Oh What Could Have Been – The Day ‘Handsome Jack’ Kicked a Bag in the ‘Big V’

Being born in 1993 means that I am part of the unlucky generation that, while being brought up with a great national league of football have not been given a chance to watch the fierce State of Origin battles that the generation prior were brought up with. Gone are the days that the stars of the game, from all reaches of the country would proudly suit up in their state colours. The closest we’ve come to the glory of yesteryear in this century was the 2008 showcase match between Victoria and the All Stars, a far cry from the days where the men in the ‘Big V’ jumper were booed and jeered to the point of no return in front of a hostile crowd at Adelaide’s Football Park. The thing that enthrals me about Origin as someone wanting to know so much more about it is the way in which it is etched in history. For us Tasmanians, young and old one of the most famous football stories is the time we beat Victoria at North Hobart Oval in 1990. After many years, the famous ‘map’ logo would be flown with sheer pride after the magic that had taken place. As I understand, Origin was emotion, the human embodiment of which can be seen by Ted Whitten. From him telling his Victorian players that they ‘stuck it right up ’em!’, to his famous lap of honour while suffering from a grave illness in front of fans that had meant so much to him is some of the most powerful imagery in the entirety of this country’s sporting history. It could make careers, define players and confirm some as legends of the game. After all, the career of Royce Hart sky rocketed following his seven goal haul in 1967 for Victoria against Western Australia after just four senior games. While he was a Tasmanian playing for Richmond, Hart was eligible to play for Victoria as a player in the VFL. Origin, simply put, was sheer talent on display and gave fans a glimpse into the talent of men, some of which never met their full potential for whatever reason. Jack O’Rourke falls under this last category.O'Rourke

To paint a picture of the man, O’Rourke arrived at Richmond in 1949 from South Warrnambool after previously being at Tigerland without playing a senior game. In his second stint at the club, he would play 44 games and kick 134 goals as a high-flying forward. Some have suggested that these tallies would have been higher if he had not been plagued by injuries[1]. When Jack Dyer was sacked as coach in 1952, he would only play a handful of games under new coach Alby Pannam, before returning to South Warrnambool. He would lead this club to premiership glory in 1954 after topping the Hampden League’s goal kicking with 76 that year[2]. He finished his career at South on 99 senior games. What makes such a talented player of the game so fascinating is that he quit the VFL at age 25 to work in his Aunt’s pub in Warrnambool[3].  Yet his return to play in the country was not without him leaving a tremendous impact on the game at its highest levels in Victoria.

This is mainly defined by the image above, of O’Rourke flying high in the goal square over his Collingwood opponent Jack Hamilton at Punt Road in 1951. However, one particular act that also occurred in 1951 on a non-VFL ground has been left out of the story of Jack O’Rourke. This is his incredible feat when playing for Victoria in May 1951. The game was not played against another State. Instead, the ‘Big V’ were taking on the Riverina League team at Narrandera. This game was played between the two teams in front of a strong crowd of over 5000 who were treated to a spectacle to marvel at. The man sometimes referred to as ‘Handsome Jack’[4] put on a show according to the Argus, kicking 13 of his team’s 20 goals in a 98 point win (20.18 138 to 6.4. 40). It was reported that ‘Both teams handled the gusty conditions well but after the first quarter VFL teamwork and handball gave them an unbreakable grip on the game’[5]. Gusty conditions were indeed evident, the Daily Advertiser had even stated that a hail storm had hit the ground that day[6]. Despite this, the various accounts from the game, there were glowing comments on the way Jack had conducted himself. He was able to play a consistent game on the back of great ball delivery from rover Lou Richards and centreman Ern Henfrey. Remarkably, he was not named best afield by the Argus. That accolade was given to Henfrey, who had displayed a great marking ability which kept the Victorian side constantly in attack. With the game occurring on a Sunday, the players were treated to a barbeque on behalf of the Riverina football council, before taking a tour of the local surrounds on the Monday morning and flying back to Melbourne that afternoon.JO 2

The scores of this game have been largely contested however. For the Murrumbidgee Irrigator, the final scores were the same, but their record stated that the Victorians had kicked 19 goals and 24 behinds, the total score of their opponents being the same[7].  Furthermore, several newspapers have reported differing tallies of goals kicked by O’Rourke. The Narrandera Argus and Riverina Advertiser for example, have suggested that he was a shining light at full forward by kicking 12 goals[8], while the Daily Advertiser claimed that his tally was as low as 10 in a 92 point win and was a performance of top form goal kicking[9]. Regardless of the number of goals kicked, there are some definite conclusions that can be made from this game. The first is that despite the ambiguities regarding the newspaper articles covering the game, Jack O’Rourke kicked a bag that day and a big one at that. The second is that the full forward was a star that never really reached his full potential. He was a man that had won Richmond’s goal kicking twice (1951/52) and had dominated a game for his State team. To quit at the age of 25 to float away into the football wilderness leaves us to marvel at the great achievements of a young man over a relatively short period of time, but also with a sense of sadness. O’Rourke had a chance to write himself into the Richmond record books. A continued average of just over three goals per game and reputation for big marks could have established him as one of the Tigers’ major post war stars, alongside Bill Morris, Roy Wright and Des Rowe. At present, the question now lingers. Oh what could have been?.


[1] The Standard, ‘South Honours Legend’, 16 April 2008.

[2] The Age, ‘Ex-VFL Stars Play in Hampden League Semi’, 28 August 1954.

[3] The Age, ‘Jack O’Rourke Seeks Move’, 2 February 1954.

[4] The Argus, ‘War of Attrition’, 21 May 1951.

[5] The Argus, ‘O’Rourke Kicks 13 Out Of 20’, 28 May 1951.

[6] Daily Advertiser, ‘Victoria Has 92 Point Win Over Riverina’, 28 May, 1951.

[7] The Murrumbidgee Irrigator, ‘Brilliant Victorian Team Outplays Riverina Side’, 28 May 1951.

[8] Narrandera Argus and Riverina Advertiser, ‘Classy Exhibition of Football by VFL Team’, 28 May, 1951.

[9] Daily Advertiser, ‘Victoria Has 92 Point Win Over Riverina’, 28 May, 1951.

About Liahm O'Brien

Tasmanian Tiger - Born into the Northey era, blinded by the Wallace era, healed by the Hardwick era - Twitter: @LiahmO_Writing


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks Liahm, didn’t know about the Handsome Jack story until now.

  2. John o'rourke says

    Thanks Liaham yeah I knew he kicked a few that day, however, it never really cracked a mention. Dad was a vet modest man never really talked about his feats in such a short career.
    I was always amazed when getting into cabs in Melbourne during the 80’s and early 90’s, you know the old time cab drivers, they would ask who u barrack for… I would say I am a Tiger, why they asked, (Richmond on the bottom) I said because my Dad played a few games for the mighty Tigers back in 50’s they asked his name. When I mentioned Dad’s name I was surprised how they all remembered him high flying full forward……he certainly made his mark n short time?

    The other thing that makes me so proud of my father is the respect Richmond paid to Dad, you know Graeme Richmond would always arrange GF tickets for us we saw all the premierships and celebrated with the team in five flage. I was only 8 in 67 thought how long ha this been going on,,,,,

    Sadly it has not lasted and Dad has passed away but I know he will be watching when the roar goes up again at Punt Road. ‘Eat em Alive’


    John O’Rourke

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