VFL: Bonanza for Blues as Collingwood Collapse
If 1969 ended with a disappointing fade-out for Carlton, the following year was just the reverse as the Blues recovered from a 44 point half time deficit in the VFL grand final against Collingwood to win one of the most dramatic and famous matches of all time by 11 points. Watched by what remains (and is likely to remain) an Australian record crowd for any football match of 121,696 Carlton looked dead and buried at the long break inducing Barassi to unleash his now famous instruction to his players to "handball, handball, handball". The players' compliance with this command, coupled with the inspirational impact of nineteenth man Ted Hopkins, saw the pattern of the game alter completely. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the half time interval of the 1970 VFL grand final was when the 'prop and kick' style of football finally died and was replaced by the modern, run-on game. From a strictly historical standpoint this is clearly as nonsensical as maintaining, as many persist in doing, that the sport of Australian football was “born" in 1858 when Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar engaged in their famous match on the future site of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The claim is also hard to endorse on purely statistical grounds. For example, Carlton players only played on a total of twenty-five times all match, which was just four more times than Collingwood. However, what the claim lacks in historical or statistical veracity it makes up for in poetic, indeed almost mythic, potency. Moreover, it is undeniably the case that in the second half of the 1970 VFL grand final Carlton, by judicious and inventive use of handball and short passing, coupled with enhanced aggressiveness and desperation, made Collingwood appear both unimaginative and uncoordinated and as such provided a basic template for almost every V/AFL premier since. (Click here for an analysis of this famous match.)
Carlton's best players included half forward flankers Brent Crosswell and Syd Jackson, centre half back David McKay, ruck rover Sergio Silvagni, centreman Ian Robertson, and ruckman John Nicholls.
A comfortable win over Sturt in the so-called “Champions of Australia” clash rounded off a season which for excitement, drama and quality of achievement would be hard to improve on.
For Collingwood the 1970 season, which had fuelled such enormous drive and optimism for so long, had been transformed into a nightmare - much to the glee of opposition supporters, who were quick to point out that this was not the first time the Magpies had faltered at the tape. The Magpies had finished top of the ladder after winning 18 out of 22 home and away matches including all 11 at home. Included in that tally was a 13.22 (100) to 2.12 (24) trouncing of Carlton in round nineteen at Victoria Park. The Magpies also defeated the Blues by 23 points at Waverley - the league’s new venue - in round eight, and by 10 points in the second semi final, which was played at the MCG. When it mattered most, however, Carlton had all the answers.
Collingwood’s grand final collapse was somewhat perversely mirrored - in reverse - in round ten at Victoria Park. Opposed by St Kilda, the Magpies trailed by 60 points shortly before half time before rattling on 13.15 to 4.2 over the remainder of the game to clinch victory by a 7 point margin.
Third placed St Kilda won 14 games and had the best defensive record in the league. In the first semi final they crushed South Melbourne by 53 points, 22.11 (143) to 13.12 (90), after the Swans had led by 5 points at the long break. A fortnight later in the preliminary final the Saints kept pace with Carlton for two quarters but were blown away during a second half which saw the Blues add 11 goals to 3 and win by a confidence boosting margin of 62 points.
Prior to 1970 fourth placed South Melbourne had last qualified for the finals in 1945, when they lost the grand final to Carlton. They did not do quite so well this time, bowing out of premiership contention at the first hurdle against a more finals hardened St Kilda side. The match was watched by a first semi final record crowd of 104,239. For champion Swans rover Bob Skilton, in his fifteenth season with the club, it was a first and ultimately only finals appearance. Peter Bedford’s Brownlow Medal win afforded a measure of consolation to South’s long suffering supporters.
The son of a former Port Melbourne player in Bill Bedford, Peter Bedford was a highly accomplished centreman or on-baller who followed in his father's footsteps with 69 games for the club, initially between 1965 and 1967, and then in 1978-9. Arguably the most significant of these games was the 1966 VFA grand final in which Bedford's best afield performance in the centre was a crucial factor in the side's eventual 13.12 (90) to 6.11 (47) defeat of Waverley. In 1968, lured by the prospect of significantly higher player payments, Bedford crossed to VFL club South Melbourne without a clearance, and, over the ensuing nine seasons, went on to become one of that club's most auspicious and memorable performers. Besides winning the 1970 Brownlow Medal he represented the VFL on numerous occasions. Ironically, Bedford actually preferred cricket, in which he was also highly proficient, as a sport, and were it not for the fact that football at the time offered significantly more lucrative rewards he might easily have been lost to the indigenous game. As it was, he played a total of 178 VFL games and booted 325 goals for the perennially under-achieving Swans, winning the club's best and fairest award in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973 and 1975, and the goal kicking title on three occasions. As a player, Bedford combined impeccable all round skills with a fierce, implacable determination, qualities which had sadly dimmed somewhat by the time he played a mere 8 games in just under two seasons with Carlton towards the end of his VFL career.
Fifth placed Geelong won 12 minor round matches, but only one, against St Kilda in round seven, was at the expense of a finalist. The Cats had the honour of taking part in the first match to be played at VFL Park, the league’s new venue which was situated in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Waverley. Opposed by Fitzroy, Geelong controlled the game from start to finish, ultimately winning by 61 points, 17.12 (114) to 7.11 (53).
Reigning premiers Richmond slumped to sixth after an inconsistent season which got off one the wrong foot with a 20 point defeat at the hands of Fitzroy in what was the first ever VFL match to be played on a Sunday. The reason for this was that a royal party including Queen Elizabeth was in attendance, for part of the match at any rate. A crowd of 38,617 watched the game, which was played at the MCG. Richmond seemed in control for the better part of two quarters but Fitzroy produced a big second half to win deservedly. Over the remainder of the season the Tigers mixed wins against the likes of Carlton and Collingwood with defeats at the hands of lower ranking teams like North Melbourne and Fitzroy.
Footscray enjoyed their best season since 1964, winning half their home and away games to finish seventh. The most memorable event of the year was Teddy Whitten’s VFL record 321st (and last) match of a glittering career against Hawthorn at the Western Oval in round five. At three quarter time Footscray led by 2 points, 11.10 (76) to 11.8 (74), whereupon they were treated to a blistering, ferocious address from Whitten. The final term was a desperate affair with neither side conceding an inch. Between them, the two teams only managed 5 behinds for the quarter, with Footscray holding on to win by 3 points, 11.13 (79) to 11.10 (76). Another highlight for the Bulldogs was their 13.17 (95) to 13.15 (93) defeat of Melbourne in the grand final of the VFL night series. It was Footscray’s fourth night flag which made them the most successful team in the history of the competition up to that point.
Eightth placed Hawthorn were clearly a talented side with final four pretensions. However, they were blighted by inconsistency, losing to Melbourne or Essendon one week and then downing the likes of South Melbourne or Carlton the next. Full forward Peter Hudson was a shining light for the Hawks all year, booting 146 goals to top the VFL goal kicking list.
Fitzroy won 9 games to end up in ninth position, the club’s best finish for a decade. As previously alluded to, the Lions started the season well with a 16.20 (116) to 14.12 (96) defeat of Richmond in the “royal match” at the MCG, but thereafter things mostly proceeded as expected, although when confronted by the Tigers again in round twelve Fitzroy managed another hard earned victory. The 1970 season saw the Lions ending their three year tenure at Princes Park by relocating to St Kilda’s former home ground of Brunswick Street, which had been comprehensively improved.
Melbourne managed just 6 wins for the year to finish tenth. The first of these wins, in round one, was actually better than it appeared at the time, because the opposition was provided by perennial strugglers South Melbourne, who in 1970 would go on to contest the finals for the first time in a quarter of a century. The remainder of the season was mostly disappointing, although a sparkling 9 goal defeat of Richmond in round nineteen brought a rare smile to the faces of Demons supporters.
After either being in or on the fringes of the finals for almost two decades Essendon’s slump to eleventh was unexpected. The Bombers managed just 6 wins, and quite a few of their defeats were by sizeable margins. Their best win came in round nine at Windy Hill against Collingwood. Essendon won by 6 points thanks in part to kicking somewhat straighter than the Magpies. Scores were Essendon 13.15 (93) defeated Collingwood 11.21 (87).
North Melbourne managed just 4 wins to finish rooted to the bottom of the table. The Kangaroos’ most noteworthy win probably came in round twenty-two when they accounted for fifth placed Geelong at Arden Street by 41 points. However, the miserly match attendance of 6,345 was arguably more illustrative of the nature of North’s season than the win.
The introduction of a free kick against players kicking the ball out of bounds on the full produced an appreciable increase in scores all across Australia. For full forwards the pickings were rich, as perhaps best exemplified in the VFL where no fewer than three men - a record - registered 100 goals or more for the season. Aside from the already mentioned Hawthorn star Peter Hudson, the centurions were Collingwood’s Peter McKenna who bagged 143 goals, and Alex Jesaulenko of Carlton who booted 115.
VFA: Two Blues Triumph
Prahran, runners up to Preston in 1968, won the VFA’s first division premiership with a comfortable 17.18 (120) to 10.10 (70) grand final defeat of Williamstown. Tested in the first quarter, the Two Blues nevertheless led at every change by 4, 27 and 70 points, and were worthy winners. Williamstown nevertheless made a bit of history by being the first team to reach a first division grand final a season after winning the second division premiership. Waverley and Port Melbourne completed the final four. Reigning premiers Preston suffered a surprising decline, finishing sixth.
The 1970 second division grand final was a high scoring affair in which Coburg, superior in the ruck and with a winning centreline, defeated Box Hill by 30 points, 20.17 (137) to 16.11 (107). Sunshine, grand finalists a year earlier, came third, and Brunswick fourth.
WANFL: Bulldogs’ Rags to Riches Tale
The 1969 season had produced South Fremantle's fourth wooden spoon of the sixties and there appeared to be little on the horizon to promote cheer. However, thanks to what the club's official history described as "a felicitous combination of interlocking circumstances” the 1970 season brought a dramatic reversal of fortunes, on a par with those experienced earlier in the decade at Bassendean and Claremont Ovals.
Notwithstanding all of this, during the home and away season South Fremantle had to accept second billing to Perth, which defeated South in all three home and away meetings and finished a game clear at the head of the ladder going into the finals. However, once there the Bulldogs, as South Fremantle were by this stage popularly known, exhibited the full scope of their abilities, downing the Demons by 4 points in the second semi final and overwhelming them 15.7 (97) to 6.18 (54) a fortnight later in the 'big one' before a crowd of 40,620.
The press were generous in their acclaim:
There is little doubt that the pre-match attitude of the rival teams had a bearing on the result. South, whose last grand final appearance was in 1956, were at fever pitch in the days leading up to the game. But for Perth (premiers 1966-68), the novelty of grand final football had worn off.
South showed that their vulnerability in adverse conditions was a myth when they mastered conditions that were thought to favour Perth, turning the second half of the grand final into a runaway victory.
The Simpson Medal went to rover Brian Ciccotosto for a display of "courageous defensive roving”, with sterling performances also coming from half back flanker Danny Civech, centre half back 'Big Tom' Grljusich, centreman Don Haddow and ruck- rover John Dennis.
Despite the loss of Barry Cable to North Melbourne, Perth topped the WANFL ladder after the minor round, and was warmly favoured to move straight into the grand final given that it had beaten its second semi final opponent South Fremantle in all three qualifying round meetings between the sides. The red and whites surprised, however, with a 4 point win, and the Demons were forced to endure a relentless, heart-stopping preliminary final encounter with old rivals East Perth from which they emerged bruised, battered and thoroughly fatigued victors by just 2 points.
Grand final day was wet and blustery, conditions which were widely assumed to favour Perth, but in the event it was South who demonstrated greater hunger, steadiness and desperation to win by 43 points. In a sense, it was a defeat which heralded both the end of an era, and the end of an empire. Demons centreman Pat Dalton’s surprise Sandover Medal win provided at least a modicum of consolation. Dalton was a key member of Perth's 1966-7-8 premiership teams. Renowned for his work ethic and excellent team sense, he played a total of 217 games for the Demons, winning the club's fairest and best award on two occasions. Somewhat surprisingly, given his reputation as one of the most effective and damaging centremen in the game, Dalton only represented Western Australia once.
Subiaco, who won 13 home and away matches and lost 8, qualified for the finals in third place. Under inspirational coach Haydn Bunton the Lions were playing a more vibrant and cohesive brand of football but they lacked finals experience. Accordingly, when they met a finals hardened East Perth in the first semi final they failed to do themselves justice and went down by 50 points.
For the third season in succession and the sixth time in all Subiaco spearhead Austin Robertson topped the WANFL goal kicking list. He booted 111 goals.
East Perth edged out Claremont on percentage to take the fourth finals berth. The Royals lost their last two minor round games, but fortunately so did the Tigers. In the first semi final East Perth’s major round experience came to the fore as they won convincingly against Subiaco. Final scores were East Perth 17.14 (116) defeated Subiaco 10.6 (66). Against Perth in the preliminary final the Royals came very close to causing an upset, but ultimately went down by 4 points.
Had Claremont won any of their last three home and away matches then they, and not East Perth, would have qualified for the finals. Somewhat inexplicably, however, the Tigers went down in successive weeks to East Fremantle (seventh), Subiaco and Perth meaning that they finished in fifth place on percentage.
When West Perth handed Sturt a 21.19 (145) to 9.11 (65) trial match trouncing prior to the start of the 1970 season considerable optimism was engendered regarding the club's prospects. However, the truth was that West Perth lacked the depth of the previous year, with key players in John Wynne, Laurie Edwards and Neil Evans having moved interstate, and Brian Sampson retiring; consequently, once the season got underway in earnest, the side lacked consistency, managing just 10 wins overall for the year to miss the four completely.
East Fremantle and Swan Districts had eminently forgettable seasons with both teams managing just 4 wins.
SANFL: Sturt Do It Yet Again
Sturt made it five flags in a row with a disarming lack of fuss in 1970, losing only 3 minor round matches for the year before downing Port Adelaide in the second semi final by 35 points and Glenelg in the grand final by 21 points. Bagshaw, Rigney, Endersbee, Greenslade (6 of Sturt's 12 goals) and Schoff were the best players. Final scores were Sturt 12.13 (85); Glenelg 9.10 (64).
Carlton 21.13 (139) defeated Sturt 12.22 (94) in the Champions match.
According to Glenelg coach Neil Kerley the 1970 season brought a disappointing end after a rewarding season. The Tigers only just managed to squeeze into thge top four but then surprised by downing North Adelaide in the first semi final and minor premiers Port Adelaide in the preliminary final. In the grand final they gave Sturt a run for their money, leading narrowly at half time before fading somewhat in the third term. The last quarter was evenly contested but the Double Blues’ third quarter burst saw them emerge victorious by 21 points.
After a dismal season in 1969 Port Adelaide improved out of sight in 1970 after winning 17 and drawing 1 matches to finish the minor round at the head of the ladder. Unfortunately, however, the side did not fare well in the finals, losing to a more talented Sturt combination in the first semi final and a fired up Glenelg a fortnight later in the preliminary final.
North Adelaide finished the home and away rounds in third place, but just as in 1966, 1967 and 1968 they disappointed in the finals, going out at the first hurdle to Glenelg. Scores were Glenelg 14.16 (100) to North Adelaide 12.12 (84). The prodigiously talented Barrie Robran won his second Magarey Medal from John Cahill (Port Adelaide) and Robert Day (West Adelaide).
Had fifth placed Norwood defeated Port Adelaide in the last minor round match of the season they would have displaced Glenelg from the final four. As it was, Port Adelaide managed to get up and draw in the dying moments and the Redlegs’ much improved season ended in disappointment.
After finishing third in 1969 West Adelaide might have been expected to kick on in 1970 but team spirit was severely damaged by a groundswell of ill feeling among certain of the club’s more experienced players. They were disgruntled over a discrepancy in contracts which saw many new and young players receiving more money than the established hands. This dissatisfaction could not help but affect the team’s performances on Saturdays, and the energy and desire which had characterised their displays in 1969 were largely absent. West did manage to defeat Sturt in the final series but the Double Blues had already comfortably secured the double chance.
On 9th May Dexter Kennedy became the youngest senior grade player in league history when he was included in West Adelaide’s twenty for the match against Port Adelaide at Alberton. Kennedy was aged fifteen years, eleven months and two days.
Thanks to a very good second half of the season Central District equalled their best ever league finish, established in 1965, of seventh place. The side had more self belief than in recent seasons and this enabled them to beat eventual finalists in the shape of Glenelg and North Adelaide, something they had not managed to do for some time.
West Torrens managed just 7 wins in an injury affected season. Nevertheless, the young side could sometimes, inexplicably, turn it on, as was the case in round fifteen against Glenelg (won by 8 points) and round nineteen versus West Adelaide (won by 71 points). At other times the Eagles were simply woeful; take for instance their round eighteen loss to South Adelaide which captain-coach Johnny Birt called “the most painful defeat I have felt in SA”.
Woodville failed to build on their promising 1969 season and won just 6 matches to finish ninth. The side lacked purpose and enthusiasm, particularly during the second half of the year when they lost 9 games in succession at one stage.
South Adelaide had another dismal year managing just 3 wins and finishing last for the second time in succession.
Clarence Break The Ice
After Sandy Bay had been the most consistent team during the roster matches, Clarence “brought home the bacon” in decisive style come finals time. In the second semi final the ‘Roos overcame the Seagulls by 22 points, 13.13 (91) to 10.9 (69). New Norfolk then left Sandy Bay’s season in tatters with a 13.19 (97) to 11.13 (79) preliminary final triumph. New Norfolk had earlier annihilated North Hobart in the first semi final by 80 points, 27.15 (177) to 14.13 (97). The grand final attracted a record crowd of 24,413 who saw Clarence produce arguably their best football of the season to convincingly down the Eagles. Final scores were Clarence 19.16 (130) defeated New Norfolk 10.15 (75).
The state premiership went to Latrobe, who were captain-coached by the great Darrel Baldock. Latrobe overcame Clarence in the final by 35 points, 15.10 (100) to 9.11 (65). Clarence had earlier defeated Scottsdale in the state preliminary final by 28 points.
Highlights From Other States and Territories
Newtown defeated North Shore by 5 goals in the NSWANFL grand final to claim their third flag in four seasons. Western Suburbs came third and St George fourth. The competition was reduced to eight clubs following the withdrawal of University and South Sydney.
In the QAFL, a tempestuous grand final between Sandgate and Coorparoo resulted in a victory to the former by by 39 points. The win gave the Sea Hawks their first flag since 1957.
Ainslie won their first CANFL premiership for nine years with a 12.23 (95) to 13.11 (89) grand final defeat of Manuka. The win provided some revenge for the losses sustained at the hands of the same opponents in 1967-8-9.
Darwin clinched their third NTFL premiership in succession when they downed arch rivals St Marys in the grand final by 13 points.
Interstate Match Round Up
Western Australia produced arguably their best ever performance against the VFL in Melbourne before succumbing in the end by 6 points. It was the first ever interstate match to be staged at VFL Park in Waverley.
The VFL-WA game took place on Saturday 12th June. Two days later, the Western Australians, full of confidence, fronted up to Tasmania in Hobart. The last time Western Australia had played Tasmania, at the previous year’s Adelaide carnival, the sandgropers had done virtually as they pleased all day en route to a 113 point victory. Things could not have been more different this time round as the home state led from start to finish, ultimately holding off a predictable last quarter charge from the visitors to inch home by 2 points, 18.10 (118) to 17.14 (116).
Western Australia finally managed an interstate win a month later when, despite some erratic kicking for goal, they overcame South Australia by 4 points at Subiaco Oval. Scores were Western Australia 12.17 (89) defeated South Australia 13.7 (85).
Earlier, the VFL had blown South Australia away on the Adelaide Oval by 42 points. Scores were VFL 23.12 (150) to South Australia 15.18 (108). The match was as good as over at quarter time with the Vics holding an 8.3 to 0.1 advantage.
Two other interstate matches took place in 1970, Canberra defeating New South Wales by 2 points in Sydney, and Queensland also downing New South Wales, but by the rather more comfortable margin of 60 points, in Brisbane.
Grand final results - CoA: Carlton 21.13 (139) d. Sturt 12.22 (94); VFL: Carlton17.9 (111) d. Collingwood 14.17 (101); SANFL: Sturt 12.13 (85) d. Glenelg 9.10 (64); WANFL: South Fremantle 15.7 (107) d. Perth 6.18 (54); VFA: Division One - Preston 17.18 (120) d. Williamstown 10.10 (70); Division Two - Coburg 20.17 (137) d. Box Hill 16.11 (107); TANFL: Clarence 19.16 (130) d. New Norfolk 10.15 (75); NTFA: Scottsdale 18.16 (124) d. Launceston 14.15 (99); NSWANFL: Newtown 15.16 (106) d. North Shore 10.16 (76); NTFL: Darwin 12.13 (85) d. St Marys 11.6 (72); QAFL: Sandgate 14.12 (96) d. Coorparoo 8.9 (57); NWFU: Latrobe 14.19 (103) d. Wynyard 12.5 (77); CANFL: Ainslie 12.23 (95) d. Manuka 13.11 (89); TSP: Latrobe 15.10 (100) d. Clarence 9.11 (65).
 The South Fremantle Story 1900-1975 Volume 2 by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 179.
 Geoff Christian in “The West Australian” quoted in The South Fremantle Story 1900-1975 Volume 2 by Frank Harrison and Jack Lee, page 181.
 Ibid, page 181.
 Ibid, page 181.
 South Australian Football Record Yearbook 1971, page 33.
 Ibid, page 39.
 Other sources give the result of the match as Eastlake 12.27 (99); Manuka 13.15 (93).
VFL: A Hawk Resurgence
Since winning a first senior grade premiership in 1961 Hawthorn’s fortunes had waned. From 1962 to 1970 the Hawks only once qualified to contest the finals. That was in 1963, when they got as far as the grand final only to succumb by 49 points to Geelong. In 1964 and 1969 they missed out on finals footy very narrowly, but other than that their performances had been uniformly mediocre, with the nadir coming in 1965 when they succumbed to the wooden spoon.
The mastermind of Hawthorn’s 1961 premiership triumph had been John Kennedy, who famously espoused a commando style training regime which made the Hawks by some measure the league’s fittest team. Other clubs were quick to implement similar approaches, however, and given that several of these clubs had superior pools of playing talent available to them a changing of the guard became inevitable. Moreover, John Kennedy’s reign as coach ended after the 1963 season, and without his input the Hawks lost much of their discipline and fanaticism.
In 1967, Kennedy was re-installed as coach, and thereafter the team began to show slow but measurable improvement. In 1971 the Hawks were indomitable, winning all but 3 of their 22 minor round games, leaving them 12 points clear of second placed St Kilda and third placed Richmond. Although they boasted players of genuine star quality - full forward Peter Hudson booted a record-equalling 150 league goals and finished joint second in the Brownlow voting, Leigh Matthews and Peter Crimmins comprised arguably the competition’s best roving pair, and in Bob Keddie they had perhaps the finest half forward flank specialist in Australia - it was their efficiency and effectiveness as a team unit which elevated the Hawks above the common herd. Many of their wins in 1971 were by sizeable margins - notably a 95 point drubbing of North Melbourne at VFL Park in round eight, a 14.12 (96) to 4.12 (36) defeat of Carlton the following Saturday, a slashing victory by 115 points over Footscray in round seventeen, and another big win - 92 points - in the return match against North in round nineteen.
Second semi final opponents St Kilda provided much sterner opposition, however, although for the first three quarters the Hawks seemed to have things more or less their own way. At the last change it was Hawthorn by 33 points in a comparatively low scoring affair, but the final term saw the Saints mount a determined and very nearly successful rally which saw them add 5.9 to 1.2 and fall short by just a couple of points.
The closeness of the match made many sit up and take notice, and after St Kilda convincingly accounted for Richmond by 30 points in the preliminary final much of the serious money resided in their corner for the re-match with Hawthorn in the big one.
The Saints, like Hawthorn, had enjoyed senior grade premiership success only once, and again like the Hawks it had been achieved comparatively recently by means of a 1 point grand final triumph over Collingwood in 1966. The intervening four seasons had produced finals appearances in 1968 (fourth) and 1970 (third), while the side had also been competitive in both 1967 (fifth) and 1969 (seventh). The team boasted considerable talent in the shape of players like 1967 Brownlow Medallist Ross Smith (later selected as first rover in St Kilda’s official Team of the Century), all action ruckman Carl Ditterich, ultra solid Tasmanian defender Barry Lawrence, and talented West Australian follower John McIntosh. The absence from the grand final through injury of McIntosh, who had been in superlative form all season, might well have meant the difference between winning and losing for the Saints.
Among St Kilda’s most memorable performances during the 1971 home and away series were a massive 94 point triumph over Geelong at Kardinia Park in round one, plus big wins over South Melbourne both home and away, and North Melbourne at Arden Street. Their achievements this year were all the more impressive when you consider that they had lost arguably their greatest player, dual Brownlow Medallist Ian Stewart, to Richmond. Stewart quickly showed he had lost none of his prowess by adding another Brownlow win, but overall the Saints had more reason than the Tigers to feel pleased with their 1971 season.
Since 1967, when they defeated Geelong by 9 points in the grand final, Richmond had been one of the league’s most consistent teams. The Tigers again won the premiership in 1969, and in 1971 there were many who felt that their wealth of experience would stand them in good stead come finals time. Opposed in the first semi final by Collingwood they duly drew on that experience in full measure to coast home by 42 points after things had looked decidedly tricky at lemon time, with Richmond’s advantage a mere 2 points. A fortnight later in the preliminary final the Tigers kept pace with St Kilda for almost three quarters but in the end fell short by 30 points.
Collingwood qualified for the finals in 1971 with 14 wins and a draw from their 22 home and away matches. Among their victories was a 30.20 (200) to 7.11 (52) annihilation of Essendon in round fourteen at Victoria Park. (Ironically, their solitary draw for the season came against the same club.) The Magpies also massacred Footscray by 83 points in their opening fixture of the year, and obtained revenge of a sort over their conquerors in the 1970 grand final, Carlton, by downing the Blues 24.14 (158) to 11.7 (73) at VFL Park in round eleven. Another team which seemed to pose Collingwood few problems during the minor round was Richmond; the Magpies won by 37 points at Punt Road and 40 points at Victoria Park. However, when the stakes were infinitely higher in the first semi final Richmond raced to an 18.13 (121) to 11.11 (77) win after registering 7.2 to 0.1 in the final term.
In finishing half a win plus percentage outside the top four Carlton failed to qualify for the VFL finals for the first time since 1966. The Blues still boasted plenty of quality in their team but lacked the consistency of the previous few seasons. Their best performances came towards the end of the season: a 19.6 (120) to 11.15 (81) defeat of eventual premiers Hawthorn at Glenferrie in round twernty-one, and a victory by 19 points against Collingwood the following week.
In terms of matches won, Fitzroy enjoyed their best season (12 wins and 10 losses) since they had last qualified for the major round in 1960. The Lions’ best football was certainly impressive, but never quite good enough to overcome any of the 1971 finalists.
Seventh in 1971, with 11 wins and a draw, were Melbourne. The Dees could be formidable, as in their 105 point victory over South Melbourne in round one, and their come from behind triumph over St Kilda (10.10 to 10.7) on the MCG in round nine. Overall, however, they tended to struggle against the teams above them on the ladder. Perhaps the Demons’ most noteworthy achievement was their victory in the VFL night series, the last to be held for six seasons. Melbourne triumphed thanks to wins over Geelong by 60 points, Carlton by 26 points, and Fitzroy in the final by 16 points. Melbourne had finished runner-up in the night competition in both 1969 and 1970 so it was a classic case of “third time lucky”. It was also the club’s first ever night flag.
Footscray finished half a win and a substantial amount of percentage behind Melbourne, and like both the Dees and the Blues their season was characterised by inconsistency. Counterbalancing wins over Richmond by 20 points, Hawthorn by a goal, Collingwood by 17 points and Richmond by by 35 points were losses at the hands of cellar dwellers North Melbourne and Geelong.
Ninth on the ladder, but no fewer than 22 points adrift of eighth placed Footscray, were North Melbourne. The Kangaroos actually began the season in extremely promising form with a 26 point victory over Carlton at Arden Street, but thereafter things went from bad to worse. Some of their losses were by immense margins: Hawthorn won by 95 points at VFL Park in round eight, Carlton triumphed 16.18 (114) to 3.5 (23) in round twelve at Princes Park, Footscray amassed 53 scoring shots to 16 in winning by 92 points at Victoria Park in round fifteen, Richmond romped home by 90 points at league headquarters in the seventeenth round, and even wooden spooners South Melbourne achieved one of only three successes for the year at the Lake Oval in the last round, winning 19.17 (131) to 8.11 (59).
Tenth placed Geelong boasted a reasonable forward line, and tended to lose by smaller margins than North, but lose they did all the same, and frequently. The Cats’ most noteworthy win was by 9 points against Collingwood at Kardinia Park in round eighteen.
Since reaching the 1968 grand final, and losing narrowly to Carlton, Essendon had finished sixth, eleventh, and eleventh again in 1971. It was a distinctly unmemorable season, with the aforementioned annihilation at the hands of Collingwood the undoubted nadir, while the pinnacle arguably came in the year’s other meeting with the Magpies, which ended all square.
After reaching the finals in 1970 South Melbourne could be justified in feeling optimistic about their prospects in 1971. However, the opening round of the season brought a 105 point demolition at the hands of Melbourne, and thereafter things hardly improved. The Swans’ only wins for the year came against Essendon by 16 points in round seven, and North by 9 points in round eleven and 72 points in the last match of the year when the result hardly mattered.
The VFL grand final was a rugged, tempestuous affair rather than a genuine classic, but it cannot be denied that the closeness of the finish produced considerable excitement. Hawthorn full forward Peter Hudson entered the match requiring 4 goals to overhaul Bob Pratt’s long standing record of 150 goals in a season. Opposed by fellow Tasmanian Barry Lawrence, he only managed to equal Pratt’s tally, but presumably could not really have cared less as the Hawks, 20 points down at three quarter time, more than doubled their tally in the final quarter to win 12.10 (82) to 11.9 (75). The match was watched by 118,192 spectators and Hawthorn’s victory by 7 points gave them their second premiership. John Kennedy was coach on both occasions. Rain fell for much of the grand final, some of it quite relentless, and this undoubtedly contributed to the match being at once unkempt and excessively rugged. During the three quarter time interval coach Kennedy reputedly earmarked half forward flanker Bob Keddie as the man to win the match for the Hawks. Moved to full forward in place of Hudson, who went to centre half forward, Keddie did his coach proud with a blistering final term performance that yielded 4 effectively match-winning goals.
VFA: Success for Redlegs and Crows
The VFA first division was extremely competitive in 1971 with even the bottom two sides, Williamstown and Geelong West, managing wins in a third of their matches. The top four comprised Preston (13-4-1), Dandenong (12-6), Oakleigh (12-6) and Sandringham (10-8). Preston and Dandenong contested the grand final with victory going to the latter by a single straight kick. The match attendance was a somewhat disappointing 14,529, which was roughly 8,000 fewer than had attended the previous year’s grand final. Overall, however, VFA crowds were up, and indeed the 1970s would prove to be something of a bumper decade for the competition.
The second division grand final was considerably more one-sided than the first, with Sunshine overcoming Brunswick by 54 points, 22.26 (158) to 16.8 (104). Sunshine had qualified for the second division finals for seven consecutive seasons but this was their first, and ultimately only, flag.
SANFL: Roosters’ Decade in the Wilderness Ends
South Australian football remained quite vibrant and strong in 1971 with most of the state’s elite players still choosing to play out their careers in the SANFL rather than transfer to the potentially more lucrative stamping ground of the VFL. The croweaters’ performances in the interstate arena reinforced this evaluation. In the match against Victoria in Melbourne the home state did not manage to seal victory until late in the final term. Eight minutes into the quarter the visitors led by 8 points but the loss of ruckman Dean Farnham, who had been performing heroically, effectively scuppered their chances. Victoria ultimately, and deservedly, won in the end by 30 points, but the displays of many of the South Australians were highly impressive.
Despite inevitably suffering from a fair degree of leg weariness South Australia comfortably defeated Tasmania in Hobart a couple of days later, and their subsequent defeat of Western Australia (15.19 to 12.10) was marred only by some slipshod kicking for goal.
If anything, the impact of Victorians on the game in South Australia was considerably greater than the reverse. For instance, premiers North Adelaide were expertly captain-coached by ex-Richmond ruckman Mike Patterson, who had his charges displaying VFL style resilience and toughness. Among South Australia’s most noteworthy performers in the interstate sphere was former South Melbourne star Bob Kingston, now playing for Port Adelaide. Kingston’s performance against Western Australia was particularly impressive. Playing at full back against one of the most talented spearheads in the game, Austin Robertson junior, Kingston stuck to the Subiaco champion like a limpet, keeping him kickless for three quarters, and restricting him to just a solitary goal.
North’s Patterson and Port’s Kingston opposed one another in both the second semi final, which the Roosters won 14.9 (93) to 10.18 (78) after trailing by 22 points midway through the final term, and the grand final, which resulted in a much easier triumph to the red and whites. North led at every change by 29, 44 and 56 points before perhaps forgivably taking the foot off the accelerator in the last term to allow the Magpies to move to within 20 points by the end. Best for North, just as he had been in the second semi of a fortnight earlier, was the extravagently talented Barrie Robran.
Minimal consolation for the Magpies’ disappointing grand final performance came in the shape of star centreman and on-baller Russell Ebert’s Magarey Medal win, the first of an eventual four.
Another ex-Victorian to have a significant impact on South Australian football in 1971 was ex- Melbourne defender Dennis Jones, who since 1968 had been coach of Central District, supervising a gradual improvement during the intervening time which saw the Bulldogs transform themselves from wooden spoon contenders to premiership hopefuls. In 1971 the club qualified to compete in the major round for the very first time, and in the first semi final convincingly overcame both the doubters - of whom there were many - and opponents Sturt to set up a tantalising preliminary final clash with Port Adelaide. The Magpies won, but as Jones observed, “I didn’t feel any real disappointment. For a young side playing in its first major round, it acquitted itself well. We have great potential for next season, and when you look back this wasn’t a bad one. It is a year which will go down in the club’s history.”
Sturt’s first semi final loss to Centrals brought the curtain down on the club’s greatest ever era which yielded grand final appearances in six successive seasons and premierships in the last five. With the retirement of several key players, notably dual All Australian Rick Schoff, 210 game rover Roger Rigney, and consistently effective wingman Trevor Clarke, the Blues were on the cusp of a rebuilding phase which would ultimately bear the most succulent of fruits.
After five seasons in the doldrums Norwood began to show signs of re-emerging as a force in 1971. After winning their first six games of the season, the Redlegs failed to qualify for the finals only narrowly, and some of their performances - such as a 28 point defeat of eventual premiers North Adelaide in round three - were especially meritorious. However, they faltered badly during the second half of the minor round, and their season ended in the most ignominious way conceivable with a 2 point loss to wooden spoon side Woodville.
Having played off for the premiership in both 1969 and 1970 Glenelg might realistically have been expected to kick on in 1971. However, their performances were riddled with inconsistency, with wins over Port Adelaide, Centrals and Norwood being cancelled out by defeats at the hands of South (twice) and Torrens. Like Sturt, however, an improvement in fortunes would not be too long in arriving.
The highlight of seventh placed West Torrens’ season was probably their 9.8 (62) to 7.11 (53) win over Port Adelaide in round seventeen. Two weeks later, eventual club best and fairest Mike Shallow, “socks at half mast ….. waltzed and pirouetted many miles to help West Torrens defeat Norwood by 10 goals at Thebarton.” The fact that Shallow was in his debut season in league football might have generated a fair amount of confidence about the future among both the Torrens brain trust and substantial support base but such optimism was to be sadly misplaced.
Since reaching the preliminary final in 1969 West Adelaide’s fall from grace had been dramatic and swift. In 1971 even their very best form could scarcely be described as better than mediocre. True, they achieved victories over higher ranked teams in both Central District and Norwood, but neither team was in particularly good form at the time. Westies also contrived to lose twice to Woodville and once to ninth placed South Adelaide.
The Panthers opened the season promisingly. After losing their first game to Norwood by 29 points they procured a hat trick of wins at the expense of Glenelg, Woodville and eventual finalists Centrals. Therafter, however, things rapidly went downhill, and the remaining 16 minor round games yielded just another 3 wins.
Some of last-placed Wooidville’s losses in 1971 were by exorbitant margins. In the opening round, for example, they went down to Sturt by 135 points, and this was followed by defeats of 139 points against North, 57 points against South, and 162 points at the hands of Port. Although the Woodpeckers ultimately won 6 matches, massive defeats were more the flavour of the day, with the worst coming in round seventeen against Glenelg. The Bays won with ridiculous ease by 170 points, 32.21 (213) to 6.7 (43). On a more positive note, in the shape of utility Malcom Blight and 1971 club best and fairest award winning rover Ray Huppatz the ‘Peckers had two of the most consistently brilliant footballers in South Australia, both of whom would go on to enjoy auspicious careers in the VFL.
WANFL: “Polly” Bows Out on a High
After winning the 1969 WANFL premiership in convincing, tough and often exhilarating fashion West Perth inexplicably lost their way, together with 11 of their 21 minor round matches, in 1970. Apart from the loss of John Wynne to Norwood the team was the same as the previous year’s but it suffered an alarmingly poor start to the season, and although it recovered noticeably later on, winning 5 of its last 7 matches, it had too much ground to make up and failed to qualify for the finals.
Everyone at West Perth was determined to make 1971 a season to remember, not merely to erase the memory of a lack-lustre 1970, but also because it would represent the swansong of captain-coach Graham Farmer, without doubt one of the greatest and most inluential footballers of all time. Even at the age of thirty-six Farmer was still arguably the best ruckman in Australia as his displays in interstate matches, most notably against Victoria in Melbourne in 1970, continued to demonstrate. In 1971 the Cardinals had bolstered their playing ranks with the acquisition of North Melbourne defender Peter Steward, a regular VFL interstate representative who had won All Australian selection at the 1969 Adelaide carnival, plus Leon O’Dwyer (a Victorian who had been playing in the Northern Territory), who would develop into one of the best back pocket players in the country, and Phil Smith, who had been understudy to champion full forward Doug Wade at Geelong.
The Cardinals showed vastly improved form in 1971, and went on to procure the premiership, the club’s second under the tutelage of “Polly” Farmer. Unlike in 1969, however, this time ‘round the Cardinals would have to do things the hard way: they lost a tight, low scoring second semi final to East Perth by 10 points - the fourth successive occasion during the year that they had lost to the Royals - and then survived a late scare in the following week’s preliminary final when East Fremantle’s Gary Fenner missed an eminently kickable goal scoring chance in the final minute to leave West Perth victors by 3 points. Pumped up and consummately focused for “Polly” Farmer’s last ever league game, the Cardinals then found probably their best form for the season in upsetting the warmly favoured Royals, 14.17 (101) to 9.15 (69) in the premiership decider. Right from the outset, East Perth had no answer to West Perth's aggression and pace, and although the final margin of victory was considerably smaller than in 1969, in a way it was every bit as convincing.
Graham Farmer put in a formidable last league performance to be many observers' choice as best afield. However, the Simpson Medal went to rover Steve Sheridan, with Bill Dempsey, Peter Steward, Alan Watling and Barry McAuliffe also earning mentions in dispatches.
A comparison between the 1969 and 1971 grand finals, played in similar weather conditions between the same teams, affords fairly stark evidence of the speed with which the game was evolving. For example, in 1969 the drop kick was still the kick of choice approximately 50% of the time, whereas just two years later, although still very occasionally resorted to by some of the older players, it had been almost entirely superceded by the drop punt.
After the grand final a “premiers carnival”, featuring leading club sides from Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria was held in Perth as a testimonial to Farmer. Matches were played over two halves of thirty minutes each, with Hawthorn eventually beating Claremont in the final. West Perth was placed third, after beating both East Fremantle and Port Adelaide, but losing to Hawthorn.
East Perth’s losing grand final appearance in 1971 was the club’s seventh since it last won a flag in 1959. Almost a generation of Royals fans had grown up without knowing the unique feelings of fulfilment and exhilaration engendered by the winning of a premiership. All they had known was disappointment. Making that disappointment even more intense was the fact that, just as in 1961, 1967 and 1969, the Royals had enterfed the finals as minor premiers and favourites for the flag.
East Fremantle fell narrowly short of reaching the grand final in 1971. In a bid to turn things around after their disastrous four season sequence of ‘outs", Old Easts had decided that it was time to go back to basics. To that end they appointed as senior coach former Hawthorn player and, more recently, Preston captain-coach Alan Joyce, a renowned disciplinarian with an avowedly “no frills” philosophy about how the game should be played. Along with him, Joyce brought two rugged ex-Hawthorn footballers in the shape of Neil Ferguson and Richard 'Buster' Browne, and he wasted no time in implementing an intense and physically gruelling pre-season training regime designed to make East Fremantle the fittest team in the league.
As the 1971 season got underway, there were initially no real indications that the corner had been turned. A scratchy 4 point win over Claremont in round one was gratifying but scarcely impressive, and there then followed three successive losses against South Fremantle, Swan Districts and Subiaco, all of whom were destined to miss the finals.
Thereafter there was steady rather than spectacular improvement, although the team could still be frustratingly inconsistent. Its most protracted sequence of success came with four consecutive wins between rounds 17 and 20, a run which effectively sealed finals participation. As for Alan Joyce's much vaunted pre-season fitness campaign, it is difficult to gauge its success. One possible means of assessment is to look at how strongly the team finished games, and in this connection it is perhaps relevant to note that, during the minor round, Old Easts outscored the opposition in the last quarter in 11 of their 21 games, which hardly suggests markedly superior fitness. However, such a means of assessment takes no account of the importance of the last quarter in terms of deciding the result of the match, and it perhaps deserves to be mentioned that there were three occasions when the side overcame significant three quarter time deficits in order to emerge with a win. The most noteworthy of these fightbacks came in the home game against Perth in round 13 when Old Easts kicked 6.6 to 1.1 in the final term to win by 2 points, having trailed by 33 points at the last change. Perhaps significantly, there were no converse examples of opposition teams fighting back from ostensibly hopeless positions at three quarter time to overcome Old Easts.
East Fremantle headed into the finals in third position and comfortably overcame Claremont in the first semi final. Their preliminary final clash with West Perth was memorably dramatic, and is covered in detail elsewhere. Sadly for Old Easts, as mentioned above it ended in defeat. Consolation of a sort was afforded by Dave Hollins’ conclusive victory in the Sandover Medal. Hollins received 26 votes compared to runner up Mel Whinnen’s 16.
Claremont actually won fewer matches in 1971 than in 1970 (11 compared to 12). However, unlike in 1970, when they finished fifth, theymade the finals, only to succumb at the first hurdle to East Fremantle. Scores were Old Easts 18.21 (129) defeated Claremont 11.16 (82). The Tigers would show considerable improvement in 1972, but it would be a full decade before they again procured premiership honours.
In fifth place, a win behind Claremont, came Subiaco. The Lions’ main problem was inconsistency. During the course of the season they managed to defeat three of the competition finalists at least once (the exception being East Perth) but they also managed to lose to all three of the teams which finished below them on the ladder.
The first such team was 1970 premier South Fremantle, which inexplicably nosedived to sixth place in the premiership table with just 9 wins. They actually commenced the season in the same kind of form which had secured the premiership, handing out a 93 point hiding to Subiaco in round one and following this with a hard fought eight point win in the Fremantle Derby against Old Easts. Thereafter, however, their form more or less deserted them, and almost all of their remaining wins were against fellow non-finalists.
The highlights of seventh placed Perth’s year both came early on with wins against West Perth in round one and East Perth three matches later. Indeed, after round four Perth remained the only unbeaten side in the competition, but after that it was all irreducibly down hill.
Wooden spooners Swan Districts did not even manage to make it beyond the foothills and some of their defeats were sizeable. In round eight, for example, they succumbed to East Perth by 98 points, while four rounds later West Perth annihilated them 31.16 (204) to 6.10 (46). (Ironically, Swans’ finest performance of the season came against their round eight conquerers: in round fifteen they downed East Perth 13.8 (86) to 9.16 (82).)
Western Australia’s two interstate outings in 1971 both ended in defeats, by 38 points against the VFL in Perth, and to South Australia in Adelaide by 27 points.
Minor States and Territories Round-up
In Tasmania, the premierships went to Sandy Bay at the expense of Clarence (TANFL), Scottsdale against City-South (NTFA), and Latrobe versus East Devonport (NWFU). The state premiership decider was contested between Sandy Bay and Latrobe with the former emerging victorious by 21 points, 12.14 (86) to 8.17 (65).
The 1971 QAFL grand final between Sandgate and Kedron was won by the latter, largely thanks to their greater accuracy in front of goal. In the end they got home by 27 points, 16.11 (107) to 10.20 (80).
Premiers in the other state/territory competitions were East Sydney (NSWANFL), Darwin (NTFL) and Manuka (CANFL).
A section B interstate carnival was contested in Brisbane. Besides the home state it involved the ACT, New South Wales and Australian Amateurs. The final saw the ACT comfortably overcome New South Wales 26.13 (169) to 15.11 (101) giving them their first ever section two carnival triumph.
Grand final results - CoA: Hawthorn 13.13 (91) d. North Adelaide 10.7 (67); VFL: Hawthorn 12.10 (82) d. St Kilda 11.9 (75); SANFL: North Adelaide 10.19 (79) d. Port Adelaide 9.5 (59); WANFL: West Perth 14.17 (101) d. East Perth 9.15 (69); VFA: Division One - Dandenong 14.14 (98) d. Preston 13.14 (92); Division Two - Sunshine 22.26 (158) d. Brunswick 16.8 (104); TANFL: Sandy Bay 18.13 (121) d. Clarence 16.16 (112); NTFA: Scottsdale 21.10 (136) d. City-South 5.13 (43); NSWANFL: East Sydney (formerly Eastern Suburbs) 19.15 (129) d. Western Suburbs 15.22 (112); NTFL: Darwin 16.7 (103) d. St Marys 7.13 (55); QAFL: Sandgate 16.11 (107) d. Kedron 10.20 (80); NWFU: Latrobe 14.16 (100) d. East Devonport 5.9 (39); CANFL: Manuka 10.17 (77) d. Eastlake 6.15 (51); TSP: Sandy Bay 12.14 (86) d. Latrobe 8.17 (65).
 Hawthorn’s first flag in any grade was won in 1958 in the VFL reserves competition. The Hawks repeated their success the following year.
 South Australian Record Yearbook 1972, page 29.
 Ibid, page 75.
SANFL: Cock o’ the North
The date: Sunday 15th October 1972. The place: Adelaide Oval. The occasion: the Australian Premiers final  between North Adelaide (SANFL premiers) and Carlton (VFL premiers). 23,213 spectators screamed themselves hoarse as the Roosters, having trailed by 5 points at the last change, and despite coming home into the breeze, applied Victorian style pressure to their opponents during a torrid final quarter to emerge victors by the narrowest of margins and claim the title "Champions of Australia". North champion Barrie Robran gave an irrepressible display which in some ways was the pinnacle of his career, and gave rise to an unprecedented tribute from quintessentially one-eyed Victorian TV commentator, Louie 'the Lip' Richards, who dubbed Robran "the new king of football”.
The whole North Adelaide team were “kings of football” that day, and it is arguable that South Australian football itself had never, up to that point, achieved a more noteworthy triumph. Certainly, whatever else is said, it was the North Adelaide Football Club's finest hour, albeit that subsequent developments in the game would render it almost meaningless.
Under the coaching of former Richmond ruckman Michael Patterson North Adelaide had been transformed from a talented team with a soft underbelly to a combination which even some staunch Victorians admitted would hold its own, without perhaps doing well enough to qualify for the finals, in the VFL. The Roosters already had the 1971 premiership under their belt and, perhaps predictably, suffered something of a hangover which saw them win just 3 of their first 6 minor round games in 1972. After that, however, the side was virtually indomitable. North entered the finals in pole position with a 16-5 record, one win clear of Port Adelaide. The Magpies, which had downed the Roosters in 2 of the teams’ 3 minor round encounters, loomed as the only serious threat to North’s chances of going back to back. However, in the second semi final, after a lack lustre showing in the opening term, the Roosters firmed as flag favourites by adding 14 goals to 6 over the remainder of the match to win comfortably by 21 points. In the grand final re-match a fortnight later it was a similar story: Port played well in the first half, and actually held an 8 point advantage at the main break, but in the third and fourth quarters North swept their opponents aside with almost contemptuous ease. Just as he had been in the grand final twelve months earlier, centreman Barrie Robran was the best player on view, while rover Terry Von Bertouch, half back flanker Geoff Strang, full back Bob Hammond and 6 goal full forward Bob Hammond were also conspicuous. North Adelaide’s subsequent triumph in the Australian championships was icing on the cake after indisputably one of the greatest seasons ever enjoyed by a South Australian club.
For Port Adelaide it was yet another case of so near and yet so far. The Magpies’ loss to North in the grand final was their fifth such reversal in seven seasons. They played some fine football during the minor round, and their preliminary final clash with Central District was one of the most memorable major round matches of recent times. Trailing 9.14 (68) to 13.11 (89) at the last change they comprehensively outclassed the Bulldogs in the final term, adding 5.6 to 2.3 to emerge victorious by a single straight kick. Judged on their respective performances over the match as a whole, Central District had produced the better, more flowing football, but Port won “simply because they refused to give in”. On the following Saturday, however, all the grit and defiance in the Magpies’ locker was to no avail.
In both 1971 and 1972 Central District lost to Port Adelaide in the preliminary final. In the former year there was a modicum of disappointment, but this was outweighed by the knowledge that the club had just enjoyed the greatest season in its history up to that point. In 1972 the Bulldogs improved on their 1971 showing, winning more matches (15 as against 13), and coming much closer to overhauling the Magpies in the penultimate match of the season. This time ‘round, however, there was no sense of satisfaction at their achievement, merely raw disappointment at was perceived as a failure to fulfill their potential. Who knows, but had full forward Gary Jones (91 goals in 1971), defender Lyndon Andrews and forward David Saywell recovered from their injuries in time to front up against Port things might, just might have been different.
Fourth place in 1972 went to Norwood which thereby ended an uncharacteristic six season stint without finals football. Their return was far from satisfactory, however. In the first half of their first semi final clash with Centrals the Redlegs had 17 scoring shots to 8, but only led by 4 points. After half time the Bulldogs’ running brigade upped the ante and the Redlegs were left chasing shadows. Centrals ultimately won by 30 points, 19.7 (121) to 12.19 (91).
Sturt went the opposite way to Norwood in 1972, failing to make the finals for the first time since 1964. That they were still a talented combination was undeniable - wins during the season against the likes of North, Port (twice) and Centrals proved that. But on the opposite side of the ledger were defeats at the hands of the league’s bottom three, Woodville, South and West. Also undeniable was the fact that the Double Blues were in a rebuilding phase, given which it would have been heartening to the club’s supporters to note that some of the team’s best and most consistent football was produced by relative newcomers such as defender Colin Casey (Sturt best and fairest in ’72), wingman or half forward flanker Michael Graham, and ruckman Rick Davies.
Sixth placed Glenelg vied for wins (11) with Sturt in 1972 but had an inferior percentage. The Bays generally proved capable of defeating the teams below them on the premiership ladder, but of their 9 matches against final four opponents only one - against Norwood in round eleven - was won.
Just as in 1971, West Torrens finished the 1972 season in seventh place on the ladder, albeit with one fewer win (7 compared to 8). They tended to rely far too much on too few individuals and their attack was woefully weak, with only South Adelaide scoring fewer points for the season.
The twin highlights of eighth placed Woodville’s 1972 campaign were victory in the Coca Cola Cup, a knock-out competition held after the minor round involving the teams placed fifth to eighth, and utility Malcolm Blight’s triumph in the Magarey Medal. Both were club firsts. Much like Torrens, however, the ‘Peckers tended to be much too reliant on a small nucleus of players, notably Blight, rover Ray Huppatz, and 51 goal half forward Ralph Sewer.
South Adelaide, which had last qualified for the finals in 1966, had another season to forget, winning just 5 out of 21 minor round matches. They also had both the fewest points for and the highest number of points against in the competition.
Half a win behind South, and last for the first time in thirty-six years, was West Adelaide. Had Westies beaten Norwood in their final minor round match instead of drawing with them (they kicked 15.21 to 16.15) they would have leapfrogged South on percentage and avoided football’s ultimate indignity. The promise shown in 1968 and more especially 1969 when the Bloods made the finals must have seemed a distant memory to the club’s supporters.
A major plus in an otherwise mediocre season for South Australian football was the fact that the game attracted an all time record aggregate attendance of 1,152,486 patrons - 130,000 more than the 1971 figure.
Awesome Vics Romp Home in Perth
The Australian club championship series was not the only ostensibly national competition to take place in 1972. In June, in Perth, teams representing Australia’s four leading football states - Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania - assembled to contest the last ever single city round robin interstate carnival. The reason these competitions had had their day was starkly revealed by the results of the carnival matches: most notably, Victoria massacred all three of the other states with consummnate ease, ending up with a percentage of 281.8. The Vics were, quite literally, playing football at a completely different level to their opponents. Moreover, virtually all the best Tasmanian and West Australian footballers, and an ever increasing proportion of the top South Australians, were now plying their trade in the VFL.
A distant second to Victoria in the carnival standings was the host state, impressive victors over South Australia by 48 points in their opening match, less eye catching in downing Tasmania by 45 points in their second, and never getting within sniffing distance of the “Big V” in their final game. South Australia comfortably overcame Tasmania to finish an unconvincing third, while for the Tasmanians it was by some measure the worst carnival showing in the state’s history.
As usual, an All Australian team was selected after the championships. No fewer than ten members of this team hailed from Victoria, while Western Australia had seven representatives, South Australia two, and Tasmania one. The Tassie Medal for the carnival’s best player went to Western Australian full back Ken McAulley from East Perth who polled 17 votes. Second with 9 votes was VFL ruckman Len Thompson of Collingwood, while South Australia’s Peter Marker (Glenelg) and Ian Miller (Perth) from Western Australia shared third place with 8 votes each. Captain of the team was WA’s “Bad Mal” Brown from East Perth.
VFL: A Blues Blitz
In Victoria, the state’s emphatic triumph in Perth was treated as an inevitability. Of much greater interest were the weekly fixtures involving the dozen clubs of the VFL, and it cannot be denied that in 1972 these clubs combined to produce a bumper and, in some respects, record season. While full scale professionalism for players was still some way from being achieved there is no doubt that, in the VFL, football could, by 1972, legitimately be described as “big business”, a fact which had an inevitable impact on the way clubs comported themselves off the field. The VFL was also much more visible than had been the case even a decade earlier; TV replays of each week’s games were shown across Australia and in states outside Victoria this had the inevitable effect of stripping the competition of its mysique, of making it seem more accessible. Whereas during the ‘50s and ‘60s kids growing up in Perth or Adelaide aspired to play in the WANFL or SANFL by the 1970s the sights of the most talented had shifted firmly towards Melbourne, and the VFL.
The 1972 VFL season saw the replacement of the top four finals system with a final five. This saw the fourth and fifth placed teams playing off in an elimination match in the first week of the finals, while the second and third placed sides contested what was known as a qualifying final, with the victors playing the minor premiers the following week in the second semi and the losers playing the winners of the elimination final. From that point on the system was identical to that which had operated since 1931.
Prior to the start of the season Carlton was not expected to be a serious premiership contender as it was felt that the side was too inexperienced. However, the Blues turned this apparent handicap on its head with youngsters like David Dickson, Greg Kennerdy and Trevor Keogh all having sizeable impacts. Moreover, several players who had previously been in and out of the senior grade side seized their opportunities with both hands to make significant contributions to the flag win. Members of this group included Bruce Doull, who would go on to play 356 senior VFL games, Paul Hurst and John O’Connell.
Carlton won 18 and drew 1 of their 22 home and away matches in 1972, which was good enough to see them top the ladder. Despite this, it was second placed Richmond (18-4) which was the widespread premiership favourite, thanks largely to its victories over Carlton by 5 points in round four and 31 points in round fourteen. The Tigers duly qualified to face Carlton in the second semi final and after a tense, tightly fought match scores were level, 8.13 (61) apiece. The Blues, one might have thought, would have derived considerable confidence from this result, but if so it was not evident in the following week’s replay when they produced a meek performance in succumbing to the vibrantly intense and physical Tigers by 41 points. Many observers felt that the result was of particular significance in that it had occurred at the venue for the grand final, the MCG, whereas the drawn game had taken place at VFL Park.
In order to qualify for the grand final, the Blues had to confront St Kilda in the preliminary final. A crowd of 96,272 at the MCG saw Carlton struggle for three quarters to shrug off a defiant Saints side before pulling away with a 5 goals to 3 last term to clinch victory by 16 points.
Prior to the grand final, Richmond’s last defeat had occurred in round thirteen on 1st July. Given that, and the fact that they had already defeated Carlton three times in 1972, the Tigers were odds-on to win their first flag since 1969 and their eighth in total. The Blues, however, had other ideas, and with Alex Jesaulenko, Robert Walls (pictured at the top lof this section), captain-coach John Nicholls, Peter Jones and Barry Armstrong to the fore they seized the iniative from the outset and never relinquished it. In terms of its high scoring it has never come close to being equalled, and unless the game undergopes an immense, unforseeable transformation it is unliquely that it ever will.
By half time, Carlton had already amassed a total (18.6) high enough to win most grand finals. By the end, losers Richmond had kicked 22.18, which equalled the highest grand final tally in history - prior to 1972, that is. Carlton finished on 28.9 (177) and triumphed by 27 points. Given that the Blues most emphatically had youth on their side there were many post-match comments to the effect that this was the birth of a new era of dominance for Carlton. Many of the people making those comments had also confidently predicted a Richmond victory in the ’72 grand final, however.
Despite losing the grand final - and deservedly - Richmond had for much of the year been the league’s most eye-catching team. In the finals the Tigers scored emphatic wins over Collingwood, 25.14 (164) to 18.12 (120), and over Carlton, as alluded to above. They had proved that they could play match-winning finals footy, and their time as a league superpower would soon arrive. Not that the club’s future prospects were at the forefront of anyone’s mind at the club’s post grand final dance, the atmosphere of which made it more like a wake. Club coach Tom Hafey reportedly refused to make a speech and declined to dance; was he plotting revenge, one wonders?
Third-placed St Kilda probably exceeded even their own expectations in 1972, particularly given that they lost vital players like Bob Murray, Barry Lawrence and John McIntosh to injury during the course of the season. Rover Ross Smith was also severely impeded by an injury sustained just prior to the major round. But once the finals started the Saints produced some of their best football for the year, downing Essendon by 53 points in the elimination final, and Collingwood by 3 goals in the first semi. In the preliminary final St Kilda kept pace with Carlton for much of the match, ultimately succumbing by just 16 points. It was a defiant and by no means dishonorable defeat.
Collingwood suffered a swathe of injuries prior to the finals, most notably to full forward Peter McKenna who had booted 130 goals during the home and away series. This was no real excuse for their limp performances against Richmond in the qualifying final, and St Kilda a week later in the first semi final. During the first quarters of both matches the Magpies were comprehensively outplayed and opposition supporters were quick to utilise the term “Colliwobbles” to describe the team’s displays. At least ruckman Len Thompson’s thoroughly deserved Brownlow Medal win afforded some small consolation.
Ex-Collingwood stalwart Des Tuddenham’s appointment as Essendon captain-coach at the start of the 1972 season attracted much criticism but turned out to be a master-stroke. After finishing second to last with just 4 wins and a draw in 1971 the Bombers, with basically the same set of players, cruised into the finals with a 14-8 record. Although beaten in the elimination final by St Kilda there were definite signs that the team was on the up.
Reigning premiers Hawthorn suffered a disappointing slump in 1972, and “they really did not deserve the right to defend their title through a finals series. They struggled all year to stay within reach of the ladder leaders but could not quite come to grips with the top sides. The enthusiasm of the previous year seemed to be missing from the team and most of the big name players found it hard to keep up the pace of the season”. Mind you, the Hawks’ cause was certainly not helped by the injury to champion full forward Peter Hudson in the opening round of the season. Hudson did not resume, and after the season was finished he returned home to Tasmania where he intended to continue his playing career in 1973.
Man for man Footscray lost little if anything compared to the competition’s top sides but they lacked cohesion as a team and this gave rise to inconsistency. Capable, for instance, of overturning Collingwood at Victoria Park and Essendon at Windy Hill the Bulldogs could just as readily lose to the likes of Melbourne, as they did in round thirteen at VFL Park, and Fitzroy, as happened in round seventeen, also at Waverley.
Melbourne was another middle of the road side but unlike the Bulldogs the Demons achieved consistency of a sort, almost invariably defeating the teams below them on the premiership ladder, but losing to those above them. With the club’s reserves side finishing second to Hawthorn there were hopes that some of the younger members of this team might give a much needed injection of energy to the seniors in 1973.
Fitzroy started the season promisingly, securing wins over the previous year’s grand finalists St Kilda in round two and Hawthorn a fortnight later, but thereafter the wheels fell off disastrously. It was observed of the Lions that the backline “was uninspiring but tight, they had one of the most brilliant centrelines in the League but all this ability was wasted because they had no one who could regularly kick a winning score”.
Geelong lost their first ten matches of the season, a sequence which cost coach Bill McMaster his job. Under his replacement, club legend Graham “Polly” Farmer, the Cats improved significantly, and they finished the season with 7 wins to their credit. Among these victories were a 25.18 (168) to 14.8 (92) mauling of eventual grand finalists Richmond, a 10 point defeat of Essendon at Kardinia Park and, most notably of all, a stupendous 1 point come from behind win over Collingwood, also at Kardinia Park.
Both South Melbourne and North Melbourne had seasons to forget, winning 2 and 1 games respectively. For North, better times lay just around the corner, but South were on a downward spiral which, apart from a fleeting finals appearance in 1977, would endure for over a decade, by which time the club had controversially relocated to Sydney.
WANFL: Royals’ Long Drought Ends
Since winning the 1959 premiership East Perth had given their supporters little but heartache. Grand finalists in 1960-1, 1966-7-8-9 and 1971 the Royals had somehow conspired to lose every time. Finally, in 1972 they found the winning formula. Coached by 'Mad Mal' Brown, one of the most colourful personalities ever to represent the club, East Perth had a defence second to none, with full back Ken McAullay securing the Simpson Medal for best afield in the grand final to go with the Tassie and Simpson Medals he had won earlier in the season while representing Western Australia at the Perth interstate carnival. Opposed in the grand final by Claremont the Royals recovered from a slow start to prove consummately superior in every department with the exception of kicking for goal. Final scores were East Perth 9.17 (71) defeated Claremont 8.8 (56).
Immediately following their premiership victory East Perth became the first Western Australian club to participate in the Australian club championships in Adelaide, and although the Royals lost their semi final to Carlton the series tends to be remembered more for the sight of Malcolm Brown going berserk and laying into every Blues player within reach than it is for the results on the scoreboard.
Second-placed Claremont had won 2 out of 3 home and away clashes with East Perth only to go down to them twice in the finals. The Tigers also topped the ladder going into those finals after losing just 3 of their 21 minor round matches - a club record. At their scintillating best, Claremont were far and away the best side in Western Australia, but crucially they lost form at precisely the wrong time, late in the season just prior to the finals. Nevertheless it was still the Tigers’ most noteworthy season since 1964, when they had last won the premiership.
For Perth 1972 was a promising season during which they improved more than other team in the competition. Much of the credit for the improvement belonged to new coach Barry Cable who unashamedly placed the emphasis on skill and who, but for a lack of strength in the ruck, might well have steered the Demons to the grand final. In the preliminary final clash with Claremont it was the Tigers’ supremacy in the ruck which paved the way for their 31 point win. In all other respects Perth either vied with or were superior to their opponents. A bright future was confidently predicted for the Demons. There was also a noteworthy achievement for one of Perth’s players: Ian Miller became the first centre half forward to win the Sandover Medal in the fifty-one year history of the award.
The only significant difference between reigning premier West Perth’s regular line-up in 1972 compared to the previous year was the absence of Graham “Polly” Farmer, who had retired. At first, the Cardinals rollercoaster seemed set to continue as they enjoyed a fine first half of the season, but this proved to be deceptive. In the end they did not so much seize fourth place on the ladder as fall into it. Nevertheless, they ought really to have won their first semi final clash with Perth. Ahead by 3 goals at the final change, and playing much the better all round football, they floundered in the face of the Demons’ added intensity in the last term to lose by 15 points.
East Fremantle had been warm pre-season favourites for the flag but in the end they failed even to qualify for the finals, albeit that this was only on percentage. Going into their last matches of the season Old Easts and West Perth were level on points. The Cardinals lost to Perth, meaning an East Fremantle victory over East Perth would have secured fourth spot for them on the ladder. However, they put in a woeful performance and went down by 77 points giving rise to the consensus view that they did not deserve to participate in the major round.
Subiaco boasted a wealth of talent in the shape of the likes of full forward Austin Robertson junior (top league goalkicker with 98 goals), powerful ruckmen Mike Fitzpatrick and Brian Sierakowski, and silkily skilled half forward George Young. They also had one of the best and most innovative coaches in the business in the shape of Haydn Bunton junior. However, midway through the season they found themselves staring at a wooden spoon. Then, miraculously, everything seemed to click, and they finished the season as the competition’s form side with wins at West Perth and East Perth among their triumphs. They ended up just 1 win out of the four. Their supporters did not know it, but the Lions’ fine late season form was a herald of even better things to come in 1973.
Swan Districts beat all the other sides in the competition except Claremont and Perth but on many occasions during the year they looked out of their depth. Much the same could be said of wooden spooners South Fremantle whose fans would be hoping - fruitlessly, as it turned out - for a repeat of the events of 1969 and 1970. Last placed in the former year the southerners grabbed fourth place on the ladder the following season and then won all three finals matches to take out the flag. In 1972 they were impeded by numerous injuries but even their full strength team lacked the talent to topple the league’s top sides.
Given that it was a season during which much excellent football was produced it is perhaps a touch surprising to note that, in distinct contrast to South Australia, WANFL attendances declined markedly in 1972.
VFA: Devils and Roosters Triumph
Oakleigh made a surprise return to the VFA wionners’ enclosure. Captain-coached by former Melbourne ruckman “Big Bob” Johnson, who had enjoyed premiership success with East Fremantle in Western Australia, the Devils swept all before them, most notably during the finals when they twice accounted for reigning premiers Dandenong by hefty margins. It was Oakleigh’s first, and ultimately only, divison one flag.
A crowd of some 15,000 crammed into Toorak Park for the second division premiership decider between Geelong West and Caulfield. They were treated to a close, exciting game, won by the former by a single straight kick after Caulfield had led by 2 goals at the last change. The Roosters’ premiership triumph was all the more noteworthy in that it was achieved unbeaten.
City-South Claim Bragging Rights in Apple Isle
In Tasmania, unlike the mainland states, top quality football is played not just in and around the capital city but also in the north and north west of the state. Sandy Bay might have convincingly won the Hobart-based TFL premiership with "straight sets" finals wins over New Norfolk but the Seagulls failed dismally in the state preliminary final. Opposed by NWFU premiers Latrobe in Devonport they succumbed meekly by 54 points after mustering a meagre tally of 4.8 (32) for the match.
Captain-coached by Tasmanian football legend Darrel Baldock Latrobe not surprisingly became a warm favourite to down NTFA top dog City-South in the state premiership decider. However the Launceston-based Redlegs made the most of home city advantage to finish full of running and 6 goals to the good after the first three quarters had been evenly contested.
City-South thus became the first Tasmanian club to participate in the Australian club championships in Adelaide. They lost to North Adelaide in the semi final by 59 points and to East Perth by 7 points in the third and fourth places play-off. Despite the losses the Redlegs acquitted themselves well, particularly in their second match.
Bumper Crowd for NSWAFL Grand Final
Football’s increasing popularity in Sydney was reflected in the crowd of 8,100 which attended the NSWAFL grand final at Trumper Park. This might seem like a meagre total by southern states standards but it was the biggest turn-out in living memory for a football match in Sydney. Western Suburbs, which had suffered just one reversal during the minor round, won the premiership in convincing fashion with a 22.23 (155) to 12.14 (86) defeat of East Sydney. It was a reversal of the previous year’s grand final result and gave the Magpies their first premiership since 1969 and their sixth in total.
The state team showed some excellent form in 1972, convincingly downing both Queensland and a VFL Reserves combination. Equally noteworthy was the state schoolboy team’s success in one of two matches played against South Australia. Admittedly the margin was only a point, and South Australia easily won the other match, but the victory was notable in that it was New South Wales’ first at any level against South Australia.
Other States and Territories
Overall, crowds in the QAFL were up, although the grand final attendance of roughly 9,000 was not a record. Wilston Grange comfortably won that grand final with a 26.8 (164) to 11.14 (80) defeat of Sandgate, which had won the two previous premierships.
The CANFL grand final was even more one-sided with Eastlake trouncing Ainslie by 113 points.
In Darwin, St Marys achieved revenge over Darwin in the NTFL grand final with a 1 point triumph. Darwin had overcome the Saints in the previous four premiership deciders.
Grand final results - CoA: North Adelaide 10.13 (73) d. Carlton 10.12 (72); VFL: Carlton 28.9 (177) d. Richmond 22.18 (150); SANFL: North Adelaide 19.14 (128) d. Port Adelaide 10.12 (72); WANFL: East Perth 9.17 (71) d. Claremont 8.8 (56); VFA: Division One - Oakleigh 25.17 (167) d. Dandenong 16.15 (111); Division Two - Geelong West 14.16 (100) d. Caulfield 14.10 (94); TANFL: Sandy Bay 18.9 (117) d. New Norfolk 10.14 (74); NTFA: City-South 11.7 (73) d. Launceston 2.15 (27); NSWANFL: Western Suburbs 22.23 (155) d. East Sydney 12.14 (86); NTFL: St Marys 13.7 (85) d. Darwin 12.12 (84); QAFL: Wilston Grange 26.8 (164) d. Sandgate11.14 (80); NWFU: Latrobe 11.16 (82) d. Burnie 8.12 (60); CANFL: Eastlake 26.19 (175) d. Ainslie 9.8 (62); TSP: City-South 14.14 (98) d. Latrobe 8.14 (62).
Perth Carnival results: VFL 32.22 (214) d. Tasmania 4.8 (32); Western Australia 15.11 (101) d. South Australia 6.17 (53); Western Australia 17.22 (124) d. Tasmania 12.7 (79); VFL 17.9 (111) d. South Australia 8.9 (57); South Australia 22.24 (156) d. Tasmania 9.12 (66); VFL 15.19 (109) d. Western Australia 9.11 (65)
 Every season between 1968 and 1971 the VFL premiers and their South Australian premiers confronted one another on the Adelaide Oval in matches designated as being for the unofficial championship of Australia. In 1972 the competition became a knock-out series involving the premiership-winning teams of the four main football states: Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. For the first time therefore the “championship of Australia” label arguably had some credence.
 “The Advertiser”, 16/10/72, page 17.
 “Football Close Up 1973”, page 100.
 Ibid, page 34.
 Ibid, page 33.
 Geelong trailed at every change by 28, 49 and 31 points before adding 7.4 to 2.2 in the final term, in the process exposing frailties in their opponents which would resurface to haunt them during the 1972 finals series.
 The Royals won the second semi final 12.14 (86) to 11.3 (69).
VFL: Revenge for Richmond
In 1973, with only one thing - revenge over their 1972 nemesis Carlton - on their minds, Richmond experienced the opposite of a premiership hangover, and ultimately emerged with the flag. However, the route to the premiership was often bumpy, with a 20 point qualifying final loss to Carlton representing the nadir, and meaning that the team would have to confront - and surmount - three weeks of cut-throat finals football to emerge with the ultimate prize.
The first semi final against St Kilda was closely fought until three quarter time, but in the last term Richmond added 6.3 to 1.0 to win by 40 points, and comprehensively raise confidence ahead of a do or die preliminary final encounter with minor premier Collingwood. At half time in the preliminary final, the Magpies looked to have one foot already in the grand final, as they led by 6 goals and seemed totally in control. In the second half, Tom Hafey opted to introduce a half fit Royce Hart to the fray, and the gamble paid off in dramatic fashion as he provided a hitherto absent focal point ahead of centre, helping himself to 2 magnificent goals, and contributing to several others as the Tigers roared back to be within 8 points at the final change. The Magpies were not yet beaten, and in terms of general play the last quarter was evenly contested, but there seemed to be an air of inevitability in the way that Tiger moves were rounded off with goals, whereas Collingwood kicked a succession of behinds. Richmond duly added 5.2 to 2.5 in the final term to win by 7 points, and set up the longed for grand final showdown with Carlton.
In battling their way to a 16.20 (116) to 12.14 (86) grand final win over arguably its greatest foe, Richmond emphatically demonstrated all the virtues and qualities traditionally associated with the club; the inspirational displays of the likes of Bartlett, Sheedy, Sproule, Clay, Hart and Stewart in the white heat of battle graphically personified the 'eat 'em alive' philosophy, and many supporters of long standing regarded the Tigers' 1973 premiership success as their proud team's finest hour. For many, the 1973 VFL grand final is best remembered for a controversial incident just before half time involving champion Blues full back Geoff Southby and the flailing fist of Richmond strong man Neil Balme, but the effect of this incident on the outcome of the game was negligible. The Tigers won - and indeed led at every change, by 9, 26 and 38 points - because, just as in 1969, they had peaked at precisely the right time, and because every member of the side was adept at performing skillfully and purposefully under pressure. Carlton made a semblance of a comeback early in the last quarter to get to within 18 points, but the Tigers went on to dominate the closing stages just as they had most of the rest of the match, and in the end the 30 point victory margin probably flattered the losers.
The rubber stamp to what had been a remarkable season came when Richmond re-claimed the Australian club championship courtesy of hard fought wins over Glenelg by 15 points and Subiaco by 13 points in Adelaide.
Carlton's 1973 side was rated by John Nicholls among others as superior to the premiership winning combination of the previous year, but it faltered when it counted on grand final day. During the minor round the Blues won 15 and lost 7 matches before comfortably downing Richmond in the qualifying final. Watched by a crowd of 86,386 at the MCG Carlton led at every cahange by 8, 11 and 24 points before triumphing in the end by 20 points, 13.13 (91) to 10.11 (71). In the following week’s second semi final against minor premiers Collingwood the Blues had to battle hard for three quarters before pulling away in the final term to win by an identical margin to the qualifying final triumph over the Tigers. Final scores were Carlton 15.17 (107) defeated Collingwood 12.15 (87).
Carlton were favourites going into the 1973 grand final but they failed to cope with Richmond’s relentlessly aggressive approach and were never really in the match. It must also be noted that the Blues had injury worries. Rod Keogh had been injured in the second semi final and was ruled unfit for the grand final. Moreover, Barry Armstrong was unavailable because he had recently had his appendix removed. Several more Carlton players were selected despite injury problems and it as least arguable that the team’s performance was undermined as a result.
Collingwood, with a 19-3 record, comfortably headed the ladder after the 1973 minor round, but they fell in a heap come finals time. In the second semi final they led Carlton by 2 points at three quarter time only for the Blues to add 6 last quarter goals to 3 and win quite comfortably. Even worse was to follow, for in the preliminary final clash with Richmond the Magpies threw away a 6 goal half time lead, eventually going under by 7 points. Following this game the old notion of “the Collingwood colliwobbles” resurfaced with a vengeance. Meagre consolation will have been gleaned from Magpie full forward Peter McKenna's feat of topping the VFL goalkicking charts for the second successive season; he booted 86 goals.
Fifth after the minor round St Kilda destroyed Essendon in the elimination final thanks to a magnificent second half which yielded 17 goals compared to the Bombers’ 6. Final scores were St Kilda 24.14 (158) defeated Essendon 13.13 (91). St Kilda’s tally of 10.1 in the final term was a new record for a finals game. That was as good as it got for the Saints, however. In the following week’s first semi final clash with Richmond they made a game of it for three quarters before being blown away in the fourth. The Tigers won by 40 points.
Essendon finished the minor round poorly with losses in their last 3 games. Their position in the finals was never in jeopardy, however, and they went into the elimination final clash with St Kilda in confident frame of mind recalling that they had downed the Saints in both home and away encounters during the season. This time round they had no answer to the Saints’ ruck strength and smooth teamwork, particularly after half time, and so a season which had promised much at one stage ended disappointingly.
Prior to the commencement of the 1973 season North Melbourne's playing stocks had risen appreciably via the signing of three bona fide champions in the shape of Doug Wade (208 games and 834 goals with Geelong), Barry Davis (220 games for Essendon) and John Rantall (over 200 games with South Melbourne). These signings were made possible by the introduction by the league of a rule whereby a player who had given his club ten years service could obtain a transfer, without any restraint, to the opposition club of his choice. The VFL at the time was concerned about the possible legal ramifications of a case involving rugby league player John Tutty in New South Wales in 1971, in which the courts had eventually ruled that the New South Wales Rugby League's regulations on the transfer of players constituted a restraint of trade. Although the VFL's hastily drawn up "Ten Year Rule" was soon withdrawn, it was in place long enough to enable North to make major headway towards its goal of securing a senior premiership by 1976.
In addition to the trio of champions mentioned above, North also procured the services of one of the legends of the game as coach, when former Melbourne and Carlton supremo Ronald Dale Barassi was enticed into the fold. Whatever else you could say about Barassi, he was a born winner, who had an undoubted knack for bringing out the very best in his charges.
Perhaps not surprisingly, North improved beyond measure in 1973 to manage 11 wins and a draw from its 22 home and away matches, good enough for sixth position on the ladder, its highest placed finish since 1959. Moreover, Greig's victory in the Brownlow made him the club's very first recipient of that award.
Keith Greig was one of the most exciting footballers of his era. Following a brief stint with Brunswick he embarked on a glittering 300 game career with North Melbourne during which his trademark long stride became one of football's most familiar sights. Winner of the Brownlow Medal in both 1973 and 1974, he somewhat ironically failed to land North Melbourne's club champion award in both years, before ultimately breaking through in 1980.
A Big V representative on 13 occasions, Greig was equally proficient as a wingman or on a half back flank.
That 1971 premiers Hawthorn, who finished seventh, were still a powerful combination was evidenced by their minor round victories over both eventual grand finalists, Carlton and Richmond. Despite winning only half of their matches the Hawks finished with a positive percentage (109.6%) and several of their victories were by substantial margins. They would continue bubbling under for another season before breaking through to embark on the greatest sustained era of success in the club’s history up to that point.
Fitzroy won 9 matches and lost 13 to finish eighth. The Lions blew hot and cold, beating the likes of Richmond, Carlton and Essendon but suffering defeat at the hands of tenth placed Melbourne (twice) and eleventh placed Geelong.
Footscray had another dismal season, winning just 7 and drawing 1 of their 22 home and away fixtures to end up ninth. It was the twelfth consecutive year that the Bulldogs had failed to qualify for the finals. Their best wins of the season came back to back in rounds twenty-one and twenty-two against Carlton and Richmond.
Melbourne (7 wins), Geelong (6) and South Melbourne (4) all had miserable seasons mixing hefty defeats with occasional wins over fellow strugglers.
SANFL: Epic Triumph by Bays
In 1973, the quintessential “Neil Kerley method” - glimpsed, perhaps, in 1964 with South Adelaide, and again with the 1969 Bays - came at last to full fruition. Glenelg in '73 was, in terms of its average standard of performance, a VFL side in all but name. With the exception of its round seven meeting with North Adelaide at Prospect it not only never lost, but - until that fateful 'one day in September' - it never looked even remotely like doing so. "There's greater depth this year," observed Kerley half way through the year, endeavouring to pinpoint the reason for the team's spectacular improvement. "And we've got bigger players - and the biggest are a lot quicker than those of the past. Experience is another factor. This is a good side.”
Just how good became clear after the round fifteen return meeting with North Adelaide when the Bays blasted the reigning Australian champions off Glenelg Oval to the tune of a staggering 160 points. It was, according to Kerley, "the best effort I've seen from a Glenelg side", while Alan Shiell, writing in 'The Sunday Mail', suggested that "the remarkably ruthless manner in which Glenelg tore North apart almost defies description”.
The Bays were in a similarly merciless frame of mind for the second semi final, in which they demolished their nemesis of '69 and '70, Sturt, with arrogant ease, 20.13 (133) to 11.10 (76). Surely now nothing could stand in the way of 'Kerley's Mob' as they sought that elusive 'holy grail' of football, the Thomas Seymour Hill trophy?
The 1973 SANFL grand final, the last to be played on Adelaide Oval, would have to be a serious contender for the title of “best ever”. Glenelg's grand final opponents, North Adelaide, had, in addition to the 1972 club championship of Australia, won both of the previous two premierships and, in Barrie Robran, boasted a player who, in the view of some, was the most audaciously gifted exponent of the game in history. In the previous weekend's preliminary final the Roosters had vanquished the Double Blues with even greater conviction, and by an even greater victory margin (87 points), than Glenelg had managed in the second semi. There could be little doubt that on this occasion it most emphatically would not be a repeat of the round fifteen meeting between the two sides.
Right from the outset of the 1973 grand final it was clear that Glenelg was in for its toughest match for some time. Kicking with the aid of a strong breeze, North Adelaide withstood a strong start from the Tigers to outscore them 7.6 to 4.3 in a vibrant, free-flowing opening term. The second quarter saw the Bays fight back to lead 9.10 to 8.10 at half time, and when they emerged from a topsy turvy third term still 8 points to the good, and with the aid of the wind to come in the final quarter, victory, and that long sought flag, seemed probable. However, the Roosters staged a desperate fight back which saw them lead by 5 points with three minutes of time-on already played. What followed rapidly found a place in South Australian football folk lore - not to mention becoming a conspicuous cornerstone of the tradition, indeed the very soul, of the Glenelg Football Club.
With time running out, the Bays mounted one last, frenzied assault on goal, only to come up against the stern, resolute figure of North Adelaide's veteran full back, Bob Hammond, who had been virtually impassable all day. With an apparent calmness that he probably did not feel, Hammond careered out of the backlines paddling the ball in front of him; finally, the ball reached a recumbent Neil Sachse in the left half back flank region, and he endeavoured to handball it over the boundary line. However, Glenelg's twentieth man, Craig Marriott, who had only just come onto the ground, and was probably the only player afield still with a spring in his step, managed to intercept the ball, and launch a towering, hopeful punt kick back towards goal. The ball came back to earth in Glenelg's right forward pocket, directly into the hands of Graham Cornes, who had taken the preliminary insurance of perching two metres above the ground on the necks of the waiting pack. Cornes, who had scarcely been sighted all afternoon, coolly went back and goaled with a nonchalance that belied the acuteness of the angle: Glenelg was in front by a point.
If poetic justice had been served, that was how it ought to have ended, but Glenelg's nineteenth man John Sandland added another goal after the siren to give an illusion of comfort to the scoreline, the Bays winning by 7 points, 21.11 (137) to 19.16 (130). Centre half forward Peter Carey and rover-cum-forward pocket Rex 'Noddy' Voigt, with 6 and 7 goals respectively, vied for Glenelg's best, while prolific kick winning centreman Kerry Hamilton, lively Western Australian rover Greg Bennett, and full back Peter Anderson - a former North Adelaide player - were others among many to shine.
From a North Adelaide perspective the grand final defeat was inordinately hard to bear, all the more so in that victory had been so cruelly snatched away in the dying moments. After the match in the North changing rooms coach Mike Patterson attempted to make a speech, but broke down after just a couple of sentences. In a way it reflected the mood among Rooster players and supporters better than the most sparkling or erudite soliloquy.
North superstar Barrie Robran won his third Magarey Medal in 1973. Robran was arguably South Australia's, some would say Australia's, greatest ever footballer. The bare statistics fail to do him justice: three Magarey Medals and seven consecutive club fairest and most brilliant awards during a 201 game career which also saw him represent his state on 17 occasions. Originally from Whyalla, Robran off the field was shy and unassuming; on it, he was an artist. Victorian Mike Patterson who coached Robran for much of his league career observed that "Barrie can match (any Victorian) in any phase. I've seen him do things that the best players over there have been unable to accomplish”.
Robran's 'finest hour' arguably came during North Adelaide's 1972 championship of Australia final against Carlton when he performed with such brilliance that, on more than one occasion, opposition player Alex Jesaulenko - himself no mean footballer - broke into spontaneous applause.
Third placed Sturt impressed during the minor round and in their first finals match before falling apart. The Double Blues won 17 of their 21 matches to qualify for the major round in second place. They boasted both the best defence and the best percentage in the competition, and looked to be on course for the grand final when they defeated North Adelaide in the qualifying final by 6 points. However, hampered by the loss of brilliant wingman Michael Graham, who had been involved in a car accident, they were comprehensively outdone by Glenelg in the following week’s qualifying final, the Bays winning by 57 points. Even worse was to follow because even though Graham returned to the side for the preliminary final clash with North the Blues produced easily their worst performance of the entire season, losing by 91 points. On a marginally brighter note, high flying full forward Ken Whelan kicked 107 goals to top the SANFL’s goal kicking list.
By beating Port Adelaide by 35 points in the last minor round fixture of the year Norwood secured fifth spot on the premiership ladder heading into the finals. Both the Redlegs and Central District finished with 10 wins from 21 matches but Norwood had the superior percentage. In the elimination final they once again faced Port Adelaide, and produced another excellent performance to win by 6 goals, 23.13 (151) to 17.13 (115). Both this match and the first semi final clash with North Adelaide took place at Norwood’s home ground of the Parade. In that first semi final Norwood took the game right up to the reigning premiers before ultimately succumbing by just 5 points. Had the Redlegs produced their end of season form earlier in the year they might well have emerged as a real premiership threat.
Port Adelaide suffered some uncharacteristically hefty losses in 1973 and although they qualified for the finals in fourth spot they never remotely looked like challenging for the premiership. In the elimination final Norwood swept them aside with ease, and new Magpie coach John Cahill looked to facing a stern challenge to turn things around in 1974.
Injuries to key players early in the season saw Central District struggle but they improved later in the year to come within sniffing distance of a finals berth. The Bulldogs could be infuriatingly inconsistent. For instance, in round ten they defeated Port Adelaide by 73 points, before downing West Torrens the following week by 7 points. They would presumably therefore have travelled to the Parade to face Norwood in confident frame of mind, but they suffered their worst thrashing for some years, ultimately going down by 133 points.
Seventh placed West Torrens finished the season well, winning 6 of their last 8 minor round matches. However, this was nowhere near enough to repair the damage done by a woeful start to the year which saw them lose their opening 5 fixtures and stand 3-10 after the thirteenth series.
Woodville acutely felt the loss of rover Ray Huppatz and utility Malcolm Blight, both of whom had moved to Victoria. They also lacked reserve cover and had a tendency to start games reasonably well before fading. A total of 4 wins and a draw saw them finish eighth.
Both ninth placed South Adelaide (4 wins) and tenth placed West Adelaide (3 wins and a draw) had eminently forgettable seasons.
WANFL: Long Wait Over for Lions
Subiaco won the minor premiership in 1973, thereby enabling it to maintain its peculiar tradition of almost invariably losing a finals match en route to a flag. Not that there was anything calculated about the Lions' 13.7 (85) to 15.13 (103) second semi final loss to West Perth; it was simply a case of too many Subiaco players - most notably the captain-coach himself - being down on form.
Smith got himself, and his team, back on track for the following week's preliminary final, in which Subiaco always appeared to be in the box seat against East Perth, although the final margin of victory - 10 points - was a little close for comfort.
With it having been so long “between drinks’ for the Lions, enormous interest was generated in the 1973 grand final. Anxious to keep the players' minds focused on the task at hand, the Subiaco management committee forbade them from speaking to the media during the run-up to the big game. This was probably just as well, for the grand final rapidly developed into a tense, dour war of attrition. At quarter time the Lions, having enjoyed first use of the breeze, led narrowly, 3.4 (22) to 2.0 (12), but during the second term the Cardinals responded vigorously, and at half time there was just a single point in it: West Perth 4.2 (26); Subiaco 3.7 (25).
It was at this point that Ross Smith began to tap into all his reserves of experience and skill, putting together "one of the most inspired and courageous exhibitions of roving ever seen at Subiaco Oval”. Following their leader's example, Lions players all over the ground lifted, enabling them to eke out what proved to be a decisive advantage. At lemon time, Subiaco led 7.10 (52) to 5.2 (32), a margin of only 20 points admittedly, but West Perth's resistance had been broken, and the last term saw the Lions again outscore their rivals to win with deceptive ease. Centre half back Dennis Blair was awarded the Simpson Medal, although most observers rated Smith's performance as having had the most decisive impact. Keith Watt, Dick Manning and Fred Davenport were other Subiaco players to perform well.
In the ensuing Australian club championships in Adelaide the Lions gave a good account of themselves, comfortably dismissing Tasmanian champions Scottsdale from contention on the opening day, and then pushing VFL premiers Richmond all the way before going down by 13 points.
Runners-up West Perth could ruefully reflect on a season that had seen them do virtually everything right until the day that mattered most. After qualifying for the finals in second place with 15 wins from 21 matches the Cardinals played purposeful, decisive football in overcoming minor premiers Subiaco by 18 points in the second semi final. Only the Lions’ accuracy in front of goal prevented a more sizeable margin. Then, on grand final day, as discussed above, it all went wrong. Full forward Phil Smith had a fine season for the Cardies booting 84 goals to top the WAFL goal kicking list.
In their last minor round fixture of the year East Perth were comprehensively outplayed by East Fremantle and went down by 55 points. A week later in the first semi final the tables were turned, the Royals winning in emphatic style by 49 points, 17.19 (121) to 9.18 (72). Some observers rated them a premiership threat at that point, although the fact that they had failed to win any of their 3 minor round encounters with Subiaco was cause for concern. Such concern proved to be justified when the Royals lost a high scoring preliminary final clash with Subi by 10 points.
Going into their last match of the season against East Perth East Fremantle knew that they had to win whilst simultaneously hoping that arch rivals South Fremantle lost to West Perth. That was how things transpired, leaving East Fremantle on 11 wins and South Fremantle, with a superior percentage, on 10. Unfortunately Old Easts proved incabable of rising to the occasion in the following week’s first semi final, which strangely enough was also against East Perth. The Royals won comfortably and East Fremantle’s long, by their standards, premiership drought continued.
Sixth placed Swan Districts managed a couple of wins against high flying West Perth but other than that their season was almost wholly ignominious. At one stage Swans lost no fewer than 9 consecutive games.
Seventh placed Perth only managed to win 6 games but they provided the Sandover Medallist in the shape of Barry Cable. It was the champion rover’s third such award.
Claremont had a dismal season, winning just 4 games to end up with the wooden spoon. None of the wins was against any of the four finals participants.
WANFL attendances in 1973 were slightly up on the previous year. In 1972 a total of 732,387 spectators attended the 21 rounds of home and away matches. A year later the figure was 768,677, with more than 120,000 attending the finals. The record aggregate for a single season remained the 810,113 who attended games in 1970.
Scottsdale Take to the Big Stage
In 1973, as Australian football was fumbling blindly in the dark for a doorway through which it could escape from the stymieing effects of more than a century of obsessively localised, parochial preoccupation, Scottsdale shared top billing on the national stage at the Australian club championships in Adelaide. Examined logically, the concept of a competition which pitted the might of Richmond (VFL), Glenelg (SANFL) and Subiaco (WANFL) against a club representing a town of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants in northern Tasmania was seriously flawed; little wonder, you might infer, that the game swiftly moved on to other means of broadening its horizons and appeal. However, there is also a school of thought which holds that the game lost something integral to its true nature when it “evolved” from being an activity rooted in enjoyment, active involvement and community pride - “the game of the people for the people”, if you will - to one governed principally by dollars, cents and the profit-loss incentive. The homogonous world of the modern AFL certainly boasts many attractive and exciting features, but it is quintessentially - in keeping with most of the rest of the modern sporting world, to be fair - devoid of romance, allure and the potential to astonish.
Scottsdale qualified to contest the 1973 Australian club championships after a superb season in which it failed to win just 1 of its 20 roster matches (a draw against North Launceston), beat North Launceston twice to secure the NTFA flag, annihilated TFL premiers Hobart by 65 points in the state preliminary final, and scored a tensely fought 11 point win over Cooee (NWFU) to clinch the state premiership in front of a predominantly hostile crowd of 8,269 at Burnie. Scottsdale had dominated the NTFA for much of the preceding decade, but this was the club's first state premiership. Trailing by 32 points at the lastl change of the state grand final the side looked set for another disappointment. However, the move of key defender Ron Hall to centre half forward altered the game completely, as he provided the Magpies with a much needed focal point in attack, enabling them to secure victory by adding 5.9 to 0.2 in a barn-storming last quarter performance.
Scottsdale's “weekend in the sun” in Adelaide was brief and, measured by objective standards, unimposing, as losses were predictably sustained against both Subiaco and Glenelg. However, the side was competitive, especially in its opening game against the Lions, and for a brief time at least, the tiny Tasmanian town of Scottsdale was indefatigably “on the map”, a state of affairs unlikely ever to be repeated.
More disappointingly, TANFL attendances slumped dramatically, causing the league to launch an enquiry. A total of 226,166 attended all games, including finals. Some thought that the league’s decision to allow the last quarters of roster matches to be shown on TV on Saturday evening was a major factor in curtailing the crowds.
Sandy Bay were the dominant side during the roster matches which they went through undefeated. Their fine form continued in the second semi final when they overcame Glenorchy, but they came unstuck at exactly the wrong time when they lost the grand final to a Hobart side which had only finished fourth going into the finals. Scores were Hobart 11.19 (85) defeated Sandy Bay 10.5 (65).
VFA: Two Blues to the Fore
After failing to reach the VFA division one finals in 1971 and 1972  Prahan finished off the 1973 season in stunning fashion to clinch their fifth senior flag. Needing to win at Sandringham in the final home and away match of the year even to contest the finals the Prahran players suddenly found their best form of the season to romp home by 89 points. They then went on with things in emphatic, irrepressible fashion, downing Port Melbourne by 52 points in the first semi final, Dandenong by 29 points in the preliminary final, and reigning premiers Oakleigh by 35 points in a disappointingly - to neutrals - one-sided grand final. Prahran owed its win in large part to the dominance of centreman Ken Emselle, ruckman Rod Payne, and on ballers Peter Sinclair, Rod Appleton and Geoff Smith.
With just time-on to be played in the final quarter of the VFA division two grand final between Caulfield scores were level. Caulfield then hit a purple patch which yielded 4 unanswered goals and won the flag - their first - by 22 points, 18.20 (128) to 14.22 (106).
Other States and Territories
East Sydney won a high scoring NSWANFL grand final by 33 points from Western Suburbs. Final scores were Eastern Suburbs 22.18 (150) defeated Western Suburbs 18.9 (117). Newtown came in third and St George fourth.
In Brisbane, Mayne defeated Sandgate by 42 points kin the QAFL grand final. It was the Tigers’ seventh post-war flag. Scores were Mayne 12.17 (89); Sandgate 6.11 (47).
Manuka went top in Canberra with a nerve-tingling 1 point win over Ainslie. Eastlake and Acton came third and fourth respectively.
In the NTFL grand final Darwin obtained revenge over their conquerers of the previous season, St Mary's. The final scores were Darwin 7.13 (55) defeated St Mary's 3.7 (25).
Interstate Match Round-up
The best interstate match of the season took place in Adelaide where the VFL always had just enough in hand in downing South Australia by 4 points. Final scores were VFL 21.13 (139) to South Australia 20.15 (135). Alex Jesaulenko kicked 10 goals for the victors.
A second string VFL combination visited Hobart and came away with an 11.23 (89) to 8.6 (54) win over Tasmania.
In Melbourne the VFL trounced Western Australia by 88 points, 23.20 (158) to 10.10 (70), meaning the Western Australians had still never won against the VFL in Melbourne. Home matches in Perth against South Australia were another matter entirely and it was a case of business as usual as Western Australia defeated the croweaters 11.14 (80) to 8.10 (58).
Finally, in Canberra the home side defeated New South Wales by 33 points, 12.14 (86) to 7.11 (53).
Grand final results - CoA: Richmond 12.20 (92) d. Subiaco 10.19 (79); VFL: Richmond 16.20 (116) d. Carlton 12.14 (86); SANFL: Glenelg 21.11 (137) d. North Adelaide 19.16 (130); WANFL: Subiaco 10.12 (72) d. West Perth 6.4 (40); VFA: Division One - Prahran 15.23 (113) d. Oakleigh 10.18 (78); Division Two - Caulfield 18.20 (128) d. Brunswick 14.22 (106); TANFL: Hobart 11.19 (85) d. Sandy Bay 10.5 (65); NTFA: Scottsdale 11.12 (78) d. North Launceston 10.7 (67); NSWANFL: East Sydney 22.18 (150) d. Western Suburbs 18.9 (117); NTFL: Darwin 17.13 (115) d. St Marys 3.7 (25); QAFL: Mayne 12.17 (89) d. Sandgate 6.11 (47); NWFU: Cooee 14.12 (96) d. Latrobe 10.10 (70); CANFL: Manuka14.14 (98) d. Ainslie 15.7 (97); TSP: Scottsdale 16.20 (116) d. Cooee 15.15 (105).
 The “colliwobbles” was a term used to describe Collingwood’s habit of falling apart when pressure intensified during the finals.
 North also tried to sign St Kilda ruckman Carl Ditterich, but negotiations fell through and he eventually went to Melbourne.
 Quoted in Pride of the Bay: the Story of Glenelg Football Club by Peter Cornwall and John Wood, page 202. The word 'good' is a Kerley-ism translatable as “superb, outstanding or great”.
 Ibid, page 202.
 Robran won his seven successive club champion awards between 1967 and 1973, although in point of fact he was originally placed second in the voting for the 1967 award, losing out on a countback to Don Lindner. The North Adelaide Football Club's Board of Directors later decided to rectify this perceived injustice by awarding Robran, and all other runners-up who were originally placed second on a countback, retrospective awards. (I am indebted to Bruce Pointon for alerting me to this, as well as for confirming that Robran's tally of interstate match appearances for South Australia was 17, and not 14 as suggested in some sources.)
 All told, Subiaco has done this on half a dozen occasions: 1912, 1913, 1973, 1986, 1988 and 2007. Only the flags of 1915, 1924 and 2006 were won ‘clean'.
 “Weekend News”, 29/9/73.
 East Fremantle’s last premiership had been claimed in 1965.
 Prahran actually finished second to last in 1972, narrowly avoiding relegation to second division.
VFL: Tremendous Tigers Go Back to Back
Of all Richmond's flags under coach Tom Hafey that of 1974 was arguably the most conclusive. The popular perception at the time was that the Tigers that season had lifted the game to a new pinnacle of excellence, and although they did occasionally - five times in fact - taste defeat they gave the distinct impression that this would never happen when it really mattered. After clinching a week's rest by finishing top after the minor round, Richmond showed finals newcomers North Melbourne what September footy was all about by booting 5.7 to nothing in the opening term of the second semi final, before visibly easing off and coasting to victory by 21 points. A fortnight later in the grand final, North presented a slightly sterner challenge, thanks mainly to accuracy in front of goal; by half time, however, with the Tigers leading 10.11 (71) to 8.3 (51), and seemingly having the answer to everything the Kangaroos could concoct, the only real question appeared to be 'how much Richmond?’
The answer, after a second half of fluent, sometimes flawless football from Richmond, was 41 points, but in truth the margin told little about the Tigers' superiority in 1974. Where they clearly excelled over almost any team that had gone before was in their handling of pressure; prior to Richmond, the benchmark of a great team often tended to hinge on a perceived ability to cope with pressure, but Hafey's Tigers did not merely cope with pressure, they thrived on it. Consequently, when players of the calibre of Kevin Sheedy (best afield in the '74 grand final), Royce Hart, Paul Sproule, Kevin Morris, Dick Clay, Kevin Bartlett, Gareth Andrews and Robert McGhie found themselves in situations of reduced pressure - as in the 1974 Australian club championships in Adelaide - they resembled ravenous wolves released in a paddock full of sheep, with the resultant carnage pathetic to behold. Richmond completely annihilated a Tasmanian combination 34.29 (233) to 2.4 (16), and a supposedly highly skilled Sturt side 27.11 (173) to 13.17 (95), effectively precipitating the demise of the club championship concept, and perhaps sowing the seeds of the VFL's future aspirations towards a pseudo-national expansion of its own competition.
With the addition of one of the greatest rovers of all time, Barry Cable, and the dazzlingly skilled Malcolm Blight to the mix in 1974 North Melbourne were transformed from outsiders into bona fide premiership contenders, winning 16 out of 22 home and away matches to finish second on the ladder behind Richmond. Just as in 1950, however, the finals would ultimately prove a disappointment, although unlike the 1950 side the version coached by Ron Barassi was not going to waste the lessons learned.
North started their 1974 finals campaign in style with a 15.13 (103) to 8.17 (65) qualifying final thrashing of Hawthorn, made possible by an magnificent last quarter burst of 7.5 to 2.2. In the following week's second semi final against Richmond, however, the Kangaroos found themselves on the back foot right from the start. At quarter time the Tigers had rattled on 5.7 to North's no score, and although North managed a measure of improvement after that there was never the remotest hint of danger to Tom Hafey's side.
In a rain marred preliminary final clash with Hawthorn, North just managed to squeeze over the line by 5 points. Only 15 goals in total were scored all match, just 4 of them after half time when conditions became particularly inimical to good, open play.
The grand final, by contrast, was played on a perfect afternoon for football, but unfortunately for North the Richmond machine, one of the best oiled and most efficient in VFL history, was in irrepressible form. North tried hard, and never allowed the Tigers to hold full sway, but Richmond won every quarter except the third, and to the enormous disappointment of perhaps 90% of the crowd of 113,839, pulled away in the last term to win, it seemed, with something to spare. Final scores were Richmond 18.20 (128) to North Melbourne 13.14 (92), with wingmen Keith Greig and Wayne Schimmelbusch, rover Barry Cable, half back flanker John Rantall, and centreman John Burns best for the vanquished northerners. Barassi was apoplectic, telling his players that losing the ultimate game of the year constituted the ultimate failure. The club's post-match function at the Southern Cross ballroom was permeated with the stigma of defeat, Barassi having warned his players that he would not tolerate seeing any of them smile.
North provided both the 1974 Brownlow Medallist, in the shape of Keith Greig (his second successive Medal), and the VFL’s leading goal kicker in Doug Wade, who booted a club record 103 goals.
Hawthorn qualified for the finals in third place, ahead of Collingwood on percentage, having won 15 and lost 7 home and away matches. It was the first time the Hawks had qualified for the finals since 1971 when they ended up winning the flag. On this occasion, however, they proved unable to get past North Melbourne who defeated them in both the qualifying final, by 38 points, and the preliminary final, by 5 points. In between Hawthorn comfortably accounted for Collingwood in the first semi final when they scored 21.12 (138) to the Magpies’ 13.10 (88). The foundation of the Hawks’ triumph was their relentless aggression which repeatedly forced Collingwood into errors. Rover and “human tank” Leigh Matthews was best afield garnering 24 disposals and booting 7 goals.
Collingwood finished the minor round in poor form, losing in successive weeks to Richmond, North Melbourne (by 91 points) and South Melbourne. However, their performance in their elimination final clash with Footscray must have restored confidence and presumably raised hopes. The Magpies led at every change en route to a 19.10 (124) to 6.19 (55) triumph. Against Hawthorn in the first semi final, however, the boot was firmly on the other foot, the Hawks procuring 7 opening quarter goals to 2 and continuing to dominate thereafter before eventually winning by 50 points.
Fifth placed Footscray had their best season since 1961, when they had got as far as the grand final. The Bulldogs, under former Collingwood player and coach Bob Rose, won 13 and drew 1 of their 22 minor round matches. Overall, they tended to be solid against teams outside the top five, but their only win against a fellow finalist came in round five when Hawthorn provided the opposition. On the face of it therefore the Bulldogs’ hefty 69 point loss to Collingwood in the elimination final was only to be expected. However, had Footscray kicked straighter in the second term when they booted 1.10 the result might conceivably have been different, lor the margin closer at any rate.
Sixth place for Geelong was the Cats’ best finish since 1970. They won precisely half of their home and away matches, including victories over all five finalists. However, their form against lower ranking sides was inconsistent. The Cats’ home form was also unusually poor as they lost 6 games out of 11.
Carlton were a team in decline - or, if you prefer a euphemism, “rebuilding”. The Blues were consistently able to beat the teams below them on the ladder but their only victory against a finalist came in round sixteen when they bested arch rivals Collingwood 18.10 (118) to 13.4 (82).
After qualifying for back to back finals series Essendon were expected to show improvement in 1974 but in fact the Bombers suffered a disappointing slump, finishing seventh after winning just 10 of their minor round games. Their best performance of the season probably came in round nine when they downed North Melbourne by 5 goals at Arden Street.
Eighth placed South Melbourne blew hot and cold in1974, beating the likes of Collingwood, Footscray and North Melbourne, but producing below par performances in other games.
Much the same could be said of St Kilda who overcame Collingwood at Victoria Park but lost to Melbourne and Fitzroy. Moreover, quite a few of the Saints’ defeats were by sizeable margins.
For Fitzroy, who replaced their predominantly dark maroon jumpers with startling red to coincide with the introduction of colour TV, 1974 was a case of business as usual. The ‘Roys managed just 4 wins and a draw from their 22 minor round matches. Mind you, two of the wins were at the expense of Collingwood and Hawthorn, which suggests that the side underachieved considerably.
For only the third time since world war two Melbourne ended up with the wooden spoon. The Demons lost their first 9 games and ultimately only managed to beat Fitzroy (twice) and St Kilda. The 1970s would prove to be a long, stultifying decade for the Dees.
WANFL: Old Easts Return to Winning Ways
With skipper Graham Melrose playing probably the best football of his life to secure not only the Sandover Medal but virtually every media award going East Fremantle at long last returned to the winners' list in 1974. In what, even for the era, was an extraordinarily closely contested season, East Fremantle finished the home and away rounds in pole position half a win clear of Perth (and, indeed, just six and a half wins ahead of wooden spooners West Perth, who had managed seven wins for the season and had actually lowered Old East's colours on one occasion). Once the finals arrived, however, East Fremantle became pre-eminently, as the cliché has it, "a team on a mission", downing Perth in remarkably similar fashion and by near identical margins in both the second semi final (by 23 points) and grand final (by 22 points). The flag decider, watched by a surprisingly small crowd of 40,758, was hard fought for three quarters with the Demons enjoying a narrow 2 point lead at the final change, but the last quarter brought that traditional Old East “lift” all over the ground which saw them quickly achieve an unassailable lead. Three late goals to Perth made the final scoreline respectable. East Fremantle youngster Brian Peake was many people's choice as best player afield but the Simpson Medal was split between Perth's Dave Pretty and Old East centreman Gary Gibellini. Others to do well for the victors included ruckmen Becu and Ferguson, ruck rover Dave Hollins, and 4 goal full forward Paul Nicholls.
After the grand final East Fremantle headed to Adelaide for the Australian club championships where it lost to Sturt by 9 points and overcame a Tasmanian combined side without even needing to try.
East Fremantle had further cause for celebration in 1974 as Graham Melrose won the Sandover Medal..
Despite finishing the minor round in indifferent form (just 3 wins from their last 7 games) Perth were expected to mount a stern challenge for the premiership. However, in both the second semi final and the grand final East Fremantle were simply too good. In between, Perth scored a hard fought but well deserved 15 point triumph over Swan Districts.
Swans qualified for the finals in fourth place ahead of fifth team South Fremantle by just 2 points, legacy of a drawn match with East Fremantle. Given that the Bulldogs’ percentage was significantly better, that draw was of vital importance. Contrary to expectations, Swans went on to win their first semi final clash with minor premiers Subiaco quite convincingly. Scores were Swan Districts 13.21 (99); Subiaco 11.10 (76). However, a fortnight later in a closely competitive preliminary final, watched by a crwod of 27,426, Perth just proved to have Swans’ measure. Nevertheless, it had been a promising season for Swan Districts after the club had gone eight seasons without finals football.
All South Fremantle had to do in order to secure finals participation in 1974 was down West Perth at Fremantle Oval in the last home and away match of the season. By contrast the Cardinals, who were destined to obtain the wooden spoon, had nothing but pride hinging on the result of the match. The Bulldogs had comfortably won the previous two minor round encounters with West Perth, and most people expected them to make it three in a row with a minimum of fuss. However, despite managing 29 scoring shots to 25 South went down by 21 points, registering 9.20 (74) to 14.11 (95). The result meant that the Bulldogs had still not made the finals since winning the premiership in 1970.
Prior to 1974 sixth placed East Perth had qualified for every finals series since 1966 (although, somewhat surprisingly, despite reaching the grand final six times they only won one premiership). The Royals were still capable of challenging the top sides - they beat eventual premiers East Fremantle in all three minor round clashes, for instance - but they were woefully inconsistent. Improved fortunes were just around the corner, however.
The best that could be said about seventh place for Claremont was that it represented modest improvement on 1973, when the Tigers had slumped to the wooden spoon. Cursed with that indignity in 1974 were West Perth. It was the first time since 1939 that the Cardinals had finished bottom of the ladder.
SANFL: Blues Back to Best
Jack Oatey took the embarrassment of Sturt’s 1973 finals fade-out hard and in 1974 he had the Blues primed to a peak and producing football comparable with their best form of the five in a row era. Where the teams of the late '60s had been renowned for their attacking prowess, however, the Double Blues of '74 owed much of their success to a watertight defence, which statistically proved nearly 20% better than their nearest rivals.
Sturt lost only 3 minor round matches before progressing straight to the grand final with a hard fought 7.19 (61) to 8.8 (56) victory over Port Adelaide. The grand final opposition was provided by reigning premiers Glenelg and, after another dour tussle, the Double Blues emerged victorious by 15 points, 9.16 (70) to 8.7 (55). The win was all the more meritorious in that Sturt had to kick into the breeze in the last quarter after leading by just 5 points at the final change but, after being enjoined by Oatey to "attack, attack, attack", added 3.4 to 2.0 to claim an improbable but wholly deserved triumph. Best players for Sturt were ruckmen Rick Davies and Greg Wild, ruck rover Paul Bagshaw, rover Mick Nunan, and back pocket Brenton Adcock in his last ever league game.
In the “Championship of Australia” series, which was now contested by teams from all four of the major football states, Sturt defeated East Fremantle but lost heavily to a Richmond combination which was arguably one of the greatest in Australian football history.
In the wake of their 1973 premiership Glenelg’s minor round form - 11 wins from 22 matches - was, to say the very least, disappointing. However, for fifteen out of sixteen quarters their finals form was magnificent. The Bays downed West Torrens in the elimination final by 36 points, Norwood in the first semi final by 23 points, and Port Adelaide in the preliminary final by 49 points. At three quarter time of the grand final they trailed Sturt by just 5 points, and looked as if they had every chance of claiming the premiership as they would be coming home with a strong breeze at their backs. Unfortunately, that was when they happened to put in their worst quarter’s performance of the final series, and the Double Blues pulled away to record a deceptively comfortable 15 point win.
Port Adelaide were the direct opposite of Glenelg, performing well during the minor round before falling in a heap in the finals. The Magpies lost 3 of their first 5 home and away matches before remaining unbeaten (16 wins and a draw) in their last 17. They then accounted for Norwood by 26 points in the qualifying final but, crucially perhaps, lost two important defenders, Carl Fragomeni and John Ede, for the remainder of the finals series because of injury. Against both Sturt in the second semi final and Glenelg in the preliminary final Port were distinctly second best but the fact that they boasted one of the youngest squads of players in the league gave cause for optimism.
For the first time since 1962, when the SANFL comprised eight clubs rather than ten, Norwood won at least once against every opponent in the competition. Come finals time, however, the Redlegs seemingly lacked the confidence and desire which had seen them register 16 wins in the minor round, and against both Port in the qualifying final and Glenelg in the first semi final they conceded defeat with barely a whimper.
West Torrens qualified for the finals for the first time since 1969 but were then outclassed in the elimination final by Glenelg. The Eagles were poor during the first half of the season, prompting the departure of coach Bill Barrot. Under his replacement, Wayne Jackson, they developed the winning habit and they went into their last home and away match needing to win and hope Central District lost in order to reach the finals. Everything went to plan: the Eagles downed Woodville by 39 points while Centrals got thrashed by Port. Finals football is a vastly different affair to the bread and butter of minor round matches, however, as Torrens found to their cost against the Bays.
For the second season in succession Central District were in the top five on the eve of their last minor round game, only to be dislodged. The Bulldogs won fairly consistently against teams lower on the premiership ladder but generally struggled when opposed by the top sides.
After coming within ninety seconds of a third successive flag in 1973 North Adelaide suffered a depressing decline to finish seventh after managing just 7 wins from 22 minor round matches. Their season was perhaps summed up by their defeat at the hands of Sturt - the team they had annihilated a year earlier to qualify for the grand final - in the last home and away match of the year. The Roosters tallied just 3.9 (27) in going down to the Double Blues by 114 points.
In finishing eighth South Adelaide enjoyed their best season since 1968. However, the Panthers won just 7 matches and were still a long way from being a realistic finals proposition. The highlight of their year season came in round eight when they defeated Sturt 16.8 (104) to 13.17 (95).
Ninth placed Woodville (6 wins) and bottom side West Adelaide (4 wins) both had dismal seasons. It was West Adelaide’s second successive wooden spoon.
VFA: Tenth Flag for Boroughs
Port Melbourne won their tenth senior grade VFA flag and their first since 1966. Opposed in the grand final by Oakleigh the Boroughs were comfortably in control all day and ultimately won by 69 points, 22.20 (152) to 11.17 (83). Former Fitzroy ruckman Norm Brown captain-coached the victors who were well served by rover Paul Goss, ruck rover Graeme Anderson, centreman Jim Buckley, 10 goal full forward Fred Cook and half forwards “buster” Harland and “Sam” Holt. Oakleigh’s most conspicuous performer was centre half forward Peter Cloke who was credited with 16 marks.
In division two the grand finalists were Coburg and Brunswick with victory going to the former by 56 points. Final scores were Coburg 18.17 (125) defeated Brunswick 9.15 (69). Coburg, who had been relegated at the end of the 1973 season, thus made an immediate return to the VFA’s top tier.
TANFL: “Rags to Riches” for Robins
After finishing last in 1973 North Hobart emphatically won the 1974 flag. For good measure the Robins also succeeded at reserves grade level. Opposed in the grand final by raging hot favourites Sandy Bay, North proved consummately superior, winning 21.10 (136) to 15.18 (108). The Robins had earlier accounted for Clarence in the first semi final and Glenorchy in the preliminary final.
The state championship was not conducted this year. NTFA premiers were City-South while Burnie won the NWFU flag.
Other States and Territories
The New South Wales Australian National Football League dropped the word “National” from its name this year. Western Suburbs defeated East Sydney by 10 points in a high scoring grand final. St George finished third and South Sydney fourth.
In the QAFL grand final Sandgate obtained revenge over their 1973 conquerors Mayne. It was the Sea Hawks’ fifth senior grade flag.
Manuka won their second successive QAFL flag with a 31 point grand final defeat of Eastlake. ANU came third while 1973 grand finalists Ainslie dropped to fourth.
Waratahs won the NTFL premiership by 3 points from Nightcliff. It was the ‘Tahs’ first senior grade flag for twenty years and their twelfth in total.
Interstate Match Scene
1974 was a busy year on the interstate front. A section B knock-out carnival took place in Sydney with the following results:
Queensland 13.10 (88); New South Wales 9.12 (66)
Australian Capital Territory 20.15 (135); Australian Amateurs 13.15 (93)
New South Wales 13.14 (92); Australian Amateurs 10.21 (81) [Third place play-off]
Queensland 10.8 (68); Australian Capital Territory 7.10 (52) [Final]
It was Queensland’s first ever carnival triumph, but earlier in the year they had been comprehensively beaten in Brisbane by a Northern Territory combination. Final scores were Northern Territory 15.12 (102) defeated Queensland 10.10 (70).
A promotional match between the VFL and South Australia took place at the Sydney Cricket Ground. A crowd of 20,752 saw the VFL lead at every change by 28, 24 and 37 points en route to a 14.24 (108) to 9.18 (72) triumph. The VFL also visited Perth where they achieved a hard fought 7 point victory. Scores were VFL 11.13 (79) defeated Western Australia 10.12 (72).
South Australia met Western Australia in the first ever interstate match to be played at Football Park. The visitors led by 3 points at the long break and only trailed by 10 points at three quarter time, but South Australia pulled away in the last term to win by 18 points, 14.20 (104) to 12.12 (84).
Grand final results - CoA: Richmond 27.11 (173) d. Sturt 13.17 (95); VFL: Richmond 18.20 (128) d. North Melbourne 13.8 (86); SANFL: Sturt 9.16 (70) d. Glenelg 8.7 (55); WANFL: East Fremantle 17.20 (122) d. Perth 15.10 (100); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 22.20 (152) d. Oakleigh 11.17 (83); Division Two - Coburg 18.17 (125) d. Brunswick 9.15 (69); TANFL: North Hobart 21.10 (136) d. Sandy Bay 15.18 (108); NTFA: City-South 5.13 (43) d. Scottsdale 2.10 (22); NSWAFL: Western Suburbs18.25 (133); East Sydney 17.21 (123); NTFL: Waratahs 13.11 (89) d. Nightcliff 13.8 (86); QAFL: Sandgate 17.10 (112) d. Mayne 13.11 (89); NWFU: Burnie 14.15 (99) d. Latrobe 9.12 (66); CANFL: Manuka 14.14 (98) d. Eastlake 9.13 (67).
 The WANFL during the early 1970s was the most intensely competitive and unforgiving of Australia's major football competitions. In the five seasons between 1970 and 1974 the WAFL premiership was won by five different clubs, two of which (South Fremantle and West Perth) also gained a wooden spoon during the same period. All eight clubs contested at least one finals series, while no club qualified for the major round every season.
VFL: Kangas Claim Their First VFL Flag
The feelings of dejection and hurt on which Barassi so calculatedly focused, and which he reinforced at every opportunity, contributed in no small measure to the club's long awaited breakthrough premiership in 1975. As Barassi himself later recalled, "The hunger won it for us”. Indeed, after an appalling start to the season which saw the side lose its opening 4 games, that hunger must have derived from malnutrition. In any event, the form of the team gradually improved, with 11 wins from the last 13 matches of the year finally securing third spot on the ladder going into the finals. A comfortable 20 point qualifying final defeat of Carlton raised confidence, but Hawthorn threw a substantial spanner into the works by downing North by 11 points in a bruising second semi final. The sole positive to be drawn from this defeat was that it enabled the Kangaroos to achieve revenge over their 1974 nemesis Richmond in the preliminary final, and this they duly did with greater ease than the final margin of 17 points suggested.
And so to grand final day, and the first occasion since the club's VFA era that it had played off for the premiership in two successive seasons. The Hawks, having out-pointed North in the second semi final, were not surprisingly the punters' favourites, but just as in 1974 the Kangaroos enjoyed enormous sentimental favouritism and this, coupled no doubt with the memories of Barassi's stinging rhetoric of twelve months earlier, enabled them to sprint out of the blocks and have a couple of goals on the board through John Burns before their opponents had properly settled. Hawthorn fought back strenuously, but North was never headed, and finally won by a surprisingly emphatic 55 points after extending its lead (12, 20 and 29 points) at every change. John Rantall, who had kept Hawk champion Leigh Matthews quiet all afternoon, was one of many key contributors to North's win, along with fellow half back flanker Brent Crosswell, full back David Dench, wingman Keith Greig, and the roving pair of John Burns and Barry Cable. At that night's post grand final function, club president Allen Aylett, after opening his address with the wry observation that "Tonight is a little different to last year", went on to describe the team's achievement as "almost a fairytale". Moreover, he went on:
"We don't just owe our success to the footballers but some of the richest men in Melbourne, to pensioners in little back rooms or little garages in Kensington. They are the people who have supported the cause." 
North Melbourne claimed some further silverware a fortnight later when the side was successful at the last ever staging of the Australian club championships in Adelaide. After easing to a 39 point win over WANFL premiers West Perth in a semi final played on Saturday 11 October, the Kangaroos outclassed home favourites Norwood, 17.15 (117) to 5.11 (41) two days later to take out the championship in style. North's South Australian utility Malcolm Blight won the Winfield Medal as player of the series.
Minor premiers Hawthorn could be considered slightly unfortunate not to win the premiership. The Hawks defeated North Melbourne in rounds one and nine of the minor round as well as in the second semi final, but when it mattered most on grand final day they could not cope with the Kangaroos’ relentless aggression and determination. One possible reason for their failure might have been the fact that they had only played one match in the preceding three weeks compared to North’s three, leaving them a little underdone in terms of the frenzied pressure cooker type atmosphere of finals football. They did not, at any rate, perform with anything like their customary panache and gusto and they were unusually lacking in discipline. Nothing fuels premiership hunger like a grand final loss, however, particularly when you know deep down that you have failed to do yourselves justice. Few of the110,551 spectators at the MCG on grand final day 1975 doubted that the Hawks would be back.
Popularly referred to as “Lethal” there was nothing delicate or fancy about the style of Hawthorn champion Leigh Matthews. However, unlike in “sports" like gymnastics, diving and synchronised swimming, Australian football scores do not derive in any directly assessable way from perceived aesthetic merit. Efficiency and expediency are paramount in Australian football, and Leigh Matthews possessed both in abundance.
Which is only to affirm that, in Australian football terms, he was a highly skilful player. In 332 VFL games over seventeen seasons with the Hawks he was eight times adjudged his club's fairest and most brilliant player - quite an awesome accolade when you consider that his career coincided with arguably Hawthorn's greatest ever era. He also topped the club goalkicking list on no fewer than six occasions in amassing a career total of 915 goals (and, in the process, highlighting another reason for the aptness of the “Lethal" epithet). In 1975, Matthews was the VFL’s top goal kicker after he booted 68 goals.
Matthews' failure to secure Victorian football's highest individual honour, the Brownlow Medal, is perhaps not too surprising given his relentlessly vigorous style of play, but participation in the Hawthorn premiership sides of 1971, 1976, 1978 and 1983 will no doubt have afforded more than adequate compensation (if such were needed).
Richmond, who had been premiers in both 1973 and 1974, dropped to third in 1975. The Tigers were not the side they were as was evidenced, for instance, by a 62 point loss to Hawthorn in round fifteen when they managed just 2.20 for the match. In the finals they were too good for both Collingwood and Carlton but, just as in the home and away rounds, found Hawthorn and North Melbourne too hot to handle. Arguably the greatest era in gthe history of the Richmond Football Club was at an end.
After failing to qualify for the finals in 1974 Carlton won 16 of their 22 minor round matches to finish the home and away rounds in second place. However, they then underperformed badly in the finals, losing first to North Melbourne, and then by 9 points to Richmond. The Blues’ fortunes, like those of Richmond, were unmistakably, if only temporarily, in decline.
Collingwood finished with a 13-9 record to qualify for the finals with some comfort, albeit only in fifth place. They provided elimination final opponents Richmond with a stern challenge, particularly after half time when the rains came. Late in the final quarter with the scores 11.11 to 10.7 in favour of the Tigers Collingwood attacked persistently, but tenacious defending by Richmond restricted them to 6 straight behinds leaving the Magpies 4 points in arrears at the final siren.
Sixth placed St Kilda finished 2 wins behind both Richmond and Collingwood and boasted a superior percentage to the latter. The Saints were almost invariably too strong for the sides below them on the premiership ladder but their 12 point defeat of Richmond in round eleven was their sole success against a final five team.
Footscray, elimination finalists in 1974, slipped down the list to seventh in 1975. The Bulldogs could still produce some fine football - they thrashed Richmond by 66 points in round four, for instance, and also achieved wins against both Collingwood and Hawthorn - but overall they lacked consistency. The highlight of Footscray’s year was probably ruckman Gary Dempsey’s feat in capturing the Brownllow Medal.
Few players have experienced triumph and trauma in their careers to quite the same extent as Dempsey. Recruited by Footscray from Footscray Technical School Old Boys, he was a ready made league player when he debuted in 1967, and over the course of the ensuing eighteen seasons he built a reputation as one of the finest ruckmen ever to play the game. In January 1969, however, the prospects of any sort of football career, let alone a highly auspicious and successful one, seemed virtually non-existent, as Gary Dempsey lay in a hospital bed with severe burns covering fifty per cent of his body, a legacy of a failed attempt to repel bush fires threatening the family farm at Lara. The fact that he eventually recovered from such serious injuries was remarkable enough, but the fact that he recovered sufficiently to return to top level football was next door to miraculous.
Having returned to the Footscray side in round nineteen 1969, just seven months after his life had hung in the balance, Dempsey was soon playing the best football of his life. In 1970 he won the first of six Bulldog best and fairest awards and finished second to South Melbourne's Peter Bedford in the Brownlow Medal voting, and in 1971 he took over from Stuart Magee as Footscray's captain. In 1972 he assisted the Big V to a seemingly effortless triumph in the Australian interstate championships in Perth, and was rewarded for his own dominant series of performances with selection in the All Australian team.
Like his namesake at West Perth, Bill Dempsey, a key element in Gary Dempsey's greatness was that he was, effectively, two champion players rolled into one. Virtually unbeatable in 'round the ground ruck contests, he transformed seamlessly into an indomitable, strong marking defender when resting in the backlines. Small wonder he attracted so much attention - of the right sort - from umpires: after coming second in the Brownlow in 1970, he came within clutching distance of the award in each of the following four seasons, before finally breaking through for a win in 1975.
Individual awards are all very well, but what every footballer worth his salt really wants is participation in a premiership team. With that in mind, in 1979 Gary Dempsey sought, and was granted, a transfer from the perennially under-achieving Bulldogs to the team which had contested the previous five VFL grand finals, North Melbourne. Sadly for Dempsey, it was to be another eighteen seasons before the 'Roos would again feature in that 'one day in September', by which time, needless to say, his career as a league footballer was long over. Nevertheless, Dempsey gave North sterling service in 123 games over six seasons, winning a best and fairest award in 1979, besides consistently polling well in the Brownlow. When he left the VFL at the end of the 1984 season he had played a total of 337 games, and had secured more Brownlow Medal votes than any other player in history. Moreover, his achievement in winning seven VFL club champion awards has only been bettered by three players.
Still in search of that elusive premiership, Dempsey, who now spoke in a coarse, rasping voice courtesy of a hefty blow to the throat received during a game, ventured north once the VFL phase of his career was over, and joined consistently successful QAFL side, Southport. In 1987, he finally achieved his “Holy Grail” with a best afield performance as the Sharks scored a 23 point win over Windsor-Zillmere in a tempestuous grand final which left many players much the worse for wear, and Dempsey himself with an assortment of facial wounds requiring ten stitches. Having spent the majority of the night before the match wide awake, nursing his asthmatic son, he certainly earned his spurs the hard way, but the broad grin on his face as he clutched his premiership and Joe Grant medallions to his chest after the game made it obvious that, as far as Gary Dempsey at any rate was concerned, it was “mission accomplished”, and “cheap at half the price”.
Gary Dempsey's selection as first ruckman in the Western Bulldogs’ official Team of the Century was predictable, but eminently warranted.
Eighth placed Essendon, who won 10 matches and lost 12, were blighted by inconsistency, capable of downing the likes of North Melbourne and Hawthorn, whilst losing to Fitzroy (which they did twice), Melbourne and Geelong. The Bombers had a fair amount of talent but needed it to be expertly managed and honed.
Fitzroy, who finished ninth, with 9 wins, could usually be counted on to provide an uposet or two, but overall lacked the depth of talent necessary to stake a claim for finals involvement. Those upset wins duly came, in round four against North Melbourne at Arden Street, round twelve versus Richmond at the MCG, round eighteen against Hawthorn at the Junction Oval and round twenty-one over Carlton at Princes Park, but overall the Lions lacked the ruthless streak necessary to make them competitive week in week out.
Tenth placed Melbourne, like Fitzroy, won 9 matches. They too were emininetly capable of causing an upset as they did at various stages of the season against North Melbourne, Collingwood, Richmond and Carlton, but they were also inconsistent, and 3 wins in a row between rounds seventeen and nineteen was their only noteworthy sequence of success.
Geelong, who dropped from sixth in 1974 to eleventh, were a chopping block for many other sides, and even provided wooden spooners South Melbourne with their only 2 victories of the season.
Bottom club South had a truly dismal season, winning just twice. It was the Swans' third wooden spoon in five seasons.
SANFL: Redlegs Rule the Roost
The foundations of Norwood's return to pre-eminence were laid by Robert Oatey, who coached the club, for an ostensibly miserly return of just two finals appearances, between 1968 and 1973. Like his father, Jack, Robert Oatey placed the onus clearly and irrevocably on skill. Players spent long hours at training ironing out perceived deficiencies, ensuring that they could dispose of the ball equally well with both feet (and, indeed, with both hands), and performing drills aimed at augmenting teamwork rather than self-reliance. The result was a gradual, season by season improvement which meant that, when former North Adelaide champion Bob Hammond took over from Oatey as senior coach in 1974, he inherited a playing group with genuine premiership credentials. If there was a missing ingredient, at least according to the popular contemporary perception, it was that the players, despite their undoubted skill, were mentally weak, and exhibited a concomitant tendency to crumble under pressure. What they needed was a mentor with personal experience of coping successfully with the type and level of pressure which confronted teams at finals time. Enter the aforementioned Bob Hammond, a triple premiership player with North Adelaide and arguably one of the toughest players in the state over the preceding decade and a half, to instill that “missing something” into the mix, transforming a team of 'bridesmaids' into “brides” in the process.
Superficially persuasive as this viewpoint might seem the truth was probably a trifle more mundane. In players like Phil Carman, Ross Dillon, Jim Michalanney, John Wynne, Neil Button, Roger Woodcock and Mike Poulter Norwood already had the nucleus of a flag-winning combination. In 1975, the increased maturity of these players, coupled with the arrival of two highly talented defenders in the shape of Rodney Pope (from West Adelaide) and Stephen Kerley (from Melbourne) gave the side the final necessary impetus to maneuvre it from the status of contenders to that of bona fide champions.
Despite Norwood's finishing the 1975 minor round at the head of the ladder with only 2 defeats it was Glenelg, which during the season had scored a large number of substantial victories, that was widely favoured for the flag. This favouritism was reinforced following a high quality second semi final which saw the Bays move straight into the grand final after comprehensively defeating the Redlegs by 29 points, 21.9 (135) to 16.10 (106).
Losing in the second semi final has often been seen in hindsight as affording a much needed impetus to eventual premiership-winning combinations (although it could equally be argued that the team which wins the second semi final tends to accord an exaggerated degree of significance to the achievement which spawns complacency a fortnight later). Whatever the reason, Norwood in 1975 quickly recovered from its disappointment by outclassing Port Adelaide 11.19 (85) to 8.7 (55) in the preliminary final, giving the pundits considerable pause for thought before the grand final re-match with Glenelg.
After a season of high scores and gargantuan winning margins the final game of the year was atypical in the extreme. In front of 53,283 spectators Norwood and Glenelg waged an all out war of attrition with neither side able to establish a decisive break at any juncture. Overall, however, the Redlegs appeared to have the edge in both desperation and incisiveness; they led for most of the afternoon, and when the final siren sounded the scoreboard showed a difference of two straight kicks between the sides, in Norwood's favour. Scarcely a classic grand final, it was, nevertheless, as far as the navy and red fraternity was concerned, an extremely memorable one, ending as it did an unprecedented period of a quarter of a century in the football wilderness. Final scores showed Norwood 9.10 (64); Glenelg 7.10 (52), with ruckmen Neil Button and Michael Gregg, centreman Rod Seekamp, wingman Glen Rosser, and half backs Rodney Pope and Stephen Kerley among the leading lights for the victors. For Redlegs coach Bob Hammond it must have been difficult to decide which was the overriding emotion, elation or relief. Among the 3,000 or so Norwood aficionados who converged on the Parade later that evening were many who, two years earlier, had openly and vociferously questioned Hammond's appointment, but dissenting voices now were conspicuous by their absence.
Glenelg’s habit of reaching grand finals only to lose continued in 1975. This was their fifth grand final appearance in seven seasons and only once, in 1973, had they managed to win. Questioning the players’ attitude would be churlish, however. Under the coaching of Neil Kerley the Bays had firmly established themselves as one of South Australian football’s “big four”, along with Norwood, Port Adelaide and Sturt. Given that the Tigers amassed considerably more points than any other team in 1975 it should come as no surprise that they boasted the league’s top goal kicker in the shape of Dennis “Fred” Phillis who booted 108 goals. Phillis had previously topped the SANFL’s goal kicking list in 1969, 1970 and 1971.
Fourth after the minor round Port Adelaide accounted for North Adelaide by 30 points in the elimination final and, somewhat unexpectedly, Sturt by 67 points in the first semi final. However, Norwood in the preliminary final ultimately proved much too strong, kicking 5.7 to 0.1 in the final term to win “pulling away” by 30 points. Port had reason to be optimistic about the future, however, as they boasted a youthful playing group, while Jack Cahill was improving all the time as coach.
Winning best and fairest awards at Port Adelaide in the 1970s was no easy matter - unless your name happened to be Russell Ebert, that is. One player to buck the trend was Peter Woite (pictured at the head of this section) who won the Magpies' top individual award in 1975 - and, for good measure, threw in a Magarey Medal as well.
Woite began with Port Adelaide in 1969, when he starred on the half back flank in the first two quarters of a pre-season match against Melbourne, only for injury to put him out for virtually the remainder of the year. His full scale resumption in 1970 was spectacularly successful, and he earned selection on a wing in South Australia's team to meet the VFL at the Adelaide Oval in May, when he was widely acclaimed as the home side's best player. Apart from anything else, the performance highlighted his versatility, as he was being used at centre half forward by Port in club games.
Arguably Woite's best position, however, was centre half back, where his authoritative, one grab marking, excellent anticipation, and good rebound skills came to the fore. Recognising these traits, North Melbourne endeavoured to sign him in 1976 with an offer that would, allegedly, have made him the highest priced South Australian recruit in VFL history. In the end, Woite elected not to transfer, although that was far from the end of the matter as North took him to court in an attempt to recoup an alleged $10,000 “signing on” fee. Fortunately for Woite, the judge ruled in his favour.
A member of Port's 1977 premiership team, Woite later joined grand final rivals Glenelg where he saw out his career with a further 20 league games in 1979-80, taking his final tally to 202. He represented South Australia a dozen times.
Sturt disappointed in the major round after winning 15 and losing just 3 matches during the home and away rounds. Statistically, the Blues boasted the best defence in the competition, but they were comprehensively outgunned in both finals matches, losing the qualifying final to Glenelg by 26 points, and the first semi final to Port by 67 points in the most one-sided match of the major round. Like Port, the Double Blues had a comparatively young squad, and their future looked rosy.
It has to be said that fifth placed North Adelaide, with just 8 wins from 18 matches, were scarcely finals material, and this was proved in a substandard elimination final which saw the two teams register 19.52 between them. The Roosters only win against a top four side occurred in round eight when they downed Sturt at Prospect Oval by 15 points, 13.16 (94) to 10.19 (79).
Had sixth placed West Adelaide won 1 more match they would have qualified for the finals on percentage. As it was, their unexpected round fifteen loss to eventual wooden spooners West Torrens at Thebarton was perhaps crucial, althopugh they still went within a whisker of making the major round as North Adelaide had to come from behind to win their final match of the season against Woodville.
For Central District the debacle at Glenelg Oval on Saturday 12th August would be both agonising to reflect upon and impossible to forget. The Bulldogs actually conceded no fewer than 82 goals in their 2 minor round clashes with the Bays in 1975, an indignity unlikely ever to be experienced by any other SANFL club.
Eighth placed South Adelaide (5 wins), ninth team Woodville (4 wins) and bottom side West Torrens (2 wins) all finished light years off the pace in 1975. For West Torrens it was a remarkable and rather surprising fall from grace as the Eagles had finished the 1974 season extremely well, ultimately contesting the finals.
WANFL: Classy Cardinals Break Records
After West Perth’s nightmare 1974 season which produced only 6 wins and the club's first wooden spoon since 1939, Dennis Jones departed to be replaced in the coaching hot seat by former Fitzroy player Graham Campbell. In a dramatic turn around the side clinched the minor premiership with a 14-7 record, and qualified for the grand final with ease thanks to a 20.22 (142) to 8.16 (64) second semi final annihilation of Swan Districts, a result rendered all the more remarkable by virtue of the fact that, at the teams’ previous meeting just three weeks earlier, Swans had scored a thumping 105 point victory. A grand final record crowd of 52,322 turned up to see West Perth collide with South Fremantle in what turned out to be the most one-sided premiership play-off ever. Cardinals half forward Barry Day kicked 7 last quarter goals for a match total of 8 as West Perth stormed to victory by 104 points, 23.17 (155) to 7.9 (51). Evergreen centreman Mel Whinnen earned the Simpson Medal after a performance of measureless class, while his fellow veteran Bill Dempsey was similarly superb. On a day when it was impossible to find a poor West Perth player, ruck-rover Alan Watling, wingman Stuart Hillier, rover Shane Sheridan, and half back flanker Ross Prunster all stood out, as did Day during the processional last quarter which saw the Cardinals add 10.5 to their opponents' solitary behind.
Fourth after the minor round, albeit a comfortable fourth, South Fremantle played superbly in the first semi final to crush East Perth by 65 points. Scores were South Fremantle 21.13 (139); East Perth 10.14 (74). Swan Districts in the preliminary final provided stiffer opposition but South’s persistence saw them home by 13 points, 15.16 (106) to 12.21 (93). Then came the wholly unexpected humiliation of grand final day and a defeat the scale of which Bulldogs supporters who recalled the epic clashes with West Perth of the forties and fifties could no doubt scarcely believe.
Swan Districts’ finals performances came as a big let-down after the side had produced some excellent football during the home and away rounds. To lose against West Perth in the second semi final was not surprising in itself, but to go down by nearly 13 goals was. When Swans had previously played the Cardinals in round twenty at Bassendean they had done virtually as they liked in running out victors by 106 points, 22.13 (145) to 5.9 (39). Football can assuredly be a fickle and unpredictable game at times. Swans restored a little pride with a battling performance in the preliminary final against South Fremantle, but ultimately that game too was lost.
East Perth had downed South Fremantle in 2 out of 3 minor round encounters but when it mattered much more, on first semi final day, they were brushed aside with contemptuous ease.
He may not have been the greatest player ever to win Western Australian football's most prestigious individual award, the Sandover, but to suggest, as some have done, that East Perth's Alan Quartermaine does not warrant a place among the game's elite is palpably unfair. Quartermaine, who played a total of 108 WANFL games and kicked 195 goals for the Royals between 1969 and 1979, was not always a first choice senior player, but performed consistently well in 1975 to win his Medal with 16 votes, two more than team mates Peter Spencer and Ross Glendinning, and Stan Nowotny of Swan Districts. A ruggedly aggressive performer, the biggest disappointment in Quartermaine's career came in 1972, when the WANFL Tribunal found him guilty of striking Claremont's Wayne Reynolds in that season's second semi final, and he was suspended for three matches. This meant that he missed the 1972 grand final, in which the Royals won their first flag for thirteen years. The nearest he came to making amends was in the 1976 grand final against Perth, but a fine, 3 goal performance on a half forward flank was insufficient to prevent the Demons from winning comfortably. Somewhat ironically, when East Perth finally went top again in 1978, he played just one senior game for the year, preferring to concentrate on his University studies. Alan Quartermaine, who played most of his football either in the centre or across half forward, was chosen to represent Western Australia on 3 occasions.
Fifth placed East Fremantle finished 3 wins adrift of finals participation. After claiming the 1974 premiership this was, needless to say, immensely disappointing. The side could still play impressive football, as witness wins during the season against West Perth, South Fremantle (twice) and East Perth. However, had it not been for a fine finish to the season which saw them win their last 4 matches Old Easts might actually have plummeted to the wooden spoon.
The beaten grand finalists in 1974 were Perth, and like East Fremantle they suffered a marked, and somewhat surprising, decline. A minor highlight was the achievement of full forward Murray Couper in topping the league’s goal kicking list with 63 goals.
Seventh placed Subiaco, like Perth, managed 9 wins, including triumphs over East Perth, Swan Districts (twice), South Fremantle and West Perth. Overall, however, they were rather inconsistent, and a big mid-season dip in form effectively ruled them out of finals consideration.
Claremont finished a very distant last after winning just 3 games. Since reaching the 1972 grand final the Tigers had had to endure a three season flirtation with the wooden spoon and, in the short term at any rate, it was hard to see the situation improving.
Huddo Takes Magpie Hotseat
The big news in Hobart prior to the start of the 1975 TANFL season was the appointment of Tasmania's and one of Australia's greatest ever goalkickers, Peter Hudson, as senior coach of Glenorchy. Hudson was to have a pronounced immediate impact on the team's fortunes, both as coach and player. In the latter capacity he kicked 81 goals for the year to top the league list, while in the former he steered the Magpies to their first grand final in eight years and their first premiership in ten. Glenorchy's victims on grand final day were Sandy Bay. Hudson kicked 7 goals in the match to be one of his side's best players, while others to do well included 1975 Leitch Medallist Trevor Sprigg, obviously revelling in his new found freedom from the burdens of coaching, Parish, Linton and Johannsen.
Glenorchy also won the 1975 state title thanks to an 18.24 (132) to 16.12 (108) defeat of North Launceton in Hobart.
VFA: Roosters Too Classy
Geelong West’s pace and precise use of the ball proved too much for Dandenong in the VFA first division grand final played at the Junction Oval in front of 27,582 spectators. The Roosters eventually won by 27 points after easing off somewhat in the final term. It was their first ever division one flag. Dandenong were possibly a little leg weary following a titanic preliminary final battle with reigning premiers Port Melbourne from which they had emerged battered and bruised victors by 4 points.
In second division Brunswick comfortably accounted for Camberwell in the grand final at Toorak Park. Scores were Brunswick 18.22 (130) defeated Camberwell 12.11 (83).
An interstate carnival of sorts was contested this year in which South Australia defeated Tasmania and the VFL accounted for Western Australia in two semi final matches played at VFL Park in Melbourne. A somewhat desultory final then took place in Adelaide in which the VFL downed the home state with seemingly effortless ease.
Perhaps the highlight of the season on the interstate front was Queensland’s feat in downing Tasmania for the first ever time. The encounter took place in Brisbane, with the home state’s winning margin of 22 points scarcely reflecting the scale of their dominance. Final scores were Queensland 16.29 (125) defeated Tasmania 16.7 (103).
Earlier in the year, also in Brisbane, Queensland had defeated the Northern Territory by 47 points, 18.10 (118) to 10.11 (71). The victory was revenge of sorts for the loss sustained at the hands of the Territory in 1974.
Tasmania played two home interstate matches in 1975, downing New South Wales 22.19 (151) to 7.7 (49) in Hobart, and the ACT 17.13 (115) to 7.8 (50) in Devonport.
For the second year in succession Western Suburbs defeated East Sydney in the grand final of the NSWAFL. St George came third and Newtown fourth.
The QAFL premiership went to Windsor-Zillmere who accounted for Mayne by 44 points in the grand final. It was the merged club’s first senior grade flag.
The CANFL became the Australian Capital Territory Football League (ACTFL) this year. Premiers for the third season in a row were Manuka who overcame Ainslie by 17 points in the grand final. Eastlake and ANU completed the top four.
The NTFL had to suspend its 1974/5 competition in the wake of the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy.
Grand final results - CoA: North Melbourne 17.15 (117) d. Norwood 5.11 (41); VFL: North Melbourne 19.8 (122) d. Hawthorn 9.13 (67); SANFL: Norwood9.10 (64) d. Glenelg 7.10 (52); WANFL - West Perth 23.17 (155) d. South Fremantle 7.9 (51); VFA: Division One - Geelong West 18.13 (121) d. Dandenong 14.9 (93); Division Two - Brunswick 18.22 (130) d. Camberwell 12.11 (83); TANFL: Glenorchy 15.16 (106) d. Sandy Bay 10.7 (67); NTFA: North Launceston 16.14 (110) d. Scottsdale 8.10 (58); NSWAFL: Western Suburbs18.18 (126) d. East Sydney 12.16 (88); QAFL: Windsor-Zillmere 20.8 (128) d. Mayne 13.6 (84); NWFU: Wynyard 15.10 (100) d. Ulverstone 12.8 (80); ACTAFL: Manuka 12.13 (85) d. Ainslie 10.8 (68); TSP: Glenorchy 18.24 (132) d. North Launceston 16.12 (108).
Melbourne/Adelaide Knock-out Carnival Results - MELBOURNE: South Australia 17.16 (118) d. Tasmania 8.11 (59); VFL 20.24 (144) d. Western Australia 8.15 (63); ADELAIDE: VFL 18.10 (118) d. South Australia 11.15 (81).
 The Flag: North Melbourne Football Club 1975-1995 20th Anniversary Souvenir, page 7.
 Ibid., page 9.
 Dempsey received a total of 246 votes, 44 more than second placed Leigh Matthews, but both these players' totals were somewhat inflated by the fact that they played in 1976-7, when double votes - one complete set per umpire - were awarded.
 I am indebted to Greg Parker for supplying details of Gary Dempsey's QAFL career. Dempsey was also a joint runner-up in the 1987 Grogan Medal voting.
 Glenelg's total of 49.23 (317) against Central District on 23rd August, for example, remains an Australian record in what used, by some, to be referred to as 'first class football'.
VFL: “For the little feller”
As so often seems to happen, the taste of grand final defeat worked wonders in terms of spurring on a team - in this case Hawthorn - during the following season. Allied to this, tenacious club skipper Peter Crimmins was seriously ill with cancer, and a concomitant desire to win a flag "for the little feller", as coach John Kennedy referred to him, was overwhelming. When the Hawks confronted their 1975 nemesis North Melbourne twelve months later in the '76 grand final it was the fifth meeting between the clubs for the year: during the home and away season the Hawks had won by 28 points at Princes Park and 8 points at Arden Street; the clubs had also met in Adelaide in the final of the inaugural NFL Championship series, when Hawthorn had won by 48 points; and, just to reinforce their superiority, the qualifying final at the MCG had seen the Hawks emerge 20 points to the good, so that if ever a team went into a grand final deserving of premiership favouritism, it was Hawthorn in 1976.
Football is full of stories of teams which overturned the odds and made a nonsense out of pre-match predictions, of course, but North Melbourne in 1976 was not to prove to be one of those teams. From start to finish Hawthorn gave their opponents a football lesson as they steamrollered their way to a 30 point win, which but for inaccuracy in front of goal would have been much greater. Best afield in the 1976 grand final was spectacular blond haired centre half back Peter Knights, whose consistently brilliant displays throughout the season had seen him finish as runner up to Essendon's Graham Moss in voting for the Brownlow Medal. Others to shine included full forward John Hendrie (who booted 2.7), back pocket Brian Douge in the last of his 91 games for the club, and centreman Barry Rowlings. In addition, Matthews was still very much in the thick of the action, as indeed he would be for a further ten seasons, contributing 2 goals as well as abundant energy, determination and purpose to the Hawthorn cause.
In the midst of the euphoria surrounding the Hawks' success an element of tragedy intervened just three days after the grand final, when Peter Crimmins lost his fight against cancer; it was a sombre and perhaps timely reminder that all triumphs, of whatever kind, are transitory. Peter Crimmins always nursed an ambition to captain Hawthorn to a premiership, an ambition that remained unfulfilled. However, it his hard to deny the assertion that, by his inspiration and example, Peter Crimmins achieved much more.
North Melbourne’s grand final defeat was arguably even more painful than their loss of two years previously against Richmond, in the main because expectations at the club were higher. Being second best was no longer acceptable to ‘Roos supporters. Nevertheless, it was clear that North still had a nucleus of top quality players; what was needed was a way of deploying them to maximum effect. Twelve months later they would do precisely that, albeit with a stutter or two.
North qualified for the 1976 finals in third place having won 8 of their last 9 matches for a 15-7 overall record. Hawthorn in the qualifying final proved too strong, although North gleaned a measure of solace from their 4 goals to 1 final quarter which reduced a 36 point three quarter time deficit to just 20 points at the end. In the following week’s sudden death first semi final the Kangas faced Geelong and led all day en route to a conclusive 14.9 (93) to 8.12 (60) victory. The preliminary final clash with minor premiers Carlton was a bona fide classic, with North trailing at every change before procuring victory by a solitary point. With almost twenty minutes of play still remaining the Kangaroos kicked their 10th and last goal to lead 10.7 (67) to 8.9 (57). Most of the remainder of the match was played in Carlton’s attacking zone but they only managed to score 1.3 with several seemingly goalbound shots being marked near the line by North’s flamboyant utility Malcolm Blight. After the euphoria of this triumph came the desolation of not only losing the grand final to Hawthorn, but not even getting close - something coach Ron Barassi would use to fuel the fires of revenge the following season.
For the second season in succession Carlton were pace-setters during the minor round only to come comprehensively unstuck when it mattered. There were rumours that first year coach Ian Thorogood did not enjoy the respect of his senior players, but whatever the cause the Blues were dismal in the second semi final against Hawthorn, and somewhat unfortunate in the preliminary final loss to North. In spite of continued whisperings of discontent among his players Thorogood retained his position as Blues coach.
Geelong, who had finished second from last in 1975, enjoyed their best season in some time to qualify for the finals in fourth spot with 12 wins from 22 home and away matches. In the elimination final against Footscray, played at Waverley, they dominated the opening term only to let themselves down in front of goal, managing just 4 goals from 12 scoring shots. During the second and third terms the Bulldogs went some way towards extracting payment as they added 9 goals to 5 to go into the last change 13 points to the good. It was not enough. The Cats upped the ante in the final quarter to add 5.5 to 2.3 and secure a hard earned and well deserved 7 point victory. North Melbourne in the first semi final proved much too accomplished, however.
Formidably built at 196cm and 96.5kg Geelong full forward Larry Donohue boasted the evocative nickname of “Bear”. Despite having the physical proportions of a ruckman he was extremely quick, especially when leading, and he topped off many an exhilarating lead and mark by bisecting the uprights with perfectly executed and weighted drop punts. Between 1976 and 1978 Donohue was probably the most damaging key forward in the game, topping both the century in terms of goals, and the league list, in the first of those years, and bagging highly respectable totals in the others. Before and after those seasons, however, he struggled somewhat, and midway through the 1980 season felt constrained to retire on account of a mysterious shoulder injury sustained during the previous summer.
Footscray improved from seventh place in 1975 to fifth, and a taste of finals football, a year later. The Bulldogs’ improvement was actually only marginal: they won 11 games in ’75, compared to 11 plus a draw in ’76. Their involvement in the major round was brief and scarcely memorable.
Melbourne, like Geelong, had their best season for some time, and might be considered unfortunate not to have qualified for the finals. As it was they finished half a win behind fifth placed Footscray, albeit with a better percentage. (Footscray’s drawn match, which was against minor premiers Carlton, occurred in the last home and away round.) The Demons’ best football was spectacularly eye catching, and only Hawthorn finished the minor round with more “points for” (2,323 as against 2,319).
Two years earlier Richmond had been beyond question and by some measure the finest team in Australia. In 1976, however, they were blighted by inconsistency, and won just 10 matches. At their best they could still beat the leading sides as they proved, for example, in round three against Noprth Melbourne, round thirteen against Geelong and round twenty-one against Hawthorn. However, they were also capable of lowering their colours to the likes of St Kilda, Collingwood and Fitzroy.
South Melbourne, St Kilda and Essendon, who finished eighth, ninth and tenth respectively, all won 9 games. The Saints managed to down both Hawthorn and Footscray, while the Bombers won against the Hawks, and the Swans overcame the Bulldogs.
The highlight of Essendon’s season came when their West Australian import, Graham Moss, won the Brownlow Medal. Moss had made his Claremont debut in April 1969, a month before his nineteenth birthday. He lined up in a back pocket against West Perth, which was coached at the time by one of the greatest ruckmen in the history of the game, and a player Moss lionised, Graham 'Polly' Farmer. Over the ensuing decade and a half, Moss would carve out a reputation for himself that bore healthy comparison with that of his hero.
It was not long before Moss was moved from the back pocket onto the ball, and it immediately became clear that the Tigers had been blessed with a player of prodigious all round talent. A superb knock ruckman, he was equally impressive around the ground, both aerially, and in the packs. In 1970, he made the first of an eventual 23 interstate appearances for West Australia; called into the team after the sandgropers had suffered an embarrassing defeat against Tasmania, he combined well with fellow ruckmen Graham Farmer and Bill Dempsey to help his state to a hard fought 4 point win over South Australia at Subiaco Oval.
After helping Claremont reach the 1972 grand final, which resulted in a 15 point loss to East Perth, Moss joined the rapidly growing exodus of top players to Victoria when he signed for Essendon. His four season stint with the Bombers only served to confirm what football fans west of the Nullarbor already knew: that Graham Moss was one of the finest big men in the game. Runner-up in the Brownlow Medal in his debut season, Moss landed the award in his last; he also represented the VFL on 5 occasions, and won the Bombers' top individual award in 1974-5-6. At the end of the 1976 season, however, he felt that Essendon "did not seem to be going anywhere”, and accepted an offer from Claremont to return home as the club's captain-coach.
Moss's first couple of seasons as coach convinced him "that I could not continue a professional career and coach at the same time”. Accordingly, he gave up his job as an engineer, went into real estate to supplement his income, and devoted himself full time to his coaching duties. Claremont's fortunes promptly revived, and, after failing to qualify for the previous six finals series, the side participated in the next six, winning a premiership in 1981, and finishing runner-up in '82 and ’83.
On the field, Moss continued to play as well as ever, winning Claremont's fairest and best award in 1977-8-9-80, and continuing to represent West Australia with distinction. Frequently described as “a gentle giant”, he was certainly not shy of “mixing it” if the need arose.
After 253 games for Claremont, Graham Moss announced his retirement at the end of the 1983 season, only to resurface, for one match only, two years later. He thus ended up with an overall tally of 343 club games, which includes 89 at Essendon. Moss carried on as Claremont coach until the end of the 1986 season when he accepted the position of General Manager of the newly formed West Coast Eagles Football Club. After a couple of years in that role, however, he moved on to other challenges outside football.
Persistent cellar dwellers Fitzroy managed just 7 wins to finish eleventh. Rather more surprisingly Collingwood ended up in last place with just 5 wins. It was the Magpies’ first ever wooden spoon.
SANFL: Sturt’s Sensational Victory
During the 1976 minor round Sturt produced some good football but the consensus was that they were a trifle past their best. “Too old and too slow” was the catch cry, and when Glenelg annihilated Sturt 28.16 (184) to 15.12 (102) in the last minor round match of the season and followed this up with another comfortable win in the qualifying final this assessment seemed vindicated.
Come first semi final day, however, and a different Sturt emerged, with only Norwood's exceptional accuracy in front of goal preventing a massacre. The Double Blues won 17.23 (125) to 16.3 (99) and in the following week's preliminary final maintained their good form to gain revenge over Glenelg by 7 points in a thriller.
Sturt's grand final opponents were Port Adelaide, which had been far and away the season's dominant club. The bookmakers made the Magpies 10/7-on favourites but, perhaps significantly, players from the other eight league clubs, when asked to predict the winner for a feature in the grand final issue of 'Football Budget', seemed less sure, three having no hesitation in tipping the Double Blues, with West Adelaide's Bob Loveday predicting a draw. "Port should win it, but the way Sturt are playing I can't see them losing” was his assessment.
Interest in the match was unprecedented, in part because of the intense rivalry between the two clubs which had burgeoned over the preceding decade. An all time record crowd of 66,897 crammed into Football Park, many of them being forced to sit on the grass just outside the boundary line. Several thousands more were locked out.
Port started strongly with the aid of a 3 to 4 goal breeze but, with Sturt ruckman Rick Davies acting as an extra defender and taking several telling marks, numerous Magpie forward thrusts were repelled. At quarter time Port Adelaide led by only 8 points, and thereafter the Double Blues gradually assumed complete control adding 16.11 to 8.10 over the remainder of the match to win “running away”. Rick Davies gave one of the greatest all round performances seen in a grand final accumulating 21 kicks, 21 handballs, 15 marks and 21 hit outs, all the while displaying a "nonchalant air and unruffled ease". Other notable contributors to what the vast majority of Sturt supporters would probably tend to regard as the club's finest hour were ruck rover Paul Bagshaw - always a dynamic force in big matches - the half forward line of Michael Graham, Robbert Klomp and John Murphy, and centreman Brendon Howard. Seventy-five years on from its formation the Sturt Football Club's position had never seemed so secure, but the next two decades were to demonstrate that no club can afford to rest on its laurels when it comes to maintaining a position of pre-eminence in the cut-throat world of Australian footbal
For Port Adelaide, defeat in the 1976 grand final constituted an unprecedented nadir. Not only were the Magpies without a senior grade premiership in eleven years, they had lost yet another grand final, their sixth such defeat in that time. Moreover, of all those losses this was far and away the hardest to bear in that it was largely unexpected. Port had been easily the best team in the competition all year - until the one day that mattered most.
If there was consolation to be derived from Russell Ebert’s Magarey Medal win no-one at Alberton would dare admit it. Four times a winner of South Australia's most prestigious individual football award (the 1976 triumph was his third), Ebert's solo achievements belied the fact that he was, above all else, a quintessential team man. Like his contemporary, Barrie Robran, frequently regarded as Ebert's chief rival for the unofficial title of South Australia's greatest ever footballer, Russell Ebert off the field was shy and unassuming, preferring - if the cliché can be allowed - to “let his football do the talking”.
And how loquacious that football was! Quite simply, Russell Ebert probably came as close as any player in history to exhibiting complete mastery over all the essential skills of the game. On the attacking side he was a superb mark, handled the ball brilliantly in all conditions, and typically disposed of it, whether by foot or by hand, with pinpoint accuracy. However, it was his defensive qualities which really marked Ebert out from the herd; unlike many acknowledged champion players Ebert excelled in performing the small, often unnoticed, ostensibly ignominious tasks that are so vital to a winning performance - tasks like shepherding, smothering, checking, tackling, spoiling which are the traditional functions of the football journeyman rather than the superstar.
And “superstar” - an admittedly much over-used term - is exactly what Russell Ebert was.
Between 1968 and 1985 he played a total of 417 games of league football, all but 25 of them with Port Adelaide. He also represented South Australia 29 times. In addition to his Magarey Medal wins in 1971, 1974, 1976 and 1980 he was Port's best and fairest player on no fewer than half a dozen occasions. He had the satisfaction in 1977 of captaining the Magpies to their first premiership in twelve years, and also played in the premiership teams of 1980 and 1981. After the 1981 grand final victory over Glenelg, he won the Jack Oatey Medal for best afield. Mere statistics can only hint at the true genius that was Russell Ebert, however.
As a coach, Ebert enjoyed rather less success, but his accomplishments were by no means negligible. He steered Port Adelaide to the 1984 grand final, for instance, and masterminded South Australia's state of origin victories over Western Australia in 1996 and 1998.
Seemingly well in charge when they led 14.16 (100) to 12.9 (81) at the last change of their preliminary final clash with Sturt, Glenelg somehow contrived to fall in a heap and go down by 7 points. The Bays were the SANFL’s top scorers in 1976 but there were some defensive frailties. Having reached the previous three grand finals it was disappointing to drop down the list to third implicitly suggesting that the team were in decline but as ever with football things would prove not to be quite so straightforward.
On a brighter note, Bays full forward Dennis “Fred” Phillis booted 98 goals for the season to top the league’s top goal kicking list for the fifth time. After beginning his league career with Glenelg as a centre half back in 1966, Phillis was to develop into one of the greatest full forwards in the history of the game, thanks partly to some inspirational lateral thinking by Neil Kerley, who took over as coach of the club in 1967. Aware that Phillis was extremely quick for his size (187cm, 90.5kg), and was one of the best marks at the club, he decided to try him at centre half forward, where he was moderately successful, and later at full forward, where he frequently saw enough of the ball to kick a swag of goals, but was profligate. His first season at the goal front saw him top Glenelg's goal kicking list with 30 goals, but he missed at least as many, and during the close season coach Kerley stipulated an intensive regime of goalkicking practice which, in 1969, was to bear fruit in the most unexpectedly spectacular way.
Given that his name today is synonymous with excellence at the king of winter sports, it is perhaps surprising to learn that Phillis owed his nickname to his prowess at cricket. As a youngster, Phillis fancied himself as a fast bowler, prompting his schoolmates to dub him 'Fred', after the most famous Test paceman of the day, 'Fiery Fred' Truman of Yorkshire and England. In 1969, the name 'Fred Phillis' was on the back pages of Adelaide newspapers, and the lips of footy supporters, more often than any other. While it would be misleading to suggest that he now kicked for goal with unerring accuracy - in the Australian championships in Adelaide that year he booted 12.12 for South Australia, for instance - overall he was registering nearly twice as many goals as points. Moreover, he was registering a lot of goals - a hundred by the end of July, and a league record 137 by the end of the Bays' losing grand final clash with Sturt. Even the umpires were full of admiration, collectively bestowing 18 Magarey Medal votes on the twenty-one year old architecture student to make him the first ever winner of the award to spend the season predominantly at full forward.
Phillis went on to secure the elusive 'ton' on two further occasions, besides missing out by a single goal in 1971, and, as mentioned, by two in 1976. Statistically, he is Glenelg's greatest ever goal kicker - no mean achievement when you consider that the club also boasts Jack Owens and Colin Churchett among its former champions. Phillis's career tally of 884 goals in 280 games places him third on the all time SANFL list, and included 'bags' of 10 or more goals on nine occasions. On one memorable afternoon at Glenelg Oval in 1975 he contributed 18 of his team's record-breaking 49 goals against Central District, but almost certainly the highlight of his career came in 1973 when he failed to trouble the scorers as the Bays defeated North Adelaide by 7 points in the last grand final to be played at the Adelaide Oval for over forty years.
When the Glenelg Football Club inaugurated its official 'Hall of Fame' in 2002, “Freddie” Phillis was one of eight players included from the period 1961-76.
Reigning premiers Norwood suffered a disappointing slump in 1976, eventually finishing fourth. The Redlegs were comfortably superior to the six clubs which finished below them on the ladder, but found the top three too hot to handle at times. That said, they found themselves up against it in the elimination final clash with West Adelaide, with the Wolves kicking 7 first quarter goals to 2 and still leading at the last change by 18 points. The Redlegs then finally hit their straps, adding 7.8 to 1.3 to win with deceptive comfort by 23 points.
In the first semi final clash with Sturt the Redlegs, thanks largely to their straight kicking for goal, put themselves in a useful position at half time when they led 11.1 (67) to 6.10 (46). Thereafter, however, there was only one team in it, as the Blues rattled on 11 second half goals to 5, eventually winning by 26 points, a margin which, if anything, flattered Norwood.
West Adelaide qualified for the major round for the first time since 1969 but their lack of finals experience told as they nosedived out of contention at the first hurdle. Coach Fos Williams had the Wolves playing a tenacious, virile brand of football which enabled them to win at least once against all other teams in the league except the top two.
Central District were probably the competition’s most unpredictable team, capable of performing like potential finalists one week and wooden spooners the next. Two matches effectively scuppered their major round aspirations: in round eleven they succumbed to Port Adelaide by a percentage ruining 161 point margin; and in round twenty they lost a “must win” game at home to South Adelaide by 17 points.
South Adelaide, like Centrals, were blighted by inconsistency. For example, they won at Unley against Sturt as well as both home and away versus Norwood but were thrashed at home by Woodville and, in round two at Thebarton, handed West Torrens one of their only two wins for the season.
Eighth placed North Adelaide won 8 matches, the same as in 1975 when they had scraped into the finals. The team lacked depth and they suffered some crushing defeats while all their victories came against sides which failed to qualify for the finals.
Woodville won just 6 games, with the highlight being their 12.13 (85) to 11.12 (78) defeat of Port Adelaide in round seven. The ‘Peckers set up the victory with a 6 goals to nil opening term. It was their first ever league victory over Port.
West Torrens finished a distant last with their only wins coming in round two against South Adelaide and round five against Woodville.
WANFL: Demons Dominate
Despite the setback of a last round loss to East Perth which robbed the team of the double chance, Perth put in three weeks of superlative finals football in 1976 to clinch arguably their most emphatic premiership ever. In the first semi final against West Perth, Perth overcame a slow start to win convincingly, 20.18 (138) to 13.4 (82). It was a similar story in the preliminary final as South Fremantle, the team which had displaced the Demons from second position on the ladder after the last round of fixtures, wilted in the face of the redoubtable pressure applied by the Perth players all over the ground. Perth won 20.19 (139) to 10.21 (81) to set up yet another grand final meeting with East Perth, and just as in the glorious “three-in-a-row” era of the 1960s, it was the men in black and red who prevailed. Perth led at every change by 11, 20 and 15 points before coasting to a 23 point victory that, on balance of play, should really have been much heftier. Mal Day won the Simpson Medal for best on ground, while centreman Gary Gibillini, who had played against Perth in the 1974 grand final, centre half forward Wim Rosbender, centreman Geoff Watt, and rover Robert Wiley were among numerous others to feature prominently.
Robert Wiley was, in a sense, the man who stepped into Barry Cable's shoes:
He was confident as he was skilful, a player of immense class and ability.
He stood out against almost every opponent he played against in both Western Australia and Victoria in a career that spanned fifteen seasons between 1974 and 1988.
Wiley remains the last of Perth's great rovers - a club that produced legends such as Barry Cable. 
With Wiley, who won his fourth straight club fairest and best award, very much to the fore Perth enjoyed another fine year in 1977, culminating in a record-breaking win over East Fremantle in the grand final. During the year, Ken Armstrong had been appointed to the position of full-time coach and football director at Perth, enabling him to develop his natural propensity toward meticulous and thorough preparation still further. Armstrong's appointment was just one of many factors indicating the extent of the club's ambition at the time. Just as in the 1960s, a comprehensive system for developing young players - known as 'the Perth academy' - was put into place, and the facilities for training and the treatment of injuries were second to none. As Robert Wiley, who also spent time with Richmond and West Coast in the VFL, later recalled:
I enjoyed my association with Perth. They set the standard in the seventies. They were fantastic years.
My five years at Richmond were also enjoyable.
We had great facilities at Perth but I was surprised when I arrived at Richmond to see facilities weren't as good as what we had at Perth. 
Having finished the minor round at the head of the league ladder in 1976 East Perth were justifiably accorded premiership favouritism. They enhanced this status in the second semi final when they overcame South Fremantle by 33 points. The Royals had defeated grand final opponents Perth by 13 points in the last minor round game of the season, and this coupled with the week’s rest they had learned led many observers to back them for the flag but they put in an unaccountably bad performance to go down by 23 points. Had it not been for their accuracy in front of goal the deficit would have been considerably greater.
One of the principal driving forces behind East Perth’s dominance of the home and away rounds was Peter Spencer. On his day one of the most exhilarating players of his generation, Spencer was stymied by recurrent injuries from achieving his full potential. Nevertheless, not many players manage to win two Sandover Medals, which Spencer did in 1978 and 1984 during two separate stints with East Perth.
Equally effective either in the centre or as a rover, the key to Spencer's success was his uncanny ball-winning ability. Time after time he was the highest possession gatherer on the field, and once he got his hands on the football he invariably used it to advantage. He was also deadly near goal, and twice finished as East Perth's leading goal kicker in a season.
Spencer made his interstate debut against the VFL in 1976 and went on to play a total of 7 matches for West Australia. His tally would have been much higher but for injury, which also ruled him out of the 1978 grand final in which East Perth overcame Perth. The fact that this proved to be the only premiership won by the Royals during Spencer's time with them undoubtedly made it the biggest disappointment of his career.
In 1981 and '82 Spencer played for North Melbourne but managed only 24 games as injury again undermined his effectiveness. On his return to East Perth in 1983 he promptly won the club's fairest and best award, his third, and maintained a comparatively injury-free run the following year when he tied with the Claremont pair of Steve Malaxos and Michael Mitchell for the Sandover.
The 1985 season saw Spencer on the move to Haydn Bunton's Subiaco, where he spent the better part of two years before rounding off his WAFL career with a couple of games for Claremont.
Peter Spencer's father, Jim Spencer, also played league football with East Perth, and won the club fairest and best award in 1953. The Spencers share with the Sidebottom family (Wally and Gary) the distinction of being the only father-son combinations to have won fairest and best trophies with the same WAFL club.
In June 2006 Peter Spencer was named on a half forward flank in East Perth’s official Team of the Century 1945 to 2005.
After a solid home and away season which yielded 14 wins from 21 matches South Fremantle underperformed badly in the finals, losing the second semi final to East Perth by 33 points and the preliminary final to Perth by 58 points.
Perth were a team on the verge of great things, but in 1976 they were still a little raw around the edges. Had they beaten East Perth at Lathlain Park in the last minor round game they would have clinched the double chance in the finals, but they went down by 13 points.
West Perth qualified for the finals in fourth place but were no match for Perth in the first semi final, going down by 56 points.
Fifth placed East Fremantle endured another disappointing season. Premiers in 1974, they had slipped down the list to fifth the following season after managing just 10 wins. In 1976 they won 1 game fewer and again finished fifth. If the season had a highlight it was probably the fact that East Fremantle won 2 out of 3 Fremantle derbies against arch rivals South.
Claremont included triumphs over Perth (twice), West Perth and East Perth in their tally of 8 wins. They also provided the WANFL’s top goal kicker in the shape of Norm Uncle who booted 91 goals.
Swan Districts (7 wins) and Subiaco (4) were by some measure the league’s weakest teams. Swans’ best win came in round two when they accounted for West Perth in impressive fashion by 2 points in front of a bumper crowd of 10,118 at Bassendean. Subiaco meanwhile managed to beat Perth by 8 points at league headquarters in round ten.
VFA: Revenge for Port
The 1976 VFA season saw Port Melbourne assuming centre stage for a long awaited grand final re-match with their 1967 conquerors Dandenong.
The build up to the game was, by recent VFA standards, almost unprecedentedly intense, with much speculation focusing on the so called 'revenge factor'. In this context, a violent encounter seemed almost inevitable, and so it proved. After a deceptively tame opening term events took a predictable turn for the worse five minutes into the second quarter when Port Melbourne full forward Fred Cook was pole-axed behind the play shortly after kicking a goal. The goal umpire, having just replaced his flags, was in the process of marking the goal on his score card and did not see the incident. Neither did the two boundary umpires who were relaying the ball back to the centre of the ground. Suddenly there was an explosion of activity at both ends of the field as Port Melbourne players endeavoured to exact retribution and their Dandenong opponents resisted strenuously. When order was restored, the Borough were able to race away to a 57 point triumph, 19.18 (132) to 10.15 (75). Best players for Port included ruckman Tony Haenen, half back flanker George Allen, full back Paul Wharton, and ruck rover Graham Harland. Champion full forward Fred Cook contributed 5.6 (including 2 "posters") to take his season's tally to 124. Cook would go on to amass a VFA career record of 1,364 goals in 305 games with three clubs (Port Melbourne, Yarraville and Moorabbin).
Most of the post-match headlines referred to the fisticuffs rather than the football, however, which was hardly surprising given that the VFA Honorary Commissioners had no fewer than nine cases to consider on the following Monday night. These comprised five Port players and two from Dandenong as well as the Port trainer and the Dandenong runner. All but one were found guilty.
Other States and Territories
Sandy Bay reigned supreme in the TANFL, reaching their sixth straight grand final and cruising to a 16 goal victory over Glenorchy. The Seagulls had earlier won the second semi final against the same opponent with scores of 24.15 (159) to 15.13 (103). In the battle fdor the state premiership Sandy Bay lost out to NWFU premiers Ulverstone at the preliminary final stage. The Robins then overcame NTFA premiers Launceston 17.19 (121) to 10.14 (74) in Launceston to take out their second state flag. (Ther first had been won in 1955.)
East Sydney trounced North Shore by 77 points in the NSWAFL grand final. St George finished third and Western Suburbs fourth.
Windsor-Zillmere were premiers of the QAFL for the second successive time. The Eagles overcame Sandgate in the grand final by 36 points.
In the ACTAFL Eastlake thrashed Manuka by 69 points in the decisive match of the year. It was the Demons’ sixteenth flag as a standalone club.
After going into recess in 1975 in the wake of Cyclone Tracy the NTFL resumed operations with Darwin claiming the premiership thanks to a relatively comfortable 38 point grand final defeat of North Darwin.
The only interstate match involving the major states took place in Perth. There, a VFL representative side overcame Western Australia with consummate ease by 57 points. Scores were VFL 21.18 (144) defeated Western Australia 11.21 (87).
Tasmania avenged their 1975 loss to Queensland by downing that state 21.19 (145) to 14.15 (99) in Hobart. However, the Tasmanians’ reputation was tarnished when they went down by 10 points to New South Wales in Sydney.
The closest interstate clash of the year took place in Brisbane where home state Queensland defeated the ACT by 5 points, 16.18 (114) to 15.19 (109).
Grand final results - VFL: Hawthorn 13.22 (100) d. North Melbourne 10.10 (70); SANFL: Sturt 17.14 (116) d. Port Adelaide 10.15 (75); WANFL: Perth 13.14 (92) d. East Perth 11.3 (69); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 19.18 (132) d. Dandenong 10.15 (75) Division Two - Williamstown 19.13 (127) d. Mordialloc 9.16 (70); TANFL: Sandy Bay 21.10 (136) d. Glenorchy 5.9 (39); NTFA: Launceston 13.10 (88) d. North Launceston 12.15 (87); NSWAFL: East Sydney 23.12 (150) d. North Shore 10.13 (73); NTFL: Darwin 16.14 (110) d. North Darwin 11.6 (72); QAFL: Windsor-Zillmere 17.23 (125) d. Sandgate 13.11 (89); NWFU: Ulverstone 14.9 (93) d. Penguin 7.19 (61); ACTAFL: Eastlake 23.19 (157) d. Manuka 13.10 (88); NFL: Hawthorn 12.17 (89) d. North Melbourne 5.11 (41); TSP: Ulverstone 17.19 (121) d. Launceston 10.14 (74).
 Football Greats of Western Australia Volume One by Anthony James, page 51. “The South Australian Football Budget”, 25/9/76, page 4.
 Ibid, page 51.
 This was the last of Murphy's 204 games for Sturt in a career which began in 1962 and which also took in 5 interstate matches for South Australia and four seasons and 58 VFL matches with South Melbourne.
 Football Greats of Western Australia Volume One by Anthony James, page 69.
 Robert Wiley won a total of eight Perth fairest and best awards in his career, one more than both Merv McIntosh and Barry Cable.
 James, op cit., page 71.
VFL: Kangaroos Bounce Back
Four months after their 1976 grand final defeat, at 5.15pm on 24th January 1977, the North Melbourne players assembled at Arden Street to commence training for the new season. Gathering the players in a circle around him, Ron Barassi reminded them that they were no longer the best team in the competition. Then, in a much louder, more intense voice, he spat out the words "Hawthorn thrashed us last year!" His distaste was almost palpable. It was clear he felt insulted, demeaned, and wanted the players to share those feelings. "This is the year we become number one again!" he insisted, eying each of the players individually for any sign of wavering or dissent. Seemingly satisfied with their response, he moved on to more mundane subject matter, but in those few moments the tone for the entire year ahead had been set.
In direct contrast to the club's previous premiership year of 1975, North began the campaign that would eventually secure its second league pennant in fine style, winning its first 5 contests of the season, including a memorable 10 goal thrashing of Hawthorn in the opening round. Newcomers to the side this season included former Melbourne veteran Stan Alves, who had transferred to North in the hope of playing in a premiership side, John Cassin, who had begun his league career with Essendon and had spent the 1975 and 1976 seasons with West Torrens, and Stephen McCann, a Western Australian from Geraldton who had yet to play senior league football. All three would feature in North's eventual grand final winning side, although one player who would not was the club's champion wingman and dual Brownlow Medallist, Keith Greig who, after sustaining serious cruciate ligament damage in the round six loss to Richmond at the MCG, went on to miss the remainder of the season.
Although the team lacked consistency after its impressive opening burst of victories it nevertheless qualified for the finals with some comfort, managing 15 wins from 22 home and away games to occupy third spot on the ladder. Little did the players know it, but they were about to embark on the longest, most arduous journey to a premiership in VFL history. That journey began with a worryingly impotent qualifying final performance against arch rivals Hawthorn which resulted in a resounding 38 point loss. Barassi was apoplectic with fury, expressing his indignation both privately and publicly. Some of his public remarks about his players perhaps transcended the boundaries of tact and common courtesy to which football coaches habitually adhered; however, in hindsight they can arguably be seen to have had the desired effect.
Week two of the finals saw North Melbourne facing Richmond in the cut-throat semi final at VFL Park, and right from the start the Kangaroos were a transformed side, comfortably winning every quarter en route to a 16.14 (110) to 9.9 (63) triumph. Barassi's satisfaction at the performance was reinforced when he learned that the Kangas' next finals opponents would be Hawthorn, which had lost to Collingwood in the second semi final. "If we don't beat this mob on Saturday, with the incentive we've got now" he informed his players, "then I seriously doubt that we'll beat them for years to come - until both sides have changed substantially”.2]
North Melbourne's performance in annihilating Hawthorn in the 1977 preliminary final was perhaps its finest of the Barassi era with the players observing their coach's pre-match instructions to a tee. "I want you to go out there with every manly fibre you possess ......and play the game of your life ......the game of your life!" he had demanded, before going on to define what he meant by “the game of your life” as:
".....the physical game ......the physical game of running in .......because that'll bring with it the tackling, the pressure, the handball, the backing up, and the talking ......all the things we've practised and are supposed to be the best at in the VFL competition!”
Hawthorn struggled gamely to stay in touch during a fiercely contested first half, but after the long break the Kangaroos were rampant, kicking 9.9 to 1.4 to win by the scarcely credible margin of 63 points. North had many fine contributors to the win, but veteran rover Barry Cable, making one of his last ever appearances in a North jumper, had close to 40 possessions in what some observers claimed was, quite literally, “the game of his life”.
Prior to the 1977 grand final, North Melbourne and Collingwood had only met once previously in a VFL finals game. That was in the 1958 preliminary final when a combination of solid, tenacious defending by the Magpies and atrocious kicking for goal, especially early on, by North saw eventual premier Collingwood emerge victorious by 20 points, 14.12 (96) to 10.16 (76). The teams' two meetings in the 1977 minor round had resulted in a win to North by 9 points in round two, and a more emphatic 39 point win to Collingwood in round fifteen. The Magpies who, under proven premiership coach Tom Hafey had risen from wooden spooners in 1976 to flag contenders a year later, were in the virtually unprecedented position of attracting a measure of sentimental support, but a majority of the 108,244 spectators who packed into the MCG on the afternoon of Saturday 24 September 1977 almost certainly wished for a North Melbourne victory.
At three quarter time, such an eventuality seemed unlikely. The Kangaroos had started well enough, and at the first change had led by 17 points, but since then it had been all Collingwood, with the Magpies adding 8.7 to a curiously hesitant and wayward North's 9 straight behinds. As Collingwood fans celebrated what they thought was the end of a nineteen year premiership drought, Ron Barassi gave one of the most important three quarter time addresses of his career. Insisting that the game was far from over, he also made some potentially risky, but in the upshot gloriously successful, positional changes, moving key defenders Darryl Sutton and David Dench to the forward lines. Within moments of the resumption, Sutton had a goal on the board for North, and a couple more quickly followed from Baker and Dench. Suddenly, the Kangaroos were doing everything right. A succession of minor scores followed before full forward Phil Baker, at the fourteen minute mark of the final term, kicked the goal that brought the 'Roos back on terms, with the momentum seemingly all theirs.
Collingwood, however, dug deep, and shortly afterwards claimed a behind to recapture the lead. Two behinds to North followed before Phil Baker, after marking, booted his sixth major of the day to send the blue and white contingent in the crowd into raptures: a 7 point advantage to North, with six, maybe seven, minutes to play. The Magpies attacked repeatedly, with Peter Moore finally procuring a point that brought the margin back to a single straight kick. Then, with less than a minute remaining, Bill Picken sent a high, speculative kick towards the Collingwood goal square and the long-limbed, wiry form of the appropriately nicknamed “Twiggy” Dunne somehow managed to get both hands to the ball to initiate probably the most momentous thirty second period of his life, which culminated in his splitting the centre with a low trajectory flat punt that put the two teams back on even terms. Moments later, the siren went, and players from both sides collapsed to their ground in numb weariness mingled with, perhaps, a modicum of relief. Both sides had failed to win, but at the same time neither side had lost; in a sense, it was almost as though the previous 120 minutes of sweat, toil, desperation, skill, fervour and passion had never even occurred and, for the first time since 1948, and indeed only the second time in VFL history, the grand final would need to be replayed.
Whereas the first game had been tight, tough and tense, all of which probably favoured Collingwood, the replay saw fast, open, skilful football - North Melbourne's forté - very much to the fore. With the 'three Bs' - Briedis, Blight and Byrne - in stupendous form, the Kangaroos were headed only briefly in procuring an impressive 27 point victory, which but for some wayward kicking for goal would have been much heftier. There were brief occasions when Collingwood threatened to get back into the game, only for North to steady, and pull away once more.
"As you think back on this day, which has been one of the great spectacles in Australian sport" declared Barassi to his players in his intensely emotional post-match summation, "I hope you'll agree that all that hard work .....and all that shit put upon you by the coach .....was worth it …” There is little doubt that the players, to a man, would have agreed that it was, but unfortunately for the club's supporters the memories generated by this remarkable achievement would have to last them for a long, long time.
After slumping to an unprecedented wooden spoon in 1976 Collingwood burst out of the blocks in spectacular fashion a year later, winning 8 of their first 9 matches to top the ladder. Moreover, that was where they stayed, ending the home and away season with an 18-4 record and giving rise to the widespread opinion that 1977 just might be their year. This impression was reinforced when they scored a battling 2 point win over Hawthorn in the second semi final. In the grand final clash with North Melbourne, however, the dreaded “Colliwobbles” struck with a vengeance as the Magpies surrendered a 27 point three quarter time lead and had to rely on a last gasp goal from “Twiggy” Dunne to snatch a draw. The stay of execution was only brief though: in the following week’s replay Collingwood were comprehensively outplayed from start to finish, leaving the Magpies without a senior grade premiership for fully two decades, easily the longest such drought in their history.
Hawthorn qualified for the finals in second place having won 17 of their 22 matches, and hopes were raised of a second consecutive premiership when they convincingly defeated North Melbourne in the qualifying final. Scores were Hawthorn 19.11 (125) to North 12.15 (87). The second semi final clash with Collingwood was a rivetting affair which could have gone either way, but in the end it was the Magpies who prevailed - just. That meant that the Hawks would have to overcome North Melbourne once more in order to reach the grand final, and most observers expected them to do precisely that. Inexplicably, however, they put in probably their worst performance of the season to go down by 67 points, and a campaign which had promised so much ended in ignominy.
In 1977 the VFL started a new night competition which was contested by all twelve league clubs. In the final, at Waverley, Hawthorn defeated Carlton 14.11 (95) to 11.5 (71) in front of a crowd of 27,407.
The Hawks’ ranks were bolstered in 1977 by the return to the club of champion full forward Peter Hudson, who duly topped the league goal kicking list for the fourth time in his career, bagging 110 goals. Statistically the most prolific full forward in the history of the game, Hudson can also lay strong claims to having been the best. All told, Hudson played a total of 289 senior games for New Norfolk, Hawthorn and Glenorchy between 1963 and 1981, netting 1,721 goals at an average of 5.95 goals per game. He also kicked a further 317 goals in other games such as interstate matches for Tasmania and Victoria, intrastate football for the TFL, night games, state and Australian championship matches, and so forth, for an Australian record career total of 2,038 senior goals. The key to Hudson's success was an indefatigable desire to gain possession of the football, which he did repeatedly by virtue of his strength, his vigorous, pacy leading, and his excellent handling and marking skills. Topping this off, he was a meticulously accurate kick for goal, albeit relying, almost exclusively, on an old fashioned tumble punt which would have scored no points whatsoever for “artistic merit”, and which seemed outmoded even in Hudson's era. Not that “artistic merit” ever contributed measurably to a premiership, of course.
As a coach, Hudson took charge of Hobart in 1986 and remained at the helm for two years, steering the side to consecutive unsuccessful finals campaigns.
When the official Tasmanian Team of the Century was announced in June 2004, no one was surprised to find Peter Hudson named as full forward. He was inducted as an inaugural icon of the Tasmanian game the following year.
Richmond won 14 matches and drew 1 to qualify for the finals in fourth place. The Tigers then shrugged off a stern first half challenge from South Melbourne in the elimination final to coast to victory by 34 points, 13.10 (88) to 7.12 (54). This was only South’s second finals appearance of the 1970s; back in 1970 they had fallen at the first hurdle too, against St Kilda. This time the emotional drain of qualifying for the finals almost by the back door possibly contributed to their elimination final fade-out. With one home and away match left to play the Swans were in sixth place, 2 points adrift of fifth placed Carlton. Round twenty-two saw the Blues visiting Footscray while South Melbourne faced an ostensibly much trickier task: a trip to Arden Street to take on third placed North Melbourne. The match at the Western Oval was closely fought until half time at which stage the home side were a single point to the good. During the third term, however, the Bulldogs tore Carlton apart, adding 5.9 to 0.2 to effectively seal the match - and, as it turned out, the Blues’ fate. Not that anyone at Arden Street imagined this, for at three quarter time the Kangas led 13.8 (86) to South’s 9.9 (63) and looked on course for a comfortable victory. The Swans, however, got up to win the match by 10 points after running rampant in the final term. Scores were South Melbourne 15.13 (103) to North Melbourne 14.9 (93).
Despite bowing out of the premiership race at the first hurdle South appeared to be on the verge of perhaps the club’s greatest era since the war. Sadly, however, the next few years almost witnessed the club’s demise, and ultimately gave rise to a highly contentious relocation to Sydney, where the club continues to be based.
South had the honour of providing the 1977 Brownlow Medallist in the shape of Graham Teasdale. A forward during his 6 games with Richmond in 1973 and for the first two seasons of his South Melbourne career, Teasdale was thrown into the ruck in 1977 to spectacular effect, winning both the Brownlow and his club’s best and fairest award. Thereafter, he never quite recaptured the same level of performance, but he remained a key contributor to the South cause, and when he sought a transfer to Collingwood in 1982 the club was, understandably, reluctant to clear him. After standing out of football for several months, however, Teasdale finally got his way, but his time with the Magpies was effectively ruined by injury. In a season and a half at the club he managed just 14 games and 21 goals to add to his 125 games and 138 goals with the Swans. At his best, Graham Teasdale's aerial brilliance and prodigious kicking made him one of the game's most exciting talents, but he produced his best form too intermittently to be regarded as a true champion.
Carlton’s failure to procure finals qualification was both disappointing and unexpected. The Blues were in the five every week from round one to round twenty-one but lost out after losing their final two matches of the season to Richmond by 3 points and South Melbourne by 3 goals.
Seventh placed Footscray were consistently successful against the league’s lower ranking teams but emerged victorious from only one clash with a finalist; that was in round nineteen when Richmond were the victims.
Geelong finished well off the pace winning just 8 matches and losing several by embarrassingly sizeable margins. The Cats lacked strength in depth, and were little better than cannon fodder for the likes of Hawthorn and North. They did manage a noteworthy win against Collingwood in round sixteen, however, scraping home by 5 points despite having 15 fewer scoring shots. Final scores were Geelong 16.6 (102) defeated Collingwood 12.25 (97).
After defeating Hawthorn by 39 points in round sixteen Essendon looked poised to launch a realistic bid for finals participation. Instead, the Bombers went on to lose every one of their last 6 matches to finish totally out of the frame in ninth position.
Fitzroy, Melbourne and St Kilda shared the ability to kick noteworthy scores; unfortunately, they also had a tendency to concede even higher tallies. In fairness, this was an era when high scoring was the norm throughout Australia, with coaches only just beginning to devise dedicated defensive strategies. In the VFL all but two clubs - Geelong and St Kilda - managed to accumulate 2,000 points during the 22 home and away rounds, with Hawthorn averaging an astonishing 119 points a game. Geelong, by contrast, conceded an average of almost 122 points per match.
SANFL: Magpies End Premiership Drought
Forties in Procella (“Strength in Adversity”) might well be the motto of the Magpies' most intense and bitter SANFL rival club, Norwood, but late on the afternoon of Saturday 25th September 1976 it could unashamedly have been borrowed by the black and white aficionados among the record crowd of 66,897 packed into Football Park for the season's finale between Port Adelaide and Sturt. Those Port fans had just witnessed their team, which had totally dominated the 1976 SANFL competition, losing only 4 of 21 minor round matches before comprehensively thrashing Glenelg in the second semi final, somehow contrive to lose when it mattered most against an in truth somewhat ordinary Sturt team which nevertheless was able to tap into a rich vein of finals experience, something which Cahill's Magpies sadly lacked.
That single two hour dose of grand final football probably brought the entire Port team completely up to speed in terms of finals experience, however. There is scarcely anything so salutary as losing a game you know you ought to have won, and with no immediate way to right the wrong, Port's 1976 grand final players had simply to re-group, and prepare for the slog, sweat and pain of another season- long tilt at the flag.
The 1976 season represented a benchmark in another important way, however, as it witnessed the first legible attempt to move towards a genuinely national club competition. The Wills Cup, which was sponsored by a tobacco company, and conducted by the NFL, involved clubs from the three main football states, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Port Adelaide participated, beating Footscray by 34 points, and losing to North Melbourne by 50 points, but the match results were really of secondary importance. What was of primary significance was that, although the Wills Cup matches were, by and large, poorly attended, they generated significant amounts of income through sponsorship and television. The VFL was quick to take note: in 1977 it withdrew from the pseudo-national affair to run its own sponsored night competition, and by 1978 it was offering more than twice the prize money of the NFL series (now sponsored by Ardath, and involving teams from the VFA in place of those from the VFL), and enjoyed significantly higher TV ratings, with a concomitant explosion in revenue from peripheral sources such as advertising. In 1979 the VFL formed a company, Australian Football Championship Pty. Ltd., with the objective of developing its own 'national' competition, thereby effectively rendering the NFL irrelevant. In time, all of the other states came to the VFL table because that was where the money was. According to Sandercock and Turner, writing shortly after these events in 1981:
The VFL's move on night football was nothing short of a take-over bid for Australian football. Its formation of the AFC Pty. Ltd. once again isolated the VFA from the mainstream of national football. It also put a big question mark against the viability of the NFL as a national administration. Some commentators argue that the VFL, with its superior financial resources and business acumen, should run the whole of Australian football. The VFL is certainly convinced that it alone has the expertise to run football at the national level, and it has a compelling financial incentive to press its claim. Whether the VFL razzamatazz is what the game really needs is another question. 
These comments should be read as a backdrop to the events of 1990, which will be discussed in the review of that season. As of the early 1980s, however, it would seem that Fos Williams' dream of a full-scale national club competition was well on course, although not perhaps in quite the way he might have expected, or indeed would have wished.
But back in 1977, South Australian football's centenary season, Port Adelaide's sole pre-occupation was with the SANFL premiership, an honour that had eluded it for much too long. The season got off to an excellent start when the council and the SANFL reached agreement on the use of Alberton Oval for football, and over the course of the year fans flocked in in near record numbers to watch the pride of the district in action. They had plenty to cheer as well, as the Magpies endeavoured to put the horrors of the 1976 season firmly behind them with a series of dazzling performances that earned both the minor premiership and numerous accolades. Acutely conscious, however, that there was ultimately only one game, and one performance, that really mattered, the longer the season wore on, the more the focus of John Cahill and his players was on a potential date with destiny at Football Park on Saturday 24th September.
That day duly arrived, with only John Nicholls' Glenelg side standing between the Magpies and the ultimate prize. On the eve of the big match, Mike Pilkington wrote:
Memories of the humiliation and disgrace which have plagued Port since this time last year can be wiped out tomorrow. Redemption, and the elation which goes with it, will come to the Magpies in the centenary grand final. 
Prophetic words indeed, for after a tough, bruising and occasionally spiteful game, the Magpies emerged victorious by 8 points, 17.11 (113) to 16.9 (105). In point of fact, they had the match well won much earlier, but a flurry of late goals by the Bays gave a deceptive closeness to the final scores. For Port captain Russell Ebert, it had been "a bloody long time, but jeez it was worth it!" - sentiments wholeheartedly shared by every supporter of the most loved and loathed footy club in the state.
The Magpies' best player list from the 1977 grand final gives some notion of the wealth of talent which Cahill had at his disposal. Best afield was Brian Cunningham, a plucky and tenacious rover who would later serve the club in a number of administrative capacities. Others to excel included utility Randall Gerlach, who was playing in defiance of medical advice, dynamic and hyper-aggressive wingman Bruce Light, spring-heeled ruck-rover Max James, and 7 goal spearhead Tim Evans.
After playing junior football in Tasmania's North West Football Union with Penguin, Tim Evans was lured to the mainland by Geelong in 1971. In four seasons with the Cats, playing mainly on the half back line, he notched up 59 games, and impressed with his strong marking and robust ground play. However, it was only after transferring to Port Adelaide in 1975 that his career truly began to blossom. Transferred to the goalfront by coach John Cahill when regular spearhead Randall Gerlach was indisposed, Evans proved a revelation, going on to become one of the greatest goalkickers in Australian football history. In 248 games for the Magpies between 1975 and 1986 Evans accumulated 1,041 goals, topping the league list on six occasions, and Port's no fewer than ten times. He also booted 25 goals in 7 appearances for South Australia. Seldom spectacular, Evans was the archetypal 'goal machine'. As the late John Wood, writing in 'Magpie News' in August 1986 at the time of Evans' retirement, put it, "He was an ideal amalgam of finesse and raw strength. If the players ahead of him delivered it, Tim was a certainty to mark it. If they blasted it in high he (more often than not with two flying against him) was a fifty-fifty go. Either way you could get your pen ready to mark down another one." In 1977 Tim Evans kicked 87 goals to head the SANFL goal kicking list for the first time.
After qualifying for the finals in second place Glenelg went on to reach their sixth grand final in nine seasons but as on every other occasion apart from 1973 they slumped to defeat. The Bays kept in touch with Port for most of the match but in the end the exhaustion of playing catch-up football told and they went down galliantly by 8 points.
Under the stern tutelage of coach Fos Williams West Adelaide enjoyed their best season since 1969, ultimately finishing third. The club had the satisfaction of providing the 1977 Magarey Medallist in the shape of former Port Adelaide rover Trevor Grimwood (pictured above). The epitome of the “honest Aussie battler”, Grimwood struggled for many years to prove himself as a top level Australian footballer, and was ultimately rewarded with a Magarey Medal. After failing to crack it for a senior game with Norwood in 1965 and 1966, he spent the next four seasons playing for his home town club, Meadows. In 1971 he was recruited by Port Adelaide, but in three seasons at the club he managed just 33 games, and although he played well on occasion, he was never a first choice player. When Port coach Fos Williams crossed to West Adelaide in 1974, he persuaded Grimwood to join him, and over the ensuing four seasons the tough, hard-working and combative rover gradually came into his own. In 1976, he played the best and most consistent football of his career, winning West's best and fairest award, and finishing in third place in the Magarey Medal. The following year, although inconvenienced by a persistent hamstring injury, he did even better, polling a highly commendable 32 Magarey Medal votes to win the award by a clear ten vote margin from his former Port Adelaide team mate Max James. Having established himself as one of South Australia's premier players, Grimwood might have been expected to kick on, but in 1978 and 1979 his hamstring problems got steadily worse, undermining his performances to the extent that he only managed 4 senior games in the latter year. In 1980, after 102 games for Westies, Trevor Grimwood returned to Meadows, where he finished his career as a player.
Fifth after the minor round, South Adelaide surprised with a 16 point defeat of Norwood in the elimination final. However, they then lost badly to West Adelaide in the following week’s first semi. This meant that the Panthers ended up in fourth place, their best finish since 1966.
After suggesting during the minor round that they might be realistic premiership contenders Norwood faltered at the first hurdle in the finals. The Redlegs’ time would soon come, however. In round six they booted the equal highest score of the season: 33.21 (219) to North Adelaide’s 10.9 (69). (Glenelg matched this in round fourteen when they defeated North 34.15 (219) to 11.6 (72).) Perhaps the highlight of the Redlegs’ season was their triumph in the NFL’s Ardath Cup competition which was contested by leading clubs from the SANFL, WANFL, the VFA and representative teams from Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT. In the grand final, played on their home ground of Norwood Oval, the Redlegs narrowly accounted for East Perth with scores of 10.9 (69) to 9.7 (61).
West Torrens finished a distant sixth three wins behind the fourth and fifth placed teams. Arguably the Eagles’ best display of the season came in round seven at Thebarton when they accounted for eventual grand finalists Glenelg by 70 points. Scores were West Torrens 19.10 (124) defeated Glenelg 7.12 (54).
Reigning premiers Sturt surprisingly dropped down the list to seventh place. The dismal nature of their season was summed up in round twenty-two when they lost to West Adelaide by 99 points at Football Park.
North Adelaide again disappointed and, as already i ntimated, lost several games by sizeable margins in finishing a distant eighth.
In 1964, Woodville and Central District had entered the SANFL’s senior grade competition. They finished the season in ninth and tenth places respectively, positions which were replicated in 1977. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly this was only the second time in their history that the Bulldogs had ended up with the wooden spoon.
WANFL: Demons Do It Again
Fifteen wins from 21 qualifying round matches was sufficient to earn Perth the minor premiership in 1977, and a 54 point second semi final crushing of Old Easts made them virtually unbackable flag favourites. The key to Perth's dominance in the second semi final had been the performances of their rovers, Wiley and Mitsopoulos, together with the near impregnability of their backline, which constituted virtually a 'team within a team' where "the players know each other backwards, they have played together for years and their cooperation is second to none in the League”.
It was more or less the same story in the grand final, which again pitted the Demons against Old Easts, except that on this occasion Perth's superiority was, if anything, even more complete. After settling down marginally better in a torrid opening term, Perth went into the first change with a 13 point advantage. Thereafter, however, the game developed into a massacre of a sort seldom witnessed on the most important day on the football calendar as Perth added scores of 8.3, 7.3 and 7.3 over the course of the remaining three quarters to amass an all time WANFL grand final record tally of 26.13 (169). East Fremantle, with 14.12 (96), were 73 points adrift. The Demons had so many good players that to pick out just a few seems almost churlish, but most media reports listed on-baller Wayne Currie, ruckman Wim Rosbender (who won the Simpson Medal), half back flanker Ken Inman, centreman Geoff Watt, wingman Alan Johnson and centre half forward Stephen Hargrave. Perth's forward pocket Murray Couper was the game's top scorer with 6 goals to add to the 8 kicked in the second semi, when he had earned a surprise recall to the team. Ken Armstrong's avowed policy of concentrating on local talent was amply endorsed and vindicated in that full forward Doug Farrant, a Victorian who had played 70 VFL games with North Melbourne, was the only player in the victorious Perth twenty who hailed from outside the state of Western Australia.
East Fremantle won 14 of their 21 minor round matches to qualify for the finals in second place, ahead of third placed West Perth on percentage. They had triumphed in two out of three home and away games against Perth but found the Demons much too resolute and accomplished in both the second semi final and the grand final. In between Old Easts accounted for West Perth in the preliminary final by 16 points, 17.15 (117) to 15.11 (101). There was some consolation for East Fremantle supporters when Brian Peake was awarded the Sandover Medal. Peake had made his East Fremantle debut on 29th April 1972 against Perth, and immediately caught the eye as much for his mature temperament and toughness as for his undoubted football ability.
Peake truly began to blossom as a player in 1973 when he made his interstate debut, and in the following season's winning grand final he was many observers' choice as best afield, although the Simpson Medal was split between team mate Gibellini and Pretty of Perth.
Quick, tough, aggressive, and displaying tremendous endurance, Brian Peake was a dominant force for East Fremantle throughout the 1970s, winning the club's fairest and best award an incredible five times in succession between 1976 and 1980, as well the aforementioned 1977 Sandover Medal. He was a prominent contributor to the club's 1979 grand final defeat of arch rivals South Fremantle, and his performances for Western Australia were also of the highest order. In one game against Victoria in 1978 he had 23 kicks compared to 2 by his illustrious opponent, dual Brownlow Medallist Keith Greig. At the 1979 state of origin carnival in Perth Peake skippered the Western Australians to victory and was rewarded with a Tassie Medal and captaincy of the All Australian team. He was also named an All Australian after the 1980 Adelaide carnival.
Persuaded by these achievements that Peake was possibly the finest footballer in the land Geelong officials enticed him to Kardinia Park in 1981 where he would play 66 games over the next four seasons.
Peake returned home in 1985 with plenty of football left in him, and immediately helped the Sharks to their first flag since 1979. The following year he was again chosen as skipper of the All Australian team after leading the Sandgropers to their sixth national title. A sixth Lynn Medal as East Fremantle's club champion in 1987 was the icing on the cake towards the end of a remarkable career, which ultimately finished in 1990 with a brief 10 game stint with Perth.
West Perth played consistently well during the minor round before downing East Perth, 14.17 (101) to 10.5 (65). However, as mentioned above, East Fremantle proved marginally too strong for them in the preliminary final.
The Royals finished off the minor with a resounding 114 point defeat of eventual premiers Perth. This clinched fourth spot on the premiership ladder ahead of South Fremantle but the side were unable to reproduce such stunning form during the finals and bowed out meekly at the hands of arch rivals West Perth.
The nearest thing to a highlight in South Fremantle’s otherwise unremarkable season was their feat in overcoming East Fremantle in two out of three Fremantle derbies. The Bulldogs also beat West Perth in round three, East Perth in round nine, and Perth in round eleven but for the most part they looked a little out of their depth against the league’s leading sides. A classic case in point was their 113 point loss to Perth in round four, the Demons winning 30.18 (188) to 11.7 (73). Bulldogs full forward Ray Bauskis was the WANFL's top goal kicker with 108 goals.
The bottom three clubs, Subiaco (7-14), Claremont (6-15) and Swan Districts (3-18) finished a long way off the pace in 1977 although all were capable of proffering an occasional challenge to the top sides.
Port’s Fitting Centenary Celebration
Port Melbourne captured their second successive VFA flag in 1977 with a 23.19 (157) to 7.15 (57) grand final mauling of Sandringham. Their 100 point winning margin was singularly apporopriate in that 1977 was the Association’s centenary year. In one of the most one-sided premiership deciders ever the Boroughs led at every change by margins of 26, 65 and 96 points and then extended their lead to more than 100 points midway through the final term before easing off towards the end and allowing the Zebras to nab a couple of late goals.
In second division the grand final pitted Mordialloc against Yarraville. In the second semi final clash between the teams Yarraville had won comfortably, but on grand final day the Bloodhounds kept their noses just in front for three quarters before racing away in the last term to record a convincing 38 point win, 19.19 (133) to 14.11 (95).
As an adjunct to the regular season the Association held a centenary cup competition which was won by Port Melbourne from Caulfield.
Turmoil in Tasmania
The Tasmanian Football Council, the official governing body for football throughout the state, was torn apart this year by the withdrawal of both the NTFA and NWFU. Although the intrastate series continued, the state premiership was not contested. Protracted negotiations to reform the TFC took place both during and after the 1977 season and eventually led to a reconstituted body, with equal representation from all three member organisations, the TANFL, NTFA and NWFU.
On the field of play Sandy Bay contested their seventh consecutive TANFL grand final and emerged victorious for the fourth time in a row. Opposed in the grand final by Glenorchy the Seagulls were in irrepressible form and won by 79 points, 19.9 (123) to 5.14 (44). The grand final curtain raiser was the deciding match in the Australian Schoolboys championship between Tasmania and Victoria which was won by the home state.
The other main premiers in 1977 were Scottsdale (NTFA) and Penguin (NWFU).
State of Origin Is Born
With traditional interstate contests widely regarded as outmoded owing to the VFL’s near invincibility the idea was hatched of allowing states to select players based on their geographical origins irrespective of where they happened to be based. The first ever state of origin contest therefore took place in Perth with a Western Australian team featuring several VFL-based players trouncing Victoria by 94 points, 23.13 (151) to 8.9 (57). Earlier in the season a Western Australian team comprised only of WANFL players had met the VFL in Perth and lost by 63 points affording clear evidence oif the fact that the VFL was bleeding West Australian football dry.
Western Australia and South Australia (featuring players from the WANFL and SANFL respectively) met one another twice during the season with the former state triumphing on both occasions. In a match held at Football Park to commemorate the centenary of the South Australian league the sandgropers proved real "party poopers" and won by 7 points, 15.18 (108) to 15.11 (101). In the return match in Perth the margin was 40 points.
A VFL representative side visited Hobart and annihilated Tasmania by 109 points. Scores were VFL 24.28 (172) to Tasmania 9.9 (63).
Two other interstate contests took place in 1977 with the most noteworthy occurring in Brisbane where Queensland scored an unexpected but whoilly meritorious win over the VFA. Final scores were Queensland 14.18 (102) defeated the VFA 13.17 (97). Meanwhile in Canberra the ACT comfortably overcame New South Wales, winning by 39 points, 18.24 (132) to 14.9 (93).
In the NSWAFL grand final Western Suburbs defeated North Shore by 40 points to claim their third flag in four seasons. QAFL premiers were Western Districts, who downed Wilston Grange in a thrilling grand final by 5 points. In the ACTAFL Manuka contested their fifth straight grand final and emerged victorious for the fourth time. Their opponents were Eastlake who had comprehensively beaten them in the previous year’s premiership decider. Finally, in the NTFL grand final Waratahs accounted for St Mary's by 13 points thus securing their thirteenth senior grade flag.
Grand final results - VFL: Collingwood 10.16 (76) drew with North Melbourne 9.22 (76); Replay: North Melbourne 21.25 (151) d. Collingwood 19.10 (124); SANFL: Port Adelaide 17.11 (113) d. Glenelg 16.9 (105); WANFL: Perth 26.13 (169) d. East Fremantle 14.12 (96); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 23.19 (157) d. Sandringham 7.15 (57); Division Two - Mordialloc 19.19 (133) d. Yarraville 14.11 (95); TANFL: Sandy Bay 19.9 (123) d. Glenorchy 3.14 (32); NTFA: Scottsdale 15.19 (109) d. North Launceston 10.10 (70); NSWAFL: Western Suburbs 18.25 (133) d. North Shore 14.9 (93); NTFL: Waratahs 10.15 (75) d. St Marys 8.14 (62); QAFL: Western Districts 18.16 (124) d. Wilston Grange17.17 (119); NWFU: Penguin 11.18 (84) d. Cooee 11.14 (80); ACTAFL: Manuka 16.12 (108) d. Eastlake 14.9 (93); NFL: Norwood 10.9 (69) d. East Perth 9.7 (61).
 For a more detailed description of the initial training session of the 1977 season, see The Coach by John Powers, pages 4-8.
 Ibid, page 119.
 Ibid, page 127.
 Ibid, pages 157-8.
 Up Where Cazaly? by Leonie Sandercock and Ian Turner, page 172.
 Quoted in Gentleman Jack: the Johnny Cahill Story 1958-82 by John Wood, page 91.
 ”WAFL Football Budget”, 24/9/77, page 1.
VFL: All Hail Hawthorn!
Hawthorn suffered the by now familiar premiership hangover in 1977, finishing third under new coach David Parkin. A year later things reverted to what was increasingly coming to seem like normality. After finishing in second spot on the ladder at the end of the home and away rounds, Hawthorn scored victories over Collingwood in the qualifying final and North Melbourne in the second semi to win through to their third grand final in four seasons. The opposition was once again provided by North Melbourne and, just as in 1976, the Hawks proved much too accomplished; after a hiccup or two in the second quarter they raced away to a commanding 22 point lead at three quarter time, and the fact that a few late goals brought North to within 18 points at the end did nothing to disguise the fact that Hawthorn had been eminently comfortable winners. Young Robert Dipierdomenico, without the handle bar moustache which would become his trademark in later years, starred on a half back flank to be most people's choice as best afield; he was closely followed by Leigh Matthews, who bagged 4 goals in a typical all action roving display, full back Kelvin Moore, ruck rover Michael Tuck, and centreman Terry Wallace.
David Parkin had made a quick impact as coach and, at least in part, this may have been due to the fact that, while he shared his predecessor Kennedy's passion for fitness and hard work, in terms of personality he was very different. Whereas Kennedy was very much the disciplinarian, whose word was law, Parkin adopted a more modern, consensus based approach in which the views of players were always welcome. Initially at least, this proved effective, but over the longer term it is at least arguable that the players, or some of them at any rate, abused their newfound freedom, becoming less fit and focused as a consequence. Perhaps Parkin’s ideas were ahead of their time.
By contrast, North Melbourne under veteran coach Ron Barassi relied on an approach which, whilst scarcely old fashioned, nevertheless emphasised the role of the coach as authoritative, even authoritarian, leader rather than mentor. That such a coaching style could still prove effective was undeniable. North won 16 out of 22 home and away matches to qualify for the finals in first place. Hawthorn, however, proved to have their measure - just - winning the second semi final by 14 points and the grand final by 3 goals. In between the Kangas were comparatively untroubled by Collingwood in the preliminary final with their ultimate winning margin of 12 points not fully reflecting their superiority.
Flamboyantly talented North utility Malcolm Blight was the winner of the 1978 Brownlow Medal. Originally from Woodville with whom he had won the 1972 Magarey Medal Blight went on to spend a decade with North Melbourne where he became arguably the most celebrated South Australian to transfer to the VFL up to that point. His record while in Melbourne is worth summarising:
The bare facts reveal nothing of the artistry, power and genius of Blight's play, however. Thankfully, his career coincided with the onset of the video age, and so a fair number of his more memorable feats have been recorded for posterity.
If Malcolm Blight the player was among the greatest to have adorned the game, Malcolm Blight the coach was no slouch either. After proving himself the most successful coach in Woodville's brief and predominantly ignominious history, he steered a hitherto under-achieving Geelong side to three grand finals, before returning home to South Australia and masterminding the first two premierships in the history of the Adelaide Crows. A brief stint at St Kilda was less successful, but his achievements with the Crows would doubtless have been sufficient to earn him the keys to the city of Adelaide for life.
As for the Magpies, they at least had the satisfaction of recording a finals win over arch rivals Carlton. In front of 91,933 spectators at the MCG they led throughout en route to a 15.18 (108) to 13.15 (93) first semi final triumph. They were no match for Hawthorn and North, however, losing the qualifying final to the former by 56 points - the biggest winning margin of the finals series - and, as mentioned above, the preliminary final to the latter by a couple of goals.
Carlton’s run-in to the finals had featured excellent wins against Hawthorn, Collingwood and North but they failed to reproduce such form in the finals, although they did manage a comfortable enough victory over Geelong in the elimination final. The Cats, however, were only really in the finals to make up the numbers, a feat they achieved by a whisker thanks to a round twenty-two defeat of Fitzroy. The unlucky team to miss out on finals participation was St Kilda who finished half a win behind Geelong. Having won away against both Hawthorn and North Melbourne during the minor round the Saints might arguably have made a better fist of finals involvement than the hapless Cats.
Although seventh placed Richmond were only pale shadows of the team which had won successive flags in 1973 and ’74 they remained quite hard to beat on the wide open spaces of the MCG which was suited to their long kicking, hard running style. Only Hawthorn registered more "points for" during the minor round than the Tigers, but their defence was the third worst in the league. Richmond boasted some excellent young players such as Jim Jess, Geoff Raines and 1978 debutant Dale Weightman and many Tiger fans were confident about the future. They would not be disappointed.
After eighteen home and away rounds South Melbourne, who were 9-9, were just a couple of points behind fifth placed Richmond. However, they failed to win another game to finish a highly disappointing eighth.
Ninth placed Fitzroy and tenth placed Essendon were separated only on percentage with both teams managing just 8 wins. The Lions’ most noteworthy home and away victory probably came in round eighteen when they won a high scoring thriller against eventual premiers Hawthorn by a point. They also won the VFL night premiership with a 13.18 (96) to 2.8 (20) grand final trouncing of North Melbourne. The Bombers meanwhile managed to win both of their minor round clashes with Carlton.
It was a dismal season for Footscray who dropped from seventh place in 1977 to eleventh spot this year. Despite their consistently poor performances, however, the Bulldogs managed to provide the VFL leading goal kicker in the shape of Kelvin Templeton, who booted 118 goals. When he joined Footscray from Traralgon in 1974 Templeton was already a league footballer in all but name. Possessing in substantial measure all the traditional skills of the top class key position forward - quick and combative at ground level, strong overhead, and a resplendent kick of the football over any distance up to 60 metres - Templeton was idolised by Bulldog fans throughout his nine season, 143 game career with the club. Those 143 games elicited 494 goals, including tallies of 118 in 1978 and 91 the following year to twice top the VFL's goal kicking ladder. Templeton also topped Footscray's goal kicking list in 1976-7 and 1980. His greatest 'day out' came when Footscray kicked its record VFL score of 33.15 (213) against St Kilda in 1979, with Templeton contributing 15.9.
Kelvin Templeton's best season in football was undoubtedly 1980 when he not only won his second Footscray best and fairest award but the Brownlow Medal as well, the latter achievement being comparatively rare for a key forward. A regular 'Big V' representative, Templeton played in both the 1979 and 1980 state of origin championship series.
After captaining Footscray for the first time in 1982 Templeton was lured to Melbourne the following year in what was reputedly a big money transaction. Persistent niggling injuries undermined his effectiveness while with the Dees, but he still managed 99 goals in 34 games over two seasons, including 51 in 1984 to top Melbourne's list.
After retiring as a player, Templeton worked for Sydney for a time as a skills coach.
Templeton was named at centre half forward in the Bulldogs’ official Team of the Twentieth Century.
Melbourne meanwhile fared even worse than the Bulldogs, winning the same number of games - 5 - as the previous season but finishing last compared to eleventh in 1977.
WANFL: Royals Overcome Flag Favourites
In 1977 East Perth had just scraped into the four before being comfortably accounted for by West Perth in the first semi final. Shortly afterwards, in somewhat controversial circumstances, Graham “Polly” Farmer was displaced as coach and the position handed to Barry Cable, whose name was synonymous to Royals supporters with arch rivals Perth, for whom he had played 225 senior grade games.
In 1978 Cable was nearing the end of an illustrious playing career which, in addition to his time with Perth, had involved 116 VFL games for North Melbourne as well as the 1966 Tassie Medal, three Sandovers and no fewer than eight club fairest and best awards; Cable, who had been an ardent Royals supporter as a boy, now had a burning ambition to coach a premiership team, but two thirds of the way through the season it appeared he would have to wait at least a little while longer to realise that ambition as the Royals languished in sixth spot with only 6 wins from 14 games. Victory in each of the final 7 home and away matches of the season was essential if the club was to have any realistic hope of contesting the finals - and, sensationally, this is just what was achieved, with the side actually gaining the double chance on percentage after a 9 point triumph over West Perth in the last round.
East Perth suffered their first defeat since round fourteen in the second semi final when reigning premiers Perth confirmed their flag favouritism to the tune of 29 points. This was followed, however, by a 112 point annihilation of South Fremantle in the preliminary final a week later, and there was not surprisingly a mood of considerable optimism in the Royals camp prior to the grand final re-match with the Demons.
The 1978 grand final was the fifth since 1966 to feature East Perth and Perth, and ominously all four previous clashes had gone the way of the Demons. This time, however, the Royals showed great resolve in atrociously wet conditions to run out winners by 2 points, 11.15 (81) to 12.7 (79). Ruck rover Ian Miller won the Simpson Medal for best afield, while East Perth were also well served by wingman Kelly, ruckman Duke, centre half back Bryant, and centreman Kickett. Barry Cable had thus achieved his ambition at the first time of asking, but it would be a long time before Royals fans could again rejoice after a grand final.
Perth were also about to embark on an even longer period in the football wilderness with the Demons failing to contest a single grand final between 1979 and 2018. Not that there were any signs of the club’s impending decline in 1978. Perth finished the minor round at the head of the ladder with 15 wins out of 21 games before, as mentioned above, comfortably overcoming East Perth in the second semi final. For the grand final re-match a fortnight later the Demons were without star full forward Murray Couper who had been twice reported during the second semi, found guilty of one of the charges, and suspended. In the event Couper’s absence did not significantly damage Perth because his replacement at the goalfront, Peter Bosustow, kicked 7 of the Demons’ 12 goals to be his side’s best player.
In a photo finish to the 1978 minor round South Fremantle leapfrogged Claremont to claim fourth place on the ladder despite losing their last game to bootom team Swan Districts. The Tigers also lost their final game, and both they and the Bulldogs finished level on wins with South claiming the last finals berth thanks to a 0.1 percentage superiority. The Bulldogs recaptured their best form in the first semi final when they accounted for West Perth by 13 points, a margin which scarcely did them justice as they had been comfortably in control all day. The wheels came off quite spectacularly in the preliminary final, however, with East Perth annihilating South by 112 points. Up until late in the second quarter the match had been evenly contested but then the Bulldogs inexplicably capitulated.
For the second season in succession South Fremantle’s Ray Bauskis was the league’s top goal kicker. He scored 82 goals.
Had West Perth defeated East Perth in the last minor round game of the season then they, not the Royals, would have qualified for the finals in second place. East Perth in fact would have missed the finals altogether as their percentage was inferior to that of both South Fremantle and Claremont. An immense crowd of 24,567 attended the match, played at Leederville Oval, with East Perth edging home by 9 points, 11.19 (85) to 11.10 (76).
As noted above, Claremont only narrowly failed to reach the major round. The Tigers were an accomplished side, capable on their day of beating any other team in the competition, but they lacked consistency, and never managed to put together a prolonged sequence of victories.
Beaten 1977 grand finalists East Fremantle suffered a disappointing slump, winning just 10 out of 21 fixtures to finish sixth. Their 10 wins came in the opening seventeen rounds but then the wheels fell off in pretty conclusive fashion and they nosedived out of the four.
For the most part Subiaco (5 wins) and Swan Districts (4) were little better than chopping blocks for the league’s other teams. Subiaco did manage to defeat high flying West Perth a couple of times but other than that their performances and results were wholly predictable and unremarkable. Swans' best result, as mentioned earlier, came in round twenty-one when they accounted for South Fremantle by 19 points.
Phil Kelly commenced his league career with East Perth in 1975. After a slow start, he came good in 1978 under the coaching of Barry Cable. Kelly later admitted that Cable had inspired him to much greater levels of commitment and motivation, and this paid off handsomely in the form of Sandover Medal wins in both 1978 and 1979, together with the club's 1979 fairest and best award. Playing on a wing, Kelly was one of the Royals' best in their 1978 grand final win over Perth. He could also do a job on the ball, and knew how to kick goals, amassing a total of 73 in his 109 senior appearances for East Perth. In 1981 he crossed to North Melbourne where, after a fine start, his form fell away owing to a persistent hamstring complaint. He played 61 VFL games and booted 41 goals for the 'Roos in five seasons. He also represented Western Australia 6 times. In June 2006, Phil Kelly gained selection as a wingman in East Perth's official 'Team of the Century 1945 to 2005'.
SANFL: Redlegs Back From the Brink
After seeing his side finish fourth in 1976 and fifth in 1977 Norwood coach Bob Hammond was determined that, in 1978 - the club's centenary year - the players' assault on football's “holy grail” should be absolute, exhaustless and unswerving.
It was. Indeed, a Hollywood script writer could not have concocted a more heroic scenario than that which unravelled over the concluding weeks of the 1978 SANFL season. Having sustained just 1 loss for the year, and having won most of its games by substantial margins, Sturt was almost unbackable for the flag. Norwood, which had lost 7 times, figured in few pundits' post-season calculations, and when it succumbed 'inevitably' to Sturt in the second semi final (having earlier played well in the qualifying final to overcome Glenelg) no-one other than the most ardent, one-eyed Redleg barracker would have given more than a few cents for the team's chances of taking out the '78 premiership.
Just as three years earlier Norwood faced arch rivals Port Adelaide in the preliminary final, and despite falling behind early on it ultimately emerged victorious by 34 points. Bob Loveday, skipper of the West Adelaide team which had inflicted the Double Blues' only defeat of the season, felt he had seen enough in the Redlegs' display to prompt him to “go against the tide” in tipping the destiny of the flag:
".....I think Norwood's win over Port last week will be a real confidence booster for them. It was such an efficient win. They were about five goals down at one stage but they didn't panic. They methodically put their game together and the players have obviously got a lot of confidence in each other. Man for man, Norwood can match Sturt. The only deficiency in Norwood's team as I see it is a spearhead. But they've got more overall experience ..... enough experience to win the grand final." 
The 1978 SANFL grand final, played in front of 50,867 spectators, was one of the most dramatic, emotional and exciting games in Australian football history. With the aid of a strong breeze Sturt comprehensively dominated affairs in the opening term but poor kicking for goal meant that they led by 'only' 28 points at the first change, 5.9 to 1.5. The Redlegs rallied somewhat in the second quarter, adding 4.5 to 3.6, but the Double Blues still looked to be in charge, and although they continued to kick poorly in the third term (adding 4.6 to 4 straight goals) there was nothing in the general pattern of play to suggest that Norwood, trailing as they did by 29 points at lemon time, and having managed just 19 scoring shots compared with 33, could turn things 'round in the final term.
In the opening five minutes of the last quarter, however, Norwood exploded into life. Goals by Craig, Gallagher and Adamson gave notice that the game was far from over, and when Greg Turbil chipped in with 2 more to bring the Redlegs within a single straight kick of their opponents' score Football Park was at fever pitch. Minutes later John Wynne, who earlier in the match had careered into the Sturt coaching box and attempted to intimidate opposition coach Jack Oatey, booted the goal which put the Redlegs in front. From here on a game which hitherto had flowed freely suddenly became tense and tight, with scoring at a premium. Tony Burgan's goal after twenty-four minutes finally broke the deadlock, propelling Sturt back into the lead, but five minutes later Phil Gallagher kicked what proved to be the final goal of the game after being somewhat fortuitously awarded a mark by umpire Des Foster. The game dragged on for another four minutes during which the Double Blues threw everything they had at the Norwood defence, but with backline players like Danny Jenkins and Michael Taylor performing heroically, there was no addition to the score. Impossibly, seemingly against all the odds, Norwood had won by the narrowest of margins, 16.15 (111) to 14.26 (110). Best for the Redlegs was young skipper Michael Taylor, with other fine performances coming from Neil Craig, Brian Adamson, Mick Nunan (ironically, a former Sturt champion), Neil Button and Glen Rosser. For coach Bob Hammond and the 5,000 or so supporters who gathered at Norwood Oval on the evening of the match the celebratory champagne probably never tasted better.
Sturt’s defeat in the 1978 grand final, and more particularly the manner of it, arguably scarred the club for decades. At any rate, the Double Blues, who had been at the forefront of the South Australian game since the mid-1960s, would not again achieve premiership success in the twentieth century. Sturt appeared virtually invincible for much of the 1978 season with their only minor round defeat coming in round six at the hands of West Adelaide. The Blues then moved straight into the grand final with a deceptively routine 22 point win over Norwood in the second semi final. Then came that dramatic and heart-rending last gasp capitulation at the hands of the Redlegs a fortnight later.
Reigning premiers Port Adelaide qualified for the finals in fourth place with a 14-8 record, the same as third placed Glenelg who bloasted a 0.03 superior percentage. In the elimination final, before a bumper crowd of 35,320, they annihilated sentimental favourites West Torrens to the tune of 78 points, 22.15 (147) to 9.15 (69). This was followed a week later by a come from behind 2 goal win over Glenelg in the first semi final. In the preliminary final against Norwood, however, the Magpies failed to capitalise on an excellent opening quarter performance which saw them boot 6 goals to the Redlegs’ 2 and in the end they went down by 34 points. It would prove to be but a brief blip in an era of concerted dominance for Port, however. A minor highlight of the season for the Magpies was full forward Tim Evans’ feat in topping the SANFL goal kicking list for the second time in a row. He kicked 90 goals.
Third after the minor round, Glenelg disappointed in the finals, losing the qualifying final to Norwood by 54 points and the following week’s first semi final to Port by a couple of goals.
Tigers rover Kym Hodgeman was a worthy winner of the 1978 Magarey Medal. One of Glenelg's greatest ever products, Hodgeman gave some indication of his promise in 1974 when he won the reserves Magarey Medal, despite spending half the season in the senior team. From 1975 he was a regular in the Bays' league side, and rapidly established a reputation as a courageous and skilful goal kicking rover of the highest order. A club best and fairest winner in 1977 and 1978, Hodgeman also topped the club's goal kicking list with 51 goals in 1978, and 32 the following year. The highlight of his first stint with Glenelg came with his popular Magarey Medal win in 1978; in the first season of the short-lived two umpire voting system, Hodgeman finished with 50 votes, one more than Port Adelaide champion Russell Ebert. A regular South Australian interstate representative, he achieved All Australian selection after the Perth state of origin carnival of 1979.
In 1981, after 160 games for the Tigers, Kym Hodgeman crossed to North Melbourne, where he continued to excel, playing 91 VFL games and kicking 133 goals in five seasons, besides winning the club's 1984 best and fairest award.
Returning to the Bay in 1986, Hodgeman played in a long overdue premiership victory in 1986, and continued playing for another four years. When he finally retired he had amassed 244 SANFL games for the Tigers, and booted 411 goals. He won a third club best and fairest award in 1989. Appointed senior coach at Glenelg in 1991, he steered the side to a losing grand final the following year, after which he stood down in favour of Tony Symonds.
West Torrens produced some good football during the minor round to qualify for the finals for the first time since 1974 and only the third occasion in a decade. Their victims in the minor round included Norwood in round two by 30 points and round ten by 31 points, Glenelg in round twelve by 35 points, and Port Adelaide in round fifteen by 39 points. However, once the battle for the premiership began in earnest on elimination final day their form deserted them and they succumbed quite meekly to Port by an embarrassing 13 goal margin.
With 9 wins from 22 games Woodville finished 1 win behind fifth placed West Torrens. The ‘Peckers combined some good wins, notably against Port Adelaide at Alberton in round eight and Glenelg at home in round sixteen, with a number of sizeable losses of the sort to which the club’s supporters had become accustomed, and perhaps inured, during the preceding decade and a half.
South Adelaide won 8 games and drew with West Adelaide to finish seventh. With the exception of a round twenty triumph against Glenelg the Panthers proved incapable of toppling any of the league’s top sides but they were consistently successful against the sides ranked lower than them on the premiership ladder. They did have some cause for celebration in 1978 as they scored a noteworthy triumph in the NFL series, sponsored this year by Escort, and featuring clubs from South Australia, Western Australia and the VFA, together with representative teams from Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT. In the final South Adelaide defeated Glenelg by 37 points, 9.9 (63) to 3.8 (26).
Central District managed just 8 wins, but this was nevertheless a distinct improvement over a 1977 season which had yielded three fewer victories and a wooden spoon. The Bulldogs were still one of the competition’s easy-beats, however, and it was hard to see how this situation might change in the immediate future.
West Adelaide (5 wins and a draw) and North Adelaide (5 wins) were significantly inferior in 1978 to the other clubs in the league. West’s highpoint came with the aforementioned win over minor premiers Sturt, while North’s form was almost universally poor. It was the Roosters’ first wooden spoon since 1912, and only the third in their history. The triumphant days of the early part of the decade seemed like a distant memory.
VFA: Two Blues Triumph
Prahran's 1978 flag came after prolonged sequence of “outs” and was popularly received. The Two Blues were underdogs going into the grand final against Preston but played more resolute football throughout to win a spectacular, high standard game by 22 points, 21.15 (141) to 17.17 (119). Future and former VFL stars Wayne Johnston and Sam Kekovich played well across half forward for the victors as did full forward Kim Smith (7.4) and ruckman Lou Pepe. The match, played at the Junction Oval, was attended by a sizeable crowd of 30,569, but this would be the last occasion that the VFA proved capable of attracting spectators in such numbers. In 1979 the VFL began its policy of playing Sunday fixtures in Sydney. These games were shown 'live' on television back in Melbourne, thereby effectively eroding the VFA's monopoly on Sunday football. From being a respectable complementary draw-card to the VFL the VFA was forced into direct opposition almost overnight, and there was never any doubt about which of the two bodies would emerge victorious.
The Year of “Peerless Pete”
The 1978 TANFL season was dominated by one man: Glenorchy full forward Peter Hudson. A year after making a successful return to VFL football with Hawthorn, Hudson rejoined Glenorchy and broke virtually every goal kicking record going. During league roster matches he booted 142 goals with his total for all matches an Australian record 191. For good measure, he also won the Leitch Medal as the league’s best and fairest player. Hudson’s spectacular form was perhaps one reason that TANFL attendances increased from 139,393 in 1977 to 188,204 this year.
Despite Hudson’s presence in the side Glenorchy did not manage to take out the 1978 flag. That honour went to Sandy Bay, who overcame the setback of a second semi final loss to the Magpies to win when it mattered in the grand final by 11 points. It was the Seagulls’ third successive premiership victory.
The state preliminary final saw Sandy Bay overcome NTFA premiers North Launceston but NWFU premiers Cooee proved much too good in the grand final, winning 19.25 (139) to 16.17 (113). This would prove to be the last time the Tasmanian state premiership was contested as thoughts began to move towards the establishment of some type of statewide competition.
Interstate Match Round-up
After a successful first venture into state of origin football in 1977 Victoria and Western Australia played one another in this format both home and away with the Vics triumphant on both occasions. Their winning margins were 100 points in Melbourne and 14 points in Perth.
A Western Australian team also travelled to Adelaide where they thrashed South Australia by 69 points. This was not a state of origin encounter.
A VFL representative team visited Hobart and trounced Tasmania 25.11 (161) to 18.6 (114). Another such team travelled to Canberra and comfortably overcame the ACT 21.21 (147) to 12.11 (83). Also in Canberra, the ACT upset Tasmania in a thriller by 4 points. Scores were ACT 17.7 109) defeated Tasmania 16.9 (105).
Queensland played home matches in Brisbane against the VFA and Tasmania and clearly demonstrated just how fast the game in the sunshine state was improving. Against the VFA, Queensland won by 30 points, 18.14 (122) to 12.20 (92), while they downed the Tasmanians 16.9 (105) to 12.11 (83), a victory margin of 22 points.
New South Wales had just one outing in 1978, losing a high scoring match to the ACT at Narrandera. Final scores were ACT 26.17 (173) to New South Wales 17.12 (114).
On the club front the NFL again conducted a nationwide competition which was contested by five SANFL clubs, four clubs from Western Australia, three from the VFA, and representative teams from the ACT, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. As previously indicated South Adelaide overcame Glenelg by 37 points in the grand final.
Premiership Teams in Other States and Territories
Beaten in both the 1976 and 1977 NSWAFL grand finals North Shore broke through for their first premiership since 1961 when they overcame Western Suburbs by 29 points in the 1978 play-off. The other finalists were St George and East Sydney.
In Queensland, Western Districts won their second consecutive flag thanks to a 4 point win over a wayward Windsor-Zillmere. Scores were Western Districts 17.11 (113) to Windsor-Zillmere 14.25 (109).
Eastlake were crowned ACTAFL premiers after downing Ainslie by 24 points in the grand final. It would turn out to be the eighteenth and last of the Demons’ senior grade premierships.
In Darwin, St Mary's won the NTFL premiership with a comfortable 23 point defeat of North Darwin in the grand final.
Grand final results - VFL: Hawthorn 18.13 (121) d. North Melbourne 15.13 (103); SANFL: Norwood 16.15 (111) d. Sturt 14.26 (110) [See GREAT GAMES section]; WANFL: East Perth 11.15 (81); Perth 12.7 (79)]; VFA: Division One - Prahran 21.15 (141) d. Preston 17.17 (119); Division Two - Frankston 15.13 (103) d. Camberwell 13.11 (89); TANFL: Sandy Bay 11.14 (80) d. Glenorchy 9.15 (69); NTFA: North Launceston 14.12 (96) d. Launceston 11.17 (83); NSWAFL: North Shore 17.17 (119) d. Western Suburbs 14.12 (96); NTFL: St Marys 15.17 (107) d. North Darwin 13.6 (84); QAFL: Western Districts 17.11 (113) d. Windsor-Zillmere 14.25 (109); NWFU: Cooee 20.11 (131) d. Wynyard 13.30 (108); ACTAFL: Eastlake 19.23 (137) d. Ainslie 16.17 (113); NFL: South Adelaide 9.9 (63) d. Glenelg 3.8 (26).
 Quoted in “The South Australian Football Budget”, 30/9/78.
The 1979 football season saw the first ever state of origin carnival taking place place in Perth during October. Tasmania and Queensland played one another in the first match which was to determine which team would compete in section one and which in section two. Tasmania won fairly comfortably by a margin of 32 poings, 17.20 (122) to 13.12 (90). The Queenslanders then defeated the ACT in the section two final by 31 points. New South Wales and the Northern Territory did not participate in the carnival.
Section one was contested on a straight knock-out basis with Western Australia accounting for Tasmania in one semi final and Victoria downing South Australia in the other. The play off for third place saw South Australia fend off a determined challenge from Tasmania to win in the end with deceptive comfort by 39 points. The final between the home state and Victoria was a thrilling affair with Western Australia trailing narrowly at every change before surging home with 6 last quarter goals to 3 to win by 15 points, 17.21 (123) to 16.12 (108). Western Australia’s Brian Peake was awarded the Tassie Medal as the best player in the series.
VFL: Blues Hang On
Just 3 games into the 1978 season Carlton coach Ian Stewart had stood down in mysterious circumstances, having allegedly suffered a minor heart attack. By the time a permanent replacement had been found in the shape of club skipper Alex Jesaulenko the Blues were dead set last with only 1 win from the opening 6 rounds. Miraculously, Jezza managed to get his charges into the finals where they convincingly defeated Geelong but then bowed out after a hard fought loss to Collingwood.
Jesaulenko remained at the helm in 1979 and the Blues enjoyed an outstanding year, losing only 3 times during the home and away rounds before jumping straight into the grand final with a 15.21 (111) to 11.7 (73) demolition of North Melbourne. To everyone at Princes Park's delight, Carlton's grand final opponents proved to be arch rivals Collingwood, still without a premiership since 1958. Despite a strong last quarter from the Magpies which saw them add 4 goals to Carlton's 1 the Blues held firm to win a thriller (an all too rare occurrence in VFL grand finals over the next couple of decades) by 5 points, 11.16 (82) to 11.11 (77). Half forward flanker Wayne Johnston and back pocket Wayne Harmes vied for best afield but it was Harmes who was the recipient of the newly instituted award bestowed on the best player in a VFL grand final, the Norm Smith Medal. (Incredibly, in one of those unfathomable quirks which enliven football from time to time, Norm Smith happened to be Wayne Harmes' grand uncle.) Other prominent performers for the Blues included centre half back Bruce Doull, wingman Peter Francis, ruckman Mike Fitzpatrick and rover Jim Buckley. The 113,545 crowd paid record receipts of $849,316.
By winning their last four matches of the minor round Collingwood were enabled to qualify comfortably for the finals in third place. This afforded them the double chance which they were promptly forced to utilise after kicking themselves out of contention against North Melbourne in the qualifying final. North won easily enough in the end, but their triumph owed more to straight kicking for goal than any outright superiority. Final scores were North 18.13 (121) to Collingwood 9.28 (82).
In the followeing week’s first semi final the Magpies again lacked accuracy in front of goal but so, fortunately for them, did opponents, Fitzroy. The first half was fairly evenly contested, with Fitzroy going into the main break a single straight kick to the good. However, after the interval Collingwood’s markedly superior pace told and they cruised to victory by 22 points, 16.20 (116) to 12.22 (94).
The preliminary final brought a rematch with North Melbourne and this time the Magpies hit their straps in magnificent fashion to win by 27 points, 18.14 (122) to 13.17 (95). The victory ultimately meant little, however, as in the grand final against Carlton they fell agonisingly short by 5 points.
There was some small cause for celebration at Victoria Park, however, as Collingwood won their first ever night flag. In front of a record crowd of 37,753 at Waverley the Magpies overcame Hawthorn by 28 points in the final. Scores were Collingwood 12.8 (80) dfeated Hawthorn 7.10 (52). This season saw the expansion of the VFL’s night competition to include all eight WANFL clubs plus representative teams from the ACT, Tasmania and New South Wales.
A further source of pride and celebration was ruckman Peter Moore’s Brownlow Medal win. Like his predecessor as Collingwood's premier ruckman, Len Thompson, Moore combined prodigious height (198cm) with tremendous dynamism, athleticism and all round skill - in football terms, a highly effective, not to say lethal, combination. He made his Magpies debut in 1974 and went on to play a total of 172 VFL games and boot 192 goals for the club over the course of the ensuing nine seasons, earning a Brownlow Medal in 1979, and securing the club's best and fairest award both that year and the next. He also won Collingwood's top goal kicking award on two occasions, and was selected as an All Australian player in 1979. Between 1982 and 1987 Moore added another 77 games and 51 goals for Melbourne, overcoming the injuries that had dogged him late in his Collingwood career to the extent that he procured a second Brownlow Medal in 1984. Injuries returned to undermine his last few years with the Demons, but overall he gave the club tremendous service, and his rare feat in annexing Brownlows at two separate clubs ensures that he will long be remembered as one of football's bona fide “immortals".
Prior to the start of the finals North Melbourne were being popularly tipped to win the premiership on the grounds that they boasted considerably more major round experience than any of the other finalists. In the upshot, however, many of their best and more experienced players simply failed to perform as expected, and although the ‘Roos commenced their finals campaign with a comfortable enough win over Collingwood after that their form was dismal. It may not have quite been the end of an era for North who did at least qualify for the finals the following year, for the seventh consecutive time. However, the Kangas’ days as a major force in the competition were numbered.
Fitzroy exceeded expectations by qualifying for the finals in fourth spot before annihilating Essendon in the elimination final. A 9 goal opening quarter laid the foundations of the win which ended up being by 81 points, 17.22 (124) to 5.13 (43). In the following week’s first semi final clash with Collingwood the Lions played well in three of the four quarters only to effectively lose the match in the single term when they didn’t perform. During that term - the third - the Magpies booted 7 goals to 1 tio eke out a 32 point advantage which Fitzroy never looked like fully bridging. Nevertheless, the Lions had enjoyed by far their best season of the 1970s and optimism about the future appeared justified.
Like Fitzroy, Essendon probably exceeded expectations in 1979, but after qualifying for the finals in fifth place they suffered a humiliating elimination final defeat at the hands of the Lions. The 1980s would prove to be an altogether more enjoyable decade for the Bombers.
Geelong’s commendable sixth place finish was achieved largely as a consequence of a fine home record which yielded 8 wins from 11 matches. Only Carlton (10 wins and a draw) did better on their own turf. Away from home, however, the Cats tended to lack conviction and often struggled.
Reigning premiers Hawthorn suffered a surprising slump in fortunes in 1979, winning just 10 games to finish seventh. The Hawks were still capable of beating anyone on their day, but they were equally capable of lowering their colours to ostensibly inferior opposition. Thus, while they counted North Melbourne, Geelong at Kardinia Park and Essendon among their victims, they also contrived to provide wooden spooners St Kilda with one of only three wins for the season. Furthermore, thrashings at the hands of Carlton, Collingwood and North were as uncharacteristic as they were painful.
Richmond were another side capable of blowing hot and cold. The Tigers were certainly capable of amassing prodigious scores - 22.26 over Footscray, 25.16 against South Melbourne, 22.20 versus Fitzroy, and 28.22 against St Kilda, for instance - but defensively they were suspect. The 1980 season would see them continue to score heavily whilst shoring up their backlines considerably, conceding over 500 fewer points for the year. It would be enough to propel them to a flag.
Ninth placed Footscray’s best performance of the season was probably their round thirteen victory over North Melbourne at Arden Street. Ten points adrift at the final change the Bulldogs blitzed the ‘Roos in the last quarter adding 5 goals to 2 to clinch victory by 12 points. As the final scores - 12.9 (81) to 8.21 (69) - make clear Footscray’s success owed much to their straight kicking for goal, something which wholly deserted them a couple of weeks later when they went down to one of the most crushing defeats of the year against Collingwood. After kicking 7 opening term goals to 1 the Magpies did more or less as they pleased in romping home to victory by 122 points, 23.17 (155) to 3.15 (31). Such unpredictability typified Footscray’s season.
For the second season in succession Footscray’s Kelvin Templeton was the VFL’s top goal kicker, registering 91 goals. His career is summarised in the entry for 1978.
South Melbourne and Melbourne managed just half a dozen wins apiece to finish, respectively, tenth and eleventh. South’s superior percentage owed much to their slashing round eighteen defeat of Footscray when they amassed one of the season’s highest scores, 31.9 (195), compared to the Bulldogs’ 15.16 (106).
Melbourne’s most noteworthy win probably came in round eighteen when they accounted for Essendon by 29 points. Conversely, just one week prior to that they succumbed to the season’s heaviest defeat in going down to Fitzroy by 190 points.
For the second time in three seasons St Kilda finished last. Their 3 wins were achieved at the expense of Hawthorn by 25 points in round one, by 2 goals against Richmond in round seven, and versus South Melbourne in round seventeen by 20 points.
WANFL: Old Easts Back in the Pink
Under new skipper Brian Peake, now sporting trademark seventies facial hair, Old East fielded an all-Western Australian combination in 1979 in what was a noteworthy season all round for Western Australian football. Peake himself enjoyed another memorable year, winning his fourth consecutive Lynn Medal as East Fremantle's best and fairest player, and rounding off the season by winning the Tassie Medal at the Australian championships, the first - and only - Old Easts player to do so.
East Fremantle's 1979 premiership victory was by no means the consummation of a season's dominance. As a matter of fact, the side looked distinctly mediocre at times during the home and away rounds, losing on one occasion to Claremont by 86 points, and on another even less auspicious occasion to East Perth by 103 points. This latter defeat was the first ever time that East Fremantle had lost a game by more than 100 points. Once the finals arrived, however, it was a different story. Old Easts achieved revenge against both their minor round conquistadors in quick succession, overcoming the Royals in the first semi final by 2 points in a high scoring thriller, and then, responding vibrantly to the incentive of a potential “derby” grand final, emphatically downing Claremont by 27 points in the preliminary final.
The blue half of Fremantle had enjoyed marginal supremacy over the red half during 1979 (2 wins to 1) and grand final day saw their dominance extended. In a high standard, see-sawing tussle Old Easts ultimately displayed superior fitness and desperation to see off their opponents with an 8 goals to 2 final term after trailing by 4 points at 'lemon time'. Forward pocket/rover Kevin Taylor booted 7 goals to earn the Simpson Medal and take his season's goals tally to a competition best 102, while not far behind him were Tony Buhagiar, the irrepressible Brian Peake, and Doug and Stephen Green. If it was not exactly the club's finest hour, it was certainly one of the most highly satisfying.
After finishing the home and away rounds in second place South Fremantle were justifiably confident heading into the finals. That confidence was then bolstered by a 17.21 (123) to 14.19 (103) second semi final defeat of minor premiers Claremont. As noted above, however, perennial arch rivals East Fremantle proved to have South’s measure when it mattered most, on grand final day. The red and whites would have to keep the champagne on ice for the time, but premiership glory would not be long in arriving.
Claremont’s third place finished showed that they were a team with a bright future. The Tigers actually finished the minor round in pole position but fell short in both of their finals, against South Fremantle by 20 points, and Old Easts by 27 points. Only fifth placed Swan Districts accumulated more 'points for' in the home and away series than Claremont, and the Tigers achieved many noteworthy wins. Among the best were a 24.19 (163) to 10.17 (77) thumping of eventual premiers East Fremantle in round sixteen and a 35.8 (218) to 14.15 (99) annihilation of Perth in round twenty-one.
Reigning premiers East Perth only qualified for the finals in fourth place but the fact that they had the best percentage in the competition was felt to be grounds for optimism. In the first semi final against East Fremantle they fell short by just 2 points, and every Royals supporter among the crowd of 30,236 at Subiaco Oval that day will always maintain that they were hard done by. Nevertheless, in sudden death semi finals the margin of defeat matters little as every loss has the same consequence: elimination. For East Perth, the coming decade would prove to be considerably less rewarding than the one which had just ended.
For the second season in a row East Perth’s Phil Kelly won the Sandover Medal. He is profiled in the review of the 1978 season.
Fifth placed Swan Districts finished the minor round with an 11-10 record which was two wins less than the fourth placed Royals. Had they boasted the same quality in defence as they did across the centre, in the ruck, and up forward they would in all probability not only have made the finals but given the flag a real shake. Perhaps Swans’ most memorable performance came in round nineteen at Bassendean Oval when, in front of a sparse crowd of just 6,990, they became the first - and so far only - WANFL club to rack up 40 goals in a match. They eventually tallied 40.11 (251) compared to opponents Subiaco’s 20.7 (127) - a score which would normally have been enought to secure victory, not succumb to defeat by 124 points.
Perth managed just 8 wins in 1979 to end up sixth, their worst finish since 1975. Although still capable, on their day, of seriously challenging the top sides - as, for example in their rounds six and eight defeats of East Fremantle and South Fremantle respectively - they were alarmingly inconsistent, both between and during matches. With three rounds still to play they still had a mathematical chance of qualifying for the finals but all form and confidence deserted them and they lost all three games.
The league’s bottom two, West Perth (4-17) and Subiaco (3-18), were the only two teams not to register 2,000 points for the season. West Perth’s only wins were at the expense of Subiaco in rounds one and fifteen, East Fremantle in round twelve, and Swans in round thirteen. Subi meanwhile defeated Claremont in round six, West Perth in round eight, and East Perth in round seventeen.
SANFL: Bunton’s Boys Bow to Port Pressure
Appointed to the South Adelaide coaching hotseat in 1975 Haydn Bunton had slowly but surely improved the beleaguered club’s fortunes. The Panthers’ fast, fluent style of play enabled them to contest the finals for the first time in eleven years in 1977 and their elimination final triumph over Norwood was their first major round success since 1966. They ultimately finished fourth before suffering a surprising slump in fortunes in 1978, when they missed the finals altogether. This proved to be just a temporary blip, however, as in 1979 they enjoyed their best season since winning the 1964 premiership.
Port Adelaide did not always have things their own way during the minor round but came good when it mattered. The Magpies qualified for the finals in second place with 14 wins from 22 games before producing arguably their best performance of the season in seeing off the challenge of South Adelaide in the qualifying final. In front of 28,310 spectators Port had opened up a 70 point advantage by three quarter time before easing up in the last term to secure victory in the end by 38 points, 21.10 (137) to 15.9 (99). Minor premiers Central District in the following week’s second semi final afforded a somewhat sterner challenge but, after trailing at half time by 14 points the Magpies pulled away, adding 10 second half goals to 4 to win by 26 points, 17.12 (114) to 13.10 (88).
This victory put Port Adelaide straight into the grand final where they would be opposed by South, the Panthers having performed well in downing Centrals by 13 points in a high scoring preliminary final. In point of fact, all of the 1979 finals prior to the grand final were relatively high scoring and crowd pleasing affairs. This all changed on Sunday 30th September, however.
With rain cascading across Football Park South Adelaide began the 1979 grand final brightly but Port’s defence held firm. Play was haphazard and scrappy, with players of both sides fumbling and frequently resorting to soccer kicks to keep the ball moving. Nine minutes in Port full forward Tim Evans soccered the first of an eventual 4 goals for the match heralding what would develop into a dominant quarter for the Magpies. At quarter time they had registered 5 goals without a miss whilst keeping the Panthers scoreless. South made a semblance of a comeback in the second term when they dominated open play but kicked erratically. At the main break the Magpies led 5.3 (33) to 3.7 (25) and when they added 4 third quarter goals to nil the flag was effectively theirs. South in fact did not manage to score another goal and Port ultimately won with relative ease, 9.9 (63) to 3.14 (32), a margin of 31 points.
In the NFL series, played this season for the last time, South had achieved success for the second time in a row. However, the competition, now contested by just the ten SANFL clubs plus two each from Queensland and the VFA, had lost much of what little lustre it ever enjoyed. Nevertheless, a premiership is a premiership, and for the record the Panthers won with defeats of Western Districts by 63 points, Sturt by 13 points, West Torrens by 17 points, and Norwood in the final by 11 points. The final took place at Norwood Oval and was watched by a comparatively respectable crowd of 12,516.
For the first time in their existence Central District, who had entered the SANFL in 1964, finished as minor premiers. The Bulldogs won 15 and drew 1 of their 22 home and away matches but once the finals started their form deserted them and they bowed out of premiership contention in "straight sets" at the hands of Port and South. John Duckworth’s Magarey Medal triumph represented consolation of a sort but a premiership was still a long way off for the club from Elizabeth. (Duckworth is pictured with his Medal at the head of this section.)
While engaged in National Service training in Melbourne, West Australian John Duckworth turned up at Fitzroy Football Club asking for a game. He had already had a couple of trials with East Perth and failed to impress, but the Lions brains trust liked what they saw, and signed him up. Volatile, dynamic and robust, he also possessed plenty of flair, and would probably have enjoyed a highly auspicious VFL career had his National Service commitments not repeatedly interfered. As it was, Duckworth performed serviceably in 58 VFL games in 1970 and between 1974 and 1976, kicking 24 goals. Some of the intervening time was spent fighting in Vietnam.
In 1977 Duckworth - who gloried in the nickname 'Whatsa' - returned home to Western Australia and joined West Perth, the team he had supported as a boy. He enjoyed a fine year, representing the state, and running fifth in the Sandover Medal voting. After just two years and 44 WANFL games, however, he decided he wanted to leave, and Central District won the race to procure his signature.
John Duckworth spent just two seasons at Elizabeth but created a significant impression. His coach at Centrals, Darryl Hicks, said of him, "I doubt if a bigger, truer or more real personality has ever played the game in South Australia”. In 1979, Duckworth represented South Australia, headed his club's goal kicking list with 41 goals, and topped things off by becoming a surprise, but highly popular, winner of the Magarey Medal. The following year, however, he suffered a ruptured kidney during the opening round clash with Port Adelaide, and although he returned to the fray later in the year, he was never able to produce his best form. At season's end, now aged thirty-one, he decided it was time to return home and finish his career with West Perth. He continued playing league football for the Cardinals for three more years, took a year off, and then made a one season comeback at the behest of club coach John Wynne, who needed an experienced hand to help steady his predominantly young team. All told, John Duckworth played a total of 120 senior games for West Perth to add to the 42 he had played with Central District. He also represented both Western Australia and South Australia 3 times.
Although his time in South Australia was brief, he probably made the biggest impact there, and few people would have been surprised with his inclusion, at centre half back, in Centrals' official 'Best Ever Team 1964 to 2003'.
Reigning premiers Norwood endured a mediocre season by the standards of recent times. During the minor round the Redlegs won just 11 games, but in what was an exceptionally evenly contested year this was good enough for fourth place heading into the finals. Once there, they proved much too accomplished for Woodville in the elimination final, winning by eleven goals. In the following week’s first semi final, however, the boot was firmly on the other foot as South Adelaide downed them convincingly. Final scores were South 13.28 (106) to Norwood 13.7 (85).
Woodville, who had entered the competition at the same time as Centrals, like the Bulldogs achieved a significant breakthrough in 1979. In the ‘Peckers’ case it was a first ever finals appearance. A total of 10 wins from 22 fixtures was good enough to book an elimination final clash with Norwood but, as noted above, there was to be no fairytale conclusion as the Redlegs scored an emphatic win.
Sixth placed North Adelaide failed to qualify for the finals only on percentage. At their best the Roosters could match it with the top sides as they proved by defeating Port Adelaide, Norwood twice, and Woodville during the minor round. However, they were equally capable of losing against teams ranked below them on the ladder.
Glenelg and West Torrens both won 9 and drew 1 of their home and away matches to finish, respectively, seventh and eighth. The Bays’ best performances arguably came in round five, when they downed Centrals, and round fifteen, when they overcame South Adelaide in one of the best matches of the year. Glenelg ultimately won 25.11 (161) to 20.15 (135). The pick of the Eagles’ displays occurred in round twelve when they scored a 9 point win over Central District. Torrens also achieved an opening round draw against the Bulldogs.
Sturt (9-13) and West Adelaide (7-14-1) occupied the bottom two rungs on the premiership ladder. As far as the Double Blues were concerned this represented a significant fall from grace as they had come within a couple of points of claiming the 1978 premiership. As far as Westies were concerned the 1979 season represented an improvement in terms of matches won over 1978 when they had finished second from last with 5 wins and a draw.
VFA: Lions Find Their Roar at Last
After more than half a century in the football wilderness Coburg scored a highly charged come from behind victory over Geelong West in the 1979 first division grand final to clinch their fourth top level VFA flag. (The Lions had also won second division premierships in 1970 and 1974, but while these had afforded a measure of satisfaction at the time it was satisfaction derived from securing a return to the top level rather than of proving themselves the best team in the competition.) During the first half of the grand final Geelong West were the better team, and at the main break they led 8.9 (57) to 5.8 (38). During the third term there were a number of heated physical exchanges which seemed to have the effect of inspiring the Lions whilst simultaneously causing the Roosters to lose their way. At the final change it was Coburg by 14 points and although Geelong West had marginally the better of a frenetic last term the Lions managed to hang on and win by 8 points, 16.15 (111) to 14.19 (103).
The second division grand final between Camberwell and Oakleigh was a much more one-sided affair. By three quarter time the Cobras led by 57 points and although they eased off a little during the final term the result was never in doubt. Final scores were Camberwell 18.14 (122) defeated Oakleigh 12.11 (83).
A crowd of 17,947 attended the first division grand final which took place at the Junction Oval. Meanwhile, at Toorak Park, a total of 12,023 spectators watched the second division premiership decider.
Other Grand Finals
In the TANFL Clarence achieved a thrilling 3 point grand final win over Glenorchy. The ‘Roos’ win gave them only their second senior grade flag. The NTFA grand finbal was even more closely contested, with North Launceston overcoming a wayward Scottsdale by just a couple of points. In the NWFU grand final Wynyard were comfortable 53 point victors over Cooee giving them their fourth senior grade premiership.
Glenorchy full forward Peter Hudson registered 209 goals in all competitions during the season - a TANFL and, it was believed, Australian record.
For the second consecutive season and playing in their fourth straight grand final North Shore claimed the premiership of the NSWAFL. Opponents Western Suburbs’ cause was not helped by poor kicking for goal, but all things considered the Bombers were worthy winners by a margin of 19 points. It was their seventh senior grade flag.
In the QAFL grand final Sandgate proved comfortably superior to Western Districts, winning in the end by 28 points.The win gave the Sea Eagles’ their sixth senior grade QAFL premiership.
The ACTAFL grand final saw Ainslie convincingly account for Belconnen to claim their tenth senior grade flag, and their eighth since the war.
St Mary's won a second successive NTFL premiership with victory in the grand final over Nightcliff by 31 points.
Other Interstate Matches
Prior to the state of origin carnival held in Perth during October the following non-state of origin interstate matches too place:
VFA 28.26 (194) defeated Queensland 5.8 (38) in Melbourne
South Australia 35.12 (222) defeated Queensland 12.17 (89) in Brisbane
VFL 26.21 (177) defeated Tasmania 8.14 (62) in Hobart
VFL 15.20 (110) defeated South Australia 6.13 (49) in Adelaide
South Australia 15.15 (105) dfeated Western Australia 10.15 (75) in Perth
In addition a series of qualifying matches for the Perth State of origin section two carnival took place. The results were:
Australian Amateurs 27.17 (179) defeated Northern Territory 13.15 (93) in Melbourne
ACT 22.12 (144) defeated New South Wales 19.21 (135) in Canberra
ACT 16.21 (117) defeated Australian Amateurs 16.15 (111)
The ACT thus qualified to compete in Perth.
Grand final results - VFL: Carlton 11.16 (82) d. Collingwood 11.11 (77); SANFL: Port Adelaide 9.9 (63) d. South Adelaide 3.14 (32); WANFL: East Fremantle 21.19 (145) d. South Fremantle 16.16 (112); VFA: Division One - Coburg 16.15 (111) d. Geelong West 14.19 (103); Division Two - Camberwell 18.14 (122) d. Oakleigh 12.11 (83); TANFL: Clarence 12.11 (83) d. Glenorchy 11.14 (80); NTFA: North Launceston 15.7 (97) d. Scottsdale 13.17 (95); NSWAFL: North Shore 13.17 (95) d. Western Suburbs 9.22 (76); NTFL: St Marys 17.15 (117) d. Nightcliff 13.8 (86); QAFL: Sandgate 18.18 (126) d. Western Districts 14.14 (98); NWFU: Wynyard 21.24 (150) d. Cooee 15.7 (97); ACTAFL: Ainslie 17.18 (120) d. Belconnen 11.8 (74); NFL: South Adelaide 7.9 (51) d. Norwood 5.10 (40).
Perth State of Origin Carnival results - Section One Qualification Decider: Tasmania 17.20 (122) d. Queensland 13.12 (90); Section One Semi Finals: Western Australia 23.23 (161) d. Tasmania 9.10 (64); Victoria 25.30 (180) d. South Australia 20.15 (135); Section Two Final: Queensland 23.13 (151) d. ACT 18.12 (120); Section One 3rd Place Play-off: South Australia 22.20 (152) d. Tasmania 17.11 (113); Section One Final: Western Australia 17.21 (123) d. Victoria 16.12 (108)
 Among the season's highlights were Western Australia's 17.21 (123) to 16.12 (108) vanquishing of Victoria in the inaugural state of origin championship final, and East Fremantle's 32 point defeat of St Kilda in Melbourne in the VFL night series. During the pre-AFL era victories by Western Australian club sides over their Victorian counterparts were rare enough; wins in Melbourne, however, were the equivalent of hen's teeth. Another memorable feature of the 1979 football season was the establishment of an all time WAFL aggregate attendance record of 1,013,615 which included an all time high of 52,817 at the grand final.
 “Football Times”, 28/6/79, page 3.