Wally Donald

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Wally Donald
Personal information
Full name Wally Donald
Date of birth (1927-05-27)27 May 1927
Place of birth Fitzroy
Date of death 8 November 2003(2003-11-08) (aged 76)
Place of death Footscray
Original team(s) Braybrook
Height 178 cm (5 ft 10 in)
Weight 80 kg (176 lb)
Playing career1
Years Club Games (Goals)
1946–1958 Footscray 205 (1)
Coaching career
Years Club Games (W–L–D)
1952–1953 Footscray 3 (1–2–0)
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 1958.
Career highlights
Sources: AFL Tables, AustralianFootball.com

Wally Donald (27 May 1927 – 8 November 2003) was a former Australian Rules Footballer who played for Footscray Football Club (now Western Bulldogs) in the Victorian Football League, now Australian Football League, in 1946 from Braybrook. He played only one senior game that year, but from 1947 to 1957 he was a fixture in the Footscray team, missing only a total of eight games out of a possible 206. Donald was recruited by Footscray as a versatile player, and was seen as a special talent and Footscray first had plans to specifically mould Donald into becoming an important part of Footscray's midfield, but as his defensive abilities became more obvious, he was moved into defence, and by 1948 Donald had firmly established himself on the half-back flank. He also played his first final in 1948, being named on the half-back flank in the First Semi Final against Collingwood.

At the start of the 1949 Season, Donald was entrusted with the crucial role of playing at Full Back, despite being only 5'8" and conceding significant levels of both reach and strength to his direct opponents. Despite Footscray finishing ninth and winning only seven games for the season, Donald was immense, taking on and often getting the better of some of the best Full-Forwards in the competition, including the legendary John Coleman (who once described Donald as the best back-pocket player he had ever come up against). Donald's terrific form was rewarded with his first club Best and Fairest award. In 1950, Donald represented Victoria during the Brisbane Carnival, a carnival which Victoria triumphed in after winning every game to claim the championship. Donald even did fairly well in the Brownlow Medal that year, polling a total of nine votes out of a career total of 27.

In 1951, Donald was relocated once more, this time to the Back Pocket - the position which he became most famous for across the entirety of his career. This was due to the recruitment of full-back Herb Henderson, who at 188 cm was a much more natural size for a Full Back. The positional change would have been made sooner as Henderson's first season at Footscray was during 1950, however, Henderson only played the one game, so the positional changes weren't particularly noticeable. However, the change in position didn't diminish Donald's output, as he and Henderson quickly established an almost impenetrable bond on the last line of defence. The improvement was instantenous, as the Bulldogs went from conceding 1608 points in 1950 (at an average of 89.3 points per game), to conceding just 1105 points in 1951 (at an average of 64.7 points per game) - a remarkable improvement. It was off the back of this defensive partnership that Footscray were once again able to make the finals. However, they fell short against a Coleman-less Essendon, going down by just eight points in a tight encounter in the First Semi Final. Donald was voted as the best player on the ground for Footscray.

In 1952, Donald would kick the only goal of his entire career. It took place in Round 8 against St Kilda, at Yallourn Oval during the "National Day Round". With Footscray having kicked only two goals to three-quarter time in dreadful conditions, Donald was sent forward in the last quarter, and kicked an important goal off his left boot. Footscray won the second half, but were unable to win the game, going down to St Kilda by just 15 points.[1][2][3][4] As it was the only VFL/AFL game ever played at Yallourn Oval, this oddly makes Donald the equal second-highest leading goalkicker of all time at the venue, despite kicking just one career goal, and it means that he is also the joint-record holder for most games played by an VFL/AFL player at Yallourn Oval (obviously tied with the other 39 players who took to the field that day). Additionally, the goal has made him the only player to have two separate sequences of 100 games without a goal - the Yallourn game was his 102nd. 1952 would eventuate into a fine season for Donald, who was runner-up in the club's Best and Fairest count.

Donald's understanding with Henderson continued to develop considerably during the early 50's, to the point where they - alongside defensive staples such as Dave Bryden and Jim Gallagher - created VFL/AFL history by conceding just 959 points during the 1953 Home-and-Away season. To date this remains statistically the greatest defense since the introduction of the 12-team competition in 1925, and the greatest defense of all time since 1920. It was also the season in which Footscray made the finals once more, and were able to achieve finals success for the first time in the club's history, as they once again faced off against Essendon, but this time exacted revenge on them for the 1951 final, with Footscray being the eight-point victors on this occasion. Donald was once again named as one of Footscray's best players. It would also be fierce rival John Coleman's last ever final, as he suffered a career-ending knee injury midway during the following season. He kicked just one goal on the day, being well held by both Donald and Henderson. Footscray would go on to face Geelong in the Preliminary Final, with a win being required in order to make their first ever Grand Final. Despite leading at half time, Footscray were unable to compete with Geelong, eventually falling by 26 points. Donald was again named in the best for Footscray and for the second year running, would claim second place in Footscray's best and fairest.

Footscray went one further the following season in 1954, going on to win their first VFL Premiership. After finishing the Home-and-Away season in second position on the ladder, Footscray took on Geelong for the second season running for a spot in the Grand Final. With captain Charlie Sutton sidelined with injury, Donald took the reins, and brilliantly led the club to one of the finest victories in the clubs' history. With the scores level at three-quarter time, Footscray kicked 4.9 to 1.4 in a dominant final term to secure their passage into their maiden Grand Final by 23 points. It made Donald - who was chaired from the ground after the final siren - the first player in history to captain Footscray into a VFL Grand Final. Sutton returned to partake in the 1954 Grand Final and Donald was once more the vice-captain as Footscray secured their maiden Premiership in emphatic style, easily disposing of Melbourne by a final score of 15.12.102 to 7.9.51. To make the occasion even more special for Donald, the 1954 Grand Final was also his 150th game for Footscray. Donald continue to play exceptional football and 1954 was on his best seasons for the club, but a second club Best and Fairest continued to elude him, as he once again finished second. Sadly, Footscray were unable to replicate their Premiership-winning form the following season, missing out of a spot in the finals by just 0.6%.

With Sutton announcing his retirement at the conclusion of Round 5 the 1956 VFL Season, Donald was once again assumed the role of captain, however on this occasion he was assigned the role full-time holding onto it for the remainder of the season. Under Donald's leadership, Footscray made a return to the finals, finishing in fourth position on the ladder at the conclusion of the Home-and-Away season. Once again, Footscray faced Geelong in the First-Semi Final. In a red-letter day for the ageing Donald, Footscray produced a gutsy performance, overcoming Geelong by just two points, despite trailing at every other change. In difficult conditions in front of almost 80,000 people, only 11 goals were scored for the whole game, including just one in the second half. Footscray trailed the Cats by two points at three-quarter time, but kicked 0.5.5 to 0.1.1 in the final term to see them off and progress to the Preliminary Final. It was arguably one of Footscray's finest victories during the 50's, and easily one of Donald's best as captain. Unfortunately, a crack at a second Premiership was cut short by Collingwood in the Preliminary Final, with Footscray falling by 39 points despite having more scoring shots than Collingwood.

At the start of the 1957 VFL Season, Donald relinquished the captaincy as Footscray opted to go for youth to assume the leadership roles. In fact, Donald stepped down from all leadership positions within the club as his career drew to a close. Despite being clearly the oldest player in the team, Donald still managed to play 17 out of a possible 18 games, including playing his 200th VFL game late in the season. Despite having intentions to play one more season, he would eventually retire two rounds into the 1958 season, having played 205 games for Footscray. During his career, he also played in eight finals (winning four), one Premiership, and represented Victoria three times. At the time of his retirement, only Arthur Olliver and Alby Morrison had played more games for Footscray, and only those two had played more games at the Western Oval than Donald (Donald now stands sixth on that list, and will remain there as league games are no longer played at the Western Oval). Among many of Donald's odd records, only two players have played more VFL/AFL games and have just one career goal next to their name.

After retiring from VFL Football, Donald went on to become a scout for Footscray and also coached junior football clubs. He was selected on the half-back flank in the Footscray/Western Bulldogs Team of the Century in May, 2002. Donald died on 8 November 2003 after a lengthy battle with illness. He was posthumously inducted into the Footscray/Western Bulldogs Hall of Fame in 2012, alongside backline partner and close friend Henderson.[5]

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