John "Jack" O'Donnell
- 32Wallaby Number
There is much confusion in the literature about the O’Donnell who was in a Test team in 1899. Two major sources are Incorrect, Pollard in Australian Players and the redoubtable Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby, who both cite the individual in the Test as James O’Donnell, a New Zealander who was on the 1884 New Zealand tour of Australia. The O’Donnell who actually played in the 1899 Test is definitely not James O’Donnell. It is in reality John (‘Jack’) O’Donnell, who was born at Hillston, NSW, in 1877.
He went to St Ignatius College (Riverview), and this fact and that he was the one who played for Australia was verified by the Riverview archivist. His brother, Ignatius (Iggy) also went to Riverview and was in the 1899 Tests. Others from the School to play for Australia have been Ian Comrie-Thompson (1926,1928), John Coolican (1979, 1982-84), Tony Dempsey (1993), Bryan (1913) and James Hughes (1907), Jim Lenehan (1961-62, 1965-67), John Manning ( in the early years, before going on to Sydney Grammar), Charles Morrissey (1925-26), Brian Oxenham (1939), Sean Spence (1962-63), and Jim Stenmark (1947-48).
After school he played for the famous Wallaroos Club, one of the most distinguished of the early clubs. The internationals from this club are Frank Row, Lonny Spragg, William Webb, Charlie White and the O’Donnell brothers, all in 1899. The club was disbanded shortly after this with the introduction of district football. The 1899 tour from Great Britain is historic as Australia’s first Tests were played against them. Iggy O’Donnell, three years older than Jack, was the first of the brothers to play against Mullineaux’s team, as five-eighth for NSW. He also played for Metropolis, NSW and Metropolis again, and was then selected as a centre in the third Test. It was in the fourth Test, at the SCG, that both O’Donnell’s were picked, thus becoming the first brothers to play for Australia. Iggy was once more in the centre, and John was a flanker.
The team on John’s debut at the SCG on 12 August 1899, was Wally Cobb, Bob McCowan, Frank Row (capt.), Lonny Spragg, Peter Ward, Iggy O’Donnell, Austin Gralton, Sine Boland, Bill Hardcastle, Jum Sampson, Jack O’Donnell, Charlie Ellis, Patrick Carew, Walter Davis and Bill Webb. Britain won the final Test by 13-0, it being 0-0 at halftime. The captain of Australia , Frank Row, said after the game:” With regard to the match today, I can only say that the better team won. On behalf of the players I must congratulate the Englishmen on their success.” John O’Donnell played only one match for Australia, but he was on the NSW team that played New Zealand in 1903.
Now playing for North Sydney, he captained the NSW team in the return match, lost 0-3. He also captained the Metropolis team against them, a 3 to 33 loss. Jack would also play for NSW twice against the 1904 British team, the first one again with his brother Iggy, who was captain. So both O’Donnell boys had leadership qualities, both captaining NSW during their careers. Jack also played against the British for NSW in the final match of the 1904 tour. His longevity was proven as he appeared for NSW once against the 1905 New Zealand team. This ended his representative career. During it he represented NSW 25 times to the end of the 1905 season, captaining them three times. The other matches were against Queensland and Toowoomba. He was a stalwart in the early years of Australian rugby.