IN Rd 21 this 110th AFL season, barring injury or loss of form, Port Adelaide’s Warren Tredrea was to have completed an AFL picture: with Fremantle’s Shane Parker having made 200 premiership games in 2005, Tredrea’s 200th would have ensured that Port Adelaide was no longer the only V-AFL club with no 200-gamers, discounting University, whose VFL membership spanned only the seven seasons 1908-14.  Tredrea’s pre-season injury makes this now unlikely for this season. (Note: Port has up to seven foundation players on track for 200 games by season 2007.)

200 one-club premiership games is challenging aspiration and a defining benchmark. It means that such a player is, above all else, consistently worth his place. He may not be a star, he may not take a speccie a week nor lay on a bone-crunching shirtfront every game, nor kick the goal-of-the-Round, but his club has found it in its interests to pick him for almost every Round over a ten-season period or longer.

It’s easier now to attain this benchmark, and has been since 1970, for one simple numerical reason: 22 H&A games a season, instead of only 17 (1898-1907) or 18 (most years up to 1967). In the League’s first four calendar decades, 1897 to 1939, only 33 players managed it.  Counted by the years of their first seasons, there were seven whose careers began in the new competition’s 13-season first ‘decade’,1897-1909, only two who began in the 1910s —  a historical disaster called the Great War was a significant factor here —  and twelve each in the 1920s and the1930s.  Significantly, almost a quarter —  eight of them —  wore the Black ‘n’ White of the [then] Mighty Magpies.  Now, at last count, there are 267. (Note: this is quite distinct from the official AFL “200 Club”, the criteria for which include non-Premiership games such as pre-season and International Rules matches.)

Two other important factors in reaching this accomplishment are mutual trust, respect and loyalty between club and player, and a club history of premiership success, or, at least, finals participation. It is not a surprise, therefore, that, in the AFL era, West Coast and Brisbane1 already have ten and eight respectively in their 19 seasons to date (whereas the Crows have only six in their 15). By way of contrast, the three1925 expansion clubs, Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne, together mustered only four 200-gamers in their first 15 seasons, and three were Bulldogs, which is rather historically ironic, given the later premiership successes of Hawthorn and North Melbourne.

Breeding loyalty

Further evidence of success breeding loyalty lies in the figures for the comparative club totals for 200-gamers. Among the Founding Eight clubs, with more than 1002 premiership seasons each, the correlation is quite clear: Carlton —  64 finals series, 16 flags, 29 200-gamers; Essendon —  61 finals series, 16 flags, 24 200-gamers; Collingwood —  73 finals series, 14 flags, 21 200-gamers, and Geelong —  48 finals series (but only six flags) with 22 200-gamers.

By way of contrast, look at St Kilda’s and South Melbourne’s records, both Foundation clubs. Despite V/AFL memberships very close in length to Carlton’s and Collingwood’s, neither club has twenty 200-gamers; the Swans have played in only 32 finals series (for only four flags, the latest being 2005’s historic drought-breaker) and the Saints are even worse: a mere 21 finals series (for just that one 1966 premiership)  —  that translates to 86 seasons of “tragic history”, as a certain J Elliott once in/famously put it.

Hawthorn’s history illustrates both finals failure and success. For its first 30 seasons, 1925 to 1954, with not even one final (It’s best finish was 5th in 1943), it had just the one 200-gamer. Its next three 200-gamers co-incided with the transition era of its first three finals, 1957, 1961 and 1963. Then, from the late 1960s, twenty 200-gamers played for the Mighty Hawks in a period of sustained success that was the envy of every other VFL club. In the years 1979 to 1983, Hawthorn, in hindsight3, had 12 or 13 on their lists every season, a wealth of experience unmatched by any similar period at any other club, although Carlton, Essendon and North Melbourne came close in some of their dominant seasons.

There are also interesting differences among the clubs in the spread of 200-gamers.

When seasons were shorter

Some, like Hawthorn’s mentioned above, are concentrated in specific, especially recent eras: Carlton and Geelong — the 1970s and the late 1980s to recently; Essendon — from the late 1970s to now; the Bulldogs just recently; North Melbourne – the early 1970s to the present; and Richmond — the 1970s and 80s. Other clubs have theirs more evenly spread, with Fitzroy, Melbourne and Collingwood being the mostly even-spaced of all, with only five or six on the lists in any season.

Here are the totals for the long-standing clubs, with premiership players in ( ): Carlton 29 (294), Collingwood 21 (14),  Essendon 24 (23),  Fitzroy 11 (1),  the Bulldogs 15 (2),  Geelong 22 (5),  Hawthorn 24 (21),  Melbourne 19 (7),  North Melbourne 20 (15), Richmond 21 (17),  St Kilda 17 (4) and the Swans 19 (3).  For the most part, these figures correlate with each club’s premiership successes, although Fitzroy’s clearly relate to gaining seven of its eight flags before the mid-1920s, when seasons were shorter5.

So, who was the player who has the honour of first beginning a career of 200 premiership games at one club ?

He is W (Bill) Eason, Geelong, 1902-15, 220 games, recorded in Russell Holmesby and Jim Main’s The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers [5th edition] as “the first Geelong player to notch 200 senior games in the VFL (in the fifteenth round of 1914)”.  Bill should be honoured far beyond the confines of the extended Kardinia Park family. Readers may be able to ascertain who was the first ever player to reach 200 one-club games —  Eason or the next name, who should need no introduction of anyone with a skerrick of Australian Football knowledge.

In 1903, the VFL’s seventh season, there began the extraordinary career of the boy from Botany Bay, James F McHale, known to even the most Magpie-phobic as “Jock”: 261 games as player from 1903 to 1920 (except 1919), and 714 as coach for 39 seasons 1912-1939 —  and even with such accomplishments and to the eternal hostility of Magpie fans, he still didn’t make the V-AFL’s Team of the Century !

Positive discrimination

Less well-known (except in Shinboner circles) would be John Blakey, whose 224 games for North (including two Premierships) took only ten seasons, 1993-2002, at an average of 22 and a1/2 games a season —  a paragon of consistency if ever there was one.  Not forgetting Hawthorn’s record-holder Michael Tuck, at 21.3 games a year over a twenty-season period: he and Tiger Kevin Bartlett each had not one but two 200-game careers.

Some tallies of exactly 200 games —  they include those of Carlton’s M Sexton, Essendon’s G Hawker, Bulldog N Ware, Geelong’s R Neal and Roo J Longmire —  hint that clubs saw fit to honour club stalwarts with a bit of “positive discrimination”. Surely few would naysay this —  Richmond’s appearance of dumping Matthew Rogers to the VFL instead of playing him for the four games he needed in 2004 for his 200 had a bad look to outsiders. Depriving Rogers of this achievement —  it wasn’t as if playing him was likely to cost the 2004 Tigers a finals spot —  seemed to diss the notion of club loyalty.

And the likely latest members of this worthy group, in season 2006 ?

Richmond’s Darren Gaspar, North’s Brent Harvey and St Kilda’s Andrew Thompson each begin the season on 194 games -  we wish them luck, and are sure no-one would wish on them the final one-club career tally of such fine players as Richmond’s B McCormack,  Footscray’s B Royal, and Geelong’s S Hocking and B Sanderso6:

199 games7.

But it’s 199 more games than I played, or was ever likely to.  Which goes for 99.99% of us footyheads.

Note: the writer sees no reason to cringe to foreign usages of the word “football”.

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1 Brisbane actually claim eleven 200-gamers by including three (one of whom, C Johnston, is on track for 200 Brisbane games in Rd 15) whose careers began at Fitzroy.

2 Total seasons for each of the Founding Eight vary because some clubs were in recess in some of the Great War years 1914-1918, and Geelong missed seasons 1942 and 1943.

3 Of course, it was only in the latter parts of their careers that these players were literally “200-gamers”.

4 Carlton’s 100% Premiership-winning 200-gamers is unique; Lance Whitnall’s possible 200th late this season may, given the Blues’ post-Elliott difficulties, become the first exception to this.

5 Strangely, Fitzroy selected only two players from this era of success in its Team of the Century.

6 Sanderson’s final AFL tally was 209 games including ten with other clubs

7. At the time of writing (on the eve of season 2006) there were 27 players who had made it to the 190s for their clubs; Bulldog Royal must have one of football’s hardest of “hard luck” stories -  he broke his ankle in what was scheduled to be his second last game

Leonard Colquhoun 7248
Footy Tragic!