One Hit Wonders: Andrew Tranquilli
By Glenn McFarlane, of the Herald Sun
Andrew Tranquilli was sent to where all out-of-form forwards go – the back line – just a few weeks before his remarkable ‘moment in the sun’ at Collingwood.
It was late in the 1994 season, and the 22-year-old former Marcellin player was stuck in the reserves and seemingly anchored there without a guaranteed pathway back into the seniors.
Tranquilli had played only two AFL games to that stage. The first came in Round 19, 1993, for four disposals and no goals. Then he was recalled for the opening game of the 1994 season but his six disposals and inaccurate 1.3 saw left out of the side the following week.
He had plenty of talent, but he couldn’t break his way into the side again in the early part of the year, leaving him plying his trade in the reserves.
At one point Tranquilli, who had originally been recruited as a defender but who shaped more as a half forward, was actually moved back again in an effort to find some form. He would later say he had been sent to “the half-back line for the last month, trying to get my confidence back by running straight at the ball.”
The tactic worked and soon enough Tranquilli was pushing for selection in a Collingwood team that boasted many stars, but was fighting for its football life that season due to some injury issues.
No one, perhaps not even coach Leigh Matthews, expected what came next.
As the Magpies faced the ladder leaders West Coast for the Round 13 clash at the MCG, Matthews knew he had reshape the team with a few fresh faces. He made six changes, one of them being Tranquilli for his third AFL game, and the coach asked the team to take some risks in the search for a greater reward.
It wouldn’t be easy. The Eagles had won the previous six matches. The Magpies had already lost five games that season and had only kicked four goals in their previous game. The Herald Sun had all but dismissed Collingwood as “undermanned, out-of-form and down on strike power.”
Matthews admitted his hunch on the players coming in was “based on good old fashioned hope as much as football science.”
Tranquilli was one of those gambles, but his performance, and that of his club, would have far exceeded the expectations of a coach looking for a change in fortunes.
He had the perfect start to the game, kicking the first goal within two minutes. It was to be one of six incredible goals he would kick for the match, a stunning performance given how little AFL football he had played.
To most, the effort had come from nowhere. But Matthews said the Magpies knew Tranquilli had promise, even though he expressed surprise at the breakthrough display that came so soon.
Tranquilli’s potency contributed to a much improved Magpie display. They led by 13 points at the first break, then by a clean three goals at half-time. The gap was narrowed in the third term yet Collingwood was still able to take a 13-point lead into the last quarter.
Fittingly, Tranquilli played a role in the final term, kicking his sixth goal, as the home side went on to defeat West Coast by 37 points. It was an appropriate number given Tranquilli wore No.37 on his back as his 12 disposals and 6.2 on the scoreboard played a significant role in the victory.
He would say after the game: “I played the first game (of the season) and got dropped. My head dropped a bit, but it has come back now. We were just told to go at it, get respect back and really work for four quarters. And we did it.”
Tranquilli’s haul was rewarded on Brownlow Medal night, when he was allocated one vote just behind Gavin Crosisca (three votes) and Damian Monkhorst (two).
The performance entrenched him in the Collingwood senior for the remainder of the season. More goals followed, but nothing like the flood he had against the Eagles in his third game. He kicked three goals in each of the Round 15 and 16 games against Sydney and Fitzroy.
He retained his position in a final against West Coast later in the season – and kicked a goal – in what was a dramatic finish. With 10 seconds left, and with the Magpies trailing by two points, Gary Pert drove the ball long into the Collingwood forward line. Mick McGuane spilled a mark just before the final siren sounded. The Magpies’ season was over.
Injuries would dog Tranquilli in the years following his six-goal magic moment.
He broke his leg in an intraclub match in 1995, and then played only one senior match – his 12th and final one – against Carlton in Round 16. He had two disposals and did not kick a goal.
Then a series of hamstring injuries conspired against him. A training mishap in 1996 was summed up by new coach Tony Shaw: “he was one of our better players in the seconds last week, but now he has nicked another one (hamstring).”
He was delisted at the end of the 1996 season, aged only 24, which was “a kick in the guts” for a player whose career had shone so brightly for a briefest of moments.
Tranquilli spent the following preseason trying out for Essendon and also played an intraclub game with Sydney at Gosford, and another with Hawthorn. But he was overlooked in the draft and ended up at Box Hill.
He kept playing, and kept kicking goals. In 2000, he kicked eight goals in a Central Highlands Grand Final victory with Springbank, and followed it up with seven goals in another flag-win a year later. It was a far cry from the MCG, but he loved the “little things” experienced in playing at that level. Back then, the best afield player would often walk away with five-kilogram bag of potatoes as his reward.
He would eventually return to Marcellin as a player before taking on a number of coaching roles at different clubs over the years, including a stint assisting with the Vic Metro academy squads.
For all the good work he has done for the game – at all levels – Tranquilli will always be remembered for that brief strut upon the AFL stage when he set the MCG alight on a cool June mid-afternoon in 1994.