|Jumper||15, 6, 27|
|V/AFL Clubs||Collingwood, Carlton|
Despite displaying an unfortunate early preference for soccer over football, Peter McKenna ultimately developed into one of the greatest full forwards in the Australian code's history. Indeed, his youthful flirtation with the round ball game may actually have aided him in certain ways; at any rate, given the apparent existence of some kind of link between, on the one hand, a liking for soccer as a youngster, and, on the other, prodigious feats of goal kicking in senior football - champion goalsneaks Ken Farmer, Frank Golding and Tony Modra, for instance, all shared McKenna's early passion - a comparative analysis of the sorts of skill required in the apparently dichotomous two activities might be instructive.
Whatever the underlying reasons or causes, although Peter McKenna was by no means an overnight sensation, he had, by the start of his second season in senior football, begun to capture the imagination of Collingwood fans with the obvious range of his natural football ability. In round 1 1966 he booted 12 goals in a match-winning effort against Hawthorn, and by the following year such feats were becoming almost commonplace.
Many full forwards are quick on the lead, but the truly great ones seem to know instinctively how to get the maximum advantage from their leads by timing them to perfection. In this particular skill, Peter McKenna has had few peers, and once he had gained possession of the ball he almost invariably finished things off with consummate precision, typically using a kick on which the jury, at the time, was still out - the drop punt.
McKenna topped the Magpies' goal kicking list for the first of eight consecutive times in 1967, booting 58 goals. Over the ensuing seasons he gradually improved, getting within two goals of the elusive 'ton' in 1969, before amassing an incredible tally of 143 the following year. What was even more incredible was that it was not sufficient to top the VFL's goal kicking list; Hawthorn's Peter Hudson, with three goals more, did that, as indeed he did in 1971, with a record-equalling 150 goals compared to McKenna's 'modest' tally of 134.
Moderately disappointing though this doubtless was, what was almost certainly of more concern to McKenna was his failure to contribute towards a Collingwood premiership. The Magpies reached the grand final twice during his career, losing to St Kilda by a point in 1966, and then squandering a half time lead of 44 points against Carlton four years later. In the latter game, McKenna's misfortune in sustaining a head injury after accidentally colliding with team mate and captain Des Tuddenham during the second term undoubtedly contributed greatly to Collingwood's second half demise. Nevertheless, he finished the game with six goals, more than anybody else on the ground.
Peter McKenna finally managed to head the VFL's list of goal kicking with 130 goals in 1972, a season which also saw him achieve All Australian selection after booting 19 goals in three games at the Perth carnival. The following year McKenna's total of just 86 goals was sufficient for him to claim pole position on the VFL's list for a second time.
In 1975, McKenna's form began to deteriorate, and after being dropped to the reserves he sustained a serious kidney injury that brought his season, and his Collingwood career, to a sad conclusion. The following year saw him lining up with NWFU side Devonport which, like Collingwood, played in black and white, and was known as the Magpies. McKenna enjoyed a solid, confidence-boosting season in Tasmania, booting 79 goals in 17 games, and in 1977 he returned to the mainland for another stab at the 'big time'. Sadly, at least as far as McKenna was concerned, Collingwood was loathe to pay big money for its former star, and with some reluctance he opted to front up with arch-rival Carlton instead. In what was by no means an ignominious comeback, McKenna managed 36 goals in 11 games, but it seemed clear to all parties concerned that he was some way past his best. As a result, he opted to call it a day, at least as far as VFL football was concerned, although he did round off his career by giving good service to VFA clubs Port Melbourne (as playing coach in 1979), Geelong West and Northcote.
At his peak, Peter McKenna could lay claim to being the most popular footballer in the VFL - and, indeed, given the burgeoning impact of the mass media, almost certainly the most popular footballer ever in Australia up to that point. Not only was he a highly successful full forward playing for the nation's most popular sporting club, he possessed a Beatle-esque 'look' which, by the standards of the time, was an adman's dream. He even made a pop record, and appeared regularly on television, but no doubt if you were to ask him today, he would happily agree to trade all such glamour and notoriety in for the quintessential 'Holy Grail' of every footballer - participation in a premiership.
Author - John Devaney