Bill Dempsey induction overdue but what about other WA figures?
Bill Dempsey’s induction into the Australian football Hall of Fame (note to media outlets, clubs and football organisations: it is not and never has been the AFL hall of fame) is not only long overdue but indicative of the multi- level requirements needed for most WA candidates.
Dempsey is a West Perth champion, a brilliant ruckman who won three flags amid the 343 league matches that puts him second behind his great mate and team-mate Mel Whinnen on the WAFL games leaderboard.
But Dempsey was also a star in the Northern Territory where he played nearly 200 games for Buffaloes and has been an official NT legend for more than a decade. His playing case for inclusion is overwhelming while his heritage as an Aboriginal man provides a timely reminder of the indigenous contribution to Australia’s indigenous game.
Yet like a significant group of WA’s inductees to the Hall of Fame, it has taken more than Dempsey’s vast impact in the WAFL to get him over the line. Rob Wiley was inducted last year but he had to make contributions at multiple clubs in two States to underwrite his candidacy. So too Ken Hunter and Brad Hardie in 2019, Maurice Rioli in 2016, and Peter Bell, Ern Henfry and Brian Peake in each of the three years before that.
While AFL players of the television era are mostly automatic annual inductees to the body that is supposed to recognise the greatest figures of a sport that has been entrenched in this country from the late 19th century, the reality is that it is nearly impossible to honour the stars who played purely in this State.
The Hall of Fame has 306 members, including Dempsey who will be formally inducted in June, but only 10 of them are players who completed their entire careers in the west.
And there are another two dozen WA figures who have compelling cases for inclusion but are unlikely to be able to squeeze their way past footballers who have become household names in recent years.
They include Ted Tyson, the West Perth spearhead who is WA’s only 1000-goal kicker not recognised in the Hall of Fame, and his contemporaries George “Staunch” Owens and Tom Outridge, as well as a host of stars from the 1930s onwards.
Outridge won the inaugural Sandover Medal and was a regular State player in the days when that was the highest accolade possible, while Owens starred in seven flags at East Perth and was recognised in a Statewide newspaper poll in 1946 as the greatest WA player in the game’s first 60 seasons.
Then there is the high-flying John Gerovich, a player considered significant enough to inspire a life-sized statue outside Fremantle Oval but not sufficient enough to be elevated to Hall of Fame status.
What about Jerry Dolan, a 10-time premiership winner and a coach who managed to reach finals in each of his 17 seasons in charge of East Fremantle and East Perth? Clive Lewington won three flags as a player and another three as coach; Ross Hutchinson was a war hero who became the first coach to steer three clubs to premierships. Keith Harper, Derek Chadwick, Keith Slater, Mal Atwell and Ken Bagley were massive players in the 1960s, Ken McAullay and Mal Brown stars of the 70s, and Steve Malaxos and Gary Buckenara prominent performers of the 80s.
Not one of them would be out of place in the Hall of Fame; everyone of them is going to find it difficult to be inducted.
Good luck to Dempsey for his belated induction nearly half a century after he last graced Leederville Oval as a player.
He had a compelling case for recognition but so too do dozens of other WA identities.