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Blues’ big man Brian Buckley dies

Brian Buckley during his playing days at Princes Park. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
Brian Buckley during his playing days at Princes Park. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Brian Buckley, the 116-game Carlton ruckman from 1956-65, and father to the Blues’ former players Stephen and Mark, has died on the eve of his 79th birthday.

Buckley, whose father Jack also represented Fitzroy in five senior matches through 1929, formed part of a formidable following division which included John Nicholls, Ken Greenwood, Maurie Sankey, Sergio Silvagni and Graham Donaldson. The six men were famously photographed completing their run-throughs shoulder to shoulder at a Princes Park training session in 1960.

Forging his reputation in the No.4 worn by Stephen Kernahan and (now) Bryce Gibbs, Buckley made his mark as a strong-marking tap ruckman who was equally effective either as a fill-in full-back or as a close-checking back pocket on the opposition’s resting big man.

Recruited to Carlton from Coburg as a junior on the recommendation of George Armstrong, Buckley first plied his craft with Carlton’s Under 19 outfit in the days of Dick Pratt, and savoured Premiership success with the thirds in 1951.

Fifty-eight years ago this week, having completed what was a long football apprenticeship, Buckley finally got his first senior call-up. It happened in Round 16, 1956, against Collingwood at Victoria Park of all places, on the day after his 21st birthday.

Carlton won.

Buckley would be part of the fold for what would be a lean period in Carlton history. His only senior appearances came in the 1957 semi-final against Hawthorn (he was 19th man) and the ’62 finals series, with injury costing him his place in the Grand Final of that year.

As fate would have it, Ron Barassi, with whom Buckley had once schooled at Preston Tech, would be his Senior Coach in his final year at Carlton.

A training session at Princes Park, 1960 – from left to right: John Nicholls, Ken Greenwood, Maurie Sankey, Sergio Silvagni, Graham Donaldson and Brian Buckley. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

Buckley’s final senior appearance in a dark Navy Blue guernsey came against Essendon in Round 18, 1965 at Princes Park, in what was also Berkley Cox’s last hurrah. Fittingly, the team took out the match by nine points over an opposition which would ultimately land the ’65 pennant.

“Dad held his connection with the football club dearly. Like so many players to come through the system before or since, football gave him opportunity and taught him how to conduct himself,” Buckley’s son Stephen said this week.

Those valuable lessons learnt proved invaluable to Buckley at Port Melbourne (where he captained and coached the Borough to victory in the 1966 Grand Final) and later back at Princes Park where he assisted Bryan Quirk as coach of Carlton’s all-conquering Premiership teams of 1978 and ’79 – the latter of which his youngest son Mark was part.

“Dad was very good with the young kids, because in those days kids from in and around the area, from the Lygon Street flats and what have you, would gravitate to Carlton. He valued how those kids would feel in trying to play, he understood what they were about and he got the best out of them,” Buckley said.

“He was also actively involved with the Carlton past players. He was great friends with Ken Hands, his old coach and Chris Pavlou, who was coach of Carlton when I was playing Under 19s and he liked to walk around in his Carlton blazer because everyone knew him.”

Buckley was equally supportive of his two sons as they embarked on their Carlton senior careers – Stephen in six matches through 1980; Mark in 27 matches through four seasons from 1982.

Stephen Buckley with Bryce Gibbs in front of the No.4 locker. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

But he never imposed his will on the boys.

“Dad was as proud as punch (Mum even moreso) in seeing Mark and I out there, but he never came down on us saying ‘you’ve got to do this, this and this’. I’ll be honest with you, if neither of us played League footy he wouldn’t have given a toss,” Stephen said.

“In saying that, if he felt that we were doing something he thought was detrimental to our game, he’d tell us. For instance, I was more a ground level type of player but he knew I could take a mark, so he’d say to me ‘Why aren’t you going for your marks when the opportunity presents?’, because he came from an era where you did that.

“He also used to say to me that when you get the football, go the burst for ten metres to give yourself the space, and keep your hands up because if you do get tackled you can give it off.”

Stephen said that his father maintained a healthy interest in the Carlton team’s fortunes in his later years.

What did Carlton mean to him?

“In a nutshell, he knew that by playing for Carlton the people out there, those in this great football community, recognised him because they put him on a pedestal,” Buckley said.

“But he also put back into this football club - and he was playing at a time when players were getting bugger all.”

Brian Buckley died after a long illness. He is survived by his beloved wife of 56 years Beverley, children Stephen, Sharyn and Mark, their respective spouses and eight grandchildren.

The Carlton players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect when they take to the field for Saturday match with Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium, at which members of the Buckley family will attend.