Claremont's Michael Mitchell soars high to mark.

Essendon's Leon Baker

A Review of the 1984 Football Season

John Platten (Central District)

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Preston's Ray Shaw, pictured during his time in the VFL with Collingwood.

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VFL: Revenge for Bombers

The anguish caused by their humiliating capitulation to Hawthorn in the 1983 grand final was still being acutely felt as preparations were made for a 1984 season in which amends were not merely sought but demanded. The only way to make such amends, needless to say, was to win a premiership, something which Essendon had now been unable to accomplish for the longest ever period in the club's senior history. A comprehensive victory over the Swans in the night grand final bolstered confidence, and this was further reinforced when, after winning 18 out of 22 home and away matches, the club secured pole position going into the finals. Confidence was damaged somewhat after an 8 point loss to Hawthorn in the second semi final, but the Dons had the minor consolation of having participated in a match which was widely regarded as a classic. As one football writer put it:

If the VFL wanted a game to get the adrenalin flowing and the crowds back then it was yesterday's memorable affair. 

The adrenalin was certainly flowing in full measure a week later as Essendon proceeded to annihilate Collingwood by a VFL preliminary final record 133 points. Essendon's total of 28.6 (174) represented one of the most astonishing displays of accuracy in front of goal in senior Australian football history.

For three quarters the 1984 VFL grand final was a tight, torrid affair, with Essendon battling desperately to break the shackles of Hawthorn's vigorous, hard tackling, no nonsense approach to the game. After Kevin Sheedy made a series of inspired positional changes at three quarter time, however, the floodgates opened, and the Bombers piled on 8.6 to 2.1 to win running away, 14.21 (105) to 12.9 (81). Bill Duckworth, who had been moved by Sheedy from full back to the forward lines during the last term, won the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground, while centreman Leon Baker, half forward Glenn Hawker, half back flanker Shane Heard, and back pocket and later centre half forward Paul Weston also shone. 

Hawthorn did almost everything right during the 1984 season until the final quarter of the grand final. The Hawks beat Essendon in round two by a goal, in round twelve by 47 points, and in the second semi final by 8 points. They were then the better team against the Bombers for three quarters of the grand final, at the end of which they led 10.8 (68) to 5.15 (45). Then, inexplicably and uncharacteristically, they wilted under the pressure applied by Essendon all over the ground in the last term, conceding 9.6 whilst adding only 2.1 themselves. It was an ignominious end to what for so long looked like being a triumphant season.

Another team whose entire season was arguably summed up  by a single match was Collingwood. Fourth after the minor round the Magpies then finished all over Fitzroy in the elimination final, winning by 46 points, 23.15 (153) to 15.17 (107). They then comfortably accounted for Carlton in the first semi final setting up a preliminary final clash with Essendon. The Bombers were favourites, thanks both to the facts that they had won 5 more minor round matches than Collingwood, and had already twice beaten the Magpies during the season. However, nobody could possibly have predicted the mauling that was in store for the Magpies who quite simply were overrun. By half time the Bombers already led  by 14 goals, and they went on to claim a record breaking 133 point triumph, 28.6 (174) to 5.11 (41). The scars created by such an ignominious finals exit would take years to heal, and paradoxically it would be Essendon who would apply the healing salve.

Carlton produced consistently good football during the minor round but fell apart in the finals. The qualifying final pitted them against Hawthorn and they trailed all afternoon en route to a 5 goals loss. In the following week’s first semi final they managed to keep in touch with Collingwood until half time but the Magpies then produced a 4.4 to 0.2 third term to more or less wrap up proceedings. Carlton battled hard in the last quarter but still went down b y 25 points leaving their premiership aspirations in tatters.

After a slow start - losses in their first 3 matches - Fitzroy continued their solid form of recent seasons when they qualified for the finals in fifth place with an 11-11 record, ahead of both Geelong and Footscray on percentage. Their elimination final clash with Collingwood was a closely fought affair until the last change, at which stage the Lions trailed by 4 points. In the last term, however, the Magpies added 10.5 to 4.1 to win with deceptive comfort. Lions key position forward Bernie Quinlan topped the VFL goal kicking list for the second straight season. He booted 105 goals. Quinlan’s career is summarised in the entry for the 1981 season, the year he tied with Barry Round for the Brownlow Medal.

In contrast to Fitzroy Geelong started the season well and after three matches, all of which were won, they were perched on top of the ladder. Their form after that was patchy, however, and they succumbed to losses against several lower ranked teams such as North Melbourne, Sydney and Richmond. Nevertheless, had they managed to beat Hawthorn in their last home and away match of the year then they, rather than Fitzroy, would have qualified for the finals.

Seventh placed Footscray were strong at home (8-3) but susceptible on the road (3-8). At their best they could trouble the top sides as indeed they proved with wins during the season against Essendon at Windy Hill, and Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton all at the Western Oval. However, they were equally capable of floundering against ostensibly weaker opposition, as evidenced by losses to wooden spooners St Kilda as well as Melbourne, Sydney and Richmond.

For Richmond fans the memory of the club’s resounding 1980 premiership victory must have seemed extremely distant in 1984 as the Tigers were simply pale shadows of their former selves. There were some good performances - a 46 point win over Fitzroy and a 39 point defeat of Hawthorn, both at VFL Park, for instance - but these were interspersed with some ignominious reversals, not least the 115 point thrashing by arch rivals Carlton at Princes Park. 

Melbourne blew both hot and cold in almost equal measure in 1984. The Demons scored slashing wins against Sydney, by 97 points, Footscray (78 points) and Geelong (63 points) all of which contributed to their procuring a positive percentage of 104.3. However, they were equally prone to losing against lower ranking sides. The undoubted highlight of the 1984 season from a Melbourne perspective was ruckman Peter Moore’s Brownlow Medal win. Moore’s career is detailed in the review of the 1979 season during which, whilst at Collingwood, he had won his first Brownlow.

Sydney, like Melbourne, finished the season with a 9-13 record. Their best wins came at the expense of Collingwood at Victoria Park in round four, by 3 points, Fitzroy at the SCG in round five (15 points), North Melbourne in round eight at Arden Street (7 points), Fitzroy again, this time by 28 points at the Junction Oval in round fifteen and Essendon by 56 points at the SCG in round twenty-one.

North Melbourne in winning just 5 matches endured their worst season since 1972, while hapless St Kilda, who also managed just 5 wins, ended up with their fourth wooden spoon in eight seasons.

WAFL: Super Swans Do It Again

The big question in WAFL circles prior to the start of the 1984 season was whether John Todd could emulate Haydn Bunton and bring a hat trick of premierships to Bassendean. The loss of Phil Narkle, Leon Baker, Peter Kenny and Mike Smith to the VFL and veterans Stan Nowotny, Graham Melrose and Alan Cransberg to retirement prior to the start of the season obviously did not help, but Todd was a past master at inspiring players to new heights. In 1984 the Swans won 2 fewer games than in each of the preceding two seasons but this was still good enough to secure the minor premiership. Surprisingly, however, the team then suffered an unaccustomed finals loss - the first in 8 major round games - by 26 points to East Fremantle in the 2nd semi, and although they recovered to beat Claremont in the preliminary final the following week neither the margin (21 points) nor the standard of the performance did much to convince that they would be capable of turning the tables on the Sharks in the 'big one'.

The Swans players had the scent of history in their nostrils, however, and when the quarter time siren went in the 1984 WAFL grand final the scoreboard showed East Fremantle an astonishing 64 points in arrears. Thereafter, the game was a good deal more even, but the damage had been done: Swan Districts won 20.18 (138) to 15.12 (102) to give birth to a new footballing 'tradition' - whenever Swan Districts won a premiership, they automatically went on to win the next two as well! 

Rover Barry Kimberley was the recipient of the Simpson Medal for best afield, while ruckman Mick Johns, half forward flanker Don Holmes, half back flanker Don Langsford, and on ballers Brad Shine and Gerard Neesham (who actually started the on the bench) also produced noteworthy displays.

East Fremantle were a team on the rise in 1984. Between 1980 and 1982 Old Easts as they were known at the time failed to qualify for the finals; a nickname change to the Sharks in 1983 then saw them rise up the ladder to fourth, and in 1984 they occupied second position on the premiership ladder at the conclusion of the minor round. Opposed in the second semi final by reigning premiers Swan Districts the Sharks scored a surprise win largely on the strength of an excellent second quarter when they rattled on 8 goals to 2. This gave them a lead of 37 points at the main interval and although Swans made a semblance of a fight back in the third term they never managed to get within strike rate and ended up losing by 26 points.

The grand final re-match between the two sides was similar in one respect: East Fremantle kicked the same tally of 15.12 (102). The differences, however, were what counted, not least the fact that it was Swan Districts who held sway, ultimately triumphing by 36 points.

Claremont, grand finalists in each of the three previous seasons, dropped to third in 1984. Statistically, the Tigers had the second best defence in the competition but they failed to score as freely as of late, and indeed ended the minor round with an unusually low percentage for a third placed team of 98.26. In the first semi final Claremont eased to victory over East Perth by 22 points after leading by just 3 points at the half ]time interval. In the preliminary final they got the jump on opponents Swan Districts with a 6 goals to 2 opening term but thereafter Swans dominated and ended up winning by 21 points, a margin that would have been considerably bigger had their kicking for goal not been somewhat awry.

Claremont’s Steve Malaxos and Michael Mitchell were two of three players who tied for the 1984 Sandover Medal.

As gutsy and tenacious as he was talented, Steve Malaxos achieved virtually everything the game had to offer, but the V/AFL portion of his career ended in extreme disappointment.  Originally from Dalkeith/Nedlands he was recruited by Claremont and made his league debut in 1979, rapidly developing into one of the best centremen in Western Australia.  He made his interstate debut in 1982 and was a regular West Australian representative for the next six years, often as captain.  After winning Claremont's 1983 fairest and best award he enjoyed an even better 1984 season securing not only a second such award but a Sandover Medal (jointly with Peter Spencer of East Perth and team-mate Michael Mitchell) as well.  In 1985 he joined Hawthorn, but failed to settle and, after just 9 VFL games, returned home to Claremont.  Clearly now with something to prove, Malaxos put in a fine season in 1986, with the highlight being his selection as All Australian captain after Western Australia's interstate championship win.  The following season saw him engage in a second attempt to make his mark in the VFL when he joined fledgling Western Australian side West Coast where, in 66 games over the better part of four years, he enjoyed considerable success.  Voted his club's best and fairest player in his debut season, and selected in another All Australian team two years later, by 1990 his status as a key member of the squad had been emphasised by his selection as captain.  However, things turned sour when he suddenly fell out of favour during that year's finals series, and he never played for the Eagles again.

In 1991 Steve Malaxos embarked on a new phase of his career when, after returning briefly to Claremont, where he took his final games tally to 151, he crossed to East Fremantle.  Far from finished as a footballer, he played some of his best and most consistent ever football in adding 138 WAFL games over the next eight seasons, winning club fairest and best trophies in 1991, 1994 and 1995, and skippering the 1992 and 1994 premiership teams.  At his best, Malaxos was one of the most damaging and creative players in the game, and it would be wholly inappropriate if his disappointing experiences at Hawthorn and West Coast were accorded undue significance when assessing his career.

Although diminutive in stature at just 173cm and 66kg, Michael Mitchell was probably renowned above all else for his spectacular aerial ability, a legacy of his prodigious leap and great timing.  He also had blistering pace, particularly over the vital first five metres, and kicked many fine goals on the run.  Originally from Carnarvon, he made his WAFL debut with Claremont in 1982, and two years later shared the Sandover Medal with team mate Steve Malaxos and East Perth's Peter Spencer.  He made the first of an eventual 8 interstate appearances for Western Australia in 1983, and was named an All Australian in 1985 and 1986.  In 1987, after 88 WAFL games, he crossed to Richmond where, over the next five seasons, he played 81 games and booted 103 goals, earning a reputation in the process as one of the most exhilarating players to watch in the VFL.  A serious head injury sustained in a practice match in 1990 undermined his effectiveness thereafter and after struggling on for another couple of seasons he announced his retirement.

The third recipient of a Sandover Medal in 1984 was East Perth’s Peter Spencer who had previously won the award in 1976. His career is outlined elsewhere on the site in the review of that year.

East Perth qualified for the 1984 WAFL finals in fourth place, 2 points ahead of fifth placed South Fremantle but with a greatly inferior percentage. The Royals clinched their finals berth in the last minor round game of the year when they downed East Fremantle comparatively comfortably. South Fremantle meanwhile suffered a surprise loss at home to second from bottom Subiaco having also somewhat surprisingly lost the previous week to West Perth.

East Perth’s involvement in the finals was fleeting as they succumbed by 22 points to Claremont in a match that produced no fewer than 42 goals.

After fifteen matches South Fremantle were comfortably ensconced in the top four having won 9 matches and drawn 1. Thereafter, however, they managed only 1 further win to miss out on finals football altogether. It was a precursor of some dismal times ahead for the southerners.

West Perth managed to defeat three of the top four clubs in the league at least once but they also lost games they would have been expected to win. Much the same could be said of Subiaco who were just beginning to flex their muscles again after a prolonged period of under-achievement.

Perth, who won just 5 matches, finished well adrift of the league’s other seven teams. It was the Demons’ second successive wooden spoon and their third in four seasons.

SANFL: Redlegs Make History

The 1984 season brought yet another chapter in one of football's longest-running and most intense rivalries when minor premiers and warm pre-match favourites Port Adelaide fronted up against rank outsiders Norwood, which had qualified for the finals in fifth place[1], in the SANFL grand final before 50,271 diehard fans at Football Park.  South Australian football has undoubtedly produced better and more exciting matches, but few as bruising or intense.  Norwood outplayed Port in the opening term to rattle on 4 goals to 1 but after that it became an evenly matched game and by the final change it was the Magpies who narrowly held sway (by 3 points) and who looked to be playing marginally the better football.  However, if Norwood in 1984 possessed one quality above all others it was a never-say-die spirit.  On one occasion during the minor round it had trailed West Torrens by 41 points at three quarter time and got up to win, while in both the first semi final (against Central District) and the preliminary final (against Glenelg) it had recovered from decidedly uncomfortable positions to edge home to victory.  It would be no different in the grand final as Norwood raised the last quarter pressure to a level of intensity with which the Magpies could not cope, adding 4.2 to 2.2 to claim the flag by 9 points.  Keith Thomas was best afield, with Neville Roberts (6 goals, taking his season's tally to 106), Craig Balme, Michael Aish and Bruce Winter also prominent.  In taking out the premiership from fifth position in a competition with a 'final five' system of playing finals Norwood established a record which still stands.  After the grand final, coach Neil Balme, when making his traditional post-match visit to the opposition dressing room, told the Magpie players that "playing Port was the reason Norwood won".

The reaction of the Port players to this assertion is not recorded but easy to imagine. No-one associated with the black and white fraternity was in any doubt that the premiership had been theirs for the taking but the team had inexplicably faltered at the last hurdle. Earlier, the Magpies had won their opening 7 home and away matches en route to a 17-5 win/loss record and the minor premiership. A 12.7 (79) to 5.10 (40) second semi final defeat of Glenelg followed but on grand final day Norwood ultimately had all the answers.

Port Adelaide full forward Tim Evans booted 127 goals to top the league goal kicking list for the sixth and last time. A brief profile of Evans’ career is included in the review of the 1977 football season.

With 17 wins Glenelg finished level on points with minor premiers Port but their percentage was marginally inferior. This meant that they were required to play Central District in the qualifying final and after an even opening term they assumed control to coast to victory by 48 points, 19.17 (131) to 12.11 (83). In the following week’s second semi final clash with Port Adelaide the Bays were still a chance at half time but thereafter managed only 1 more goal to slump to a 39 point loss. Execrable kicking for goal contributed in no small part to Glenelg’s preliminary final loss to Norwood. The Tigers had 34 scoring shots to 27 but still lost by 18 points; scores were Norwood 16.11 (1097) defeated Glenelg 11.23 (89).

Central District’s record of not having won a finals match since 1972 continued as they crashed out of the flag race in straight sets at the hands of Glenelg and Norwood. The Bulldogs did have some cause for cheer, however, with their energetic rover John Platten winning the Magarey Medal.

John Patrick Platten was the first player born in Elizabeth to play for its home town footy club, Central District.  During a two decade, 365 game career with both Centrals (107 games) and Hawthorn (258), 'the Rat' proved himself one of the greatest rovers in the history of the game.  He was also one of football's most decorated and consistently successful players, winning both the Magarey and Brownlow Medals, four club best and fairest awards (two at each club), four premiership medallions (all with the Hawks), membership of 3 VFL/AFL night/pre-season premiership teams, All Australian selection on four occasions, AFL All Australian selection three times, and a record (shared with Craig Bradley) 15 state of origin appearances for South Australia.

The keys to his success were pace, ebullience, sure ball handling, effective disposal skills with both hand and foot, and an irrepressible, terrier-like ability to gain possession of the ball amidst, if the cliché can be excused, 'the heaviest of traffic'.  Platten's exuberant style made him a firm favourite among fans in both his home and adopted states and his popularity among football supporters even extended to Ireland where he toured with Australia's successful International Rules side of 1984.

Platten returned to South Australia in 1998 in the hope of fulfilling a childhood dream of participating in a Central District premiership.  However, his career was cruelly cut short by injury and he had to content himself with cheering from the sidelines and joining in the post-match celebrations when the Bulldogs finally broke through for a first ever senior grade flag two years later.

John Platten was included in both Central District's official Best All Time Team 1964 to 2003, and the official Hawthorn Team of the Century.

Fourth after the minor round with 13 wins and 9 losses were South Adelaide. The Panthers then met Norwood in the elimination final and stayed in touch until three quarter time, at which stage the Redlegs enjoyed a 5 point lead. However, in the final term Norwood seized the initiative, adding 8 goals to 1 to cruise to a 21.11 (137) to 12.18 (90) success.

Reigning premiers West Adelaide slumped to sixth position in 1984 after managing just 10 wins. The Bloods could still sometimes match it with the top sides as they proved with wins over Norwood twice, South twice and Centrals, but they were just as frequently prone to underperforming against the league’s bottom clubs.

Sturt, grand finalists a year earlier, suffered a similar decline in fortune to West as they won just 8 games to finish seventh. The pick of their victories both game against Norwood: 23.7 (145) to 18.12 (120) in the opening round at Football Park, and 14.11 (95) to 13.9 (87) in round nineteen at Unley.

Despite winning just 6 games eighth placed North Adelaide had a percentage of 50.07. Wins of 103 points against Woodville in round six, 90 points against South in round sixteen, 76 points against Port in round seventeen and 76 points against West in round nineteen perhaps go some way towards explaining this unusual state of affairs.

Ninth placed West Torrens also won 6 games but their percentage was substantially inferior to North’s. None of their wins came against any of the league’s eventual finalists. 

Wooden spooners Woodville won just 4 games but 1 of these was an upset 5 point triumph against Centrals at Elizabeth.

VFA: Bullants Go Back to Back

Preston claimed their second successive VFA division one premiership when they comfortably accounted for Frankston in the grand final. The Dolphins began well, booting 5 goals straight before the Bullants had so much as troubled the scorers. Thereafter, however, Preston were consummately superior, and after leading at the first change by 13 points they pulled further away in each successive quarter en route to a 21.11 (135) to 12.9 (81) win. Preston’s first year ruckman Neil Jordan was the best player afield with strong support coming from centreman and captain-coach Ray Shaw, vice captain and ruck rover David Brine, and 5 goal forward pocket John Bourke.

In second division Box Hill scored a slashing grand final victory over Oakleigh to claim their first ever VFA flag. The Mustangs led by 25 points at the first change, 58 points at half time, and 73 points at three quarter time. They eventually won by a record margin for a VFA grand final of 113 points while their tally of 32.23 (215) was also a VFA grand final record. The Devils scored 11.14 (80).

Other Highlights

Clarence obtained their fourth TANFL premiership thanks to a 13.13 (91) to 9.11 (65) grand final defeat of Glenorchy. Elsewhere in Tasmania Scottsdale claimed their sixteenth NTFA flag with a 4 point grand final defeat of Launceston while the NWFU premiership went to Cooee who overcame Smithton in the grand final by 9 points.

Coorparoo won their first QAFL flag since 1968 and their fifth in total when they trounced Morningside in the grand final by 86 points.

The SFL grand final was also a one-sided affair with East Sydney comprehensively downing North Shore. 

In the ACTAFL it was yet another flag for Ainslie, their fourteenth, after they comfortably accounted for Eastlake in the grand final. 

In Darwin St Mary’s went top thanks to a 2 goal grand final defeat of Darwin.

Interstate Match Round-up

Western Australia won the Australian championship for the second consecutive year, downing Victoria by 4 points in Perth and South Australia by a solitary point in Adelaide. Victoria finished second after they scored a 4 point win over South Australia at Football Park in Adelaide.

A section two championship series also took place with the honours going to Queensland on percentage from Tasmania and the ACT. All three teams won 2 matches and lost 1. Last place went to New South Wales who lost all 3 matches played.

Grand final results - VFL: Essendon 14.21 (105) d. Hawthorn 12.9 (81); SANFL: Norwood 15.10 (100) d. Port Adelaide 13.13 (91); WAFL - Swan Districts 20.18 (138) d. East Fremantle 15.12 (102); VFA: Division One - Preston 19.21 (135) d. Frankston 12.9 (81); Division Two - Box Hill 32.23 (215) d. Oakleigh 11.14 (80); TANFL: Clarence 13.13 (91) d. Glenorchy 9.11 (65); NTFA: Scottsdale 13.11 (89) d. Launceston 13.7 (85); SFL: East Sydney 20.13 (133) d. North Shore 5.4 (34); NTFL: St Marys 13.11 (89) d. Darwin 11.11 (77); QAFL: Coorparoo 18.22 (130) d. Morningside 5.14 (44); NWFU: Cooee 18.16 (124) d. Smithton 17.13 (115); ACTAFL: Ainslie 20.14 (134) d. Eastlake 12.13 (85).

FOOTNOTES

1. After 6 games of the 1984 season Norwood languished in eighth spot with just 1 win.  Thereafter it made a creditable recovery, winning 12 of its final 16 minor round games, but few of its performances bore the premiership patent.