Gary Crane (Carlton)
WANFL: Demons Again Triumphant
The 1968 season saw Perth emphatically reassert their status as Western Australian football’s pre-eminent club. The Demons’ only defeats during the minor round came at the hands of East Perth in round eight and West Perth in round eleven. Opposed by West Perth in the second semi final Perth scored an impressive 27 point win. Grand final opposition was provided by East Perth for the third season running and once again the Demons proved too strong, winning 16.14 (110) to 13.8 (86). Champion rover Barry Cable won both the Sandover Medal (for the second time) and the Simpson Medal for best afield in the grand final.
East Perth won 13 of their 21 home and away matches to qualify for the finals in third place. The Royals then squeezed home by 3 points against Subiaco in the first semi final before downing West Perth by the same margin a fortnight later to move into the grand final. In what was the third straight premiership deciding match involving Perth and East Perth the Demons again proved too strong, winning in fact with rather more comfort than in either 1966 or 1967. That the Royals were a talented side can not be doubted, but the unfortunate truth - from an East Perth perspective - is that Perth were even more talented.
Losing grand finals was hard enough to bear, but Royals fans had also to cope with the disappointment of seeing one of the club’s greatest ever products, Graham “Polly” Farmer, opting to join arch rivals West Perth when he returned to the west after a six year sojourn in the VFL. Farmer wanted to coach, and the Cardinals provided him with an opportunity to do so. Throughout the minor round it was all plain sailing, West Perth qualifying for the finals with an 18-3 win/loss record. Once there, however, all Farmer’s aspirations dissolved, and the Cardinals bowed out of premiership contention in straight sets. Disagreeable though this undoubtedly was, it engendered a hunger in the West Perth camp that would soon bear fruit of the most enticing kind.
Subiaco also had a new coach for 1968 in the shape of Haydn Bunton junior, who had been captain-coach of Norwood for the previous three seasons. Bunton was, of course, well known in Western Australia as he had steered Swan Districts to a hat trick of flags between 1961 and 1963. The magic touch had not deserted the Little Master either as he helped propel Subiaco, wooden spooners in 1967, to a finals berth, and ultimately to fourth place, in 1968. Indeed, with a little more luck and steadiness the Lions might have fared even better, but in the first semi final they succumbed to a vastly more experienced East Perth side by just 3 points. Lions full forward Austin Robertson junior kicked no fewer than 162 goals, just 5 adrift of Bernie Naylor’s league record, to top the WANFL goal kicking list for the fourth time.
After the promise displayed in 1967 South Fremantle suffered a disappointing decline a year later and ended up in fifth spot, two wins and percentage behind fourth placed Subiaco. On a more pleasing note, the Bulldogs won all three Fremantle derbies (against East Fremantle) in 1968, and they achieved two wins out of three against grand finalists East Perth.
Sixth placed Claremont finished a long way off the pace in 1968 after managing just 7 wins. The pick of these was probably a 10 point triumph over East Perth at the Royals’ home ground of Perth Oval in round thirteen.
East Fremantle endured one of the worst seasons in the history of the club. They managed just 4 wins, the most noteworthy of which came in round five against East Perth at Perth Oval.
Swan Districts came in last for the first time since 1960, the year before the club’s semi-miraculous resuscitation under Haydn Bunton junior. The Swans only managed a solitary win, against East Fremantle by a single point, all season.
Other States and Territories
New Norfolk defeated North Hobart in the TANFL grand final. Scores were New Norfolk 14.13 (97); North Hobart 9.14 (68). The Eagles went on to claim their first - and ultimately only - state flag thanks a 13 point win against NTFA premiers Scottsdale.
In the NSWANFL Newtown went back to back with a resounding 22.11 (143) to 10.18 (78) grand final defeat of Western Suburbs. Eastern Suburbs and Southern Districts made up the final four.
Coorparoo won their fourth QAFL premiership, and the fourth of the 1960s. Opposed in the grand final by Mayne the Kangaroos won with some comfort, 18.17 (125) to 12.14 (86).
The CANFL grand final again featured Manuka and Eastlake, with Manuka repeating their 1967 success, albeit by the much narrower margin of a solitary point. Final scores were Manuka 9.16 (70) defeated Eastlake 10.9 (69). ANU finished third and Ainslie fourth.
In the NTFL Darwin achieved a slashing 7.10 (52) to 1.2 (8) grand final win over St Marys. It was the Buffaloes’ fifteenth senior grade flag. Nightcliff came in third, Waratahs fourth and, for the sixth consecutive season, Wanderers finished fifth.
Australian Amateurs Again Too Strong in Section Two
Australian Amateurs again won the section two interstate carnival which took place this year in Canberra. In the semi finals they downed Queensland 20.18 (138) to 9.12 (66) while Canberra overcame New South Wales 15.16 (106) to 15.12 (102). Queensland then easily defeated New South Wales in the play off for third place. Scores were Queensland 20.13 (133); New South Wales 11.15 (81). In the final Australian Amateurs annihilated Canberra by 99 points, 19.19 (133) to 5.4 (34), proving that, in terms of football ability, the so called “minor” football states and territories still lagged far behind Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Queensland also played a standalone interstate match in 1968 against New South Wales in Brisbane. Queensland won 20.25 (145) to 16.16 (112).
 Big Nick by John Nicholls (with Ian Macdonald), page 34.
A Review of the 1968 Football Season
BACK TO: Season Reviews
VFL: Barassi’s Blues Come Good When it Matters
After all the hype and high expectation, Carlton's improvement under Ron Barassi was only very gradual. In both 1965 and 1966 the side won 10 matches and lost 8, finishing sixth on each occasion, with champion ruckman John Nicholls later reflecting that "he (Barassi) was still serving his coaching apprenticeship. He was very volatile, fiery and impatient and did not know how to handle men. But it all started to click in 1967.”
Carlton qualified for the finals in second place that year but lacked the big match know-how needed to capitalise. Richmond in the second semi final (by 40 points) and preliminary final opponents Geelong (by 29 points) gave Ron Barassi plenty to think about during the summer months but, as the 1968 season was to show, he was nothing if not a quick learner.
The longer the 1968 season wore on the clearer it became that the main obstacle in the way of Barassi's achieving his aim was Essendon. During the minor round the Bombers defeated Carlton in both meetings and went on to top the ladder a game and a half clear of the Blues, and firm favourites to take out their third flag of the decade.
Throughout his coaching career Barassi loved occupying the role of underdog and in the 1968 second semi final he and his players did so to perfection to overwhelm the favourites by 6 goals. For the re-match a fortnight later, played in a tricky cross wind in front of a grand final record attendance of 116,828, the Blues expected Essendon to provide a much tougher challenge, and so it proved. With both sides fumbling badly and kicking haphazardly in the difficult conditions goals were at a premium and the difference in scores seldom extended beyond a couple of kicks. Overall, however, Carlton always seemed to be just about in control, as a total of 21 scoring shots to 13 confirms. The Blues got considerable drive all day from wingmen Gary Crane and Ian Robertson, won the ruck contests through John Nicholls, and received positive contributions from half forward flanker Alex Jesaulenko, rover Adrian Gallagher, and 4 goal full forward Brian Kekovich, at only twenty-two playing what was to prove the last of just 34 VFL games before a serious back injury forced his retirement. Carlton eventually won the match by just 3 points, 7.14 (56) to 8.5 (53), in what remains the only occasion to date of a V/AFL grand final being won by a side scoring fewer goals than the runners up.
A week later Carlton scored an easy 13.15 (93) to 6.20 (56) win over Sturt in Adelaide in a match confusingly billed as being for the “Unofficial Championship of Australia”.
As has been intimated, for much of the 1968 season Essendon were the VFL’s dominant club. The Bombers topped the ladder after the minor round with 16 wins and a draw from their 22 matches. They were the only club in the competition to remain unbeaten all season at home, although in round nineteen St Kilda were a trifle unfortunate not to do better than draw. The second semi final loss to Carlton was a jolt back to reality, but Essendon recovered well by comfortably downing Geelong in the following week’s preliminary final. Many epected the Bombers to bounce back against Carlton in the grand final but it was not to be, Barassi’s Blues proving the better side on the day. Nevertheless, some Essendon players felt that the 1968 team, at its best, was stronger than both the 1962 and 1965 combinations.
In 1968, Geelong qualified for the finals for the sixth consecutive time, and in the first semi final the Cats produced an excellent display in overcoming St Kilda by 44 points, 19.13 (127) to 11.17 (83). They then played well for two quarters of their preliminary final clash with Essendon but managed just 1.7 to 4.15 after half time. Given that they were arguably the most consistent VFL team of the 1960s the Cats ought perhaps to have won more than just a solitary premiership.
St Kilda’s first semi final loss to Geelong was both disappointing and something of a surprise. When the two sides had met at Moorabbin the previous Saturday the Saints, needing a win to ensure finals participation, had triumphed comfortably, 16.14 (110) to 8.11 (59). Just as in politics, it seems, a week in football is a long time.
Despite having statistically the best attack in the league reigning premiers Richmond missed the finals by 2 points plus percentage. The Tigers won their last six home and away matches of the year but fourth placed St Kilda always just managed to stay ahead of them on the ladder.
For Hawthorn, sixth place represented an improvement on their showings in the previous three seasons which had produced a total of just 14 wins. Under 1961 premiership coach John Kennedy who had rejoined the club in 1967 the Hawks played a dynamic, muscular brand of football but they lacked the talent to trouble the top sides. Hawthorn managed 9 wins and a draw from their 20 matches but only one of their victories was against a side that finished above them on tghe premiership ladder. (Collingwood in round sixteen at Glenferrie.) Arguably the highlight of Hawthorn’s season was their defeat of North Melbourne in the grand final of the VFL night competition. The Hawks won by 51 points, 16.15 (111) to 6.14 (50). Another noteworthy achievement was that of full forward Peter Hudson in kicking 125 goals to top the VFL goal kicking list.
For the first time since 1962 Collingwood failed to qualify for the finals. The Magpies won 9 matches, including victories over two finalists, Essendon at Victoria Park in round six and St Kilda at Moorabbin in fourteen. Otherwide, however, they lacked consistency.
Melbourne dropped from seventh in 1967 to eighth after winning just 8 matches. The Demons proved totally unable to trouble the top sides all season.
Much the same could be said of South Melbourne who managed just 6 wins and a draw to finish ninth. Rover Bob Skilton’s Brownlow Medal win - the third of his illustrious career - was all the more noteworthy given South’s generally dismal form. Few players have personified old fashioned 'G and D' to the same extent as Skilton. In 238 games with the Swans he never gave less than the optimum in terms of effort. It was the same story when he donned the VFL state jumper, and towards the end of his career when he fulfilled a boyhood dream in representing his beloved Port Melbourne.
One legacy of this attitude was the exceptional number of injuries - often several in the same game - sustained by Skilton during the course of his career. A more measurable legacy came in the shape of his three Brownlows and an incredible nine South Melbourne best and fairest awards. Skilton was a highly skilled, pre-eminently two-sided footballer in an era when this was still very much the exception to the rule. Roving to losing South Melbourne rucks for much of his career he turned this to his advantage by developing an unparalleled ability to anticipate the direction of the opposing ruckman's taps. By contrast, roving to the likes of John Schultz, “Polly” Farmer and John Nicholls in interstate matches must have seemed the height of luxury.
Despite being a competition makeweight for the most part tenth placed Footscray could still raise their game on occasion as they proved with emphatic wins over eventual top four sides Geelong (by a massive 83 points) in round thirteen and Carlton (by 32 points) three weeks later. Both matches took placve at the Western Oval.
Eleventh placed Fitzroy were almost uniformly poor, although they did manage to down Collingwood by 29 points in round two at Princes Park, and only fell short by 7 points when the two sides met again in round thirteen. During the period between 1963 and 1968 the Lions were by some measure the league’s poorest performed team, finishing either bottom or second from bottom every season.
North Melbourne slumped to the wooden spoon in 1968 after managing to defeat only Footscray in round one, Fitzroy in round three and South Melbourne (away) in round eighteen.
The VFL competition in 1968 was extremely lopsided with 4 wins separating fifth placed Richmond from sixth placed Hawthorn.
The VFL representative side engaged in two interstate matches in 1968, defeating South Australia in Melbourne by 53 points, 14.9 (93) to 5.10 (40), and Western Australia in Perth by 9 points, 13.21 (99) to 13.12 (90).
VFA: Premierships for Bullants and Roosters
Preston won the VFA division one premiership for the firdt ever time by overcoming a spirited grand final challenge from Prahran. Scores were Preston 15.8 (98) defeated Prahran 12.12 (84).
In division two Geelong West took out the premiership by defeating Williamstown by 2 goals in a high scoring and high quality grand final. Final scores were Geelong West 20.15 (135); Williamstown 18.15 (123). It was the Roosters’ second division two flag.
The VFA took part in two interstate matches in 1968 and won both of them. They comfortably downed Canberra in Canberra, winning 21.16 (142) to 6.15 (51). Tasmania in Launceston proved a tougher proposition but the VFA side ultimately prevailed in a high scoring, crowd pleasing affair. Scores were VFA 19.15 (129) defeated Tasmania 18.8 (116).
"Polly" Farmer (West Perth)
Bob Skilton (South Melbourne)
Barrie Robran (North Adelaide)
Barry Cable (Perth)
SANFL: Hat Trick of Flags for Sturt
With only 2 losses (both to Port Adelaide) in the minor round and an emphatic victory in the grand final Sturt proved beyond any doubt that they were the best team in South Australia in 1968. The Double Blues comfortably topped the ladder before downing Port Adelaide by 13 points in the second semi final. A fortnight later they again faced Port on grand final day and after an even opening term won convincingly, 12.18 (90) to 9.9 (63). The victory gave the Double Blues their third consecutive premiership and their eighth in total.
Sturt centreman Bob Shearman won the Craven Filter National Champion kick award ahead of Greg Brown (VFL), Paul Vinar (Tasmania) and Reg Hampson (Western Australia).
Port Adelaide performed above expectations for most of the 1968 season but were comprehensively undone by Sturt in the grand final. It was widely maintained that the Magpies were weak in the ruck and across half forward and that the team in general was on the small side. However, they still managed to win 15 out of 20 minor round matches to finish second on the premiership ladder. Although beaten by Sturt in the second semi final the Magpies were by no means outclassed and in the following weeek’s preliminary final against North Adelaide they fought back from 19 points down at half time to win 13.15 (93) to 10.14 (74). By rights this ought to have infused the players with confidence ahead of the grand final re-match with the Double Blues but if so it had all but evaporated at half time with Sturt comfortably in the box seat.
For the third season in a row North Adelaide finished in third place. The Roosters began the season with 3 straight losses but then recovered to display some eye catching form in winning 8 of the next 9 and 13 of the next 15. There was no doubt that North had some highly accomplished players, most notably in the shape of 1968 Magarey Medallist Barrie Robran, but the team also had a soft underbelly which was cruelly exposed on a number of occasions during the year. The Roosters boasted too much experience and skill for West Adelaide in the first semi final which they won by 34 points, 11.19 (85) to 7.9 (51). As already mentioned, however, they buckled under Magpie pressure after half time of the preliminary final and went down by 19 points.
Under new coach Murray Weideman West Adelaide enjoyed a promising season which saw them finish the minor round with a 12-8 record after both starting and finishing the season well. It was the first time since 1963 that the Blood ’n Tars had qualified for the finals and if their lack of big match experience told against them in the first semi there nevertheless seemed good reason to look forward to 1969 with confidence.
After 15 home and away matches Glenelg looked to have a good chance of finishing in second place. However, that was when the wheels fell off. The Bays went on to lose their next 4 games at the hands of Centrals, North, South and West. Consequently, far from claiming the double chance the loss to West effectively cost Glenelg a place in the four as the two teams swapped places.
Sixth placed South endured an inconsistent season. At their best they could beat the likes of Port and West but conversely they were also on the end of some hidings, including one at the hands of lowly Central District.
West Torrens had another mediocre year. At their best the Eagles were good enough to beat final four teams West and North but generally speaking their form was indifferent. New coach Johnny Birt was probably their most damaging player and he duly won the Torrens best and fairest award twelve months after he had won Essendon’s.
The most noteworthy aspect of Central District’s otherwise disappointing season was club best and fairest award winner Robin Mulholland’s emergence as a player of real quality. Born in Belfast, Mulholland had only been playing Australian football since 1963. He would go on to represent South Australia as well as winning another Centrals best and fairest award.
Woodville showed marginal improvement by moving from last place in 1967 to ninth in 1968. The ‘Peckers won 4 matches, 2 each against Centrals and Norwood.
For the Redlegs the 1968 season was nothing short of calamitous as they slumped to their first wooden spoon since 1919. The departures of Haydn Bunton junior to Subiaco and Ron Kneebone to Whyalla proved difficult to cover, and worse was in store for 1969 as champion ruckman Bill Wedding announced his retirement.