1981 Revisited – Round 8: Somebody’s Knockin’

In 27 years at Essendon, Kevin Sheedy had more than his fair share of memorable days in the coach’s box. But few, surely, were more pivotal than this day.


For the previous few years, Essendon had been the wayward genius of the competition. A team brimming with talent that could bring down any opponent on its day, but lacking the consistency or hard edge to convert the moments of brilliance into results. In 1980, Essendon knocked off eventual Premiers, Richmond, in one of the games of the year. But a heartbreaking string of narrow defeats through the course of the season saw the Bombers lumbered with that most unwelcome of tags: ‘best team outside the finals’.


The appointment of Sheedy in 1981 was supposed to change all that. Although untried as a coach, Sheedy was regarded as possessing an eclectic mix of tactical nous, unorthodox flair and rat cunning, a reputation developed over a long playing career. Despite his limited talents and ‘bloody back pocket plumber’ moniker, Sheedy extracted the best out of himself through mental and physical toughness and a single-minded work ethic to become a leading light in three Premiership teams. However, it’s fair to say that Sheedy’s first seven games in charge of the Bombers wasn’t the dream start to a coaching career. Just two wins, both pedestrian, at home. More worrying was the team’s continuing tendency to drop the close games. Losses to Geelong by a goal, Richmond by 4 points, Hawthorn by 15 points, and lowly Footscray by 8 had the Bombers floundering in 9th place. Fans and commentators alike were openly questioning the Bombers’ left-field coaching appointment.


Everything changed on this remarkable day at VFL Park. A record attendance of over 79,000 turned up, exceeding the official capacity of the ground by several thousand. It was bizarre that such numbers turned out for what looked on paper to be a mismatch. Unbeaten Collingwood had swept all challengers aside to date and looked invincible. Of course their fans would turn up in their droves. The Essendon turnout was harder to explain, but it certainly underlined the club’s “sleeping giant” potential.


What played out, then, was an extraordinary display in which the Essendon machine finally clicked into gear, dishing out a 57-point hammering to the Flag favourites. The prevailing joke at the time was that the crowd was so big, Collingwood thought they must have been playing the Grand Final (haha!). The truth was somewhat more serious. The Magpies were given a masterclass by the brothers Madden. Justin dominated in the ruck with 37 hitouts, while Simon monstered the Collingwood defence kicking seven goals in a superb aerial display. Brief though they are, the highlights of the game underscore just what a super player S. Madden was.




There is also a post-match interview with him which makes for interesting listening.





The Dons had many other brilliant performers including Buhagiar, Neagle, Reid, Hawker, Andrews and N. Daniher. Davis was the one shining light for the Woods. Was this to be the turning point for Essendon, or yet another of those spasmodically brilliant days? Time would tell.


The VFL was quick to jump on the attendance record as proof of the sense of their ground rationalisation and Sunday football agenda. Under the headline ‘Record crowd proves Sunday point’, the Footy Record proclaimed that the VFL Park record crowd was further proof that supporters wanted top class facilities. “It has also given us further incentive to continue to press the State Government on the Sunday football issue,” League General Manager Jack Hamilton said. “They want the comfort of a seat and this is what can be provided if we play some of our games on a Sunday. Sunday play would enable us to use VFL Park and the MCG to their full capacity. This would be to the benefit of everyone,” he said.


I’m not sure if any readers went to this game and can vouch for Hamilton’s final comments in which he praised the work of the police at the match, noting that the car parks were cleared quickly and without incident. Not an experience I recall too often at Waverley!


In other matches, the key result was Carlton’s narrow win at Geelong. Forty points up late in the second term, the home side was ‘nabbed’ by the Blues before three quarter time in a fadeout similar to Richmond’s against Fitzroy last week. The final quarter was a nervy affair with each side managing just one goal and both fluffing chances to clinch the game in a tense finish. The worst of these was by Leo King, Geelong’s hero the previous week, missing a sitter from 15 metres out in the dying seconds to cost Cats victory. Carlton’s steady defence led by Doull, and Hunter, and a five-goal contribution from McConville were the critical factors in their victory.






Fresh from their come-from-behind triumph over the Tigers, Fitzroy disappointed at Princes Park with another soft defensive performance. Allowing Hawthorn a spectacular ten goal last term was in marked contrast to the steely resolve they’d shown against Richmond. For the winners, Norm Goss showed the way with a six-goal haul. After a promising start to the season, things were falling apart at Moorabbin where North blitzed the Saints — their score and winning margin being their best ever against St Kilda. The win took North to 3rd on the ladder, whilst the Saints were back to 10th – familiar territory. Worse was to come, as next week’s installment will reveal. Despite inaccuracy, South Melbourne were untroubled in dispensing with the Demons at the Lake Oval. Richmond jumped back into the Five with a welcome return to consistency, winning all four quarters in their comfortable 50-point win over the Dogs.






Essendon 6.3 11.9 15.14 21.18 (144)

Collingwood 2.2 7.3 13.3 14.3 (87)



ESSENDON: S. Madden 7, Hawker 3, Buhagiar 2, Thomson 2, Muir 2, Eustice 2, Reid, T. Daniher, Fowler.

COLLINGWOOD: Morris 3, Davis 3, Weideman 2, Kink 2, Hannebery, A. Shaw, Daicos, Evans.



ESSENDON: S. Madden, Buhagiar, Neagle, J. Madden, Foulds, N. Daniher, Stoneham.

COLLINGWOOD: Davis, Morris, A.Shaw, Moore, McCormack.


Umpires: Morgan, Nash.


Attendance at VFL Park: 79,326.






South Melbourne 2.8 9.13 14.16 17.25 (127)

Melbourne 4.4 6.5 11.7 12.11 (83)


Goals –

SOUTH MELBOURNE: Taylor 4, Hounsell 3, Allender 2, Wright 2, Evans 2, G.Smith, Roberts, Boyse, T. Morwood.

MELBOURNE: Jackson 2, O’Donnell 2, Nettlefold 2, Flower, Young, Elshaug, Barham, Catoggio.


Best —

SOUTH MELBOURNE: Taylor, Hounsell, G. Smith, Carter, Wright, Fields.

MELBOURNE: Healy, Baker, Nettlefold, S. Smith.


Umpires: Cameron, Dye.


Attendance at Lake Oval. 12,808.






Carlton 2.3 4.4 11.7 12.13 (85)

Geelong 6.2 10.2 11.5 12.8 (80)


Goals —

CARLTON: McConville 5, Ashman 3, Bosustow 2, Maclure, Francis.

GEELONG: Johnston 2, Reynoldson 2, Bruns 2, Toohey, Bright, Harrison, Lunn, King, B. Nankervis.


Best —

CARLTON: Doull, Hunter, McConville, Jones, Ashman.

GEELONG: I. Nankervis, Mossop, Jeffreys, Toohey, Reynoldson.


Umpires: James, Robinson.


Attendances at Kardinia Park: 28,396.






Hawthorn 2.1 7.7 11.14 21.18 (144)

Fitzroy 3.6 7.12 10.17 16.19 (115)


Goals —

HAWTHORN: Goss 6, Tuck 3, Kennedy 3, Moncrieff 3, Robertson 2, Davies, Wallace, Goad, Greene.

FITZROY: Thornton 4, Quinlan 4, Lawrie 2, Conlan 2, Rendell, McMahon, Harris, Murnane.


Best —

HAWTHORN: Wallace, McCarthy, Tuck, Goss, Moore, Murnane, Greene.

FITZROY: Alexander, Thornton, Harris.


Umpires: Smith, Sutcliffe.


Attendance at Princes Park: 17,459.






North Melbourne 5.2 12.7 18.11 25.18 (168)

St Kilda 3.6 5.9 7.15 8.16 (64)


Goals —

NORTH MELBOURNE: Spencer 4, Blight 4, Jonas 4, W. Schimmelbusch 3, Cassin 2, Jarrot 2, D. Schimmelbusch 2, Wilson, Kelly, Briedis, Glendinning.

ST KILDA: Sarau 4, Meehan, Cunningham, Sartori, Bennett.


Best –

NORTH MELBOURNE: Icke, Dempsey, D. Schimmelbusch, Bryant.

ST KILDA: Barker, Thomas, Cunningham, Meehan.


Umpires: Chapman, Deller.


Attendance at Moorabbin Oval: 16,860.






Richmond 5.4 10.8 17.13 25.17 (167)

Footscray 3.2 8.4 13.10 17.15 (117)


Goals —

RICHMOND: Roach 7, Bartlett 5, Welsh 5, Cloke 3, Lee 2, Wiley, Weightman, Waterson.

FOOTSCRAY: Bradmore 4, Edmond 4, Dunstan 2, Sait 2, Hawkins, Davidson, Wheeler, Whitten, N. Cordy.


Best —

RICHMOND: Wiley, Welsh, Lee, Rowlings, Roach, Cloke, Bourke, Bartlett.

FOOTSCRAY: Dunstan, Wheeler, Davidson, Bradmore, Edmond, B. Cordy.


Umpires: Dargavel, Quinn.


Attendance at MCG: 21,721.









W L D F A % P
COLLINGWOOD 7 1 0 1070 792 135.1 28
CARLTON 7 1 0 884 710 124.5 24
NORTH MELBOURNE 5 3 0 1003 783 128.1 20
HAWTHORN 5 3 0 942 789 119.4 20
RICHMOND 5 3 0 915 910 100.5 20
Fitzroy 4 4 0 1007 992 101.5 16
Geelong 4 4 0 719 727 98.9 16
South Melbourne 4 4 0 864 943 91.6 16
Essendon 3 5 0 807 766 105.4 12
St Kilda 2 6 0 833 959 86.9 8
Melbourne 1 7 0 744 1067 69.1 4
Footscray 1 7 0 717 1057 67.8 4



Read The Age, Monday 18th May 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. Yes , back to Bass Strait rigs for Leo King.

    There’s a few names among the goal kickers/best players that i’d forgotten.

    Phil Bradmore with Footscray had come down from Sydney. Evans, Collingwood ? Barham with Melbourne; Jamie? I forgot Billy Nettlefold went to Melbourne. ‘Swoop’ Harrison with Geelong, a sligtly built half forward/wingman. Peter Jonas with North Melbourne, injury prone half forward flanker. Waterson with Richmond; Chris?

    The power/presence of Port Melbourne as the strongest Victorian club outside the VFL is noticeable. Bernie Evans, Steven Allender, Norm Goss, as well as Arnold Breidis who finished up there are all prominent. Other players mentioned who were recruited from the VFA included David McMahon, Kevin Sait, the Schimmelbusch brothers, Terry Bright and Stephen Lunn. It was a good strong competition.


    Keep up the good work Stainless.


  2. Stainless says

    Hi Glen

    Barry Evans – number 57. His second and last game for Collingwood apparently.
    Colin Waterson at Richmond – 13 games for the Tigers between 78 and 81. Wore no. 12 – not quite as famous as Richo!

  3. Ta Stainless.

    Barry Evans i can not recall him.

    Maybe Chris was the Essendon Waterson.

    Speaking of blasts from the past, that i’d forgotten, this morning the Coodabeens mentioned Carl Dilena. I was at Princes Park in early 1989 when Geelong surrended a 32 point lead at 3/4 time to lose to Fitzroy by a point. Carl Dilena kicked one of those goals in their winning score of 16-17-113.I’d totally forgotten, not even being aware of his role in Administration with North Melbourne.

    Something about the mists of time. Looking forward to a review of round 9., 1981.


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