Oops, wrong call!

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SOME observers even managed to get it wrong with Bradman and Warne, so picking winners can be a tricky business, as GEOFF POULTER points out:

EVER made the wrong call on a performer? A pretty bad call. One you’d later regret? History is littered with examples of wild predictions and declarations that have come unstuck.

Left one with egg on one’s face. You make a judgment – yes, he will make it big time; no, he won’t. My record with yes is Okay. No is not so good.

An early manager of the Beatles felt they’d never amount to anything; Beach Boys maestro Brian Wilson got an F for music at school; Beethoven’s music teacher thought he was a hopeless composer; an editor fired Walt Disney for lack of ideas; a Fred Astaire rehearsal returned a verdict of: “Can’t act, can’t sing, can dance a little.”

We’ve all been guilty of pulling the wrong rein. Not impressed by this bloke. Don’t think he’ll make it. An Austrian emperor said Mozart had too many notes; a Goons manager felt they wouldn’t last; Hitler’s art teacher thought he lacked imagination. Yeah? Humanity, compassion, sanity, judgment, perhaps. Imagination, not too sure.

On the sporting front. A junior coach advised Shane Warne to stick to batting; another said Glenn McGrath couldn’t bowl; Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team; an English wicket-keeper, only mildly impressed with Bradman, said: “Aye, but he’ll never be an international.”

A preference for style, polish, co-ordination, grace, pleasing-to-the-eye performers obviously impacted my judgment. It seemed clear the likes of Marshall, Blight, Carman, Banks, Salmon, Lyon, Carey, D Jarman would make the grade.

Not so obvious Roger Merrett, Jason Dunstall, John Blakey, Peter Bell. This is where one’s judgment faltered. Plenty of others were also overlooked – but we’ll stick to that big four.

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Late in 1985, his maiden season, Dunstall was back pocket in the Hawthorn Reserves. In an early time trial, he was a lap behind the second last runner. But he turned it around. Maximised his strengths, quick lead, strong hands. Worked tenaciously to keep the ball in. And obviously dramatically improved his fitness.

Merrett looked a big, rough-and-tough worker-type without much finesse. Gardiner Medallist who seemed likely to be in the seconds forever. But, by the end of the 1985 Grand Final, he was just about the most influential player in the league as a frighteningly powerful centre half-forward.

It was extraordinary effort for Blakey to play 359 games. Looked a battler at Fitzroy but gradually improved at North where he was brave, a desperate campaigner, able to play anywhere. Often stood and overcame players of greater natural talent and size.

Bell played two games with Freo in 1995. Looked to be going nowhere. Too small, scrubby kick, a struggler. Had nothing really going for him. Surprise when North chose him ahead of Jason Traianidis, quicker and more dangerous. Bell developed remarkably, played in two flags, won three B and Fs  (two back with Freo) and went awfully close to a Norm Smith.

A friend remarked, that’s all very well Sir Geoffrey, you’ve covered the Stone Age. What about someone more recent?  Point taken. Move to the Bronze Age and embrace Sam Mitchell. Looked a chunky ball-getter in the VFA (sacrilege to change that title). Blond thatch and busy little kick-collector seemed to explain vote attraction.

But Mitchell improved from a 50 out of 100 to almost a 90. With Luke Hodge, he became the most influential member of a four-flag team machine and now rates in Hawthorn’s all-time top dozen.

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So, we can all be wrong. But, as they say in the classics, that’s life. Win a few lose a few. And any other cliché you think is appropriate!

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Author: Geoff Poulter

GEOFF POULTER, 69, has spent 51 years in sports media. He was the last Melbourne Herald chief football writer. CV: Sports oracle, author, historian, impersonator, raconteur, poet, quiz whiz, philosopher, song-writer, intellectual scholar – and still employable!

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