The news that a fourth generation Bourke – 200cm, teenage ruckman/forward Harrison – was a VFL-listed player for Richmond in 2022, prompted Tony Greenberg to take a look back at the Tigerland career of the famous family’s patriarch.
Frank Bourke, father of Club ‘Immortal’, five-time premiership hero and 300-gamer, Francis Bourke, and grandfather of David Bourke, who played 85 games with Richmond from 1995-01, was no slouch himself on the football field.
He had a highly promising career at Tigerland in the 1940s, which, unfortunately, was cut short because of a serious knee injury.
A 193cm, 85.5kg full-forward, Bourke was recruited from Victorian country town Nathalia and made his senior league debut with Richmond in Round 15 of the 1943 season against Melbourne at Punt Road. He booted two goals in a 24-point victory.
That was to be Bourke’s last game until 1946 due to him serving Australia overseas (in England) during the Second World War with the RAAF.
It was the opening round of the ’46 season when a then 24-year-old Bourke made his League football comeback.
He lined up at full-forward against Fitzroy at Brunswick Oval and proved to be a decisive factor for the Tigers in a thrilling four-point win, kicking five goals.
The Age newspaper’s chief football writer at the time Percy Beames was extremely impressed with Bourke’s dynamic display.
“In Bourke it (Richmond) has found a most promising full-forward,” Beames wrote.”
“His leading out is excellent, marking good and his deliberate approach when kicking for goal very impressive. He may develop into the find of the season . . .
“One could go so far as to say Bourke made all the difference to Richmond winning or losing.”
Bourke averaged just under five goals a game in the opening eight rounds of that year and was seemingly on target to become just the second Richmond player to score 100 goals in a season. But in the Round 9 clash with South Melbourne, Bourke flew high for a mark and badly damaged his knee in the process.
He did return after a lengthy stint on the sidelines, but was never the same player, being severely restricted in his movements, and he subsequently announced his premature retirement from VFL football.
Those who saw Frank Bourke play speak in glowing terms of his tremendous ability and wonder what might have been had he not sustained that career-ending injury.