BEST - Essendon: Busbridge, Walker, Baring, Armstrong, Shea, Cameron, Bowe Collingwood: Rowell, Wilson, Sharp, Sadler, McHale, Baxter, Ryan
GOALS - Essendon: Baring, Kirby, McLeod, Shea, Walker Collingwood: Baxter, Lee, Minogue, Rowell
ATTENDANCE: 43,905 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
The Dons' renaissance under Worrall continued in 1912 as they won their second consecutive flag thanks to a 5.17 (47) to 4.9 (33) challenge final defeat of South Melbourne. The match was watched by 54,463 spectators, which was not only the biggest VFL crowd up to that point, but the largest attendance for any sporting event in Australia. After putting in a somewhat less convincing home and away campaign than in 1911 Essendon entered the finals in 3rd place with a 12-6 record, two wins behind both Carlton and minor premier South. A 12 point victory over South in a semi final then set up a final encounter with Carlton, which the Same Old edged by 4 points. That proved to be their toughest hurdle, as in the challenge final re-match with South they were always in control, although some profligate kicking for goal may have caused their fans a few jitters. Happiest man in the Dons camp after the win was probably Alan Belcher, who made amends for missing the 1911 play-off by producing a typically sterling captain's display in the ruck.
At Collingwood, the most significant occurrence in 1912 was the appointment of Jock McHale as coach, in succession to George Angus. Under McHale the Magpies had an inauspicious start, with their 9-9 record only being good enough for 7th place. However, by the time McHale stood down as coach at the end of the 1949 season Collingwood would boast a league record haul of 11 flags, the last 8 of which had been claimed during the legendary Magpie's tenure.
The Dons' Ernie Cameron
Paddy Rowan (Collingwood)
The Same Old were straight into attack after the break, but first McIvor and then Sharp managed to relieve the danger.
Collingwood's first attack of the quarter saw Baxter, freed dead in front, squander yet another excellent goal scoring opportunity. Instead of giving the Magpies the lead, he merely succeeded in reducing the deficit to a couple of points. Moments later the margin was down to the barest one possible following another miss by Baxter, this time from a hurried snapshot from with a pack of players.
For the next five minutes Collingwood continued to attack persistently but Essendon, through a mixture of good fortune and desperation, held out. The deadlock was eventually broken by Baxter, but yet again he ought to have done better. His kick for goal was straight enough, but too low, allowing an Essendon player to dash across and intercept the ball just before it crossed the line.
With just a point separating the teams on the scoreboard, all science and system was abandoned as players hurled themselves at the ball, and each other, seemingly indiscriminately. From a scrimmage on the southern wing, Essendon managed to force the ball resolutely, if haphazardly, forward, and Walker, in the middle of a dense pack of players, managed to hold onto a tough mark. From a distance approaching fifty metres, on a slight angle, he kicked truly to register his side's first goal since early in the second term.
At this point, the heads of the Same Old players seemed visibly to lift. From the centre bounce following Walker's goal they surged into attack once more, only for Sewart, from a free kick on an angle close in, to squander an excellent opportunity to punish Collingwood still further. His rather tentative looking shot sailed across the face of goal and into the forward pocket, whereupon the Collingwood defenders hurriedly forced the ball across the boundary line for a throw-in.
The Magpies then managed to send the ball back towards the centre of the ground, but Armstrong intervened before they could mount a telling attack. Showing great presence of mind, the versatile Essendon champion, who in a match against St Kilda earlier in the season had booted the remarkable tally for the times of 8 goals, sank his boot into an impeccably directed long kick that came to earth just ahead of Shea, who was racing in towards goal from the wing. Without having to change either pace or direction, the fleet-footed Dons half forward gathered the ball on first bounce, steadied, and fired home as casually as if he were participating in a training drill.
With barely five minutes of the game remaining, and the Magpies needing to score three times even to get back on level terms, an Essendon victory seemed assured. However, the Collingwood players refused to lie down, and within moments of the resumption they had the first of the necessary three scores on the board - a goal, courtesy of a finely judged angled snapshot from Baxter.
Once again the Magpies forced the ball forward, Ryan finding Minogue in the forward pocket, but the Collingwood hero was understandably not moving with anything like his usual vim and fluency, and although he managed to get boot to ball, his kick was well off target, and only a minor score resulted.
There was now just a single straight in it, and still fully four minutes of the match to go. For the Dons players, it must have seemed like an eternity, as they defended grimly and desperately in the face of steadily mounting Collingwood pressure. With all thirty-six players on the field in the Magpies' attacking half time and space were at a premium, and it seemed that Collingwood's best chance of claiming the goal that they needed would be from a set shot. The Essendon players were maintaining their discipline superbly, however. Their tackling was resolute, but fair, and time and again they forced the ball to the bottom of the pack, bringing play to a standstill, and giving umpire Elder no alternative but to order a bounce down.
It was well inside the last minute of the encounter that Essendon made their sole mistake, roughly man-handling Baxter in clear sight of the umpire when the Magpie rover was not in possession of the ball. From the resultant free, a score looked inevitable, given that Baxter was lining up from less than forty metres out on no appreciable angle. However, his legs, it seemed, had turned to jelly after two hours of frenzied activity, and his kick failed even to make the distance. The ball was intercepted by Cameron, whose clearing kick was heading out towards centre wing when the bell sounded to end the match. Final Score: Essendon 5.11 (41); Collingwood 4.11 (35)
Bill Busbridge (Essendon)
Percy Gibb (Collingwood)
In a palpable attempt to unsettle the opposition, the Same Old players were almost ten minutes late re-entering the fray after half time. As they trotted somewhat lethargically back out onto the ground the crowd, including quite a few of the Essendon contingent, gave vent to its displeasure.
From the resumption, the Magpies quickly showed that the Dons' ruse had mis-fired by launching a fierce, determined attack. Good combined play involving Gibb and Vernon culminated in the latter forwarding to Rowell, who had been shifted to the goal front in place of Lee. Cleverly evading Griffith, Rowell pirouetted around in order to have a shot, but to his dismay, and the vast relief of the Essendon supporters, his kick stuck a goal post.
The wind, now favouring the Same Old, appeared to have strengthened still more, as well as being less capricious. Through a series of eye-catching long kicks Essendon transferred the ball from the Collingwood goal to their own, but only a behind ensued.
Whether because of the change of jumpers, or perhaps in response to something that was said during the half time interval, the Magpies appeared to be moving with much greater confidence and purpose. Their ball handling was better, too, as was their kicking, exemplified by a superb pass from Sharp to Rowell, who once again eluded Griffith to mark cleanly.
A tense silence enveloped the ground as Rowell carefully carpeted the ball, but moments later there was a crescendo of noise heralding a vital second goal to the 'Woods, who were now just 10 points in arrears.
Sensing, or at least believing, that the tide had turned, the Collingwood supporters began to make their voices heard, and their team responded by attacking furiously. On three occasions in quick succession the Dons were reliant on their last line trio of Hazel, Griffith and Hanley to quell the black and white invasion, but the pressure was building to such an extent that another Collingwood goal seemed certain. With ten minutes of the quarter remaining, that goal duly arrived, courtesy of the least fit player on the ground, Dan Minogue. Seriously indisposed though the Magpie champion undoubtedly was, he still had the wherewithal to break clear of his man, snatch up the ball with his one usable hand, and propel an ungainly looking kick low across the turf and over the line for full points.
From the restart, Collingwood again poured forward, and Rowell, the most imposing player on view since half time, took a superb pack mark. His kick was wayward, though, and the Dons were off the hook.
Any relief was short-lived, however, as the Magpies, clearly with the scent of blood in their nostrils, once more attacked in numbers. A solid goal line mark by Baxter temporarily stemmed the flow, but the three quarter time bell could not come soon enough for a tired looking Same Old combination who by this stage were trying desperately to slow Collingwood down by forcing repeated stoppages. The ploy worked to a degree, until Sadler managed to claim a clean possession and feed Baxter with a clever short pass. Baxter then relayed the ball to Vernon who, close in to goal, and with time to steady himself, ought really to have had no trouble firing the Magpies into the lead, but to the groans of the Collingwood fans behind the goal he shot well wide.
In the dying moments of the term the Dons almost made Collingwood pay as they launched a swift, incisive counter attack that should have ended with the ball nestling safely in the arms of full forward Dave Smith, just centimetres from goal. Smith was over anxious, however, or perhaps his hands were cold, with the upshot that he failed to hold onto the ball, which tumbled across the line for a minor score. Three Quarter Time: Essendon 3.11 (29); Collingwood 3.8 (26)
Jim Sharp of the Magpies
Busbridge, in fact, having gathered the ball near the goal line, managed to dodge and weave for some distance before unleashing a hefty punt kick out towards the southern wing, but his Essendon team mates there were out-numbered, and the ball was soon heading back towards the Collingwood goal. Moments later, McHale found himself presented with a golden opportunity to score, but either from over-eagerness or complacency managed to miss everything. From the ensuing ruck contest the Dons were happy to rush the ball through for a behind.
Despite enjoying rather less possession than Collingwood, the Essendon players were still generally handling the ball better, and their kicking to position was also superior, making, on balance, for an enthralling, even contest.
With the ball deep in the midst of a heaving scrimmage of players in the left forward pocket for the Same Old, Shea showed commendable presence of mind to thump the ball into space along the ground allowing Cameron to tear in, pick up, and send a smart, angled kick only narrowly wide. Moments later, Essendon again went close, but Sharp was able to relieve. More through the intensity of their determination than pure footballing ability the Magpies succeeded in maneuvering the ball into their forward lines and Lee, with almost his first possession of the match, posted a minor score.
Soon afterwards, a rushed behind to the Dons restored their 10 point advantage, and brought the scoring for the half to an end. Half Time: Essendon 3.9 (27); Collingwood 1.5 (11)
Paddy Shea of Essendon
Collingwood opened the 2nd term energetically, but haphazardly. Although the rain had stopped, the ball was still extremely greasy, and the Magpie players, despite frequently been first to the ball, just as frequently fumbled it. As a result "their famous system was conspicuous by its absence".
Belatedly sensing that this was a day for brute force rather than science, Collingwood began to forego their tried and trusted short passing game and kick the ball long and goalwards at every opportunity. After one especially gargantuan punt kick by Wilson, Vernon was on hand to scramble the Magpies second behind of the game.
The Dons promptly rallied, with Smith achieving a minor score, and then Sewart and Shea doing likewise from free kicks close in. Collingwood responded by becoming more desperate and, as a result, even more wayward, with the Same Old small brigade quick to take advantage. As Essendon poured forward in numbers, the Magpie defence was at panic stations, and a flagrant push in the back on Kirby resulted in an inevitable free kick from which the diminutive Dons forward coolly goaled.
The Same Old were on the attack again moments later and a rushed behind ensued. Another promising attack quickly followed but Hughes was able to intercept and launch the Magpies' first fluent and purposeful forward thrust of the term. His long kick found Baxter near the centre of the ground, who in turn managed to pick out Ryan some fifty metres from goal. In the end, Essendon succeeded in relieving the danger, but only partly, as the diminutive Baxter, who had followed his own kick into Collingwood's attacking zone, managed to gain possession and pump the ball back towards goal. It looked to be sailing through as well, but at the last moment a gust of wind forced it marginally off target.
By this stage of the match it was noticeable that the wind was steadily increasing in strength, although its gusty nature meant that it was not always the advantage to the Magpies, whose end it favoured, that might otherwise have been expected. Nevertheless, the men in black and white were playing perceptibly better than at any time during the opening term, and only some heroic last gasp defending by Busbridge prevented them from claiming a 2nd goal.
Jock McHale (Collingwood)
Somewhat fortunately for the Magpies, their opponents' skill at maneuvering the ball in general play was not matched by an ability to steer it between the central uprights. In part, this was a result of simple poor kicking, but it was also attributable in some measure to that frequent failing of the demonstrably dominant, over elaboration.
Two minutes in, after a smart passage of play involving Dons rover Percy Ogden and ruckman William Walker, Lou Armstrong, who normally roved but on this occasion was stationed at the goalfront, snapped the first score of the encounter, a behind, and within less than a minute Jack Kirby had added a second.
As Essendon continued to attack, Pat Shea spilled an easy, uncontested mark right in front of the sticks, but umpire Elder blew for a free kick to McLeod, who had been held while not in possession. From point blank range, the Dons follower calmly punted the opening goal of the match.
Following the restart, the Magpies managed their first attacking foray so far, highlighted by a fine dodging run from McHale, but Cameron relieved for the Same Old before the ball was within scoring range. Cameron's hefty kick found Baring on a half forward flank whose hurried snap elicited a single flag from the goal umpire. Moments later Kirby achieved the same result, before Walker found Baring with a clever pass, and the Essendon ruckman brought up his side's second major.
The Dons were playing with exhilarating pace and purpose and Collingwood seemed all at sea. At the mid-way mark of the quarter, as the rain resumed, it was Essendon 2.4 to the Magpies no score. A long shot from Kirby looked likely to produce another Essendon goal but Rowell took a great mark in the teeth of the square. From his relieving kick the Magpies mounted their first sustained attack for some time, but Monteith eventually cleared the danger.
Collingwood pressed forward again, and Ryan had a good chance to mark near goal but he fumbled badly. Recovering quickly, however, he was first to the spilled ball, and managed to rifle off a quick snapshot before being caught. The kick registered a behind, Collingwood's first score of the match, twenty minutes in.
Essendon continued to dominate for much of the remainder of the term, but just prior to the interval some careless defending allowed the half-fit Lee to find sufficient space to mark Rowan's high, hopeful kick forward, and the Magpie skipper goaled. Despite being comprehensively outplayed in almost every facet of the game, Collingwood had managed a highly creditable damage limitation exercise. The question now was whether they could improve sufficiently ahead of centre to extract discernible benefits from their 2nd quarter wind advantage. Quarter Time: Essendon 2.4 (16); Collingwood 1.1 (7)
Essendon's Lou Armstrong
The Melbourne weather during the week prior to the match was extremely changeable, and as play commenced at 3pm sharp the players and spectators were subjected to a brief but heavy shower of rain. This had the inevitable effect of making both the playing surface and the ball exceptionally slippery, but the Dons, who in the opening term were favoured by the wispiest of breezes, seemed not at all inconvenienced and, displaying all the slickness and dexterity that had become their forté under Worrall, pressed forward relentlessly. The Collingwood players, by contrast, appeared allergic to the greasy ball, fumbling and failing to hold their marks repeatedly. In this connection it was noticeable, and almost certainly significant, that whereas the Essendon players, to a man, were wearing long sleeved jumpers, many members of the Collingwood team had unaccountably opted to enter the fray bare armed. Significantly, during the half time interval all of the Magpie sleeveless brigade, without exception, took the opportunity to rectify their mistake, and when play resumed at the beginning of the third term all thirty-six combatants were appropriately attired for the conditions.
Early in the match, the Essendon selection committee's decision not to risk Belcher was brought into somewhat paradoxical relief when "all who were acquainted with the characteristic dash and brilliancy of Collingwood captain Lee could see by the way in which he shaped in going up for the ball that he was not himself". This was because 'Dick' Lee, like Belcher, had suffered a knee injury late in the 1911 season, and in electing to play on in spite of the pain had ended up jeopardising his entire career. However, after managing just 1 senior game in 1912 he would become the first Australian footballer to successfully undergo a cartilage operation, with the result that his playing life was extended by a decade.
As far as this particular match was concerned, however, Lee's indisposition was such as effectively to reduce Collingwood's on field presence to seventeen functional players - and worse was to follow, for the opening term had not long been underway when Dan Minogue emerged from a scrambled contest for the ball clutching his arm gingerly to his side, having seemingly seriously aggravated an old shoulder injury. As a result, although he remained on the field, and continued to hurl himself into the fray with trademark determination and fortitude, his effectiveness was severely limited.
 In round one, at Windy Hill, the teams had played out a draw, with Essendon kicking poorly to finish on 5.15 (45) to Carlton 6.9 (45). The return match at Carlton midway through the year had been another low scoring affair from which the Blues had emerged 12 points to the good, 6.16 (52) to the Dons' 5.10 (40).
 It later emerged that Minogue had actually broken his collar bone.
 "The Argus'', 25/09/11, page 15.
Following his departure from Carlton under something of a cloud the previous year, Jack Worrall had transformed an Essendon combination which in both 1909 and 1910 had endured humiliation in September into a new paragon of footballing excellence. In 1911 the Same Old played the game with immense flair, cohesiveness and potency, amassing a then league record tally of 1,207 points in their 18 home and away matches, whilst conceding just 677 points, the lowest by any team since Carlton three years earlier. Essendon's record of 15 wins, 2 losses and a draw placed them firmly at the head of the ladder, 8 points ahead of second placed South Melbourne, 10 clear of Carlton in third, and 14 in front of fourth placed Collingwood. The fact that the Dons were a cut or two above most of the other teams in the competition was memorably evinced on numerous instances during the home and away rounds, most notably of all perhaps in the 85 point annihilation of Collingwood at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground in round 4. The margin of victory would remain as an Essendon record in matches against the Magpies until 1984, while their match score of 21.12 (138) would not be eclipsed in such fixtures until 1981.
The Dons tuned up for the final with a 9.15 (69) to 6.12 (48) semi final win over the only team they had failed to defeat during the minor round, Carlton. The match was evenly poised until early in the last term, with the Blues in fact looking marginally the better side. However, during the energy sapping final twenty minutes of the game Essendon, thanks primarily to an inspirational display from vice captain and first ruckman Alan Belcher, rattled on 5 goals to 1 to win with beguiling ease. Shortly before the end, though, Belcher injured a knee, casting doubt on his availability for the following week's final.
That final would see the Same Old pitted against a Collingwood side which, in the first of the two semi finals a fortnight earlier, had comprehensively dismantled a more fancied opponent in South Melbourne, with its eventual winning margin of 5 goals if anything rather flattering the southerners. The Magpies, coached by George Angus, had endured a somewhat uneven season, but appeared to be coming into their own at the right time. This fact, coupled with the eleventh hour disclosure that Belcher would be unable to take his place in the Essendon line up, led to Collingwood's odds for victory in the match, if not perhaps the premiership itself, shortening considerably. There had been no more imposing or influential a figure in the VFL all year than Alan Belcher, whose seemingly intuitive and consistently fruitful liaisons with rover Ernie Cameron and redoubtable support follower Fred Barrington had arguably been the biggest single contributory factor to the Dons' remarkable renaissance under Worrall.
The 1911 finals series was historic in that it was the first time that VFL teams had worn numbered jumpers, and the initial response of clubs and onlookers appears to have been mixed. The main criticism seems to have been that the numbers were much too small to be clearly visible, but this was perhaps understandable given that the clubs had only had a very brief time to prepare, and were doubtless reluctant to waste money on what was perceived as a purely experimental venture. However, from round 1 of the following season numbered playing uniforms became an accepted part of the game, as well as much more visually distinctive. In time, the number on a player's jumper would be seen by some as having almost mystical connotations.
"The victory of Essendon emphasises very strongly the previously well recognised fact that any team enjoying the benefit of J. Worrall's instruction and coaching has an immense advantage over all its rivals." ('The Argus', 25/09/11, page 15)
Dons Back On Top - VFL final, Saturday 23rd September: Essendon versus Collingwood at the Melbourne Cricket Ground