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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McHale, James Francis (1881–1953)

by R. Stremski

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

James Francis McHale (1881-1953), footballer and coach, was born on 12 December 1881 at Botany, Sydney, son of John Francis McHale, police constable, and his wife Mary, née Gibbons, both from Ireland. McHale's ironic nickname 'Jock' originated in a caricature of him in a kilt by the Herald cartoonist Wells during the 1920s. After coming to Melbourne as a young boy, he received primary schooling at St Bridget's, North Fitzroy, and St Paul's, Coburg, and in 1894-96 attended Christian Brothers' College (Parade), East Melbourne. Upon leaving school, he was employed at the McCracken Brewery; he became a leading hand and on his retirement in 1947 was supervising the brewing process at the Carlton Brewery, Bouverie Street.

Despite a common misconception, McHale was not the first coach employed by the Collingwood Football Club; his several predecessors had included Dick Condon. But he established a Victorian Football League record by coaching the team for 38 years (1913-50), during which the club won eight premierships (1917, 1919, 1927-30, 1935-36), including a record four in a row, and was runner-up ten times.

McHale's fame as 'Prince of Coaches' has overshadowed an equally illustrious playing career (1903-18) as a centreman for Collingwood to which he graduated from the Coburg Juniors (1899-1902). He played 262 league games, including a contemporary record consecutive 191 in 1906-17, and in the opinion of the club historian was one of the greatest players ever for Collingwood. McHale played in two premiership sides (1910, 1917), was captain twice (1912-13), players' representative (1911-19), committee-man (1921-38) and vice-president (1939-53).

McHale's success as a coach sprang from his love of the club and his uncanny ability to know when players were fit. Reputation and talent meant little to him; players were selected on the basis of form and willingness to 'run through walls for Collingwood'. He was not a great teaching coach: the McHale method, which never changed over forty years, inculcated machine-like team-play, the main objective of each player being to beat his individual opponent. Although McHale believed in fitness above all, his half-time addresses were inspirational; he did not rehash the first half, but 'could get inside' the players by instilling club 'spirit' into them. A man who could never abide losing, he perpetuated the Collingwood tradition of insatiable will to win.

McHale was 'a Collingwood six-footer', 5 ft 11 in (180 cm) tall, of 12 stone (76 kg) playing weight, with curly, dark brown hair and grey, penetrating eyes. He remained active at the Collingwood Football Club until his death on 4 October 1953 at Coburg. McHale's initial heart attack occurred the day after Collingwood's grand final victory of 26 September 1953; he had played a vital role in the selection of the side. He was survived by his wife Violet Mary Angel, née Godfrey, whom he had married on 28 April 1909 at Brunswick, and by his son John, who played for Collingwood in 1941 and 1943-44; a daughter and son predeceased him. A portrait by Paul Fitzgerald hangs in the Collingwood Social Club. He was buried in Coburg cemetery with Catholic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Taylor, Collingwood Football Club 1892-1948 (Melb, nd, 1950?)
  • L. Richards, Boots and All (Melb, 1963)
  • E. H. Buggy, The Real John Wren (Melb, 1977)
  • Collingwood Football Club, Annual Report, 1903-53, records and statistics, 1897-1981, and cash outward, 1897-1928
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Aug 1950
  • Advocate (Melbourne), Oct 1953
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. Stremski, 'McHale, James Francis (1881–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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