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Claremont's Warren Ralph (centre) with Derek Kickett (left) and John Scott.

Carlton coach David Parkin (left) and captain Mike Fitzpatrick celebrate the Blues' 1981 VFL premiership triumph.

Michael Aish (Norwood)

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Barry Round (South Melbourne)

A Review of the 1981 Football Season

Fitzroy's Bernie Quinlan in action against North Melbourne.

VFL: Parkin’s Blues Pummel Pies

After Carlton endured a disappointing finals fade out in 1980 club coach Perce Jones was not reappointed. The Blues committee decided that they needed a coach of proven pedigree to bring out the best in what was undoubtedly a highly talented squad. The man chosen was David Parkin who had piloted Hawthorn to a flag in 1978 after representing the club with distinction in 211 senior games. Parkin was viewed as a "cerebral coach" with strong motivational qualities and his impact on the Blues was immediate and pronounced. In the opening round of the 1981 season Carlton thrashed reigning premiers Richmond by 10 goals at VFL Park and thereafter never looked back. After securing the minor premiership Carlton comfortably accounted for Geelong in the second semi final to the tune of 40 points and then scored an exhilarating come from behind victory over Collingwood in the “big one”. With almost half an hour of the third quarter having elapsed Collingwood led by 21 points but then the renowned “Collywobbles” struck with full force: the Blues kicked 6.7 to 0.2 over the remainder of the match to win with comparative comfort by 20 points. Ever reliable defender Bruce Doull was a popular winner of the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground, with fellow backmen Ken Hunter and Des English, wingman Phil Maylin, and ruckman and skipper Mike Fitzpatrick also prominent.

Long suffering Collingwood fans were once again the laughing stock of the VFL. For the seventh time in just over two decades the ‘Pies had qualified for the grand final, only to lose. Four of those losses came after the side had led late on, only to stumble, while in 1977 they had actually tied the grand final, after throwing away a significant three quarter time advantage. The replay, needless to say, was lost.

Collingwood qualified for the 1981 finals in second place, behind minor premiers Carlton only on percentage. Had they won their last home and away match against Fitzroy at Victoria Park they would have finished first, but the Lions, needing a victory to secure a top five place, won easily. As a consequence, the Magpies ended up playing four extremely tough finals matches compared to just a couple for Carlton, and it is at least arguable that this was a significant contributory factor to the Blues finishing the grand final full of running while the Collingwood players seemingly slowed to a crawl.

The Magpies would not again contest a grand final until 1990, when they would return to the winners’ rostrum for the first time in thirty-eight years, in the process finally laying to rest the colliwobbles myth that had haunted them for much of that time.

For the second successive season Geelong got to within a game of the grand final. The Cats performed well during the home and away rounds before overcoming Collingwood in the qualifying final by 14 points. However, although they battled hard for three quarters of their second semi final clash with Carlton they were ultimately overrun, going down by a 40 point margin that might even be said to have flattered them. In the following week’s preliminary final Geelong met Collingwood once more, but this time ‘round the Magpies  proved to have their measure, edging home by 7 points after the Cats had been 4 points up at the last change.

Under the astute and often inspired coaching of Robert Walls Fitzroy were a genuine force to be reckoned with in 1981. The Lions won 14 of their 22 home and away matches to qualify for the finals in fifth position. In the elimination final they led all day before downing Essendon by 15 points, 16.13 (109) to 13.16 (94). The first semi final pitted them against Collingwood, with the Magpies sprinting out of the blocks to lead by 21 points at quarter time and 38 points at the main interval. The Lions then roared back to add 13 second half goals to 8 and fall short by the barest of margins. If ever the cliche “neither side deserved to lose” was applicable it was to this match.

For the second time in three seasons Essendon qualified for the finals only to bow out at the first hurdle. Their opponents on both occasions were Fitzroy, victors on this occasion by 15 points after the Bombers had got to within a goal at the last change. A minor highlight of the season for Essendon was their 24 point defeat of Carlton in the night series grand final.

Sixth placed Hawthorn and seventh placed Richmond both missed out on finals participation by a single win plus percentage. The Hawks were in the top five as late as round twenty but a round twenty-one mauling at the hands of Collingwood effectively derailed their major round aspirations. Meanwhile the Tigers endured something of a fade out during the second half of the season after beginning promisingly. The key point in their season came in round seventeen against Fitzroy at the MCG. Despite scoring 7 first term goals to none the Tigers ended up losing by a point, a result which effectively ensured that it would be the Lions and not the Tigers who graced the 1981 VFL finals.

North Melbourne (10 wins) and South Melbourne (8) endured similarly indifferent seasons. The Kangas’ best performances were a 27 point defeat of Geelong at Arden Street in round three and a 53 point demolition of Fitzroy in round six. South by comparison were somewhat more predictable, with a 3 goal victory over Collingwood in round seventeen their only success against a top five side.

St Kilda achieved the same points total in 1981 as in 1980 but this time around it derived from 5 wins compared to 4 wins and 2 draws a year later. Some of the Saints’ losses were by gargantuan margins while their most noteworthy win was achieved at the expense of Fitzroy, by a margin of 40 points, in round eleven.

Eleventh placed Footscray finished a long way off the pace after managing just a couple of wins, against Essendon in round six and wooden spooners Melbourne seven rounds later. The Demons’ solitary success came by the narrowest conceivable margin Footscray’s expense in round three.

The 1981 Brownlow Medal voting ended in a two way tie between Fitzroy’s Bernie Quinlan and and Barry Round of South Melbourne. 

A superb kick and powerful mark, Bernie 'Superboot' Quinlan was one of the VFL's most exciting, if unpredictable, key position forwards of the 1970s and '80s.  A prodigious kick of the football, he was also a powerful mark, and had impressive pace for a big man.  Beginning with Footscray in 1969 he played 178 games and kicked 239 for the Bulldogs before crossing to Fitzroy in 1978.  In nine seasons with the Lions, Quinlan produced the best and most consistent form of his career, playing another 189 VFL games as well as adding 565 goals, including centuries in both 1983 and 1984.  The highlight of his illustrious career came in 1981 when, aged thirty, he tied for the Brownlow Medal with South Melbourne's Barry Round, who ironically happened to be a close personal friend of Quinlan's.  Few people were surprised when, in 2002, Bernie Quinlan was handed the pivotal centre half forward position in Fitzroy's official Team of the Twentieth Century.

With a heart to match his colossal 193cm, 99kg frame it would seem reasonable to suppose that Barry Round was always destined to carve out an illustrious career for himself in his chosen sport.  Nevertheless, for many of his 135 VFL games with Footscray between 1969 and 1975 he played second fiddle to the likes of Gary Dempsey, and it was not until he crossed to South Melbourne in 1976 that he truly hit his straps.  Over the course of his 193 game, ten season stint with the Swans Round proved himself without peer as a ruckman, while for good measure he could hold down centre half forward with as much aplomb as anyone.  A joint Brownlow Medallist (with his best friend, Bernie Quinlan) in 1981, Round was captain of South when the club relocated to Sydney in 1982, and he rapidly became the Harbor City's most renowned and popular Australian footballer.  Round won the Swans best and fairest award on two occasions and was a 'shoe-in' as first ruckman in the club's official 'Team of the Twentieth Century'.

The final phase of Barry Round's career took place in the VFA with Williamstown, where he established himself as one of the Association's premier draw-cards, winning the 1987 Liston Trophy, and captain-coaching the Seagulls to the 1990 flag.  Emulating his feat with the Swans, he was chosen to lead the rucks in Williamstown's official Team of the Century.

For the second season in succession Richmond’s Michael Roach was the VFL’s top goalkicker. Roach booted 86 goals.


WAFL: Free Scoring Tigers Triumph

In 1981 Claremont went on a scoring spree, accumulating an Australian record 3,352 points during the minor round, and in the process producing some of the most spectacular football ever seen in Western Australia.  No fewer than five Claremont players managed 50 or more goals for the season, and for once the dazzling skills and formidable scoring did not abate once September arrived.  The Tigers needed to play just two finals to secure the flag, downing Swan Districts by 27 points in the second semi, and edging out South Fremantle by 15 points in a free-flowing roller coaster of a grand final which saw the southerners effectively kick themselves out of contention with a 6.12 second term.  Claremont's Gary Shaw, a Queenslander, won the Simpson Medal for best afield, with Graham Moss, Phil Krakouer and Steve Malaxos also prominent. A big crowd of 50,517 watched the match.

Claremont full forward Warren Ralph booted 127 goals in 1981, including 3 in the grand final,  to head the WAFL list. Recruited from Floreat Amateurs he made his senior league debut with the Tigers in 1980 when he proved an especially potent force when weather conditions were clement. In wet weather, however, he could disappear. Ralph booted 87 goals in 1980 to finish second behind Simon Beasley of Swans in the WAFL goal kicking charts. He then went on to top those charts in 1981, 1982 with 115 goals and 1983 with 128 goals. Between 1984 and 1986 he played in the VFL with Carlton but enjoyed only sporadic success scoring 72 goals in 21 matches. Returning home to Claremont in 1987 he contributed 75 goals for the season to the Tigers’ barn-storming premiership triumph. A season with Glenelg in 1988 was much less noteworthy and he went back to Claremont for one final season the following year. The last of his 123 WAFL games was that season’s grand final in which the Tigers thrashed South Fremantle by 67 points.

While not quite as prolific in terms of scoring as Claremont South Fremantle did manage to amass the season’s highest score: 40.18 (258) at home to West Perth in round twenty-one. The Cardinals registered 12.6 (78). Third at the end of the minor round, South Freo came from 13 points behind at half time of their first semi final clash with East Perth to win by 40 points. They then comfortably accounted for Swan Districts in the preliminary final after producing an even better second half performance than a fortnight earlier. Trailing 8.5 to 8.9 at the main break the Bulldogs rattled on 20 goals to 7 over the remaining two quarters of the match to win “pulling away” by 73 points. As intimated above, they ought really to have done better in the following week’s grand final but wayward kicking for goal ultimately cost them dear.

Stephen Michael of South Fremantle won his second successive Sandover Medal in 1981. He is profiled in the review of the 1980 season.

After performing consistently well for most of the season Swan Districts nosedived late on, losing their round twenty-one clash with Claremont by 15 points after leading for most of the match, and then bowing out of flag contention in successive weeks at the hands of Claremont and South. Swans’ time in the sun would not be long in arriving though.

Eleven wins from 21 matches was good enough for East Perth to qualify for the finals in fourth place. The Royals’ most profitable phase came between rounds fourteen and seventeen when, in succession, they accounted for East Fremantle away, Perth at home, West Perth away and South Fremantle at home. They were no match for South Fremantle in the first semi final though, ultimately succumbing by 40 points after leading by 11 points at the main break.

Fifth place with a 9-12 record was Subiaco’s best finish since 1974 but the Lions never really looked liked finals contenders. Their best win of the season occurred in round one when they overcame eventual premiers Claremont by 30 points, 22.21 (153) to 18.15 (123). It was one of only two defeats sustained by the Tigers all season.

West Perth managed 8 wins but some of their defeats were somewhat inglorious. In addition to the 180 point mauling at the hands of South Fremantle alluded to earlier the Cardinals lost to Swan Districts in round one by 75 points, in round nine by 95 points, and in round fifteen by 102 points, East Fremantle in round three by 74 points, Claremont in round five by 93 points and round nineteen by 144 points, and Subiaco by 94 points in round eighteen. On the other side of the ledger though they did manage an emphatic 178 point demolition of East Fremantle in round ten.

Seventh placed East Fremantle endured a horror season with their 5 wins all coming against lowly opposition. Wooden spooners Perth fared even worse, procuring just 3 victories, although to their credit one of these was achieved at the expense of eventual runners-up South Fremantle.

SANFL: A Hat Trick of Flags for Port

By the standards of recent seasons Port Adelaide’s performance in the 1981 minor round was unexceptional, but the Magpies came good when it counted. In actual fact Port probably shifted into top gear with five rounds of the home and away series remaining as they scored slashing wins in successive weeks over North Adelaide (by 54 points), South Adelaide (44 points), Sturt (49 points), West Torrens (119 points) and Norwood (46 points). These results set up a qualifying final clash with South in which the Magpies were consummately superior for the first three quarters before easing to victory by 41 points, 18.22 (130) to 12.17 (89). They continued their excellent form in the following week’s first semi final against Glenelg, leading at every change by 23, 60, 57 and, ultimately, 54 points. The ease with which Port won was somewhat surprising given that the Bays had been by some measure the competition’s dominant force, winning 19 of their 22 minor round matches to procure the minor premiership with some comfort.

Glenelg’s loss meant that they had to front up to Norwood in the preliminary final, which somewhat contentiously was played on a Sunday. This meant that the victor would have just five days to prepare for a grand final clash with Port who would have had almost two full weeks of rest. Glenelg proved their pedigree by comprehensively outpointing the Redlegs, despite being kept completely scoreless in the third term, and indeed only scoring 1.6 after half time. Final scores were Glenelg 12.14 (86) defeated Norwood 4.7 (31).

It was widely expected that, notwithstanding possible leg weariness, Glenelg would give a much better account of themselves in the grand final than they had a fortnight earlier. However, it was not to be, with Port stamping their authority on the match right from the off and going into the quarter time huddle  35 points to the good. A fiercely contested second term saw the Magpies narrowly outscore the Bays to lead by 38 points at the main break before effectively sealing their triumph with a 4.4 to 0.1 third quarter. Glenelg scored a succession of late goals in the final term but it was very much a case of too little too late with the Magpies ultimately triumphing by 51 points, 14.11 (95) to 6.8 (44). Played at Football Park the match attracted a crowd of 52,659.

After qualifying for the finals in fourth place Norwood emerged from a high scoring elimination final clash with West Adelaide with a 33 points advantage. The Redlegs then ousted South from premiership contention with surprising ease, rattling on 7.8 to 0.1 in the opening term of the first semi final en route to a 19.19 (133) to 6.14 (50) triumph. After that, the Redlegs’ comparatively meek capitulation to Glenelg in the preliminary final came as just as much of a surprise. Norwood would come back stronger and wiser, however.

At his peak, Norwood's Michael Aish was among the finest South Australian footballers of his generation.  His slight frame belied his extraordinary courage and a tremendous capacity for hard work, and he topped this off a sublime range of skills that made him exhilarating to watch in full flight.  A popular winner of the Magarey Medal as a twenty year old in 1981, he won Norwood's club champion award on four occasions, and was a member of Redlegs premiership teams in 1982 and 1984.  During the course of his 307 game league career between 1979 and 1993 he resisted overtures from at least five different VFL clubs, content to eke out his trade in familiar surroundings.  Captain of Norwood from 1987 to 1989, Aish also counted captaincy of his state, for which he played on 15 occasions, among his football achievements.  A dual All Australian - the only Redlegs player to be so honoured - he was chosen as a ruck-rover in the Redlegs' official Team of the Twentieth Century.  He is the son of former Norwood captain Peter Aish.

West Adelaide qualified for the finals in fifth place, ahead of sixth team Sturt only on percentage. A resounding 20.14 (134) to 12.11 (83) defeat of high flying South Adelaide in round twenty-two clinched their place. The Bloods then suffered the unusual ignominy of registering 20 goals in a finals match and still losing. West led 12.6 to 11.6 at half time of their elimination final clash with Norwood but from that point onwards the Redlegs dominated, triumphing in the end by 33 points, 25.13 (163) to 20.10 (130). Despite their loss the Bloods had performed well in 1981 under the inspirational coaching of Neil Kerley, the man who had masterminded the club’s most recent premiership triumph twenty years earlier.

A superb come from behind win over Glenelg in round twenty-two was not enough to procure finals qualification for Sturt who ended up with an inferior percentage to West, with both sides boasting identical 11-10-1 records. The Double Blues trailed at every change by 7, 17 and 16 points before adding 9 last quarter goals to 4 to edge home by 13 points, 22.14 (146) to 20.13 (133). It was arguably Sturt’s best performance of an uneven season which started with a draw against Norwood, followed by victories over Port and South, before becoming riddled with inconsistency. Jack Oatey’s magnificent two decade tenure as Sturt’s coach was nearing its end and it might be fair to suggest that the club’s finest days were behind them.

The same could certainly not be said of seventh placed Central District but Bulldogs supporters would still have to wait some time before their team embarked on a halcyon phase in their history. In 1981 they counted among their 11 wins dual defeats of both Norwood and West and one triumph over Port, while the converse side of the ledger included losses at the hands of Torrens, North and Woodville. So far, Bulldogs coach Daryl Hicks’ often quoted proclamation that the 1980s would prove to be “The Decade of the Dogs” showed little sign of coming to fruition.

Eighth placed North Adelaide won 4 of their first 5 minor round matches but the Roosters managed only another 3 victories after that. For most of the season they, along with ninth team West Torrens (3 wins and a draw) and wooden spooners Woodville (3-19), were little more than chopping blocks for the league’s other teams.

VFA: Port Turn On The Style

Port Melbourne won their second successive VFA first division premiership in 1981 in the most resounding and spectacular way imaginable with a 32.19 (211) to 15.8 (98) grand final massacre of Preston. At half time the Boroughs only led by 5 points, 9.9 to 9.4, but they then produced an avalanche of goals to win with ridiculous ease. Apart from the second term, when they added 7 goals to Port’s 3, the Bullants, who made excessive and often frivolous use of handball, were overwhelmed. 

The dominance of Port Melbourne in 1981 was emphasised by Vic Aanensen’s Liston Trophy win. An awesome amalgam of height (200cm), strength, aggression, mobility and skill, Aanensen should arguably have achieved even more than he did during the course of a twelve season, 169 game senior career with two clubs.  He began that senior career with Port Melbourne in 1970, having progressed from the club's Thirds.  In 1973 he crossed to South Melbourne where, over the course of the ensuing four seasons, he played 40 VFL games and kicked 30 goals, without ever really enhancing the reputation he had won in the VFA as a dominating ruckman of the highest order.  Returning to the Borough in 1977, Aanensen produced the best and most consistent football of his career, playing a key role in the club's 1977, 1980 and 1981 premiership wins.  He also won club best and fairest awards on three occasions, and the Liston Trophy in 1979 and 1981.  At the end of the 1982 season, however, while still capable of performing at his imperious best, he left Port Melbourne, and the VFA, for a life in the country at Sale.  His comparative failure at VFL level means that he cannot be regarded as a bona fide champion, but he was undoubtedly one of Port Melbourne's favourite sons, a status confirmed in 2003 by his inclusion as second ruckman in the club's official Team of the Twentieth Century.

In second division Camberwell won their second premiership in three seasons. Seemingly the side was out of its depth in first division but the creme de la creme of the lower tier. The Cobras were opposed in the grand final by Waverley who pushed them hard in the opening term before floundering. In the end Camberwell won by 32 points, 15.16 (106) to 11.8 (74).

Other States and Territories

The New South Wales Australian Football League was renamed the Sydney Football League with the premiership being won by East Sydney who comfortably overcame Newtown in the grand final. It was the Bulldogs’ second successive senior grade premiership. Another highlight was the feat of East Sydney full forward Peter Ruscuklic in kicking a competition record 213 goals for the season.

In the QAFL Windsor-Zillmere went top thanks to a comfortable grand final defeat of Kedron. It was the third time since the Windsor and Zillmere clubs had amalgamated in 1963 that the Eagles had won the premiership.

In Tasmania the premiers of the three major leagues were Clarence (TANFL), North Launceston (NTFA) and Devonport (NWFU).

The ACTAFL grand final saw Manuka, captain-coached by Brian Quade, score a hard fought victory over Ainslie. It was the club’s sixteenth and last senior grade premiership. The grand final was played at the league’s new headquarters of Philip Oval for the first time.

North Darwin Football Club first saw the light of day in 1971 and the club fronted up in the NTFL for the first time in the 1972/3 season. The club struggled for many years before breaking through for a first ever flag this year. In the grand final Wanderers were vanquished to the tune of a single straight kick after North had established a match-winning 52 point break by three quarter time. Less than a decade earlier the triumph would have been unimaginable.

Interstate Match Summaries

The only state of origin match of 1981 took place in Perth where Western Australia downed Victoria by 29 points, 16.23 (119) to 13.12 (90). Also in Perth, a WAFL combination trounced their South Australian counterparts by 87 points, 21.30 (156) to 10.9 (69).

VFL representative sides took on Tasmania in Hobart, winning by 98 points, and Queensland in Brisbane where their margin of victory was 115 points.

Two Escort Cup matches involving state representative sides were played, both of which were won by the ACT at the expense of New South Wales in Canberra and Tasmania in Hobart.


Grand final results - VFL: Carlton 12.20 (92) d. Collingwood 10.12 (72); SANFL: Port Adelaide 14.11 (95) d. Glenelg 6.8 (44); WAFL: Claremont 16.15 (111) d. South Fremantle 12.24 (96); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 32.19 (211) d. Preston 15.8 (98); Division Two - Camberwell 15.16 (106) d. Waverley 11.8 (74); TANFL: Clarence 15.23 (113) d. New Norfolk 13.10 (88); NTFA: North Launceston 14.21 (105) d. Launceston 12.8 (80); SFL: East Sydney 19.16 (130) d. Newtown 3.23 (41); NTFL: North Darwin 15.9 (99) d. Wanderers 14.9 (93); QAFL: Windsor-Zillmere 17.23 (125) d. Kedron 8.9 (57); NWFU: Devonport 13.9 (87) d. Penguin 10.12 (72); ACTAFL: Manuka 18.18 (126) d. Ainslie 15.14 (104).