Almanac Footy Teams: Opening Round Debutants



With round one barely ten days away, I began to reflect on the great opening round debuts. There are so many to choose from as each new beginning stirs hope in the fan gearing up for another season to bank in the memory.


I’ve had the good fortune of witnessing Phil Walsh’s magnificent debut on the wing for the Pies in the 1983 opener and the mercurial Les Bamblett for Melbourne in the same match.


Greg Williams picked up a lazy 38 touches for the Cats in Round 1, 1984. How did they let him go?


John Georgiades kicked 8 goals for Footscray against Carlton in 1989, before fading into obscurity in the space of a few weeks. How Doggies fans must have felt going home after witnessing Georgiades’ heroics against the Blues. Do any Carlton fans remember who was on him that day?


John Coleman’s debut of 12 goals against Hawthorn in 1949 still stands out as most stunning debut of any player in VFL/AFL history.


Who do you remember playing a blinder in their first game in Round 1?



B:   Donald Dickie (Port)               Frank Gumbleton (Nth Melb)             Mark Thompson (Ess)

1997                                                         1970                                                                1983


HB:   Justin Leppitsch (Bris)         Ross Glendinning (Nth Melb)                   Rodney Maynard (Adel)

1993                                                    1978                                                                            1991


C:   Phil Walsh (Coll)                             Greg Williams (Geel)                          Simon Tregenza (Adel)

1983                                                                     1984                                                                  1991



HF:   John Georgiades (Foots)           Laurie Nash (Sth Melb)                        Les Bamblett (Melb)

1989                                                             1933                                                                1983


F:         John Roberts (Sth Melb)               John Coleman (Ess)                             Warren Ralph (Carl)

1980                                                           1949                                                               1984


Ruck:        Carl Ditterich (StK)             Murray Wrensted (WCE)                        John Platten (Haw)

1963                                            1987                                                    1986


IC:    Paul Haselby (Freo)      Dale Weightman(Rich)       Nathan Buckley(Bris)     Paul Sproule (Ess)

2000                                   1978                                        1993                                        1968


Coach:   Denis Pagan (North Melbourne) 1993


About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.


  1. It wasn’t his debut – but as a Cat from Queensland I had not heard much about G. Ableet at Hawthorn. I recall exactly where I was when I saw that opening round explosion v Hawthorn in 1985. In a footy clubhouse in Adelaide after an Adelaide Lutheran trial game – maybe Glandore? Somewhere down South Rd. Swish, help me out.

  2. Great stuff, Phil. Although the acronym for Opening Round Debutants is ORD, this is a far from ORDinary team.

    I’m going to name four from the same day in round one, 1983: Andrew Purser, Jim Sewell, Brian Royal and Steve Wallis, who were among 10 new players for Footscray that day. Six were League debutants, the other two being Ian Williams and John Taylor, while Chris Hansen (Fitzroy), Mark Kellett (St KIlda), Stephen Lunn and Robert Semmens came from other clubs.

    While John Taylor* never went on to make the most of his potential, and Ian Williams’s star burned only briefly, Purser, Royal, Wallis and Sewell, who all had great debuts, went on to form the nucleus of the side that went very close in 1985. That opening round marked the start of a new era for the Dogs, after the dreadful Royce Hart period. We lost that opening 1983 match to Geelong at Waverley (after being level at three-quarter time), but improvement under Bluey Hampshire was rapid from there, and then Malthouse took us to another level from 1984 onwards.

    *Side (bragging) note: John Taylor is one of several V/AFL players that I have clean bowled with an inswinging yorker. Others that spring to mind are Greg Healy and Ian Aitken.

  3. G’day Phil.

    Can you please shed some light on Frank Gumbleton’s debut, ditto Paul Sproule .


  4. Warren Tapner says

    Phil, oh Phil – you missed the greatest of them all!

    Alex Jesaulenko

    Club : Carlton
    Career : 1967 – 1979
    * * * Debut : Round 1, 1967 vs Fitzroy, aged 21 years, 255 days
    Carlton Player No. 793
    Games : 256
    Goals : 424
    Last Game : Grand Final, 1979 vs Collingwood, aged 34 years, 57 days
    Guernsey No. 25
    Height : 182 cm (5 ft. 11½ in.)
    Weight : 89 kgs (14 stone, 0 lbs.)
    DOB : August 2, 1945
    Premiership Player: 1968, 1970, 1972, 1979
    Leading Goalkicker : 1969, 1970, 1971
    Captain: 1975, 1976
    Captain-Coach: 1978, 1979
    Best and Fairest: 1975
    Carlton Hall of Fame
    Team of the Century
    AFL Team of the Century
    Carlton and AFL Legend

    I still remember Jezza’s debut – two goals from the wing against Fitzroy. We knew we had a keeper.

    (Thanks to for the stats)

  5. Wayne Closter had a memorable debut against Melbourne in R1 1964. Came straight into a Cats Premiership side and had the better of the Demons’ Frank ‘Bluey’ Adams on the wing in a stirring Geelong victory.

    Closter went on to have a terrific career with the Cats. Demons went on to win the ’64 flag courtesy of a late Neil Crompton goal after Gabbo’s long run and goal for the Pies.

    Cheers, Burkie

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    1985 opener was also the Jacko theatrics game. G.Ablett and Jacko bagged six apiece. Rewind a year to Round One 1984 and G.Ablett played his first game for the Cats kicking 3 goals against Fitzroy at Kardinia Park. In the same game Jacko kicked 9 and Greg Williams (as above) got 38 possessions and kicked a goal on debut.

    Gigs – 1983 signaled the rise of the Bulldogs after 7 years near the bottom. Some wonderful players there that helped get the Dogs to that fabled Prelim in 1985. Purser, Wallis Royal and Sewell terrific players. Wasn’t 1983 the year you became a fully-fledged Bulldog? My next 22 will be a team of your most famous cricket dismissals. When are you available for an interview ?

    Hi Glen – Frank Gumbleton because I struggled to find a full-back that made an auspicious debut. Gumbleton was a great servant for North and in the opening round of 1970 he got 15 touches in a loss to the Saints. Paul Sproule kicked 5 goals for Essendon on debut in 1968. Known more as a Richmond premiership player, I thought that effort was worthy of a spot for his first game.

    Warren – Sincerest apologies. Jezza in at the expense of Donald Dickie !!

  7. Marvellous, as always Phil. Please keep ’em coming.

    Best debut I witnessed – Saturday 20 April 1974 – 10 kicks, 1 handball, 6 goals 3 behinds.

    Take a bow Kelvin Templeton. KT’s debut is made even more memorable because:

    (1) A 17 year old ATTENDING Victoria Park, let alone taking the field and being subjected to the usual warm welcome from the maniacal Magpie mob, was/is a pretty fair effort
    (2) Ian Cooper, who had held Peter Hudson to 3 kicks & 2 handballs (no goals) in three quarters seven days earlier, was his direct opponent
    (3) I was there


    Gigs: What is often forgotten about the “Fab Four” of Purser, Sewell, Wallis and Royal is how durable they were. Between Rd 1 1983 and the 1985 Preliminary Final the Dogs played 69 VFL games. Wallis & Sewell played in all 69, Purser and Royal each played 68. Purser missed the Rd 11 game against St Kilda in 1985 due to suspension (he copped a week for striking Brian Taylor the previous Sunday). Royal was injured and missed Rd 19, 1983 v NM.


  8. Sorry Phil, KT’s was Rd 3 – OUCH.

    I’ll pay more attention next time (for a change)


  9. I was going to nominate Daniel Metropolis. 6 goals in first game in 1992 (first 4 kicks all goals). But that was Round 3.
    So the WCE player who best represents the foresight and talent development skills of our Recruiting Dept must be (drum roll) Tom Lamb (from the official WCE 2017 website):
    “High half-forward with elite endurance who stands at 193cm. Has strong hands, athleticism and versatility. Made his AFL debut in early 2015 but spent all of 2016 developing his game in the WAFL. An exciting player of the future. Has father Wayne played 21 games for Melbourne and Fitzroy and his grandfather Ian Cooper was a member of St Kilda’s 1966 premiership side.”
    Debut: Round 1 2015 V Western Bulldogs
    Games Played: 1
    Seasons on List: 3 (2015/16/17)
    From Sandringham Zebras 2018 website:
    “High half-forward with elite endurance who stands at 193cm. Has strong hands, athleticism and versatility. Made his AFL debut in early 2015 but spent all of 2016 and 2017 developing his game in the WAFL. An exciting player of the future…………………………”

  10. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Burkie – Wayne Closter a great get. Possibly one of the best exponents of the drop kick I have seen along with Bob Skilton. A fine effort to debut in the first game of a premiership defence and play well on Bluey Adams. You didn’t need to mention Neil Crompton, mate. That wasn’t necessary !

    Mic – What the heck? I flexible and adaptable enough to open it up to ‘Debuts in Any Round’. Perhaps I was being too niche. KT a beauty. I remember going to the opening round of 1993 where a young Scott West made his debut against the Pies. Only picked up 7 touches, but what a great career he had. Surprised you missed my team of number 8s. Feel free to nominate:
    PB – Remember watching Daniel Metropolis’ debut on TV. He didn’t really kick on, but what a sensational start. Ben Cousins’ debut in Round 4 1996 against Geelong was handy, however Chris Judd’s Round 2, 2002 debut should have won that game for the Eagles. How the hell did you let Brodie Holland kick 8 goals in that game?

  11. Ah yes Phil. My mind playing tricks. Perhaps I just wanted that to be his first Geelong game.

    One season out!

    Of course there are those great Youtube packages of G. Ablett in 1984.

  12. Ta Phil.

    I have a good recall of Paul Sproule @ Richmond, though lesser so @ Windy Hill. I can vaguely cast my mind back to 1970 when I had either a Paul Sproule footy card, or was it one of those small posters you used to get out of the bubblegum packets? It’s a while back and there are some things I forget.

    Frank Gumbleton, the best player I recall from Ganmain. Was Tom Carrol, the Carlton full forward of the mid 1960’s from Ganmain, or Turvey Park ?

    Gigs, Mic, I was there @ VFL Park in R 1 1983. Geelong had not done well in 1982, following consecutive preliminary finals. The two debutants i recall on the ground were Michael Kol and former Carlton small man , Denis Lenagahn. However the main Geelong debutant that day was the new coach, the legendary Tom Hafey. Geelong over ran Footscray in the final term. A return to the finals footy was on the cards. However after winning the first three games the wheels fell off, Geelong tumbling back to the lower reaches of the ladder.



  13. I recall being at Lake Oval when Bob Pratt jnr played his first game in 1955 in the famous No 10 worn by his Dad. From memory he kicked a swag of goals that game, and we all thought he’d follow in his father’s footsteps – but alas!

  14. DBalassone says

    Well compiled Phil.

    I would add Paul Williams 1991 vs. Footscray. He played in the centre as Shawry was injured. It led to the joke:

    Q: How do you replace a Norm Smith Medalist Copeland Trophy winning Premiership captain?

    A: With a 17 year-old Tasmanian.

  15. Tony Pickett made a great debut for Carlton in Round 1 1976 against Collingwood, picking up 21 kicks and four goals from the wing. His previous senior game was the 1975 Tasmanian State Final in Peter Daniel’s North Launceston against Peter Hudson’s Glenorchy. 9 of the 40 on the ground that day had or would play in the VFL ( AFL) , and Pickett went straight into the Carlton seniors as a 23 year old. Shows how far footy in Tasmania has fallen with one or none drafted in the last two years.

  16. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Adelaide FC 1991. Take your pick.

    JTH, Glandore the most likely suspect. Fullers Map 39 Q9 according to my SAAFL Official Programme

  17. Dave Brown says

    A trickier topic than usual, Phil. Heartily endorse Rodney Maynard, of course (even if it is a bit of a cheat). As discussed Erin Phillips and Darcy Vescio also worthy of consideration. Looking at Crows’ first round games after 1991 there have been no great debut performances. Against them however, Michael Barlow had 33 disposals and 2 goals on debut in 2010.

  18. Peter Fuller says

    I needed to support my failing memory by checking the details, but I seemed to recall Tony Hall’s debut for Hawthorn v Carlton in the opening round 1988. He is credited with 17 disposals and 1 goal 1. Happily, the Blues won the GF re-match by 15 points. My recollection was of a highly skilled footballer, a superb mark for his modest height. I don’t know how much I might be conflating later performances, but I’m pretty sure he showed plenty of his potential in his first outing for the Hawks.

    I was also there for the 1986 season opener at Waverley again between Hawks and Blues. John Platten’s outstanding performance in that match has been referenced earlier in the thread. That day was also notable for some high profile Carlton first-gamers, although in a decisive loss, Sticks Kernahan, Craig Bradley and Jon Dorotich were serviceable rather than brilliant. Mil Hanna also played his first minutes that day; he was carried off during the first quarter.

  19. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    JTH – One of the things that fascinates me with this series is the call to memory. How reliable is it really? I was convinced John Georgiades made his debut in 1985 because I remembered Footscray beating Carlton in Round One. Footscray did beat Carlton, yet it also happened in Round 1, 1989 where Georgiades actually made his debut. Only 4 years off !

    Glen ! – Paul Sproule played 60 games for Essendon between 1968 and 1971. Crossed to Richmond for 86 games and two flags. Good move. Not sure about Tom Carrol.

    Jan – Great memory. Bob Pratt Jnr made his debut in Round 3, 1955 against Richmond and kicked 3 goals in a 58 point loss.His best bag was 6 against Richmond in Round 14 at the Lake Oval.

    Damo – Paul Williams a great nomination. Remember his debut well along with Ron McKeown kicking 5 as we turned a 5 goal half time deficit into a 70 point triumph. Our first as defending premiers !

    Swish – John Klug, Darren Smith, Scott Lee, Bruce Lindsay? What became of them?

    Dave – Yes, Erin Phillips and Darcy Vescio worthy nominations. Michael Barlow a fine nomination. Unlucky footballer with his injuries.

    Peter F – Tony Hall was indeed a class player. His 1988-89 until injured were special. Remember thinking that 1986 would be a battle between Hawthorn, Carlton and Essendon. Yet, Fitzroy finished 3rd. Players you mention went on to have great careers for the Blues. Didn’t realise Mil Hanna also debuted on that day. Fast forward to 1987 and you have Mark Naley making his debut against the Hawks. In 1995 Scott Camporeale debuted with 20 touches as you beat the Pies (again) in the opener. Cheers

  20. G’day Phil
    A couple of Norm Smith medallists for you. M.Rioli (1982) and D. Martin (2010). I think both demonstrated a bit of potential in their Round One debuts!

  21. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Stainless – Brilliant nominations. M.Rioli against Fitzroy and then played his second game when Jim and Phil Krakouer debuted for North a week later.

    As for Dusty, I know there are still 82 years to go, but I wager he will be in Richmond’s and the AFL’s team of the 21st century. Hard to exclude ! Cheers

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