Jim Main's greatest 100: Polly Farmer
When Geelong brought Polly Farmer to Victoria, newspapers had a picnic. Farmer was described as the biggest interstate import since South Melbourne scooped talent Australia-wide in 1932. Even in the 1960s interstate recruiting was regarded as radical, and few clubs were prepared to outlay money for stars. Farmer, however, changed all that. In fact, it could be argued that Farmer's great play was a revelation to talent scouts.
However, it wasn't an overnight climb to success in Victoria for Farmer. He arrived at Kardinia Park in a fanfare of publicity, the arrival drowned only by an injury to a knee in a game against Essendon. Geelong had paid hard cold cash to entice Farmer from East Perth, and it looked as if they had done thelr money cold when Farmer went down clutching his knee. He had torn a cartilage, and Geelong fans didn’t really see the best of the Big Cat until the 1963 season when he swept all before him.
Farmer won Geelong’s best and fairest that year, repeating his success the following year. He was easily their best player and his ruck work revolutionised the game in Victoria. He used his body to get the knock-out, although several opponents claimed he was unfairly tugging at them. However, it was Farmer's handball which really set Victoria alight.
Farmer could whip the ball out to a passing teammate with uncanny accuracy. He practised, practised, practised until his handball (either hand) was as near perfect as he could get it. He used this handball to help fellow Cats like Billy Goggin scorch the earth as they charged downfield. The Cats again became respected for their speedy play, basing much of it on Farmer's slick handball.
Farmer had almost everything as a ruckman. He was a good, if not brilliant mark, a good kick, an expert knock ruckman and the best handpasser the game had seen. He created forward moves from the ruck and it often became a case or beat Farmer and you beat Geelong. The Big Cat was appointed Geelong skipper in 1965, two years after he played a major part in Geelong’s last premiership. He stayed on as captain until the end of the 1967 season, leading the Cats into the Grand Final against Richmond.
Farmer played a typically great game that day, but the Tigers were just too good. It was Farmer's last VFL match. He returned to Western Australia the following season as captain-coach of West Perth, who won two flags in three years under him. There he showed all the old Farmer traits. He had made his name in the West as a ruckman with East Perth. He played 176 games for the Royals and didn't leave for Victoria until he was 27. However, Farmer believed in looking after himself physically, and that's why he was able to return to the West so successfully when aged 33. However, after only three years back in the West, he was lured back to Victoria.
It had been said during Farmer's playing stay at Geelong that one day he would return to Kardinia Park to coach the Cats. And Farmer did just that. He returned in 1973 to take over as senior coach. The Cats had finished tenth the previous year, but in Farmer's first year they finished one rung further down the ladder. Geelong, renowned for their infighting, had the blades sharpened for Farmer.
However, he was a hard target to nail, taking the Cats to sixth the following year. Farmer told the Geelong committee that he was team building and that it would be some time before Geelong were a power again. But Geelong failed again in 1975, the Cats almost immediately replacing him with former Hawthorn star Rod Olsson as coach. Olsson took Geelong to fourth place in 1976, and several critics said Farmer would have done just as well. After all, Olsson had David Clarke back after injury and several highly prized recruits to add to Farmer's team of 1975.
Farmer coached in the West in 1976, but his eyes were firmly on the Victorian scene, where he knew he could have succeeded as a coach, given the time and encouragement. He had succeeded enormously as a player and it hurt him deeply to know he hadn't succeeded as a coach in Victoria.
Polly Farmer played 101 games for Geelong between 1962 and 1967. He also played 176 games for East Perth and 79 for West Perth.
This is an excerpt from Australian Rules 100 Greatest Players, by Jim Main. Published by the K.G. Murray Publishing Company in 1977. Click here to read Jim Main's 2013 article, in which he revisited and revised his 100 greatest players.