Dally M The Master
Herbert Henry “Dally” Messenger (Dally M) Memorial
Herbert Henry “Dally” Messenger (Dally M) was born on 12 April 1883 in Balmain, Sydney.
He became one of Australia’s leading all-round athletes, winning world acclaim as the greatest Rugby League footballer of all time. He was known in Australia and Great Britain as “The Master”. In 1907 he switched from Rugby Union to Rugby League, ensuring the success of, at that time, the new code. The Dally M Medal is now the highest individual honour in Australian Rugby League. The Rugby League medal is awarded at the annual Dally M Awards night honouring the player of the year. A stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground was named after Messenger. In 2003 he was admitted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame. In 2004, The Royal Agricultural Society Challenge Shield held by Messenger's family, became part of the National Museum of Australia collection, with the citation reading, “The shield's association with the genesis of Rugby League in Australia, and its connection to the game's first great superstar, make it the most important Rugby League historical object held in a public collection in Australia.”
In 1936 Dally M’s likeness was chosen to represent Australian involvement on The Courtney Goodwill Trophy, Rugby League’s first international trophy. The trophy includes an embossed silver globe mounted on four dolphins each with the following inscriptions: Peace and Goodwill (England), Liberte Fraternite (France), Unity and Equality (Australia), and Honour and Justice (New Zealand). On the plates around the base are images of four pioneering rugby league greats — James Lomas (England), Jean Galia (France), Dally Messenger (Australia), and Albert Henry Baskerville (New Zealand). The trophy has the inscription: “In commemoration of the supreme sacrifice and glorious deeds of sportsmen whose devotion to duty was in the cause of Peace and Goodwill.”
For Australia’s 1988 bicentennial celebrations the Bicentennial Authority created an album covering 1788 to 1988 which honoured 200 Australians who had significantly contributed to making Australia the nation it is. Dally M was one of those names. 2008 saw a life size bronze sculpture of Dally M installed outside the Sydney Football Stadium. In June 2007, a century after Dally M switched from Rugby Union to Rugby League, the NSW Rugby Union voted to restore Dally’s name on their records, posthumously welcoming him back from a life time ban imposed in 1907, in honour of Dally M’s Rugby Union accomplishments.
Dally Messenger III, grandson of Dally M, writes: “In the early days of his career Dally was regarded as a great individualist. He so outshone his early contemporaries that the standard tactics were to get the ball to Dally. When he started to play with representative and international players he was a team man all the way and was never accused of being otherwise… Dally believed that the object of the game was to enjoy it, to exult in it. “Play football” he would say, “not the man”. He saw Rugby for what it was - a game. He loved it. He lived for it… His football gave him the chance, for those exhilarating moments between the first and final whistles, to live his life to the full, to feel the ecstasy of his own skill, prowess, and brilliance. Perhaps, in those supreme and even mystical moments, he knew his achievements were among the best possible to a human being and that he was indeed the greatest of his art and profession.”
The man? As Dally Messenger III recalls of his grandfather, “At times we would have quiet moments together when his main topic was of the sea and nature. He once picked up a pine cone and asked me to wonder at the symmetry of its formation, the beauty of its lines and the orderliness of its growth. So we just sat on a tree stump and wondered.”
Dally M was so exceptional at the game that, if it were not for the thousands upon thousands who witnessed his brilliance at Rugby Union matches from 1905 to 1907, and Rugby League matches played between late 1907 and 1913, his achievements would have been considered highly embellished.
Dally died on 24 November 1959 at Gunnedah, New South Wales, aged seventy-six. His funeral was held at St Mark’s, Darling Point. The cortege went past street after street lined with crowds honouring the great man. Dally M now rests at Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park close to this memorial. His character lives within the exceptional standards displayed by those who attain the Dally M Medal. No other footballer has ever matched The Master’s unique abilities. In February 2008, Messenger was named in the list of Australia's 100 greatest ever players (1908–2007) commissioned by the National Rugby League / Australian Rugby League to celebrate the code's centenary year in Australia. In April 2008 Dally M was named in Australian Rugby League's “Team of the Century”.
At this place, so close to the sea that Dally M would admire and ponder, so close to where he now rests and watches in spirit from the sidelines, consider another side of “The Master”. Like Dally M once did with his grandson, please sit on a tree stump, feel the wind, reflect. With our children, grandchildren, their children, let us take time out, listen, smell the salt in the air, and recall the incredible beauty that is within so many of the things around us that, on most occasions, we ignore, yet which Dally M appreciated. Let us all contemplate the wonder of a pine cone, its formation, its beauty, and the orderliness of its growth.
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