Fred McGinis – Champion of the Colony

May 15, 2020 by
Filed under: NSW Demons 

Remember to Remember – Every Once in a While.

Nigel Dawe

The great American word-weaver, Walt Whitman once said: “So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand.” It’s a line that could well be mounted as an apt warning, albeit reminder above both the front and back-doors of every footy club: to make your moments count, because even when you do, they still drift into the expansive kitbag of society’s ever-short memory.

As such, between me and a good mate of mine, George – who barracks for the Saints, we play a game (which has surged into over-drive during this Covid period of stagnation) where we ask for someone in our club’s history when we call each other, and the obscurer the better.

For example, I got him a good one the other day, I asked to speak with “Sam Gravenall, if he was available please?” Sam of course being the 1909 captain of the Saints, which had George stumped and had me thinking that was it, until he asked – “Only if I can speak with Ernie Vollugi?”, a bloke who played four games for Melbourne in 1904! Which I still think is unfair and in breach of our game’s unwritten rules, at least I stick with former captains, leading goal kickers and club best and fairest winners!

Over the years, well pretty much since I was a kid, I’ve been collecting all sorts of Melbourne related stuff, from autographs to old magazines and news clippings, guernseys and works of art. One gem I got hold of a few years ago was an old near mint condition cigarette card of Fred McGinis, who was perhaps our club’s first VFL draw-card and absolute match-winner, the vital cog and Vice Captain of the 1900 premiership winning side.

McGinis also won himself the inaugural VFL season’s ‘Champion of the Colony’ in 1897 (the precursor to the Brownlow medal) which was determined by the leading sport journos and scribes of the day, as opposed to the on-field umpires, which is the case in deciding the modern day gong. But McGinis, who isn’t mentioned all that often anymore, if at all, wasn’t just a Cool Hand Luke of a mid-field gun, he was considered the outright best player in the first 50 years of the game.

Whilst researching something long forgotten many moons ago, I chanced upon an article in the Sporting Globe from 1935 that backs up and fully re-enforces the above claim with regards to McGinis’ standing in the sport. Under the headline ‘Fred McGinis – Most Brilliant Player of All’, the journo and ex-player George Cathie reflected on the “sheer scintillating brilliance” of the little roving dynamo, placing him head and shoulders above even the stellar likes of your Albert Thurgood and Dave McNamara.

On the topic of the Champion of the Colony award, which lasted right up until 1945; our ‘Father of Football’ – H.C.A Harrison won a record five of them between 1862 and 1869. Legend even has it that the fleet-footed Harrison was so fast and good that in 1866 a ‘bouncing rule’ (which still exists to this day) was created so as to curb his match-winning ways!

Following on from that, how’s the cap-doffing words of unbridled praise made by a journo who went by the moniker of ‘Markwell’, in response to Harrison calling it quits to his playing career in 1872, referring to him as: “The mightiest warrior of his day whose flashing eye as much as his fine physique overwhelmed his adversaries.” Not a bad way to hang up your boots and quietly exit stage left, you’d have to say.


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