Australian Football Celebrating the history of the great Australian game


Key Facts

Full name
Gary Dempsey

Known as
Gary Dempsey

22 November 1948 (age 75)

Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 18y 144d
Last game: 35y 179d

Height and weight
Height: 197 cm
Weight: 100 kg

Senior clubs
Footscray; North Melbourne

Jumper numbers
Footscray: 24
North Melbourne: 24

Recruited from
Footscray (1979)

Gary Dempsey

ClubLeagueCareer spanGamesGoalsAvgWin %AKIAHBAMKBV
North MelbourneV/AFL1979-1984122390.3260%10.436.228.0870

AFL: 7,889th player to appear, 40th most games played, 686th most goals kickedFootscray: 552nd player to appear, 23rd most games played, 57th most goals kickedNorth Melbourne: 708th player to appear, 96th most games played, 158th most goals kicked

Few players have experienced triumph and trauma in their careers to quite the same extent as Gary Dempsey. Recruited by Footscray from Footscray Technical School Old Boys, he was a ready made league player when he debuted in 1967, and over the course of the ensuing eighteen seasons he built a reputation as one of the finest ruckmen ever to play the game. In January 1969, however, the prospects of any sort of football career, let alone a highly auspicious and successful one, seemed virtually non-existent, as Gary Dempsey lay in a hospital bed with severe burns covering fifty per cent of his body, a legacy of a failed attempt to repel bush fires threatening the family farm at Lara. The fact that he eventually recovered from such serious injuries was remarkable enough, but the fact that he recovered sufficiently to return to top level football was next door to miraculous.

Having returned to the Footscray side in round nineteen 1969, just seven months after his life had hung in the balance, Dempsey was soon playing the best football of his life. In 1970 he won the first of six Bulldog best and fairest awards and finished second to South Melbourne's Peter Bedford in the Brownlow voting, and in 1971 he took over from Stuart Magee as Footscray's captain. In 1972 he assisted the Big V to a seemingly effortless triumph in the Australian interstate championships in Perth, and was rewarded for his own dominant series of performances with selection in the All Australian team.

Like his namesake at West Perth, Bill Dempsey, a key element in Gary Dempsey's greatness was that he was, effectively, two champion players rolled into one. Virtually unbeatable in 'round the ground ruck contests, he transformed seamlessly into an indomitable, strong marking defender when resting in the backlines. Small wonder he attracted so much attention - of the right sort - from umpires: after coming second in the Brownlow in 1970, he came within clutching distance of the award in each of the following four seasons, before finally breaking through for a win in 1975.

Individual awards are all very well, but what every footballer worth his salt really wants is participation in a premiership team. With that in mind, in 1979 Gary Dempsey sought, and was granted, a transfer from the perennially under-achieving Bulldogs to the team which had contested the previous five VFL Grand Finals, North Melbourne. Sadly for Dempsey, it was to be another eighteen seasons before the 'Roos would again feature on that 'one day in September', by which time, needless to say, his career as a league footballer was long over. Nevertheless, Dempsey gave North sterling service in 122 games over six seasons, winning a best and fairest award in 1979, besides consistently polling well in the Brownlow¹. When he left the VFL at the end of the 1984 season he had played a total of 329 games, and had secured more Brownlow Medal votes than any other player in history. Moreover, his achievement in winning seven VFL club champion awards has only been bettered by three players.

Still in search of that elusive premiership, Dempsey, who now spoke in a coarse, rasping voice courtesy of a hefty blow to the throat received during a game, ventured north once the VFL phase of his career was over, and joined consistently successful QAFL side, Southport. In 1987, he finally achieved his 'Holy Grail' with a best afield performance as the Sharks scored a 23-point win over Windsor-Zillmere in a tempestuous Grand Final which left many players much the worse for wear, and Dempsey himself with an assortment of facial wounds requiring ten stitches. Having spent the majority of the night before the match wide awake, nursing his asthmatic son, he certainly earned his spurs the hard way, but the broad grin on his face as he clutched his premiership and Joe Grant medallions to his chest after the game made it obvious that, as far as Gary Dempsey at any rate was concerned, it was 'mission accomplished', and 'cheap at half the price'².

Gary Dempsey's selection as first ruckman in the Western Bulldogs official 'Team of the Twentieth Century' was predictable, but eminently warranted.

Author - John Devaney


  1. Dempsey received a total of 246 votes, 44 more than second placed Leigh Matthews, but both these players' totals were somewhat inflated by the fact that they played in 1976-7, when double votes - one complete set per umpire - were awarded.
  2. I am indebted to Greg Parker for supplying details of Gary Dempsey's QAFL career. Dempsey was also a joint runner-up in the 1987 Grogan Medal voting.


Full Points Footy Publications


* Behinds calculated from the 1965 season on.
+ Score at the end of extra time.