|V/AFL Clubs||Carlton, St Kilda|
Born in Salzburg, Austria, of Ukrainian parents, Alex Jesaulenko moved with his family to Australia at the age of three and a half. As a youngster he displayed a prodigious talent for ball games, particularly soccer and rugby. Then, aged fourteen, he was introduced to Australian football by a group of friends and, if the cliche can be forgiven, a legend was born.
Jesaulenko commenced his senior football career with Eastlake and was a member of that club's 1964, '65 and '66 premiership sides. However, even before he made his senior debut he had begun to attract the attention of clubs in the VFL. At first, North Melbourne looked favourites to procure his signature, but in the end, thanks perhaps to some judicious string-pulling behind the scenes (though this has never been conclusively proved), Jesaulenko signed with Carlton, making his League debut as a twenty-one year old against Fitzroy in 1967. Despite only managing a handful of possessions that day 'Jezza', as he was quickly dubbed by the adoring Carlton faithful, gave glimpses of the type of sublime, classy football which would become his trademark.
Equally adept either on the ground or in the air, Jesaulenko was a player opposing coaches found it almost impossible to stifle. If beaten in one position he could simply transfer somewhere else and as likely as not merge as a match winner. Possessed in abundance of all the major football skills, Jesaulenko supplemented his ability with tremendous intelligence and awareness, making him, if you like, a kind of 'Greg Williams with pace'. In terms of pure footballing ability, few players in the history of the game have come close to matching him.
Early in his career Jesaulenko played chiefly on the forward lines, topping Carlton's goal kicking list on three successive occasions between 1969 and 1971. Indeed, in 1970, when he spent a fair amount of time at full forward, he became the only Carlton player in history to 'top the ton'.
A premiership player in 1968, 1970 and 1972, Jesaulenko was personally responsible for one of the most memorable moments ever to occur in a VFL grand final when, in 1970, he used his opponent Graeme Jenkin as a proverbial step ladder in taking what some have termed 'the mark of the century'.
In 1978 Carlton appointed triple Brownlow Medallist Ian Stewart as coach but ill health forced the former St Kilda and Richmond champion to resign early in the season. After a month or so in which Sergio Silvagni undertook the coaching role on a caretaker basis it was Jesaulenko to whom the club eventually turned, albeit not without a fair degree of hesitancy on the part of club president George Harris. Indeed, it appears that Jezza himself was hesitant as well, for he initially refused the job. However, within weeks of assuming the coaching mantle it seemed that Jesaulenko had been born to the role. He steered the Blues to the finals in 1978, and a year later he took them to a memorable five point grand final win over arch rivals Collingwood. A long career as Carlton coach seemingly beckoned, but when George Harris was surprisingly supplanted as club president Jesaulenko decided it was time for him to leave as well.
In 1980 Jesaulenko continued his VFL career with St Kilda, initially just as player, but after coach Mike Patterson was dismissed just two weeks into the season he took up the coaching reins as well. Things were much tougher at Moorabbin, and in two seasons as playing coach and 1 in an off field role the side finished no higher than 10th.
In fifteen seasons of league football Alex Jesaulenko played 283 games (260 of them for Carlton). He was an All Australian in 1969 and 1972, and a VFL representative on 15 occasions. He won the Carlton club champion award in 1975. Midway through the 1989 season he was surprisingly recalled to Princes Park to replace Robert Walls as Carlton's senior coach but in eighteen months at the helm he failed to steer the club to success. In 1993 he had a forgettable season coaching Coburg to a winless wooden spoon in the VFA.
Author - John Devaney