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Manly's inaugural first grade team

Back row (l-r) C 'Kelly' McMahon, Merv Gillmer, Keith Kirkwood, Harry Grew, Johnny Bliss
Middle row (l-r) Jim Hall, A 'Bert' Collins, Max Whitehead (captain), Mackie Campbell, Jim Walsh
Front row (l-r) Ern Cannon, Gary Maddrell, Pat Hines.

The enthusiasm and support for the newly formed Manly Warringah Sea Eagles was evident to see at the Club’s inaugural training session in 1947.

For more than 200 players attended the first training session on February 11 at Brookvale Oval as excitement continued to build for the club on the Northern Beaches.

The players gathered under Coach Harold Johnson, a former South Sydney half-back, for the first Tuesday night session.

Tim Beaumont was appointed reserve grade coach with George Flynn the third grade coach.

Flynn was the coach of the victorious President’s Cup team that led to Manly Warringah being granted entry into the NSWRL competition on November 4, 1946.

Although foundation club, North Sydney Bears, supported Manly’s bid to enter the competition, it also saw them stripped of 20 Manly juniors due to the residential qualifications.

Some of the players included leading tryscorer Kelly McMahon, flying winger Johnny Bliss, and tough forwards Max Whitehead and Keith Kirkwood.

All of the players acquired from North Sydney, except for Bliss and Max Whitehead, were at training. Both men were preparing for the upcoming State surf championships.

Centre Mackie Campbell was also in attendance and later became the grandfather of Sea Eagles legend Steve Menzies.

Manly's inaugural 1947 first grade team Back row (l-r) C 'Kelly' McMahon, Merv Gillmer, Keith Kirkwood, Harry Grew, Johnny Bliss; Middle row (l-r) Jim Hall, AJ 'Bert' Collins, Max Whitehead (Captain), Mackie Campbell, Jim Walsh; Front row (l-r) Ern Cannon, Gary Maddrell, Pat Hines.
Manly's inaugural 1947 first grade team Back row (l-r) C 'Kelly' McMahon, Merv Gillmer, Keith Kirkwood, Harry Grew, Johnny Bliss; Middle row (l-r) Jim Hall, AJ 'Bert' Collins, Max Whitehead (Captain), Mackie Campbell, Jim Walsh; Front row (l-r) Ern Cannon, Gary Maddrell, Pat Hines.

Kirkwood recalled a lighter moment from the first training session at Brookvale.

“After training, we were showering in the dressing room under the old grandstand and all we could get was cold water,’’ Kirkwood said.

“So when we started banging the water heater, we disturbed a nest of rats, and they began scurrying all over the place with us chasing them with anything we could lay our hands on.”

The Sea Eagles played their first premiership match against the Western Suburbs Magpies at Brookvale on April 12, 1947.

Unfortunately for Johnson, a poor start to the season saw the coach sacked after just five games in charge. 

Manly's first win came two rounds later, a 15-7 victory, against fellow newcomers Parramatta. 

A total of 32 players were used in first grade in 1947 with Manly finishing their first season in ninth place. 

Footnote: Extracts for this article were taken from the book, The Sea Eagle Has Landed, written by Robert Smith.