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11 CFC Games Played
0 CFC Goals
John Hegarty holds an unwanted place in Collingwood history – as the first player to have died while still an active Collingwood footballer.
Hegarty’s untimely demise happened soon after the club’s first-ever season, in 1892. He had played 11 games that year and impressed not just observers but also his teammates and club officials, to the point where he had actually been made captain for one game in June when Joe Delahunty was injured. True to form, he played what one newspaper described as a ‘stunning’ game in defence.
It perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise that Hegarty made such an impact in his debut season, for there had been quite a buzz about him before he even made it to Victoria Park. He was a highly regarded junior who was regularly in the best players for his local club South Brunswick, where he played as either a key back or key forward, and was keenly sought by a number of VFA clubs. In a bizarre twist he was actually named by four different clubs (Carlton, Nth Melbourne, Port Melbourne and Melbourne) on the same day early in 1890 but turned out for none of them! In the end decided to have another year with South Brunswick.
“The much sought after Hegarty, of Brunswick, was expected to appear in the North Melbourne team, but he failed to keep his engagement, and it is now stated that he has adopted the course predicted a fortnight ago, and thrown over the quartet of seniors who were longing to secure him,” said the Australasian after his ‘about face’. He played on Saturday, I am informed, with his old club, the South Brunswick Juniors.”
His teammates at South Brunswick included future Magpies Thomas O’Loughlin and J Purcell. All three played at South Brunswick in 1890, then with Brunswick in 1891 after the two clubs amalgamated. All three crossed to Collingwood in 1892, and all were part of the club’s historic first game against Carlton at Victoria Park.
Hegarty played at full-back in that first game, after which The Sportsman commented on one particular passage of play: “Bravo Hegarty! A capital mark right in goal, and Collingwood breathes freely again.” He continued to hold down spots in defence for much of that year, turning in a string of high-class performances. “Hegarty, in goal for the Magpies, did Yeoman service by his long marks at the proper time,” said one newspaper after a game that year.
By the end of the season he had totalled 11 games and done more than enough to justify the fuss about him before his arrival. But at Collingwood’s annual meeting in March of 1893, the club announced that John Hegarty had died the previous month. “We regret to state the loss through death of Mr Hegarty, who was esteemed by his comrades and admired for his fine work as a player,” the club’s annual report said. “The club’s condolences are with his sorrowing parents.”
John Hegarty died on 9 February 1893, aged 24, at his parents’ home in Brunswick. While it is not known what brought on his illness, the eventual causes of death were listed as pneumonia and hyperpyrexia (abnormally high fever). He’d had pneumonia for nine days and hyperpyrexia for 10 hours. And so he became the first Collingwood player to die. Had it not been for his tragically early death, he would likely have made a much greater name for himself in football circles, and been remembered today for much brighter reasons.
– Michael Roberts
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* Player statistics include VFA (Victorian Football Association) results.