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globalrugbyleague - Tue, 28 Aug 2007 23:05:00 GMT
Twenty-five years after ‘The Master – the beginnings of Australian Rugby League’ was published, a far more comprehensive celebration of the life of Herbert ‘Dally’ Messenger has been released.

Co-authored by sports historian Sean Fagan and the grandson of the subject, Dally Messenger III is ‘The Master: the life and times of Dally Messenger’.

This book is about 100,000 words longer, mainly uses original sources to analyse Messenger’s place in rugby league and is more then just an overview of the man’s life and deeds.

The historical value of ‘The Master’ can be measured by the fact that less then a month into it’s life on the shelves, it’s already being referenced by other publications.

Fagan’s enthusiasm for the subject combined with his accuracy as a dogged researcher is obvious from beginning to end. Readers of his previous works won’t be disappointed.

The use of quotes from Messenger himself reveals the mindset of this talented footballer and this helps define the individual performances that crowds were accustomed to seeing from him.

One quote in particular unlocks his approach to playing the game.

“I just act on the impulse of the moment,” a simplistic tactic which would probably disappoint the experts who have spent hours looking for a deeper method to his playing style.

Messenger won his first premiership with Eastern Suburbs in 1911 (winning two more in 1912 and 1913). That year he scored 270 points from 21 matches played in the NSWRL.

If not for a heavy representative schedule combined with injuries, he probably could’ve won a premiership earlier and may have set up a longer dynasty for Easts instead of sitting out most of the 1909 season. The authors then may have had more to write about also.

While the double bay boat builder was identified by the professional protagonists as the ideal player to build a new football code off the back of, historians remain wary of over glossing him as a player that a team was built around.

“While Herbert ‘Dally’ Messenger still created headlines, Easts was a team with an abundance of talent,” wrote one Sydney newspaper in 1912.

That other talent included legendary names such as Larry O’Malley and Dan Frawley to name a few. They were in other words the code’s first ‘super’ club.

Messenger – as the most important figure to defect from Union in 1907 – is rightfully acknowledged as being wrongfully treated in the ‘autumn’ years of his life.

One wonders what the great man himself would think now if he saw the handsome contracts being offered to the stars of today and tomorrow.

On his death at age 76 in 1959, the man who single handedly helped lead Rugby players to better working conditions – died virtually penniless.

Yet readers will sense that the man was driven not by monetary greed or an overzealous ambitious streak but rather by the socially accepted ethos of a ‘fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

Success on the field did not transfer off it for ‘Dally’ who eventually ended up working as a carpenter and boat builder. For a man who brought so much to the sport, this was tragic.

Endearing people to his character were the self-less actions of the man during his last years in Gunnedah.

While on this well earned hiatus, Dally continued promoting the game, visiting primary schools ‘where he talked to and encouraged the young footballers.’

It’s fair to say this book should end up in the libraries of those primary schools so that his story can continue to inspire tomorrow’s talent.

Thanks to the work of Fagan and Messenger III, there is very little we now do not know about this extraordinary genius who would go onto be not just a vital cog in successful football teams but in laying the platform of opportunity for future generations of Australian sportsmen.

An important tale about the need to take a risk to succeed which can now be re-told in greater detail to the fans of today who thanks to the annual Dally M award will never forget the contribution of this pioneer.

Messenger’s value to the history of both Rugby codes remains unsurprisingly very strong and this was affirmed by the New South Wales Rugby Union’s recent decision to re-instate him into their record books.

Yet perhaps it wasn’t so much the records he created in the 12-matches he played with the NSWRU as it was his character that won him his pardon.

“"He was a class act both on the field and off it, given that even after many years out of the game he never once admonished it,” NSWRU Chief Executive Neil Fraser said.

The Master - the life and times of Dally Messanger, is published by Hachette Livre and is available to buy in all good book stores and from Rl1908.com. RRP is $35
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