1995: Bernie’s Boys make Cocky Crows eat humble pie


Twenty-five years ago on Wednesday, the Bernie Quinlan-coached Fitzroy ventured to Football Park as a massive underdog to face Adelaide. The match had added intrigue because Quinlan’s predecessor, Robert Shaw, was in charge of the Crows. For much of the night, it was nip and tuck with Adelaide seemingly in control; before Fitzroy produced an explosive last quarter worthy of a premiership contender. Pete Carter (a.k.a. FitzroyPete) looks at the match in his just-released Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories, 1897-1996.




Adelaide v Fitzroy

8:40pm, Saturday May 20

Football Park


Inside Football editor Tony Greenberg described it superbly, exhausting the dictionary of adjectives in the process. “Magnificent, sensational, amazing, incredible, fantastic, awesome even. Somehow, those words seem inadequate when trying to do justice to Fitzroy’s shock victory … At various stages it looked like the Crows would pull away … but they (Lions) were able to hang in there against all odds before unleashing that remarkable last-quarter burst. It truly was something special to watch.”


Even at the height of their powers, few Fitzroy teams kicked seven unanswered goals in a 10-minute burst. Yet to do so when sitting at the foot of the ladder and playing at Adelaide’s Football Park stronghold made this triumph extra memorable. Adding to the drama, the Lions’ 1991-94 coach Robert Shaw was now at the Crows’ helm.


The Age’s Michael Moroney had his thoughts on the matter. “When Shaw left Fitzroy, he said he’d lost his fire, so his appearance at Adelaide a month or two later hardly left the Lions enamoured, and his old club took great delight in recording its first win at Football Park over the disappointing Crows.”


Shaw was replaced by one of the Roys’ all-time favourite sons, Bernie Quinlan, in a move aimed at luring back the Fitzroy faithful. The third of just three wins over Adelaide (the first two, in 1992 and 1993, were at Princes Park under Shaw), this was the Lions’ 14th-and-last interstate victory and their penultimate success in the VFL/AFL.


When Adelaide kicked the first four goals of the second half to lead by 19 points, it seemed a case of “how far the Crows?” as they chased a sixth straight home win (incorporating the end of 1994). However, the Lions booted 11 of the last 13 goals, including seven from the 17-minute mark of the final term.


Fitzroy hit the front early in the last quarter but the Crows struck back through Andrew Jarman. Westside Football referred to inaugural Adelaide coach Graham Cornes’ comment on radio that the visitors were unfit and would be unable to run out the match. Hardly a favourite with Fitzroy folk given the Crows’ fortunate three-point home win in 1991 and a controversial incident involving Lion Peter Keays during his brief stint at North Melbourne in 1979, Cornes was wrong by the length of the straight.





Victory was some consolation for the last-minute robbery four years earlier and a one-point loss at the same venue in 1993. The Lions’ 9.1 (55) in the final quarter outscored their 6.8 (44) in the first three, the 24th time the Roys had done so in a winning cause but just the first since they overran Geelong at the Junction Oval in 1976.


Four players from rival clubs – Adam McCarthy (North Melbourne), James Manson (Collingwood), and Simon Atkins and Doug Hawkins (Footscray) – played key roles. McCarthy was part of the trade to send Matt Armstrong to North, and no relation to another Roo-turned-Roy, John McCarthy, who was also in the Lions’ side. Adam topped the evening’s possession count (27) and kicked three goals, including the one that put Fitzroy in front for good.


After marking 35m out, and before booting the sealer, Manson waved to the opposition coaches’ box – was he trying to tell Robert Shaw something? In a 2011 Inside Football interview with David Rhys-Jones, Manson spoke of his move from Collingwood. “I made the right decision and got three great years and some of the best memories of my life at Fitzroy. I loved it at Fitzroy. It’s one of the great tragedies that they don’t exist (in the AFL) anymore.”


Atkins, wearer of the long-sleeved No.23 at two clubs and the man who was to kick the Roys’ 21,102nd-and-last goal, against Fremantle at Subiaco Oval 15 months later, had 25 disposals en route to a season tally of 535 (86 more than next highest, Mark Zanotti).


Then there was Hawkins who gathered 22 possessions. As he lined up for a late goal, Channel 7’s Sandy Roberts enthused: “Well, here he goes, in his 337th game (the first 329 for Footscray). Dare I say it but this could just about make Bernie Quinlan’s night.” In John Weatherhead’s feature in Football Australia about the Bulldog duo’s transition to Lions, Hawkins said the victory was “his greatest in 18 years of senior footy (and he enjoyed 144 wins with Footscray)”.



Hawkins in fine form. Image credit: bigfooty.com



Quinlan sung Hawkins’ praises. “He’s been worth his weight in gold. His professionalism, the way he goes about it, his hunger for footy and his enthusiasm around the place has been wonderful.” For his part, “the Hawk” said: “Bernie Quinlan … wanted me to do two things in joining Fitzroy – to do weights and go easy on the drinking.”


Hawkins could’ve been excused if the only weights he lifted this particular evening (and morning) were beer glasses. Indeed, most players celebrated so hard they returned straight from the local nightclubs and changed into their running gear for a 7am training session that included a swim in the River Torrens.


Added to this quartet, Chris Johnson kicked three goals and was forever dangerous; the League’s least-recognised (and the Roys’ last-ever) skipper Brad Boyd was outstanding; while full-back Steve Paxman played a key role on Tony Modra despite the Crows spearhead’s three majors. Michael Moroney noted that Quinlan rotated John Barker, Jeremy Guard, Darren Holmes and Rowan Warfe to assist Paxman, mirroring Shaw’s tactics a year earlier when Zanotti and Simon Hawking kept Hawthorn’s Jason Dunstall goalless at Waverley.


Of the game itself, Quinlan told The Age’s Greg Denham: “It was a war of attrition and most people would’ve thought we would’ve cracked first, but the boys have started to believe in themselves. We (now) have a much more settled line-up and a more direct style of play, the result of a few things that I’ve implemented recently.”


That Fitzroy’s previous coach was now Adelaide’s boss was a “non-issue” in Quinlan’s pre-match address. “I just told them (players) it would be fantastic for us to walk away from here with a win for whatever reason they wanted.” He described the Crows’ post-game crisis meeting as an overreaction, saying the Lions were no longer the AFL’s whipping boys. “Sometimes they have the blinkers on in Adelaide and they take every Football Park match for granted as a win.”


This was the finest moment of Quinlan’s brief coaching career, which ended unceremoniously with just three games of 1995 to play. Alas, after the Tony Lockett-inflicted Round 19 carnage at the Western Oval, there would be no more Fitzroy weekends for Bernie.


In a 1996 Inside Football interview with Quinlan, Jim Main said of the Roys legend: “His only crime was taking on a job that would’ve been Kryptonite to Superman, let alone Superboot.” Westside Football’s Alan East believed the board that appointed Quinlan and then sacked him should surely have fallen on its collective sword. Outside the AFL-orchestrated takeover by Brisbane and the narrow losses to Collingwood and Hawthorn during the 1981 and 1983 finals series, Quinlan’s sacking remains this scribe’s saddest moment as a passionate Fitzroy supporter.


The off-season departure of Paul Roos, Jimmy Wynd, Matt Armstrong, Ross Lyon, Darren Wheildon and Marcus Seecamp saw the Lions lose 786 games of experience, mirroring the pre-1963 player exodus. Indicative of the massive turnover in personnel was that only vice-captain Jason Baldwin (in his 100th appearance), utility Frank Bizzotto and Paxman were survivors from the farcical 1991 defeat (seven Crows played in both matches).


On a brighter note, the last words surely belong to Sandy Roberts, who frequently championed the Roys’ cause, as the siren sounded. “How sweet it is. For Bernie and Fitzroy, it’s like a final.”



That winning feeling. Image credit: lions.com.au




ADELAIDE   1.2    3.5    7.10   9.12 (66)

FITZROY       2.5    4.7    6.8    15.9 (99)




Fitzroy – Johnson, McCarthy 3, Boyd 2, Baldwin, Bird, Guard, Hawkins, Manson, Molloy, Morton

Adelaide – A Jarman, Modra 3, Liptak 2, Brown 1

Crowd: 39,888





Pete is offering this book to Almanac readers for $25, discounted from the RRP of $30. Please email [email protected] for payment details. However, if you prefer to use Paypal (see fitzroypete.com.au) where the price is $30, Pete will add a copy of ‘Dreamer, Drifter, Drunk’ in your parcel. Please note: the images shown in the above piece do not appear in the book.



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About Pete Carter

Author of "Dreamer, Drifter, Drunk", "Fitzroy's Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories, 1897-1996" and three books on the mighty East Perth Football Club (see www.fitzroypete.com.au); lover of all things willow on leather (nothing sordid here, we're just talking cricket); mathematics and statistics teacher at Curtin and Murdoch universities; enthusiastic India and Saudi Arabia traveller; supporter of the endangered Carnaby's black cockatoo; humble servant of brother cats Bobby and Moby.


  1. Adam Muyt says

    It was such a sweet, sweet win. I floated through the next week. Until we lost the next game, and the next, and the one after that….
    Such a terrific feeling winning this one after all the dramas at Football Park a couple of seasons earlier.
    Thanks for the memories, Pete.

  2. My pleasure, Adam.
    With good three-quarter-time leads, we should’ve put Collingwood and Richmond away soon after beating Adelaide.
    But the fact of the matter was that we didn’t.
    Winning is a confidence thing that the Roys of 1994-96 lacked, due in no small part to player losses and the off-field uncertainty.

  3. Philip Mendes says

    Great article Pete. That win deserved serious celebration. I have a photo of my then infant daughter and I taken with the great Bernie Quinlan at a club day soon after he was appointed coach. It was so disappointing that he didn’t have a better list to work with.

  4. Thanks very much, Phil.
    The photo of you and your daughter with the great man is a treasured keepsake.
    I recall Bernie was seen as the Messiah by many when appointed, not long after the 1994 season had wound up.
    To my knowledge, Paul Roos and Matt Armstrong hadn’t announced they were leaving at that stage, so the list Superboot eventually had at his disposal wasn’t quite as strong as he’d anticipated.

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