WA football’s lethal combination Farmer and McGill

No. 7 Kevin McGill waits as Polly Farmer flies for the ball against arch rivals West Perth. Picture: The West Australian
No. 7 Kevin McGill waits as Polly Farmer flies for the ball against arch rivals West Perth. Picture: The West Australian

THE passing of legend Graham “Polly” Farmer has triggered memories of one of WA football’s lethal combinations.

Before ruckman Farmer and rover Billy Goggin dazzled at Geelong, there was Polly and Kevin McGill at East Perth.

Their paths crossed in 1953 when East Perth threw the promising Highgate Football Club captain McGill into a reserves game as a 15-year-old to snare him as a Royal.

“I was in the forward pocket and Polly Farmer was at full forward,” McGill recalled this week.

“So that was my first meeting with Polly, this skinny kid with a limp.”

McGill made his league debut as a rover under coach Mick Cronin the following year and went on to play more than 150 games with Farmer, including two premierships. They became lifelong friends.

Kevin McGill kicks, watched by Jack Sheedy and Polly Farmer in the distance. Picture: The West Australian

What was it like to rove to Farmer over those eight seasons to 1961?

“Sometimes the ball was put right in your lap,” McGill said. “Other times you were thumped (by an opponent) from behind; it wasn’t all beer and skittles. But Polly was a good footballer.”

The lively rover, who topped his team’s goalkicking list in two seasons, got to see Farmer develop up close.

“I want to make it clear that people are maybe thinking it was a breeze for him,” McGill said. “He had many talented opponents. In the early years at boundary throw-ins he’d be on the left-hand side of the other ruckman.

“He would put his right hand on their left shoulder, jump up, get that much higher than them and use his left arm to whack the ball.

“Umpire Ray Montgomery tried to put a stop to that. Polly was annoyed but he was good enough to change his style. Some of the photos they show of him and (East Fremantle ruckman) Jack Clarke are at boundary throw-ins. One published recently in the paper is not a mark; it’s from a boundary throw-in.”

Farmer had attended Forrest High School, just up the road from the Royals’ home Perth Oval.

His limp, “Polly told me”, was not from a polio scare but from wearing one boot all the time on his left foot while playing footy as a kid at the Sister Kate’s home in Queen’s Park.

McGill said Farmer was ahead of his time, completing laps of Perth Oval while others were still making their way to training. His ability to take a pack mark had been developed during kick-to-kick at training.
“No one could outmark him,” he said.

He had honed his handball skills by “winding down the window of his car to let a football through” and learnt from the legendary Jack Sheedy when he came to coach the Royals. “I can remember Jack (at East Fremantle) handballing over his head into the running Jim Conway and Vic French,” McGill said.

The Farmer and McGill families remained friends their whole lives. McGill’s wife Norma gave a eulogy at the funeral of Farmer’s wife Marlene in 2015.

McGill will be a pallbearer alongside legendary West Perth ruckman Bill Dempsey at the State funeral for Farmer at Optus Stadium on Monday.

“I was proud to have played over 150 games as a rover to you,” McGill wrote in a reflection after Polly’s death.

“But as is normal the big white V has claimed you and what they don’t know is that Australia had football leagues outside of Victoria and games played should be all one.

“It’s not a chip on our shoulder, it’s Australian flesh and blood, if we are one. Polly won’t know if the AFL ever gets to realise other games did mean something to the public.”

Tributes to Polly

Farmer made his mark at West Perth

Polly honoured with minute’s silence