Explore the History of australian football

Wyn Outen (St Kilda)

Collingwood stalwart Jack Monohan

St Kilda champion Harry "Vic" Cumberlsnd

The match between St Kilda and Collingwood in round 7 1904 was the 19th meeting between the two clubs since the inception of the VFL. The Magpies had triumphed in all 18 of these matches to date, amassing 1,321 points in the process to the Saints’ 351, for an immense average winning margin for the era of just under 54 points. Only once, in round 5 1902 at the Junction Oval, had St Kilda given the Magpies what might be described as a serious challenge, getting within 7 points at the final bell.

In both 1902 and 1903 Collingwood had won the premiership. Meanwhile St Kilda, which overall had been far and away the worst performed team in the VFL’s history, had finished last without a win in the former year, before finally achieving a semblance of respectability in 1903, with 7 wins and a draw from 17 matches, good enough for a best ever finish of 5th. (The Saints had actually finished last in each of their first six league seasons, winning just 2 games in total.) Collingwood had continued to have the Saints’ measure, however, and as the sides prepared for their clash on Saturday 11th June 1904 few people expected anything other than a nineteenth consecutive Magpie win, particularly given that the Saints were in their accustomed position of last, having won just 1 of their 6 matches up to that point. Collingwood meanwhile went into the clash with a 4-2 record, just 1 win adrift of ladder leaders Fitzroy.

St Kilda’s improvement in 1903 had been driven by the likes of Harry Cumberland, who was without doubt one of the finest footballers of the early VFL era, Charlie Baker, Wyan Outen, Vic Barwick, Howard Smith and Val Robertson.[1]

Playing at a time when football, paradoxically, had a much more universalist flavour than has latterly become the case, the gradual emergence of a nominally “national” competition notwithstanding, Harry Vivian Cumberland epitomised the spirit of his era by eking out an auspicious three decade football career in three Australian states plus New Zealand.  When he finally retired from top level football in 1920 he was, at forty-three years of age, the oldest player ever to have appeared in the VFL.  He was also one of the best.

That said, his greatest achievements came not in Victoria but in South Australia where, during a three season, 39 game career with Sturt as one of “Dempsey's immigrants”, he won the 1911 Magarey Medal and was a member that same year of his adopted state's victorious carnival team.

Born in Toorak, Victoria, Cumberland's early senior football was played across the Bass Strait in Tasmania where he soon caught the eye with his skill, endurance and tremendous marking ability.  Between 1898 and 1901 he played 50 games for Melbourne before going on to the first of four separate stints with St Kilda, where all told he participated in a total of 126 premiership matches, including the losing 1913 challenge final against Fitzroy. On two occasions, in 1904 and 1913, he was adjudged the “Outstanding Footballer of the Year” by Melbourne's leading football writers. Interspersed between his stints at St Kilda were the periods in New Zealand and South Australia previously alluded to plus time spent abroad on service duty during world war one.

Just seven years after retiring as a player Cumberland died tragically in a motor cycle accident.

Charles Baker joined St Kilda from St Pat's Ballarat and promptly hit the headlines by kicking 4 goals in his debut match against Melbourne in the opening round of the 1902 season, equalling the then club record. He went on to give the Saints good service in 75 VFL games over five seasons, during which he kicked 120 goals. He also played interstate football for the VFL.  Baker was top goalkicker for his club in 1902-3-4-5.  He was a versatile sportsman who also played grade cricket for St Kilda.

Win Outen began and ended his senior football career with Williamstown.  A purposeful, determined footballer, he excelled as a centreman, and frequently caught the eye when he played a total of 54 games with St Kilda in the VFL from 1903 to 1905 and in 1907.  He was highly regarded, and represented the VFL on three occasions.  His younger brother Matt also spent some time with the Saints.

Originally from Queenstown in Tasmania, where he played for local club Linton, Victor Barwick was wooed to the mainland by St Kilda in 1903.  Supremely skilled and built like a miniature tank, he was extremely highly regarded in his day, with team mate Dave McNamara describing him “a true champion”.  

Barwick played for most of his career as a rover, and captained the Saints in 1905 and 1909.  He represented the VFL in 1904, and would surely have done so on many more occasions had there been more interstate games played at the time.  

After seven years with St Kilda, Barwick left to join VFA side Brighton, but the 1913 season saw him back with the Saints as the club mounted its most serious and sustained challenge yet on the premiership.  Unfortunately, it appears that Barwick was past his best as a player, and he failed to make the Saints team for the finals, which culminated in a narrow challenge final loss to Fitzroy.

A footballer of considerable class and poise, Howard Smith was arguably among the greatest players to appear for St Kilda during that club's early years in the VFL.  Between 1898 and 1904 (an era when the club only once finished off the bottom) he played a total of 95 senior games and booted 6 goals.  Most of his games were played on the wing, in which position he also represented the VFL in an 8.10 (58) to 3.6 (24) win over South Australia in Melbourne in 1899.  Smith combined the exceptional pace expected of a VFL wingman with exemplary disposal skills, and was one of the few Saints players of the time who could regularly be expected to win his position.

Valentine Robertson joined St Kilda in 1900 and went on to play 59 games for the club. Originally from South Yarra, he had commenced his VFL career in 1898 with South Melbourne, for whom he made 7 appearances in two years. An extremely pacy player renowned for his long weaving runs he not surprisingly played most of his football on a wing.

St Kilda might have been blessed with a smattering of talent but Collingwood was replete with it. Players like Dick Condon, Charlie Pannam, Lardie Tulloch, Jack Monahan, Eddie Drohan, and John “Jack” Incoll were just a few of the profusion of household names in the Magpie line-up.

Condon’s, Pannam’s and Tulloch’s careers have already been described. As for the others, Jack Monohan was a brilliant follower or defender who was renowned for his superb aerial ability.  One of the few players capable of matching it with Albert “The Great” Thurgood, Monohan was controversially omitted from Collingwood's 1901 grand final line-up against Essendon, whereupon Thurgood gleefully cut loose with a near best afield performance as the Same Old ran away with a comfortable win.  The Magpies never thereafter made the mistake of dropping Monohan, and he repaid them with consistently brilliant performances for the remainder of his 234 game career, which had begun when Collingwood was still in the VFA, and finished at the end of the 1907 season.

If Monohan had a weakness it was that his kicking tended to be erratic, but even this improved towards the end of his career making him virtually the consummate footballer.

A wingman who exuded class and poise, and boasted impeccable judgement, Edward Drohan was a driving force behind Fitzroy's 1899 premiership win.  After 77 games for the 'Roys between 1898 and 1902 he crossed to Collingwood, and had the immediate satisfaction of playing in a grand final winning side against his former comrades.  After initially struggling to come to terms with the change of surroundings he developed into a fine player for the 'Woods, for whom he played a further 96 VFL games over six seasons.

After retiring as a player, Drohan became a field umpire for a couple of seasons before coaching St Kilda to 9th place on the ladder in 1911.  

After an aborted, 4 game stint at South Melbourne in 1899, John Incoll resurfaced at Collingwood three years later and went on to provide handy service in 61 VFL games over five seasons.  Mainly used either on the forward line or in the ruck, he could also do a job in a key defensive role when required.  A half forward in the Magpies' 1902 premiership team, Incoll replaced Fred Hailwood, who had gone to Western Australia, as the team's main ruckman the following year, and it was in that position that he made a significant contribution to the club's second consecutive flag.

After leaving Collingwood, John Incoll moved to New South Wales, and in 1911 he represented his adopted state at the Adelaide carnival.

Another regular member of Collingwood’s 1904 side was Jock McHale who would go on to become one of the club’s, and the games, greatest ever coaches. Detailed information about his career will be provided in due course.

The afternoon of Saturday 11th June was dry but very windy, and St Kilda drew first blood by winning the toss and opting to kick with the aid of the breeze. For almost the entire first quarter the ball remained in St Kilda’s forward lines, but Collingwood defended stoutly. Given the extent of their dominance the Saints should really have established a match-winning lead by the first change, but when the bell sounded the margin separating the teams was just 18 points. St Kilda, courtesy of Baker (twice) and Outen registered the only goals of the opening term which ended with the home side on 3.3 (21) to the visitors’ 0.3 (3).

As soon as play resumed, the Magpies surged into attack, and Lockwood soon had their first major on the board. In the past, this would have been the point at which the Saints capitulated, but to the surprise of most observers they fought back strongly, and the next goal of the match, off the boot of Baker, was theirs. The remainder of the term was evenly contested, and by the long break the Magpies had reduced their deficit only marginally, with the scoreboard showing St Kilda 15 points to the good, 5.3 (33) to 2.6 (18).

In the third quarter, just as in the first, the Saints totally dominated proceedings, but their superiority was not reflected on the scoreboard. The Magpies had one of the meanest defences in the competition, and despite being stretched to the limit managed to restrict their opponents to just a single goal. At three quarter time St Kilda led by 21 points, 6.4 (40) to 2.7 (19), and the consensus within the ground was that it was still anybody’s game.

Early in the final term St Kilda went on the defensive, crowding the play and repeatedly forcing the ball out of bounds. This proved to be a mistake, as the Magpies were too skilful to be much impeded by the former ploy, and received a flurry of free kicks from umpire Crapp who took a dim view of the latter. Before it was too late, however, the home side readjusted their tactics, with players sticking to their positions, and teaming together quite cleverly. The Magpies outscored the Saints in this quarter, but only just, and long before the final bell it was obvious that a major upset was in the offing.

The key to St Kilda’s triumph was its consummate ruck dominance, with follower Cumberland and rover Barwick particularly impressive. Baker’s 4 goals were also crucial, and it was noticeable how many of Collingwood’s big names received drubbings from their much less illustrious opponents. A classic example was Robertson’s trouncing of Pannam on a wing, causing “The Argus” match reporter to remark “I have rarely seen the Collingwood wing-man so completely over-matched”.[2]

Best for the Magpies, and close to best afield, was Monohan, who repeatedly soared high to take exceptional marks as well as short-circuiting numerous St Kilda attacks.

The Saints’ success did not exactly inspire them to any measurable improvement, and they managed just 1 more win for the year to finish in their customary position at the foot of the ladder. Admittedly, that single additional win was highly meritorious as it was achieved, by a resounding 47 point margin, at the expense of eventual 1904 premiers Fitzroy.

By the standards of recent seasons the Magpies performed modestly in 1904. Although they managed to qualify for the finals they only did so on percentage, and they were promptly ousted from contention by Fitzroy. They would not again taste defeat at the hands of St Kilda until 1907, however, which also proved to be the first time that the Saints (a) qualified for the VFL finals, and (b) finished above the Magpies on the premiership ladder.


FOOTNOTES

[1] Sometimes wrongly referred to as “Robinson” in contemporary press reports.

[2] “The Argus”, 13/6/04, page 7.

Magpie Hoodoo Ends - VFL round 7, Saturday 11th June 1904: St Kilda versus Collingwood at the Junction Oval