The Dream Team I saw when I wasn’t dreaming
With the real season only three weeks away, and time running out for entries in the Dream Team competition, I thought I’d have some fun this week choosing a team from the best players I’ve seen.
In the flesh, that is. Which rules out the period from 1968-74, when I was living in either pre-Swans Sydney or Fiji before going back to Melbourne, and players who have made their debuts since 1997, as I’ve physically been to only one game since Sydney lost the 1996 grand final to North Melbourne.
Just for fun, the eight from whom the interchange bench would come include three players who never kicked a ball in the VFL/AFL, but would, I believe, all have had distinguished careers had they done so.
And I saw some of the other interchange players as they approached, or in some cases, were hot on the heels of, the ends of their careers, playing in lesser competitions.
Former Carlton strongman Bob Chitty, for example, was going around for Ringarooma in Tasmania’s North-East Football Union when I saw him in a representative game against the Fingal Football Association in either 1958 or 59, when he was either 44 or 45 years old.
Another former Blues champion, Arthur Hodgson, had a distinguished late-career as coach of Ulverstone in Tasmania, as did St Kilda’s Jim Ross with North Launceston. Ross won all-Australian selection playing for Tasmania in 1958.
Richmond hard man Don “Mopsy” Fraser blighted his one-year player-coach stint with East Launceston, whom he took to a rare semi-finals appearance with four- and six-week suspensions.
John Leedham (North Launceston), Lindsay Webb (East Devonport) and Haydn Bunton jnr (Launceston) are the three bench-warmers who never played in the VFL. Leedham was one of the best players Tasmania has produced, while Webb, a classy centreman or onballer, is best known as the coach who threw Darrel Baldock into senior football when he was 15.
I saw Bunton play only one game, but that was enough to recognise his genius.
After spending all the 1959 home-and-away season, when he coached Launceston, on the sidelines with a shocking knee injury from a car crash, Bunton played in a losing semi-final, in which he had four kicks and about 30 handballs, many of which bounced off the chests of teammates whose thought processes were too slow to see them coming.
One Tasmanian, back pocket Don Gale, another all-Australian, makes it into the run-on Dream Team side.
B: Don Gale (Wynyard and Burnie), Verdun Howell (City in northern Tasmania and St Kilda), John Nicholls (Carlton)
HB: Kevin Murray (Fitzroy), Ted Whitten (Footscray), Paul Roos (Fitzroy and Sydney)
C: Francis Bourke (Richmond), Ian Stewart (St Kilda), Keith Greig (North Melb)
HF: Darrel Baldock (Latrobe and St Kilda), Royce Hart (Richmond), Alex Jesaulenko (Carlton)
F: Leigh Matthews (Hawthorn), Tony Lockett (St Kilda and Sydney), Carl Ditterich (St Kilda)
Foll: Graham Farmer (Geelong), Ron Barassi (Melbourne and Carlton), Bob Skilton (South Melb)
Interchange (from): Kevin Bartlett (Richmond), Don Fraser (East Launceston; ex-Richmond), Arthur Hodgson (Ulverstone; ex-Carlton), Jim Ross (North Launceston; ex-St Kilda), Haydn Bunton jnr (Launceston; ex-Norwood), Bob Chitty (NEFU; ex-Carlton and Scottsdale), John Leedham (North Launceston).
Coach: Allan Jeans (St Kilda; later Hawthorn)
My next effort will be to pick a team of the best players I never saw, based on the opinions of players, coaches and commentators I respect, some sadly no longer with us.
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