1981 Revisited – Preliminary Final 1981: ‘Another One Rides the Bus’



The 1981 finals series had had the feel of a replay about it, claimed the Football Record in its preview of the Preliminary Final.  Fitzroy’s defeat of Essendon in the Elimination Final, the Lions’ loss to Collingwood in the First Semi Final, and Carlton’s big win in the Second Semi Final all mirrored the outcomes of the 1979 finals, with the same result – the Blues were in the Grand Final and raging favourites for the flag.


Today’s game also had “replay” written all over it.  But this time the year concerned was 1980. Collingwood and Geelong had met in the previous season’s Preliminary Final with honours going to the Magpies by four points.  Geelong entered the 1981 rematch slight favourites following their win over Collingwood in the Qualifying Final.  On that day, it was the Cats’ big man strength of John Mossop and Rod Blake that clipped the Magpie wings. Today, that same strength loomed as Collingwood’s biggest obstacle. The loss of Peter Moore through injury robbed the Magpies of big-man power. But the Woods did have plenty of talent around the ground to offset that loss. Half forwards Craig Davis, Rene Kink and Peter Daicos up against the strongest defence in the League made for an intriguing battle.


If Geelong needed any further unwelcome parallels with the game 12 months earlier, they came in the form of late selection dramas. In 1980, Sam Newman had been controversially left out of the team for the Preliminary Final and promptly announced his retirement. This year, the Geelong selectors made a similarly bold call, omitting veteran vice-captain, David Clarke, who later claimed that he’d also been advised that his services were no longer required at Geelong.


Worse was to come. In a communications bungle that could only have occurred in the era before mobile phones, Garry Sidebottom was awaiting notification of a late call-up to the team but never received the message. When the Geelong team bus stopped by his usual collection point at Lara, their key big man was nowhere to be found. Rather than pursue his missing big man, coach Bill Goggin elected to substitute Sidebottom for emergency Peter Johnston.  Johnston, who had travelled by car to Waverley with other non-participating teammates, reportedly downed a hasty lunch complete with a thick-shake, and quickly changed into his playing gear. Such last-minute changes rarely work well. Johnston had a forgettable day, confined largely to the bench, and managing just one possession.


Early on, the match itself followed a similar pattern to the Qualifying Final. Collingwood had the best of the first quarter only for Geelong to reassert itself in the second.  Once again, the move of Blake into the ruck and John Mossop forward sparked the Cats. However, Collingwood’s defence was better prepared this time and was able to limit the damage.  Veteran defender, Ian Cooper, had played only four games for the Magpies in the previous four seasons, due to ongoing problems with arthritis, but was brought into the team to match Geelong’s smaller forwards, leaving Peter McCormack to handle the big ruckmen. Cooper’s selection proved inspirational. He nullified a succession of opponents and provided plenty of drive for the Magpies.  In contrast with the earlier final, the Cats also got nothing out of young Stephen Reynoldson who managed just eight possessions, two marks and no goals.


In retrospect, the absence of Sidebottom left Geelong short of attacking targets.  Although they’d outplayed the Magpies through the middle of the game, booting nine goals to six, their lead was minimal at the last change.  Amidst this dour defensive struggle, the Magpies also had a couple of top-class opportunists.  Against the run of play in the third quarter, Peter Daicos and Rene Kink had produced a couple of team-lifting goals (Kink’s left-footer from the boundary line an absolute gem) to ensure Geelong couldn’t convert their dominance on the scoreboard.


However, as the shadows grew longer and the big ground sapped the players’ energy, Geelong looked like they might hold on. They scored the only goal in the first 10 minutes of the last quarter and led by 11 points at that stage. But again, the deadly duo of Kink and Daicos re-emerged.  In rapid succession, they conjured two goals that The Age match report described as “hall of fame” quality in a match that “will be recorded as more a tense struggle than an exhibition of the finer arts”.  For the second week in succession Collingwood, fortuitously, found themselves a point in front, when moments before all had looked lost.  This time, their long-suffering fans were even treated to a brief sensation of calm.  A late snap from Craig Davis sealed the game and Collingwood played out the last few minutes with a seven-point buffer.


Highlights of the Preliminary Final are in short supply.  This excerpt is brief and doesn’t capture many of the key moments:




However, the critical plays appear at 1hr:15 in “That was the Season that was 1981″.



For Geelong, the result was hugely disappointing.  The Cats could reasonably argue that they’d narrowly lost two consecutive Preliminary Finals to an inferior opponent.  There is also a pointed comment in the Age report that the Geelong hierarchy reluctantly decided against complaining about the umpiring, but that they would have had plenty of justification for doing so!  In truth, this game summed up the Geelong of 1980-81: strong, even, dogged, but lacking that spark of brilliance that could seize the moment.  A bloke named Ablett would have been a handy addition, but, alas, he was still three years away!  Successive years of near misses seemed to take its toll on the Cats.  The team would unravel rapidly over the next couple of years and spend the rest of the decade mired in mediocrity until the Blight era began at the end of the decade.


Collingwood, meanwhile, had ridden its luck yet again and was in a third successive Grand Final.  Pies’ supporters pointed to the substantial turnover of players since the debacle of 1980, and the undoubted improvement in the quality of the team.  Even so, it was hard for neutrals to justify much optimism for their cause after a draining finals campaign and several injury concerns.


The result of the VFA Grand Final, played the day after the Preliminary Final, wouldn’t have boosted their confidence either.  Hot favourites, Port Melbourne, booted a whopping 23 goals to six after half time to crush Preston by 113 points.



Read The Age, Monday 21st September 1981, for coverage of all matches HERE.





Collingwood 3.5 5.8 9.10 12.10 (82)

Geelong 1.3 6.5 10.8 11.9 (75)



COLLINGWOOD: Daicos 4, Kink 3, Stewart 2, Davis, Williams, R.Shaw.

GEELONG: Mossop 3, Lunn 3, Bruns 2, Blake, Yeates, Taylor.



COLLINGWOOD: Picken, Cooper, McCormack, Byrne, Daicos Williams.

GEELONG: Peake, I. Nankervis, Featherby, Bruns, Malarkey, Blake.


Umpires: M. Dye, P. Cameron.

Attendance at VFL Park 69, 536




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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. Excellent summary Stainless. Daicos rates his goal at the 28-minute mark of the last quarter to put the Pies in front, as his greatest ever.


  2. Enjoying this series very much, Stainless.

  3. Hi Damian – gee I’m surprised to learn that Daicos rates this goal no. 1, as it doesn’t get half the coverage of some of his more freakish efforts. Having now watched it several times over and considering how significant it was (essentially the match-winning goal in a Prelim Final), I guess his assessment is fair enough.
    Thanks for your support Smokie – 1981 wasn’t a great year for the Roos (the only year they missed the finals between 1974-83?), but there were a few high points.

  4. I’ve got a good feeling in my bones……

  5. Thought you might JB!
    Did you have a preferred opponent at the time?

  6. 1979 and 1981 ‘Kennedy and Lincoln’ finals coincidences:

    Substitute North Melbourne in 79 for Geelong in 81 and all matches were the same, with the same results at the same venues. North and Geelong wear the same colors. North’s best player in the 1979 Finals was future Geelong coach Malcolm Blight. Geelong’s best in 1981 was red-haired big man John Mossop, who finished his career at North.

    In Week 1 both seasons, Collingwood began better but crucially squandered chances. In both Elimination Finals, Fitzroy beat Essendon at Waverley with their best three players both times being Garry Wilson, Bernie Quinlan and Ron Alexander. In Week 2, Carlton won the two second semis at VFL Park, beating North 111-73 and Geelong 113-73, with similar match narrative (Carlton started nervously but established a lead towards the end of the second quarter and ran away in the third). Bruce Doull and Ken Sheldon were dominant Carlton players in both matches. Both times Rod Ashman pulled out on the morning of the match..

    Both Prelim Finals had pre-game selection dramas: in 1979 North’s Gary Dempsey was a shock selection for NM after all week being assumed out injured. 1981 was the year of the Sidebottom bus farce. Dempsey and Sidebottom have the same Christian name, both were in their first year at their second club, and both finished their careers in 1984, playing their last matches against their prelim final opposition Collingwood. Sidebottom was living in Lara, Dempsey’s home town.

    Both Grand Finals were Carlton v Collingwood. The half time scores in 1979 were 5.7 to 5.6 Carlton’s way; in 1981, 5.8 to 5.7 Carlton’s way.

  7. Wow Rick! I knew there were some parallels but that’s amazing!

  8. Inspired by Rick N’s numerological post above, I too also observed a few strange scorelines in 1981:

    1) In Round 1, Collingwood defeated Fitzroy 159 to 133; in their return clash in Round 22 Fitzroy defeated Collingwood 59 to 33.

    2) In Round 6, Collingwood defeated Carlton 144 to 87. In Round 8, Collingwood lost to Essendon 144 to 87.

    3) Collingwood defeated Carlton in Round 16 by a point, with the scoreline 11.11.77 to 10.16.76. Look closely! This is what the scoreline would have been in the 1979 Grand Final if the Ken Sheldon goal was disallowed for Harmes being out of bounds (final score in the 79 GF was Carl 11.16.82 to Coll 11.11.77).

    4) And as Rick N point outs, half-time score in the ’81 GF was Carl 5.8.38 to Coll 5.7.37. Half-time score in the ’79 GF was Carl 5.7.37 to Coll 5.6.36

  9. Also, 1979 and 1981 were two of only three finals series’ NOT to feature Hawthorn in the twenty years between 1974 and 1994.

  10. While we’re on the subject, don’t forget the two Richmond-Essendon games in which each winning side came from 26 points down at three-quarter time to win by four points. Richmond at the G, Essendon at Windy Hill.

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Jeez, this reminds me that 1980 and 1981 were heartbreaking years for Geelong supporters such a myself. We just weren’t quite good enough, fundamentally – lacked that little bit extra in the forward line, from what I remember.

  12. I recall this well.

    I watched at Union College. If Geelong won, I was going to Melbourne. Halfway through the final quarter it was all on. By the end of it, I was shattered and Mulcaster (Gulbo) and other PIes from College were getting in JT’s Celica and heading down the Newell.

    The commentary suggests this was an ordinary game, but there were some amazing goals.

    The Sidebottom incident has never been resolved. It even surfaced from the stage on the night of the 150th gala dinner when the scab was lifted publicly again. On a night of celebration! In front of about 1200 people (maybe more). Very football.

  13. Thanks Kevin and John.
    I think Geelong was unfairly criticised in 80/81. In an era when high scoring was synonymous with quality, their relative lack of firepower and strong defence were seen as deficiencies. This in turn meant that two thrilling Preliminary Finals were not given the recognition they deserve. As a neutral spectator, I can confidently say they were ripper games and the Cats were desperately unlucky to lose both.

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