hat trick of premierships to the Demons, were enjoying a three year unbeaten run, winning six flags in seven seasons.. He played in the seconds finals in 1964, and was selected in the league side late in the 1965 season. “We weren’t going well, and coach Ray Sorrell tried a few young players out,” he said. In a remarkable debut, Legena was awarded two Sandover Medal votes for his performance on East Perth stars Derek Chadwick and Dobbie Graham, while Sorrell got three as South scored an upset twenty six point win over the Royals. But he spent half the following season with the reserves, and was approached by Jim Conway, coach of Claremont. Any ideas of moving camp were quickly stymied by the South Fremantle club, who refused Legena permission to train. “Prior to the 1968 season, I lined up in a scratch match, and was awarded one of the best on ground,” Frank recalled. “Hoping for a run with the league side the following week I found I was not only out of that line up but on the bench for the seconds. I didn’t play, and copped a three week suspension.” Legena’s persistence was rewarded with the arrival of Hassa Mann. Frank Legena played his best football under Mann, and is a great admirer of the former Melbourne star’s coaching abilities. “I was coached by Clive Lewington as a junior, and Hassa was of the same mould,” he said. The silky smooth style of Legena came to the fore under Mann’s mentoring. The new coach had a torrid introduction to Legena when the pair played on each other at Bruce Lee Oval in an intraclub scratch match in 1969. Mann immediately made enquiries as to “why this bloke wasn’t in the league side?” The selection committee at South Fremantle had a three year term, and for some reason Legena had been pigeonholed as “not a league player,” despite the fact that while languishing in the reserves he had won the fairest and best award two seasons in a row. After the red and whites finished the 1969 season in last place on the ladder, Mann gave the club an ultimatum: “If you want me to coach, I’m the sole selector.” His request was acceded to, and Legena went straight back into the league side. A pacy wingman with a bullet like pass to leading forwards, Legena justified the faith of Mann when he was one of South Fremantle’s best in their grand final win over Perth, despite concerns the wet conditions wouldn’t suit his ball skills and running game, and it was the highlight of a career that was held back to an extent by the whims of selectors. He was awarded the most improved player award that year. “I was fortunate to have the freight train(Danny Civich) picking me out from half back,” Frank recalled. “Danny, who was eighteen at the time, could have been anything. He had a good offer from Melbourne on the table, decided to stay awhile longer, then did a knee in a scratch match.” Frank is married to former East Fremantle player and coach Harry Neesham’s sister Mary, and the pair often clashed in derbies. Neesham told us about one particular incident. “There were no stops out in those games, and on one occasion I was at the bottom of the pack, when I heard a familiar voice yell: “out here, Harry.” I got the ball out to the voice, only to see Frank race downfield, bounce the ball twice, and kick at goal. Usually a good kick, he fortunately missed that one. I went over to him and said: “brother in law or not, try that on again and I'll put you through the fence.” After the exhilaration of the 1970 premiership win, and looking forward to the new season, Legena’s world crashed once again when he damaged the lateral ligaments in his ankle and was consigned to the sidelines, his place taken by a young Tony Morley. The appointment of Mal Atwell as coach in 1972 led to a turbulent period at the Port club, with a culling of players on his arrival ending some careers and sending others such as Gary Greer, who subsequently gave East Perth good service, elsewhere. Legena was one of those who stayed, but he was once again on the outer, and retired in 1975, having played seventy nine league games. Despite a lucrative offer from Wagin, Frank played at Kwinana in the South Suburban League for four years, some under the coaching of former team mate at South, Brian Ciccotosto. Father of three and establishing what was to be a forty five year career at the SEC(now Western Power), he decided it was time to concentrate on family and work. Frank’s brother John played reserves with South Fremantle. “John was a better player than I was,” he declared. “But he was a fiery bugger who couldn’t control his temper.” The South Fremantle club has always been a melting pot of nationalities, and the club has recognised this by naming a “Garlic Munchers Team of the Century.” Legena was included in the star studded list, which included Peter, Wally, and Phil Matera, Peter and Jack Sumich, Tom Grljusich, John Gerovich, Tony Parentich, Jon Dorotich, Glen and Allen Jakovich, and Brian Ciccotosto to mention just a few. Frank and Mary Legena have two boys (Paul and Mark) and two girls (Joanne and Melissa). Mark played colts at South before representing Australia at super rules in netball. While he recognised the skills of East Perth’s Derek Chadwick, Frank regarded a fellow Royal, Gary “Flea” Gillespie(“small but strong”) as the toughest to play on. Don Haddow, Peter Troode, John Gerovich, John Todd, and Tom Grljusich were great players he lined up with. “To play with the greats, such as Gero and Todd was something special, and a highlight of my career,” he said. Frank had an honourable mention for Sebastian Rioli. “He would give a highly effective and magical fifteen minute burst, and would be suited by the AFL interchange rules of today. His drop punts were more like drop kicks.” In recent years Frank has coached juniors, with the involvement of old mate Gary Greer. With daughter Joanne’s hubby’s work taking him to many countries, Frank and Mary have enjoyed much overseas travel, and at home their time is taken up by grandchildren. Frank Legena was poetry in motion on the football field. A most damaging wingman who placed many a bruise on a forward’s chest, he was a premiership player for South Fremantle, and figured highly in a premiership.
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