Some of Carlton’s current players waited a long time to play in their first finals match in 2009, and even then, the sniff of premiership success still seemed a long way off. So it should not surprise current-day Blues fans that some of our stars of the modern era are right at the top of an unfortunate list – that of most games played for the Blues without winning a flag. However, as we shall see, there is always hope, particularly when you play for a club as successful as the Old Dark Navy Blues.

Frank Gill. During Season 2010, three Bluebaggers found themselves approaching the magic 200 game mark. This was not just a sign of longevity, but also evidence of real ability - very few players make it to 100, let alone 200 senior appearances in this game. Ryan Houlihan, Heath Scotland and Chris Judd were all in reach the double century milestone. Most readers will know that Chris Judd was already a Premiership Player. Whilst neither Scotland and Houlihan had yet become a Premiership Player, they each had historical referees that may have given them motivation.

For Houlihan, it was the story of the great Harry 'Soapy' Vallence. Vallence had played for over a decade, almost giving it away at times, before saddling up for one last season in 1938. Carlton’s timely addition of talent like Brighton Diggins - and his own amazing endurance – saw our great full-forward finally achieve the ultimate football prize of a Grand Final victory that year. ‘Soapy’ retired after that long-awaited triumph, which came in his 204th match, and at the age of 33 years, 112 days! As such, he heads our list of 'Most Games Played before Premiership Success':

PlayerYearOpponentGame No. in Premiership
Harry Vallence1938Collingwood204
John Nicholls1968Essendon200
Serge Silvagni1968Essendon187
Mil Hanna1995Geelong172
Frank Gill1938Collingwood162
Rod Ashman1981Collingwood152

Whilst the legendary status of John Nicholls is well recognised, very few people realise that Big Nick only eventually won a Premiership in his 200th game of VFL football! Others in this heady list include Rod Ashman, Frank Gill and Serge Silvagni, although for younger fans the story of Mil Hanna should surely show that flag success could be just around the corner. Hanna's career at Carlton began shortly before our 1987 triumph, and was hampered by serious injury in his first five seasons. But he recovered, and went on to a fine career, during which he was a key component of our 1995 Premiership.

Unfortunately, Houlihan would retire in 2011 with 201 games to his name, but no flag.
1980 Rd 19 - Greg Wells drives the ball forward.
Heath Scotland could have also looked to the past for inspiration. As a club well versed in Premiership success, we have had many players join us from other clubs with flag glory in mind. Amongst this group are some heroes with great stories of countless cold and futile Saturdays out on the field - episodes that were all made worthwhile when they became Premiership players with the Blues:

PlayerYearOpponentGame No. in PremiershipCarlton Game No.
Greg Wells1981Collingwood25632
Greg Williams1995Geelong21978
Earl Spalding1995Geelong19586

Scotland could potentially find himself joining the Wells-Spalding-Williams club. Greg Wells, Earl Spalding and Greg Williams all joined the Blues after each had spent considerable time at other clubs without flag success, and all three became vital players in their own right in Premiership teams for the Old Dark Navy Blues.

Of course, longevity alone does not guarantee a flag. Carlton’s first decade in the 21st century was among the worst in our history, with stalwarts Lance Whitnall (216 games) and Matthew Lappin (196 Carlton games) heading the list of Blues who have played most games without a flag.

PlayerCarlton Games without a Flag
Lance Whitnall216
Ryan Houlihan201
Matthew Lappin196
John James195
Bruce Comben188
Brendan Fevola187
Fred Gilby179
Bret Thornton181*
Ron Cooper157
Simon Beaumont152
Laurie Kerr149

In fact, in bringing up 200 games Houlihan was only the fourth Blue to start game 200 without a flag (after Vallence, Nicholls, Whitnall) and only the first Blue to not have played in a GF by that stage. Poor Houla!

But after all of the sobering up above, we shouldn’t forget the other side of the coin; some of the shortest routes to glory. In fact, a select few Blues have actually won flags within their first 10 games, with Jimmy Morris holding the quite extraordinary record of having claimed one in only his fifth match!

Articles: Waiting to play Finals Footy | The Shortest Route to Glory!