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09 June 2021
By SARAH MATTHEWS
After a couple of falls and walk that became a shuffle, Ian Hommelhoff’s family knew something was wrong.
His wife, Lorna, thought a tumour might be pressing on his spine, affecting his balance.
They sought medical help and Mr Hommelhoff, 79, was referred to an oncologist.
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The news he was ‘cancer free’ should have been cause for celebration – but it turns out, a tumour would have been a more favourable outcome.
Mr Hommelhoff has motor-neurone disease, MND, meaning his nerve cells – which control the muscles that enable him to move around, speak, swallow and breathe – no longer work normally and will eventually die.
As his daughter, Donna Winfield, puts it, ‘Dad is in the fight of his life’.
“Dad learnt of his diagnosis the day the five-day snap lockdown was announced in February,” she said.
“He was unable to see any of his family, which was just awful.”
Motor-neurone disease has been in the spotlight in the past few years, thanks largely to the efforts and determination of former Essendon player and Melbourne coach Neale Daniher.
Daniher, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2013, is committed to finding a cure, raising money and awareness through his Fight MND charity.
“We thought that dad wouldn’t know what the disease was unless they told him it was what Neale Daniher had,” Ms Winfield said.
“Sure enough, days later he rang me and said, ‘I’ve got what Neale Daniher has. Perhaps you could get me into a doctor in the city who could cure me’.”
Mr Hommelhoff, known as ‘Hommy’, was born and raised at Wycheproof and lived in Port Fairy, Watchem and Horsham for work.
His three children grew up in Horsham. His son Phil lives in Papua New Guinea and is unable to travel to Australia due to the pandemic.
Joanne Zippel lives in Dimboola and Ms Winfield, Horsham. Ms Winfield said her father had always been ‘sports mad’.
“But above all, he is a die-hard football player, coach and supporter,” she said.
“He has every football recorder since the early 1950s and is forever pulling them out to show people.
“Those who know dad know how passionate he is about football and his conversation will always include football.
“That is where the idea came about for Wimmera Football League premiers to get a medal, because he used to say that back in his day, they never got anything to show for it.
“That’s when the Hommelhoff-
Winfield premiership medallions were born. I have been presenting them since 1991, when his beloved Minyip won the premiership. Some of his favourite sons Hugh Drum and John Hotker were in that team.”
A talented footballer from a young age, Mr Hommelhoff was scouted by Essendon, but turned down an offer to play VFL to stay with his young family and play regional football.
As his playing days ended, he coached teams including Taylors Lake and Longerenong College, along with junior sides at Minyip and Horsham United.
“He was always trying to encourage kids to play their best,” Ms Winfield said.
“He liked to help players learn how to mark a ball and kick a ball, something that still frustrates him at footy’s highest level.
“His grandsons Sam and Tom Winfield were testament to his coaching skills. He used to say, ‘turn up to your first training fit, work on your fitness all year round while learning the skill of kicking left and right’.
“He would also tell all the kids to have a footy in their hands all the time to get a feel for it.”
Ms Winfield said among highlights of her father’s playing days with Watchem-Corack was a strong contest against Wycheproof-Narraport star Greg Kennedy.
“He’d kicked 10 goals the week before to be kept goal-less on Dad the following week,” she said.
“The following year, Kennedy was drafted to Eaglehawk and then onto Carlton.
“John Boyle, of Watchem, said dad was an amazing player. He was so talented.”
Another man to sing his praises is Terry McGee, who coached Mr Hommelhoff at Watchem-Corack Football Club in 1967 and ’68.
When Mr McGee discovered his friend had MND, he and his wife Dot jumped in their car and drove to Horsham from their home in Gosford, NSW. Mr McGee told The Weekly Advertiser in March, he last saw his friend 52 years ago.
“It’s good to catch up, it’s been a long time,” he said.
Mr McGee said the Redlegs finished runners-up in North Central Football League in both seasons he coached.
He said Mr Hommelhoff was a ‘brilliant’ footballer.
“He played rep footy both years I was here,” he said.
Several other players from the 1967-68 team also participated in a reunion at the Hommelhoffs, sharing stories about days gone by.
“It only took a minute and they were reminiscing about their footy days,” Ms Winfield said.
She said although her father had now lost the use of his legs and his left arm – and was frustrated he could no longer play lawn bowls – he still had a great sense of humour.
“And he still loves everything football,” she said.
Big Freeze 7
Raising money to find a cure for MND will be a key part of this weekend’s AFL action.
While Monday’s match between Collingwood and Melbourne has been relocated to Sydney, Big Freeze 7 will still go ahead at the MCG as planned.
“Dad has already decided to donate his organs and everything that he possibly can to MND, for research,” Ms Winfield said.
“There is no cure for the disease and the average life expectancy, according to MND Australia, is just two to three years. Two Australians die from MND every day, while another two are diagnosed with the shocking illness.
“We urge you to support MND.”
People can visit fightmnd.org.au to make a donation, or for more information about the disease.
The entire June 9, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!