Unsung Heroes

It’s the unsung heroes that keep New Zealand grass roots sport alive and Marlborough’s (New Zealand) Dave and Shelly McCormick are shining examples of that. Both have had a virtual lifetime of involvement in sport, Dave mainly in rugby and Blenheim-born Shelly, supporting husband Dave and their sons and enjoying her own success in a variety of sports including rowing.

Dave’s been involved in just about every role available in a rugby club from player, coach, medic, strapper, manager, club president, Sub Union President and Shelly’s supported him in a number of roles as well.

Their Muller road house has been an open home, particularly for new players and their families, many from the Pacific Islands , where they are greeted warmly and made to feel comfortable in new surroundings. Shelly said growing up in Blenheim, their house was the same with her dad Bill Campbell being a club and national rowing coach and mum Charlene always supporting the family.

Born in Takaka, Golden Bay, Dave’s participation in rugby started on the West Coast of the South Island while living at Fox Glacier where his dad Ian was working for the Ministry of Works. (Dave’s mum Marion sadly passed away earlier this year). Boarding at Hari Hari while attending South Westland Area School, Dave played in the annual Area schools tournaments where teams from Collingwood, Rai Valley, Tapawera, Murchison and South Westland took part in summer and winter sports. Dave played out of the South Westland club as a prop/loose-forward and made the West Coast under 16 team and in one particular tournament was billeted in Christchurch at future All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s place.

When Dad Ian was transferred to Murchison for work, Dave played for the Murchison Area schools and club rugby in the Buller competition. Turning out for the Murchison team as a 12, he made the Buller under 16 side. In a pre- tournament warmup games against Nelson and Marlborough as a prop, he got injured and missed the South Island tournament.

School wasn’t working out for Dave so he left and went to Nelson Polytech, training to become an engineer and on that course met his good friend, future All Blacks captain, Todd Blackadder. When his dad got a further transfer to Blenheim, Dave followed the family over and the late Alan Cameron got him along to play in the under 19 competition for the former Old Boys club coached then by Tony Gill and managed by Johnny Blick. 

Dave was working for well- known Marlborough sporting identity and businessman Gary Mortimer at his Caltex Grove Road service station, while working there he met his wife Shelly. She drove into the service station with her late sister Donna and Mum to buy petrol and ended up marrying the attendant.

"This year at the ripe old age of 50, Dave took the field as a replacement front rower for about 14 minutes until an indiscretion saw him cited"

Old Boys went well that year in the under 19 competition and Dave got selected as captain by Jim Love in the Marlborough under 18 side as a flanker. Jim of course was a Marlborough Red Devils centurion out of the Waitohi Club in Picton and went on to play for the New Zealand Maori team and coach them.

Beating Nelson in a warm-up match pre South Island tournament, hopes were high for a good showing, but tragedy struck on the way to the tournament venue in Southland. The team had a night stopover in Ashburton and six of the Marlborough players were passengers in a car which was involved in a crash that killed the driver and all the boys suffered injuries. Nelson won the tournament that year but Dave played very well in an obviously severely disrupted team and was named Marlborough under 18 player of the year.

Recalling his days playing for Old Boys, Dave said, “Met some great fellas. Larry Vanstone, John Taylor(JT), Herb (Trevor) Kenny, Mike (Digger) Gardiner. Graeme Taylor got me involved in the club and organised me to go to a Lions Club leadership course in Christchurch.”

Dave played for Marlborough Colts coached by Tony (Gus) Bishell and in 1994 he was part of the first Harlequins Club premier team, a club born out of Redwood, Opawa and Old Boys combining.

Former All Black Kieran Keane coached the first Harlequins team. Paul Phillips and Tom Forrest took over after Keane moved on to coach rep rugby. Dave’s brother Stu McCormick, a talented loose-forward, played for Harlequins too during their glory days. “Two of the best coaches I’ve ever been around and what a great bunch of top line players to be involved with. We won the competition over the next two years.”

Dave made the Marlborough Development team and with a young family and working long hours, he was contemplating retiring from playing as it was taking a toll on him and Shelly. Marlborough Red Devils legend Frank Marfell and Brian Harris asked Dave to captain Harlequins. He accepted and it turned to gold.

“It was a hard season for us as a family but in the end we won the competition. I missed the semifinal because I had stuffed my ribs but Dr (Alastair) Buckman got me sorted for the final.” The following year Dave wasn’t required by a new coaching regime, which came as a big shock to him so his days as a player and administrator at the Quins finished.

Shelly was playing for the Moutere women’s team and their coach Wayne Abbott asked Dave to help him out which he did and also played division two rugby for the Magpies as well as serving on the club’s committee, encouraged by Moutere stalwart Duncan Cassidy.

In 2002 the late John Taylor asked Dave to help him out coaching the Marlborough B team. “I took up JT’s offer and it was great fun. Wayne also asked me to get involved with Maori rugby and at my first trip to the Te Waipounamu (South Island) tournament I went as his trainer and first-aider.”

Dave ended up helping out with the Marlborough Red Devils as well, assisting former All Blacks coach Alex (Grizz) Wyllie, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed. The Te Waipounamu Maori side won every trophy going in 2003, during a very successful unbeaten period and as a player/ assistant of the Moutere premiers in their centenary season of 2006, Moutere celebrated by taking out the premier club championship and Dave was made Moutere club president the following year.

Dave and Shelly’s boys William, Lochie and Mathew all played as well for Tasman Maori, Lockie and Mathew also playing for Marlborough. William has been involved too as a trainer and medic. Dave’s oldest son Kenneth Eggers is a talented player having represented Nelson Country, Nelson age group teams plus Nelson, Tasman B and Tasman Maori.

In 2019, William, Lockie and Mathew were all involved with the Marlborough Red Devils side which won back the coveted Seddon Shield. A year later Mathew and Lockie joined the Central Club and Dave got a call from Central coach, former Tasman Mako halfback Billy Guyton, asking to help him coach the Central premier team which Dave accepted.

This year at the ripe old age of 50, Dave took the field as a replacement front rower for about 14 minutes until an indiscretion saw him cited.

Being involved in rugby is part of Dave’s DNA and he’s enjoyed some wonderful times. “I’ve been really lucky playing rugby with a heap of top players, being coached by some outstanding coaches and learning a lot along the way. “A major highlight would be winning the 2015 final with Moutere with such a young side who had so much belief.”
CHAMPIONS - Coaches Dave McCormick, Billy Guyton and team manger Kerry Maxwell savour victory after scooping a big haul of titles last year

Shelly hails from a sports mad family. Dad Bill Campbell was one of New Zealand’s top rowing coaches, producing several national championship winning crews out of the Blenheim Rowing Club and Marlborough Boys College. Her older sister Donna passed away 10 years ago at the age of 40 due to a long standing battle with diabetes. She was diagnosed with it at just 10. Shelly reckons Donna was the most athletic of her siblings and despite her health battles, still managed to excel in sport as did her other sister Nikki Coffey.

Younger brother Jason Campbell excelled in a number of sports including cricket and played for Marlborough.
Shelly recalled that as toddlers they trained at dad’s boxing training gym set up in their garage. At just five years old she started gymnastics and athletics and sport has always been part of the family DNA.

Shelly was part of the very first Marlborough Girls College rowing crew coached by her dad. They rowed together for five years winning national Maadi Cup (New Zealand secondary schools) titles.

The resilience and mental toughness developed from that, Shelly said, helped her beat cancer and chronic illness later in life.

While rowing was her main sporting passion, Shelly loved playing rugby, despite the fact she copped a few bad injuries like popped ribs, broken bones and sprains.

“I loved the sisterhood and that my sons witnessed me playing rugby.”

YOUNG GUNS - The champion Marlborough Girls College crew at the Maadi Cup early 1980s Back row from left; Rachel Rossiter, Peta Vaughn-Jones, Colleen Cox, Suzanne Keenan, Charlotte Tomlinson, Cynthia Keenan Front row from left; Chrissy Rashleigh, Shelly Campbell, Kerry McCallum
GIRL POWER - The champion Blenheim Rowing Club women’s crew from the early 1980s, back row from left; Nikki Campbell, Colleen Cox, Trudy Keyes, Suzanne Keenan, Janet Manson, coach Bill Campbell Middle row from left; Kerry McCallum, Peta Vaughn-Jones, Cynthia Keenan, Charlotte Tomlinson, Rachel Rossiter Front row from left; Chrissy Rashleigh, Shelly Campbell, Jo (No surname available), Tracey Quigley

Dave and Shelly have pulled back their involvement in sport now, concentrating their efforts on being grandparents. They have three granddaughters and another grand child due soon and as Shelly said, “We’ve gone from an all boys squad to an all girls squad.”

Sea food is often on the menu at the McCormick household. Dave not only enjoys fishing and spear fishing, he’s a keen free diver and as Shelly said, “He worries me sick sometimes he just goes off underwater for a couple of hours like a dolphin exploring things.”

Shelly served for 18 years on the Omaka Maori Women’s Welfare League and during her involvement with Maori rugby looked after hospitality, helping people with a variety of issues and served as an administrator.

Both Dave and Shelly agree that although they have contributed much on and off the field to sport, it has also given them a cherished lifestyle during which they’ve met so many interesting people and forged many great friendships.

Congratulations Dave and Shelly for your outstanding contribution to Marlborough sport in particular and I wouldn’t bet it’s over yet especially once the grand kids start playing.

Interview & Words by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.


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