AFL Second Semi Final 1990 – Essendon v Collingwood: Leaps and Bounds

He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

– Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

What makes an experience memorable? Is it the unexpected? The sense of history unfolding? Your life circumstances? Who you were with? Who knows?

For whatever reason, the second semi final of 1990 is one of those experiences for me. Essendon had enjoyed a cracking year and finished on top with a win-loss record of 17-5. Collingwood had the best percentage of a group of three teams on 16-6 (West Coast third, Melbourne fourth). The premiers of 1989 and perennial Grand Finalists since 1983, Hawthorn, were in fifth with 14-8. The final five system had 2 v 3 (Qualifying Final) and 4 v 5 (Elimination Final) in week one of the finals. Top place got you an all-important week’s rest. Happily, Collingwood avoided playing Hawthorn in the Qualifying Final; they continue to be a bogey side for the pies right up to the present day.

It had been a cracking year for an Under 15’s ruckman with Graham Wright’s #19 on my back. I was playing a couple of games a week, training, playing in the park… Good times. In Round 5 I’d been with my brother Chopper to see Collingwood beat the Saints by a point at the ‘G. Plugger booted 7 on Ronny McKeown (I think). We’d seen the Woods smash North at Victoria Park, standing on the rocky outcrop that separated Members from the Rest as G Brown and P Daicos each bagged 7. Collingwood were looking likely that year. Hawthorn beat the ‘Woods twice during Home and Away and Essendon looked the better side for most of the year, but by Second Semi Final day, anything was possible.

Collingwood were coming off the drawn Qualifying Final with West Coast at Waverley, and with no provision for extra time in 1990, the whole finals schedule was shunted by one week to accommodate a FULL REPLAY of the Qualifying Final (“let’s come back next week”). This meant that top-side Essendon went from having a beneficial one-week break (useful to recharge batteries), to having a not-so-beneficial enforced two-week break (potentially flattening a few of those same batteries) prior to their first final. All of this after Essendon, going into Round 22 with an unassailable grip on top spot, played all four Daniher brothers in that fixture at Moorabbin. It remains the only time in VFL/AFL history that four brothers have appeared in the same team; a lovely selection gesture that perhaps deviated in subtle yet important ways from that of the killer instinct.

What do I remember about the second semi-final?
It was my first final.
The realisation that after today, one of these teams would be in the Grand Final.
I’d be watching them on TV in a fortnight.
I remember climbing up and up and up the concrete steps of the old Olympic Stand.
Up and up and up.
Top deck.
No roof.
And no roof on the old southern stand either, which was being prepared for imminent demolition.
The only roof appearing on any top deck anywhere was that of the old Member’s.
I’d seen pictures of the Roman Colosseum in history books. Yet here was our own Colosseum. And it was alive.
I remember spotting the Nylex sign on the silo from my seat.
I remember slatted wooden bench seats with insufficient leg-room.
I remember D Millane playing with broken thumb.
I remember a swarming pressure and seeing S Madden and D Kickett being uncharacteristically rushed and then tackled and then seeing the ball spill for an S Russell goal-on-the-run and daring it to be true.
I remember reveling in the run and the tackles of my man G Wright, who would go on to finish second in the Brownlow (17 votes), behind T Liberatore (18 votes) and in front of S Silvagni (16 votes) later that month.
I remember a last quarter like a breaking wave.
I remember moving-gliding-sliding down down down those Olympic Stand steps (“my feet don’t even touch the ground”).
I remember Jolimont platform 2 heaving.

I remember the laughter and the cheers.
I remember the song.
One day I may get to a Grand Final. But that was enough.

Essendon       2.3   5.7   7.10     7.12.54
Collingwood 4.5   7.7   12.8   17.15.117
Collingwood: G Brown 5, P Daicos 3, D Barwick 3, S Russell 2, C Starcevich 2, T Francis, G Crosisca
Essendon: P Salmon 3, M Harvey, M Thompson, P Van Der Haar, A Burns
Collingwood: G Brown, M McGuane, T Shaw, T Francis, P Daicos, S Russell
Essendon: P Salmon, M Thompson, T Daniher, D Bewick
Umpires: Carey, Sheehan
Crowd: 91,555

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks OBP I remember that day and finals series and wondering straight away after the draw v WC if that would turn out to be to the pies advantage and bombers disadvantage and I was there at the gf barracking for the pies due to the Norwood influence , Craig Kelly and Tony Francis and back at Viv park the benefit of being good at talking bullshit came to the fore in that I told the guy I was , Rodney Maynard from
    Norwood and I had signed for the pies , had a beer with , Ned Kelly who shook his head said you bloody idiot it was a great night thanks OBP

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Great piece David. What a wonderful time September/October 1990 was. As an 11 year old at the time it was wonderful to realise I would see the Pies in the GF for the 1st time. Thanks for the reminder of our great second semi performance. Must get myself a DVD of that game. G.Brown at his best.
    What season Graham Wright had. Gee I love that 1990 team

    Rulebook- that is brilliant!

  3. Skip of Skipton says

    Collingwood and Essendon were the two stand-outs that season, and leading into the finals it was a flip of the coin as to who was better. No doubt the two weeks off buggered up Essendon. There was no coming back after that second-semi smashing.

    Due to the Hawks being a bit flat in 1990, the Eagles coming with a bullet but still a year off, and the Cats suffering a six-panadol ‘almost-premiership’ hangover, Collingwood had a one-year window of opportunity presented to them. They were due a change of luck in that regard. I was stoked for Daicos, Banks and A.Shaw who had been there during the Hafey era.

  4. Great memories! The Nylex sign… Pants’ thumb…. Ha. We’ll give this a retweet & a push on our facebook.

    twitter – @PiesHistoryTour


    #sidebyside #pieshistorytour

  5. DBalassone says

    Great stuff David. I remember saying to dad after the game, “I can’t believe we’re in a Grand Final.” 1981 seemed like a million years ago.

    There was a significant 2 goal turn around in that game, just after half time. Van der haar looked to have put the Bombers in front from a set shot, but the umpire signalled touched off the boot. The ball rebounded and Tony Francis pinned Ezard with a perfect tackle who had no option but to throw the ball with his only free arm. Francis kicked truly and put us 10 points up. I think a Daicos left foot snap, and a monumental stuff up between Kickett/Simon Madden (allowing Scotty Russell to swoop) happened soon after and the game was ours!

  6. matt watson says

    I was in Rockhampton in 1990.
    That year no home and away games were shown on TV in Rocky – there were only two commercial channels.
    The finals were shown on TV but I was playing footy that day and had to record the game and watch it afterwards.
    My girlfriend was an Essendon fan. Midway through the third quarter she tried distracting me from the game. By the time the Pies had the game sewn up midway through the last quarter, she didn’t want to play anymore…
    So I watched the game again. I don’t follow Collingwood but I’ve always had an instinctive dislike of Essendon…

  7. Gregor Lewis says

    That’s a time-machine right there.
    Selfishly, as a Hawthorn man myself, 1990 was a year I prefer to forget.

    Riding a wave of expectations since glorious ’83, consecutive capitulations to Melbourne in matches we should have won just rubbed salt into the wounds of a forgettable year – marked never to be revisited in my memory bank.

    Thing is, reading something so evocative, written so well just made me wanna read it again. Beautiful work David!

    Even if the memories burn like a habañero chile in my sandwich after I’ve just bitten my tongue …



  8. For the first year of the AFL there were three teams on 16-6 and Essendon on 17-5,Melbourne won 7 in a row to make it to 4th.The finals promised a lot for the Eagles too as there wasn’t much difference between the top three.They played 7 weeks of the last 9 in Victoria and fairer fixturing would have made a lot of difference.The draw with the Pies used up their mojo and the preliminary final against Essendon was nothing to remember.The next year they ended up 3 games clear, Collingwood was 7th and took 20 years to win again, so that 1990 window, propped open by the AFL, was all they had.

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great memories Dave. That Scott Russell goal was a symbolic breaking of the shackles. It broke the link in the Collywobble chain. I had my 21st the night before and like a 10 year old kid I wished for Collingwood Flag when I cut the cake.

  10. E.regnans says

    G’day all,
    Thanks for your sharing there.
    A simpler time.
    Well done those men.

  11. Steve Fahey says

    Great memories and a great story David. Impressive yarn too Rulebook !

    My brother had scheduled his engagement party that day and the draw a couple of weeks earlier threw matters into chaos. I believe the engagement party was a good do, but carried on a family tradition by going to the footy, as did my dad, who was the Pies’interchange steward (a much easier role in those days ) ! I did eventually turn up at the party, feeling ecstatic. Brown and Daicos were an unlikely forward pairing, but were magnificent that day and that season, contributing 146 goals.

  12. ramondobb says

    What a glorious day it was, I was stationed in the small standing room area underneath you in the middle deck – where the scoreboard is now. I remember Browny on fire, I think he kicked all 5 goals in the first half? I love Peter McKenna’s commentary “they wouldn’t want to let Daicos get it”, as Daics roves, gathers and snaps a brilliant left foot goal in the last quarter. And I remember the Russell/Kickett/Madden skit as the defining moment. After the game I recall “daring to dream” that we could break the horrendous drought. Bluey, Pete and I went back to the social club and sank many beers in “celebration”, but not nearly as many as we sank two weeks later.

    Great times, thanks David – think I might pull out the old DVD for a refresher.

  13. Mark O' Connell says

    I remember looking up at the clock when Brown kicked his fifth. It was the 10 minute mark of the second quarter. I knew then I was watching a great great player.

  14. E.regnans says

    A gun.
    A lot was asked of him that year, too.
    I remember him being awarded an EJ Whitten medal for Victoria’s best player in ’89 when he was a tough as teak wingman. Solid.
    When yer man L Matthews shuffled him down to full forward as the new mobile tackling model, BT saw the writing on the wall. I learn just now that he was only 28 when he retired in 1990. Boy.

  15. Skip of Skipton says

    BT got the shove after the drawn final, or maybe the replay. Must have been a kick in the guts to come so far and fall at the last.

  16. E.regnans says

    Certainly would have been difficult to take.
    With A Richardson OUT of that winning semi final side, one place was available at selection for the GF.
    I read that four blokes arrived at the G that day with their playing kit, hoping it to be them: B Taylor, R McKeown, P Hawke and S Kerrison.
    So close but so far for three of them.

  17. ramondobb says

    BT’s 5 minute burst for 2 goals in the last quarter of the drawn QF was probably the most defining moment of our finals campaign – that and Daics’ classic ice-breaker in the GF. Poor old BT’s body seemed shot but he mustered up one last effort to drag us back in front with 2 in a row, then Daics produced THE MIRACLE that should have been the sealer. A tough call by Lethal on BT, but the right one. But I’ll always love BT for those two goals, and whilst not a part of the official 20, he’ll always be a part of the premiership “team”.

  18. darren millane 1990 best player in league at this time…classic AFL

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