SANFL: Blues Back to Best

Jack Oatey took the embarrassment of Sturt’s 1973 finals fade-out hard and in 1974 he had the Blues primed to a peak and producing football comparable with their best form of the five in a row era. Where the teams of the late '60s had been renowned for their attacking prowess, however, the Double Blues of '74 owed much of their success to a watertight defence, which statistically proved nearly 20% better than their nearest rivals.

Sturt lost only 3 minor round matches before progressing straight to the grand final with a hard fought 7.19 (61) to 8.8 (56) victory over Port Adelaide. The grand final opposition was provided by reigning premiers Glenelg and, after another dour tussle, the Double Blues emerged victorious by 15 points, 9.16 (70) to 8.7 (55). The win was all the more meritorious in that Sturt had to kick into the breeze in the last quarter after leading by just 5 points at the final change but, after being enjoined by Oatey to "attack, attack, attack", added 3.4 to 2.0 to claim an improbable triumph. Best players for Sturt were ruckmen Rick Davies and Greg Wild, ruck rover Paul Bagshaw, rover Mick Nunan, and back pocket Brenton Adcock in his last ever league game.

In the “Championship of Australia” series, which was now contested by teams from all four of the major football states, Sturt defeated East Fremantle but lost heavily to a Richmond combination which was arguably one of the greatest in Australian football history.

In the wake of their 1973 premiership Glenelg’s minor round form - 11 wins from 22 matches - was, to say the very least, disappointing. However, for fifteen out of sixteen quarters their finals form was magnificent. The Bays downed West Torrens in the elimination final by 36 points, Norwood in the first semi final by 23 points, and Port Adelaide in the preliminary final by 49 points. At three quarter time of the grand final they trailed Sturt by just 5 points, and looked as if they had every chance of claiming the premiership. Unfortunately, that was when they happened to put in their worst quarter’s performance of the final series, and the Double Blues pulled away to record a deceptively comfortable 15 point win.

Port Adelaide were the direct opposite of Glenelg, performing well during the minor round before falling in a heap in the finals. The Magpies lost 3 of their first 5 home and away matches before remaining unbeaten (16 wins and a draw) in their last 17. They then accounted for Norwood by 26 points in the qualifying final but, crucially perhaps, lost two important defenders, Carl Fragomeni and John Ede, for the remainder of the finals series because of injury. Against both Sturt in the second semi final and Glenelg in the preliminary final Port were distinctly second best but the fact that they boasted one of the youngest squads of players in the league gave cause for optimism.

For the first time since 1962, when the SANFL comprised eight clubs rather than ten, Norwood won at least once against every opponent in the competition. Come finals time, however, the Redlegs seemingly lacked the confidence and desire which had seen them register 16 wins in the minor round, and against both Port in the qualifying final and Glenelg in the first semi final they conceded defeat with barely a whimper.

West Torrens qualified for the finals for the first time since 1969 but were then outclassed in the elimination final by Glenelg. The Eagles were poor during the first half of the season, prompting the departure of coach Bill Barrot. Under his replacement, Wayne Jackson, they developed the winning habit and they went into their last home and away match needing to win and hope Central District lost in order to reach the finals. Everything went to plan: the Eagles downed Woodville by 39 points while Centrals got thrashed by Port. Finals football is a vastly different affair to the bread and butter of minor round matches, however, as Torrens found to their cost against the Bays.

For the second season in succession Central District were in the top five on the eve of their last minor round game, only to be dislodged. The Bulldogs won fairly consistently against teams lower on the premiership ladder but generally struggled when opposed by the top sides.

After coming within ninety seconds of a third successive flag in 1973 North Adelaide suffered a depressing decline to finish seventh after managing just 7 wins from 22 minor round matches. Their season was perhaps summed up by their defeat at the hands of Sturt - the team they had annihilated a year earlier to qualify for the grand final - in the last home and away match of the year. The Roosters tallied just 3.9 (27) in going down to the Double Blues by 114 points.

In finishing eighth South Adelaide enjoyed their best season since 1968. However, the Panthers won just 7 matches and were still a long way from being a realistic finals proposition. The highlight of their year season came in round eight when they defeated Sturt 16.8 (104) to 13.17 (95).

Ninth placed Woodville (6 wins) and bottom side West Adelaide (4 wins) both had dismal seasons. It was West Adelaide’s second successive wooden spoon.

VFA: Tenth Flag for Boroughs

Port Melbourne won their tenth senior grade VFA flag and their first since 1966. Opposed in the grand final by Oakleigh the Boroughs were comfortably in control all day and ultimately won by 69 points, 22.20 (152) to 11.17 (83). Former Fitzroy ruckman Norm Brown captain-coached the victors who were well served by rover Paul Goss, ruck rover Graeme Anderson, centreman Jim Buckley, 10 goal full forward Fred Cook and half forwards “buster” Harland and “Sam” Holt. Oakleigh’s most conspicuous performer was centre half forward Peter Cloke who was credited with 16 marks.

In division two the grand finalists were Coburg and Brunswick with victory going to the former by 56 points. Final scores were Coburg 18.17 (125) defeated Brunswick 9.15 (69). Coburg, who had been relegated at the end of the 1973 season, thus made an immediate return to the VFA’s top tier.

TANFL: “Rags to Riches” for Robins

After finishing last in 1973 North Hobart emphatically won the 1974 flag. For good measure the Robins also succeeded at reserves grade level. Opposed in the grand final by raging hot favourites Sandy Bay, North proved consummately superior, winning 21.10 (136) to 15.18 (108). The Robins had earlier accounted for Clarence in the first semi final and Glenorchy in the preliminary final.

The state championship was not conducted this year. NTFA premiers were City-South while Burnie won the NWFU flag.

Other States and Territories

The New South Wales Australian National Football League dropped the word “National” from its name this year. Western Suburbs defeated East Sydney by 10 points in a high scoring grand final. St George finished third and South Sydney fourth.

In the QAFL grand final Sandgate obtained revenge over their 1973 conquerors Mayne. It was the Sea Hawks’ fifth senior grade flag.

Manuka won their second successive QAFL flag with a 31 point grand final defeat of Eastlake. ANU came third while 1973 grand finalists Ainslie dropped to fourth.

Waratahs won the NTFL premiership by 3 points from Nightcliff. It was the ‘Tahs’ first senior grade flag for twenty years and their twelfth in total.

Interstate Match Scene

1974 was a busy year on the interstate front. A section two knock-out carnival took place in Sydney with the following results:

Queensland 13.10 (88); New South Wales 9.12 (66)
Australian Capital Territory 20.15 (135); Australian Amateurs 13.15 (93)
New South Wales 13.14 (92); Australian Amateurs 10.21 (81) [Third place play-off]
Queensland 10.8 (68); Australian Capital Territory 7.10 (52) [Final]

It was Queensland’s first ever carnival triumph, but earlier in the year they had been comprehensively beaten in Brisbane by a Northern Territory combination. Final scores were Northern Territory 15.12 (102) defeated Queensland 10.10 (70).

A promotional match between the VFL and South Australia took place at the Sydney Cricket Ground. A crowd of 20,752 saw the  VFL lead at every change by 28, 24 and 37 points en route to a 14.24 (108) to 9.18 (72) triumph. The VFL also visited Perth where they achieved a hard fought 7 point victory. Scores were VFL 11.13 (79) dfeated Western Australia 10.12 (72). 

South Australia met Western Australia in the first ever interstate match to be played at Football Park. The visitors led by 3 points at the long break and only trailed by 10 points at three quarter time, but South Australia pulled away in the last term to win by 18 points, 14.20 (104) to 12.12 (84).


[1] The WANFL during the early 1970s was the most intensely competitive and unforgiving of Australia's major football competitions. In the five seasons between 1970 and 1974 the WAFL premiership was won by five different clubs, two of which (South Fremantle and West Perth) also gained a wooden spoon during the same period.  All eight clubs contested at least one finals series, while no club qualified for the major round every season.

Grand final results - CoA: Richmond 27.11 (173) d. Sturt 13.17 (95); VFL: Richmond 18.20 (128) d. North Melbourne 13.8 (86); SANFL: Sturt 9.16 (70) d. Glenelg 8.7 (55); WANFL: East Fremantle 17.20 (122) d. Perth 15.10 (100); VFA: Division One - Port Melbourne 22.20 (152) d. Oakleigh 11.17 (83); Division Two - Coburg 18.17 (125) d. Brunswick 9.15 (69); TANFL: North Hobart 21.10 (136) d. Sandy Bay 15.18 (108); NTFA: City-South 5.13 (43) d. Scottsdale 2.10 (22); NSWAFL: Western Suburbs18.25 (133); East Sydney 17.21 (123); NTFL: Waratahs 13.11 (89) d. Nightcliff 13.8 (86); QAFL: Sandgate 17.10 (112) d. Mayne 13.11 (89); NWFU: Burnie 14.15 (99) d. Latrobe 9.12 (66); CANFL: Manuka 14.14 (98) d. Eastlake 9.13 (67).

VFL: Tremendous Tigers Go Back to Back

Of all Richmond's flags under coach Tom Hafey that of 1974 was arguably the most conclusive.  The popular perception at the time was that the Tigers that season had lifted the game to a new pinnacle of excellence, and although they did occasionally - five times in fact - taste defeat they gave the distinct impression that this would never happen when it really mattered. After clinching a week's rest by finishing top after the minor round, Richmond showed finals newcomers North Melbourne what September footy was all about by booting 5.7 to nothing in the opening term of the second semi final, before visibly easing off and coasting to victory by 21 points. A fortnight later in the grand final, North presented a slightly sterner challenge, thanks mainly to accuracy in front of goal; by half time, however, with the Tigers leading 10.11 (71) to 8.3 (51), and seemingly having the answer to everything the Kangaroos could concoct, the only real question appeared to be 'how much Richmond?’

The answer, after a second half of fluent, sometimes flawless football from Richmond, was 41 points, but in truth the margin told little about the Tigers' superiority in 1974.  Where they clearly excelled over almost any team that had gone before was in their handling of pressure; prior to Richmond, the benchmark of a great team often tended to hinge on a perceived ability to cope with pressure, but Hafey's Tigers did not merely cope with pressure, they thrived on it.  Consequently, when players of the calibre of Kevin Sheedy (best afield in the '74 grand final), Royce Hart, Paul Sproule, Kevin Morris, Dick Clay, Kevin Bartlett, Gareth Andrews and Robert McGhie found themselves in situations of reduced pressure - as in the 1974 Australian club championships in Adelaide - they resembled ravenous wolves released in a paddock full of sheep, with the resultant carnage pathetic to behold.  Richmond completely annihilated a Tasmanian combination 34.29 (233) to 2.4 (16), and a supposedly highly skilled Sturt side 27.11 (173) to 13.17 (95), effectively precipitating the demise of the club championship concept, and perhaps sowing the seeds of the VFL's future aspirations towards a pseudo-national expansion of its own competition.

With the addition of one of the greatest rovers of all time, Barry Cable, and the dazzlingly skilled Malcolm Blight to the mix in 1974 North Melbourne were transformed from outsiders into bona fide premiership contenders, winning 16 out of 22 home and away matches to finish second on the ladder behind Richmond.  Just as in 1950, however, the finals would ultimately prove a disappointment, although unlike the 1950 side the version coached by Ron Barassi was not going to waste the lessons learned.

North started their 1974 finals campaign in style with a 15.13 (103) to 8.17 (65) qualifying final thrashing of Hawthorn, made possible by an magnificent last quarter burst of 7.5 to 2.2. In the following week's second semi final against Richmond, however, the Kangaroos found themselves on the back foot right from the start. At quarter time the Tigers had rattled on 5.7 to North's no score, and although North managed a measure of improvement after that there was never the remotest hint of danger to Tom Hafey's side.

In a rain marred preliminary final clash with Hawthorn, North just managed to squeeze over the line by 5 points. Only 15 goals in total were scored all match, just 4 of them after half time when conditions became particularly inimical to good, open play.

The grand final, by contrast, was played on a perfect afternoon for football, but unfortunately for North the Richmond machine, one of the best oiled and most efficient in VFL history, was in irrepressible form. North tried hard, and never allowed the Tigers to hold full sway, but Richmond won every quarter except the third, and to the enormous disappointment of perhaps 90% of the crowd of 113,839, pulled away in the last term to win, it seemed, with something to spare.  Final scores were Richmond 18.20 (128) to North Melbourne 13.14 (92), with wingmen Keith Greig and Wayne Schimmelbusch, rover Barry Cable, half back flanker John Rantall, and centreman John Burns best for the vanquished northerners. Barassi was apoplectic, telling his players that losing the ultimate game of the year constituted the ultimate failure. The club's post-match function at the Southern Cross ballroom was permeated with the stigma of defeat, Barassi having warned his players that he would not tolerate seeing any of them smile.

North provided both the 1974 Brownlow Medallist, in the shape of Keith Greig (his second successive Medal), and the VFL’s leading goal kicker in Doug Wade, who booted a club record 103 goals.

Hawthorn qualified for the finals in third place, ahead of Collingwood on percentage, having won 15 and lost 7 home and away matches. It was the first time the Hawks had qualified for the finals since 1971 when they ended up winning the flag. On this occasion, however, they proved unable to get past North Melbourne who defeated them in both the qualifying final, by 38 points, and the preliminary final, by 5 points. In between Hawthorn comfortably accounted for Collingwood in the first semi final when they scored 21.12 (138) to the Magpies’ 13.10 (88). The foundation of the Hawks’ triumph was their relentless aggression which repeatedly forced Collingwood into errors. Rover and “human tank” Leigh Matthews was best afield garnering 24 disposals and booting 7 goalsf.

Collingwood finished the minor round in poor form, losing in successive weeks to Richmond, North Melbourne (by 91 points) and South Melbourne. However, their performance in their elimination final clash with Footscray must have restored confidence and presumably raised hopes. The Magpies led at every change en route to a 19.10 (124) to 6.19 (55) triumph. Against Hawthorn in the first semi final, however, the boot was firmly on the other foot, the Hawks netting 7 opening quarter goals to 2 and continuing to dominate thereafter before eventually winning by 50 points.

Fifth placed Footscray had their best season since 1961, when they had got as far as the grand final. The Bulldogs, under former Collingwood player and coach Bob Rose, won 13 and drew 1 of their 22 minor round matches. Overall, they tended to be solid against teams outside the top five, but their only win against a fellow finalist came in round five when Hawthorn provided the opposition. On the face of it therefore the Bulldogs’ hefty 69 point loss to Collingwood in the elimination final was only to be expected. However, had Footscray kicked straighter in the second term when they booted 1.10 the result might conceivably have been different, lor the margin closer at any rate.

Sixth place for Geelong was the Cats’ best finish since 1970. They won precisely half of their home and away matches, including victories over all five finalists. However, their form against lower ranking sides was inconsistent. The Cats’ home form was also unusually poor as they lost 6 games out of 11.

Carlton were a team in decline - or, if you prefer a euphemism, “rebuilding”. The Blues were consistently able to beat the teams below them on the ladder but their only victory against a finalist came in round sixteen when they bested arch rivals Collingwood 18.10 (118) to 13.4 (82).

After qualifying for back to back finals series Essendon were expected to show improvement in 1974 but in fact the Bombers suffered a disappointing slump, finishing seventh after winning just 10 of their minor round games. Their best performance of the season probably came kin round nine when they downed North Melbourne by 5 goals at Arden Street.

Eighth placed South Melbourne blew hot and cold in1974, beating the likes of Collingwood, Footscray and North Melbourne, but producing below par performances in other games.

Much the same could be said of St Kilda who overcame Collingwood at Victoria Park but lost to Melbourne and Fitzroy. Moreover, quite a few of the Saints’ defeats were by sizeable margins.

For Fitzroy, who replaced their predominantly dark maroon jumpers with startling red to coincide with the introduction of colour TV, 1974 was a case of business as usual. The ‘Roys managed just 4 wins and a draw from their 22 minor round matches. Mind you, two of the wins were at the expense of Collingwood and Hawthorn, which suggests that the side underachieved considerably.

For only the third time since world war two Melbourne ended up with the wooden spoon. The Demons lost their first 9 games and ultimately only managed to beat Fitzroy (twice) and St Kilda. The 1970s would prove to be a long, stultifying decade for the Dees. 

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A Review of the 1974 Football Season

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WANFL: Old Easts Return to Winning Ways

With skipper Graham Melrose playing probably the best football of his life to secure not only the Sandover Medal but virtually every media award going East Fremantle at long last returned to the winners' list in 1974. In what, even for the era, was an extraordinarily closely contested season,[1] East Fremantle finished the home and away rounds in pole position half a game clear of Perth (and, indeed, just six and a half games ahead of wooden spooners West Perth, who had managed seven wins for the season and had actually lowered Old East's colours on one occasion).  Once the finals arrived, however, East Fremantle became pre-eminently, as the cliché has it, "a team on a mission", downing Perth in remarkably similar fashion and by near identical margins in both the second semi final (by 23 points) and grand final (by 22 points). The flag decider, watched by a surprisingly small crowd of 40,758, was hard fought for three quarters with the Demons enjoying a narrow 2 point lead at the final change, but the last quarter brought that traditional Old East “lift” all over the ground which saw them quickly achieve an unassailable lead. Three late goals to Perth made the final scoreline respectable. East Fremantle youngster Brian Peake was many people's choice as best player afield but the Simpson Medal was split between Perth's Dave Pretty and Old East centreman Gary Gibellini. Others to do well for the victors included ruckmen Becu and Ferguson, ruck rover Dave Hollins, and 4 goal full forward Paul Nicholls.

After the grand final East Fremantle headed to Adelaide for the Australian club championships where it lost to Sturt by 9 points and overcame a Tasmanian combined side without even needing to try.

East Fremantle had further cause for celebration in 1974 as Graham Melrose won the Sandover Medal..

Despite finishing the minor round in indifferent form (just 3 wins from their last 7 games) Perth were expected to mount a stern challenge for the premiership. However, in both the second semi final and the grand final East Fremantle were simply too good. In between, Perth scored a hard fought but well deserved 15 point triumph over Swan Districts.

Swans qualified for the finals in fourth place ahead of fifth team South Fremantle by just 2 points, legacy of a drawn match with East Fremantle. Given that the Bulldogs’ percentage was significantly better, that draw was of vital importance. Contrary to expectations, Swans went on to win their first semi final clash with minor premiers Subiaco quite convincingly. Scores were Swan Districts 13.21 (99); Subiaco 11.10 (76).  However, a fortnight later in a closely competitive preliminary final, watched by a crwod of 27,426, Perth just proved to have Swans’ measure. Nevertheless, it had been a promising season for Swan Districts after the club had gone eight seasons without finals football.

All South Fremantle had to do in order to secure finals participation in 1974 was down West Perth at Fremantle Oval in the last home and away match of the season. By contrast the Cardinals, who were destined to obtain the wooden spoon, had nothing but pride hinging on the result of the match. The Bulldogs had comfortably won the previous two minor round encounters with West Perth, and most people expected them to make it three in a row with a minimum of fuss. However, despite managing 29 scoring shots to 25 South went down by 21 points, registering 9.20 (74) to 14.11 (95). The result meant that the Bulldogs had still not made the finals since winning the premiership in 1970.

Prior to 1974 sixth placed East Perth had qualified for every finals series since 1966 (although, somewhat surprisingly, despite reaching the grand final six times they only won one premiership). The Royals were still capable of challenging the top sides - they beat eventual premiers East Fremantle in all three minor round clashes, for instance - but they were woefully inconsistent. Improved fortunes were just around the corner, however.

The best that could be said about seventh place for Claremont was that it represented modest improvement on 1973, when the Tigers had slumped to the wooden spoon. Cursed with that indignity in 1974 were West Perth. It was the first time since 1939 that the Cardinals had finished bottom of the ladder.

Sturt's Rick Davies

Richmond's Royce Hart