1981 Revisited – Finals Week 2: ‘Hold on Tight’



They say that there are a handful of plots that cover pretty much every novel ever written.  I reckon the same applies to footy matches.


One such plot goes like this.  The underdog starts well, full of optimism and chutzpah.  An upset looms.  Until the favourite produces a moment that sets the game on its inevitable path.  A moment of authority, inspiration or head-shaking brilliance, that instantaneously sucks the life and belief out of the challenger.  The eventual outcome may be long and drawn out, but from that moment on, it’s as certain as death and taxes.


At VFL Park, Geelong entered the Second Semi Final battle with Carlton with the full knowledge that the Blues were two up this season. But last week, Geelong had defeated Collingwood, a team the Cats had also lost twice to during the regular season. Carlton were firm premiership favourites after finishing the home and away season on top. But early on it’s the Cats who are in the ascendancy.  Big John Mossop is continuing his form from last week.  With two goals in the first 12 minutes, he’s giving Val Perovic the run-around.  The Blues look flat after their week off, struggling to adapt to the finals’ intensity.


Late in the first quarter, Carlton launch a speculative attack.  It amounts to nothing, spilling to Ian Nankervis who looks to clear for the Cats around the back-pocket boundary line.  As he prepares to kick to safety, from nowhere, a horizontal body launches itself across Nankervis’s leg, smothering the ball. For an instant of time and space, the ball is free. The prostrate figure, swivels, pounces, gathers and snaps. A goal of brilliance, desperation and against all odds.


Peter Bosustow!


From that moment, the Carlton crowd erupts into life and the game’s psychology shifts irrevocably. The Cats lead by as much as 19 points in the second quarter and it takes until early in the final term for the Blues to wear Geelong down, but as a neutral observer that day, I had no doubt that Carlton would prevail from that magical Bosustow moment.


The video highlights give some sense of Carlton’s superior pace and their mesmerising group of midfield runners, an advantage heightened by Geelong’s loss through injury of two of their own key running players, Bruns (rolling an ankle after 30 seconds) and Turner (broken ribs).  Less obvious is the dominance of Fitzpatrick in the ruck, which forced Geelong to use Mossop on the ball far more than in the previous week’s victory.  In the battle of the competition’s best defences, Carlton’s prevailed decisively after a nervous start.  English and Doull were particularly prominent, the latter completely blanketing young Stephen Reynoldson as well as smoothly setting up plenty of Carlton attacks.




The World of Sport panel discussion about the match is the inimitable mix of blunt analysis and amusing banter. But what is clear amidst the jollity and malapropisms is that Carlton is now clearly the Flag favourite.



Whilst this game was close for much of the day but ended up being a comfortable win for the Blues, the game at the MCG took the opposite trajectory.  Collingwood dominated the first half against Fitzroy and were 45 points clear shortly after half-time.  Yet through a combination of untimely injuries for the Magpies (Peter Moore with a hamstring and Andrew Smith a dislocated collarbone), and the now-renowned pluck of the Lions, the game became a classic.


Fitzroy’s finals appearances had been few and far between since 1960. In fact, this was only the third occasion the club had been active in September in that time. But in each previous case, Collingwood had ended the Lions’ premiership dreams. In 1960, on a rain-sodden MCG, the Magpies slid in by five points in the Preliminary Final. In the 1979 First Semi Final, they again denied Fitzroy, this time by 22 points.  The ledger was square in 1981 but Collingwood’s desire for revenge was savage following their last round defeat by Fitzroy that had cost them the all-important top position.


In the first half Fitzroy displayed none of the tough resolute character that had shocked Essendon the week before.  This assessment may be unkind to Collingwood as the match highlights suggest they played some brilliant footy, and had some unlikely heroes on the day.  Most notable was stand-in ruckman Stewart Atkin who admirably covered for Moore’s loss, outplaying Ron Alexander and Matt Rendell.  Young David Twomey also handled the formidable task of stopping Bernie Quinlan – at least for a half.


Yet just as Fitzroy’s last rites were being prepared, a switch was flicked and back they came, much as they’d done in their last match at the MCG against Richmond six weeks earlier.  Alexander lifted and in doing so, brought ruck-rover David McMahon into the play who coolly netted four goals.  The margin was back to 14 points at the last change and was just four a few minutes later.  The two teams went toe-to-toe from then on, but the Lions seemingly had the edge in class and fitness.  With five minutes to go, they led by 10 points and were doing all the attacking.


Now it was Collingwood’s turn to be Lazarus.  From a kick-in, Collingwood work a chain of passes down the members’ wing – Davis to Brewer and ending with Daicos.  Of course he nails the shot.  From the restart, Atkins caps off his great day with a decisive hit-out to Kink.  Barham and Ray Shaw work it to Davis without a Fitzroy player touching it.  Playing in front, Davis earns a doubtful free kick 60 metres out.  His attempt falls a few metres short.  All season, Fitzroy’s defence has been suspect, and at this critical moment it lets them down.  No-one can mark, spoil or clear.  In the flurry of bodies, Ross Brewer swoops on the loose ball and rifles it over his shoulder for the matchwinner.  In the manic fashion of the day, Fitzroy clear quickly from the centre and launch another long clearance, but Murnane’s shot glances off the pack and through for a point.  Ninety seconds remain, but bizarrely, after a quarter of constant scoring, they pass with no further addition.



A relieved Tom Hafey was interviewed after the game.



 So the brave Lions’ dream was ended in dramatic circumstances.  Collingwood, somehow, had dragged itself across the line yet again.  Another meeting with Geelong loomed, with both sides licking their wounds from a torrid weekend.  Meantime, Carlton’s grip on the Flag only grew stronger.  A powerful win, minimal injury concerns and another week’s rest combined to put the Minor Premiers in the box seat.  As the World of Sport footy panel concluded, it would only be over-confidence that would prevent the Blues from realising their dream.






Collingwood: 5.6 11.13 14.15 19.19 (133)


Fitzroy 2.3 6.5 12.13 19.18(132)


Goals – COLLINGWOOD: R. Shaw 3, Davis 3, Daicos 3, Brewer 3, Barham 2, Kink, A. Shaw, Irwin, Worthington.

FITZROY: Rendell 5, McMahon 4, Poynton 2, Lawrie 2, Quinlan 2, Murnane2, Parish, Wilson.


Best — COLLINGWOOD: Picken, Twomey, Davis, Taylor, Byrne, Barham.

FITZROY: Serafini, Smith, Alexander, McMahon, Lawrie, Parish.


Umpires: Cameron, Dye.


Attendance at MCG: 85,133.





Carlton 1.2 5.8 10.12 16.17 (113)


Geelong 3.3 5.3 9.4 11.7 (73)


Goals — CARLTON: Bosustow 3, Johnston 3, Harmes 3. Sheldon 2, Buckley 2, Hunter, Glascott, Marcou.

GEELONG: Mossop 3, Johnston 2, Clarke 2, Reynoldson 2, Witcombe, Jeffreys.


Best — CARLTON: Doull, Fitzpatrick, English, Sheldon, Bosustow, Glascott, Maclure, Maylin, Wells. GEELONG: Peake, I.Nankervis, Hawkins, Malarkey.


Umpires: Robinson, Sawers.

Attendance at VFL Park: 66,078.



Read The Age, Monday 14th September 1981, for coverage of all matches HERE.



To read further stories from ‘1981 Revisited….’ click HERE


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About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. John Butler says

    Sam, this series brings back such vivid memories.

    Bosustow’s smother and goal was electrifying. Quite the highlight reel he left in only 65 VFL games.

    I remember being bitterly disappointed for Fitzroy when Brewer snapped that goal. Absolutely no Collingwood schadenfreude involved there.

    Getting a good feeling about how this story ends. :)

  2. Thanks JB – I’m not exaggerating about the massive shift in momentum when Bosustow got that goal. Naturally I despised him at the time but, what a player!
    I think there were many thousands of neutrals that were disappointed about Fitzroy.

  3. “That magical Busustow moment” indeed Stainless.
    As a Cat supporter, I remember thinking that changes everything and it did.

  4. peake was superb for us

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