Almanac Football: A great Football Rivalry – Fitzroy versus Essendon 1979-1986


A great Football Rivalry: Fitzroy versus Essendon 1979-1986 by Philip Mendes


In an earlier article I challenged what I called the ‘doom and gloom’ thesis (off-field crisis and on-field failure) presented by many commentators concerning the Fitzroy Football Club’s final decades in the VFL/AFL. In particular, I provided evidence of significant on-field success during Fitzroy’s last golden era from 1979-1986.[i]


In this article, I provide further documentation of Fitzroy’s on-field achievements in this period by analysing their specific rivalry with the Essendon Football Club. By any judgement, the Bombers were a highly powerful side from 79-86, winning two premierships, runner-up once, and playing finals every year bar 1980. Yet as we shall see below, the Roys bested Essendon securing 11 wins to 9 losses. This included three wins and only one loss in four finals clashes.




In 1979, Fitzroy finished 4th on the home and away ladder with 15 wins and 7 losses (60 points), and Essendon finished 5th with 12 wins, one draw and 9 losses (50 points). The Roys won both the home and away matches, and the Elimination Final.


Round Five: 5 May 1979, Windy Hill Essendon, crowd 19,686


Essendon 1.1, 4.4,     5.8,     10.16 (76)

Fitzroy    7.9, 11.14, 20.17, 25.22 (172)


Best Players: Allan (Best on Ground with 32 disposals),[ii] Quinlan (24 disposals and 8 marks), Wilson (34 disposals), Poynton, Higgins, McMahon, McCarthy, Beecroft, Richardson.


Mutiple Goalkickers: Beecroft 7, Quinlan 6, Richardson 4, McMahon 3, Irwin 2.


Prior to this round, Essendon were 8th and the Roys 10th. But using sharp handball and accurate kicking for goal, Fitzroy dominated this game from beginning to end to return to the top five. ‘Superboot’ Bernie Quinlan returned from injury to double team with full forward Bob Beecroft for a combination of 13 goals. [iii]


Round 16: 21 July 1979, Junction Oval St Kilda (Fitzroy’s home ground), crowd 19,684


Fitzroy    4.6, 9.11, 12.14, 16.16 (112)

Essendon 3.2, 5.3,    10.3,  15.9 (99)



Best players: Allan, Harris, Irwin, McMahon, Merrigan, Walls, Higgins, Taylor.


Multiple Goalkickers: Walls 5, McMahon 3, Beecroft 3, Harris 2.


Prior to this round, Essendon were 3rd and Fitzroy 4th. I listened to this vital game all afternoon hidden in the shower block of our hellish school camp at freezing Ballarat. The Roys won the game with a fabulous second quarter against the strong breeze, although it got close at the end. Champion rover Garry Wilson was concussed early, and the Roys relied on their other smalls Leon Harris, Warwick Irwin and Graeme Allan to get the points. Tall forwards Robert Walls and Bob Beecroft combined for eight goals. Highlights included two classy left foot snaps by Walls, and a sharp pass by Wilson to Beecroft.[iv]


Elimination Final: 8 September 1979, Waverley Park, crowd 49,470


Fitzroy    9.4, 11.9, 14.17, 17.22 (124)

Essendon  1.3, 2.4,   3.8,     5.13 (43)



Best players: Wilson (Best on Ground), Smith, Alexander, Hansen, Harris, McMahon, Irwin, Higgins.


Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 4, Walls 3, Conlan 2, McMahon 2, Beecroft 2, Wilson 2.


The Roys smashed the Bombers from start to finish at VFL Park. Highlights included a solid mark and long torpedo goal by David McMahon, a superb left foot pass by Wilson that resulted in a goal by Quinlan, a left foot snap on the run by Quinlan under pressure for his 4th, and a brilliant goal on the run by Mick Conlan after he eluded three players.[v]


The Sunday Press opined that ‘Fitzroy graduated from the ranks of football’s also-rans at VFL Park yesterday. Whatever happens next week the Roys, 35 years from their last premiership, showed they are a top side’. They offered particular praise to Garry Wilson:


‘If any extra proof was needed that Fitzroy player Garry Wilson was an extraordinary player, it was provided yesterday. Statisticians in the press box gave Wilson 13 kicks and 25 handballs…it is safe to say that no footballer has ever used the handball to greater advantage than Brownlow Medal prospect Wilson did’. The newspaper also praised the ‘dominant’ ruck work of Ron Alexander, the ‘superlative’ half back line of Higgins, Smith and Keays, and the fine game from running players Irwin, Harris and Conlan.[vi]


Similarly, Bruce Matthews referred to ‘an awesome display of teamwork…which must enhance their premiership claims’[vii], whilst elsewhere he complimented their ‘breakneck movement of the ball, well-organized defence and superior desperation’. He described Wilson’s game as ‘brilliant. He bobbed up here, there and everywhere gathering an amazing 40 possessions, kicking goals and hitting teammates on the chest with bullet-like handpasses ranging from three feet to 30 yards’.[viii]




Both Essendon and Fitzroy had disappointing seasons. The Bombers finished 7th with 10 wins and 12 losses (40 points), and the Roys won the wooden spoon with only four wins, one draw and 17 losses (18 points). However, their percentage of 86 was unusually high for a bottom side, and well above the three teams that finished just above them on the ladder. The Bombers narrowly won the two home and away clashes.




Round 6: 3rd May 1980, Junction Oval, crowd 17,652

Fitzroy        4.1, 6.4, 11.8, 16.12 (108)

Essendon    4.6, 5.13, 9.20, 15.23 (113)


Best Players: Wilson, Marchesani, Thompson, Quinlan, Irwin.


Multiple Goalkickers: Thompson 5, Beecroft 4, Wilson 3, Irwin 2.


Prior to this round, Essendon were 8th and Fitzroy 11th. Essendon would have sealed this game in the first half if not for bad kicking at goal. But the Roys were revived by former veteran former Collingwood and Swans big man Len Thompson who nailed five goals from six shots. Fitzroy lost Garry Wilson with blurred vision late in the third quarter, and Essendon steadied to gain a 17 point lead late in the last quarter. But two goals from Irwin revived the Roys, and a number of Fitzroy players missed late gettable shots that could have at least tied the scores.[ix]


Round 17: 26 July 1980, Windy Hill, crowd 14,372


Essendon 2.3, 10.6, 16.7, 18.14 (122)

Fitzroy    5.5, 9.9, 13.12, 17.14 (116)


Best Players: Wilson, Poynton, McMahon, Quinlan, Smith, Alexander.


Multiple Goalkickers: Poynton 6, McMahon 3, Conlan 3, Wilson 2.


Prior to this game, Essendon were 8th and Fitzroy were 10th. The Bombers came from behind after trailing early to record their second narrow victory for 1980 over the Roys right on the siren. This was despite half forward Mick Poynton’s career best six goal tally based on what was described as high levels of ‘guile’ and ‘ducking and weaving’.[x]




Essendon won 16 games (including 15 victories in a row) to finish 4th with 64 points, and Fitzroy won 14 games to finish 5th with 56 points. They split the two home and away games, but the Roys caused a big upset against Essendon in the Elimination Final.


Round 5: 25 April 1981, Waverley Park, crowd 33, 465

Essendon 2.6  9.8  10.13 15.14 (104)

Fitzroy    6.1 10.3 14.6   19.11 (125)





Best Players: O’Neill, Quinlan, Conlan, Mugavin, Murnane, Harris.

Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 4, Mugavin 4, Murnane 3, Conlan 3, McMahon 2, Rendell 2.


Before this game Fitzroy were 5th and Essendon 9th. The Roys led all day for a comfortable win at VFL Park. Lesser lights such as Noel Mugavin, Leon Harris, Matt Rendell, and Lee Murnane were important. Quinlan was outstanding with 18 disposals, 6 marks and 4 goals. Highlights included Ron Andrews multiple acts of violence, and a splendid goal on the run by Mick Conlan. Fitzroy sealed the game with solid play in the last quarter including Quinlan goaling on the run for his 4th, tremendous play by Rod Lewis to smother and then kick the ball to David McMahon to goal, a beautiful mark and great kick for goal by Lewis, and a left foot snap by Lee Murnane right on the final siren. The Roys jumped to 4th place on the ladder.[xi]


Round 15: 4 July 1981, Junction Oval, crowd 18,374

Fitzroy    1.2, 3.4, 5.8, 8.13 (61)

Essendon 2.4, 7.5, 9.9, 11.14 (80)




Best Players: Lawrie, Francis, Poynton, Carlson, Parish, Wilson, Hansen.

Multiple Goalkickers: Poynton 3, Parish 2.


Essendon were 4th and the Roys 7th coming into this clash. During the preceding week, highly rated Fitzroy youngster Frank Marchesani was cleared to Carlton in exchange for cash and premiership player Peter Francis.[xii] Francis made a strong debut for the Roys with 23 disposals against 4th placed Essendon, but captain Wilson seemed to struggle with injury, and the Bombers were too good in the mud and slush for their 9th win in a row.[xiii] Highlights included an excellent pass by Serafini to McMahon, and fine last quarter goals by Poynton on the run, an excellent right foot snap by Quinlan under immense pressure, and a strong pack mark and goal by Rendell.


Elimination Final: 5 September 1981, Waverley Park, crowd 58,598: Garry Wilson’s last quarter brilliance decides the game

Essendon 0.5, 4.8, 11.11, 13.16 (94)

Fitzroy    3.4, 7.7, 12.11, 16.13 (109)





Best Players: Wilson, Taylor, Alexander, Parish, Lawrie, Francis, Serafini, Smith, McMahon.

Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 3, Poynton 2, Carlson 2, Parish 2, Wilson 2.


This was a topsy turvy game against the highly favoured Essendon. The Roys dominated early and led by 37 points 10 minutes into the third quarter. Then Essendon hit back, and a Ron Andrews goal gave them the lead 13 minutes into the final quarter. But Fitzroy came again. At the 16 minute mark, Conlan handballed forward, and Wilson evaded a tackle and snapped a great left foot goal under pressure. Five minutes later, Serafini showed desperation on the goal line to touch a long shot by Michael Thompson. Lou Richards on Channel 7 called it a ‘beautiful defensive play’. Then Quinlan, who had been quiet all day, stepped up. Twice in one minute he marked and goaled. The first (from 60 metres out) came from a sharp pass from Wilson, the second following a smart ruck tap from Alexander to Francis.[xiv] Then an excellent hand ball from Francis enabled Leigh Carlson to ice the game with a brilliant 60 metre goal on the run.[xv]


Other game highlights included three bounces by Terry O’Neill, a pass by Taylor for Herbert to goal on the run, a pass from Parish to Alexander in the goal square, and a Parish handball to Wilson for an easy goal.





Essendon finished 4th with 16 wins and 64 points, and Fitzroy 6th with 12 wins and a draw totalling 50 points. But they split the two home and away clashes.



Round 5: 24 April 1982, Junction Oval, crowd 18,268


Fitzroy    5.10, 9.10, 15.14, 18.19 (127)

Essendon 2.1,   9.3,   12.6, 15.12 (102)




Best players: Wilson (33 disposals), Quinlan, Lawrie, Rendell, Pert, Murnane.

Multiple Goalkickers: McMahon 4, Quinlan 4, Rendell 2, Conlan 2.


Essendon were 7th and Fitzroy a poor 12th (their only points coming from a  drawn away game to reigning premier Carlton) coming into this game. But the Roys led all day against the highly rated Bombers. Quinlan was dangerous all day, drilling two goals from 60 metres out, and another a fine snap directly from a throw-in early in the 3rd quarter. McMahon iced the game with three majors in the last quarter. Murnane, Conlan and Pert controlled the centre line. [xvi]



Round 15: 3 July 1982, Windy Hill, crowd 20,059


Fitzroy    0.2, 2.8, 2.11, 7.12 (54)

Essendon 6.3, 11.4, 16.9, 21.13 (139)




Best players: Clayton, Rendell, Parish.


Multiple Goalkickers: Parish 2.


Essendon were 4th and Fitzroy 7th coming into this game. Future Roys star Richard Osborne made his debut, but secured only three disposals as the Roys copped a thrashing at Windy Hill. The Roys 4th loss in a row left them 14 points outside the five.[xvii]





Fitzroy and Essendon were both serious premiership contenders in 1983. The Roys won 15 games to finish 3rd on 60 points just ahead of the Bombers on percentage who finished 4th also with 60 points. Fitzroy won both home and away games, but Essendon won the First Semi Final.


Round Three: 9 April 1983, Junction Oval, crowd 21,478


Fitzroy 1.3, 6.9, 8.11, 14.13 (97)

Essendon 2.7, 5.7, 6.12, 7.14 (56)



Best players: Sidebottom, Pert, Lokan, Harris, Rendell, Murnane, Parish.


Multiple Goal kickers: Sidebottom 5, Quinlan 2, Harris 2, Murnane 2.


Fitzroy were 5th and Essendon 3rd coming into this early season clash. This was an important victory at home against a highly rated and tough opponent. It was close for three quarters, and then Garry Sidebottom single-handedly destroyed Essendon in the last quarter. His 5th goal was a delightful left foot snap under pressure.[xviii] Columnist Ken Piesse opined that he “played confident, aggressive football…He took some telling marks, kicked five goals straight, and rucked effectively on the forward line”.[xix] Coach Robert Walls again expressed confidence that the Roys would finish top three, and columnist Mike Coward agreed, stating that “Fitzroy is a legitimate contender for high honors, in this, its centenary season”.[xx]


Round 14: 25 June 1983, Windy Hill, crowd 22,947


Fitzroy 1.3, 5.5, 7.7, 9.11 (65)

Essendon 1.3, 3.4, 6.7, 8.10 (58)



Best players: Roos, Clayton, Pert, Osborne, Thornton, Conlan, Hitchen.


Multiple Goal kickers: Quinlan 3, Conlan 2, Wilson 2.


Fitzroy and Essendon were respectively 1st and 2nd on the ladder before this game. This tight win on a cold wet day against a tough opponent at Windy Hill was widely viewed as Fitzroy’s best win of the season.[xxi] Individual highlights included Mick Conlan’s sharp goal on the run in the second quarter, and a long goal by Paul Roos from inside the centre square also in the second quarter. The victory firmed up Fitzroy’s ladder leadership one game ahead of both North Melbourne and Essendon.


First Semi Final: 10 September, MCG, crowd 81,090: A day of infamous thuggery


Fitzroy 3.4, 8.9, 10.12, 12.14 (86)

Essendon 5.3, 7.8, 9.11, 16.13 (109)



Best players: Carlson (29 disposals), Wilson, Rendell, Harris, Sidebottom, Conlan.


Multiple Goal kickers: McMahon 3, Quinlan 2.


In the lead-up to this game, the Fitzroy (and Victorian) full-back Laurie Serafini broke down at training.[xxii] This was a brutal game marred by bouts of indiscriminate violence from Essendon. Paul Weston ran through Bernie Quinlan in the opening quarter, and the key forward (probably severely concussed) was unsighted for the remainder of the game. Another attempted unsuccessfully to elbow Mick Conlan in the head. Then another Bomber elbowed Grant Lawrie (breaking his jaw) and also elbowed tiny Leon Harris in the head during the second quarter leading Roys coach Robert Walls to remonstrate with the offender as the players left the ground for the half time interval.[xxiii]


But for most of the game the Roys kept their noses in front. There were individual highlights including a sharp handball by a falling Garry Wilson to Leigh Carlson who goaled with his non-preferred right foot on the run, courageous play by Leon Harris to handball to Scott Clayton who goaled, and a smart pass by Richard Osborne to David McMahon who goaled. When Wilson ran into an open goal late in the 3rd quarter, the 19 point lead looked enough in a low scoring game. But Essendon scored two goals just before three quarter time and then the first seven goals of the final quarter to ice the game.[xxiv] It was a very disappointing end to the season against a side that the Roys had beaten easily in two home and away games.




Essendon finished top of the ladder with 18 wins totalling 72 points in a premiership year, and Fitzroy finished 5th with 11 wins and 44 points. The Bombers won both home and away clashes with ease.



Round 6: 5 May 1984, Junction Oval, crowd 20,274

Fitzroy    4.5, 8.6, 12.13, 13.15 (93)

Essendon 4.3, 8.7, 14.8, 22.12 (144)



Best players: Osborne, Thornton, Wilson, Harris, Conlan.

Multiple Goalkickers: Conlan 5, Scott 3, Quinlan 2.


Essendon were 2nd and Fitzroy a disappointing 10th prior to this game. The Roys grabbed a 10 point lead halfway through the third quarter, but couldn’t sustain the effort. The loss left them 11th on the ladder. [xxv]Third quarter highlights included a strong park mark by Quinlan who passed to Scott for a goal, a Reeves handball to Quinlan who put the Roys back in front, and a right foot snap by Conlan for his 4th goal. Additionally, Pert won the ABC’s Mark of the Day for a one handed grab over Paul Salmon, and Conlan won the Goal of the Day for a left foot snap.



Round 16: 14 July 1984, Windy Hill, crowd 17,749

Fitzroy    2.2, 4.7,  7.10,  9.12 (66)

Essendon 5.1, 11.3, 17.6, 20.7 (127)





Best players: Wilson, Reeves, Carlson, Clayton, Pert, Turner.

Multiple goalkickers: Quinlan 4.


Essendon were second and the Roys a lowly 10th coming into this game, and it was an easy all the way victory for the Bombers. [xxvi] The few game highlights included a strong mark by Quinlan over Duckworth for a first quarter goal, and a team goal featuring Lokan to Gotch to Wilson for a lovely right foot snap in the second quarter. The third quarter included a nice goal on the run by Parish, a fine high mark by Reeves, and a strong mark and goal by Quinlan.





Essendon won their second premiership in a row after topping the home and away ladder with 19 wins and 76 points, whilst Fitzroy finished a disappointing 9th with seven wins and 28 points.


Round 2: 8 May 1985, Victoria Park Collingwood, crowd 17,093


Fitzroy        1.4, 1.9, 6.12, 8.15 (63)

Essendon    4.3, 12.11, 18.15, 24.22 (166)


Best players: Parish, Roos, Graham Osborne, Pert.


Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 2, Graham Osborne 2.


Reigning premier Essendon were 1st and Fitzroy 9th entering this Round two game which was the Roys inaugural game at their new Victoria Park home. Sadly, this was Essendon’s highest ever winning margin over the Roys. [xxvii]



Round 13: 22 June 1985, Windy Hill, crowd 18,353


Essendon    6.4, 10.7, 13.9, 21.14 (140)

Fitzroy        4.4, 8.5, 13.11, 16.17 (113)


Best players: Scott, Leon Harris, Lokan, Quinlan, Roos, Turner, Clayton.


Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 3, Barwick 2, Cross 2, Richard Osborne 2, Scott 2.




Essendon were top and Fitzroy an improving 8th entering this game. The Roys came from behind in the 3rd quarter to lead at the last break, but Essendon were too strong in the last stanza.[xxviii]





Round 9: 24 May 1986, Victoria Park Collingwood (Fitzroy home game), crowd 14, 979


Fitzroy    1.2, 5.4, 9.6, 18.7 (115)

Essendon 1.3, 6.4, 10.7, 10.10 (70)


Best players: Conlan, Keane, Knight, Barwick, Graham Osborne, Wynd, Richard Osborne.

Multiple Goalkickers:  Osborne 5, Conlan 5, Keane 5.




Essendon were 2nd and Fitzroy 5th prior to this game. But the Roys destroyed the reigning premiers with an amazing final quarter burst of nine goals including five majors in the first 10 minutes. Richard Osborne thrilled the crowd with a screamer over Gary Foulds that gave the Roys a 17 point lead. He booted four in the last quarter. Tall inconsistent forward Gary Keane played probably his best ever game for Fitzroy with 12 disposals, six marks and five goals. There was also an excellent debut by young Jimmy Wynd with 21 disposals and a delightful left foot goal. Other highlights included fine team play by Roos to Rendell to Keane who goaled in the first quarter, a pass by Wynd to Osborne to goal, a sharp handball by Barwick for Conlan to goal on the run,  a Keane pack mark in the goal square, a mark and long goal by Keane, and Conlan off the ground. And all this despite Bernie Quinlan leaving the ground early in the first quarter with a twisted ankle.[xxix]


Round 21: 23 August 1986, Windy Hill, crowd 18,882


Fitzroy    6.4, 8.6, 11.9, 14.12 (96)

Essendon 1.2, 5.9, 6.11, 8.13 (61)





Best players: Dwyer, Roos (28 disposals), Conlan, Osborne, Lokan, Rendell, Pert.

Multiple Goalkickers: Quinlan 4,


Essendon were 4th and Fitzroy a struggling 7th heading into this clash, but the Roys completed a massive away victory to celebrate Paul Roos 100th game. Roos and Pert were outstanding in defence, Bill Lokan starred in the midfield, and mid-year country recruit Mark Dwyer continued to impress.[xxx] Highlights included a Barwick pass to McGrath who goaled, a Bernie Harris snap under pressure, a Quinlan right foot snap labelled ‘great goal Bernie’ by Channel Seven commentator Sandy Roberts, a long goal by Clayton, and a big goal by Quinlan following a free kick.



Elimination Final: 6 September 1986: Perhaps the greatest finals upset in modern VFL history


Fitzroy    4.2, 4.4, 6.8, 8.10 (58)

Essendon 2.1, 4.3, 7.5, 8.9 (57)


Best players: McIvor (25 disposals BOG), Pekin (25 disposals), Pert, Reeves, Roos, Turner, Leon Harris.

Multiple Goalkickers: Barwick 2, Bernie Harris 2.




Despite missing key big men in Quinlan and Rendell, the Roys somehow edged out reigning premier Essendon in a thriller on a cold wet day at Waverley Park. This match became famous for Mick Conlan’s last minute goal that regained the lead for Fitzroy. Conlan had been effectively tagged all day by Michael Thomson, and restricted to only five disposals. But after Paul Roos won a free kick for holding the ball against Michael Richardson, he handballed to Leon Harris who brilliantly evaded two Essendon tacklers in the centre, and then switched the play to Conlan who was on his own on the right half forward flank. Conlan dobbed it from 35 metres out. [xxxi]


Conlan later commented: ‘I’d run around the pack to shake off Thomson and managed to get out of his sight for the first time all day. When I got the ball I had nothing but thoughts that I‘ve got it now and I’ll kick the goal. There was never any doubt’.[xxxii]


Other highlights included long goals by McIvor and Barwick in the opening quarter, outstanding play by Pert gaining about 50 metres knocking the ball along the boundary line in the 2nd quarter, a Barwick left foot snap in the 3rd quarter, and a fine snap by Bernie Harris in the final quarter that briefly gave the Roys the lead.


Paul Roos recalled the post-match celebration: ‘I will never forget the emotion shown by players and supporters alike as we came off the ground. There were women, children and grown men all crying tears of joy and waving Fitzroy scarves, beanies, and jumpers in a display of excitement and exhilaration that I have never seen repeated. This was Fitzroy’s moment, when every problem was forgotten, when it didn’t matter about money or power or mergers. All that mattered was Micky’s goal and the maroon, gold and blue’.[xxxiii]





The above analysis of the Fitzroy-Essendon rivalry demonstrates that Fitzroy were a strong side on the field from 1979-1986. Noticeably, Fitzroy not only won more of their clashes than Essendon, but also on most occasions in home and away games (six out of eight times), defeated an Essendon side that held a higher position on the ladder (six out of eight wins).


Additionally, strong crowd attendances for most of these games suggests that Fitzroy maintained a reasonable support base. Indeed, for the six years Fitzroy played at the Junction Oval from 1979-84, the home crowds for these games were very similar to those at Windy Hill. Noticeably, those crowd numbers dropped significantly when Fitzroy moved to share Victoria Park with Collingwood in 1985. It is arguably contentious as to whether Fitzroy received a fair share of gate (including reserve seat) receipts as part of their ground sharing arrangement with Collingwood, and later with Carlton. That factor may have played a major role in contributing to Fitzroy’s growing and ultimately unsustainable financial debt.


Further articles in this series will similarly analyse Fitzroy’s rivalries from 1979-86 with two other power clubs of the era, Hawthorn and Carlton.


[i] Philip Mendes (2011) “Revising the doom and gloom historiography; Fitzroy Football Club’s last golden era 1978-1986”, Australian Society for Sports History Bulletin, 54, pp.33-37.

[ii] Frank McGuire (1979) ‘Dasher Allan’, Herald, 7 May.

[iii] Andrew Rule (1979) “Lambs at home, Lions away”, The Age, 9 May. For one view on Quinlan’s fantastic career, see Jon Anderson (2016) 21 living legends: 100 goals, the starts that kicked them. Hardie Grant Books. Melbourne, pp. 149-159.

[iv] Ron Carter 1979) “Bombers blow it”, The Age, 23 July.

[v] Pete Carter (2020) Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories 1897-1996. Mr Smudge Books, Perth, pp.182-84.

[vi] Peter McFarline (1979) ‘Triumph Lions’, Sunday Press, 9 September.

[vii] Bruce Matthews (1979a) “The day Dons bombed out”, Herald, 8 September.

[viii] Bruce Matthews (1979b) “Fitzroy crash the Bombers” in Ian McDonald (ed.) Finals Action: VFL 1979 Season Official Souvenir. Melbourne: VFL, pp. 54-59.

[ix] Rex Pullen (1980), Sunday Press, 4 May; Damien Comerford (1980) “Dons barely pass the test”, The Age, 5 May.

[x] Damien Comerford (1980) “Happiness at Heartbreak Hill”, The Age, 28 July.

[xi] Peter Stephens (1981) “Lots of pride in lesser lions”, The Age, 27 April.

[xii] Michael Davis, ‘Now Frank’s true blue’, Herald, 2 July 1981.

[xiii] Peter Stone (1981) “Bombers…”, Sunday Press, 5 July 1981; Trevor Grant (1981) “Bombers get a taste of ploys to come”, 6 July.

[xiv] Bruce Matthews, “Little Lion roars and Bombers wilt” in Ian McDonald (ed.) Finals Battle 81. Melbourne: VFL, pp.32-35.

[xv] Michael Lovett, “Roys ready to rip”, Sunday Press, 6 September 1981; Trevor Grant, “Born losers learn how to kick back”, The Age, 7 September 1981.

[xvi] Barry Akers (1982) “Quinlan takes the wind out of Bombers”, The Age, 25 April.

[xvii] Anon (1982) “Bombers tackle sad Lions”, Sunday Press, 4 July.

[xviii]  Visual Entertainment Group (1994) That was the Season that was 1983. Melbourne: Seven Sport Production.

[xix] Ken Piesse (1983) “Sidey sparks a big win”, Sunday Observer, 10 April.

[xx] Mike Coward (1983) “Lions most convincing”, The Age, 11 April.

[xxi] Trevor Grant (1983) “Fitzroy stand firm in the mud”, Sunday Press, 26 June. See also Paul Roos (1997) Beyond 300: An autobiography. Milsons Point:  Mandarin,  p.149.

[xxii] Mike Coward (1983) “Lion loses biggest battle”, The Age, 8 September. See also Ashley Browne (2016) “Lions’ Last Roar”, AFL Record, 23 June, p.20.

[xxiii] Chris Donald (2002) Fitzroy: For the love of the jumper. Melbourne: Pennon Publishing, pp.240 & 247.

[xxiv] Jon Anderson (1983) “It’s Bomber Power”, Sunday Press, 11 September.

[xxv] Ken Piesse (1984) “Dons are top four certainty”, Sunday Press, 6 May.

[xxvi] Howard Leigh (1984) “Bombers keep shifting sights for their salvos”, Sunday Press, 15 July; Gary Linnell (1984) “Lions wither as Bombers continue to flourish”, The Age, 16 July.

[xxvii] Alan Attwood (1985) “Sheedy has food for thought”, The Age, 9 May.

[xxviii] Frank Brown (1985) ‘Bombers fly even higher”, Sunday Observer, 23 June.

[xxix] Pete Carter (2020) Fitzroy’s Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories 1897-1996. Mr Smudge Books, Perth, pp.108-110.

[xxx] Martin Flanagan (1986) “Fitzroy on a high were purely masterful”, The Age, 25 August.

[xxxi] Carter, pp.336-340.

[xxxii] David Rhys-Jones (2012) “Danger: Explosive”, Inside Football, 4 April, p.26.

[xxxiii] Paul Roos (1997) Beyond 300: An Autobiography. Random House, Sydney, p.162.


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About Philip Mendes

Philip Mendes is an academic who follows AFL, soccer, tennis and cricket. He supported Fitzroy Football Club from 1970-1996, and on their death he adopted the North Melbourne Kangaroos as his new team. In his spare time, he occasionally writes about his current and past football teams.


  1. george smith says

    What you left out was the Fitzroy v Collingwood rivalry. We met the Lions in finals on 3 occasions during their silver era, 1979, 1981, 1984 and managed to win all 3. But then the Lions extracted a terrible revenge on our mob in the 02 and 03 grand finals

    I remember one occasion in 1993 where Al Macallister mumbled something about putting a lion on our sock if we ever hypothetically merged with Fitzroy, I screamed at the paper – shut up you idiot! But it was too late, the inevitable happened – Fitzroy found their angry pills and beat us badly – starting our decline that year which saw us miss the finals after cruising on top.

    Then in 1989 after a promising start with wins over Hawthorn and Melbourne, we had a terrible slump and lost our place in the finals with 3 rounds remaining – to Fitzroy.

    So we had to go toe to toe at Waverley with these pests. I don’t remember much about this match but it was a titanic struggle. Unfortunately for them their champion Richard Osborne got injured and they lost. Collingwood lost easily to Melbourne in the elimination final 3 weeks later.

    Fitzroy reminds me of the bloke at a party when one is chatting up the prettiest girl in the room. He barges in, shouts loudly, picks fights, plays a guitar badly, ruins it for everyone else. No wonder I hate them.

  2. Philip Mendes says

    HI George – a very different perspective there. I haven’t done the stats on Fitzroy versus Collingwood 1979-86. But you are correct that Collingwood prevailed in the 3 finals clashes – too good in both 1979 and 1984 even though from memory the Roys were favoured by most tipsters. We should have won in 81 after leading by 10 points with only two minutes left, but Collingwood also had a decent argument to say they were a deserving winner after leading by 45 points in the 3rd quarter. But there were 3 Fitzroy home and away victories that massively harmed Collingwood. The first was the final round of 1981 when we rolled the Pies at Victoria Park. That loss cost you top spot, and probably the flag given you had to play an extra finals match compared to Carlton.The second was Round 21 1983 when our home victory (famous for Bernie Quinlan’s 100th goal from about 70 metres out) ended Collingwood’s finals chances. The third was Round 18 at Victoria Park when 9th placed Fitzroy (inspired by 3 goals from Ross Lyon on debut) upset 6th placed Collingwood, and dented your finals chances. There was also 1986 when we replaced you in the five late in the season.

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    I saw many of the games you mentioned and the Lions certainly had the wood on the Bombers in many of those games. Mick Conlan still gives me nightmares!

  4. Ta Phil. Some of the names, who they played with, I’ve almost lost track of.

    I forgot Len Thompson having a short stint with Fitzroy. Narrandera’s Terry O ‘Neill gave us a good half a season at Port Melbourne. I’d forgotten he then went to Fitzroy.

    Gary Keane, Lee Murnane, Michael Thompson, all names from another time.

    Ron Andrews multiple acts of violence: a player of his times, though in this current era he’d be lucky to last a week. I always enjoyed seeing ‘Rotten Ronny’, but a player for his time.

    The Junction Oval; is there any footy played there? I saw the RRR footy fundraiser ‘match’ there in the early 2000’s, quite a while back. Sheffield Shield matches still take place there?

    Keep up the good work Phil. Appreciated.


  5. matt watson says

    Superb Phil.
    I did admire Fitzroy.
    1983 was a year that got away…
    I enjoyed reading this, especially the segments about Essendon losing!
    I can’t read anything about Fitzroy without recalling how the AFL shafted them.

  6. Great article Phil ! I’d forgotten that Fitzroy were on top of the ladder late into the 1983 season, with the passage of time I just remember Hawthorn being dominant (given the manner of their GF win) but looking back now I see that the only beat Fitzroy by 4 points in the Qualifying Final. The Lions were a great team to watch at that time.

  7. Great work again, Phil, particularly with the added YouTube footage.
    The 1986 elimination final win over Essendon, to some degree, made amends for the disappointing loss to the Bombers in 1983, which was a cruel end to a season that promised so much.
    The 1986 EF aside, my favourite Fitzroy win over the Dons would’ve been outside your period of analysis: the early-1987 victory at Princes Park when the Lions trailed by 39 points at half-time.
    George, I love your analogy about Fitzroy being the obnoxious bloke at the party.
    I think occasionally qualified as such, but I must admit that I never tried to chat up the prettiest girl at the party, as there was always far too much competition for her.

  8. Philip Mendes says

    Thanks for all the fabulous feedback guys. I was at that Round 7 game in 1987 Pete. It was a remarkable turnaround. Parking moved Roos and I think other defenders forward in the second half, and it turned the game.

  9. Oh look, it’s a piece on Fitzroy and Georgie boy is here to tell us how much he hates them.

    Get the chip off your shoulder sunshine, you’ll be happier…

    Thanks for the look back, Phil, much appreciated!

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