City/Melbourne, Rover, 1889-1901
City Juniors, 1891-92
6 games for City (STFA), 1893
6 representative games for Southern Tasmania, 1893
– 2 games vs Northern Tasmania
– 2 games vs Essendon
– 2 games vs Victoria
Cananore FC Trainer, 1912-24
129 games, 77 goals for Melbourne, 1894-1901
Melbourne VFL premiership, 1900
Melbourne captain, 1901 (Two games)
Melbourne Leading Goal-kicker, 1895 (16)
Two intercolonial matches for Victoria, 1899-1900
Represented VFL vs Ballarat (1897) and Bendigo District (1900)
Represented Melbourne vs Southern Tasmania
(three matches), 1896
Named as one of Melbourne FC’s ‘150 Heroes’ (2008)
To be declared as perhaps the greatest footballer of all time more than 40 years after your retirement is an extraordinary accolade to which very few players can lay claim. Such was the case for this Legend of Tasmanian football: Melbourne’s brilliant champion of the 1890s, Fred McGinis.
Born in Hobart in 1874, Alfred Ernest McGinis was educated at the City School where he excelled at athletic pursuits, including football. In 1891, he joined his elder brother George – himself a star player – at Hobart’s City club, playing initially with the juniors before making the step up to senior football two years later. The 18-year-old made an immediate impact, named best on ground in his debut match and soon afterwards was chosen to represent southern Tasmania against the visiting Victorians after only two club games. In these contests McGinis again acquitted himself magnificently, his dynamic play and exquisite skills leading the Hobart newspaper The Clipper to declare him “the most promising footballer in Tasmania.”
Unfortunately for local fans, 1893 was to be McGinis’ only season of senior football in the state, as the following year saw him make the move across Bass Strait with the intention of joining VFA powerhouse Essendon, a club already boasting ex-Tasmanian stars George Vautin and Colin Campbell. Subsequently however, McGinis felt that he was more likely to play regular senior football elsewhere, and decided instead to join Melbourne. Essendon’s loss was Melbourne’s gain, as over the following eight years McGinis built a reputation as one of Victorian football’s genuine superstars.
At 175cm/74 kgs (5’9”/11st 9oz) he played primarily as a rover – eventually forming a famous following division alongside ruckmen ‘Vic Cumberland and George Moodie – however he excelled at virtually every facet of the game: “(McGinis) was a beautiful kick, both drop and place; more than an average high mark, possessed great dash…. and his passing at half distance was of the very highest class.” (Referee, 1914) This incredible array of skills allowed him to play virtually any position to great effect, as described by teammate Jack Leith: “(McGinis) would rove the first quarter and be the best man on the ground. The second quarter would see him excelling all the ruck men. The third might find him on the forward line kicking goals, whilst in the last he would be delighting
everybody by his magnificent defending.”
Naturally, McGinis’ brilliance brought with it many accolades: in 1895, he was named as that season’s best player by The Argus, while two years later he was widely acknowledged as the premier player in the inaugural season of the Victorian Football League. He was also selected for higher honours, twice representing Victoria in intercolonial contests against South Australia, and the VFL in matches against Ballarat and Bendigo. Additionally, McGinis was enormously respected by teammates and opponents alike as one of the game’s true gentlemen, particularly in regard to his scrupulously fair play and unfailingly ‘team first’ attitude.
These attributes saw McGinis named Melbourne captain in 1901, however he resigned after only two matches. Arguably McGinis’ finest hour, however, came on the biggest stage of all, in Melbourne’s stunning 1900 Grand Final victory over Fitzroy: facing strong and experienced opposition and reputedly suffering from a severe cold, he played an outstanding game, his efforts during the decisive third quarter and in repelling repeated desperate Fitzroy attacks in the dying stages being particularly noteworthy.
Unfortunately, for all his talent, McGinis was always rather injury-prone, and in 1901 his body failed him once too often – ironically, not as a result of the game itself. Aged just 26, McGinis’ eyesight began to rapidly deteriorate; within 12 months he been rendered almost totally blind, leaving him no choice but to retire and return to Tasmania. The news was met with great sadness, and in an indication of his widespread popularity the VFL and VFA agreed to put their mutual animosity aside and face each other in a benefit match for McGinis; more than 7000 spectators attended the game which raised more than £200 (around $30,000 today).
In subsequent years, many respected football judges declared McGinis to be amongst the greatest footballers of all time. Perhaps the most definitive assessment came from George Cathie, a former teammate and the founding editor of the Football Record in 1912: “Taking the period of the league’s existence, I unhesitatingly name Fred McGinis…. as the outstanding Australian rules footballer. In all my experience I have never seen a more accomplished player, one qualified to rank on the highest rung of the ladder of fame among the
football champions of Australia…. Words fail me in expressing my admiration for this truly great player.” It’s worth noting that Cathie penned these words in 1943, meaning that even after witnessing the likes of Haydn Bunton, Dick Reynolds and Gordon Coventry, Cathie STILL rated McGinis as superior to them all.
McGinis returned to Tasmania upon his retirement, and although he did eventually regain much of his eyesight, he never again took the field as a player. He nevertheless remained active in football circles, serving as a trainer with Cananore for more than 10 years either side of WWI and journeying with the Tasmanian team to the National Carnival in Sydney in 1914. He remained an avid football supporter for the rest of his life, attending a grand reunion of old players in 1935 and living to see his great-nephew Geoff Kilmartin of Cananore claim the George Watt Medal as TFL Best & Fairest in 1940.
Fred McGinis passed away in 1953 aged 78, and in the decades since – as is unfortunately all too common the
case with many champions of his era – his brilliance and achievements have been largely forgotten. Thankfully, this has not been the case entirely: in 2006, McGinis was inducted into Melbourne’s Hall of Fame, while two years later he was selected as one of their ‘150 Heroes’ as part of the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations.