This is another post that was published in The Blueseum – a site devoted to the history and cultural identity of the Carlton Football Club. Visit The Blueseum for articles, statistics, player bios, and general historical information about Carlton.
Carlton has had some great champions over the years – Vallence, Deacon, Nicholls, two Silvagnis, John James, Kernahan, Bradley, Kouta, Judd. But there are seven players who for me are The Immortals. These seven stand out over all the rest – even over Big Nick and Sticks and Kouta. They are Charlie Hammond, Rod McGregor, Alex Jesaulenko, Peter Jones, David McKay, Bruce Doull, and Wayne Johnston.
I have thought about this a lot over the years, but it was only when Wayne Johnston joined this group in 1987, that I started to ponder the whys and wherefores of it. What distinguishes these seven from the more than one thousand other men who have donned the old dark Navy Blue? A few of them wouldn’t even be considered in the top ten players to have played for our club. In fact, only three were considered good enough for the Carlton Team of the 20th Century, and a fourth just made it as an emergency. So what exactly do I see in these seven players?
These seven are the ONLY men to have played in four Carlton Premierships; Charlie Hammond actually played in five. OK, so what’s so special about that? Carlton has, after all, won 16 flags – that’s a lot in a competition with so many teams. But if you examine it, you’ll see that it IS special – VERY special.
See, Carlton’s premierships haven’t been like Collingwood’s in the 1920s (four in a row), or Melbourne’s in the 1950s and 60s (five in six years). No, ours have been in eight distinct eras, and in between each era and the next, there has often been a long drought. And the biggest number of premierships in each era has been three. So anyone who managed to play in four (or five) had to have a number of attributes which, in combination with one another, were so rare, that they only showed up in these seven players.
So, what are these attributes, and how have they shown up in these magnificent seven?
1. Longevity – Well this one is obvious, I guess, but it still bears mentioning. Every one of these players played for a long time and played a lot of games:
Charlie Hammond – 154 games over 14 years
Wayne Johnston – 209 games over 12 years
Rod McGregor – 236 games over 16 years (a record that stood for many years)
Peter Jones – 249 games over 14 years
Alex Jesaulenko – 256 games over 13 years
David McKay – 263 games over 13 years
Bruce Doull – 356 games over 18 years (another club games record that stood for a while).
Yes of course you had to have been good enough to play for a while and be selected in enough games, and in fact be selected in enough finals to play in four flags. But you could certainly argue that others, such as Big Nick, Sticks, and SOS for example were as well. So what else distinguishes these seven?
2. Great Finals Player – They were all great finals players, and in particular, they were all magnificent on the last day in September.
Charlie Hammond was named in the best players in the 1907 grand final and widely considered best on ground in 1908.
Rod McGregor was named in the best in 1906, 1914, and 1915. Unfortunately, I didn’t see these two play, but I did see the rest.
Jezza was in the best in 1968 and 1970, and then how magnificent was he in 1972? In a game whose strategy involved all-out attack, he kicked a then VFL grand final record equalling seven goals.
And while on 1972, one of the two best players that day was Peter Jones. Percy (as everyone calls him), was the surprise packet, starting in the first ruck and rucking tirelessly all day allowing Nicholls to plant himself in the forward pocket and kick six goals. Percy killed them that day and in my opinion was just pipped at the post for BOG honours by Robert Walls.
Swan McKay was certainly in the best at centre half-back in 1970, and was one of only three players (along with Crosswell and Gallagher) to really fire a shot in that poor first half. Two enduring memories of that day were McKay marking heaps of opposition high kicks into the forward line and Collingwood supporters’ faces getting longer and darker as the second half progressed.
Bruce Doull didn’t play a poor final until his unfortunate last game, but he did have a lot of mates that day. Meanwhile, he was brilliant in 1972 (completely shutting down Royce Hart who was arguably the best centre half-forward to have played the game before Carey), he was in the best players in 1979 and 1982, and won the Norm Smith Medal in 1981.
And last, but definitely not least, is Wayne Johnston – the Dominator. Johno was simply the best finals player I have ever seen. He was a very good player throughout the regular season, took it up a notch for the finals, and saved his absolute best for the grannies. He could easily have won Norm Smiths in 1979 and 1982 (where he was so far and away the BOG that it’s not funny). And his game in 1987 was brilliant, making him easily the second best player on the ground.
OK, but there has to be more. After all, there are plenty of others who played well in multiple grand finals (Harmes, Ashman, Buckley, Sticks). So what’s the next factor?
3. X-factor – The dictionary defines this as “a hard-to-describe influence or quality; an important element with unknown consequences”, and each of our magnificent seven had this in spades. I can’t really speak about the first two, but the other five were absolute X-factorites.
Take Jezza – There were hundreds of X-factor moments, but in the 1970 grand final, he took the mark of the century in the second quarter when the team was really struggling and needed something special, and then kicked the winning goal in the last.
It’s not quite as obvious with Doully; he seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be a dour, no-fuss defender, who always spoiled rather than going for a mark. But I’ll never forget one moment in the first quarter of the 1981 grand final, when he and Ricky Barham were running towards each other. It wasn’t a big moment, or didn’t appear to be. Neither was a real bulky big man. But Barham flinched, while Doull ran straight, took the ball forward, and nothing more was said. But I, looking at it with my mates, turned to them and said “We’ve won this game – absolutely no shadow of doubt”. And speaking of dour and spoiling, to those of you too young to have seen him, I can’t tell you how many times an opposition forward was definitely clear and about to mark unopposed, only to have Brucie Doull arrive from nowhere with a well-timed, accurate spoil – think SOS with more elegance.
David McKay would pop up with speckies at the greatest times, Perce Jones could always be counted on to kick a couple of quick goals when least expected, and Johnno is so well-known for his grand final X-factor moments, whether an inspirational goal, a crunching bump, an unbelievable hard ball get, or a miraculous score assist.
And looking at all of that, something else becomes obvious…..
4. Versatility – Every one of these guys could play a number of positions and/or a number of vastly diverse roles, and what’s more, was brilliant at them.
Jezza came third in the Brownlow in his first year (1967) playing half forward flank, became the only Carlton player ever to kick 100 goals in a season at full-forward, coming third in the Brownlow again (1970), and then played a great couple of years on the half back flank, scoring another third place in the Brownlow (1975). He also played a couple of terrific games for Victoria in the centre, was often moved onto the ball as an old-fashioned ruck-rover, and finished out his career as a strong defensive back pocket. Unbelievable!!
Swan McKay started off as a centre half back starring in that position in the 1970 grand final, and played awesome games in the back pocket, centre half forward, floating half forward flank, full forward, and ruck rover.
The Dominator was like a modern midfielder, but in those days played great games as a ruck rover, centreman, half forward flanker, and half back flanker.
Doull was essentially a defender, but at 6 ft 1 in (185 cm), could hold his own playing full back and centre half back on the gorillas, or as an attacking flanker. But he also played many games as a ruck rover, and I’ll always remember Jezza’s first game as coach at Victoria Park in 1978. Doull was named at centre half back, was moved to the half forward flank, and kicked two goals.
And finally, was Perce versatile? I say yes. A perennial 2nd ruckman for 8 years, he was thrown into the first ruck against guns from Richmond at the beginning of the 1972 grand final. He murdered them and set us up for a famous victory.
5. Great under pressure – All of these guys were great in the crunch moments. Jezza’s, Johnno’s, and Doull’s ability under pressure is legendary, and I’m only speculating about McGreggor and Hammond, but as much as he used to spray the ball all over the place, does anyone recall Swan McKay ever missing an important shot – what about that kick in the 1981 grand final?! And Perce was similar – he would occasionally have brain fades and make mistakes, but never at important moments, and never in grand finals – gun barrel straight with those floater flat punts.
6. Lucky – And finally, as I’m sure they’d all agree, they all had some luck. Geoff Southby played 268 games from 1971 to 1984, so he was clearly durable, but just happened to get injuries at the wrong time to miss out on the 1981 and 1982 flags. Robert Walls left the club in 1978 under cloudy circumstances. Had he stayed he would almost certainly have played in the 1979, 81, and 82 flags (giving him 6). There are probably other examples throughout our history of players just missing out, unlucky.
So there they are! Were they better than other aforementioned players? Not necessarily. Were they more versatile than others? Not necessarily. Did they even have more X-factor, more durability, better composure? No, not necessarily. Many of our champions have had one or more of these attributes. Who can forget the courage of Garry Crane, the explosiveness of Wayne Harmes, the durability of Craig Bradley, the versatility of Kouta, or the X-factor of Brent Crosswell?
But this exclusive group had the combination of all those attributes, as well as being in the right place at the right time. They are our magnificent seven.