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Peter McKenna – Retired Australian Rules Football Player

Records were made to be broken and even those that seem unassailable eventually fall after years of having withstood assault by a new crop of attackers that have a clear target at which to aim.

Such would seem to be the case in examining the football career of Peter McKenna. When he retired from the game in 1977, he was the VFL’s fourth-highest all-time goal kicker, but he has since been passed to the extent that he now ranks ninth. It is entirely conceivable that his name will drop further down the list for any number of reasons, but that is no indictment of his abilities, it is simply a reality of any activity where statistics are maintained.

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What is remarkable about McKenna is that he managed to end up where he did despite playing only 191 games. True, at full-forward, scoring is expected and McKenna would experience the negative consequences of failing to do so on more than one occasion, when he was dropped to the reserves as the result of sub-par performances, but he occupies his current spot on the all-time scorers list despite being only 573rd on the list for number of games played.

Out of his 12 seasons on the ground at the top level, McKenna played in 20 games or above on only four occasions. It was his high average of 4.58 goals per game that accounts for his high ranking on the all-time goals list. Sprinkled amongst that career average was a six-season stretch where he kicked at least one goal in 120 games, a three season span from 1970 to 1972 where he kicked at least 130 and one season, 1969, where he was but two shy of the century.

Peter McKenna also won the Coleman Medal twice consecutively, with 130 goals in 1972 and 86 in 1973. He also was the recipient of his club’s Best and Fairest Copeland Trophy in 1970.

Another aspect to his story, one in which he is far from singular, is that he never got to experience the ultimate prize of a premiership, even though he was instrumental to the Collingwood reaching the finals in 1966, where the Magpies were edged by the St. Kilda Knights by one point 10.13 (73) – 10.14 (74) in a game in which McKenna did not participate. Then, four years later, Collingwood would lose the 1970 Grand Final to the Carlton Blues in what is considered by many to be one of the greatest Grand Finals of all time.

McKenna and his teammates would experience the ignominy of squandering a 44 point half time lead to see the final tally of 17.9 (111) – 14.17 (101) go against them in front of 121,696 spectators (most all-time) at the MCG.

McKenna would be available to the Magpies for the first half only of that match; at least as far as being an effective contributor was concerned. He had been inadvertently crushed by his teammate Des Tuddenham near the end of the second term. McKenna was in the prime of his prime during the season, winding up with his highest-ever goal total, 143, and he had already contributed a five goal effort in the first half of the Final.

He would later describe the concussion-like effects of his collision with Tuddenham, which limited him to one goal in the second half and caused him to play tentatively instead of his usual aggressive pattern.

The second half collapse of both McKenna and Collingwood would lead to the team being derisively called the Colliwobbles. It marked the beginning of an era of frustration that saw them lose the Grand Final in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1981 before breaking through to finally win the premiership against Essendon in 1990.

After winning the pole position for most goals in the home-away series in 1973, Peter McKenna’s level of play began to decline. He played in 18 games in 1974, but his 26 goals was his lowest output since his first two seasons, which combined, featured the identical number of games as his 1974 season and it could have rightly be said that he was still feeling his way in those debut seasons. 1975 got off to a respectable start where he was leading the Magpies in goal kicking when he had a goal-less game in round 11 against Melbourne FC and was subsequently demoted.

When he next made it onto the oval against South Melbourne FC, he was seriously injured, ending his season and his career at Collingwood. He returned to join Tasmania’s squad in the North West Football union in 1976, where he showed a return to form that earned him another opportunity in the VFL.

Much to his consternation, his old Collingwood team was not willing to pay him the type of money a player of his stature would normally command.

He took a position with Carlton, where he played competently for 11 games, but it soon became apparent that he had lost some of his old prowess. With only 12 seasons wear on him, he went on to a three year stint in the lower ranks with Geelong, Port Melbourne and Northcote, where he contributed 98 goals.

Off the field, Peter McKenna made the most of his popularity. His rank as a super-star full forward playing for media and fan darling Collingwood FC, combined with his appealing appearance, found him recording records, appearing regularly on television and publishing a book about his life and times in the game. He would become a TV commentator after his playing days were concluded all the way until 2001. He switched to radio and a role as a part-time goal kicking coach for his beloved Magpies. Later years found him occupying public service roles for the Victorian Parliament and also as a spokesman in support of epilepsy sufferers.

Peter McKenna will in all probability continue to move down the list of leading goal scorers. This is in no way meant to disparage him and his on-field accomplishments.

It is simply what is to be expected as succeeding generations of footballers see what has transpired before them and what it is possible to accomplish. This fact has enabled notables such as Matthew Lloyd, Gary Ablett, Jason Dunstall and Tony Lockett to surpass McKenna’s goal tally. The other four players ahead of him played far more games, making a comparison based solely on scoring highly subjective, which is admittedly an appealing aspect to Australian Rules Football.

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