Cooee/Collingwood/Penguin/City South/East Devonport, Wingman, 1966-1982
- 107 games, 70 goals for Collingwood, 1967-72; 1974-76
- 37 games for Port Melbourne, 1977; 1979
- Around 50 games for Cooee, 1966; 1978; 1982-83
- 29 games for Chelsea (Mornington Peninsula FL), 1980-81
- 16 games for City-South, 1984
- 15 games for Penguin, 1985
- 28 games for East Devonport, 1986-87
- Collingwood VFL reserves premiership 1976
- Port Melbourne VFA premiership 1977
- Cooee NWFU premierships 1978, 1982
- Cooee State premiership 1978
- One representative match for Tasmania
- Represented VFL reserves vs. New South Wales, 1967
A magnificently skilful half forward/wingman who was one of the brightest young stars in the VFL during his peak, John Greening’s career was sadly blighted by one of the ugliest pieces of on-field thuggery the game has seen.
Born in Burnie in 1950, John Greening showed an immense talent for the game from an early age, and in late-1966 – after only a handful of senior games for Cooee – the 15-year old Greening was recruited to Victoria by Collingwood. After spending his entire first season playing reserves football for the Magpies, Greening finally made his senior debut in Round 5, 1968. From that point Greening was never out of the senior team, playing 94 consecutive games between 1968 and 1972, the ‘highlight’ coming when he was a member of the Collingwood team that went down to Carlton in the famous 1970 Grand Final. There was no doubt that he was a superstar in the making, and many held the belief that he was destined to be an all-time great; sadly, it wasn’t to be.
In Round 14, 1972 Collingwood travelled to Moorabbin to play St. Kilda; Greening’s recent form had been phenomenal, having amassed a combined 91 disposals, 28 marks and 10 goals in Rounds 9-10. Within the opening minute of the game, Greening was the victim of a sickening behind the play hit from Saints defender Jim O’Dea. The blow knocked Greening out cold, and he was still unconscious when taken from the ground on a stretcher a few minutes later, sparking genuine fears for his life. After being comatose for a time and failing to regain full consciousness for nearly two weeks, Greening was diagnosed with a cerebral concussion, and it was widely thought that he would never play again. The injury obviously ended his season, however such was the impact he’d had that he still finished sixth in the Brownlow Medal count. For the record, O’Dea received a 10-week ban for the hit, a penalty thought by many to be shockingly lenient.
After spending most of 1973 in rehabilitation, Greening returned to senior football in Round 9, 1974. He performed remarkably well, and many held hopes that the Greening of old may not have been lost. However, Greening’s form tapered away badly, and he managed only another eight senior games until his departure from Collingwood at the end of 1976. As it turned out, Greening’s only real motivation to getting back to senior VFL football at all had been to prove to himself that he could actually do it, and that the O’Dea incident had irreparably sapped his love for the game. He left the VFL with only 107 senior games to his credit, however he was able to end his career on a high, playing in Collingwood’s 1976 reserves premiership.
Upon leaving Collingwood, Greening joined VFA club Port Melbourne and was a member of their 1977 premiership team. He subsequently returned to Tasmania and his original club Cooee, helping the Bulldogs to the 1978 NWFU and State premierships. After a brief period back in Victoria, Greening ended his senior career in Tasmania with stints at Cooee, City-South, Penguin and East Devonport, finally hanging up his boots at the end of the 1990 season.
At his peak, John Greening was almost the complete Australian footballer. His spectacular leap and clean hands has him sitting comfortably amongst the game’s great aerialists, while at ground level his speed and elusiveness, ability to find the ball and key eye for goal made him a nightmare prospect for opposition coaches. In many ways he was a player ahead of his time, and in later years numerous comparisons were made between Greening and many of the game’s modern stars.
In later life, Greening settled in Queensland. Despite his diminished passion for the game, he never lost his love for Collingwood. The feeling from the Magpies was mutual, with the club affording him Life Membership in 2011 and official ‘Legend of Collingwood’ status two years later.