10 CFC Games Played
1 CFC Goals
Dave Little was the complete opposite of his surname: a big man who made a big splash when he entered League football. And even though his Collingwood career would only end up totalling 10 games across three seasons, it’s hard to overlook the fanfare that greeted his arrival.
Partly that was down to the club’s highly publicised “talent hunt” early in 1953. Having lost to Geelong in the 1952 Grand Final, the Pies decided to trawl regional Victoria in the hope of finding the missing pieces needed to secure a flag. So early in 1953, Magpie scouts cast the net far and wide, looking for key position players in particular. By the end of April they had identified around 15 players who they wanted to see at training, including the star full-forward Dick O’Bree, from Lake Boga (who, in an odd twist, would later be cared for by Dave’s sister Phyllis, a nurse, when Dick broke his leg against Richmond in 1956).
Also in that list was a tall, lanky, mature-aged ruckman from Korumburra called, paradoxically, Dave Little. He had been born at Pallarang in the Mallee in 1931, and by the time the Magpies came calling was living at Bena, just outside Korumburra. He’d been starring locally and making quite a name for himself as a ruckman and key forward. Even before he’d trained The Argus noted that he was regarded as “something special”.
Further attention came his way after his early training sessions at Victoria Park. The Sporting Globe reported: “Collingwood are desperately in need of followers, but they may have unearthed a good one. He is Dave Little, a 6ft. 2in. 13 stone lad from Bena, three miles from Korumburra. Everything Little does is impressive. His hitting out and palming in practice was up to the standard of a seasoned League follower.”
The Age noted that he showed “intelligent positional play and sound judgement”, while The Sporting Globe also remarked on the quality of his palming to rovers.
The headlines got even more frequent a couple of weeks later when Korumburra refused to grant him a clearance. Suddenly, Dave found himself in the middle of a classic footy tug-of-war. The Pies had earmarked him for a Round 1 debut, but the ‘Burra weren’t relenting. It got down to selection day and in desperation the Magpies sought a one-match permit to at least allow him the chance to show his wares. Korumburra relented at the last.
So now everyone knew Dave’s name. Which meant there were more eyes cast upon him than would normally be the case for a country recruit making his debut. And Dave did nothing to dispel the buzz that had been building by putting in a wonderful first-up showing, named in a forward pocket as second ruckman to Mick Twomey. The Herald reported afterwards that Collinwood’s rovers – no less than Lou Richards and Bob Rose – had been enthusiastic about Little’s ruckwork, saying that “he palmed the ball cleverly and helped to give them an ‘armchair ride’.” The Age also noted his fine ruckwork, though said he had struggled more when in a position.
Magpie officials were immediately back on Korumburra’s doorstep following the game, and this time were successful in persuading the local club to grant Little a full permit.
It looked for all the world like Collingwood had secured themselves a gun rucking prospect. He was not only tall but had a spectacular leap, and was particularly adept at palming the ball to his rovers. He was a smart ruckman who was clever with his tapwork and around the ground play, though he lacked some physical strength and his kicking was said to be “not the best”. But as a tap ruckman he had all the tools, and looked set to be giving his rovers silver service treatment for years to come.
But it didn’t quite turn out that way. He was less impressive in Round 2 against North Melbourne and was dropped thereafter, spending most of the rest of the year in the reserves, with one more senior appearance late in the season. Over the next two years he added just seven more senior games, to go with 30-odd in the reserves, but never nailed down a senior spot. He starred in the first half against Geelong late in 1954 before tiring, prompting one newspaper to urge the Magpies to give him a more regular taste of senior footy.
“Ruckman Dave Little demonstrated to Collingwood against Geelong that he must be played regularly if he is to become a League player,” wrote The Herald. “It was his first full game for the season, and in the first half he rarely missed a knock-out. Repeatedly, he gave Collingwood rovers the breaks from the packs. Little’s problem — and Collingwood’s too — is that he is a poor mark. It is a problem where to spell him. The only way this can be solved is to continue playing him and hope that experience provides the answer. Certainly it is difficult to discard a player who can palm out the ball with Little’s consistent effectiveness.”
Unfortunately Collingwood didn’t find it that difficult to discard him, and he was released to VFA club Preston midway through 1955. He played 50 games in three seasons at Preston, then moved briefly to Sydney (he ran a convenience store in Glebe) and represented NSW. He then returned to Bena and won the competition best and fairest in the Bass Valley-Wonthaggi Football League in three out of four years.
Dave Little was obviously a fine footballer, but his game just lacked a couple of key elements needed to make it as a big man at the highest level. Even so, he made a big impression in a short time, and enjoyed successful careers elsewhere. It’s also worth noting that, of all the players Collingwood recruited during that talent drive of early 1953, he was the only one to make it into double figures for games!
– Michael Roberts