FEW players make an impression over the first 50 like the 2019 Rising Star winner Sam Walsh – and as the history books attest, few are as durable.
When Walsh chests the banner for game No.50 at the SCG on Sunday, he becomes just the ninth Carlton player in the 124-year history of League competition to reach the milestone without interruption since his debut.
One has to blow the dust off the 1904 club annual report to discover that Arthur Silvanius (‘Arch’) Snell, the resident rover from up the road at Brunswick, was the first to complete the unbroken 50-game run since his maiden Carlton senior appearance. That happened in the 16th round match of the ’04 season - against Melbourne at Princes Park - and Arch booted the Blues’ only goal for the game.
In the years since, a further seven players have emulated Snell’s feat – amongst them ‘Turkey’ Tom Carroll in Round 10, 1963 – co-incidentally against Melbourne at Princes Park.
Carroll, forever remembered as Carlton’s first Coleman Medallist with 54 goals in his maiden season of 1961, was only too happy to pay tribute to Walsh on the eve of the player’s 50th senior appearance.
Speaking for the Carroll family from his home in suburban Albury, Carroll said of Walsh: “We’ve loved him right from the start”.
“The thing with Walsh is his fitness - he can run all day – and this year he’s brought a physicality to his game and kicking the odd goal. He’s a beauty.”
Whereas Walsh was 18 years and 262 days old when he completed his Carlton senior debut in the opening round of 2019 against Richmond, Carroll was 21 years and 183 days when he first ran out for the opening match of ’61 against St Kilda - which is why the latter has an even greater appreciation of the former.
As Carroll said: “I was 21 when I came down and I’d had five full seasons having started in the tough comp up here at 16 and playing in it for the first five years.”
Carroll also took the opportunity to share a tale where the lives of the Carroll and Walsh families actually overlapped.
“I can give you a little story. A few years ago our son Dean had an accident involving a cricket roller and ended up in St Vincent’s hospital in Melbourne - and with him in the same room was ‘Walshy’s’ grandfather (Peter ‘Plumber’ Walsh) who lost his arms and legs. Peter was a very courageous man and him and Dean became good friends,” Carroll said.
“During Dean’s time in hospital, Eddie Betts also visited him, which was a great thing.”
Carlton’s most recent unbroken first 50-gamer was Matthew Kreuzer, who in taking to the field for that milestone match in the 7th Round of 2010 was part of the Carlton team which ended a nine-year, 12-game losing streak to St Kilda.
Kreuzer, thesedays the Club’s resident ruck coach, couldn’t speak more highly of Walsh.
“On day one, when ‘Walshy’ got to the club and went out for that first training session, I remember thinking ‘Wow this kid is working so hard’. Straight away he just pushed himself,” Kreuzer said.
“He’s a complete professional. He understood the system straight away and what he had to do with his body.
“The thing with him is how hard he works. He’s got his body in really good condition, he throws himself at the contest and he wills himself. (Chris) Judd was like that.
“On top of that, ‘Walshy’s’ one of the nicest kids you’d ever meet. He’s so very polite.”
Club statistician Stephen Williamson advises that Walsh – at 21 years 212 days come Sunday - will be the 23rd youngest Carlton player to 50 games.
The youngest is the three-time Carlton Premiership player and Premiership coach Robert Walls, who was just 19 years and 98 days old when he took to the field for game No.50 in the 1969 Grand Final.
50-gamers not to have missed a game since their senior Carlton debut, 1897-2021
Archie Snell Round 2, 1902 v South Melbourne – Round 16, 1904 v Melbourne
Frank ‘Silver’ Caine Round 7, 1905 v St Kilda – Semi Final, 1907 v St Kilda
Ron ‘Socks’ Cooper Round 5, 1932 v Collingwood – Round 14, 1934 v Richmond
Vin English Round 1, 1950 v Melbourne – Round 14, 1952 )
‘Turkey’ Tom Carroll Round 1, 1961 v St Kilda – Round 10, 1963 v Melbourne
Bryan Quirk Round 3, 1965 v South Melbourne – Round 16, 1967 v St Kilda
Stephen Kernahan Round 1, 1986 v Hawthorn – Round 1, 1988 v Hawthorn
Matthew Kreuzer Round 3, 2008 v Essendon – Round 7, 2010 v St Kilda
Sam Walsh Round 1, 2019 v Richmond – Round 11, 2021 v Sydney*