The legend of spring-heeled goalkicking great John Coleman from sleepy country village Hastings is part of Mornington Peninsula sporting folk-lore.
Coleman was one of the most sensational players of his, or any era, and along with Collingwood’s Gordon Coventry, the only forward to head the VFL goalkicking four or more times.
While born in Port Fairy, Coleman came to Essendon via Hastings where he was a teenage star, booting 136 and 160 goals in back-to-back MPFL premiership teams in 1947-48.
Few sportsmen were as magnetic and from the time Coleman netted 12 goals on his memorable Windy Hill debut against Hawthorn in the opening round of 1949, he was one of the biggest names in football, rivaling the popularity even of charismatic local sports star and war hero Keith Miller.
A few years back, I interviewed Fred Wain, Coleman’s starting opponent that incredible debut day and Fred said he has always been tagged as the man who had all 12 kicked on him by Coleman. ‘The truth was that after John got his first five they moved me to a back flank. He got the rest on a fellow named Lionel Johnson,’ he said.
Country people would wake Essendon’s secretary Bill Cookson before dawn on a Saturday and on being assured that Coleman was playing would drive hours to the Big Smoke to pay homage to their hero.
The shy country kid finished fourth in the Brownlow in his first year, his breathtaking vertical leaps his sensational signature.
Having averaged almost 5.5 goals per game in an era of modest scoring, Coleman broke down with a knee injury, easily repairable today, which prematurely finished his career.
An attempted comeback in 1956 was unsuccessful.
Jack Dyer lived on the Peninsula at his daughter’s Frankston home in his final years and he said his Richmond teams of the ‘50s would have been unbeatable had Coleman worn the yellow sash of Richmond, as he’d once wanted, rather than the red one of arch rivals Essendon. “He was a sensational player, the best of them all,’ Dyer told me.
At just 185 cm (6 ft 1in), Coleman often conceded height and weight to opposing full-backs, but rarely could they beat him on the lead and once he propelled himself skywards, they just had to hope he’d fumble. They’d try and get physical with him and retaliating one day, Coleman sensationally missed the 1951 final series, the Bombers, premiers in his first two years in 1949 and 1950, being beaten on Grand Final day.
Once Coleman was on a roll, he could be unstoppable, his best tally of 14 coming in just three quarters against Fitzroy in 1954 after he’d been kept goal-less in the first term.
He remains one of the most remarkable players of his era and on reputation alone, is my favorite player from the Mornington Peninsula.
Few regions have had more League champions from St Kilda’s running man Robert Harvey, originally from Seaford through to the Hawthorn powerhouse Dermott Brereton from Frankston Rovers and Stan Alves, whose oldest mates still call him ‘The Edithvale Flash’.
It was impossible to include all those who fashioned outstanding League careers, or all of those who stayed home and became Peninsula legends.
Here are my 10 of my favorites, again in alphabetical order – and in no way wishing to rank them from No.1 to No.10!
STAN ALVES: Passionate and pacy, Stan played 200-plus games at Melbourne and landed in a North Melbourne premiership team, his cartwheels of delight after the final siren in 1977 a never-to-be-forgotten highlight of North’s second flag. Was originally from Edithvale-Aspendale and still lives in the area and walks the local beaches.
DERMOTT BRERETON: Originally from Frankston Rovers, Brereton became one of the most feared and most recognised footballers of the ‘80s, playing centre half-forward in seven consecutive Hawthorn Grand Finals and eight in nine years. He was athletic, courageous and fiercely determined, whose Irish background often saw him in rumbles, even with an opposing runner one memorable day at VFL Park, Waverley. He loved Peninsula life and even went back to play a few games of MPFL football in the late ‘90s to help out a friend.
NATHAN BURKE: Originally from the Pines, a rough and tumble area just north of Frankston, Burke arrived at St Kilda as a bright-eyed 15-year-old and went onto play 323 games, a then club record. Few were as committed or remain as proud of his grass roots Peninsula beginnings.
JOHN COLEMAN: A shooting star whose big League career, cruelly, was restricted to just five and a half years. Among his biggest tallies in his late teens was a 23 goal effort in one game for Hastings. He was an elite player in any company.
SIMON GOOSEY: His stunning feats for Mornington saw him kick eight centuries of goals, including seven 100s in a row. In one game against Hampton Park at Mornington in 2000, he kicked a personal-best 17. His career-best tally in any one season was 156. Mornington was hardly ever beaten when ‘The Goose’ was in form. Other than a season with Geelong reserves, in 1990 and some pre-seasons here and there, Goosey preferred to play all his football on the Peninsula.
ROBERT HARVEY: The only footballer to amass 21 senior seasons in the Big League, Harvey was a schoolboy star at Seaford via John Paul College before being included for his first games in St Kilda’s first XVIII under Darrel Baldock as a 16-year-old in 1988. He was to win two Brownlow Medals and play in 383 League games, still a Saints’ record. He’d run a mini-marathon most days, often having 30-plus possessions.
GERARD HEALY: A premiership player, aged 17, at Edithvale-Aspendale in 1978, before joining Melbourne, Healy’s legend grew with a mid-career swap to Sydney where his combination work with Greg Williams lifted the unsung, privately-owned Swans into several final series ahead of their time and guaranteed him a then-record $1.2 million contract over five years. Few could kick a torpedo punt on the run as far or as accurately as Healy, whose high-profile continues as a Fox Sports presenter.
STEWART LOEWE: The pride of Mt Eliza – he attended the Derinya Primary School – Loewe was to play 300-plus games at St Kilda and kick almost 600 goals in an outstanding career. Few could mark as surely, Loewe’s huge hand-span once seeing him cradle two dozen eggs for a photograph promotion. It won him the enduring nickname of ‘Buckets’.
LEIGH MATTHEWS (pictured reading the old Football Fan magazine): A powerhouse rover/forward from Chelsea, the best player I’ve seen along with Wayne Carey never to win a Brownlow Medal, Matthews was one of the great match winners who won eight club best and fairests at Hawthorn and kicked 915 career goals, still a record for a rover, before coaching premierships at two rival clubs. Hawthorn’s long-time property steward Andy Angwyn said he knew when Leigh was ready to turn it on. ‘He’d come in quietly before a big game and ask me for a new pair of socks,’ he said. ‘Invariably he’d be best afield and we’d win.’
STUART TROTT: A knockabout wingman who dominated at St Kilda having been wooed from Frankston Under 17s, Trott also had time at Hawthorn and at Caulfield VFA where he was brutally felled from behind one day in a game at Coburg in a blow which all but took his life. He refused to quit and after just one week’s absence was back coaching again. Having seen a replay of the ’71 Grand Final just recently, I have no doubt that Trott was best afield for three quarters before Hawthorn’s final quarter charge.
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Next week: Ken Piesse’s favorite 10 players … from the WIMMERA