Career : 1925 - 1927
Debut : Round 3, 1925 vs Melbourne, aged 28 years, 98 days
Carlton Player No. 412
Games : 45
Goals : 0
Last Game : Round 17, 1927 vs Richmond, aged 30 years, 207 days
Guernsey No. 21
Height : ?
Weight : ?
DOB : 7 February, 1897
Frank 'Sailor' Irwin was a tough, no-frills defender who was 28 years old when he joined the Blues from Stawell in 1925. He gave the club committed service for three seasons, until his career was ended by a massive 18-game suspension handed out by the VFL tribunal after a spiteful clash against Richmond in 1927.
The key to Irwin’s game was his ability to blanket his opponent. Quick off the mark, a good reader of the play and with steely concentration, he was a typical stopper of his era. ‘Sailor’ didn’t get many kicks himself, but he usually kept his opponent right out of the game.
In 1925 he stepped straight into a Carlton side that was enduring a wretched run of injuries, dissension and defeat. The Blues had finished seventh on the ladder in 1924, and the addition of Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne in Frank’s debut year only made things a whole lot harder.
Even so, he was one of the positives in another bad year for the Blues. After making his senior debut in round 3, 1925, ‘Sailor’ played 15 games straight for the season, and by years’ end had made the back pocket his domain. He carried that form into 1926, playing another 16 matches as Carlton showed improvement at last, and climbed to sixth place on the ladder.
A year later, Carlton seemed headed for a finals berth when we played host to Richmond at Princes Park in round 17. Richmond was third, and Carlton was fourth – so a win over the Tigers would have almost guaranteed September action for the Blues. Despite cold and wet weather, a huge crowd crammed into the ground to see a hard, physical clash that exploded into fisticuffs almost from the first bounce.
Carlton eventually won a low-scoring slog by 7 points, while no less than five players were knocked unconscious during the game. Two from each side ended up on report, including Irwin, who was charged with striking Richmond’s glamour centre half-forward, George Rudolph.
At the subsequent tribunal hearing, most of the charges were thrown out – except the main one involving ‘Sailor’. He was hit with a draconian 18-match suspension – a full season – and his VFL career ended there and then.