First published in The Age on September 27, 1982
Unrelenting Blues conquer the ultimate challenge
The words on the blackboard in the Carlton coach’s room had been sitting there since well before two o’clock. The face of the coach as he wrote the lines was like a rock, tensed into a caricature of its normal state by the power of the Grand Final. Four hours later, the game won, the power done, the coach’s face had relaxed, and the 20 anxious players had been replaced by a multitude of deliriously happy winners. But still the words, made vibrant by victory and events, remained.
Peter Bosustow, premiership cup in hand and Carlton scarf flowing, leads the triumphant Blues on a victory lap of the MCG after the Grand Final.Credit:The Age Archives
Ultimate test: ability—fitness—commitment,
Positive and aggressive.
Initiative and good start.
Win the ball. THE KEY.
And then came the punch-line, the line the coach, David Parkin, grabbed as the theme for his pre-match address: “Twenty together working hard, and 20 who never stop trying, WILL WIN.”
For the first time in his coaching career, Parkin made a guarantee to his players. They would win, he told them, if they worked to their capacity, and never stopped trying. “It was said sincerely,” he said yesterday. “It was no con. In the two years I have been at Carlton, we have not lost one game when all the players worked hard and never stopped having a go. We did work hard, we didn’t stop trying, we didn’t play that well, but we did win the game.”
Before the players were ready to run on to the ground, they had one more view of a television event many of them would have seen many times in the past year. Doubtlessly they will be watching the same sort of pictures in the next year. Parkin showed them the aftermath to Carlton’s 1981 Grand Final win — the presentation of the victory medals, the raising the cup, the lap of honor, the winner’s spoils.
Richmond’s build up had none of that. Francis Bourke wanted this match to be treated as just another game. The whole build-up was kept purposely low key. Players were told to forget the day, forget the flag, forget the cup, to concentrate on the job in hand, to go out and attack every ball as hard as they could. Bourke had refused to allow TV cameras into the rooms so that he could retain the normal patterns. Richmond would win, he said before the game, because the players want to win “very much”.
Richmond’s Robert Wiley is under extreme pressure as Carlton’s Ken Hunter lunges for the ball, backed up by Des English and Bruce Doull.Credit:The Age Archives
As the clouds gathered around two o’clock, men from both sides ventured out to assess the weather. Richmond was still uncertain whether Rod Austin would play. There was no hint of the presence, or otherwise of Richmond’s full-forward Brian Taylor. It was not until David Cloke, his eyebrows smeared with vaseline, his muscles exuding power, led his men on to the ground, that an official sidled by and whispered: “Ian Sartori is playing”.
Carlton came a couple of minutes later, slowing massing together before a banner wracked by swirling winds, and then bursting through as one. The hair was starting to lift at the back of the neck. Sharp eyes would have noticed there were 22 Carlton men accepting the adulation of the crowd. Parkin had given Frank Marchesani and David Clarke their chance to take part in some of Grand Final day. As well, of course, it was another way to confuse the opposition, although the unlucky pair spoiled such plans by running from the ground too soon. Parkin followed his team across the ground, his eyes on the black clouds massing above: “Send down the rain,” he shouted, “send it down.” Well he might pray. In his time at Carlton, the Blues had not lost in the rain. As soon as the siren sounded, the rain stated.
Nobody could have envisaged the drama of the game itself. Not even the most lyrical of Dr Allen Aylett’s speech writers could have dreamed up all the magical moments of this match. It will be a surprise if even now, long after the event, all the power of the game can be recalled. So many things happened, so quickly, so often.
That the usual nervous free-kick at the first bounce should be followed by a superbly aggressive goal by Wayne Johnston before 30 seconds had ticked by was an outrageous opening. But to have Harmes following suit less than a minute later, after another wonderful tackle by Johnston, had the mind spinning.
Apparently the spinning minds were not only in the crowd. Hardly more than a minute later, the most extraordinary series of fights began on the outer wing. Robert Wiley was seen flying through the air, David Glasscott and Ian Sartori wrestled furiously, Ken Sheldon and Geoff Raines tore at each other like wild cats. Fists, arms, legs, pencils and notebooks were everywhere. What could be happening? In three minutes of the Grand Final there had been two glorious moments of sport and one melee. Surely such happenings could not continue?
Richmond’s Jim Jess marking over his captain, David Cloke and Carlton’s Mario Bortolotto.Credit:The Age Archives
They did — one after the other. Almost as soon as the fight stopped, Carlton went forward again, the ball was loose, the captain Mike Fitzpatrick threw his boot at it, and miraculously, Rod Ashman, alone in the goal square, was able to mark. You had that feeling, that if 18 missiles had descended upon the MCG at that moment, they would have landed on the hapless Richmond players.
Yesterday, Fitzpatrick was not happy to accept the wild shot as a miracle. “I saw the empty goals, and heard Ashy call. I swung the boot, and hoped for one or the other.”
If that, despite Fitzpatrick’s skepticism, was a miracle, the rest of his game certainly wasn’t. More it was a testimony to single-minded persistence, involvement, and selflessness. It was only a week ago that Fitzpatrick finally convinced himself that it would be in the team’s best interests if he were to spend more time in the forward line than in the ruck, a position he loves best, and plays best. Part of that personal convincing came from realising the team would be better balanced with Warren Jones in the ruck and Fitzpatrick up forward, and part from the realisation that a nagging Achilles tendon, several weeks old, would not stand up to a full day on the ball. He was right. Late in the last quarter the Achilles gave up the ghost.
Carlton’s opening was a credit to its players. That they could come back from the thrashing Richmond gave them in the second semifinal two weeks ago, was great testimony to their strength of character. Then Richmond had wiped Carlton aside with the ferocity of their opening.
The Blues panicked, lost faith in their playing style and allowed Richmond to toy with them. On Saturday, it was the reverse. It made you wonder whether the fact that Richmond had put its cards on the table in the second semifinal, left the Tigers wide open for exploitation in the return match. The coaches were diametric in their views.
Said Bourke: “I don’t think that had much to do with it. Do you think If Carlton had won the second semi-final, they wouldn’t have been just as committed in the Grand Final?” That was not Parkin’s view: “I think, in retrospect, it might have been the best thing that happened to us. If we’d won the second semi, they might have supercharged back, and KO’d us in the Grand Final. We were 100 per cent better off in our planning, approach and commitment as a result of that loss”.
With Carlton 18 points up, almost before the last of the members had taken his seat, it seemed that finally the amazing tension that bad gripped everyone would be released. It appeared that Carlton might have created a healthy buffer zone, which Richmond would not be able to penetrate. But such thinking in Grand Finals is always foolish, as events were soon to show.
Ten minutes into the quarter, as the crowd “ooohed” and “aahed” in company with the thunder and lightning on and off the field, Carlton’s superb finals performer Ken Hunter was knocked out by a perfect bump from Jim Jess. Eighty metres away you could feel the impact. No wonder Hunter’s legs went rubbery. It was some consolation for Carlton that his departure from the field did not necessitate a wholesale re-organisation. Robert Klomp picked up Maurice Rioli. It took Hunter 15 minutes to recover. Yesterday, he said he could remember nothing of the first quarter.
Slowly Richmond started to pull itself together. Amazingly, the revival did not begin with the youth, but with the 35-year-old marvel, Kevin Bartlett. Half way through the quarter Bartlett was freed 45 metres out and goaled, and a few minutes later be whirled around the boundary, passed towards Rioli and, after Klomp had dropped a difficult mark, Rioli goaled. Richmond was back.
Wayne Harmes, Carlton, marks over Kevin Bartlett, Richmond.Credit:The Age Archives
Bartlett is the most extraordinary player. He is the ultimate football larrikin, obeying none of the strict disciplines that control so many other players. Some decry it. Some adore It. Certainly on Saturday no player’s mere presence near the ball generated as much excitement as did Bartlett’s. He, the oldest player on the field, was always the man most likely. It was only when Parkin shifted Wayne Harmes on him early in the second quarter (after his second goal) that Bartlett was subdued. Even then, he was the one to start Richmond’s final unfulfilled resurgence seconds into the last quarter.
The extraordinary continued. Rioli goaled again, then Geoff Raines, and Richmond was in front. If minds were spinning before, they were in orbit by now. But there was more to come. At the 33 minute mark Ross Ditchburn was knocked cold by a flying boot and, as he was carried from the battle not to be seen again, Johnston kicked his second for the quarter. Carlton had the lead again.
The second quarter was almost a facsimile of the first, except now it was Richmond’s turn to explode. Less than 40 seconds from the start Cloke goaled after a clever handpass from Dale Weightman, and 40 seconds later, it was on again, as Weightman did it again, intercepting a handpass by McConville, and lobbing the ball to Cloke alone in the square. The tightness that was there early was now gripping like a constrictor.
After 19 minutes of the quarter, Richmond was 18 points up. It was the same margin Carlton had held five minutes into the game! But for Richmond, that was the end of the celebrating. The Tigers scored only two behinds for the rest of the quarter, although both could easily have been goals, and lost their unlucky half-back Bruce Tempany with a broken arm. In the first half of the quarter, Carlton had felt the game slipping away. Now, the Blues felt that control was being restored. The agony had passed.
At the break, Bourke felt confident, but so too did Parkin, despite the fact his side was 11 points down. Inside, Parkin pointed out four players who had let the side down during that half, and had almost immediately acknowledged their errors by performing great feats as a pay-back. It showed, he said, that in the first instance they had not tried as hard as they should. The second instance, in each case, reinforced his thinking, and obviously the offending players. Richmond, he said, was beginning to lapse. If Carlton worked harder, it would win. The message on the blackboard remained just as relevant as it did an hour earlier. “Initiative and good start” was even more important now.
The players answered the challenge magnificently, booting five goals in the first 20 minutes. Not even the Grand Final’s first streaker, after Fitzpatrick had goaled after 10 minutes, could stop the Blues’ run. Undoubtedly it was a Blue quarter in more ways than one.
It was the time-honored story of the Grand Final being tied up in the third quarter. Parkin calls it the “championship quarter” and he could well be correct. The Blues came out playing excited, and exciting football. They were full of energy, furious with their endeavour, and desperate to take risks. All the parts of their game that were absent from the second semifinal were there. Players running together, bouncing the ball, setting up the players. Richmond was helpless.
In the past 25 years, there is only one team capable of losing a Grand Final with a 17 point lead at three quarter time, and it isn’t Carlton. The players gathered quickly yelling at each other encouragement. They believed they had it. Richmond was more reserved. Bourke remained in his box for a full minute working things over with his match committee. When he arrived, he was cool, calm, in charge. He was still sure his side could win. He told them to remain loyal to the team style, keep to the system.
Across the way, Parkin kept his group huddled together. He spoke in a low controlled voice, until near the end, when his parting words broke away from the huddle: “Keep the mental level up remain aggressive, and attack for 30 minutes”.
Carlton coach, David Parkin, captain, Mike Fitzpatrick and veteran champion, Bruce Doull, give a combined victory salute after winning the 1982 VFL Grand Final.Credit:The Age Archives
After 24 seconds, Bartlett has goaled, and the game was alive again. Would Richmond never die? Minutes later, Jim Jess was free 30 metres out, and the margin, was only five points, and, but for the amazing anticipation of Bruce Doull, Richmond would have hit the front a minute later. Doull somehow intercepted a handpass almost before it was given, saving a certain goal. Had it been scored, would Carlton have recovered? That we will never know.
That was the end of Richmond’s challenge. After a near lifetime (seven minutes) Johnston again entered the fray, forcing Graeme Landy to clear poorly. Ashman, dived on the opportunity, and handpasses to Mark Maclure and Peter Bosustow resulted in a goal. The pressure had been released again. Johnston’s contribution was a superb example of how devastating a combination is ability, fearlessness and commitment. Johnston had set up Carlton’s first two goals, and the one that caused it to breathe a little more freely in the last quarter. He has now been a great performer in each of Carlton’s last three premierships.
Still Richmond kept trying, but could do nothing positive. Any time that things looked dangerous for Carlton, in stepped Doull. It will be a tragedy for more than Carlton if he remains firm in his aim to retire. Nobody works harder and tries harder than Doull. It was fitting that he, with Parkin and Fitzpatrick, should share the moment the premiership cup is lifted to the crowd.
When Marcou goaled almost in extra time, Carlton had sealed the game, but it was not until the 27-minute mark that the coaching-box accepted that the game was theirs. Sergio Silvagni was rapping his feet against the floor like an excited two-year-old, and Parkin joyously shook hands with Wes Lofts and Kevin Hall. Again the rain came down. Parkin’s prayers were answered.
The middle of the ground. Chaos. Jubilation. Hugging. Bosustow crying. Jones euphoric. Richmond desolated. Doull retrieving his false teeth from a trainer. Parkin already being interviewed, thanking the missing men. Glascott smoking. Maclure laughing about the streaker. Rioli, emptily accepting his best-on-ground medal. Tommy Lahiff everywhere. Perovic asking for a drink. The players again together in a huddle: “Did we win” they shouted. “We shit it in.” In the background, Bourke walking around his group, thanking his players, encouraging them.
The rooms. Ken Hunter, still alive, still with time for an autograph. Parkin again talking to TV. The omnipresent Prime Minister, Mr J. M. Fraser drinking from the cup, being interviewed: Where did he play? Parkin asking for three in a row. “The next challenge”. On a mattress in the coach’s room lies Ditchburn, looking anything but well.
The losers. Graeme Richmond earnestly talking to Ian Wilson and Mal Brown. In the coach’s room, Bourke sits answering questions carefully, politely. A slight redness in the cheeks, and a staring eye the only signs of defeat. There were no excuses. “On the day,” said Bourke, “we were not good enough”.
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