The most compelling statistic to come out of the 1968 season was the fact that Carlton always won when Kekovich was in the team and conversely lost every match when he was omitted. In 17 matches Kekovich represented Carlton and in these same 17 matches Carlton secured victories. In five matches Kekovich was absent from the team and each time Carlton were losers. Some may call this merely a coincidence but when one takes a closer look at the 1968 season one soon realises why Kekovich was so important to Carlton.

In Round 2 and 3 Kekovich was omitted from the team due to a knee injury. At the same time, Carlton suffered embarrassing losses to Richmond and Essendon respectively. The Blues were thrashed by 46 points in the match against Richmond, prompting Greg Hobbs for The Age newspaper to state, “Carlton’s lack of marking ability was felt most keenly in attack – a department which looked thin on paper and played accordingly.”

As demoralising as the loss to Richmond was for the Blues, the match against Essendon in Round 3 was even worse. The Blues only kicked one goal for the whole of the match- and this score came as late as the third quarter from the ex-Melbourne player, Peter Smith. (Peter Smith was the son of the famous Melbourne coach Norm Smith.)

Kekovich returned to the team in Round 4 and from that point onwards Carlton obtained an unbroken run of ten victories in a row. There were many strong performances from Kekovich within this run of victories, yet the match that gave him confidence was in Round 5 when the Blues accounted for Footscray. The reporter for The Age newspaper, Peter Stone, said, “Brian Kekovich showed he can be the answer to the Blues’ problem at full-forward. Kekovich led well for marks and fought on strongly when he missed.” More importantly, he kicked six goals for Carlton in this match.

In round 10 Carlton played St Kilda and Kekovich had a significant impact on the result. Considering that St Kilda was a finals rival and that they had the lead at three-quarter time, Kekovich’s tally of four goals was an important contribution. Although Carlton only scored a total of eight goals, Kekovich chipped in with half of that total and scored the all important opening goal of the last quarter.
Pictured above arc some of the team's senior players and star recruits 
Captain-coach Ron Barassi, Dick Vandenberg, Alex Jesaulenko (from Canberra),
 Brian Kekovitch, Denis Munari, and Ron Auchettl.
By round 14 Kekovich had kicked 39 goals and was the club’s leading goal scorer. At the same time everything appeared to be going well for the Blues as they had secured top place on the ladder and had an unbroken run of ten wins. Optimism within the team was justified up until misfortune struck the Blues on the eve of round 14.

Under the heading of – “Shocks for Blues – stars out” Percy Beames for The Age reported that Carlton was forced to make numerous changes for the line-up against the Bombers. Kekovich was dropped from the team and two other key position players, Alex Jesaulenko and half-back John Goold, were omitted due to injury. With these three players out, Carlton was battling against the odds against Essendon and as a result the Blues obtained another low score – this time kicking just six goals for the match.

The reason why Kekovich was dropped for this key match was mystifying to the public and to the media. Yet by the following week the media was uncovering a more sensational story when they reported that Kekovich had failed to turn up to play in the reserves match against Essendon. The Carlton match committee was on a warpath with Kekovich, yet the star forward explained his absence as being due to an injury that he had tried to keep hidden until the last possible moment. Kekovich stated that, “I had tried to contact the club about my injury on Saturday morning, but no one answered the phone.” Asked if his failure to turn up had anything to do with being dropped, Kekovich stated, “No, I was injured and I wasn’t that disappointed.”

Despite the close scrutiny the media failed to determine the exact nature of Kekovich’s injury. Mark Fiddan from The Age referred to him having a leg injury and Percy Beames thought he had a bruised nerve in the buttocks. Either way, Kekovich continued to miss matches and the same time Carlton’s form slump continued.

In Carlton’s next match, against Hawthorn in round 15, Carlton’s key forward Alex Jesaulenko returned from injury, but with Kekovich still missing the forward line continued to look out of sorts. The whole of the Carlton side kicked just nine goals in this match while Hawthorn’s goal ace, Peter Hudson, nearly matched that total alone with a tally of seven goals to his name. Hawthorn won by 13 points.

When Carlton lost their next match – this time the loss was against Footscray – they were in real danger of missing the finals as Richmond, the premiers from the previous season, was fighting hard to make the top four. At the same time, Kekovich was still unavailable for senior selection in this match, but at least had recovered enough to play a reserve game for the Blues.

When Kekovich returned to the senior line-up in Round 17 Carlton recorded a comprehensive 42 point victory against South Melbourne. Prior to this match the editorial writer from The Age newspaper predicted that Carlton would break their losing streak, basing this opinion partly on the reason that, “The return of Brian Kekovich to the Carlton attack should help the Blues as flanker Alex Jesaulenko was the only effective forward last week.”
After this comfortable victory, Carlton then won the three remaining games of the home and away season, which enabled the team to secure a record over the home and away season of 15 victories and 5 losses and second place on the ladder.

Kekovich had missed Carlton’s two previous matches against Essendon in the season, but he was on hand to make a difference in their next encounter – the 2nd semi-final. Played in front of 106,365 people, Kekovich’s opponent in this match was Charlie Payne.

Although Kekovich contributed just two goals, he was the Blues’ leading light during Carlton’s comeback in the third quarter. Essendon had almost drawn level at half time but gained no further momentum in the match after Kekovich set up the first two goals of the third quarter to ensure Carlton’s dominance on the scoreboard.

Two weeks later in the grand final Essendon assigned a new opponent for Kekovich in Geoff Pryor. At 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighing 13 stones, Pryor was an opponent who relished tough, physical contests. He also played the game with far more aggression than Kekovich’s second-semi opponent in Charlie Payne. As a result, Kekovich and Pryor’s battle for supremacy was not decided by goals, skill or possessions, but by physical force – or in this instance full-powered shirtfront. Excluding the famous Yeates hit on Brereton in the 1989 grand final there have been few grand final shirtfronts to match the intensity of the Pryor hit in the 1968 grand final.

Kekovich had just scored his second goal of the match and moments after this he was in a contest with little Alec Epis for his next possession. Pryor, meanwhile, was 10 metres behind the contest and it was clear that he wasn’t aiming for the ball when he charged in towards Kekovich. His elbow was cocked ready for action with whatever stood in his way and it just happened that Kekovich’s head was in his line of fire. Kekovich didn’t know what was about to hit him, but at the last second before the collision he looked up and turned his body side on to the hit. This resulted in Essendon’s Alec Epis, who stood next to Kekovich, receiving the full blow from Pryor’s shirtfront. The accidental hit on Epis resulted in a spectacular collision as Epis did a full mid-air twist before his body slammed to the ground. It was the defining moment in the Pryor/Kekovich contest, as from that moment onwards Pryor knew for certain that Kekovich was prepared for his physical aggression.
tcscn008-031_kekovitchb.jpg
After the premiership victory of 1968 Kekovich never played another first grade game for the Blues and hardly ever set foot in the club again. A serious back injury was the reason for his early exit from the game. Yet even though his career was short lived, he should be remembered as being more than just a laconic player who played a couple of seasons with the Blues. He should be remembered as the player who kicked four vital goals in the grand final that finally ended Carlton’s 21 year premiership drought.

The Kekovich football card:
The most obvious feature of the card is the fact that the printers miss-spelt his name, as they named him Bryan Kekovitch instead of Brian Kekovich. Sporting memorabilia expert Rick Milne gave the following explanation:
“The people who printed the card in those days were in Sydney and because they didn’t have any knowledge of Australian football they miss-spelt names and made mistakes. It was quite a common occurrence. In one series all the Footscray cards had the wrong names attached to them, and in another set they referred to the Goggin twins, but with Matthew’s age being three years older than his twin brother.”

Brian Kekovich | Season 1968 | All Blueseum Articles