"We Love Our Footy" - Garry Halbert

Garry Halbert had a very interesting story to tell when he recently visited the Hawks Museum to donate the ‘Confreres Best Player’ trophy he won playing with the Hawks Under 19 team in 1974.

Halbert’s story is one of persistence, striving to play football at its highest level. To break into Hawthorn’s powerhouse sides of the 1970s and 1980s was a difficult task for many a player. Halbert, a rover, faced a daunting proposition. Leigh Matthews was the dominant rover in the VFL, receiving strong on ball support from the likes of Michael Tuck, Geoff Ablett, Peter Russo, Terry Wallace and the emerging Richard Loveridge.

Halbert’s football journey began in 1969 when he played his first game in the Under 13s for North Kew. After three seasons, he joined Hawthorn Citizens in 1972, playing alongside Bernie Crimmins, the brother of Peter Crimmins, who later served as Club Doctor at Hawthorn for many years. They both tasted Premiership success for the first time when Hawthorn Citizens defeated Port Melbourne Colts in the 1972 Grand Final.

Port Colts had beaten Hawthorn Citizens each time they played during that season. An overconfident Port team had gathered together holding a large cake for a photo before the first bounce. The Hawthorn Citizens had observed Port’s photograph being taken with their Premiership cake and were inspired to play the game of their lives, with Halbert getting his fair share of the ball. Hawthorn Citizens delighted in recording an upset win much to the displeasure for Port Colts and their zealous fans.

In 1974, aged 16, Halbert was invited to play in Hawthorn’s Under 19s. He gained promotion to the Reserves for five games with his strong attack on the ball in his role as a rover, the year he won the Confreres trophy. He continued to develop in 1975, increasing his game count with the Reserves with a further 10 games. In 1976 he played every game with the Reserves. With the appointment of David Parkin as coach in 1977, Halbert received the disappointing news that he was cut from the list.

All was not lost; Ian Bremner who played in the 1971 Premiership was appointed coach of North Hobart and invited Halbert to join him in Tasmania. Halbert enjoyed a stellar year, gaining State selection with Tasmania playing against his home State, Victoria.

Come 1978, he returned to Hawthorn and played the whole season with the Reserves, including a night game with the seniors against Geelong on May 9, only to face the pain of being cut again from the senior list for 1979.

Undaunted, Halbert signed up with Coburg in the VFA and tasted Premiership success for a second time. In a very hard-hitting and spiteful game, Coburg defeated Geelong West by 8 points, Halbert starred, kicking 3 goals, enabling Coburg to win its first premiership since 1928, ending a 51 year drought. Coburg won the minor Premiership in 1980, finishing on top of the ladder three games clear, but was defeated in the Grand Final by Port Melbourne, losing by 11 points. Halbert however enjoyed personal success winning Coburg’s Best & Fairest Award and gaining State selection to represent the VFA against Tasmania and South Australia.

For a third time, the window of opportunity opened for Halbert at Hawthorn when Brian Coleman invited him back for the 1981 season. But, he was to meet disappointment again. Hawthorn was a troubled Club in 1981, leading to a player boycott of a pre-season training session and an important practice match. The newspapers publishing the headline: ‘Hawks on Strike’. Halbert felt that not being able to participate in that cancelled practice match limited his chances of gaining senior selection. He played out the season with the Reserves and by mid 1982 he found himself back at Coburg, playing there until the close of 1986 season.

In 1987 Halbert transferred to Box Hill, then stood out of football the following year after playing one game due to family commitments. Halbert returned to the footy field in 1989 playing three years with local club, Keilor in the Essendon Football League. In 1990 he not only won Keilor’s Best & Fairest Award, but also the award for the Best Player in the Essendon Football League.

In 1992, at the age of 35 and with the desire to continue playing football, Halbert took on the role of assistant coach with Heathmont, who played in the Eastern District League. This competition called Super Rules was for players who were aged 35 and over. It used the wonderful motto ‘Once the Oldest and the Slowest and now the Youngest and the Fastest’. Halbert joined forces again with his former teammate from his Hawthorn Citizen days, Bernie Crimmins. In 1995, Halbert sustained a serious knee injury that forced him to hang up his boots. Prior to retirement, he had continued to impress, winning two more Best & Fairest Awards.

Halbert and his family have continued following the fortunes of the Hawks and he is an active member of both the Past Players and Officials Association and the Friends of the Hawks Museum. Besides donating his Under 19 Confreres trophy, Halbert donated his white ‘away shorts’ with the belief that Don Scott had designed these shorts with the unique brown and gold strips.

Garry Halbert with his ‘Away Shorts’ that he believes were designed by Don Scott

Garry Halbert presents his Under 19s Confreres Best Player Award that he won in 1974 to the Hawks Museum

Author: Peter Haby, Hawks Museum

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