|V/AFL Clubs||St Kilda, Richmond|
The label 'legend' is bandied about quite indiscriminately these days but it would be hard to disagree with its appropriateness in the case of Ian Harlow Stewart. Born in the western Tasmanian mining settlement of Queenstown, where footballers do not have the luxury of grass to cushion their falls, Stewart is one of an elite band of just four players to have won the coveted Brownlow Medal on three separate occasions. Although neither strongly built nor especially athletic looking he was enormously tough and resilient, and his outward appearance belied enormous, some would say unique, native ability. Indefatigably accurate when kicking with either foot, Stewart was also deceptively strong overhead (in the 1966 season, for instance, he took more marks than any other player in the VFL), and so courageous that he frequently won possessions that logic told you he had no right to. He was also extraordinarily elusive, seldom being caught with the ball - small wonder that the umpires took note to the extent of awarding him more Brownlow votes than any other player of his era.
Ian Stewart's senior career began with Hobart in 1962 where he played 13 senior games and was selected in both of Tasmania's interstate games that year, against the VFA and the VFL. In the latter game, playing in the centre, he gave clear notice that he was a star in the making by outpointing his direct opponent on the day, Geelong's Alastair Lord, who later that season would win the Brownlow Medal. Wooed across the Bass Strait by St Kilda the following year he rapidly formulated an irresistible partnership with fellow Taswegian Darrel Baldock which was largely responsible in 1966 for steering the Saints to their first, and so far only, senior premiership.
After seven seasons and 127 games with St Kilda Stewart's career looked to be waning but in 1971 he moved to Richmond and immediately won another Brownlow to add to the two won previously in 1965 and 1966. While at Punt Road he linked up to great effect with another high profile Tasmanian player in the shape of Royce Hart. Stewart's 78 games with the Tigers included the victorious grand final of 1973 and took his final VFL games tally to 205. He originally retired midway through the 1974 season only to make a handful of appearances the following year before finally calling it a day for good.
Ian Stewart's selection as centreman in the official Tasmanian 'Team of the Century', which was announced in June 2004, was as inevitable as it was justified. Two years later he was inducted as an icon in Tasmanian Football's official Hall of Fame.
Author - John Devaney