A fact lost in the rush to hail Mick

I really don’t know how to feel about Mick Malthouse anymore, but I do know how I feel about the AFL’s puddle-deep respect for its own history.

Exhibit A occurred last year when AFL Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick supported a push to recognise pre-1897 Victorian Football Association premierships as League flags.  It was a self serving, wrong-headed initiative on several levels and thankfully, for now, appears to have been put on the back burner until the next slow news day.

Exhibit B was played out last week in windy Wellington, New Zealand, when Mick Malthouse broke Jock McHale’s long standing record of 713 games coached.

Yes, 713 games coached.

As flagged many months ago by Richmond historian Rhett Bartlett, the problem with the hand-picked mega-blockbuster Blues v Pies stoush this Friday night is that Jock McHale is credited with coaching a game whilst home in bed with the flu. Unlike the Carlton v St Kilda game last Saturday though, it was no nondescript game in front of 12,000 half interested punters he missed either.  Rather, it was the 1930 Grand Final in which Collingwood defeated Geelong to claim a yet unbroken record of four flags in a row.

The website “AFL Tables” (not run by the AFL) is a tremendous and accurate goldmine for footy stat boffins.  It’s worth noting it records Jock McHale as having coached 713 games and his stand-in on the day, Bob Rush, 1.

In addition to AFL Tables, the doubly tremendous Australian Football website (also not AFL managed) likewise records Brendon Bolton as having coached Hawthorn five times last year in lieu of the ill and absent Alastair Clarkson.  The gross inconsistency is clear.

The AFL itself? Harking back to my opening gambit, you can’t find such historical stats on its website, seemingly concerned only with the numbers of the here and now (did you know Lukas Webb is averaging 53 AFL Fantasy points?).

Sure, Jock McHale to all intents was the brains behind the all-conquering team known as ‘The Machine’.  But without Rush there may well have been no ‘old time dancing in the small hall and modern dancing in the large hall’ at the Collingwood Town Hall that night.

Bob RushRush, an excellent player himself in the early 1900’s, gave a passionate ‘one for the Gipper’ speech at half time as the Pies trailed by 21 points.  He reminded the dispirited players that poor Jock would be listening to the game from his sick-bed, and would know which players were really giving it their best.

The Magpies proceeded to lift from the first bounce of the second half. Superior endeavour was transferred into scoreboard pressure by Syd Coventry’s mighty goal, an equally inspirational goal by Makeham, and then another fine major by Harry Collier. In just five minutes the deficit was all but erased, rendering Geelong shell-shocked. By the last change Collingwood led by 32 points after an eight goal onslaught. Game over, as Joffa would say.

Mick led my ‘Pies to the holy grail, but the manner of his exit and his behaviour thereafter has left a bitter taste in the mouth. I am but one of many thousands of Collingwood members who feel this way.

That said, I have no truck with Mick breaking the record. To have coached at the highest level for decades, and to have built and rebuilt several clubs in adversity, quickly taking them to heights they dare not have imagined, deserves enormous respect and overrides the uninformed naysayers criticism that ‘just’ three flags in 31 years equates to underachievement.

Nor does it really matter precisely when Mick broke the record – unless you’re one of Bob Rush’s family who have felt piqued by the historical oversight for years.

But it should matter that the AFL chooses to reinterpret history to suit itself, or at best glosses over the small print when such momentous records come to pass.


About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    Where do Collingwood sit with history manipulation?

    Have they fallen into line with the AFL narrative?

    How do they feel whatever way?

    Malthouse is the most over employed coach in history by a long margin.

    That takes skill as a survivor and weakness and stupidity from those whose who have employed him.

  2. There’s a Looney Tunes cartoon where Daffy Duck has a gun to his head and lays a golden egg. That was Mick in 2010. Ultimately the succession plan was a master stroke in a roundabout scorched Earth kind of way.

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Almost felt sorry for Mick tonight, JD. Almost. Karma can be a bitch.

  4. Mick was ‘gifted’ a Leyland P76 Phil.

    He could have been riding stress free comfortably in the back of the latest Holden V6 but that’s too bad.

    It was a bizzaro kind of occasion all things considered.

  5. Peter_B says

    Mick is sort of Churchillian or Lear like. The great warrior king. Hero of his people, but staying too long and now spurned by those he loved and gave so much to.
    Churchill lived to see the Beatles and television, but neither thought much of him, or he of them.
    Time makes fools of all of us.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Intersting JD. Does a half time speech equal a full time coaching role? Was Rush designated as coach that day or did he just give the one speech? I admire both Rush and McHale, so just winning the 1930 flag is great.

    Like you, Mick’s childish behaviour in 2011 and beyond has left a bad taste. No respect. Hope the day that Buck’s is our most recent premiership coach isn’t far away.

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