Bays bounce back in 1934 grand final
To say Glenelg’s record during its first thirteen seasons of league football was poor would be putting it mildly. The club’s overall success rate was a calamitous 21.7% and only once - in 1933 - did it manage to win more games during a season than it lost. One thing Glenelg did possess, however, was plenty of individual players of high quality, several of whom were at the forefront of the team’s sudden and unexpected emergence as a power in 1934. Perhaps foremost among these players was ruckman George ‘Blue’ Johnston, winner of that year’s Magarey Medal, and one of the most inspirational players ever to pull on a black and gold jumper. Others included tenacious and talented defender Mel Brock, who would win a Magarey Medal himself in 1940, deadly sharp-shooter Jack Owens, and the abundantly skilled Len Sallis, five times a Glenelg best and fairest award winner.
Signs that the Bays would be an improved combination in 1934 were slow in arriving. The side lost its first three minor round matches, to West Adelaide (by eight points), West Torrens (18 points), and Port Adelaide (a soul-destroying 131 points). In round 4, it scraped a draw against North Adelaide, but round 5 brought another loss, by 15 points to Sturt. The first win did not arrive until round 6, when eventual wooden spooners South Adelaide were overhauled to the tune of 29 points, but even this did not herald a marked improvement in fortunes, and when the Bays lined up at home to Port Adelaide on 7 July their overall record of three wins and a draw from nine matches was scarcely the stuff of potential finalists, let alone premiers.
The Port Adelaide match afforded the first indication that Glenelg could cope with finals-style pressure football. With ‘Blue’ Johnston, who was celebrating his 100th league game, in typically irrepressible form all around the ground, and hitherto ‘unsung’ players like Len Griffiths and Albert James defending heroically, the Bays were comprehensively the better side in winning by 26 points, 16.14 (110) to 11.18 (84). The victory sparked a sequence of six wins from the final seven minor round games to produce a 10-6-1 season’s record, and qualification for a first ever finals series in second place on the ladder, behind minor premier Port Adelaide only on percentage.
By their own high standards, the Magpies had not enjoyed the most successful of times since the end of the Great War, claiming only two flags in fifteen years, and their form early in the 1934 season did not suggest that any immediate improvement was in the offing. Like Glenelg, however, Port came good over the second half of the season, winning the last seven minor round games, many of them by prodigious margins, to be firmly installed as most people’s premiership favourite. After a one-sided second semi final that saw the Magpies outclass the Bays to the tune of 65 points, that favouritism was intensified.
Commenting on that second semi final loss, Glenelg’s champion centreman Len Sallis remarked, “All the boys were too excited. They over-ran the ball, they played bad football, they didn’t mark well and they couldn’t kick”. A big improvement was clearly going to be necessary if the Bays were to withstand the fierce challenge likely be afforded by preliminary final opponent Sturt, a finals-hardened combination that had contested two of the previous three grand finals.
The preliminary final proved to be a close, tense, frantically fought encounter, with the Double Blues seeming to have the edge until late on, when a Len Sallis-inspired revival saw Glenelg narrowly over the line. The Bays won by 13 points, 12.11 (83) to 9.16 (70), and although they had probably not done enough to suggest that they were capable of reversing the second semi final result on grand final day, there is little doubt that most people expected them to get a good deal closer than 65 points.
Both sides had non-playing coaches. Glenelg was coached by former West Adelaide champion Bruce McGregor, while Len Ashby (ex-West Torrens) was in charge of Port. The Bays’ captain was Jack Owens, and Port’s Vic Johnson.
It was a fine day, and the match attracted a crowd of 30,045, who would be treated to one of the all time great grand finals in South Australian football history.
The match commenced at a frenetic pace, with neither side able to maintain the initiative for long. Port Adelaide kicked the first goal of the game, but Glenelg fought back quickly, and by the fifteen minute mark the scores were deadlocked, 2.2 (14) apiece. As is often the case in grand finals, neither side had truly managed to settle up to this point, but over the final few minutes of the term the Bays suddenly managed to tap into a rich vein of form to rattle on three goals without reply. Port players found themselves haplessly chasing shadows as Glenelg continued to perform at the breakneck pace that had characterised the opening minutes. The Bays had clear winners in centre half forward Archie Goldsworthy, centreman Len Sallis, and defender Mel Brock, while rover Roy Colyer was engaged in a ‘battle royal’ with Port’s Bob Quinn. Besides Quinn, the Magpies had also been well served by wingman Jack Dermody and centre half forward Albie Hollingsworth, but overall it had been Glenelg’s term.
QUARTER TIME: Glenelg 5.4 (34); Port Adelaide 2.4 (16)
The Magpies hit back hard in the second quarter, but atrocious kicking for goal prevented them from making any inroads into the Bays’ lead. Port added 4.9 for the term, with key forward Albie Hollingsworth the worst offender (he ended the match with 4.7 to his name), while the Bays duplicated their opening quarter effort by kicking 5.4. Some of Port’s misses were attributable to the fierce pressure being applied by the Glenelg backmen, but quite a few were simply the result of poor kicking. For much of the year, Port Adelaide had been renowned for “the machine-like system” of its play, but the Bays showed that success in football stems at least as much, if not more, from the emotion and will of the players as from tactics, strategies and methods of play.
HALF TIME: Glenelg 10.8 (68); Port Adelaide 6.13 (49)
Nip and tuck
Port Adelaide opened the thirrd quarter by registering a sixth consecutive behind, whereupon the Bays moved into top gear by registering three quick goals. The danger signs were now clearly apparent for the Magpies, and to their credit they rallied strongly, adding 5.3 to 2.2 over the remainder of the term to be back within striking distance at the last change. Port rover Bob Quinn was in everything at this stage, to be arguably the best player on the ground, while half back flanker Basil Bampton and wingman Bill Whicker were also prominent. The momentum had clearly shifted in favour of the Magpies, and it is easy to imagine most spectators at the ground, other than the most diehard of Glenelg fans, spending the three quarter time interval pondering the seeming inevitability of a Port comeback. Glenelg appeared to be on the back foot, and badly in need of a lift from the likes of ‘Blue’ Johnston and the roving trio of Roy Colyer, Arthur Link and Lance Leak.
THREE QUARTER TIME: Glenelg 15.10 (100); Port Adelaide 11.17 (83)
A rousing finale
The last quarter of the 1934 SANFL grand final was exhilaratingly memorable. Those anticipating a Port Adelaide comeback looked to be having their expectations fulfilled early on as the Magpies began the term with two quick goals to reduce their deficit to just five points. However, the Bays responded by raising both their intensity and their aggression levels, with rovers Colyer and Link in particular using their pace and guile to set up three quick scoring opportunities in succession for their team mates on the forward line. Unfortunately for Glenelg, only one of these opportunities was converted, but at 16.12 (108) to 13.17 (95) the impetus was clearly back in favour of the black and golds.
Port’s response was decisive and telling. Jack Dermody, who had been in dashing form on the wing all afternoon, embarked on a sweeping run which he rounded off with a perfect pass to Jack Prideaux, who goaled. A behind to Port then reduced the margin to a single straight kick, which was supplied shortly afterwards by Bob Quinn to bring the scores level. It was the first time since the fifteen minute mark of the opening term that the Bays had not been in front.
Glenelg responded by sending ‘Blue’ Johnston to the goalfront, a move which paid off almost immediately when Archie Goldsworthy collected the ball near the centre of the ground and, after twice exchanging handballs with team mates, kicked high towards full forward. Johnston, one out with a much smaller opponent in Murray Whitaker, took a towering mark and then kicked truly to put the Bays a straight kick in front once more.
Shortly afterwards, Glenelg’s veteran full forward Jack Owens nabbed his third major to push the margin out to 12 points, but the Magpies responded almost immediately courtesy of another goal - his fifth - from Bob Quinn. Surely, now, Port would go on with things?
Far from it. Playing like men possessed, the Bays kept the ball in their forward line for the remainder of the game, adding three further behinds to establish a nine-point final margin and earn a victory that was applauded by all South Australian football supporters - even, so some accounts of the match insist, those of a black and white persuasion.
FINAL SCORE: Glenelg 18.15 (123); Port Adelaide 14.18 (102)
Glenelg: Goldsworthy, Colyer, Link, Sallis, Johnson, Brock
Port Adelaide: Dermody, Quinn, Hollingsworth, Whicker, Bampton
Glenelg: Goldsworthy 4; Colyer, Johnston, Owens 3; Bergin 2; Leak, Link, Percy
Port Adelaide: Quinn 5; Hollingsworth 4, Prideaux 4; Hender 2; Reval
Umpire: L.C. Thomas
Attendance: 30,045 at the Adelaide Oval
A sting in the tail
The Bays’ fall from grace would be even faster and more dramatic than their rise. In 1935, with more or less the same playing personnel at their disposal, they slumped to last place with just a solitary win from 17 games for the season. The remainder of the 1930s were scarcely better as only in 1936, when they finished seventh, did they avoid the wooden spoon.
The Magpies, by contrast, were on the verge of great things, as they would contest every remaining grand final of the 1930s, for wins in 1936, 1937 and 1939. Such players as Bob Quinn, Vic Johnson, Alan ‘Bull’ Reval, Albie Hollingsworth and Jack Dermody would have to rank with any in the club’s illustrious history.
Over the remainder of the twentieth century, Port Adelaide would enjoy a substantial measure of revenge over its 1934 nemesis, winning grand finals against Glenelg in 1977, 1981, 1988, 1990 and 1992. Nevertheless, it is at least arguable that none of these subsequent grand finals captured the public imagination to quite the same extent as the Bays’ sensational, unexpected and thoroughly unforgettable victory of ‘34.