William Beverley James Sheehan
- 171Wallaby Number
For the second time in a row a King’s School graduate became a Waratah (Australian) captain. This time it was a rather lightweight back under 11 stone, but he could scamper with the best of them from five-eighth to wing. An exciting player, rightly or wrongly it is understood that he lost some of his spice and side-stepping ability on heavy grounds. Billy Sheehan rose to prominence early on in his career. He was only 18 -years –of- age when he made his big-time debut against a Springbok team making its first trip to Australia. He was in the three-quarters with some outstanding players, ‘Pup’ Raymond, Larry Wogan and Edwin Carr, and they went up against four highly talented ‘Boks, Wally Clarkson, Attie van Heerden, Jackie Weepner and Charlie du Meyer.
‘Pup’ Raymond, a medico, would be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, an Oxford Blue and an OBE in recognition of his contribution. In the third match, all won by the tourists, Sheehan scored a try, the Sydney Morning Herald noting: “Sheehan ..., so far as he was allowed, played excellently.” While playing for Sydney University he received Blues in 1921, 1923, 1924, 1926 and 1927, a rare occurrence. Under his captaincy, University won the Shute Shield back-to-back in 1923 and 1924.
The Shute Shield was established after a University front row forward, Robert Shute, collapsed in a game and died from a cerebral haemorrhage. From 1923 the Sydney 1st Grade Premiership carried with it the right to hold the Shute Shield. Some of the University players in 1923-24 University teams were Duncan (‘Chook’) Fowles, Otto Nothling, Alex Ross, ‘Bot’ Stanley and Arthur Erby. The team was coached by Dr ‘Paddy’ Moran, the captain of the 1908 Wallabies. Sheehan was still captaining University in 1927, after which Alex Ross took over. In 1922 NZ toured Australia under ‘Moke’ Belliss, and the now 19-year-old with the flashing feet and decisive side-step had to go up against players like the legendary All Black Mark Nicholls. To everyone’s surprise, after getting a fair hiding in the first NSW match, NSW bounced back with two victories over the All Blacks, by 14 to 8 and 8 to 6 scores.
It was New Zealand’s first loss in any series, and the studious Sheehan’s reputation went up a notch. In 1923 Sheehan was in two NSW victories over the Maori team in Australia, though an injury in the second match prevented him from playing in the final encounter. However his performances and his captaincy of Sydney University brought him the honour of captaining the NSW team on its 1923 tour of NZ. Unfortunately some ten of the Blues’ top players declared themselves unable to tour, players such as ‘Watty’ Friend, ‘Wakka’ Walker, ‘Pup’ Raymond, Pym, Johnny Wallace (who had taken up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford) and Larry Wogan. The NSW team to tour in 1923 was young, inexperienced and light. It was a pity as the 1921 NSW tour to NZ was highly successful, and NSW had won two out of three of their matches in 1922. The NSW team played 10 matches in all, winning two and losing eight. In a rarity for a touring party, the visitors scored 119 points to the local’s 245. Sheehan did everything he could to prevent the slaughter, playing in seven of the 10 games and each of the three Tests, which he captained. The Blues lost to NZ by scores of 9-19, 6-34 and 11-38.
When 1924 came around, he had lost the captaincy to halfback ‘Wakka’ Walker, Sheehan being at five-eighth. NSW won the first match surprisingly by 20 to 16, but the All Blacks rebounded in the second by 21 to 5. Sheehan who was not picked in the third and deciding match, won convincingly by NZ 38 to 8. In 1925 he did not appear in any representative games through his studies, but stormed back in 1926 against the Cliff Porter-captained All Blacks. In the first match against the visitors Sheehan teamed up with Randwick’s legendary Wally Meagher. It was a mighty backline, with Syd King and Cyril Towers in the centres, the brilliant Owen Crossman and Allan (‘Sheik’) Bowers on the wing, and the formidable Alex Ross as fullback. The All Blacks were stunned as NSW rolled them 26 to 20, Billy Sheehan scoring a fine try that was set up by Crossman. As so often, the All Blacks retrenched and won the next three games, 11 to 6, 14 to 0 and 28-21. What was certain was that the standard of NSW had risen again. The prospect of the 1927-28 Waratah tour was one that held the attention of all State players.
It had been almost 20 years since a team had left Australian shores, and stories of the 1908 Wallaby tour had been told and re-told. It was a nine-month tour by ship, a circumnavigation of the globe. This tour would change the nature of rugby in Australia forever, as the Waratah style of open rugby became the credo of all Australian teams in the future. What players they were! The captain was Johnny Wallace, who while studying in the British Isles had played for Scotland, Tom Lawton, another Rhodes Scholar, Cyril Towers, Charlie Fox, ‘Jock’ Blackwood, ‘Jack’ Ford, Wally Meagher, Syd Malcolm ,Eric Ford and so on. Fenton provided this short biography in For The Sake Of The Game “Dr. William Beverley James ‘Billy’ Sheehan, Kings School, Sydney University, aged 24, weight 10 stone 10, was already established as a fine player when the tour began.
In 1921, at the age of 18, he played three Tests against South Africa and captained New South Wales to New Zealand in 1923. Sheehan’s clever stepping was nullified to an extent on the soft British ground, but he still had a fine tour, playing well in the Tests against Wales and Scotland, and filling in admirably for Lawton in the games at five-eighth. Billy Sheehan stayed in London after the tour to further his medical studies but came back to Australia and played for New South Wales again in 1930.” Sheehan actually did not travel overseas with the Waratahs because of medical examinations, and did not go to North America with the team, and therefore would have missed some of the bonding experience on the trip to England. Sheehan’s versatility was particularly useful on the trip, and he would play 12 games on the 31-match tour.
However the fact is his preferred position was five-eighth, and Tom Lawton was a genius. In the Test against Wales he was in the centre, and Howell, et al wrote in the Wallabies: A Definitive History of Australian Test Rugby that “Billy Sheehan, next to Tommy Lawton and Johnnie Wallace, was the most dangerous player in the team. He also made the Scottish international in the centre, but after that the Towers-King centre combination won out.” For the rest of his life, Billy Sheehan was glorified as one of the famous Waratahs of 1927-28. He played his last game for NSW in 1930. Sheehan came to The King’s School from the country where his father was a publican and later a grazier at Narrabri. Born on 6 July 1900, he was at School from 1914 to 1920, under three headmasters ( Waddy, Pattinson and Baker). He took no prizes, but passed the Intermediate Certificate in 1917 and the Leaving Certificate in 1919 and 1920 but he had a brilliant record in games in an era of brilliant contemporaries. He won his colours in Athletics in 1917-18-19 ; won the Headmaster’s Cup for the 100 yards championship in 1918-19.
He was captain of Athletics in 1919 but was ineligible by age for the 1920 Athletic team. He played in the First X1 in 1917-18-19-20; was awarded an Honours Coat in 1918-19; was captain in 1919-20. He played in the First XV in 1917-18-19-20; was awarded an Honour Cap in 1919-20; was captain in 1919-20. He was chosen for the All Schools 1stX1 in 1920 and the 1st XV in 1918-19. He became a Senior Monitor in 1918; was captain of Broughton House in 1919; and Captain of the School in 1919-20. Contemporaries include the two Benningtons (BCJ and RHB); the two Friends (RM and WS), SR Walford and VVG Wesche. Sheehan went up to Sydney as a medical student and a member of St. Andrew’s College in 1921.
He went straight into the University 1st XV and won a blue in 1921-22-23-24-26-27. Owing to ill health he did not play in 1925 and dropped out a year of his studies. He played for the Combined Universities in 1924 and 1926 and captained the Champion University XV in 1926-27. He played for NSW against the South Africans in 1921 and against the New Zealand All Blacks in 1923. The last of his nineteen matches for NSW was in 1920 against Victoria. Just after his final medical exams in 1927 he and Ben Egan went to England with the Waratahs in 1927-28. The London Times Rugby Union critic wrote:’ Dr Sheehan revealed his best Sydney form, giving a delightful exhibition. He was reliable, resourceful, tricky, fast and unselfish...He is the most dangerous attacking back in the party, his side-stepping runs being of the variety that works on the crowd like magic.” But football gave place to his life as a medical practitioner until his death in 1957.
His son, William John, was at the School ’48-’54 and was School Captain 1954; his grandson, Henry James Cay, was at School ’83-’88 and , like his father and grandfather, was Captain of Broughton House. The Reverend JA Pattinson died on 1 June 1919 and the School Captain, K McLachlan, left at the end of that term. The Reverend Edward Morgan Baker came to the School as Headmaster and was installed in office on 20 September. One of his first duties was to appoint a successor to McLachlan as School Captain: his choice fell on Sheehan. His first Speech Day fell at the end of 1919 and in his report he made special reference to this appointment. “My first duty,” he said,” was to appoint a Captain of the School in the place of Ken McLachlan...There was only one boy to succeed him- Billy Sheehan...When I say that he has given us proof of being as good a captain of the School as he is a captain of football, you will understand that he is something exceptional.” EM Baker was determined to raise the tone of the School by rigorous discipline. “ The tone of a School like this,” he said, ”is made what it is, not nearly so much by its rules and regulations, not nearly so much by masters, as by the leading characters among the boys. They mainly determine the public opinion of the School, their personal influence is incalculable.” Sheehan was his first School Captain; there could be no doubt what the Headmaster would expect from him.