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Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington 067: Con O’Halloran

Above: Petone’s team in 1935 – Con O’halloran second from left

Cornelius ‘Con’ O’Halloran played for Petone and later Athletic and for the Wellington representative side throughout the 1930s and into the early years of the second world war.

He played in a number of big matches, for example in the inaugural McBain Shield match in 1934 between Petone and Hutt and in two winning Jubilee Cup deciders for Petone and two more for Athletic.

O’Halloran was a halfback, a position that has always attracted stiff competition in Wellington amongst the players of the day. Other halfbacks in Wellington in O’Halloran’s time included the Axemen’s All Black Frank Kilby who played 92 matches for Wellington before retiring at the end of 1935, Athletic’s Eric Tindill, who played first five as well as halfback, and Joey Sadler, who was Wellington’s and the All Blacks’ number one halfback in early 1937 when he suffered a career ending knee injury whilst playing for Wellington College Old Boys against University.

Surrounded by talented adversaries, O’Halloran was at the top of his game in Wellington club rugby for almost a decade and he played 24 matches for the representative team over four years from 1935-38 and again in 1940-41.

Petone had been Jubilee Cup champions in 1930 but finished mid-table in 1931 as several players retired – not least their champion first/second five Mark Nicholls who moved on to coaching the side.

O’Halloran joined Petone’s Senior A side in 1932, and in his championship debut match in the first round of that season he set up the first try and handled in one of the later ones in Petone’s 16-5 win at home against Marist.

This set up a strong season, and O’Halloran went close to winning the Jubilee Cup in his first year, but Petone lost 16-13 to rivals Poneke in front of 12,000 spectators in the deciding match at Athletic Park on 20 August.

In 1933, Petone finished fifth as Mark Nicholls’ brother Ginger took over the coaching reins with the former now coaching Wellington.

On 9 August 1933 the Hutt News described Sadler as “a rattling good half wo was always at his best when his side was up against it.”

It was in this same Hutt News article that the Hutt News wished O’Halloran well as his season was over after “having a thumb and two fingers severed from his right hand.”

Crickey. Reading that, he might have had his digits cut off? But seemingly not, as his rugby career resumed on the ascendancy the following season and as a halfback he might have needed them. It appears this was a work-related accident too as on the last weekend of July he was in Petone’s side that beat Eastbourne 36-8, on 5 August there was no club rugby as Wellington hosted Canterbury (and won 14-6, with Kilby the halfback) and on 12 August he wasn’t in Petone’s team that beat Poneke 17-11 to spoil their town rivals’ Jubilee Cup chances and helping present WCOB their only title.

O’Halloran’s Petone could only finish mid-table in 1934, but the year was notable for the first McBain Shield match. He was halfback in the 6-5 loss to Hutt at the newly realigned Hutt Rec ground in front of 4,000 spectators, many of whom spilled out on to the field. He would be in the team that won it the following year by winning 10-6.

In 1935, O’Halloran both won the Jubilee Cup in Petone’s Golden Jubilee year and made his Wellington debut along with six other Petone players. He made three appearances for Wellington.

Petone were solid all season and beat WCOB 20-3 in the decider in front of an Athletic Park crowd numbering 8,000.

With both recently returned All Black northern hemisphere tourists Sadler and Tindill playing for Wellington in 1936, O’Halloran’s opportunities for the province were restricted. But with the All Blacks touring Australia and Sadler the number one halfback, O’Halloran still managed a handful of first-class appearances.

It was the same in 1937, and with Sadler’s career recently cruelly cut short by injury, O’Halloran was in Wellington’s team that lost 0-29 to the Springboks on 7 August. He didn’t get the chance to oppose the world’s best halfback at the time, Danie Craven, who sat out this match.

In 1938, O’Halloran was now a senior player in Petone’s side, along with All Blacks Artie Lambourn (hooker) and Bunk Pollock (midfield/fullback). Petone beat Hutt 12-7 for their fourth consecutive McBain Shield win. Petone went on to win the Jubilee Cup for the third time and second in O’Halloran’s career.

Against Marist at the end of May, Petone won 21-3 in a match that the Dominion said was their “best game of the season to date”. Petone lead 8-3 at halftime and later sealed the game with a “spectacular field goal” to O’Halloran.

Later in July Petone beat Athletic 6-3 by the margin of “two penalty goals to a try” in a top of the table and decisive match against the previous year’s champions.

O’Halloran went on to make another three appearances for Wellington in 1938.

He missed a fair chunk of club rugby in the middle stages of the 1939 season through injury, and without him the Evening Post criticised Petone’s backs on more than one occasion for their inconclusive form. Nevertheless, Petone finished third at the end of the first round and were in the hunt thereafter.

O’Halloran retuned for the final couple of matches and very nearly helped team sweep off with the title. He scored a key try in the deciding match of the year against the Axemen, but the Wellington club won 18-17 to win their maiden Jubilee Cup. O’Halloran’s teammate Pollock missed a penalty chance at the end.

O’Halloran didn’t play any representative rugby in 1939, perhaps owing to injury and/or not enough match fitness.

He started 1940 at Petone – because he was photographed on the front page of the Sports Post on 13 April 1940 – see below.

But at some point following this photoshoot he switched to Athletic.

This reaped dividends as, despite an increasingly weakened competition owing to players signing up for the war, he won a third Jubilee Cup. He played in the decisive match of the season on 22 August as Athletic beat Wellington 12-7 with 9,000 in attendance.

He played another seven matches for Wellington in 1940 as the number one halfback (with other players going to war).

It seems that 1941 was his final season in rugby. He returned to Athletic, and they won the Jubilee Cup again.

He played another three matches for Wellington in 1941, and was vice-captain when Wellington beat Canterbury 17-12 on 2 August, and again when they beat Taranaki 24-16 on 30 August.

Some 50 years later, O’Halloran was succeeded in Petone and Wellington representative teams by his grandson, second-five Jason O’Halloran. Jason would go on to play 54 games for the Hurricanes and one test against Italy in 2000 and later into professional rugby coaching positions.


  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016.
  • Dominion and Evening Post various reports 1930s
  • Hutt News 9 August 1933
  • Griffin, Don and Gallagher, Peter. True Blue. The first 100 years of the Petone Rugby Football Club Incorporated 1885-1985. Apex Print, Petone, 1985. .
  • Swan, Arthur C.; Jackson, Gordon F. W. (1952). Wellington’s Rugby History 1870 – 1950. Wellington, New Zealand: A. H. & A. W. Reed

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