Mick Malthouse - 40 years on
Last Sunday (July 15) marked the 40th anniversary of Mick Malthouse’s debut as a player in the Victorian Football League. It’s doubtful that Malthouse, then a month shy of his 19th birthday, would look back on his first senior game with the St Kilda Football Club with fond memories. From a team perspective the Saints stumbled to their second defeat in a row and Malthouse didn’t complete the game.
During the first quarter of the Round 15 1972 clash with the Bulldogs at the Western Oval, Malthouse, the future coach of the Footscray Football Club was met solidly by Laurie Sandilands, a future captain of the Footscray Football Club. Malthouse suffered concussion as a result of the collision and was subsequently replaced at half time. Sandilands, who had his number taken by boundary umpire Neville Thomas was found not guilty by the VFL tribunal and received a reprimand. Malthouse wasn’t as lucky, the head injury he received ruled him out of the following weekends match against South Melbourne.
Recruited from the North Ballarat club, Malthouse’s first four and half seasons in the VFL were spent in the Red, White and Black of St Kilda. Transferring midway through the 1976 season to Richmond prior to the June clearance deadline (remember those?), the highlight of his seven plus years at Punt Road was being part of the Tigers 1980 Premiership victory over Collingwood.
But when Michael Malthouse is inevitably inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame it will be due to his incredibly successful record of 28 years as a VFL/ AFL coach rather than the solid, if unspectacular, 174 game playing career he carved out over a dozen seasons. For those who need reminding Malthouse’s coaching resume includes his teams qualifying for 19 finals series, capturing three premierships - two in the early nineties with the West Coast Eagles, the third and (perhaps) final flag two seasons ago with the mighty Magpies. Delivering the ultimate glory to two of the biggest clubs in the competition has ensured Malthouse immortality.
But do the three premierships he helped pilot necessarily represent his finest hour as a coach in the indigenous games premier competition? I’ll try to convince you otherwise.
Malthouse’s first six seasons as a league coach were spent at the Footscray Football Club. Whenever Mick’s Western Oval tenure is examined it’s the Bulldogs scintillating 16 win/6 loss 1985 campaign that is remembered as the highpoint of Mick’s Dog Day Saturday Afternoon’s. Footscray supporters will tell you not all fairytales have a happy ending, the Dogs surprising finals run coming to an end with a heartbreaking two goal defeat at the hands of a finals hardened Hawthorn side on Preliminary Final day. The loss left the Footscray faithful shattered, but confident for the first time in many years the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t oncoming traffic.
If Malthouse and the long suffering Doggies supporters knew what the next twelve months held in store they may have decided to spend their Saturday’s in bed, the curtains drawn, hiding under the doona.
Some of the travails that the FFC faced during its ill fated 1986 included
Enough has been said regarding the shenanigans that occurred on player’s end of year vacation. What happens on the end of season footy trip stays on the end of season footy trip.
Seeking pastures greener
When Jim Edmond ventured up the Hume Highway to join the Edelsten All Stars in Harbour Town he became the fourth incumbent captain of the Footscray Football Club to transfer to another team the following season. The star studded list included David Thorpe (1973), Gary Dempsey (1978) & the great Kelvin Templeton (1982).
The recruitment of Tony Buhagiar for the 1985 season proved to be a masterstroke. Buhagiar appeared in all 25 games, kicking 36 goals and averaging almost 16 possessions per game. Footscray were unable to find an adequate replacement for him when he retired following his solitary season with the Dogs.
Many a medical mishap
The squad that went mighty close to reaching the clubs first Grand Final in almost a quarter of a century was blessed a relatively clean bill of health. With the exception of Peter Foster, who sustained a facial injury against Melbourne in Round 4 that cost him a month of footy, Malthouse and the match committee had the luxury of a settled side throughout the year. Eight players - Simon Beasley, Tony Buhagiar, Brian Cordy, Brad Hardie, Steve MacPherson, Brian Royal, Jim Sewell & Stephen Wallis played every one of the Dogs twenty five matches. Les Bamblett, Allen Daniels, Doug Hawkins and Andrew Purser all missed just the one game playing in 24 of the Dogs 25 contests.
Obviously someone broke a mirror whilst walking under a ladder holding a black cat in the early part of 1986, as the Injury Gods who looked down on the boys from the Western Oval and smiled so sweetly the previous season abandoned them.
Two vital cogs of the Preliminary Final squad Les Bamblett (24 games/51 goals) and reliable defender Brian Cordy were injured in the pre-season. Bamblett’s knee injury effectively finished his VFL career, the brilliant small forward would take the field on just a further nine occasions over the remainder of this playing days in the VFL. Brian Cordy, an “ever present” in 1985, was restricted to just six games in 1986.
The injuries to Cordy & Bamblett started a horror run during which time the Bulldogs were unable to get their best team on the field at any time during 1986. Malthouse’s options across the backline were severely depleted with the absence of Peter Foster & Jim Sewell for the vast majority of the season. Foster was limited to just half a dozen games, and after playing the first six games of ’86 Sewell, who’d appeared in every Footscray game since his debut in Round 1 1983, had performed a valuable “swing man” role for the Dogs in his first three seasons in Victoria after crossing from East Fremantle at the end of the 1982 WAFL campaign. Used primarily as a key defender, Malthouse would often send Sewell into attack to provide another marking option.
Doug Hawkins’ season came to an abrupt end with a serious knee injury in the Round 17 loss to Collingwood, the champion wingman’s return to the playing field delayed until June 1987. Whilst replacing Hawkins was impossible, it’s disingenuous to suggest the severe poundings suffered by the team during his absence – a 57 point belting from North Melbourne (Rd 19), a 79 point smashing by Carlton (Rd 21) – the infamous “Jumpergate” game at Waverley or the crushing 70 point loss to Hawthorn (Rd 22) could’ve been reversed had Braybrook’s favourite son been available for duty.
Whilst the Bulldogs had the luxury of the eight players suiting up for all 25 matches in 1985, only Beasley, Hardie, Purser & star SA recruit Tony McGuiness played all 22 matches the following season. 32 players played senior VFL football for Footscray in 1985, the number increasing 25% in 1986 [to 40.
Ability is permanent, form is temporary
Two players who suffered massive form slumps in 1986 were small forward Stephen MacPherson and on baller Allen Daniels. MacPherson saw his production drop from 39 goals in 25 games, averaging just under 16 possessions per game in 1985, to 19 goals in 18 games averaging around 14 possessions a year later. An even more dramatic form reversal was suffered by Allen Daniels, the West Australian recruit surprised many in his rookie season in 1985, averaging 18 and a half possessions a game in 24 appearances and adding 17 goals to complement his excellent work. Those numbers dipped to an average of 13 possessions in the 8 games he managed in his second and final season at The Kennel, his 32 game VFL career coming to an abrupt end following a dismal 8 touch performance against Geelong at VFL Park in Round 18.
Not up to it
Unfortunately the “newbies” of ‘86 didn’t come close to covering the departures. Murray Rance & Tony McGuiness, the clubs marquee interstate recruits, experienced differing levels of success during their respective stints at the Western Oval. McGuiness provided superb service to the club over a five year period (109 games/108 goals). Despite playing 40 of a possible 44 games during his two seasons with the Dogs, Rance’s two seasons with the Dogs were a little disappointing, the key position player unable to consistently provide an option either end of the field. Rejects from other VFL teams included Dean Chiron, Michael Rolfe, Andy Preston and Tim Gepp, all proving to be relatively ineffective. Max Crow, injured in Rd 1, managed to appear in just a dozen games in what was to be the last of his twelve season VFL career. Tony Liberatore’s debut season was uneventful, the future Brownlow Medallist managing just four senior games.
Murphy’s Law & the FFC’s annus horribilis
Taking into consideration the trials and tribulations listed above how did Footscray manage to remain so competitive in 1986? I’ll do my best to provide an adequate answer.
13 and a half wins was required to land a place in the 1985 finals, the following year the “magic” number to ensure September action was reduced to 12. In 1986 the Dogs prevailed in 11 of their 22 battles, five wins less than ’85, registering a win against all teams with the exception of Sydney, performing the double over an odious St Kilda. Its percentage dropped from a healthy 120.9 in ’85 to 97.9 twelve months later. From a "points allowed" perspective the undermanned backline were superb, allowing only 10 points more over the season than they had the previous year (2000 – 2010) - a phenomenal effort considering the loss of Foster, Sewell & Brian Cordy for large chunks of ‘86.
The multiple avenues to goal available to Malthouse in 1985 were drastically reduced by the start of the new season. The team that reached a Preliminary Final averaged just under 16 goals (15.9) a game. That number that fell to just over a dozen (12.2) per game the next year. The 2417 points they tallied over the 1985 home and away fixture was far and away the most the club had scored since the introduction of the 12 team/22 round fixture in 1970.
The table below gives you an indication as to how severely depleted the Dogs goal kicking options became in such a short period of time.
|Player||Gms ‘85||Gls ‘85||Ave Gls ‘85||Gms ‘86||Gls ‘86||Ave Gls ‘86|
Ultimately it was a lack of consistency that sabotaged any hope of emulating the feats of 12 months earlier. Following a slashing five goal victory over Carlton in Round 1 the Bulldogs sat inside the Top Five, where they remained for the rest of the 1985 season. After commencing 1986 with a less than convincing win over St Kilda, the Dogs sat in fifth position. They would return the top bracket on only four occasions in 1986, achieving consecutive victories on two separate occasions. On the heels of a despicable 52 point defeat at the hands of a deplorable Demons side in Round 8, a renaissance of sorts occurred during Rounds 9-14, the Dogs saluting in five of their six contests. A rich vein of form saw it register fighting wins against eventual finalists Hawthorn, Carlton, Fitzroy and Essendon.
The following two years saw the same fighting qualities on display with the Bulldogs entering the final round of the home and away fixture a chance of advancing to September action. Unfortunately on both occasions they fell just short of a return to the post season, succumbing to a resurgent Melbourne in 87 & John Todd’s West Coast Eagles in 88. The Dogs kicked off their 1989 season in the best way possible by pole-axing Carlton at Princes Park (shades of ’85), on the opening weekend’s round of fixtures. Sadly it was all down hill from there a 6 win/1 draw/15 loss season a sad end to Malthouse’s time in the western suburbs of Melbourne. By the time he’d cleaned out his office in the bowels of the Whitten Stand only six players who represented the club in the 1985 Preliminary Final were still on the playing list – Foster, Hawkins, Kennedy, MacPherson, Royal & Wallis. It was around the time of his exit the Footscray Football Club almost ceased to exist.
Congratulations are in order to Michael Malthouse on this milestone anniversary. This year (2012) is the first time since 1971 Malthouse isn’t actively involved in VFL/AFL football as either a coach or player. Rumours of a return to a senior coaching role have been circulating since his “retirement” at the completion of the 2011 season. Will he or won’t he? Never say never!
Despite taking the premiership points on that Saturday afternoon 40 years ago, July 15 1972 remains a sad day in the history of the Footscray Football Club. In just his sixth game of VFL football Gippsland recruit Stephen Boyle suffered a horrendous facial injury that cost him the sight in his right eye and ended his promising league career.