Fifteen years back in the mid-Noughties Eaglehawk Football and Netball Club’s footy Team of the Century was announced. At an All Seasons Resort gala function in August 2005, attended by 550 people, the Two Blues’ greatest players of the preceding 125 years (1880 to 2005) were named. Footballing greats in David Parkin, the late Bobby Davis and Mike Brady of Up There Cazaly fame were the Hawks’ special guests.
The eventual Eaglehawk team was packed with not only BFL premiership-winning star players, but also Michelsen Medallists, century goalkickers and some who’d gone on to play prominent roles in the VFL/AFL.
The late John Ledwidge who’d taken the Borough to the 1968 and 1971 premierships was named coach of the Team of the Century. He’d played 40 games (11 goals) with then VFL club South Melbourne before coming to Bendigo to play – and coach – first for Golden Square and then Eaglehawk. John was named in the 2014 list of 10 in the BFNL Hall of Fame inductees.
Team of the Century captain was star centre half-back Robert O’Connell who turned out in five grand finals for the Hawks and was a premiership player in 1980 and 1982. He was inducted into the BFNL Hall of Fame back in 2010.
Vice-captain and back pocket selection was Basil Ashman: a dual premiership player with the Two Blues in 1953-57 as well as being the captain-coach of the victorious ’57 flag-winning side.
It was an onerous task back in late 2004 and into 2005 for the selection committee. Zach Harvey was the executive officer with five other selection committee members. One of the most difficult tasks we had (I was one of the six panellists) was to weigh up the performances and skills of pre-World War 1 candidates along with players from even earlier: the 1880s–1890s. Then there were those from the early 1920s to be considered, as well. The knowledge and memories of selection panellist the late Cr Jack Taylor were invaluable. He’d played juniors footy with the Two Blues – what we’d call under-18s these days – in 1938. So Jack recalled brilliantly the careers and performances of Hawk footballers from the 1940s and 1950s, as well as passing on knowledge about those who’d played in the late Twenties and into the Thirties. All this allowed us to gauge more accurately whether players from past eras deserved spots in the Team of the Century.
In the end three players from the early 1900s– pre World War 1 eras were selected.
Half-back Fred Jinks (left, Sniders football card from Boyles Football Photos) was a triple premiership player with the Hawks who went on to play 60 games (25 goals) and win three flags with Carlton 1906-1907-1908, plus runner-up in 1909, along with Alf Baud, who’d won the Hawks’ club champion awards in 1911-1912 . Alf went on to star in Carlton’s 1914-15 back-to-back flag-winning teams and was named as one of Eaglehawk’s Team of the Century half-forward flankers.
On the interchange bench was Bendigo city pharmacist George McWilliam who’d played in the centre (or alternatively as we’d later call a ‘ruck-rover’) for the Hawks in the early 1900s.
George was a BFA (forerunner to the BFL) triple premiership player in 1903, 1906 and 1908.
He played 18 games with Fitzroy in the first decade of the 20th century as well and on his return to central Victoria captained the Hawks. So a touch hard to go past that trio when considering spots in the Team of the Century.
B: Basil Ashman (v-c), Ollie Grieve, Bob Clough.
Hb: Peter Rogerson, Robert O’Connell (capt.), Fred Jinks.
C: Jack Slattery, Eddie Esposito, Alan Williams.
Hf: Mancel Davies, George Ilsley, Alf Baud.
F: Harry Morgan, Greg Kennedy, Rod Ashman.
Foll: Fred Trewarne, Des English, Peter Pianto.
Inter: Frank Crapper, Darren Thompson, Steve McDougall, George Ennor, Kevin Smith, George McWilliam.
Coach: John Ledwidge.
BFNL Hall of Fame inductees: Eddie Esposito, George Ilsley, Peter Pianto, Alan ‘Bruiser’ Williams, Frank Crapper, Harry Morgan, Robert O’Connell, Phil Byrne and John Ledwidge.
Legendary trainer Herb Milburn is also a BFNL Hall of Fame member (2010).
Footnote: In my recent website story about club colours I should have included Gisborne’s strips. The Gardiner Reserve Dogs wore all-maroon guernseys pre-World War 1 and then adopted the red, white and blue of Footscray when footy resumed in 1919. Another change occurred in 1930 when Gizzy took on the black and white vertical stripes, akin to Collingwood’s. They went back to the Footscray Bulldogs’ colours in 1946 when district and regional footy kicked off again after World War 2, and have kept that strip ever since.