Tied and exhausted - the 1977 Grand final
This article is taken from Jeff Dowsing's e-book, Collingwood's 50 Most Sensational Games, available through Smashwords.
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DATE: Saturday 24 September
UMPIRES: Sutcliffe, Robinson
Collingwood: Thompson, Picken, Magro, W. Richardson, Hyde, Kink, Barham
North Melbourne: Alves, Schimmelbusch, Dench, Baker, Montgomery, Keenan, Cowton
Collingwood: Moore 4; Kink 2; Shaw, Barham, Anderson, Dunne
North Melbourne: Baker 6; Dench 2; Sutton
In rising from last in 1976 to first in 1977 with an impressive 18 wins, Collingwood achieved a feat no other club had in VFL history, nor is likely to again. The Club also broke new boundaries in appointing an outsider as coach in Tom Hafey, a proven four-time Premiership winner at Richmond. After qualifying for the Grand Final with a narrow two point victory against reigning Premier Hawthorn in the Second Semi final, the Magpies were well placed to end a niggling 19 year drought.
The Magpies featured several accomplished veterans, the remnants of the Bob Rose era, in Thompson, the Richardson brothers, Dunne and Wearmouth. They blended well with a talented younger group in Ray Shaw, Moore, Kink and Picken. The only issue was the last half dozen picked, and whether they had the class to complete the Cinderella story.
North was just as well credentialed, creating a tantalizing match-up. Having been Runner-up in ‘74 and ‘76 and Premier in ‘75, the Kangaroos were a seasoned finals campaigner with established match winners such as Cable, Blight, Schimmelbusch, Byrne, Baker, Crosswell and Alves at its disposal. A 38-point Qualifying final loss to Hawthorn was the exception to its form line, with thumping wins in subsequent finals against Richmond (47 points) and Hawthorn (67 points) providing a battle hardened lead-in compared to Collingwood’s narrow win, book-ended by two inactive weekends.
Without the mercurial Carman, due to suspension, the bookmakers installed the Kangas as favourite. Vanquished Hawthorn coach David Parkin predicted North would coast to a ten goal win based on their Preliminary final form. Just four Magpies boasted Grand final experience, and horrible memories at that. Appropriate perhaps for Collingwood that the VFL should fly Barry Crocker from London to sing “The Impossible Dream” before the game!
Dench kickstarted the ‘Roos, rebounding off half back, running and bouncing for a magnificent goal. Collingwood managed just a single goal to the ‘Roos four - and only then due to an uncharacteristic mistake by Blight when he completely miscued a centering kick straight to an awaiting Magpie, who swept the ball upfield for a goal. Ray Shaw was surprisingly reported for striking Ken Montgomery with a clenched fist to the stomach – a relatively trivial incident in the context of other clashes. Parkin’s prediction was looking rather sound as a confident North accumulated a 17-point buffer at the first break.
North Melbourne’s initial surety may have morphed into over-confidence or carelessness, as they sprayed the ball wide of the goals with all six attempts in the second term. Briedis was the chief culprit with four. The Magpies had the same number of scoring shots but managed 3.3, thus reducing the margin to just two points. The Woods’ better performance across the field was capped by two goals to Moore and one to Kink. Wayne Richardson, his brother Max and Wearmouth provided the run and ball-getting drive around the ground. Deep in the bowels of the grandstands at the break, Barassi was furious with his players for their lack of discipline and mental strength.
Despite Barassi’s harsh words, the third quarter continued in the same vein, North adding another five points whilst Collingwood’s five majors saw them surge ahead by 27 points at the last change. Thompson controlled the ruck, as did Magro the centre. Moore’s height up forward again proved pivotal, with another two goals to his credit. The Collingwood army of supporters began to believe, the huge concrete bowl beginning to reverberate with their pulsating chants. When Worthington marked deep in defence, hand-balled to Shaw who passed to Barham who slotted the ball through the Punt Road end goal in an inspiring passage to notch the fifth goal of the term, Collingwood appeared to have one hand on the Cup.
Hafey was furious at the last break though; his efforts to talk to his charges were stymied by premature backslapping from support staff. ‘The trainers were running around kissing everybody as if we had won the game’, recalled one player.
With nothing to lose, Barassi threw backmen Sutton to full-forward and Dench to centre half forward. Barassi had masterminded a similar come-from-behind Premiership at Carlton, and again he urged players to take risks. And he took a risk himself by replacing Blight with Nettlefold, owing to the mercurial forward’s meager returns.
With Sutton kicking the first goal after just four minutes (Baker a minute later) and Dench’s influence, including a gift wrapped goal, the moves swiftly paid dividends. Collingwood’s lead evaporated and players were visibly dropping their heads, floundering when the heat was on. The Kangaroos were surging to victory and a relentless Schimmelbusch was leading the way. Briedis split a pack and took another big grab, but in the process inadvertently stalled his team’s momentum when Pies defender Gott went down with a broken leg. The eternity it took to stretcher Gott off the field was a blessing for his flagging teammates. In subsequently kicking one of three points for the quarter (for a personal tally of seven) Briedis again undermined North’s chances. “I could have kicked myself”, Briedis was later to comment on his inaccuracy. Baker leveled the scores midway through the quarter however it was the Magpies’ turn to dig deep. From here it was an even, tired slog to the death. When Baker put North a goal ahead at the 23-minute mark, it appeared over – despite there being ample time left. At the 33-minute mark Picken launched a hail Mary bomb to a huge pack. Dunne emerged with the ball and was awarded the mark. The shot was no tiddler, though close enough and ‘Twiggy’ duly converted to send the game into limbo. From the centre bounce North cleared however a great mark in the backline by Ireland resulted in Shane Bond, who’s pace proved valuable off the bench, racing downfield. Alas, the clock beat his kick into the forwardline, just moments from a possible score.
Moments that mattered
For Collingwood, the moment of truth really came two weeks beforehand when Phil Carman was suspended for two weeks for striking Hawthorn’s Michael Tuck in the Second Semi final. Few doubted the enigmatic star’s brilliance would have at very least commanded a large slice of North’s attention.
In a tense final quarter, several missed opportunities and errors warranted sleepless nights. One of the worst was committed by Phil Manassa, who lobbed an inexplicable handball in the air only for it to be seized in the goal square by David Dench. The resultant goal reduced the margin to eight points. In another instance, Hyde virtually kicked the ball backwards.
Somehow, in another defensive shocker, Phil Baker found himself all alone in the goal square without a Magpie within 30 metres.
A steadying moment was granted for the exhausted Pies when Gott broke his leg in a pack. Briedis, who had marked, was just 25 metres out in front, but with three minutes to think about it. A case of the yips saw him kick his sixth behind. Having erased Collingwood’s lead within the first ten minutes, North’s momentum was broken and Collingwood was able to at least fight out the game.
Had he not taken his famous mark and kicked the leveling goal with seconds left on the clock, ‘Twiggy’ Dunne may just as easily been a villain. With scores level and less than ten minutes left, Dunne grabbed the ball and ran into open goal and inexplicably missed from about fifteen metres out. Dunne was not the only offender. In the lengthening shadows of the Ponsford Stand Kink missed a set shot 45 metres out directly in front. Then at the 30-minute mark. Moore, who was well blanketed by Crosswell in the final quarter, bungled an easy left foot snap from the top of the goal square. Meanwhile for the Shinboners, apart from Briedis’ aforementioned issues, Tanner also missed a golden opportunity.
Of course Dunne’s mark was the most crucial moment of all. With several pairs of hands clamouring, fingers stretched, somehow the skinniest arms of all brought the ball to ground. Fortunately field umpire Ian Robinson had a clear view of the contest, as he described on the AFL Umpires Association website: “I saw the pack go up and I knew I had to stay focused. It was a huge pack but I saw one pair of hands get a clear purchase on the ball. I blew my whistle...I was determined to keep my concentration focused as I ran in and watched those arms and the ball all the way to the ground. I called ‘It’s yours’, and saw it was Ross Dunne who had taken the mark. I do rate it as one of my best decisions. If you don’t see it you don’t pay it. I saw it.”
And ‘Twiggy’s’ choice of kick was also an interesting decision – a big spiral from 25 metres out, directly in front.
As players collapsed to the ground in utter exhaustion and confusion, ‘Crackers’ Keenan and Rene Kink were the only ones crazy enough to start a scuffle. The crowd was stunned – only once before in 1948 (when Melbourne and Essendon tied), had a Grand final ended this way. So many twists, turns and exasperating moments for both sides – no wonder 300 Victorians in Sydney proceeded to wreck a Kings Cross hotel function room when the result incited a near riot.. Yet only two arrests occurred at the ground!
Once again, Collingwood failed to seize the day – a 27-point lead at three quarter time should have been enough. To actually kick more goals than the opposition and still not hold the cup was another installment in the Colliwobble mythology. Many blamed Tom Hafey’s training methods. Indeed, their Thursday night session was long and strenuous, the opposite to the Kangaroos. North’s players certainly seemed fresher in the last quarter, it was plain to see in how many times the Kangaroos out ran Magpies to the ball, and Collingwood’s countless fatigue induced skill errors. Kicks wobbled short or straight to the opposition, their legs barely able to kick through the ball. Wearmouth, who had run his heart out, could not buy a kick in the final term. Neither could fellow speedsters Barham and Anderson.
Still, it was a brave effort in some ways, as Collingwood did buck against what appeared to be an inevitable steamrolling. In fact Hafey found some positives. Rather than a lack of effort, Hafey blamed mistakes and simply having eight players down on form. The Kangaroos were wasteful too, and the 27-point margin at three quarter time wasn’t really indicative of the overall contest. Incredibly, North kicked 13 consecutive behinds from the 24 minute mark of the first quarter – Briedis (0.7), Byrne and Tanner (both 0.3) being the chief offenders. Indeed, Barrassi believed North should have won the game with five more scoring shots, not to mention 50 more possessions.
Hafey bore criticism for the loss from within The Club for failing to respond to Barassi’s moves, and for his unwillingness to shift players from their set positions to strike better match-ups. In particular, Manassa and Gordon, might have been swapped as their respective opponents Briedis and Alves were particularly damaging.
The two clubs’ handling of the draw was instructive – Barassi was positive and lifted his men. The team held its planned function that night and worked through the implications doing it all again. Barassi referred to their function as a ‘celewake’. Collingwood held dinner for players and officials. Having let slip a winning lead, naturally it was a subdued affair.
Ross Dunne (Collingwood) Collingwood appeared condemned to yet another heartbreaking Grand final failure yet somehow the man known as ‘Twiggy’ stood tall in a pack of a size rarely seen in football these days. Dunne still has a treasured place in football history. But had the kick put the Magpies a measly point in front, the mark would sit alongside the courageous matchwinning grab taken by Sydney’s Leo Barry in the 2005 Grand final.
Hafey was to never ‘forget or forgive Carman for losing that 1977 Grand final’, believing Collingwood would have bolted away if it weren’t for his undisciplined act in full view of the boundary umpire in the Second Semi.
A double bonanza for Channel 7, who paid $100,000 for the first live televised Grand final, was dependant on another sellout. Given the $8-10 cost for a seat and just $2 for standing room, it was hardly surprising so many backed up for the rematch, despite VFL President Dr. Allen Aylett claiming it would be ‘almost physically impossible to move 95,000 tickets before next Saturday’. A curtain raiser between Hawthorn and Richmond, who finished third and fourth, was also hastily organized, with the lure of $20,000 sufficient incentive for the players to unpack their kits.
North Melbourne, on another brilliant sunny day, accounted for a physically and mentally drained Collingwood, who again were shown no remorse on the training track. As Twiggy Dunne was to remark after the match when asked what his reaction was to the siren, he replied: ‘...not another week of Tommy's training.’
The replay lacked nothing in tension and in some ways was a better game. A superior spectacle included memorable moments such as Manassa’s famous run and goal. However, despite Collingwood’s refusal to give in, North had the game in hand most of the day. Briedis rediscovering his accuracy certainly helped (five goals), as did Blight recovering his form (ineffectual to almost best on ground). It was a monumental effort by Collingwood to rise from bottom, and a great shame the fairytale ended as it did. It was clear the Magpies lacked depth and star quality to take the next step, but did itself no favours in the way it prepared for both games. Then a month later Bernie Quinlan was all but sown up in black and white stripes, yet somehow ‘Superboot’ slipped through The Club’s fingers. The repercussions were significant considering the subsequent near misses, and would eventually be a catalyst to end President Hickey’s administration and Hafey’s reign as coach.
What they said
"You’re all crawling back into your shells the moment you make a mistake! That’s not the way men with any guts play this game...I’m talking about mental guts...that’s what I’m looking for!” - Furious at letting the game slip in the second term, at half time North coach Ron Barassi exhorted his players to take back the initiative. He emphasized the point by slamming one of his players into the lockers.
“I thought, gee, they’re running and we’re stopped. Our blokes looked tired at three quarter time. That’s the only game all year we looked tired ‘ cause we’re a pretty good side. Our little blokes, in particular, looked tired. I could sense them storming right over us. I could feel it.” - Man of the moment, ‘Twiggy’ Dunne was not surprised by North’s comeback.
“I am there to kick bloody goals. Anything less is not good enough...Looking at the last quarter of that North-Hawthorn Grand final, when I kicked four goals, made me feel really confident. I never dreamt anything could be so bad.” - Over breakfast Arnold Briedis watched footage of himself kicking five goals in his team’s 1975 triumph. By the afternoon he’d produced footage he’d never choose to watch again.
“We won it, lost it, won it, lost it and finally, we had to settle for a draw.” - Collingwood captain Max Richardson on the topsy turvy nature of the game.
“After the first two goals I felt we were going to win. I believe we have gained more from the draw than Collingwood. They will be feeling very let down at this minute.” - Barassi starts the mind games.
“Everyone is talking about North’s fightback. No one has talked about how North was seven points up and it looked like a North victory, but our fellows didn’t give in and fought back to still be in the fight.” - Hafey adds some perspective to the howls of ‘Colliwobbles’.
“Whatever happens next Saturday, the team that wins will prove itself the greatest of all in Australian Rules history...And that’s when we’ll win it!” - A bullish Barassi lifts his players’ spirits after the draw.
“We will win next week, of that I am certain.” - No lack of belief in the North camp, as captain David Dench testifies.
“We will not make the same mistakes of today again and we will prevail and we will win.” - Barassi’s uber confidence was a feature of North’s ’77 campaign.
“Something just hit me that this game was going to be a draw, and boy was I right.” - Colin Ingle won a record $17,995.30 Tabella jackpot for correctly picking a 76-76 draw. Given this was one of 29 draw combinations he chose, and that he walked two kms out of his way to place the bet, it must have been one hell of a premonition.
This article is taken from Jeff Dowsing's e-book, Collingwood's 50 Most Sensational Games, available through Smashwords.