Happy 70th birthday to Bryan Quirk.
Career : 1965 - 1975
Debut : Round 3, 1965 vs South Melbourne, aged 18 years, 126 days
Carlton Player No. 771
Games : 167
Goals : 112
Last Game : Qualifying Final, 1975 vs North Melbourne, aged 28 years, 254 days
Guernsey No. 32
Height : 185 cm (6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 82.5 kg (13 stone, 0 lbs.)
DOB : December 26, 1946
Premiership Player: 1968
Leading Goalkicker: 1965
Carlton Hall of Fame 2006
One of Carlton's greats, Bryan Quirk was the football equivalent of a champion greyhound. A tall, beautifully balanced, long-kicking winger or half-forward, he arrived at Carlton at the dawn of the Barassi era, and carved out a celebrated, if unlucky career. He was one of the stars of Carlton’s 1968 Premiership campaign, and would surely have played in at least two more flag sides had he not suffered injuries at precisely the wrong time.
Nicknamed "Quirky" or "Irk," Bryan was recruited from Morwell in the LaTrobe Valley on the recommendation of his coach; ex-Blues captain and ruckman, Graham Donaldson. Donaldson played a big role in recruiting for Carlton at that time, and was directly responsible for also signing up the likes of Garry Crane, Bill Bennett, Ted Hopkins, Vin Waite and Bob Edmond.
"I could see the kid had League football written all over his face,” said Donaldson. “He was a beautiful kick, easy to handle, enthusiastic - made to order.” Bryan had five or six other clubs chasing him, and was a keen Collingwood supporter, but Carlton showed the most interest. Although he was still a teenager, Quirk was Morwell’s centre half-forward. When he turned up at Princes Park for pre-season training in 1965 however, Carlton’s captain-coach Ron Barassi knew the club had found a promising flanker.
After years of mediocrity, the 1965 season began with renewed hopes for every Blues supporter. Fresh from accepting the number 32 guernsey previously worn by rugged defender Vasil Varlamos, Quirk spent the first two games of the year in the Reserves, before experiencing the nervous delight of senior selection for the first time in round 3. Playing on a half-forward flank against South Melbourne on a cool windy day at the Lake Oval, he made an eye-catching debut and kicked three goals, although the Blues lost by 16 points.
From then on, Bryan stayed in the senior team throughout the year as the rookie coach and his players got to know each other. Carlton finished sixth on the ladder, while a number of newcomers were very impressive – including Quirk, who kicked 29 goals in his first 16 games, to win the club’s Leading Goal-kicker award, as well as Best First Year Player.
Looking to match Richmond's ploy of playing tall, strong-marking wingmen on the wide expanses of the MCG, Barassi shifted Quirk to the centreline in 1966 to combat the Tigers' stars Francis Bourke and Dick Clay. It set the scene for some classic confrontations in coming years, as the long-striding Carlton speedster (and his tenacious fellow winger, Garry Crane) took on the Richmond guns. At 185 cm and just 82 kg, Quirk could be out-muscled by either of his Richmond opponents, but when the ball hit the ground or spilled into space, his acceleration left them floundering. And his accurate, long kicks to position made him a real weapon for the Blues.
Barassi’s methods bore fruit, and he and Quirk shared their first final series together at Carlton, when the Blues finished second on the ladder to Richmond in 1967. Although straight-sets losses to Richmond and Geelong in successive weeks quickly tipped the team out of contention, the finals experience those games gave the Blues would soon prove invaluable.
By early 1968, Bryan had notched 70 consecutive games before Carlton met South Melbourne in round 6, in another match at the Lake Oval that soon turned ugly. During a clash with South's Eric Sarich, Quirk suffered a broken jaw that sidelined him for seven weeks. After such a charmed run with injury, it was a portent of things to come.
He returned for the run to the finals, and played consistently well as Carlton leapt to flag favouritism by finishing second on the ladder to Essendon, then demolished the Bombers by six goals in the second Semi Final. A fortnight later, Barassi’s Blues ended a 21-year flag drought for the Carlton Football Club with a dogged three-point Grand Final victory over Essendon. Back on a half-forward flank, Quirk had an enthralling duel with Bomber star Barry Davis in a match ruined as a spectacle by a strong, swirling wind. The Blues won a see-sawing contest with grit and determination, thanks largely to the ruck dominance of captain John Nicholls, and the tenacity of wingman Garry Crane.
Precisely twelve months later, Carlton started warm favourites in the 1969 Grand Final, after beating ladder-leaders Collingwood in the second Semi. Our opponents were fourth-placed Richmond, who had ominously struck top form at the right time, and ended Collingwood's season in the Preliminary Final. On a day of bitter disappointment for every Bluebagger, almost 120,000 people packed into the MCG to see Richmond prove too good in a hard, skilful contest. As usual, the centrelines of both sides were prominent all match, with Carlton's wingmen Quirk (who collected 25 kicks) and Crane outstanding in a beaten team.
Every Blues fan knows that Carlton made their third Grand Final appearance in a row in 1970, but this time there was no Bryan Quirk in the line-up. The previous week, while playing one of his best games of the year against St Kilda in the Preliminary Final, Bryan had collided heavily with his team-mate Barry Mulcair. That hit dislocated his shoulder, and ruled him out of Carlton’s most famous victory of all; over Collingwood in that year’s epic Grand Final.
While no doubt there were mixed emotions as he watched his team's incredible resurgence from 44 points down at half time to snatch their glorious 10-point triumph over the Magpies, it was later revealed that Quirk had also been playing with a broken bone in his wrist for a number of weeks. Furthermore, way back in March, he had hurt a knee in a practice match, but had nursed it at first to try to avoid surgery. He soon realised that that was futile however, and had an operation that cost him 10 matches. It was in his comeback game in round 18 that he broke the bone in his wrist – followed by the collision with Mulcair that put the chop on his year. This was certainly a season in which he couldn't do anything right!
Lingering problems with that shoulder and a Carlton player roster brimming with talent restricted Bryan to only a handful of games in 1971, but he was back to near his best by mid-season in 1972, as Carlton’s centreline of Garry Crane, Ian Robertson and Quirk propelled the confident Blues towards another finals campaign. Then in round 16, while Carlton were on the way to another clinical win over Essendon at Princes Park, Bryan copped a knock on a knee that all but ended his season.
He eventually returned to the side and sat on the bench for the first of Carlton’s finals, but wasn’t risked from then on. Capping off surely the hardest Premiership campaign in club history, the Mighty Blues then fought their way through four successive cut-throat finals to rout Richmond by 27 points in the highest-scoring Grand Final ever played.
In 1973, Collingwood waved their cheque book at Quirky in a determined bid to lure him to Victoria Park, but he refused them and stayed on with the Blues. Although still plagued by shoulder problems, he managed 12 games, and his late-season form was good enough to win him a place on the bench in yet another final series. In their fifth Grand Final in six years, Carlton met a Richmond team whipped into a frenzy by their coach Tom Hafey and President Graham Richmond, and the Tigers’ attack on the man and the ball proved decisive. Bryan got only the briefest of runs on the ground in the last quarter, when the game was well and truly over, and Richmond were already celebrating their 5-goal win.
Although his opportunities began to decline from then on, Bryan Quirk’s character shone through as he continued as a loyal, reliable and highly-respected member of the Carlton family. In 1974, after another 19 games at senior level, he was awarded Carlton’s Best Clubman award, while in 1975 – his final season – he won the Reserves Best and Fairest; in addition to making another 10 appearances at senior level.
His last game was as a reserve in the 1975 Qualifying Final against North Melbourne, on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon at the MCG. Bryan took to the field in the last quarter to replace his captain Alex Jesaulenko, with the game safely in North’s keeping. His VFL career was over, but he still had much to contribute to the game.
In 1976, Quirky headed to central Victoria to start a new era in his sporting life as captain-coach of Maryborough. After two seasons with the Magpies, he was lured back to Princes Park to take charge of the Under 19 squad and had immediate success, guiding the Blues’ youngsters to back to back Premierships in 1978-79. One of his charges at that time was a young David Glascott, who later credited Quirk with having a big impact on his development. When he made the Carlton senior squad in 1981, Glascott requested the vacant No.32 as a mark of respect for a man he much admired, and went on to wear it in Grand Final victories for the Blues in 1981, 1982 and 1987.
In 1982, Quirky stepped up a grade and took charge of Carlton’s Reserves team for two seasons. He later said that he was content at that level, and never harboured any ambitions to take on the senior job. But he obviously had a gift, because in 1987 he stepped into the role of caretaker coach at VFA club Oakleigh, and took them to a second division flag in his second season.
To the legion of Blues fans who watched Carlton's mop-haired blonde number 32 throughout his career - gathering the ball in space, streaming into attack with a couple of bounces, then launching a long torpedo punt for goal – Bryan Quirk will always be an icon of the times. Already a Life Member of the club, he was elected to the Carlton Hall of Fame in 2006.
100 Goals : Round 3, 1972 vs South Melbourne
1965 - Terry Ogden Memorial Trophy: Best First Year Player Award
1968 - Premiership Player
1969 - Perc Bentley Trophy: 3rd Best & Fairest
1974 - 10th Best & Fairest
1974 - B. J. Deacon Memorial Trophy: Best Clubman Award
1975 - Reserves Best & Fairest Award
1975 - Carlton Supporters Reserves Best & Fairest Award