At intervals of about ten years Essendon wins the championship of the league, and all Collingwood realised that the time was up on Saturday. There were some elements of luck in their great struggle with Essendon, but the luck was mostly against the 44,000 people who went to the Melbourne Cricket ground to see what two-thirds of them hoped was only the preface to the real battle—a Quatre Bras in preparation for someone's Waterloo.
The luck lay mainly in the fact that fine weather was broken by flying showers, one of the worst of which passed over the Melbourne Cricket ground just as Essendon and Collingwood were facing up for their game. There was an instant stir in the great crowd. Women looked longingly at the grandstands and pavilions, where already every foot of space was taken. Those who had no umbrellas protested against their use. Everyone was angry with that inopportune shower. Nature and the universe had mismanaged things—though the league was not seriously held to blame—and public feeling found voice in "rotten luck!"
For nearly an hour the game was spoiled. The wrong man in the wrong place was too frequently getting the ball without earning it; the right man, who had done everything that a footballer should, was, by an untimely slide, a curve not calculated, being disappointed, sometimes blamed, as one of Collingwood's best men was, and will be unjustly blamed because bad luck "crowded him" at a responsible moment. It was not the football the crowd wished to see, but football as it always will be in wet weather, with three sides playing the game and luck often beating the other two.
It is hardly worth dwelling on the first two quarters of the match, because all of its interest was in the finish. The Collingwood fellows looked smart and athletic with bare, muscular arms, the side one would have fancied for a tug-of-war, but Essendon were wiser in wearing sleeves to their jackets—a fact which Collingwood realised long before half-time.
To pick out just occasional incidents that told in the result, Essendon, kicking first with a half-strength wind, dashed to the attack at once, Cameron and Sewart helping the ball on to a point where a free kick checked them. In the next demonstration of importance Baring, Walker, and Ogden took chief share, and Armstrong's shot just missed the goal. A hurried kick of Kirby's was marked right in goal by Rowell; a slower man or one less gifted in looking a little ahead would have been too late for it. Another scramble within range of Collingwood's posts, and McLeod, who had taken Belcher's place in the ruck with Cameron and Baring, punted Essendon's first goal. Essendon men were handling the wet ball better than the other side, and did so as long as the rain lasted; but, like bare-armed Collingwood, they had made one miscalculation—the studs in their boots were much too short, and they were not able to remedy the mistake until half-time.
When, for the first time, the ball got into Essendon's defence lines, it was the cool, resourceful McHale who helped it there, but it stayed for an instant only. In the next Essendon were attacking, and Baring, doing a man's work in this ruck, had a close, but unsuccessful, shot. The balance of power was all on Essendon's side, their reward in points rather small. Just at that moment, Lee, of Collingwood, who went into the game with doubts, wrenched his knee in a somewhat simple way. An Essendon man went down in front of him. Lee, in running, stepped on the fallen one's foot, touched his weak knee and limped away. They had another serious misfortune before the end of the quarter, when Minogue, their forward and chief hope after Lee's disablement, got his shoulder so badly injured that, although once able, when unopposed, to punt a goal, he was quite incapable of earning one. That was Collingwood's luck in the first phase of this vital game, and one needs almost to underline it for the benefit of people who may have lost the sight of one eye, or suffer from defects of memory.
In the next Essendon charge Armstrong and Shea, both playing cleverly, got the ball up to Kirby, who made a very fine shot indeed, but failed to get it through. It was noticeable that Saddler, on the wing, and Ryan, in the ruck, two magpies who have been little on the wing of late, were both at their best again. The ruling power, was, however, Essendon, the attacks of the other side short-lived dashes, never sustained assault. A quick pass from Walker to Baring and a strong punt kick got Essendon's second goal. Then Gibb brought the ball into Essendon's danger zone, only to see it promptly taken out again by Cameron. Kirby had another shot again, drove it right into goal, and again the ever alert Rowell intervened with a mark at the right moment. Still, Essendon were playing much the better game—the interesting question at the moment was just how much the wind meant to them. Sewart was doing such good work for the Red and Black about the centre, Sharp just as prominent on the other side, for twice in succession be was the man amongst their defenders who prevented Essendon getting home.
Play took a turn then, and for the rest of the quarter Essendon were mainly defending. Ryan was conspicuous in the Collingwood group that brought the ball around the wing. Once a free kick checked him, but he came again, though his shot for goal was a poor one. A lucky kick by Gilchrist landed the ball in Lee's arms five yards in front of goal, and it was scored as a matter of course. Essendon led then by nine points, on the general play, if not the shooting, they were entitled to a better result.
Collingwood dashed to the attack in an instant as soon as ends were changed, and Lee, scrambling for the ball in front, tried to pass to a comrade further out, and the chance was lost. Vernon had a try, and went just outside the goal post. Then Saddler came steaming along the wing in great style, to find the stalwart Busbridge in his way. Baring was the same fine player back as he had already proved himself in Essendon's ruck. A long kick by Sewart was marked by Smith just behind the ruck crush, but the shot brought only a behind. The play was opening out, quickening up as the rain cloud went past. Shea, getting a push in the back as he went through the crush, got a shot that was short, and a fine mark by Sharp checked them for a moment. Then Kirby got a chance ten yards out, and punted Essendon's third goal.
Those who watched the wind now realised that it was not of much consequence, because Essendon were doing almost as well against it as with it. Then Essendon backs were on guard again, both Baring and Monteath being busy as Collingwood came strongly to the assault. Baxter brought it by the wing to Ryan who missed. Then Lee had a try too far out to be effective, and Baxter had a hurried try to screw the ball over his left shoulder. McLeod and Busbridge held them in check for a moment, then in a typical Collingwood dash Ryan, Gilchrist, Wilson, and McHale all shone in passing without the side adding anything to the score from a fine effort.
Essendon broke through, Bowe passed the ball to Cameron, whose shot went very close. Collingwood's answer was another great dash, in which Gilchrist and Vernon passed the ball close in to Lee, who in an instant was smothered in a surging rush of red and black. Fast to the other end it went, where Smith actually got the ball through Collingwood's goal, but only on the ricochet—it struck half-a dozen hands in the passage. That phase of the game was just dash answering dash, shot for shot, and Ryan marked finely against two opponents. Wilson, playing beautiful football, went to his aid, and they were pressing the attack home when the bell rang. Thus far Essendon's superiority was unmistakable, but thousands were saying, "Now for Collingwood's third quarter." They saw it, and with it a change in affairs that made the match splendidly exciting.
Essendon had 10 points to the good as they opened that quarter, and seldom have Essendon's backs had a term more trying. Lee had made an important change in the places, one that meant much to the Magpies. He sent Rowell forward, went back in goal himself, and even against the wind the result was immediately seen. Gibbs and Vernon helped to give Rowell a chance at a sharp angle, and a fine shot hit the goal post. Cameron and Baring helped to hold them for a while, and an effort by Baxter and Hughes was checked by Busbridge, then Rowell got his chance again—first a fine mark on the pavilion wing, an equally fine shot, and second goal for Collingwood. They kept on pressing, and the pressure was so great, so constant, that Essendon's backs were for a long time confused, playing desperately without much method, without even time or chance for method, but struggling anyhow to hold their lines. They were forced by the dash and determination of Rowell and Wilson, and the crippled Minogue was just able to gather in a mark that he could never have got with the least opposition.
One of the chivalrous things of the game was to see some of the Essendon backs trying to keep off him. Minogue got his goal. Essendon's lead shrunk to four points; the turning point in the game seemed to have come, Essendon's fear at the moment was "One more river to cross." Collingwood's next effort was by Wilson and Ryan—but the free kick for a neck hold was a poor shot at goal. Between them, Gilchrist and Rowell got a hard won point, and Essendon's captain was anxiously trying to mend his breaking ranks. He braced up his ruck more than once, sending Busbridge into it. In spite of this, Baxter got a passing chance to Vernon in position, but again it was a bad shot. Just at the finish of the quarter Busbridge led an Essendon assault, and Lee came limping out of goal to check it.
Essendon led by three points only, and if there was anything in the choice of ends, Collingwood had it for the finish. In this third quarter Collingwood were simply triumphant. They scored 15 points to Essendon's 2, turned a losing game into a winning hope, and commenced the final term with every confidence. "Will Belcher be able to play next Saturday?" asked a Collingwood delegate blandly of Essendon's president. He was confidently looking ahead. There was more of hope than confidence in the reply, "There will be no next Saturday as far as you are concerned."
The finish saved the game from being in any sense commonplace, made it what it should be—a great match. Essendon attacked at once—Ogden prominent in their colours—but McIvor stopped the trouble with a mark in front. Armstrong and Chalmers kept up the pressure for their side, Wilson did even better work for Collingwood, and proved himself a grand little footballer. Collingwood's ruck work was first rate—their hitting out to rover Vernon very sure. But a series of mistakes forward spoiled all their work further out. Hughes sent the ball to Baxter, who rolled it in front of him without a chance to pick up until he was close to Essendon's goal, then a push behind favoured him with an easy and deliberate shot—and shockingly bad kick. McHale helped him to another try, this time running, but again a miss. Rowell got hold of it, and all Essendon trembled for a moment, but to a triumphant yell Griffith took the mark almost between the posts.
They were only a point ahead then, and through over-anxiety were breaking the rules—always a losing game, a confession of shock and scatter. Baxter got a mark within range, and, to the dismay of the side kicked the ball into the arms of the man at his mark. He takes the risks always in placing it close to the mark, and the ball was then very heavy. McLeod clung desperately to a fine mark on Essendon's back lines, and Bowe, whose defence had been sound all through, turned a Collingwood rush, followed the recoil up well past the centre, and kicked the ball to Walker, who, from a bad position, just squeezed the ball through for a fourth goal. Here was their Carlton game of a week ago over again—Essendon lasting well, rallying just at the right moment.
Collingwood were coming again, when a mistake of Baxter's checked them. Then Cameron, dashing to spoil Rowell, found himself just in the right spot to turn a Black and White charge. Round the wing in hard won stages went Essendon. Then at the vital moment Lou Armstrong, Kirby, and O'Shea broke through Collingwood's defence. Their two goalkeepers came out; Shea dashed in behind them and got the ball with a clear short run to goal. For just an instant it seemed that he would carry it a couple of yards too far. He certainly took the risks but there was no restraining whistle, Essendon's fifth goal was punted, and the ground rang with their cheers. These died out in an instant, for Collingwood took the ball down with an unchecked rush and Baxter scored their fourth goal.
There was then about five minutes for play, and the crowd surged in its excitement. Baring again held them off, but a point was finally won, and only a goal separated them. There was desperate battling about Essendon's goal, and Rowell nearly scored. Then a Collingwood yell cut in sharp as Baxter got a free kick a bit to one side, but within easy distance. Very deliberately he placed for the shot. "Any money if you get it" roared an excited onlooker—but again from the shot the ball struck the chest of the Essendon man at the mark. Even then, with the luck all against them, with only a minute left for play, Collingwood made a great effort for another game, two more games, indeed, for that is what a goal may have meant—and there was no hope of getting more than a goal. They were pressing splendidly when Cameron of Essendon put the crown on his day's work with a sudden dash across the goal front, carrying the ball right out to the wing. Before they could get back the last bell rang. Collingwood were beaten after a plucky struggle, and Essendon had won the premiership.
Essendon won it really in the first wet hour of the match. Collingwood lost it by their bad shooting in the third quarter, and by those sad mistakes of Baxter's just at the finish, when one straight shot would have given them perhaps two more games and the league another £3,000 in gate money. On that subject of finance, it may he noted here that the exact number of spectators was 43,905, the gate for the game £1,583/18/9, the aggregate takings for the league semi-finals £4,606, a result better by about £500 than for the four matches of last year. Those who argue that league football is losing interest with the public had better keep clear of figures, and stick to opinions.
After the game there was a meeting of the teams, and the usual congratulations and compliments—which may all be summed up in the sentiment, "It was up to Essendon." They were the top team in the preparatory games—the best side in the finals —so there is no further argument. They have had a strong side for years past—not always a strongly-disciplined side. They wanted just that touch of method which their coach, John Worrall, has given them to win a premiership. It was remarkable that clubs of the same name and wearing the same colours should be triumphant in both league and association. One noted the effect late at night in so many men incoherently happy, murmuring, "Shndon won!" What a pity that diplomacy, differences of opinion, mock dignity, and all that sort of nonsense stand in the way of a great battle between the two Essendons next Saturday.
In the winning of the great match no man in Essendon colours deserves more honour than Fred Baring. From beginning to end he was a great player, in the ruck or out of it, going far to make up for the loss of Belcher. And it was a big loss to Essendon, for there has been no finer—better still, no fairer—ruck afield this season than the Belcher-Baring-Cameron combination. Cameron was their second best man—finishing a fine season with a supreme effort. In a strong centre line O'Shea did some smart work; Sewart, if less brilliant, was a valuable man to Essendon about the centre. Armstrong, never demonstrative, but always doing something cool and clever, had a big share in the victory. Kirby was by a long way the most active of their forwards—a determined little player who shirks nothing. Bowe was just as emphatically a champion amongst their defenders. In the generally useful brigade Busbridge, McLeod, and Monteith did best.
Collingwood had two very fine players in Ryan and Wilson. It would be difficult to over-praise them. Rowell, too, whether back or forward, filled the crowd with admiration—proved himself still a champion. McHale played his usual clever, brainy football, seldom missed an opening. Baxter's mistakes will be so magnified, even by his best friends, as to obscure his generally fine play in the match, and it was fine. Saddler got right up to form on the wing; there was no weak spot, indeed, in the two finely-matched centre lines, excepting that Gibb was just a little too shrewd and fast for Chalmers. Sharp played a splendid game for them back; Hughes, Rowan, and Vernon were all great workers about the ruck. The curious thing is that apart from cripples Collingwood had not a weak man in their ranks; Essendon carried at least two passengers.
Title: The league final: A magnificent finish: Essendon win Author: Observer Publisher: The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria, 1848 1957) Date: Monday, 25 September 1911, p.6 (Article) Web: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11618896
|1||Armstrong, Lou||0||26y 227d||70||88|
|5||Baring, Fred||1||20y 282d||30||21|
|3||Bowe, Len||0||25y 331d||84||2|
|2||Busbridge, Bill||0||26y 235d||92||31|
|6||Cameron, Ernie||0||23y 215d||94||36|
|7||Chalmers, Wally||0||21y 7d||19||2|
|8||Griffith, Billy||0||30y 271d||177||13|
|9||Hanley, Dan||0||28y 129d||11||1|
|21||Hazel, Vernon||0||21y 330d||18||8|
|10||Kirby, Jack||1||22y 84d||10||10|
|18||McLeod, George||1||32y 32d||45||4|
|19||Monteith, Dick||0||24y 65d||18||0|
|12||O'Shea, Fred||0||24y 353d||33||1|
|11||Ogden, Percy||0||25y 211d||43||23|
|15||Sewart, Bill||0||29y 315d||110||4|
|14||Shea, Paddy||1||25y 190d||85||113|
|13||Smith, Dave||0||27y 9d||141||114|
|16||Walker, Bill||1||25y 25d||16||8|
|1||Anderson, George||0||26y 112d||11||6|
|3||Baxter, Tom||1||27y 212d||89||74|
|4||Gibb, Percy||0||29y 291d||121||7|
|5||Gilchrist, Paddy||0||21y 317d||26||26|
|6||Green, Jack||0||24y 26d||15||1|
|7||Hughes, Les||0||27y 158d||62||39|
|10||Lee, Dick||1||22y 188d||99||277|
|13||McHale, James 'Jock'||0||28y 285d||164||8|
|14||McIvor, Duncan||0||26y 316d||28||0|
|12||Minogue, Dan||1||20y 19d||9||6|
|15||Rowan, Paddy||0||22y 118d||15||2|
|16||Rowell, Ted||1||35y 100d||145||165|
|17||Ryan, Dave||0||26y 243d||90||63|
|18||Sadler, Jim||0||25y 57d||65||1|
|19||Sharp, Jim||0||29y 129d||175||43|
|20||Thomas, Eddie||0||20y 91d||7||1|
|21||Vernon, Dick 'Bendigo'||0||32y 269d||51||12|
|22||Wilson, Percy||0||22y 176d||50||27|