I’ve never struck anyone who loved football more than Jimmy Hallahan.
Jim was about 35 years older than me, yet when we got talking footy he spoke with all of the joy and misty-eyed enthusiasm of a Auskicker.
He was slight, with a weathered face, an impish grin and a kindly manner and he could take you on a journey back into the nineteenth century with his 1001 football anecdotes.
And he was a shrewd sounding-board for players and coaches alike, as he had an innate knowledge of the tactics of the game.
Were he still alive he would be keenly anticipating the 2015 season and eagerly following the fortunes of his great-grandson, Mitch, who made solid progress with Hawthorn last year and, to the Hawks’ dismay, was lured to the Gold Coast Suns over the summer.
Mitch is a hard-at-it midfielder. From all reports that was Jimmy’s style when he began to make his way in the game all those years ago………..
His father was a top player, whose career lasted 28 years, most of them being spent with Rutherglen. Jim Snr was enticed to St.Kilda for a season but returned to Rutherglen after his parents sent an SOS : “Leave that nonsense alone. Come back and do some proper work.”
Jimmy’s first game with Rutherglen came in 1929 – five years after his dad hung up the boots. ‘Spot’, as he was nicknamed, had six years with the Redlegs and finished third in the first-ever Morris Medal, won by Fred Carey in 1933.
The Great Depression had really kicked in, so he headed down to Melbourne to find some work .His brother Tom, who was playing with Collingwood at this stage, had teed up a job for him as a builder’s labourer.
Jimmy thought about having a run with VFA club Brighton when he arrived in the ‘big smoke’, but Footscray secretary Clarrie Carlton said: “Why not try out with us. We’ll get you a job at H.V.McKay Harvester Works in Sunshine”.
He joined the Bulldogs and played alongside the likes of Arthur Oliver, Ambrose Palmer, Jim Toms and Norman Ware, all of them League stars. He started on a half forward flank and ended up in the centre.
He once explained how he came to part with Footscray. “I’d played 15 or 16 games straight in the centre and was doing okay. Then I came up against Collingwood’s Marcus Whelan – who was later to win a Brownlow Medal.”
“He gave me a father of a hiding and I was dropped the next week. A fortnight later I was off their list”.
Jim headed to Brighton for five years ( and about 80 games) before Fitzroy approached him and he resumed his League career.
He was part of a very successful team at the Brunswick Street Oval over a couple of seasons, but was to suffer his greatest football disappointment.
“We were playing Collingwood in one of the last home and away games of 1944, when I got a knock on the knee and it swelled up mysteriously. None of the doctors I saw could offer a cure and I had to watch on in the finals as Fitzroy won the flag”.
Jim returned to Brighton as captain-coach after the crook knee cleared up, then guided Footscray District League club, Braybrook,to a premiership.
Times were pretty tough after the war and, to make ends meet, like a lot of ex-League players, he applied for a country coaching job.
Riverina club Coolamon took him on, offering him a job on the railways and some part-time bar work, to supplement his footy money. His wife Grace and the kids stayed behind in Melbourne.
“They were terrific people,at Coolamon “, he recalled. “Very friendly and helpful. They loved their footy. We got to the Grand Final, but in the lead-up to it I broke my arm playing in a lightning premiership. That didn’t help our chances and we narrowly lost the Grand Final.”
Jim moved the family to a property at Greta West, where they made a living from the fruit and timber on its 330 acres. He cut wood, split posts, did some outside work, and coached Greta from 1950 to 1953.
A bushfire, which ravaged the farm and cost the family most of their possessions, was not enough to deter them. Jim, who thrived on hard work, thought theirs was an idyllic existence, even if there were reasonably slim pickings off the land.
He handed over the coaching reins at Greta to Ken Bodger in 1954, and decided that this would be his swansong season after a marathon 25 years as a senior player.
And what better way would there be than to go out as a member of a premiership team.
Greta sailed along steadily and looked the goods. Unfortunately, in the semi-final against Bogong, Jim’s career ended.
“Dad always told me that, if I was in the middle of a pack, I must keep my head down. I disobeyed his instructions this time and copped an accidental blow to the head. It was a nasty injury and this was a memento of my last game”, he once told me, as he pointed to the long scar on his forehead.
So Jimmy had to sit out another Grand Final, as Greta stormed home to win the riveting clash against Chiltern, in the dying minutesof a 43-minute last quarter.
By the time Jim sold the farm and he and Grace moved to Wangaratta, their four kids had begun to spread their wings.
Not surprisingly, they all inherited a deep love of footy.
Kevin played over 200 games with Goulburn Valley club, Lemnos; Brian was a 100-gamer with the Rovers and went on to coach Wilby and Cohuna; Maureen married another star Hawk, and later Tarrawingee coach, Bob Phillips.
Michael, the youngest, began with the Rovers, played a couple of seasons at Fitzroy and carved out a huge reputation as a Ballarat League champion.
If there was a match on in town, you would more than likely see Jimmy’s old white ute parked nearby, with him leaning over the fence, hanging on every kick.
In latter years, we would travel to the footy together and I’d find an excuse to get him reminiscing about players and matches of bygone years. It was fascinating stuff. The trip home would be devoted to a summary of how the Rovers had won or lost the game.
And he’d always stress that the basics of football hadn’t changed from his boyhood days, when he’d go along to watch his dad in action at Barkly Park, Rutherglen, in the early 1900’s.
The passionate old football-nut passed away in 1994. With him went a fountain of football knowledge.