Memoir: The McInerney Rule


by Dips O’Donnell


I bet every Primary School has at least one kid who was much bigger, stronger and faster than everyone else.


At my Primary School his name was McInerney. He could run, jump, throw, fight, and play football like a man, at the age of nine.


There was no better demonstration of his strong throwing arm than when we took up handfuls of ripe plums and threw them at the passing trains that ran along a gully about 50 yards from our football oval (the oval was actually a square bit of dirt in our playground, but to us it was our oval). This was a fairly regular event.


The slope down to the train track was populated by wattle trees and blackberries which provided perfect camouflage. As we small kids threw our shoulders out trying to make the distance from the slope to the train, McInerney’s plums would sail effortlessly through the air and splatter on the train roof like a giant red bird pooh.


When he played footy he was like a combination of Pavlich, Gary Ablett (snr) and John Nicholls. Out of the ruck McInerney would tap it to the advantage of McInerney who would pick it up, take three bounces through centre-half-forward, and bomb a long goal from 20 yards out. Attempts at tackling him were brushed off with either a vicious “don’t argue” or an arm chop that deadened the tackler’s arm for the next twenty minutes. He was The Dominator long before Wayne Johnston played for Carlton.


His dominance was so overwhelming that we had no choice but to instigate the “McInerney Rule”, whereby no player (read McInerney) was allowed to either run the entire length of the field, or score a goal straight from a centre bounce, without another team mate touching it.


The result was that McInerney would kick it to himself out of fullback, or rove beautifully to his own ruck work in the middle, bounce it around the wings and flanks, get to centre-half-forward then realise his dilemma. In order not to breach the “McInerney Rule” he had to bring a team mate into the game. This usually meant a chip kick backwards (see there is nothing new in footy) towards the centre. But his team mates were often somewhat distracted by this stage and could be found either looking skywards and picking their noses, or on all fours scratching a drawing of their favourite super hero in the dirt. 


I almost felt sorry for him because the bursting run and bounce is one of the great features of footy.


What would Phil Manassa have done in the 1977 Grand Final if the VFL (as it was then) had a McInerney Rule? Manassa’s surging run from the back pocket to centre-half-forward, where he then lobbed a long goal, is one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever seen on a football field.


There have been many memorable dashes. Ray Gabelich was most famous for his run into goal in the 1964 Grand Final that seemingly guaranteed the Pies a victory against the Dees (though it wasn’t to be), and Mickey McGuane sent Collingwood supporters into a lather when he took 7 bounces out of the centre to score a goal against the Blues on Easter Monday 1994.


I can also recall Michael Turner burning up the wings at the MCG one sunny Saturday as the Cats took on the might of Richmond in 1980. Turner was an exhilarating sight; chemically blonded hair swishing from side to side, mad look on his face, bouncing the ball and running like the wind into the forward line looking for big Larry Donohue to take a grab in the goal square. I remember leaving the MCG that day, and even though the Cats lost, I felt like I had witnessed something special. 


Every team has had, or still has, its dashing players and each of these players had their own way of doing it, but they ultimately fall into a category:


The Gliders – these players purr like a well tuned V8 and change direction at full pace as if they have traction control installed in their boots (Robbie Flower, Keith Greig, Geoff Raines, David Wojcinski, Peter Matera, Andrew Lovett, Andrew McCleod, Chris Judd)


The Burners – These players look wild and disorganised and burn up the wings like an angry grass fire (Ricky Barham, Mickey Conlan, Michael Turner, Wayne Schimmelbusch, Robert Scratcher Neal, David King, Phil Manassa, Rhyce Shaw)


The Blue Arse Flies – These blokes are frenetic. They burst, then stop, then twist, then sprint till not even they know what comes next. But what excitement machines! – Alwyn Davies, Gary Ablett (jnr), Cyril Rioli, Kevin Hungry Bartlett, Barry Cable, Daniel Motlop, Brent Harvey). 


For all his talent McInerney didn’t go on to dominate footy in the higher grades. Perhaps the McInerney Rule broke his running spirit, or perhaps he just reached the peak of his powers at age nine and from then on the rest of the world gradually caught up. Either way the rule was a blight on our Primary School game. Let’s hope the AFL never invokes it.  



About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. johnharms says


    At Gowrie St Primary in Shepparton we had a kid called Bomber Thomas (from memory). Exactly the same. And tough. But his cricket prowess was ridiculous. I could hardly lift the bat in two handy. My repertoire included the forward lunge and the forward prod which saw the ball trickle away about a yard (I was diabloical in tipsy-run). Bomber could smash them over the shrubs, over the fence and on to Balaclava Rd. I just remember thinking I’ll never be able to do that, and time has proved me correct.


  2. Nice story Dips. Even these days at Auskick there are those who stand out in that way. As a kid I experienced both ends of the spectrum. I had a bit of skill in footy but was a bit “hesitant” when it came to getting the ball (read “chicken”). Consequently I was one of the last picked. But in cricket, I was one of the few in the lower grades of primary school who could bowl overarm and could swing the ball pretty viciously. So in summer I got the call-up first almost every time.

  3. Gigs – my highest score in cricket as 12 – and two 4s went through the slips. But I could turn a mean off break. However, spin bowling just wasn’t appreciated in the 70s.

  4. Time for a comeback Dips!

  5. johnharms says


    Spin bowling not appreciated in the 70s? It was by I V A Richards.


  6. IVA Richards – what a beauty.

    Who were the great spin bowlers of the 70s besides myself? Derek Underpants (as we used to call Underwood as kids – then giggle a lot), Ashley Mallet. Have I missed anyone?

  7. Bishen Bedi (India) was pretty good. Lance Gibbs for the Windies held the record for number of test wickets until Lillee knocked him off. Bruce Yardley – off-spin off a long run because he started out as a medium pacer. Jimmy Higgs the legendary leggie from Richmond. Only player to go on an entire Ashes tour without scoring a run.

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