1911 revisited: Round 17
Round 17, 26th August, 1911
Fitzroy players awoke on the day of Round 17 knowing the task ahead of them. Most still had jobs to attend to in the morning, but in the back of their minds would have been contemplations of how they might defeat top side Essendon to keep their finals hopes alive. That Collingwood, their bitter local rival, would be the beneficiary of any stumble would have fuelled their motivation.
Given the turmoil of March, where long serving office holders were usurped, and many stalwart players had left the club, it had taken a lot of hard effort to reach this point. Coach Geoff Moriarty and skipper Lal McLennan (right) had seen 23 new faces come and (often) go. Some had stayed the course, and despite fluctuations in form they were still a finals chance. But now they had to defeat Worrall’s ominous Essendon outfit.
A large crowd packed Brunswick St to watch a tight first quarter yield only a goal to each side. As they had when the two sides met earlier in the season, proceedings suddenly exploded in the second quarter. Essendon’s Percy Ogden had just got a kick away when Fitzroy’s George Holden knocked him rotten.
Holden and Essendon didn’t seem to get on. In only his fifth game, back in 1908, Holden had been knocked out playing the Same Old. That incident had provoked the Maroon barrackers, who weren’t noted for being bashful, and one of them had scored a direct hit on the umpire with a thrown rock, prompting further strife.
Then, Essendon’s ‘Bull’ Martin had been rubbed out for the rest of this season for striking Holden in round eight. Fresh from having represented Victoria at the carnival, Holden had now got some of his own back. His action was noted by attending constables and witness names were taken. Yet again, the police had been drawn into matters of football violence.
For his sins Holden was suspended for 20 matches, effectively wiping his 1912 season. It remains the longest suspension a Fitzroy player ever received. As an aside, Ogden had also been reported in circumstances unspecified (but which arouse suspicions). He was found not guilty by the VFL.
After that disruption Fitzroy found the Essendon defence impenetrable. At three-quarter time they still only had a single goal to their name, yet were only 18 points adrift. Strive as they did in the final term, they couldn’t bridge the gap.
Same Old skipper Dave Smith had continued his fine post carnival form with a stand-out display, backed up by the ever reliable Lou Armstrong and Paddy O’Shea. In a promising sign, Bill Busbridge had shown a return to his old form in defence. For the defeated, Bob Rahilly, ‘Tunner’ Reardon and Bill Walker were best.
With Collingwood virtually assured of victory against St Kilda in the final round, Fitzroy’s finals hopes were effectively dashed. But the ructions and strivings of the season wouldn’t go to waste. Out of the team which played in this round, McLennan, Walker, Percy Parratt, Wally Johnson, Jack Cooper, Bert Lenne and the fiery Holden would all go on to have significant careers and play in premierships for the Maroons.
Collingwood wouldn’t have known much of simultaneous nearby events as they faced another rival at Victoria Park. Carlton had bested the Magpies earlier in the season and already had a finals berth wrapped up. 20,000 packed the ground to watch the Blues squander early dominance with inaccurate shooting for goal.
Collingwood’s luck was in. Young Dan Minogue (right) had struggled for a regular senior spot after returning from a broken collarbone. He’d been picked for the reserves, but when George Anderson "failed to turn up" he found himself in the senior team. Minogue kicked two goals as Collingwood scored majors from their only three scoring shots of the opening quarter.
Observer describes the early action thusly: "If Carlton's goal kicking had been up to the standard of their general play, they must have won comfortably". The half time score line was 4.2 to 2.10 in the Magpies’ favour.
Collingwood then produced a third-quarter burst where they "were doing almost as they pleased". Minogue took his goal tally to four, Dick Lee kicked two and Tom Baxter added another two. At three-quarter time their lead was 25 points. They proceeded to pack the backline in the final term and ran out comfortable winners.
Crucial to the outcome had been the centre duel between Rod McGregor and Jock McHale. McGregor had been the crucial "pivot and brains behind Carlton’s system for years" with his pinpoint kicking off either foot, a rarity in this age. He would go on to play 236 games – the Carlton club record until broken by John Nicholls – but on this day he was rendered ineffective by a "badly bruised side". McHale took advantage to dominate. He was clearly best on ground: Observer thought "nearly all the shots for goal which Collingwood secured came last from McHale's boot".
So the final four had been decided with a week remaining. But the contest for top spot (and the crucial right of challenge) was still alive as South Melbourne journeyed to a sunny Corio to play Geelong. South’s final round clash with Essendon was expected to be the climactic battle for the top, and those expectations looked intact when Bruce Sloss produced three "magnificent kicks" for goals in the opening term. At half time South looked in control leading 7.1 to 2.6.
The mercurial Pivotonians then decided to turn it on. Harry Marsham and George Heinz teamed brilliantly as a ruck/rover combination, Joe Slater and Dick Grigg were "unapproachable" in their high marking, and Percy Martini kicked for goal with deadly efficiency. Geelong stormed to the front before George Bower kicked a late goal to put a stunned South side five points up at three-quarter time.
With the stakes suddenly raised, the final term got tough. The action was now "full of incidents, some of them of the unpleasant kind". The pace became too much for some. Play actually halted for two minutes as players collapsed from cramp and teammates tried to assist. Whatever they tried, South couldn’t regain the momentum as the Geelong fans "were beside themselves". Billy Orchard kicked his second goal to compliment Martini’s five and seal the shock win in one of the games of the season.
Bruce Sloss had scored four goals for South, ably supported by centre man Bower’s three. But their efforts proved in vain. No conceivable victory in the final round could bridge South’s percentage deficit to Essendon. Top spot was lost.
Compared to the dramas described, the remaining games of the round were a decided anti-climax.
Only 2,127 attended the MCG to witness Melbourne take on a University team that was further depleted by the loss of Jack Brake and others. The Students actually hung in fairly well until three-quarter time, but then collapsed in the final term as the Fuchsias ran out 62-point victors. The highlight was a seven-goal haul to Harry Bremerton (right), which shot him to the lead on the individual goal-kicking table.
In support, 38-year-old Jack Leith had returned to snare three goals for himself. Leith had played in 1897, the VFL’s inaugural season. He’d been a member of the 1900 Melbourne side that had taken advantage of the peculiar playoff system that year to claim the premiership after having finished sixth of eight competing teams. These were the final three goals of his career, though he would play one more game in 1912 to finish at 133 games and a highly respectable 162 career goals.
Of the St Kilda vs. Richmond game at Punt Rd, Observer was moved to make the following comment: "It is quite time that the St Kilda executive put aside questions of dignity and internal disruptions and nonsense of that sort, and seriously started to get a side together". In words that should have been inscribed in stone for many clubs down the years he continued: "...it is not a matter of much importance who rules the club, how they do it, or why the club affairs are so constantly at sixes and sevens. The strength of the side is the only matter that excites much public interest..."
These comments were prompted by Richmond’s 87-point drubbing of a St Kilda side left bereft by the continuing player strike. With little opposition, Richmond had apparently decided to try and emulate the recent goal-kicking feats of Gardiner and Armstrong by channelling as much play as possible through teenage spearhead Mick Maguire (left). "Richmond forwards were often in a position where a goal was almost a certainty, but instead of taking it they were looking for Macguire’. Sadly for Maguire his kicking was badly astray. He finished with only two goals and an unrecorded number of misses.
One Tiger to take advantage was the man who had stood down from the captaincy earlier in the season. Billy Schmidt’s form had benefited from the decision and he helped himself to a five-goal haul out of the 17.21 his team managed. This performance must have impressed the Saints, as Schmidt would line up in their colours the following season. He went on to be star for St Kilda in better times.
Bill Mahoney and Syd Reeves again starred in the middle for Richmond, whilst defender Vic Thorp continued to show great promise in his second season (he would eventually play for 16). For the bedraggled Saints, Bill Woodcock and Bert Pierce fought hard and Ernie Sellars managed another two goals. Roy Cazaly kicked his first career goal.
The match-ups for the semi finals had now been decided, but one more week of the regular season needed to be negotiated.
Round 17, 1911 results
Round 17, 1911 ladder
For further 1911 season details, click here.
This is an updated version of an article that first appeared on the www.footyalmanac.com.au website.
- Fitzroy - Merging into the Future: Jim Main
- Fitzroy - For the Love of the Jumper: Chris Donald
- Encyclopedia of AFL/VFL Footballers: Russell Holmesby & Jim Main
- 100 Years of Australian Football: ed. John Ross
- The Argus
- AFL Tables
- The Mighty Blues- Team of the Century: Garrie Hutchinson