Career : 1929 – 1931
Debut : Round 1, 1929 vs Essendon, aged 24 years, 272 days
Carlton Player No. 455
Games : 53
Goals : 32
Last Game : Preliminary Final, 1931 vs Geelong, aged 27 years, 66 days
Guernsey No. 19
Height : 189 cm (6 ft. 2 in.)
Weight : 85.5 kg (13 stone, 7 lbs.)
DOB : July 29, 1904
Alexander Conan Doyle was a carpenter, a fireman, and an excellent exponent of Australian Rules Football during the early years of the Great Depression. Born in Murtoa, near Horsham in western Victoria, he joined the Blues in 1929 at the age of 24, and played finals football in each of the next three seasons. During that time, he is also believed to have built the original picket fence around the oval at Princes Park.
Doyle was first approached to join Carlton in 1926, after the strapping young follower-forward had impressed more than one VFL scout with his aerial skill and long kicking in representative matches for the Wimmera Association. But it wasn’t until the dramatic world-wide economic crash of 1928 began to bite, that Alex decided to capitalise on his football ability by joining the Blues.
Doyle was granted a clearance by the Horsham Football Club to Carlton on Tuesday, February 26, 1929, and Carlton coach Dan Minogue immediately liked what he saw in his determined, seasoned recruit. He handed Alex the club’s number 19 guernsey, and a place in Carlton’s team for the opening game of the season against Essendon at Princes Park.
Playing out of a forward pocket as second ruckman, Doyle was more than useful that afternoon, as the Blues utterly dominated the game and smashed the Dons by 73 points. Alex’s first career goal – a long drop-kick that never looked like missing – added to the joy, and thereafter he was a regular in the Blues senior side. By mid-season, he had formed a solid partnership with Charlie Davey in the ruck, and added to his value by taking turns at centre half-forward. Late in the year, he shifted across to a half-forward flank, where his strong marking added bite to Carlton’s attack.
Having finished second on the League ladder after the home and away rounds, the Blues edged out St Kilda by 8 points in a close Semi Final, to book a Preliminary Final clash against Richmond. In just his 19th senior match, Doyle’s determination and vigour – along with 5 goals from champion ‘Soapy’ Vallence - helped the Blues to 13-point lead with ten minutes to go. But the Tigers launched a last ditch assault, and a clever snapshot goal by their star full-forward Jack Titus - with only seconds remaining - gave them a last-gasp victory and ended Carlton’s flag aspirations.
It was a similar story in 1930. On the way to finishing second again, the Blues suffered a spate of late-season injuries before facing Geelong in a knockout Semi Final. Doyle did all he could at centre half-forward, but with captain Ray Brew playing injured, the Blues were never really a chance and lost by 20 points.
In the aftermath of that defeat, Doyle was approached by the Cananore Football Club from Hobart in Tasmania. The consistently successful and cashed-up Canaries were looking for a captain-coach and had put together a lucrative package. The Depression was gripping the world ever tighter, and Doyle found the offer too good to resist. But when he requested a clearance, Carlton flatly refused and Alex stayed at home.
The Navy Blues were still very much in flag contention in 1931, finishing third behind Geelong and Richmond, with Collingwood fourth. And after his team destroyed their bitter rivals Collingwood by a record 88 points in the first Semi Final, Doyle was looking forward to a Preliminary Final rematch with Geelong. It would be his fifth final in 53 games.
Doyle and Charlie Davey reunited in Carlton’s ruck for the match, and both were influential early as the confident Blues bounced out to an impressive 47 points to nil advantage at quarter time. But from then on, the Cats steadily clawed their way back into the contest, and broke every Bluebagger’s heart with a classic victory by 6 points.
That defeat signalled the end of Doyle’s career at Carlton, because changes in his working life and continued economic constraints saw him cross to VFA club Preston in 1932. Known as "Fireman" because of his chosen trade, Doyle crossed with Ted Brewis after 53 games with Carlton. He was vice-captain in 1934 and led Preston in the finals in the abscence of injured captain-coach, Charlie McSwain. Three years later, he retired from the field to coach Essendon Reserves. Later still, he was a selector at another VFA club in Oakleigh.
After starting his working life as a carpenter, Alex joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1932, and spent the next 35 years serving and protecting his community. Throughout, he maintained a deep affection for the Old Dark Navy Blues until January 21, 1973 - when he passed away at Box Hill Hospital, aged 68.
In a 2012 interview, Alex’s daughter Betty Austin said of her father: “He once told me that he built the picket fence around Carlton. Whether that was true or not, I don’t know, but what I do know is that he was a pretty good carpenter”.
When Carlton refused to clear Doyle to Cananore in 1930, the Canaries caused a sensation by luring Collingwood champion Albert Collier – the 1929 Brownlow Medallist – to the Apple Isle. It proved to be a masterstroke. Collier led Cananore to the TFL Premiership in 1931 and 1933, and to the Tasmanian State Premiership in 1931. On the way to those triumphs, Collier also won the 1931 Leitch Medal as Best and Fairest in the TFL.