A junior from South Adelaide, R. McCarthy joined Norwood in 1889 and quickly attracted attention as an effective follower - but more particularly as an unusually rough player. Match reports frequently refer to his roughness and the ensuing booing of opposition supporters. Sometimes he is defended as the victim rather than the villain. In view of the publicity, good and bad, it is remarkable that we know nothing of McCarthy the man – not even his given name.
He kicked a goal on debut as Norwood thrashed Gawler 14.11 to nil on a bleak May day in 1889. A week later, at the same venue, Kensington Oval, he booted the last goal and made the best players in the 7.5 to 2.7 defeat of Port Adelaide. He may have played more than eight games in 1889 – records for the period are patchy – but he was not a member of the Norwood team which beat Port that year in the competition’s first grand final.
McCarthy played at least 13 senior club games in 1890 and with Os Bertram was high in the best players on 12 July when a Norwood-Port combination beat a sub-par Geelong team 2.4 to 1.6 on an Adelaide Oval mudheap. Norwood finished the season third, behind Port and South. McCarthy’s tally of 10 goals was bettered at Norwood only by Charlie Woods with 44.
McCarthy is on record for only one senior game in 1890, being named in the best players in the mid-year defeat of lowly Medindie, 7.7 to 2.4. Norwood went on to celebrate its 10th premiership and McCarthy dropped back to junior football the following season.
A letter published in The Express and Telegraph on 23 July 1892 at last provided an initial for his first name. An unnamed correspondent wrote: "I have noticed in your excellent football notes on different occasions rather severe remarks about the roughness of R. McCarthy, who is a member of the Eastbourne FC, in the City and Suburban Football Association. I happened to be present at the match between the Goodwoods and Eastbournes last Saturday, and I am sure that McCarthy played as gentlemanly a game as any man on the ground. Mr. Mumme, the Goodwood captain, is only too ready to admit this. But if McCarthy is treated in the same manner by the barrackers in every match as he was treated at Goodwood I cannot wonder at his losing his temper occasionally. The barrackers seemed to delight in calling out 'Sit on McCarthy,' 'Down with McCarthy,' and several other such remarks. I am sure it is not fair to the player.”
Eastbourne won the premiership for the second year in a row, defeating College Park 5.4 to 4.12 (behinds not counting). McCarthy kicked a 60-yard goal and then vanished into obscurity.
P. Robins, G. Adams May 2023