Jones Files: My dozen favourite Geelong players

By Richard Jones

HERE’S a compilation of 12 of my favourite Geelong players. Not in any particular order, except for Polly Farmer as No. 1.
Some of these stars, such as Bobby Davis and Bernie Smith, were going around more than half a century ago.
Others are far more recent. I didn’t see any Geelong games live from 1964 to 1976 as my leave from Papua New Guinea at that time fell in the summer months.
So my memories of the 1967 grand final against the Tigers came via a scratchy ABC radio broadcast across the Torres Strait.
We were in Daru, a muddy little dump in PNG’s Western Province. Some colleagues and I had taken a squad of junior rugby league players from Moresby to play Western’s representative teams.
Luckily there was no time zone difference, but twisting and turning trying to get the best signal with a 1960s transistor radio perched on one shoulder wasn’t easy.
Another fortunate thing was that Queensland regional ABC radio took the Melbourne broadcast direct, and far north Queensland wasn’t all that far distant across the strait.
(Footy and radio belong together. Unlike a number of footy spectators, I have never ever watched a VFL/AFL game without a radio under my arm, on my shoulder or these days in my top pocket with the ear pieces in place.
How can you possibly watch an AFL game without the lead-in Coodabeen Champions comments followed by, going back a while, Noel Bailey’s or Smokey Dawson’s or Doug Bigelow’s or Tim Lane’s ABC radio patter as an audio companion? Impossible.)

Graham “Polly” Farmer: for me he’s still the greatest player in a hooped guernsey I’ve seen. His ruck battles against Carlton’s Big John Nicholls were highlights of the seasons Polly played for the Cats. His ability to fire out long handballs to get the running players — led by Billy Goggin — heading goalwards were legendary. To see this unfold only metres from where we were standing on Kardinia Park’s terraces was just breathtaking.

Doug Wade: only five players have nailed more than a thousand VFL/AFL goals and Dougie is one of them. Big and bustling in the packs when the ball came in high, he was surprisingly nimble when the agate hit the deck. Wasn’t afraid to mark out his space in the front half and his confrontations with an equally aggressive Tiger, Kevin Sheedy, not to mention the tough Bombers who patrolled the Essendon backline, were worth the admission prices back then.

Garry “Buddha” Hocking: he provided the real grunt to a more than handy midfield which also included Paul Couch and Mark Bairstow. Just an absolute shame that following a clutch of grand finals Buddha was never actually able to claim a premiership medallion. He was a great user of the pill, had a terrific engine and was the Cats midfield enforcer of his era.

Gary Ablett senior: one of the other greats to have nailed a thousand goals yet started with the Catters as a wingman. I’ll never forget his 14 goals from a wing one day against the Tiges. As a dutiful father I used to take my two daughters (and their friends) to Kardinia Park to see the Great Man split the packs on the way to taking a mark. I swear some of the rival backmen were terrified that Gazza would collect them on the way through.

Peter Pianto: dual premiership player. Recruited from Eaglehawk in the Bendigo league, Pianto shared the roving duties with Neil “Nipper” Tresize. Writers in the old Melbourne Argus used to compare Geelong’s early 1950s small-man brigade with the famous Mosquito Fleets of the 30s. Pianto was durable, pacy without being lightning quick and extremely capable around goals — what is now known as “a front and square” player.

Matthew Scarlett: Mike Sheahan rightfully named Scarlo in his Top Ten AFL players back in March before the season started. Not only has Scarlett routinely negated some of the code’s present day forward stars, but frequently dashes downfield to link up with teammates. Not shy about taking a shot at goal, either, if the opportunity presents itself.

Bobby Davis: the “Geelong Flyer” (named after the famous Melbourne-Geelong train) with the number 4 on his back, Bobby would set sail along the members’ wing heading towards Kardinia Park’s city end goals. He was not only super quick but extremely robust and hard in close. A fine, long kick but also accurate with the short pass when dropkicking was still well in vogue.

Gary Ablett junior: rates as one of the greats of the modern game with his ability to sprint clear of would-be tacklers to nail a goal. Adept at twisting his hips to break a tackle and has remarkable poise and the all-important ability to keep his feet when others around him are toppling to the ground. Apart frpm being one of the AFL’s top midfielders, he’s also a magical goal-kicker and a game-breaker in his own right.

Alistair Lord: the 1962 Brownlow medalist. Yet were all the votes lodged by the umpires really his, or did some belong to twin brother Stewart? Don’t know, don’t care. Centreman Lord was the midfield general of the Cats’ early sixties sides. The Cats drew the ’62 preliminary final against the Blues – Carlton won the replay by five points in front of 99,203 people.

Bernie Smith: star back pocket player who won the 1951 Brownlow medal from Ron Clegg and Billy Hutchison. Formed a terrific full-back line pairing with Bruce Morrison, although Bernie’s inability to kick with his left book was cleverly masked by his outside-of-the-boot chips. I used to love watching Bernie burst clear of clutching hands as he tore through centre half-back.

Billy Goggin: not shy of back-chatting opposition players who were left in his wake as Billy collected yet another Farmer tap or handpass. Geelong has always been able to cobble together top class on-ball players and Billy was an elite rover of his time. Probably a bit pacier than Pianto and Tresize, but had the same terrier-like quality which Nipper possessed. Also very handy around goals and, like Pianto, very durable.

Peter Walker: gritty centre half-back often forgotten when the feats of other top defenders such as Johnny Hyde, Bruce Morrison, Russ Middlemiss and Geoff Williams are recalled. Walker was a key player in an era when Geelong was one of the league’s top sides. Regularly had to line up on some of the VFL/AFL’s greatest ever centre half-forwards yet seldom was beaten. Just a fine, hard-working backman when forwards used to collect all the plaudits.


  1. Richard – plenty to choose from aren’t there? In the modern era I love Max Rooke and Chappy, not to mention Jimmy Bartel. In years gone by I loved watching Micky Turner and Mark Bairstow and Gary Malarkey. The best bit is watching some of the lesser lights getting the most out of themselves – Scratcher Neal, Darren Milburn, Bewsy, Ray Card, Jumpin’ Jack Hawkins. I could go on all day.

  2. Enjoyed that piece very much, Richard.

    Can’t fit more than twelve into twelve, of course, but as a bonus extra, how about John Sharrock (don’t know how you spell his name): brilliant half-forward flanker in the days when half-forward flankers knew where to be and where to stay and could kick goals themselves or pass accurately to forwards. Or, how about Denis Marshall? beautiful long kick with either foot and hardly beaten. Or, how about Matthew scarlet’s father? Tremendous full-back. Or, how about the boy Polinelli? Tremendous pace from the wing.

    Great stuff.

    Geoff Morris

  3. Interesting to hear what you thought of Peter Pianto Rich. I never saw him play nor heard much about him as a player but gee he was a nice bloke, used to run what may well be the last sports shop not owned by Rebel in Grovedale until the mid 90’s.

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Jumpin’ Jack. Most underrated.
    Sharrock was a gun apparently.
    He should have got the downfield free instead of Ricky Graham when Goggin was bowled over in the last quarter of the 1967 GF.
    As an aside, that game holds up today on many measures including speed (for its time), skill, thrills and individual brilliance.
    Sharrock retired early after doing a knee. Tennis I think?

    My stepfather’s favourite player was George Goninon. He was dropped from the 1953 GF side for having an affair whilst married.

  5. Max Rooke. Ken Hinkley. I’ll think of others.

  6. Richard E. Jones says

    PETER: I can’t recall — no, I didn’t know — Goninon was dropped for the 53 grannie for having an affair while married.
    What I do know is that Georgie won the 1951 goalkicking after joining Geelong from Essendon. So who does he beat for the top spot in the league’s goalkicking that year? Why, none other than the Gliders’ own John Coleman.
    Perfect really.

    Harmesy: Maxie Rooke in the best ever 12? Good, solid, workmanlike battler. But in the Top Twelve.
    Don’t think so, however generous one might be after a cuppla bottles of red.

  7. Peter Flynn says

    This Goninon news was only revealed a couple of years or so ago.
    It’s my understanding that the Geelong Catholics (Hickey et al) found out and dropped him on moral grounds.

  8. Peter, re your comment: “He was dropped from the 1953 GF side for having an affair whilst married”. It would have been a far more controversial decision to drop him if had had an affair while NOT married.

    My parents are Catholics, married just weeks after the Dogs won the ’54 flag. For Footscray’s sake, I’ve been imploring them for a long time to get a divorce but they’re having none of that. Maybe I’ll see if Pope Benedict will grant them an annulment…

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