Great Australian rules players
Books could be filled with opinions of enthusiasts as to who is the greatest player in the history of Australian Rules football. The man who followed the game in its early history will tell you that George Coulthard was the kingpin; that in all the seasons that have passed since he graced the field no star has dimmed his lustre. George Coulthard passed out of the game before my time. But I have seen many champions. Residents of the various suburbs in Victoria will tell you that So-and-So, belonging to their particular district, was the best ever. They see players through glasses colored as their football jerseys. But Victoria has produced many who have left great names. It is difficult to say who was the absolute champion, as the game is now different from what it was thirty years ago, and it is impossible to accurately compare players of different periods.
Some think Burns the best ever
Enthusiasts of the 80's will chatter about Peter Burns till 'the cows come home'. They tell you Peter place-kicked a ball further than any man who ever donned a jersey, notwithstanding that Dave McNamara's name figures on the top line in the record book, viz., 86 yds 1 ft. They simply reply that many a kick of Burns' which sent thousands of spectators into ecstasies never had the tape measure on it. Then how could he mark! And wasn't he always where the fight was thickest? Aye! There is no question that the old South Melbournite was the idol of the Victorian public in his time. And even now his great deeds are constantly being referred to.
I saw him perform with his club in Tasmania in the late eighties, when the Red and Whites were sweeping all before them. He played remarkably well, but the Hobart boys, to the great surprise of the visitors, defeated them. They could scarcely realise it. But there were some great players in the island then.
Burns was over 6ft in height and powerfully built. Not very speedy, he possessed dash and staying power. He could keep going from early morn till dewy eve, and had few superiors as an aerial artist.
How much has been said about the doughty deeds of Albert Thurgood? More than would fill the pages of the biggest book ever published. How many times did he pull Essendon out of trouble by phenomenal kicking? Thurgood was one of the most accurate and lengthy kicks the game has produced; yet he was not only a goal-notcher, but a champion in every phase of football. Everybody who resided in Melbourne when the crack of the 'Same Old' was in his zenith sang his praises.
George Vautin, the most brilliant player that ever graced a field, and who for years played with and against the champions of all the States, told me on his visit to Sydney a little while ago that he placed Thurgood first as the greatest all-round footballer in his experience.
'Minnie' Palmer, an Essendon player for many seasons, said: 'Why, hardly any of the Victorian players would go for the ball fairly with him, as they knew they hadn't a chance of getting it. There was one man, however, who was a foe man worthy of Albert's steel— Charlie Eady, of Tasmania. We played there, and the local giant gave a wonderful exhibition.'
Billy Crebbin, the old Essendonian centre, has several times told me of the prodigious feats performed by Thurgood.
Jack Baker in the limelight
Where does Jack Baker come in? "Is there a Carltonian or Pivotonian playing to-day who can compare with Baker?" I hear an old-timer asking. He will be amazed if anyone mentions one. Jack was extremely clever in eluding opponents who came at him from the front. As soon as an adversary was almost close enough to grab him, Jack would knock the ball over the enemy's head, dodge round him, catch it on the bounce, and sweep down the field like a flash of lightning. Then he was a good mark and one of the best kicks that ever placed a ball.
Several writers have described Baker as graceful, but I cannot altogether agree with that. True, when at his top he was the poetry of motion, but when running at half-pace his movements were somewhat ungainly.
McGinis a marvel
Many good judges class Fred McGinis as the greatest footballer that ever donned a jersey in Victoria. I never saw Fred play when he reached manhood. He was only a lad when I left Hobart, and he was then taking part in school football, his elder brother, George, at that period being a representative of the island. From the first time Fred stripped for the Melbourne Club in 1893 till 1901 he outshone all comrades, and his name became a household word. Many enthusiasts followed the Melbourne team around simply to see McGinis play. Fred is 5ft 10½in in height, and when at the top of his form he scaled 12st 5lb.
Harry Wilson's opinion
The late Harry Wilson, of Launceston, who saw and played against many of the cracks, once wrote to me about McGinis as follows: “He was a beautiful kick, both drop and place; more than an average high mark, possessed great dash when eluding opponents, kept at work for the whole of the period (following), and his passing at half-distance was of the very highest class. He could also play in any position, and no champion opponents in respective positions could show him a point.”
Read what Markwell, of the Argus, said of McGinis in 1908, when criticising crack players: “To Tasmania belongs the honor of having produced the first artist amongst Melbourne cracks of fairly recent years. In Fred McGinis the club was blessed with a born footballer. I remember seeing him make his first appearance in the Melbourne team, when he astonished and charmed me with his display. He simply dropped into his place as if he were made for it. He picked, his man like one who had played with them for years, and he was the personification of cool cleverness and resource. And all that he showed himself on that first day he remained up to the time when, unfortunately, his light went out literally, and he could no longer see to play.”
Jack Leith has a word
Some years ago — after McGinis' time — the Melbourne Club played on Erskineville Oval, Sydney, and a knot of enthusiasts was discussing great players. The query arose as to who was the very best. Half-a-dozen names were mentioned, and then Jack Leith administered the coup-de-grace.
“What's the use of talking?” he asked. “Fred McGinis was the daddy of them all! He was a champion in any position on the field. When we were being pressed, Fred would save us by his back play; when we needed goals, he notched them; when a follower or rover was required, Fred filled the breach; if the centre was weak, he strengthened it. And didn't he win a match one day for us when he was on the wing?”
Some of the enthusiasts I have met, who were not associated with any particular club in McGinis' time, give him the palm as the champion of champions. They all refer to his ability to foot-pass to a comrade. They will tell you that when McGinis kicked the ball it invariably went to a mate. Unselfishness pervaded all his work, and he did everything in such an easy, natural way.
Thinks Jack Worrall the best
Many old-timers will tell you that Jack Worrall was the best footballer who ever stepped on to a field — my old friend, Con. Hickey, being among them. Jack had all the wares necessary for the making of a champion in his kit. Though not a runner one would single out to pit against the top-notchers of his day on the cinder, path, he could get that thick-set body over the ground at a fairly fast clip. In an interview with Con. Hickey at the 1914 Australasian Football Carnival, he said that Worrall was the most persistent fellow in the world. If there was any phase of football in which he was deficient, he would practice assiduously till he mastered it. It was so with his running — he was always at it. And in the end he accumulated some pace.
Worrall was short, with a pair of wrestler-like shoulders, and the muscles of his brawny arms were, like those of Longfellow's Village Blacksmith, “as strong as iron bands.” His legs, some what bowed, were suggestive of strength. There were not many who could mark over him, his fine judgment being such an asset to his success, and his kicking was first-class.
In 1890 Jack Worrall captained the Fitzroy team in two matches against the Hobartonians, who won one match, and the other ended in a draw. I was a member of the latter combination, and can therefore speak with some authority of Worrall's play. It was magnificent, and though he had a great reputation to uphold, he maintained it. Everybody who follows the game knows how successful he has been as a coach, which is no cause for wonderment, as he knows every point in the game. Whether, he is entitled to the high position alloted to him by Con. Hickey or not, it is certain he can be numbered amongst the few great players whose names are hoisted on the highest rungs of the ladder of fame.
Billy Strickland names a few
Chatting with Billy Strickland, the old Carltonian and Collingwood crack, I asked him who was the best: player he had ever seen: “Well”, he replied, “it is a hard question. Jack Baker, Fred McGinis, Peter Burns, and Albert Thurgood were all champions, but I think Dick Condon and Billy Hannaysee were the cleverest at beating opponents.”
H. Crapp. 'the prince of umpires,' who was umpiring at the 1914 Australasian Carnival, was questioned by me. “Yes, I have seen some great players in my time”, he said, 'but I like Baker, Burns and McGinis best. Fred (McGinis) was a perfect footballer”.
Strang on Condon and Trotter
Billy Strang, one of South Melbourne's famous players, replied to my query one day as follow:
“I won't say that Percy Trotter was the best footballer I ever saw, but I have no hesitation in saying that when Percy had a day out he was so resourceful and brilliant that the spectators hadn't eyes for anybody else.”
Strang also said that he regarded Dick Condon as the finest player he had ever seen. “I never saw McGinis”, he went on, “but if he was better than Condon he must have been a clinker. I really can't imagine anybody eclipsing Condon; he was the finished artist.”
Talking of Condon, I once asked him the secret of his success, and his reply should be cut out and stuck up where every footballer can see it. “Well”, said Dick, “whenever I saw the ball in the air I always said to myself: 'That ball's mine.' It helped me wonderfully”.
My opinion of Eady
The greatest player I have ever seen was Charlie Eady, of Tasmania. I cannot make a comparison between him and McGinis and Thurgood, because I saw Fred at work only when he was a schoolboy, and I never saw the Essendon crack at all. Some enthusiasts, writing to me — and whose opinions were published in the Referee — have stated that Eady could not be classed as an all-rounder, because he played in only two positions — back and roving. To one of those, the late Harry Wilson of Launceston, I replied as follows: ''I would ask my old friend, who was a rattling back, how he would have relished the task of having to watch Eady had he played forward? I am sure he will admit that the contract would have been the hardest in his career”.
Charlie Eady best back
Harry Wilson's letter also contained this item: “Charlie Eady (a personal friend of mine) was, in my opinion, the best back player I have seen. Some years ago Jack Worrall told me that he thought Eady was the best back in the world, and I thoroughly agreed with him. But to compare him to McGinis is another matter. Charlie could certainly beat Mac in the air, but where else?”
Eady played in only two places because his services were so valuable to his team in them. His football stock-in-trade was complete, and I am convinced that he could have held his own with any man I ever saw in any position on the field. Though so tall, he was agile, and could scoop a ball from the ground, if not with the adroitness of George Vautin, at least as well as nine-tenths of the players of his time. Not a speed merchant, he was anything but slow, as many an opponent found out when chasing him. His calves did not wink, like those of the immortal Fezziwigs, of Dickens' creation, by the rapidity of their movements, but his strides were so long that he covered ground much faster than the average onlooker dreamed of. True, he was not given to undue running with the ball, and in that he I never saw him once use it unfairly players should do — he kicked. ,And how when he was travelling with the ball. When danger threatened he did what all did the leather sail from his foot! Its flight resembled that of a swallow skimming along — low and speedy, with a rise upward just before it dropped.
His great height, reach and his activity enabled him to conquer all the aerial cracks, of his time. And his passage to the ball was always a rough one, many of his opponents resorting to tactics the reverse of sportsmanlike in the endeavor to prevent him from taking his leap. One can understand that he obtained a great number of free-kicks, but nothing like as many as should have gone his way, as some of the players were clever enough at times to escape the lynx-eyes of the umpire.
A better sportsman never donned a jersey than the genial Tasmanian giant. Though possessed of prodigious strengthshowed his judgment. Few opponents had the satisfaction of stopping Eady during scores of matches in which I played with him. “The ball all the time”, was his motto, and his popularity was therefore remarkable.
McGinis on Thurgood and Eady
By the way, I interviewed Fred McGinis when he was in Sydney watching the Australasian football carnival. “I consider Thurgood the finest kick I have seen", he said. “Whenever he had a shot from 50 yards out it was good enough to walk to the centre for the bounce. Thurgood was a match-winner, for he could play in any position with success. He was the greatest footballer I ever encountered. If Charlie Eady had gone to Melbourne he would have made a name there all right”.
In a chat which I had with Billy Gill, a prominent football administrator and enthusiast, he said: “The best player I have seen was Charlie Eady, though Thurgood and Jack Worrall were not far behind him. Strange to say, Tasmanians never saw the best of Fred McGinis, who played all his finest foot ball in Victoria”.
Jim Smith of St Kilda
Jim Smith captained St. Kilda for many seasons. I asked him to get a move on, as we sat together in the stand watching a 1914 Australian carnival match. 'It is a pity Baring didn't come to Sydney,' he said, 'as he is a remarkably clever player — one of the best now in the game. Eicke is, of course, great In fact, half-way through this season I thought it possible he might become as famous as Fred McGinis, who, in my opinion, stands in a class by himself as the greatest footballer the game has known. But Eicke has not come on as much as I expected.
“I have played against a number of cracks”, continued Jim, “and have followed the sport closely always, yet I regard McGinis as the most finished footballer of all. I played against the Melbourne team once when their recognised followers were absent. They were playing two poor ruckmen, and I was getting the ball from almost every throw-in. Fred McGinis was roving. At last he said to me, quietly: “Jim, I'm coming in the ruck. He did, and that was the end of me, as I couldn't get a touch.
“He did everything with such delightful ease, and whether marking, running, or kicking there, was an absence of flurry. It will be a long time before we see his like again”.
Ampy Edwards a clinker
I have always maintained that Ampy Edwards was the surest high-mark that ever stood on a field. It is a tall order; but the statement has been substantiated frequently by many good judges of the game. True, Charlie Eady, owing to his superior height, was able to climb nearer to the sky than Edwards, and frequently took the ball at a higher altitude than Ampy could reach; still, the latter was sureness itself. His judgment, grace of movement when in the air and the infallibility of his fingers could not possibly be forgotten by anyone who saw him play.
Edwards was about 5ft 10in in height, and weighed about 12st 4lb. Admirably proportioned, his strong, muscular arms being shapely and his legs everything a sculptor would desire if he were in search of a perfect model. As one who has felt the weight and strength of Ampy in many an encounter, I have never wondered how he always contrived to force a passage to the ball. I do not mean to infer that he was rough. He certainly never played with kid gloves on, but I always found him a first-class fellow to play against. Speed was not his long suit, but he was faster than many of his comrades and opponents. Like Eady, he did not attempt any lengthy runs; he believed in getting in his kick. Ampy was a fine drop-kick, too. In the great number of years of the City Club's existence I unhesitatingly state that Edwards and the dazzling George Vautin were its greatest players.
Others well known
There are many other great players who should be mentioned. Through living in Tasmania and New South Wales I have missed seeing quite a number who have succeeded in placing their names high up on the roll of fame. Amongst those must be included Kerley, who was as famous as Peter Burns. Billy Hannaysee's name was in everybody's mouth 33 years ago, but I never saw him. Then there was Dookie McKenzie, who must have been, a remarkable player — aye, and captain, too. Read what Dave McNamara writes of him in his book: “He was the cleverest and coolest captain it has ever been my lot to contend with”. George Vautin also spoke in the highest terms to me of McKenzie. Ned Officer and Hughie Gavan are two who have been highly praised. Every old-timer will remember Harry Rappiport, the old Fitzroyite, who also played in Sydney with North Shore. One could always spot Rappi — he always had one stocking down.
Commotion Pearson was a wonderful footballer. A mark he brought off in the Victoria-Tasmania match which took place on the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1889 will linger in my memory as long as life lasts. A big bunch rose for the ball, and Pearson, a big fellow, soared so high that his chest was clearly visible above the others' heads. It was a remarkable spring, and his judgment was excellent, as he clamped the ball in great style. Then there were Harry Todd (a remarkable drop-kick), Joey Tankard, Mick Grace (a fine player, especially good in the air), Jim Grace (an accurate kick), the McShanes (Phil, Jacko and Joe), Dick Houston (a star in his time), Hughie McLean (bright as a flash), Archie Sykes, Sonny Elms (a Gibraltar in defence), Con and Paddy Hickey, Tommy Leydin (a graceful dasher), Jimmy Julian, Tom Banks (one of the best). Henry Young, Jim Sharp, Little Carroll, Tracker Forbes (one of Essendon's greatest), Dave Hickenbotham (Geelong's centre), Bob Talbot, Danny Hutchison, Billy Strickland, Punter Caine, Billy Dick, Dinny McKay, Diddler Young, Joker Hall, Wally Watling, Barwick, Colin Campbell (a clinker), Billy Windley; Joe Hogan, South Melbourne Franks, Dick Grigg, Alick Eason, Sam Bloomfield, Cumberland (who lasted so well), Pannam, Jim Sharpe, Busbridge, Rowell, and scores of others could be mentioned.
Best players at the 1914 Carnival
I had a good opportunity of seeing the various players of the Commonwealth at work at the Australasian Carnival of 1914 on the Sydney Cricket Ground, as I saw every minute of it from start to finish. The Referee gave a medal for the player adjudged to have given best service to his State. The judges were a representative of each State and myself.
The medals were awarded to the following : —
G. HEINZ (Victoria).
J. W. ROBERTSON (South Aus.).
A. TAPPING (W.A.).
J. PENNICOTT (Tasmania).
R. ROBERTSON (N.S.W.).
P. W. JONES (Queensland).
The medal for the best native-born player in N.S.W. was won by V. McCann.
The judging was accurate on the form shown in the whole of the matches; but it does not follow that the winners were necessarily the best footballers in their various teams. In my opinion, the three greatest players on the Victorian side were Charge, Eicke, and Lee. No one handled the ball more frequently in all the games in which the Dark Blues participated than Heinz. He was here, there and everywhere, and did good service with the sphere every time he secured it. He was a trier in every contest, whereas some of his comrades rested occasionally in the easy matches.
In the concluding battle between Victoria and South Australia, when every man was a trier, no one gave a more brilliant or more effective exposition than Leslie Charge. In the ruck he was a veritable champion; hitting out to his rover in the most approved fashion, and he was not one whit less successful when placed. His marking was excellent, and his kicking accurate.
Eicke a high flier
But Eicke took my eye more than any body on the side by his dazzling marks and general, all-round play. Though short, he contrived to fly nearer to the sky than his taller foemen, and once the ball touched his fingers they held to it with bulldog tenacity. His judgment, too, in making his spring was first-class. He had one or two off days; but when at best his football was a treat to witness. I asked several of my Rugby friends to go and have a look at him. They were quite satisfied that he was something out of the common, his aerial fights particularly, pleasing them.
Lee, a champion
It is like painting the lily to say any thing about Lee as a forward. The. eulogistic vocabulary became exhausted years ago when referring to his remark able ability to seize the ball and notch goals. He is a match-winner — the right kind; of man to have on a side. It can be said of him that “age cannot wither nor custom stale his infinite variety." Every year he comes along, and match after match he causes the goal umpire to hoist the two flags. Dick is as active as a kitten, trickier than a monkey, and can jump like a kangaroo. He has been invaluable to Collingwood for many years, and has notched more goals in League premiership matches than any other player who has taken part in them. And he is still going — and going well, too. He must be all wire and whipcord, as he has not been tenderly handled by opponents during his long career.
Others in the picture
There were many other fine players in the Victorian team, notably Dave McNamara, who many critics believe could propel a ball further than any man who ever trod on a field. A very tall fellow, he displayed excellent judgment in marking and had vice-like fingers. He knew all that could be learnt about the value of position and that knowledge brought victory to his side opposed to the Westralians.
Sloss and Brake followed in great style, and were also conspicuous when placed. Schmidt came with a great reputation as a corkscrew runner and lived up to it. He was full of tricks, and unfolded them to the discomfiture of some of his opponents.
J. Robertson, the medal winner for South Australia, was a veritable Rock of Gibraltar in defence. A clever mark and possessing dash of a high order, he was always in the picture when the Wheat fielders' opponents managed to work the ball to their forward line. Time after time he shot out like a bolt from the blue and cleared the ball from the danger zone.
Oliver a master
But the man who filled my eye as the beau ideal of a footballer was W. H. Oliver. He was not so consistent as Robertson, but there was an ease and grace about his' work which unmistakably proclaimed him the master. When our reps, returned from South Australia after the 1911 carnival they all praised Oliver's football, especially the late Ralph Robertson, than whom there were very few better judges. An old Tasmanian rep., Charlie Goddard, whose, son was in the 1914 carnival team, was enraptured with Oliver’s football in Sydney. He regarded Oliver as the noblest Roman of them all. If he were not the most serviceable in that series of matches no man in any of the States displayed more attractive football. Tom Leahy was the champion follower in the S.A. team. He looked after the rovers in tip-top style, and his high marking was a feature. Head, Ashley, Mayman, Tredrea, Johns, and Golding also did well.
A. Tapping, medal winner, was the undisputed champion of the side. Big and powerful, he could always force a passage to the ball, whether in the air or In the crushes; in fact, he was a clinking high mark, his steel-like fingers clamping the ball high in the air with a frequency which must have been disconcerting to many of his opponents. His long drop-kicking, too, was of a kind one does not see often.
A dual top-notcher
Phil Matson, the captain, showed that, besides being a topnotch breast-stroke swimmer— an Australasian champion — he was also -an excellent defender. His aerial flights were well judged, and none of the forwards watched by Matson will tell you they had a cakewalk. Resolute, strong and gritty, he was just the man for the job.
McIntosh like lightning
No centre wing in the series of matches gave a better exposition than Norm Mclntosh. Quick as a flash to the ball, and not one whit slower when he secured it, he simply flew by many opponents as if they were anchored. His swerving runs delighted the crowds. He was infinitely better in the air than the majority of top-notch centre wingers.
Robinson, a burly fellow, shone in the ruck, and also foot-passed cleverly. And none of the centres did better than Truscott. Then there was the eel-like Hedley Tomkins, who roved in great form, his trickiness enabling him to get through the crushes in a' remarkable way. In fact, he was the same elusive little fellow who delighted Sydneyites when here with the Melbourne Club.
“Bet” Smith came with a reputation of being able 'to kick up a spout,' and he certainly kicked well, as well as bringing down a few capital marks. Oakley, though mentioned last of a brilliant lot, was far from being the least effective; in fact, in general usefulness, he was probably only eclipsed by Tapping.
The island's forefronters
Tasmania had many players worthy of being hoisted to any great height on the ladder of fame. As I watched them at work my mind conjured up memories of the cracks the tight little isle possessed in the eighties and early nineties, viz., Charlie Eady, Ampy Edwards, George Vautin, Kenny Burn, Audy Stuart, Charlie Pringle, Billy Cundy, Billy Creg, Charlie Goddard, Billy Ward, Lou Macleod, Tommy Hehir, Percy Willing, Percy Lovett, Jimmy Roles, Colin Campbell, Pudna Darcy, Joe and Harry Wilson, Stew. Angwin, Charlie Barlow, Charlie Cherry, Wobbler Seabrook, Albert Nicholson, Tommy Ryan, Tom Bagley, and many others who could be named.
Pennicott a grafter
J. Pennicott won the medal, and deserved it. He delved in all the time, and showed up well. Charlie Goddard's son, Jerry, was the only other who showed representative form. His wing work was brilliant, and his football was of an order which proved him to be a chip of the old block. Roy Bailey, the skipper, is a son of G. H. Bailey, of the first Australian Eleven which toured England. He shaped fairly well, but was a bit slow to move.
New South Wales cracks
The late Ralph Robertson, who lost his life at the war, won the Referee medal as the champion player of the Mother State, and richly deserved it. Coolness personified, he always finished his work by getting the ball to a comrade. Few footballers could excel him in accuracy at foot passing. Bing McCann, still playing well, was awarded the medal for the best native-born foot baller, and the little' fellow did excellently. Others who did well were A. Vincent, W. Webb and E. Tyson.
Queensland's outstanding players
P. W. Jones won the medal as the best among the Bananalanders. Cowley was a very good player, the most stylish of the lot. Minns, Hawke and Jones also shaped well.
Title: Great Australian Rules Players McGINIS, THURGOOD, WORRALL, EADY, PETER BURNS And Other Brilliant Footballers who Thrilled the Crowds Match After Match
Publisher: Referee (Sydney, NSW: 1886 - 1939)
Date: Wednesday 15 December 1920