Career : 1932 - 1933
Debut : Round 1, 1932 v Fitzroy, aged 22 years, 260 days
Carlton Player No. 486
Games : 31
Goals : 2
Last Game : Semi Final, 1933 v Geelong, aged 24 years, 27 days
Guernsey No. 5
Height : 164 cm (5 ft. 5 in.)
Weight : 66 kg (9 stone, 9 lbs.)
DOB : 13 August, 1909
A talented and hard-running wingman, Leo Opray went close to completing a milestone hat-trick of Premierships when he was Carlton’s best player in our 1932 Grand Final loss to Richmond. Ironically, Opray had begun his climb to elite-level football with the Tigers, playing the 1929 season with their Reserves team as a rover, before crossing to Oakleigh and starring in their 1930-31 VFA Premierships on his way to Princes Park.
When Oakleigh was admitted to the VFA in 1929, the Purple and Golds wasted no time in attracting a bevy of quality recruits - including Opray, who was lured from Punt Road to the annoyance of the Tigers. Oakleigh coach Frank Maher then transformed the 164 cm speedster into a creative winger, who was clearly Best on Ground in both of Oakleigh’s historic double flag victories over Northcote. Carlton wasn’t the only club impressed by Opray’s ability, but we were clearly the most persuasive when it came time for him to choose a VFL team. He moved to Princes Park in 1932, and was assigned our number 5 guernsey for his debut match against Fitzroy at the Brunswick St Oval in round one of that season.
Although Carlton lost that match by 16 points, the most significant outcome was that it marked the formation of another brilliant Carlton centre line. With captain Colin Martyn in the pivot, flanked by Joe Kelly on one wing and Opray on the other, the Blues had assembled an outstanding midfield combination that steered us to the top of the ladder by season’s end, as well as to warm favouritism for the flag. Standing in the way however, was Richmond – Carlton’s bogey team, and victors over the Blues in each of our three previous finals encounters.
Sure enough, when injury kept him out of the ’32 Semi Final against the Tigers, Leo could only watch on in frustration as Richmond convincingly beat us by 25 points – a result that condemned the Blues to a Preliminary Final clash with Collingwood, and set the stage for one of the all-time great individual efforts by a Carlton player. The following week, Blues’ champion full forward Harry Vallence mesmerised the Collingwood defence and booted 11 goals while Carlton smashed our most detested rival by a mammoth 75 points. With renewed confidence, the Blues then looked forward to another crack at the Tigers for the flag.
On Grand Final day 1932, nearly 70,000 fans squeezed into the MCG to see Opray and Martyn hold sway across the centre, and ‘Soapy’ Vallence kick five goals in another memorable performance, yet the Blues went down again to the Tigers by 9 points. Opray was dominant on his wing, and drove the his team into attack tirelessly all afternoon. Richmond’s tight-knit defence held firm however, and got them home in a cliff-hanger.
In the wake of that fruitless year, the retirement of Colin Martyn was a double blow for the Blues. Resolute full-back Frank Gill then assumed the captaincy for 1933, while Ron Cooper eventually settled into a new role as Martyn’s replacement in the centre. Carlton made the finals yet again - for the seventh year running - and booked a meeting with Geelong in the first Semi Final. The game never reached great heights however, and although the Blues had their noses just in front at the last break, the Cats finished stronger and got up by thirteen points. Just why Leo cut short his VFL career after that match at remains a mystery, but surely, at just 24 years of age he still had his best years ahead of him.
In 1938, Opray was playing minor league football for south-east suburban club Balaklava when he answered a SOS from neighbouring VFA club Brighton, who offered him the role of first rover. The Penguins believed that they were only one or two quality players away from mounting a serious challenge for that year's flag - and sure enough, they were. The red and whites battled their way through to the Grand Final, only to fall 33 points short of Brunswick in an engrossing contest.
Twelve months later, when Australia was swept into World War II by our allegiance to Great Britain, Opray was living in Caulfield. He volunteered for active service with the Australian Army, and served for the duration with the 2/32 Battalion, a much-travelled unit whose list of battle honours included Tobruk and El Alamein in North Africa; Lae, Finschafen and Pabu in Papua-New Guinea; and the amphibious landing on the island of Borneo in the last months of the conflict.
Leo survived the ordeal, but apparently not without some ongoing medical problems. He was discharged from the army a few weeks after the war ended at last in August, 1945, and passed away at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital on February 8, 1974, aged just 64.