Bendigo FNLThe Archive | Eaglehawk’s George Ilsley rates as one of the all-time great BFL centre half-forwards, capable of winning tight games off his own boot. Born in Koondrook George was playing footy with the Kerang seniors when he was only 14.

Still a teenager and with his family he arrived in Eaglehawk, a fact not lost on the Borough’s talent scouts. It was 1949 and he started off his career with the Two Blues. From that season onwards until his retirement in 1964 George was never dropped from the Eaglehawk senior line-up. In that 16-year time span Ilsley twice left Eaglehawk only to return to the club he loved. It was in 1954 he decided to have a crack at VFL footy.

George was in Melbourne for training with the SEC (that’s the State Electricity Commission for younger readers) and knew that a fair few of the VFL clubs were interested. He decided on Carlton. But city life didn’t appeal to country boy George so after two games with the Blues he headed back north to Canterbury Park. Carlton lost those two games to South Melbourne and Melbourne, respectively. And why had the Blues shown so much interest in Ilsley?

Well, in 1953 he’d won the best afield trophy for Bendigo against Ovens and Murray and in a later fixture that season booted four goals as Bendigo downed Ballarat. Not only that, but George ended up as a key player in Eaglehawk’s ’53 grand final win over Sandhurst (12.13 to 9.12) and had finished runner-up to Hurst rover Noel Evans in the Michelsen medal count. He’d also finished runner-up in the Michelsen in 1952, the medal’s inaugural year, to Sandhurst captain-coach Kevin Curran.

The margin was five votes as it was 12 months later when Evans won. George certainly wasn’t the tallest centre half-forward going around. He stood 174 cm (5 feet 9 inches) in his specially heeled footy boots. The heels weren’t there to provide George with extra height. They were there primarily to try and prevent leg injuries.

He was tough and uncompromising out on the park. An excellent mark and fine kick George was the lynchpin around Eaglehawk’s mid-50s successes. After Ollie Grieve had coached the 1953 Eaglehawk side (with George oustanding) to their grand final win the Basil Ashman-coached Two Blues downed Kyneton in the 1957 decider. Ilsley took home the best afield award following the 14.17 to 10.11 victory and by 1958 was the Hawks’ captain-coach. Although never all that keen on the captain-coach role George stuck it out for three seasons (1958-59-60) although Eaglehawk was only able to make the finals once in that period: in 1959.

George managed to shelve his partial dislike of captain-coaching when he took on the role at Golden City F.L. club Northern United for the 1961 and 1962 seasons. He moved himself into the middle, playing as a centreman, and won the GCFL’s Rupert Betteridge medal in one of his seasons with United. Back to the Borough George went in 1963, as a player solely, and continued on until the end of the 1964 season. He was 32 by then and with more than 350 senior matches to his name no one begrudged George hanging up his boots. He’d enjoyed some great BFL battles with Square’s Vin Lapsley, Clive Philp of Kyneton, Ken Carter of South and Castlemaine’s Wally Culpitt.

By-play between George and the crowd was part of the package. In one semi-final against Golden Square George thumbed his nose at Lapsley and was promptly jeered by the bumper crowd as they counted George out. It fired up the Eaglehawk forward as he immediately nailed four goals to get the Borough back into the contest. lsley ended up booting a match-high six goals to spearhead Eaglehawk’s semi-final victory that day. He passed away in April 2016. George was 84.

By Richard Jones