In 2007, the news that West Coast Eagles’ captain Chris Judd was returning home to Victoria to continue his stellar career with the Carlton Blues shaped as one of the biggest football stories of the decade. But it was not the first time that a high-profile player from another club had been drawn here in sensational circumstances. From Australian football’s first stuttering steps toward professionalism in the first decade of last century, through to the elite pathway programs of the modern era, some of the biggest names in the game have switched clubs to play and/or coach at Princes Park.

Here, in historical order, the Blueseum proudly presents the stories of eight other influential figures who made headlines by switching their allegiance to Carlton, and thereby helping to shape the glorious history of the Old Dark Navy Blues.

1. BRIGHTON DIGGINS, (1938)
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In 1937, Carlton was a team on the verge of losing momentum. The Blues had been finalists in 1933, 1935 & '36, but were obvious underachievers. By then, Blues’ Vice-President Kenneth (later Sir Kenneth) Luke was convinced that South Melbourne’s 1933 Premiership ruckman Brighton Diggins (who was in dispute with his club) was the man Carlton needed as its next coach, and made it his mission to get his man. Despite a more lucrative offer from the Perth Football Club, Diggins finally agreed on terms to captain-coach at Princes Park in 1938.

By then, Diggins was thirty-one years old and well into the twilight of his career, but he still pushed himself as hard as he pushed his team. Training was relentless, yet innovative, and when the season began, the Blues were fit and ready. The turning point came mid-season, when Carlton rallied late in the game to snatch a one-point win over arch-rivals Richmond in a fierce, physical encounter. With their confidence boosted, the Blues finished on top of the ladder and three weeks later, faced Collingwood in the Grand Final.

On that long yearned-for day – 23 years after our previous flag win - Carlton won a thriller by 13 points before a record crowd of 96,834. Rover Jack Hale was generally considered Best on Ground, but Diggins wasn't far behind. Following wild celebrations at the MCG, Brighton jumped into a car with some teammates - and supposedly ended up in Adelaide!

2. ERN HENFRY (1947)

In 1944, while on leave from the RAAF in Melbourne, West Australian sensation Ern Henfry played two games for Carlton on permit - and stunned the club with his ability. At 183 cms and 83 kg he was big for a centreman, but his wonderful foot skills, his pace and evasiveness made him a match-winner, and the Blues were hell-bent on getting him to Princes Park.

When the War ended in 1945, and Henfry returned to his pre-war job as a bank officer, an influential Carlton supporter arranged for him to be transferred to Melbourne. Carlton then approached Perth to clear him, but the Redlegs refused and Henfry was forced to sit out the entire 1946 season.

Then, early in 1947, Carlton sprung a huge surprise by nominating Henfry as its captain for that year - after he had played just two games for the club. It turned out to be an inspired move. This time, Carlton's appeal to the ANFC against Perth's refusal to clear him was successful, and the Blues had a new and brilliant leader.
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Henfry's astute captaincy had an immediate impact, and under veteran coach Percy Bentley, Carlton won their way into the ‘47 Grand Final against Essendon. In a tough and desperate affair, Henfry's duel with the Bombers' champion Dick Reynolds in the middle was crucial. He more than held his own early, before gaining the upper hand in the last quarter as Carlton won that cliff-hanger by a solitary point, thanks to a snap goal in the dying seconds by rover Fred Stafford. Henfry's dream debut season was then capped off when he shared Carlton's Best & Fairest award with Bert Deacon, who also won that years Brownlow Medal.

3. RON BARASSI (1965)

Two days before Christmas, 1964, the Carlton Football Club lit a bomb under every other VFL club by announcing that it had signed Melbourne legend and six-time Premiership player Ron Barassi as captain-coach of the Blues for three years. The news rocked football to its foundations.

At 178 cm and 83 kg Barassi was a solid type, not particularly blessed with an abundance of football talent. But he was tough, courageous and an inspirational leader who hated to lose any sort of contest. In Melbourne's golden era of 1953 to 1964, Ron played in no fewer than eight Grand Finals, winning six Premierships - two as captain. Wearing the same guernsey number as his father (31) he was the games' premier ruck-rover and its most recognisable figure.

"Practice makes perfect is bullshit," he would say; "only perfect practice makes perfect," as his methods and his iron discipline saw the Blues improve markedly from tenth to sixth in 1966, then third in 1967. Barassi then retired as a player late in the '68 season, and guided the Blues into the Grand Final from the coach’s box. Before more than 112,000 people at the MCG, Carlton won another nail-biter by three points over Essendon. The Blues' first flag for 21 years made Barassi the toast of Lygon St.

Two years later came Barassi's finest hour. At half time in the 1970 Grand Final, Carlton trailed Collingwood by 44 points. With nothing to lose, he gambled on a bold tactic that he had nurtured for years, telling his team to play on at every opportunity, and to use handball to keep the ball moving at all costs. He also made some astute positional changes, and sent 19th man Ted Hopkins on to the ground in a forward pocket. In one of the greatest comebacks in finals history, Hopkins ran riot, kicking four goals as the Blues steamrolled Collingwood to win by 10 points.

4. ALEX JESAULENKO (1967)
Image courtesy of Carlton Football Club.
The son of Ukrainian migrants who settled in Canberra after World War II, Jesaulenko played soccer and rugby as a boy. He was 14 before he discovered Aussie Rules, but only five years later he was a star in the local competition. Carlton soon had him in their sights, but North Melbourne swooped first and convinced the youngster to trial with them on match permits.

While Carlton's recruiters were certainly miffed, they would not be deterred, and after convincing Alex and his parents that Princes Park offered greater opportunities, they found a loophole in the regulations, and, much to the disgust of the Kangaroos, successfully appealed to have North's agreement ruled invalid by the ANFC. In the summer of 1966, Jesaulenko arrived at Princes Park, where his form in training and pre-season trial matches was nothing short of sensational.

Soon, the crowd roar of "Jezzzaaa!" swelled from the terraces at every Carlton game. It was a golden era for the Blues, and Alex led the way. A fabulous high mark, brilliant at ground level, and deadly around the goals, he was also remarkably versatile. Although at 183 cm and 83 kg his build was more suited to the flank or the centre, during his stellar career he played in every position on the ground except first ruck. And when he went to full-forward in 1970 he kicked 115 goals - still the only occasion when a Carlton player has slotted the "ton". On his way to that remarkable achievement, he scored 10.2 off his own boot in round six against Fitzroy.

Jezza played 256 memorable games for Carlton - none more so than the fabled 1970 Grand Final where took his glorious "Mark of the Century" over Collingwood's Graham Jenkin. He was a star in four Carlton Grand Final victories; in 1968, 1970, 1972 and 1979. He was our leading goal kicker in 1969 (66 goals), 1970 (115) and 1971 (56), Best & Fairest in 1975, captain in 1974-75 and captain-coach in 1978-79 - a truly outstanding record.

5. FRANK MARCHESANI (1981)

When struggling Fitzroy unveiled Frank Marchesani in 1980, their tall, pacy recruit from Marcellin College was a sensation. A smooth-striding wingman who loved kicking goals, he thrilled the Lions’ supporters in his 16 matches, won Recruit of the Year, and was seen by many as a saviour of the club.
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That was until late the off-season, when Marchesani shocked Fitzroy by requesting a transfer to Carlton. By then Frank was deeply unhappy at Fitzroy. He had friends playing at Carlton, so the Blues were his preferred destination, but he was intent on a move regardless.

Carlton’s Chairman of Selectors Wes Lofts led the push to get Marchesani to Princes Park, only to run into a brick wall of refusal from the Fitzroy side. Unable to negotiate a clearance, and insistent that his days the Lions were over, Frank took the only option left. He stood out of the game to force a resolution.

Eventually, sanity prevailed. Fitzroy relented right on the deadline for mid-season clearances (June 30) and Marchesani became a Carlton player in exchange for the Blues’ popular 1979 Premiership wingman, Peter Francis.

Prior to the 1982 Grand Final, staged before more than 107,000 people at the MCG, Carlton coach David Parkin tried to unsettle Richmond by sending 22 players (including Marchesani and David Clarke – who were not part of the selected side) out on to the ground prior to the bounce. As the teams made for their positions after the toss, that pair then disappeared up the race to allow Wayne Johnston and Ken Hunter to take their places. Carlton routed Richmond by 18 points in a great victory remembered for Johnston and Mike Fitzpatrick’s dominance of the centre, and Bruce Doull’s amusing encounter with a female streaker.

From that point on, Marchesani’s career was a series of fits and starts. He played 14 matches and kicked 13 goals in 1983, only to be struck down by a serious lung infection that prevented him from playing at all in ‘84. He was retained on the playing list for one more year, but only managed three games. His last match for Carlton was the 1985 Elimination Final against North Melbourne at Waverley.

6. DAVID RHYS-JONES (1985)

Originally from Oakleigh Districts, Rhys-Jones was signed by South Melbourne as an 18 year-old and made his debut for them in 1980. At 188cm and 73 kg, he quickly established himself as one of the game's tallest and best wingmen. He had pace, balance and wonderful aerial skills - but his short fuse soon had him regularly before the tribunal, and he was not popular with opposition supporters.

When South Melbourne were transplanted to Sydney in the early eighties, Rhys-Jones was one of a handful of Swans who asked for a clearance. Eyebrows were raised when it was announced that "Reese" was on his way to Princes Park for the 1985 season. The news was not greeted warmly by many Blues' supporters, and Rhys-Jones struggled for wide acceptance in his first two seasons - especially when some brilliant games were indispersed with continued suspensions.
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All that changed however, on Grand Final day in 1987. Carlton coach Robert Walls created huge surprise early by assigning Rhys-Jones to Hawthorn's trump card - their champion centre half-forward Dermott Brereton. The Hawthorn star was taller and heavier, but Rhys-Jones played superb, disciplined football all day and Brereton was hardly sighted. Carlton won its 15th Premiership by 33 points. Rhys-Jones won the Norm Smith Medal and the plaudits (at last) of every Carlton fan.

"Reese" went on to play 106 games and score 73 goals for the Blues in a much-interrupted career from 1985 to 1992, but it was a pity that his outstanding natural ability was overshadowed by the fact that he was reported more times in his career than any other VFL/AFL player.

7. STEPHEN KERNAHAN (1986)

The Stephen Kernahan at Carlton story began in 1979, when a sixteen year-old, tall, skinny forward from South Australia - son of Glenelg Football Club legend Harry Kernahan – was one of stars of the carnival. The chase for his signature had begun, with Essendon, Melbourne and Carlton leading the pack. The youngster continued to impress as he rose through the ranks at Glenelg, where he made his senior debut in 1981. In ’82, after discussions with all three VFL clubs, Stephen finally agreed to sign with Carlton (following a personal invitation from his football idol Bruce Doull) but he honoured his father’s wishes with the proviso that he would only transfer across when Glenelg had won another SANFL Premiership.

At last, in 1985, the Bays beat North Adelaide in the SANFL Grand Final to win only their third flag after a 12-year drought. Alternating between the key forward posts, Kernahan was unstoppable all day to be unanimously voted best-on-ground. He was the club’s leading goal-kicker for the second time, on the way to being named All-Australian centre half-forward. No wonder the phone ran hot between Adelaide and Princes Park in the days after that Grand Final!

After 136 games and 290 goals in Glenelg’s black and gold, Sticks arrived at Carlton in 1986 to join a Blues’ outfit shaping as a flag threat under new coach Robert Walls. By then a seasoned 22 year-old, scaling 196cm and 97kg, Kernahan slotted straight into the team and made an immediate impact as a key forward. Early in the following year, Carlton shocked the football world again by announcing that Stephen Kernahan, after less than 30 games for the club, would captain the Blues in season 1987. In hindsight it was a master stroke, but at the time the decision was widely questioned.

Carlton’s 1987 Premiership was, to a large degree, won in the final home and away round of that year, when Carlton met North Melbourne at Waverley. Needing a win to guarantee top place on the ladder and a crucial week’s rest in the first round of the finals, the Blues trailed the ‘Roos by two points when 'Sticks' took a strong pack mark 40 metres out on a tight angle, just as the final siren sounded. Under enormous pressure, he ran in and slotted the definitive captain’s goal.

Refreshed after gaining that much-needed break, Carlton went on to beat Hawthorn in the second semi, and lined up against them again in the Grand Final. It was a tough, tight first half, before Carlton broke the Hawks’ will after half time to claim our fifteenth flag with a decisive 33-point victory. The Blues’ defence was magnificent, while Kernahan marked strongly all day to kick three goals at pivotal stages of the game. Rounding out a memorable first year as captain, he went on to win his first Best and Fairest award, and was the club’s leading goal-kicker with 72 majors.

The Blues were not to appear on Grand Final day again for six years, but in the interim, Sticks enhanced his standing as one of football’s elite. He won his second club Best & Fairest in 1989 and his third in 1992, while continuing his unbroken run of club goal-kicking awards. His decision to reject a huge offer from the Adelaide Crows bore fruit when the Blues marched into the 1993 Grand Final against a young and talented Essendon team - only to be overwhelmed by 44 points. The only saving grace that day was the superb, gutsy performance of Kernahan, who booted seven of Carlton’s thirteen goals.

Happily, the bitter taste of that defeat was washed away after just one season. By the first game of 1995, the Blues were once more bound for glory. The finals began with Carlton four wins clear on top of the ladder. Two more victories over Brisbane and North Melbourne followed, to see the Blues through to a Grand Final showdown with Geelong. The Cats had been impressive too, and they had a superstar named Gary Ablett in their goal square.

When more than 90,000 people packed into the MCG that overcast September day, they saw Carlton demolish Geelong in one of the most emphatic Premiership wins ever. Stephen Silvagni kept Ablett to just a handful of possessions and no goals, Greg Williams was brilliant across half-forward and Sticks marked strongly as usual to notch five goals at full-forward. The final margin was 61 points.

At the celebrations that night, Carlton President John Elliott echoed the opinion of most Carlton supporters when he said; “this is the greatest team in Carlton’s history – and Stephen Kernahan is our greatest captain.” Although nagging injuries had kept Sticks out of the side for eight games in that dream season (he had missed just four games in the previous nine years) he was our top goal-kicker, with 63 majors, for the tenth time in a row. And because he missed selection in those two early defeats, he did not play in a losing Carlton side all year.

8. GREG WILLIAMS (1992)

One of the most brilliant and controversial players of all time, Greg "Diesel" Williams was twice rejected by Carlton as a youngster because he lacked natural leg speed. Nevertheless, he went on to carve his name into AFL history as a champion centreman at Geelong and Sydney, before returning to Princes Park and Premiership glory with the Blues. For sheer ball-getting ability, tenacity, and pin-point disposal by hand or by foot, Diesel Williams has had few peers.
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Geelong opened the door to fame for Williams, when he made his VFL senior debut in the blue and white hoops against Fitzroy at Kardinia Park in March 1984. The Cats’ centreline that day featured another debutante in Gary Ablett, alongside Greg Williams and Michael Turner - but it was Williams who dominated the game. His 38 possessions brought him newspaper headlines and three Brownlow Medal votes from the umpires. Sometime during the following week, Turner began calling Williams ‘Diesel’ (because he was slow, but reliable) and one of the most familiar of all football nick-names stuck.

Williams later claimed that he would have been happy to stay at Geelong (and told the Cats that he would stay) for a reasonable increase in his contract from $45,000 to $50,000 for 1986. Unbelievably, they refused, saying that a rise for one meant a rise for all, and that was out of the question. So Diesel became a Swan - on somewhere near twice the money that Geelong had paid him.

With Sydney, Diesel linked up with a galaxy of stars poached from other clubs, and immediately kicked sand into Geelong’s face by winning the 1986 Brownlow Medal, in a tie with Hawthorn’s Robert Dipierdomenico. Surrounded by classy, quick moving team-mates, Williams’ uncanny ability to win the ball in heavy traffic, then to fire it through the smallest gap with a lightning handpass off either hand, quickly made him the most influential player in the game. And when he found the space and time, his kicking skills were almost as good.

By mid-year of 1991 however, Diesel had had enough of Sydney. His knees were showing signs of wear and tear from the hours of training and playing each week, many of the original Sydney Swans had been sold off or retired, and his dream of playing in a Premiership team seemed further away than ever. After 107 games and 118 goals in the red and white, it was time for a fresh start at a new club.

Eventually, Williams joined Carlton in a complicated three-way deal that saw promising Blues full-forward Simon Minton-Connell and Fitzroy speedster Darren Kappler packed off to Sydney, while the Lions added Blues Peter Sartori and Ashley Matthews to their list. Williams’ contract at Carlton was rumoured to be more than $350,000 per year, and it proved to be worth every cent.

Greg Williams won his second Brownlow Medal in 1994 when he polled a massive 30 votes to beat West Coast’s Peter Matera by two. The only dampener on another brilliant individual effort by Diesel (in a year when he was also named All Australian captain, AFL Player’s Association MVP, and Carlton’s Best and Fairest) was the Blues’ capitulation in the finals for the second year running.

Yet in the wake of those two empty seasons for the Blues, there was little recrimination or searching for scapegoats. Instead, the team bonded in steely determination to make 1995 a year of redemption. Coach David Parkin said later that his side almost coached itself in the second half of ’95, simply because each player adhered to the principle of team first.

The Blues were the dominant team of 1995, and went into the Grand Final as warm favourites, although wary of a Geelong side that at its best, was capable of matching the Blues in most aspects of the game. However, on the last day of September, nearly 94,000 spectators witnessed one of the great teams in the long history of the AFL at the peak of its form. After an even first quarter, the rampant Blues dominated the rest of the game and ran out winners by 61 points. Stephen Silvagni and Peter Dean were courage and commitment personified in defence, while forwards Kernahan and Brad Pearce kicked nine goals between them.

But the most influential player on the ground was Greg Williams. Given a licence to roam at half-forward, Diesel mesmerised the Geelong defence to set up countless forward thrusts for his side, and kicked five goals. He was a unanimous choice as Best on Ground, and was greeted by a huge roar of approval from the delirious Carlton masses when the Norm Smith Medal was slipped over his head. That day was also Greg’s thirty-second birthday. The Blues claimed a 16th Premiership with our sixteenth successive win, and the pigeon-toed kid who couldn’t run out of sight on a dark night - yet who was blessed with uncanny ability – had reached his finest hour.