Top 10: Australian footballers who excelled in other sports

By Damian Watson

With the recent news of Brisbane Bronco and State Of Origin representative Karmichael Hunt making a shock transition from the NRL into the new Gold Coast side in the AFL, I decided to take a look back and count down the best 10 senior footballers who excelled in other codes.

I know that this may sound a little cynical, but I just can’t see this man becoming a talented player at AFL level as he doesn’t have enough experience and I don’t expect him to play over 15 AFL games. However all critics have been proved wrong in the past and although he may lack the skills required at this stage, he certainly has the frame to compete in this sport and will have no trouble bursting through packs. Hunt can also be a great marketing tool for the new Gold Coast team.

I have used the criteria of sportsman that have achieved success in both of the sports they competed in:

10. Ambrose Palmer- was known as a nippy little rover for Footscray playing 83 games for the club over a decade through the 1930s and ’40s. But Palmer is best known in sporting circles as a professional boxer and was well renowned as the Pride of the Western Suburbs back in the 1930s. Palmer even achieved the feat of becoming Australian heavyweight champion, which is a great feat considering the fact he only weighed 82kg. Later on in his sporting career he became a great boxing trainer, even mentoring the great Johnny Famechon.

9. Lance Mann- I realise that many writers at the Almanac are passionate fans of the Stawell Gift so I plucked out 1952 winner Lance Mann. The 1950s certainly aren’t the most popular decade with Bomber fans as they threw away golden premiership opportunities. But Lance Mann became a handy player throughout the decade, playing 80 games for the red and black. The Stawell Gift has been a very popular race for senior footballers and umpires alike in the past and many more are continuing to participate in events throughout the traditional event on Easter Mondays.

8. Gil Langley- Throughout the 1940s Langley was one of the most dangerous rovers in the SANFL, becoming a successful goalsneak at Sturt,  achieving dual best and fairest honours. Langley was also selected in Essendon’s 1943 Grand Final team against Richmond while stationed in Melbourne during the War. However Gil Langley will be mostly remembered as a wicketkeeper for the Australian Cricket team, representing his country 26 times throghout the 1950s. Langley was also a magnificent keeper for South Australia.

7. Max Walker- affectionately known as ‘Tangles’, Max’s sporting career commenced at the Melbourne Football Club. Walker played 85 games for Melbourne as a ruckman in one of the clubs most unsuccesful periods in its long history, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Of course Max went on to play over 30 Test matches for Australia and was a prominent figure throughout the World Series Cricket era. Perhaps Max was most famous for his media roles on the Channal Nine commentary team and on the Sunday Footy Show. It is a shame he is not involved in the media anymore as he had a colourful personality as well as that weird voice of his!

6. Saverio Rocca- will always be remembered for the booming 70m goals he would dish up on a regular basis at the MCG. Big Sav came to Collingwood at the tail end of its somewhat successful period in the early ’90s and usually played in the full-forward position in his first couple of years at the club. Then of course we discovered his booming long kick and he was elevated to the half forward position. Rocca was a shining light in Collingwood’s dark period throughout the 1990s and won the leading goalkicker award for his club on many occasions. Sav then made a shock move to Arden St in 2001 and although he wasn’t as prolific compared to his heyday he became a valuable contributor nonetheless. After his emotional send-off in 2006 Sav had sights for a NFL career and over the past couple of years he’s achieved the role of the main punter for the NFL’s Philidelphia Eagles and I predict a successful career ahead for big Sav.

5. Dean Brogan- Brogan was an established basketballer at the Adelaide 36ers and was a part of the NBL chamionship-winning team in 1998. Brogan decided to focus on the AFL so he transferred across to Port Adelaide and made his debut in 2001. Over the past eight years Brogan has played a pivotal role in the Power side, replacing the injury-plagued Matthew Primus in the ruck division.

4. Ben Graham- this Geelong man booted the ball 60m so often you couldn’t trust him chipping the ball short. I will always remember watching that booming 90m kick-out at Skilled Stadium against Port Adelaide in 1999 as a 5-year old; the kick spiralled from the opposing goal square all the way past the centre-circle. Graham initially began his career as a defender but after his shocking ’95 Grand Final performance on Steve Kernahan he began to roam around the midfield a lot more often. After 200+ games of senior fooball for the Cats, Graham tried his luck elsewhere and gradually paved the way for a punting role at the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL. Earlier this year Graham became the first Australian to play in the Superbowl. Booming Ben Graham participated in the most importat game of the year in both the AFL and NFL. On both occasions his team went down fairly convincingly but it’s still a sensational achievement nevertheless.

3. Keith Miller- A few years ago I taped the Allan Border Medal night and a tribute was made to a man named Keith Miller, whom I had never heard of. Richie Benaud described him as ‘the man who had the most charisma in World Cricket’. Others used words such as ‘courageous’ and ‘driven’. Looking at his statistics it is not suprising. He played 55 tests as an all-rounder for Australia, including taking part in the famous ‘Invincibles’ team of 1948. What many overlook is his football career. He played 50 games for St Kilda and was reliable around the ground for the Saints during the war years. Miller’s football career is best remembered for holding the legendary Bob Pratt to one goal during a match in 1940.

2. Darren Bennett- well remembered for making the huge Waverley Park surface look like the size of a kindergarten playground. Bennett could boot the ball 70m off practically one step and his long-range goals were legendary at the Melbourne Football Club. Bennett began his senior football career at the West Coast and was named among the first 22 in the Eagles first VFL/AFL match in 1987. After an uneventful four games Bennett joined the Melbourne team, booting a mammoth 215 goals in 74 games. Bennett formed a great partnership with Allen Jakovich in the Demon forwqard line in 1991 helping the team achieve a finals berth. In the mid-’90s Bennett tried his luck in the US and after punting for just five years for the San Diego Chargers made the NFL Team Of the Decade in the 1990s. Bennett’s NFL career continued until 2005 when he announced his retirement.

1. Laurie Nash – Nash was a champion footballer throughout the 1930s as part of the foreign legion and also excelled in cricket, playing 22 first-class  matches. The selectors had planned that Nash would be opening bowler for the Australians in the famous Bodyline Series before he was removed at the last minute. Nash took part in the famous 1933 Premiership team for South Melbourne in just his first season. In the late ’30s Nash made his way into the Australian side playing in two Test matches against South Africa and looked set for a long career in the baggy green. However World War II occurred and Nash wet to serve for the military, taking a six year stint away from sport. Nash came back to South Melbourne in 1945 for one last hurrah and captained the team to the infamous bloodbath Grand Final. After the Swans loss to Carlton, Nash retired and started writing for the Sporting Globe.

Honourable Mentions: Shane Warne – The King Of Spin was a talented teenage footballer, playing a few games for the St Kilda under-19s side before being delisted.

Jack Worrall- coached Carlton to three consecutive premierships, in 1906-08, before switching to Essendon after his controversial sacking. He also captained the Australian cricket team in its early years.

If there are players I have missed or if you have a different opinion of my list feel free to leave a comment.

About Damian Watson

Hey,my name is Damian Watson and I am 14 years old. My ambition is to become an AFL broadcaster/journalist in the future. I am a keen blues supporter and I live in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I play and write for the Knox Falcons U/16’s.

Comments

  1. pauldaffey says:

    Damian,

    A few more off the top of my head:

    Norm McDonald was a champion half-back flanker for Essendon during their 1949-50 premiership era who also ran a place (maybe two) at the Stawell Gift.

    Mick Malone was a defender in Subiaco’s 1973 premiership team in the WAFL and then was a fast-medium bowler in the Australian Test team in the late 1970s.

    Ian Redpath was a brilliant amateur footballer, playing in the middle for Geelong Amateurs, as well as an opening batsman for Australian until the mid-1970s. From all reports he should have played in the VFL for Geelong, or even South Melbourne, considering that was his district cricket club.

  2. johnharms says:

    Damian

    Norman Brookes, great tennis player, had a couple of games for St Kilda.

    Ron Taylor, played for South, was a boxer in the Rome Olympics.

    Many, many cricketers. Like George Tribe, Sam Loxton, Simon O’Donnell, Craig Bradley and so on.

    JTH

  3. ..Sav Rocca?? :(
    :( aaaaaaawwwwwwwwww the memories are flooding back, and so are the tears!!
    :(
    I LOVE SAV!!!! :(
    Danni

  4. Stainless says:

    Wasn’t Brad Green trialled as a junior at Manchester United? Not too shabby, surely?

    And to stretch the theme, former Footscray full forward, Simon Beasley enjoyed a certain…er…notoriety in particular aspects of the sport of kings!

  5. And Footscray’s Robert “this is your Captain speaking” Groenewegen was a part time stunt pilot…

  6. And, in the other direction, perhaps we shouldn’t overlook those Irish lads who have made the switch to the oval ball, in particular the pioneers Jim Stynes and Sean White. I can’t think of any Aussie Rules players making the grade in the GAA though (and former Sydney Swan now Kerry footballer Tagh Kennelly doesn’t count).

  7. Jamie Siddons played Shield cricket for Victoria and South Australia and a couple of night games for Sydney. I remember watching him slice through the centre square at Waverley Park and send a perfect left-footer into the Swans’ forward line. He had that really distinctive left-footer’s kicking style, like Brett Scott from the late ’80s Sydney teams or Grant Birchall from the current Hawthorn team.

  8. The Weed…wrestler in two sports!

  9. Andrew Fithall says:

    Doug Gott – Collingwood backman and Victorian Shield Cricketer. And the only VFL/AFL player to have played in a Grand Final and never to have either won or lost.

  10. Some great names Daff but I’ll present some more.
    South australia has some notables.Both West Torrens’ Neil Hawke and Port’s Eric “Fritzy” Freeman played SANFL with distinction (State reps) and Test Cricket as medium-fast bowlers. Fritzy could plonk a ball on to the Members’ Stand and was a fearless short-leg fielder. I think he came home from one cricket tour and stepped straight in to Port’s side for the Finals as their No18 at Full-Forward.
    But, despite some claims for Clem Hill (Souths in SANFL, Caulfield Cup handicapper before tragic death from a fall out of a tram)and others, in SA Vic Richardson is the stand-out.

  11. My knowledge of NSW sport is considerable less, but the new SCG Grandstand seems to acknowledge the pre-eminence of (Clem Hill’s contemporary) Victor Trumper.

  12. Frontierland, WA, must have a million prospects and I’ll leave it to the locals to mine
    Can’t resist two noms however.
    Ric Charlesworth is an obvious candidate, with Olympic Hockey and Shield Cricket amonst his resume.
    Bruce (Super)Duperouzel was a standout cricket contemporary of Kim Hughes (junior footy star himself) who became a good Saints player in the VFL.

  13. Two of the best cricketers/footballers of the last 50 years Peter Bedford and Robert Rose.

  14. Keith Miller would have to be my number 1. It’s a great achievement play two sports at the top level, it’s something else again to be a star in both. As well as representing St.Kilda, Miller also played footy for Victoria, so that’s the absolute pinnacle in his two chosen sports.

    Lindsay Hassett was a pretty good footballer also before he played cricket for Australia.

    There’s two nominations from England that I have to mention on this subject – Denis Compton, star cricketer who was perhaps England’s greatest post-war batsmen, who also played football for Arsenal (including a winning FA Cup final) and England. Fair effort to represent your country in two sports!

    The other great “allrounder” from the UK was C.B.Fry over a century ago. Played cricket for England, and was the first batsmen to score 6 hundreds in successive first class innings (Bradman later equalled this). Additionally, he played football for Southampton in a FA Cup final. And finally, while at Oxford, he equalled the world long-jump record. Pretty decent rugby player too by all accounts.

  15. Several footballers from the ’60s and ’70s – and they know who they are – found themselves on the wrong side of the law for (allegedly) receiving and passing on stolen goods. One could therefore argue that they excelled at footy and fencing. At least until they were caught.

  16. Andrew Fithall says:

    Gigs. No more bad puns please. What you are referring to is so long ago, it sounds like they would now be retired.

  17. Stop the bad puns? What, and ruin my reputation?

    Ok. No more, I promise. At least for this article.

  18. Peter Flynn says:

    Great gets above.
    A left field one here (matches the bloke).
    I’ll add Glenn Manton.
    Australian 4 man bobsleigh team.

  19. Peter Flynn says:

    Now to be more sensible.
    Peter Bedford and Robert Rose.

  20. Finally, Bruce Duperouzel receives his due on the Footy Almanac website.

    Was Ray Huppatz any good at another sport?

  21. sideboards

  22. Andrew Fithall says:

    Bill Mildenhall
    77 games for St Kilda
    Refereed more than 900 NBL games plus however many tournaments and championships in Australia and throughout the world, including olympic games. Still refereeing at a high level at age 56.

  23. Keith Miller was pretty awful on ABC TV when WSC was first on Nine. Probably because he was a better drinker than commentator.

    Other cricketing footballers: Earl Spalding, Todd Breman, Graeme Watson.

  24. John Scholes.

  25. Derek Chadwick played cricket for WA and burned up the wings at Perth Oval for East Perth, and also played footy for WA.

  26. Keith Slater also played Test cricket – well, one Test, but that’s one Test more than me – for Australia and played for Swan Districts in the WAFL. Actually, the WANFL. It wasn’t changed to WAFL until the early eighties.

  27. Speaking of C.B.Fry – look here.

    “To some people cricket is a circus show upon which they…”

    There’s more.

  28. Does Plugger’s expertise with greyhounds and motocross count?

  29. Tony Polinelli was a high quality wingman in the 60’s for Geelong and played in their 63 Premiership. Also ran 2nd in a Stawell Gift which isn’t too shabby.

  30. K. Sheedy claimed to be a handy spinner for Prahran.

  31. And spin doctor still

  32. No Aussie Rules connection, but there is a book in the MCC Library I think which claims to document the greatest all-round sportsman…an English claim, but Max Woosnam is amazingly impressive, albeit in a different age.

  33. Barrie Robran managed to play first class cricket for South Australia in between winning 3 Magarey Medals.

    Mike Parsons was in an NBL premiership winning team, won the Jack Oatey Medal for best on ground in a SANFL Grand Final for North and then went on to play for the Swans.

    Haydn Bunton was one of the greatest footballers of all time winning 3 Sandover and 3 Brownlow Medals and, according to Wikipedia, “Bunton and Bradman once played together in a New South Wales Country cricket team, and in the early 1930s, Bunton was regarded as a possible Test cricketer”

  34. Dubious cricket claim…what is it with Robran and SA?
    Bradley has better credentials all-round.

  35. Numbers are increasingly used and increasingly irrelevant when discussing quality.
    Reputations, though, can sometimes snowball.
    I’ve often been regaled by my Dad’s tales of Keith Miller’s brilliance, but in pre-mass media days so much of a legend must be created by some influential writers or dominant stats.
    The definitive dominant tour, 1948 Invincibles against an England devastated post-War, produces the following statistics.
    Miller totalled 1,088 runs for the tour at an average of 47.30, only the eighth highest in the squad which demoralised all browbeaten opponents. He took 56 wickets at 17.58 and held onto 20 catches.

  36. Big Bad Barry Hall apparently had claims as a boxer off the field as well

  37. I think with Miller you have to bear in mind his WW2 experiences as a fighter pilot had a major bearing on his sporting philosophy. By all accounts he thrived in tough situations, but he never had the ruthless win at all costs attitude someone like Bradman did. The story goes that the day Australia scored 721 in one day against Essex (I think), Miller allowed himself to be bowled first ball, then headed to the racetrack. I guess it’s all about priorities.

  38. He got in strife that day. He couldn’t see the point of thrashing an irrelevant opponent.

  39. No Aussie Rules connection, but there is a book in the MCC Library I think which claims to document the greatest all-round sportsman…an English claim, but Max Woosnam is amazingly impressive, albeit in a different age.
    ——————————
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  40. Paul Young says:

    Austin Robertson senior was a world professional sprint champion and a very good footballer for South Melbourne in the 1930’s.

    Frank ‘Bluey’ Adams was an Australian pro-sprint champion and Melbourne champion wingman from the 1950’s.

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