Craig Stewart - 150 Games for the Toronto Dingos
Craig Stewart had no idea football even existed overseas.
He made the move from Western Australia to Ontario in 1998 and it took him a few years to catch on “footy” was alive and kicking in the city of Toronto; the city of hockey.
“I remember thinking as a kid, if other countries could see how good Aussie Rules was, that it would really take off,” said the 35-year old. “My wife Pam found the Dingos online in 2000. I emailed Tinks and the rest is history.”
He was right.
The bloke the they call “Stewy” has certainly left an historic mark on the game here in Ontario and, come Monday night when the Dingos tackle their arch-rivals the Toronto Rebels, he’ll be lacing up the boots for his 150th milestone game.
Stewart has spent more than 11 fruitful years as a player, coach, mentor and club larrikin entirely for the red and black and the accolades run as long as Yonge Street.
Try this on for size, the boy from Bunbury is a four-time premiership player (also played in two losing grand finals); five-time Dingos’ best and fairest winner (including four runner’s up awards); won the Dingos’ goal kicking award four times; was clubman back to back in ’07-’08; has been Dingos’ president for the past four years; coached in 2002 and 2008; was captain for seven years straight; won the league MVP in 2004; became a Dingos life member in 2009; and has made the OAFL All Star team five times.
And, he’ll be looking to add to his 281 goals against the Rebels in game 150 Monday night. .
Stewart has played many roles for his club. He’s been a dominant forward, a prolific midfielder, a run and carry type across half back and a fearless leader and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone within league circles that would deny he’s one hell of a player.
Looking back it was In fact the Rebels he played his very first match against back in 2000, a match the Dingos won by 30 points. Later that year, he was drinking out of the premiership cup as the red and black army won their first OAFL flag, defeating the Eagles by 65 points and stopping their run of five consecutive flags.
“Winning the first flag is really special. We had a great team and a great bunch of blokes off the field. In 2003, 2004 and 2005 it seemed like we just couldn't lose and it was sort of easy,” he said. “It wasn't until the years following, that we discovered how hard it really is to win a flag.”
With the loss of eight core Canadian players the Dingos battled on and off the field and were stuck in cyclical rut– like what happens to most OAFL clubs.
“It was a difficult situation,” Stewart said. “We had basically exhausted the network of friends that our current players had. We needed to get new players into the club and we made recruiting Canadians and Australians our number one priority.”
The Dingos have rectified their slump with some impressive performances over the past two years including a brave effort in last year’s grand final against a stacked Blues outfit. With a sluggish opening to this year, Stewart reckons the future is extremely bright.
“Right now, we are very lucky to have a large group of leaders and people who want to volunteer their time to help the club grow and succeed,” he said. “We have tried hard to ensure guys walk away at the end of the season with the feeling that they are apart of something good and want to remain a part of the club for years to come.”
The basement at the Stewart’s home in Mississauga is slowly running out of room because of the large collection of silverware won over the years, it would seem he’s run out of aspirations and things to achieve.
“A couple of years ago, I was asking myself what’s left to achieve, and I am not sure I have an answer. I would like to stay involved in the club in some capacity and as long as I am not a liability on the field, I would like to keep playing, and competing as hard as ever,” he said. “But, really, it’s the people you meet and the friendships you make that's probably the most important part of footy here. Joining the Dingos was one of the best things I have ever done in my life.”
The Stewy File: The many shades of “Mr Football”.
Chewy on ya boot Stewy
In front of the big sticks he rarely misses and loves kicking a goal. But in the 2003 Grand Final against the Roos, the power forward uncharacteristically kicked a miserable 1.6 and couldn’t hit a barn door that day. Lucky for him, the Dingos were able to scrap their way to victory and were still able to win the flag.
The classic Stewy “dummy”
At a typical Dingos training session, he loves to sell a dummy to his team mates every now and then. During matches not only does he launch into a massive “sell of the dummy”, but we’ve noticed he also doesn’t mind a bit of a head shake, with his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth.
The boy from Bunbury has only ever ordered one meal at the Sports Café in 11 years: wings. “If you need a buddy to order wings with you, he's the guy,” said Dingo veteran and club stalwart Dave Wells.” No one orders wings like Stewy”.
Heart and Soul
He’s probably the first bloke to ever run a meat tray raffle at a Canadian pub. “I got the meat from a butcher mate of mine,” he said one night after training. He’s an ideas man and loves to think of ways to make money for the club. “He’s responsible for getting several thousand dollars of sponsorship single handedly” said Dingo member and former president Tim Shaw. “As president he loves having his hands in pretty much every dingos event.”
Footy Trip Larrikin
Every club has one. The Dingos have several. But Stewy loves footy trips. He talks about them 10 months before hand. More importantly, he loves putting the clubs money down on the bar on footy trips – within reason of course. “He’s always a good guy to hang around,” Tim Shaw said.
Umpire strikes back
Without going into too much detail, during one game Stewy had been a bit chippy about some of the umpiring decisions which prompted Rosco to throw the whistle at him saying “ ok, then, you umpire.”
You can never pull the wool over Stewy’s eyes when it comes to his personal stats. During the 2004 OAFL Best and Fairest count, Bruce Parker was about to present the award to two footballers that had tied for the award when Stewy harked up. He told Brucey that he had miscounted the votes. The recount showed Stewy was in fact the outright winner by one vote.
Stewy can be prone to miscellaneous and bizarre injuries – back, ankles,etc. During this year’s pre-season home workout session, he was doing weight training while balancing on a half ball. “Naturally, this didn't go well, he injured himself, and had to have hernia surgery,” Dave Wells said. Stewy was on the sidelines for six weeks.
WA or the highway
When he talks about superstars, guns and jets, apparently they all come from Western Australia - -most of them from Bunbury where he’s from.