Career : 1910
Debut : Round 2, 1910 vs Geelong, aged 26 years, 313 days
Carlton Player No. 234
Games : 16
Goals : 0
Last Game : Grand Final, 1910 vs Collingwood, aged 27 years, 88 days
DOB : July 5, 1883
Best remembered as one of the villains of the brutal 1910 Carlton-Collingwood Grand Final, Percy Sheehan was a star of his time. A strong, wilful defender who represented three clubs and contested four Grand Finals between 1904 and 1912, he spent a single season with the Blues in 1910, where he was a central figure in the second of two sensational finals matches.
Actually born in Collingwood, Sheehan played his early football with Caulfield Juniors before joining Fitzroy as a 19 year-old in 1904. During his first year with the Maroons he showed promise as a follower; a position he filled with telling effect when Fitzroy defeated Carlton in that season’s Grand Final. In his second season Sheehan was shifted to the half-back line, and his career clicked up a gear. At his best on a flank, but more than capable at centre half-back, Percy celebrated another Premiership when Fitzroy outplayed Collingwood in the 1905 decider. A third flag in succession was on the cards in 1906, but Jack Worrall’s Carlton was on the march by then, and the Blues ended the Maroons winning run with a famous victory on the way to triple Premiership glory in 1906-07-08.
In 1910, after 58 games with Fitzroy, Sheehan crossed to Carlton - joining a team that had gone within two points of winning a fourth straight Premiership the previous year, and was still looked upon as the competition benchmark. With Sheehan bolstering an already strong defence, the Blues lost only three times that season, and lined up for the finals as a hot favourite for the flag.
Then, just the Blues were preparing to meet South Melbourne in the second semi-final, there was consternation with the news that Carlton had withdrawn three players - Doug Gillespie, Alex Lang and Doug Fraser - from the selected team. No reasons were given, although rumours soon circulated that the three had been bribed to play poorly. Not surprisingly, a shocked and unsettled Carlton lost to the Bloods by 12 points.
Even so, the Blues still gained an automatic place in the Grand Final a fortnight later, because they had finished the year as minor premiers. In the meantime, South Melbourne lost the Preliminary Final to Collingwood, setting the stage for the first-ever Blues-Magpies clash in a VFL flag decider. Beforehand, Lang and Fraser were both found guilty of accepting bribes and suspended for five years each, while Gillespie was exonerated of all charges, and immediately returned to the team.
Played in warm windy conditions at the MCG in front of 42,577 very involved spectators, the 1910 Grand Final was a hard, physical contest from the first bounce. Collingwood got on top early and were still holding sway just after three-quarter time, when a huge brawl erupted. At the epicentre were Percy Sheehan and Jack Baquie of Carlton, and Tom Baxter and Tom Shorten of Collingwood. While these four exchanged blows, at least thirty other players and officials joined in. Eventually, field umpire Jack Elder cleared the area by bouncing the ball and calling ‘play on.’ To his relief, most of the players resumed the match, and Collingwood hung on to win by 14 points. Elder was not amused by the violence however, and afterwards reported the four main protagonists on a variety of charges.
Then, as now, football violence was seen as a blight on the game, and the VFL came down hard on the culprits. Baquie and Baxter were suspended for the entire 1911 season, while Sheehan and Shorten were each handed 18-month sentences. More controversy ensued however, when Collingwood appealed on Baxter’s behalf, and produced a written declaration from another of their players, Richard Daykin, that it was him - not Baxter - who had traded blows with Baquie.
In a time before players wore individual numbers, umpire Elder was adamant that the Collingwood player he reported had dark hair - a view supported by at least one other boundary or goal umpire. ‘Bluey’ Daykin’s hair was bright red – yet the VFL chose to accept Daykin’s confession of guilt, and cleared Baxter of all charges. Collingwood therefore regained their star rover for their Premiership defence in 1911, while Carlton faced at least a full season without Sheehan and Baquie. Shortly afterwards, Daykin added to Carlton’s fury, and escaped any further recriminations, by announcing his immediate retirement. It was a sordid episode, and the first low blow in a long and bitter conflict that endures to the present day.
Hit with a ban of at least 28 matches, Sheehan retired from VFL football and left Princes Park early in 1911. But on completion of his suspension midway through the next year, he was coaxed into a comeback with Richmond. By then, Percy’s best days were behind him. He managed only another four games with the Tigers before hanging up his boots for good.
Sheehan was listed as wearing Guernsey No. 21 for the 1912 season, it's unclear whether he played any reserve grade football for the Blues that season.
After a career of 78 VFL games in a career spanning nine seasons, Percival Henry Sheehan passed away on the 30th May, 1946, aged 62.
LinksArticles: That Other Great War - Carlton v Collingwood
Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for Percy Sheehan | Sheehans' Blueseum Image Gallery