P.O. Box 59, Morningside, Queensland 4170
Jack Esplen Oval
AFL Queensland 2000-present
QANFL 1947-50, 1953-63; QAFL 1964-96; QSFL 1997-9;
Black, white and red
Morningside has been a member of Brisbane’s elite football competition for over half a century but it took some time for the club to find its feet in the big time. Formed in 1947¹, the club did not qualify to participate in a finals series for seventeen years, but it was home nevertheless to a number of high quality players. Noel McGuinness, an automatic interstate team selection who won Grogan Medals in 1953 and 1954 and fell short by a single vote in 1955, was arguably the pick of these, but Brian Grienke, Keith Farnsworth, Henry Maguire and Terry Devery were other players of considerable quality. Major round involvement finally arrived in 1963 but the Panthers bowed out in the preliminary final, as they did again the following year. In 1965, however, the club at last came of age, annihilating Mayne in the grand final at the Gabba by 73 points. An era of supremacy seemingly beckoned but it was not to be. In fact, the Panthers failed even to contest the finals again for another five seasons.
The 1970s was a barren decade at Morningside, at least in terms of premiership success. However, the club continued to produce and attract high quality players, like former Central District spearhead Gary Jones who topped the QAFL goalkicking list for three successive seasons (1974-5-6), another ex-South Australian in the form of 1974 Grogan Medallist Jeff Ebert, and numerous others, such as John Waddington, Ron Thomas and Barry Denny.
During the 1980s the club did at least begin to contest the finals on a regular basis, but runners-up finishes in 1982, 1983 and 1984 were the closest it came to securing that elusive second flag. The 1990s began much the same way as the side succumbed to an all powerful Southport combination in the 1990 grand final. Morningside’s perennial failure to break through for a premiership led to the club being dubbed ‘the Collingwood of the north’ or, even more bitingly, ‘the Morningsliders’. Thankfully, a premiership in 1991 finally silenced the snipers.
After finishing the home and away series in second spot Morningside gave little indication of what was to come by succumbing to old rivals Southport in the second semi final. A hard fought and somewhat scratchy 20 point win over North Brisbane in the preliminary final did little to fuel optimism, and the Panthers entered their second successive grand final as rank underdogs. Grand finals sometimes do strange things to players’ minds, however - either that, or the Morningside team had been calculatedly hiding its light under a bushel. Whatever the explanation, after a closely fought opening half which saw the Sharks go into the long break 3 points to the good the so called ‘Morningsliders’ suddenly clicked into gear. In the second half it was virtually all one way traffic as Morningside rattled on goal after goal, eventually winning by what, beforehand, would have seemed the unbelievable margin of 61 points. Centre half forward Mitchell Howe booted 5 goals and was a lynch pin of the Panthers’ attack all day to be deservedly named as best afield and be awarded the Joe Grant Medal. He was aided and supported by, among others, wingmen Brad Patterson and Craig Edwards, half forward Simon Stewart (4 goals), defender Brad Edwards, and 6 goal full forward Dean Vickery.
The victorious Morningside team played a brand of football modelled on the style of the great Hawthorn sides of this era, tackling ferociously, running in numbers, and never permitting their opponents, when in possession of the ball, to enter the ‘comfort zone’. Having finally broken the ice it was disappointing for all associated with the club to witness a fall from grace, albeit a slight one, in 1992 as the Panthers ran second behind arch nemesis Southport. The grand final was a close game, but ultimately Morningside fell short by 14 points.
The Sharks and the Panthers resumed their private war the following year, and after the former won with a fair degree of comfort in the second semi final it seemed that the premiership cup would once again be heading to the Gold Coast. Those who thought so, however, had short memories: in 1991 the Panthers had found form when it really counted, and it would be the same story two years on. First, there was the formality of a preliminary final meeting with Kedron-Grange, a match which Morningside utilised to restore confidence and move into something approaching optimum form, winning with consummate ease by 10 goals. In the following week’s grand final, the Panthers carried on where they had left off, overwhelming the Sharks right from the opening bounce to lead at every change by 15, 26 and 32 points before running away with things in the final quarter. Indeed, had it not been for some profligate kicking for goal (Morningside recorded no fewer than 5 ‘posters’) the eventual margin of victory might well have challenged the all time record for a QAFL grand final.² As it was, Morningside won easily enough by precisely the same margin as a couple of years earlier, 61 points. Final scores were Morningside 16.22 (118) to Southport 8.9 (57), with defenders Brendan Fagg (Joe Grant Medal) and Emile Roman, rover Paul Peos, centre half back Brad Edwards, and tagging supremo Barry Hamilton among the best for the Panthers.
The 1994 season was historic in that it saw Morningside successfully retain the premiership for the first time. It did so in straight sets, but neither its 2 goal second semi final victory over Southport, nor its grand final defeat of Kedron Grange could, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as comfortable.
Despite having accounted for Kedron-Grange on all three previous meetings between the sides during the year, the Panthers found themselves confronted by a vastly different proposition on grand final day. In what was the first all Brisbane grand final in a decade the crowd was treated to the toughest, hardest fought and best such match since the Southport-Mayne encounter of 1985. Morningside eventually won by 2 points, 12.11 (83) to 12.9 (81). Panthers coach Marty King, having seen eventual Joe Grant Medallist David Wearne boot what proved to be the winning goal midway through a torrid final term, generously conceded “It was just one of those games where we were fortunate to be in front when the bell went”.³
In an era of ever increasing player mobility it was unusual - and perhaps significant - that no fewer than eleven members of the victorious Morningside team had also played in the club’s 1991 and 1993 flag-winning combinations.
Besides Wearne, other noteworthy contributions to the Panther cause came from wingman Emile Roman, centreman Daryl Bourke, and forwards Chris Martin and Mark Russell.
In 1995 Morningside again reached the grand final, losing a low scoring, slogging affair to North Brisbane by 5 points. It was a similar story two years later, with Southport the victors on this occasion.
The entire Queensland football landscape has altered dramatically in recent years and although Morningside had long proved itself an adaptable, forward thinking club, such attributes did not translate into another premiership until the 2003 season when the Panthers overwhelmed reigning premiers Mt Gravatt by 63 points in a surprisingly one-sided grand final.
Things were much tighter a season later as, in one of the best state league grand finals seen for many years, Morningside overcame a 20 point third term leeway to edge out an extremely talented Southport combination by 7 points. Final scores were Morningside 12.18 (90) to Southport 12.11 (83), with Panthers skipper David Lillico earning the noteworthy double of Joe Grant Medal and Player of the Finals award.
The Panthers again reached the grand final in 2005, but this time Southport had their measure, winning comfortably in the end by 61 points after a closely contested first three quarters.
In 2006, Morningside got as far as the preliminary final, and looked to be in a handy position at three quarter time as they led Southport by 11 points. However, the Sharks added 4 unanswered goals in the final term to pull away to a 13 point win, 12.13 (85) to 9.18 (72).
It was a similar story in 2007 as the Panthers’ premiership challenge was once more derailed by Southport at the preliminary final stage.
2009 and 2010 saw Morningside go back-to-back, as they defeated Mt. Gravatt, 14.10 (94) to 8.15 (63) in 2009 and Labrador, 17.16 (118) to 14.12 (96) in 2010.
Morningside became part of the North Eastern Australian Football League in 2011, after the merger of the QAFL and AFL Canberra.
1 Hawthorne Juniors, the club out of which Morningside developed, had been formed in 1931.
2 The record margin of victory in a QAFL grand final had been set in 1972 when Wilston Grange defeated Sandgate by 84 points, 26.8 (164) to 11.14 (80). In 1997 Southport established a new benchmark after a 26.13 (169) to 11.9 (75) grand final victory over Mt Gravatt, a margin of 94 points.
3 Quoted in Inside Football, vol. 24, no. 29, 7/9/94, page 30.
4. Post-2007 additions by Andrew Gigacz.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications⁴