The big story for Hawthorn before the 1956 season began was another recruitment story, this time of a young country boy called Brendan Edwards. Like Graham Arthur, he was recruited from the Sandhurst Footy Club. North Melbourne were also interested in him and sent two recruiters up to Bendigo to sign him up. As luck would have it, they called in at former Hawk captain Kevin Curran’s pub to find out where Edwards lived. Curran, who was captain of the Sandhurst side, sent them on their way and then went and found Edwards himself and gave him £50 to sign with the Hawks. When the two North recruiters finally caught up with Edwards they were ready to hand him £200, only to find they’d had him snatched from under their noses. Edwards himself bore no grudges, confessing that he’d already decided he’d rather go to Hawthorn anyway.
Both Edwards and Arthur spoke extremely fondly of the Hawthorn family. Describing the feeling as exactly that – of “an incredible feeling of family.” Of special significance was Jack Hale’s generosity towards the kids on the list from the country, who would regularly gather at Hale’s home for a meal cooked by the coach’s wife. “Jack Hale treated me like a son,” Edwards was to say. “He seemed to do that with all the new players.” But there was also the tough disciplinarian side to the coach, also adopted by his captain, Kennedy. “With Jack, there was no such thing as pain,” said Edwards. “Hale and Kennedy drummed it into us that you never let your opponents know they had hurt you.”
In round 1 against Collingwood, Edwards ruptured a thigh muscle in the first quarter and despite Hale, true to form, leaving him on the ground until half time, missed the next 8 games. When he returned to the senior side in round 10, he wouldn’t leave it again for virtually the rest of his career.
In round 2 against Richmond at Punt Road, the Hawks were 25 points down at three-quarter time and came home with a mad rush, kicking 7.5 to 0.1 in the last to win by 21 points. To this day, it is still the biggest three-quarter time deficit overcome in HFC history.
Despite kicking their second highest score for the year, the Hawks lost to top side Geelong at home by 12, before notching three wins in succession. The first was a one goal win over South at Lake Oval, the second a low scoring 21 point win over St Kilda where the Hawks kicked 6 goals to 3 for the match. The last was a cliffhanging three point triumph over a Footscray team on its way to the finals, coming from behind in the last quarter to snatch the win 10.14 74 to 10.11 71.
Unfortunately that was all she wrote. The Hawks would win only 3 more of their 12 remaining games, with a draw against lowly South Melbourne thrown in for good measure. One good point was the club’s first win against North after 10 straight losses against the Roos. In this match it was reported that, “young Hawthorn ruckman John Kennedy requested that he go back on the field after half time. The request was denied. Kennedy had a broken arm.” He would miss eight weeks, the Hawks would lose the next five. The horror run was broken by the draw against South, but even that match was a nightmare, the Hawks having 10 more scoring shots for the match but still finishing up 10.18 78 to 12.6 78.
Hawthorn finished off the season winning 2 of its last 3 games, against 11th placed St Kilda by 17 points and a middle-order Fitzroy by 7. This finished the Hawks up in 7th place, with fewer wins than the previous two years. On 30 August, the club played its first ever night competition match at Lakeside Oval, losing again through poor kicking to Richmond by 9 points, 9.19 73, to 12.10 82. The competition was known as a ‘loser’s championship’ – made up of the eight teams outside the Four.
In a season that started so promisingly but finished up delivering so little, where the highest AND lowest scores were both achieved against Richmond, there were some significant positives. Vice Captain Roy Simmonds won the best and fairest and came equal 4th in the Brownlow, while midfielder John ‘Bones’ O'Mahoney came equal 8th. Simmonds also represented his state with ruckman Ian Egerton.
Brian Falconer, from West Perth won the best first year player, along with Brendan Edwards, young centre half-forward Gary Young debuted and also won the League reserves goalkicking with 49. He would go on to play 108 games and kick 164 goals. His ruckman brother Maurie, who would play 71 games and kick 59 goals, also debuted. Another significant first gamer was Les ‘Killer’ Kaine from Coleraine, a key position player who would play 103 games and despite kicking 80 goals, would be a premiership player at full-back.
Another big positive for the club was the Reserves (and the HFC’s) first finals appearance. The side, captained by Peter Kanis and coached by ‘Tubby’ Edmonds, lost their semi final to finish fourth, but there was a big sense of achievement in having the Brown and Gold colours playing finals football. Gary Rasmussen won the Morrish Medal in the under-19s. He would go on to play only 7 games for Hawthorn.
Perhaps appropriately, with success finally approaching, it was around this time that the club song, We’re a happy team at Hawthorn, was created. Doc Ferguson decided it was time the team had an anthem and Jack O’Hagan, the composer of The Road to Gundagi, was requisitioned to pick a tune and pen the words. He was paid 25 guineas, which he immediately donated back to the players’ trip fund.
This would be the last year of Hawthorn’s life-long finals drought. It is worth noting that to this point, the club had won only 134 games from 576 starts. It had awful records against most other clubs, such as 3 wins and 52 losses against Collingwood. It had amassed an embarrassing 10 wooden spoons, and only once finished with more wins than losses in its 32 seasons. If ever there was an appropriate place to draw a line, this was it. Every aspect of the club’s success rate would improve dramatically from this point. It was becoming Hawthorn’s time to shine.
1956 - The Facts
Finished: 7 of 12
Highest score: 16.10.106 v Richmond, Round 2 at Punt Rd
Lowest score: 3.13.31 v Richmond, Round 13 at Glenferrie Oval
Greatest Winning Margin: 25 points, 7.13.55 to North Melbourne 3.12.30, Round 9 at Glenferrie Oval
Greatest Losing Margin: 43 points, 9.6.60 to Footscray 15.13 103, Round 17 at the Western Oval
Longest Winning Streak: 3, Rounds 4 to 6
Longest Losing Streak: 5, Rounds 10 to 14
Coach: Jack Hale
Captain: John Kennedy Snr
Club Champion: Roy Simmonds
Most Brownlow votes: Roy Simmonds, 13
Leading goalkicker: John Peck, 31
President: Dr Sandy Ferguson
Secretary/CEO: Bill Newton
Donald C. Douglas
Les 'Killer' Kaine