Facing up to a footy freak

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HE WAS a football freak, regarded by many good judges as the best man to ever play the game. And the first to agree was the man himself, Laurie Nash, who saw the greatest footballer every morning…in the mirror. GEOFF POULTER reports:

THERE is enough evidence to suggest that Laurie Nash was the equal of any footballer who ever played the game. And that includes the usual suspects – Ablett, Whitten, Matthews, Carey, Baldock, Farmer, Coleman et al.

I’ve studied football history books and records to arrive at that conclusion. Nash was a remarkable performer allowing for the constrictions of his era – heavy boots, muddy grounds, scant professionalism and the absence of advanced scientific coaching and preparation. He was simply a natural.

Do you know any other player capable of being best afield, in his debut season, at centre half-back in a Grand Final and nine months later kick 18 goals for Victoria against South Australia (1934) at the same MCG? Whitten perhaps, but few if any others.

Read the E A “Ned” Wallish book “The Great Laurie Nash” – published in 1998 – to fully understand his phenomenal feats and talents. Perhaps Nash’s good-natured skiting and showmanship, in a small way, led some critics to detract from his true worth and reputation. Stuff-shirts don’t like lairs. Saying he saw the “best ever” in the mirror every morning when he shaved was his party trick.

A few years back colleague Mike Sheahan listed his all-time best players and omitted Nash. I challenged him and he felt didn’t play enough games – 99 in the VFL. (Yet he included Farmer 101 and Coleman 98). He could have added Nash’s 74 (410 goals) for Camberwell in a then strong VFA comp – and that he starred for Tasmania in a national carnival before joining South Melbourne in 1933.

Nash was just 175cm and 81kg but always played key position, mostly centre half-forward. Gordon Coventry said Nash would have kicked more goals than anyone had he played full-forward all the time – even more than Coventry (1,299).

Several of his contemporaries named him the best they’d seen –  Dyer, Hickey, Warne-Smith, Herbie Matthews sen, Pratt, La Fontaine as well as writers and commentators of his time. Bob Davis and Bill Jacobs said he had no peer.

The “not enough games” claim sparked a thought. A team of players with 111 (Lord Nelson) VFL games or fewer which would NEVER lose a match. The team and then the thumb nail sketches.

B: Bob Shearman, 62 games; Peter Marquis 99, John McIntosh 51.

HB: John Goold 108, Ian Shelton 91, Denis Marshall 84.

C:   Neale Daniher 82, Peter Box 107, Max Papley 59.

HF: John Sharrock 94, Laurie Nash 99, Phil Carman 100

F: Ron Todd 76, John Coleman 98, Bill Gunn 104.

R: Graham Farmer 101, Leon Baker 86, Des Fothergill 111.

I-change: Graham Moss 84, Len Fitzgerald 96, Brian Gleeson 71, Peter Bosustow 65, Russell Ebert 25.

The dashing Shearman played in finals with Essendon before moving to SA where he played in five consecutive premierships with Sturt. Marquis, the 1955-56-57 Melbourne premiership full-back, went back to Tassie at 26; St Kilda’s McIntosh suffered major knee injuries in his prime.

Carlton’s businessman Goold copped his share of knocks. Essendon defender Shelton played in a premiership in 1962, missed a year after suffering a severe eye injury and then came back and played in the 1965 premiership despite having lost the sight in the injured eye.

Geelong’s Marshall returned to WA. Bomber Daniher had recurring knee problems; Bulldog Box left the VFL at 25; South’s Papley returned to the VFA after only four seasons.

Knee issues ended Sharrock’s career at 24 after six seasons; Nash went to the VFA aged 27; Carman missed through suspension and injury. Todd moved to the VFA at 23; and injuries reduced the careers of Coleman (finished at 25) and Swan Gunn.

Farmer and Baker were late starters and Brownlow Medallist Fothergill joined the VFA exit aged 20 but came back to Collingwood at 25. Moss and Bosustow returned to WA early; Gleeson injured a knee soon after winning a Brownlow; Collingwood’s Fitzgerald moved to SA where he won three Magarey Medals while four-time Magarey Medallist Russell Ebert played only one VFL season with North at 30.

Only five of the 23 played 100 or more games – the average is about 85. There were all great or, at the very least, very good performers – so we can confidently claim they played ENOUGH games to satisfy that criterion.


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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