Footy: In praise of opportunists

By Damian Balassone

What do Stephen Milne, Lou Richards, Peter Daicos and Steve Johnson have in common?

They are members of an exclusive club: opportunist forwards who have kicked more than 50 goals in a season.  They are a much-maligned breed, who may kick five goals one week only to be held goalless the next.  While the big marking forward relies on precise delivery to gain possession, the opportunist has to make the most of limited chances: crumbing off the pack when the big men fly, snapping over the shoulder amid heavy traffic, sharking from the opposition ruckmen at a stoppage.

Youngsters try to emulate the opportunist in much the same way that they try to emulate the high-flyer.  It is no surprise to hear that Steve Johnson’s childhood hero was Peter Daicos.  The Macedonian Marvel was perhaps the greatest opportunist of them all.

Peter Daicos

After showing promise as a centreman, Tom Hafey swung Daicos forward in 1981.  The results were phenomenal.  76 goals, including a bag of nine against the reigning premiers at Victoria Park.  He was a magician with not only majestic ball-handling skills but also mystical powers of evasion.  In one memorable passage of play, he utterly embarrassed two Richmond defenders by presenting them the ball – comically, they took the bait and crashed into each other, while Daicos spun around and kicked truly.

Daicos went onto win two Copeland Trophies as a centreman before Leigh Matthews moved him forward again in 1990.  This time the move delivered Collingwood a premiership.  With Gavin Brown playing full-forward, Daicos booted 97 goals from the pocket/flank – a record number of goals by a non full-forward (ironically eclipsing his coach’s record).  But it wasn’t just those dribbling goals from the boundary that Daicos excelled in.  There was also the one-handed marks, the dodging and weaving, the pinpoint left foot, the belly-dancing through packs, and of course, those spiralling torpedo punts from beyond 65 metres.  While his ‘goal of the century’ against the Eagles in the drawn Qualifying Final of 1990 is probably his most celebrated major, there was another against Brisbane in 1991 that warrants a mention.  It was a night when Daicos kicked an astonishing 13 goals.  On one occasion he was well tackled by Johnny Gastev beside the point post.  While being slung by Gastev, Daicos somehow got boot to ball and executed a banana kick in mid air.  Gastev watched in horror as the ball squeezed through the sticks.

Leigh Matthews

Lethal’s 91 goals as a rover/forward-pocket in 1977 must rank as one of the greatest individual seasons of all time – a feat that is even more incredible when you consider that Peter Hudson kicked 110 goals that year.  Matthews booted more than 50 goals on eight occasions, although in 1983-84 he was used more as a conventional full-forward (albeit a short one at 178 centimetres).  Built like a tank, he was an exceptional mark for his size and a deadly snapshot for goal.  He twice booted 11 goals in a game.  Perhaps his most memorable goal was during an exhibition game at the Gabba in 1981 when he seemed to evade the entire Essendon defence before threading the eye of the needle.  The greatest player of his era.

Kevin Bartlett

Towards the end of his illustrious career, ‘Hungry’ thrived in a specialist forward- pocket role.  His 84 goals in the premiership year of 1980 included a staggering 23 from three finals.  His seven majors in the Grand Final earned him the Norm Smith Medal; the most memorable of these came in the final quarter when he turned Stan Magro inside out on the boundary before steadying and executing a bullet-like drop punt that split the middle.  That season he fed beautifully off key forwards Michael Roach and David Cloke.  Whenever Clokey took a mark, Barlett seemed to be streaming past demanding a handball.

Gerard Healy

He is more remembered as a classy ruck rover who won a Brownlow with the Swans, but early in his career he played as a specialist half-forward flanker for the Demons.  His eight goals in the final round of 1982 propelled him to the top of Melbourne’s goal kicking, nudging out Mark Jackson’s by one goal (much to Jacko’s disgust).

Jeff Farmer

A lightning quick forward who could also take a screamer.  He sizzled in the season of 2000, booting 76 goals including a bag of eight in the Preliminary Final.  Earlier that season ‘the Wizard’ also booted nine goals in a half against Collingwood.  He never quite matched those feats once he crossed to Fremantle, but it was no surprise that his good form of 2006 coincided with Fremantle’s top four finish.

Adrian McAdam

A highly skilled forward with a deceptive change of pace, he was equally at home in the air or on the ground.  He burst upon the scene in 1993 with 23 goals in his first three games, including ten goals in his second.  An amazing feat when you consider he was sharing the forward line with Wayne Carey and John Longmire.  He booted a further nine goals against Collingwood in just his sixth game which effectively ended the career of close-checking backman Michael Gayfer.  With that season’s implementation of the third umpire, Denis Pagan had cleverly left McAdam one-out with Gayfer in the goalsquare – a tactic which exposed Gayfer’s rule-bending tendencies.  After a form slump, a broken jaw, and an ill-fated comeback attempt with Collingwood, McAdam returned to the Northern Territory.

Others

Des Fothergill, the Collingwood rover/half-forward deserves a mention.  The 1940 Brownlow medallist booted more than 50 goals on five occasions (he only played six full seasons).  In the 40s and 50s it was common practice for rovers to rest in the forward line.  Hence, many champion rovers achieved the 50-goal mark e.g. Lou Richards, Allan Ruthven, Bill Hutchison and Bobby Skilton.

In more recent times, Micky Conlan, Phil Matera and Paul Hudson’s achievements are noteworthy.  Fitzroy muscleman Conlan once booted 10 goals in a game and achieved the 50-goal mark on three occasions.  Paul Hudson and Phil Materia achieved the mark four and three times respectively, and were both rewarded with All-Australian selection.

Current

Of the current crop, Stephen Milne has booted over 60 goals on two occasions, including an extraordinary bag of 11 against Brisbane in 2005.  Both Daniel Motlop and Steve Johnson kicked over 50 goals in 2008 and have kept the flag flying for the opportunist forward.  Motlop’s wizardry has been featured on a popular Youtube clip, while Stevie J has become something of a cult figure.

It is becoming harder to achieve the magical 50 goal mark because of constant rotations, the requirement of players to help out up the ground, and the recent infatuation with goal assists.  Having said that, Jason Porplyzia and Mark Le Cras achieved the mark in 2009.

Most Goals in Season by an Opportunist

Player

Goals

Year

Peter Daicos

97

1990

Leigh Matthews

91

1977

Kevin Bartlett

84

1980

Gerard Healy

77

1982

Peter Daicos

76

1981

Jeff Farmer

76

2000

Peter Daicos

75

1991

Leigh Matthews

74

1982

Leigh Matthews

71

1976

Leigh Matthews

71

1978

Adrian McAdam

68

1993

Leigh Matthews

68

1975

Others Opportunists who have kicked 50 or more goals in a season

Pre 1970: D. Fothergill x 5, A. Pannam, L. Richards, A. Ruthven, B. Hutchison, B. Skilton.

1970-1979: S. Jackson, P. Bedford, B. Monteath, K. Sheldon, R. Kink.

1980-1989: M. Conlan x 3 , G. Buckenara x 2, W. Johnston, P. Bosustow, K. Judge, L. Bamblett, M. Turner, B. Hardie.

1990-2009: Paul Hudson x 4, Phil Matera x 3, S. Milne x 2, N. Brown x 2, P. Medhurst x 2, D. Bewick, R. Burns, D. Jarman, L. Power, S. Dew, B. Ebert, D. Motlop, S. Johnson, M. Le Cras, J. Porplyzia.

*These list do not include FFs, CHFs or power forwards such as W. Carey, W. Tredrea, B. Hall, M. Pavlich and J. Brown as these players were/are predominantly marking forwards.

*In 1983-84 L. Matthews played mainly as a full-forward.

*From 1985-92 G. Ablett had spells up the ground, but essentially was a marking forward.

*In their Brownlow years M. Blight (1978) and B. Quinlan (1981) kicked 77 and 73 goals respectively in ruck rover roles, but they also spent considerable time as key forwards as well.

*Have not considered the likes of B. Johnson 2006, R. Robertson 2005, M. Richardson 1996, A. Davis 1971, and N. Rayson 1955 as they played as specialist full-forwards during those seasons.

About Damian Balassone

Damian Balassone is a delusional Collingwood supporter who writes poetry and fiction.

Comments

  1. Good article, Damian, although I think Rene Kink belongs in the category of Full forwards, CHFs and power forwards rather than opportunists.

    Opportunists are noted for being quickwitted (at least on the field) Rene was known for being f***witted on the field.

  2. Damian Balassone says:

    Thanks Dave. Rene ‘the Incredible Hulk’ Kink did play at full-forward occasionally (albeit a short one at 183cm), but I think you’ll find in 1979 he played more as an opportunist half-forward flanker. Craig Davis played full-forward that year for the Pies and booted 88 goals.

  3. Dave Nadel says:

    And as someone who attended most of the Collingwood games in 1979 I thought of Davis as an opportunist and Kink as a (totally unreliable) power forward. (see previous comments about quick-witted as opposed to f***witted)

  4. Dave,

    Craig Davis is a strong supporter of the Almanac. I actually love listening to his Tassie stories, but that’s an aside.

    If my memory serves, Davo did play more in the vein of a swooping half-forward rather than a leading forward. My strongest memory of him is booting goals from the boundary line in front of the members at Vic Park. He seemed to thrive on the Pie Park atmosphere.

    88 goals in a year is a great effort.

    Good article, Damian. I’d never previously considered Mick Conlan as a player to kick more than 50 goals in a season. It makes me re-evaluate his place in the footy pantheon.

    Goal-kicking is the most underrated art in footy. It’s an innate thing. Some blokes know where they are; others just don’t.

    It annoys me when midfielders earn votes ahead of forwards who’ve kicked a match-winning bag. I always think that those giving the votes to the midfielders don’t know the difficulty of kicking multiple goals.

  5. Peter Flynn says:

    Interesting topic Damian.

    Rene Kink was a really talented (and somewhat volatile) tennis player.

    I often played on a court next to him in Collingwood in the late 80’s.

    He had a massive first serve.

  6. I can advise that Davo himself confirms he was full forward in 1979 with the occasional stint at CHF. Kink definitely HFF

  7. Damian Balassone says:

    Thanks for confirming this Mark.

    From memory (and I was only a kid at the time) was that Davis played more across the half-forward line in 1981 with Ross Brewer at full-forward.

  8. Mark, if you are in regular contact with Craig Davis you could give him a belated thank you from me. He probably won’t remember who I am, but in 1995 he helped me with a an academic paper I was doing on private ownership and the Swans and Bears. The paper later became part of my PhD and I wrote the following sentence in the acknowledgements before the thesis.

    “I would also like to thank all the people who generously agreed to be interviewed for this thesis, especially Craig Davis, Tom Stannage and Phil Cleary, who not only allowed me to interview them, but also recommended me to other interview subjects.”

  9. On the actual question of opportunists versus power forwards, I think of both Craig Davis and his fellow Tasmanian Peter Hudson as opportunist full forwards because they made their own opportunities rather than relying on leading, out-bodying and marking as traditional FFs do.

    I think of Rene Kink as a power forward because of his size and playing style. I was amazed to read Damian’s comment that Rene was only 183cm tall. He is right but I had remembered Rene as much taller. This was because he was so muscular and generally large bodied. He looked like a big man and played like one.

  10. Dave – will do.

Leave a Comment

*