Harry Sullivan, Carlton’s 31-game senior forward (and later full-back in Collingwood’s historic 1958 grand final victory), has died at the age of 84.
Just 17 years of age and a student of Brighton Technical School when he first came to Princes Park in 1949, Sullivan experienced individual and team success in his maiden season with the under-19s as a club best and fairest and premiership player for the ’49ers.
Progressing through reserve grade ranks, Sullivan got the call-up for his first senior game in the Round 18 match of 1950, against South Melbourne at Princes Park. Following Carlton captain Ern Henfry down the race, Sullivan booted one goal in a match in which the home team emerged 12-point victors, and the great Ken Baxter slotted five in his final senior appearance.
Sullivan, who first wore Jack Silvagni’s recently-vacated No.2 and later the No.3 of the current captain Marc Murphy, was seen as a future centre half-forward and heir apparent to Baxter – the only member of all three of the Blues’ 1938, ’45 and ’47 teams and a leading club goalkicker on six occasions.
Regrettably, Sullivan was quite literally unable to get the score on the board, with his first 15 matches up front yielding just 12 goals in total.
In 1953, Sullivan was briefly trialled in Carlton’s defence with largely unspectacular results. He finished off the season with grand final victory at reserve grade level, but after his 31st and final senior appearance – against Melbourne at the MCG in the unlucky 13th round of ’54 – he successfully requested a clearance to Collingwood.
In early 1956, Sullivan was given the opportunity to ply his craft at full-back and it was there that he made the most of Dame Fortune’s intervention. His 78-game tenure with the black and whites took in the Grand Final loss to Melbourne in ’56 and the sweetest of victories against the arch foe, then striving for their fourth flag in as many years, in ’58.
Carlton’s under-19 premiership team of 1949. Harry Sullivan is the fourth player from the left in the back row. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
That year, Sullivan also represented the Big V.
The 30-game former Carlton centreman Ron Robertson, one of Sullivan’s few surviving teammates at Princes Park, remembered his contemporary from schoolboy football days.
“I go back a bit further with Harry to the days when I was at the Bendigo junior technical school and we’d sometimes play city teams,” Robertson said.
“I can remember one day we played a team from the city, can’t remember which team it was, but Harry lined up at full-forward and kicked 12.
“The game was played at the Showgrounds, we were thrashed by the city team and Harry was a very dominant player. He was a monster of a kid compared to the rest of us.”
Robertson, a fellow member of Carlton’s ’53 reserve grade premiership team, remembered that the Club’s senior coaching fraternity may have lost a little patience with Sullivan up front, “which is probably why he went to Collingwood and found his niche as a defender”.
In 1960, and as a consequence of the pressures of his burgeoning business interests, Sullivan at 28 surprisingly gave League football away.
Harry Sullivan died on February 5. He is survived by his wife Jan, sister Ann, sons Peter, Bret, Mark and Tim, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Another son, John, predeceased him.
A notice for Sullivan placed by his family read: “You were talented, charming, loving, generous, brave, and a true gentleman”.
Such sentiments were shared by Robertson. As he said: “Harry was a good bloke, a gentlemanly sort and a lovely person”.
More By Tony De Bolfo, Carlton Media