Almanac Footy: The Hopkins-Ellen Medal – A Call for Nominations



It’s one of my earliest footy memories.  L’il ‘opkins.  The pint-sized blond substitute, coming off the bench at half-time, snagging four opportunist goals to propel Carlton to an incredible victory in the 1970 Grand Final.  Ted Hopkins’ heroics that day are the stuff of legend, enhanced by the extraordinary fact that he played just one more VFL game after that famous day.  His career lasted a mere 29, largely forgettable, games.


Shane Ellen’s statistics are a little more impressive.  Sixty-five games over eight years at Footscray and Adelaide.  But he’d also be largely forgotten were it not for his famous 38th game – the 1997 Grand Final – where he was given a makeshift forward role in the absence of star full-forward, Tony Modra, and improbably contributed five goals to the Crows’ first Premiership victory.


The more I look into Grand Final history, the more I come across these sorts of stories.  Little-known players, in the right place at the right time. Mediocre journeymen seizing their moment. Young blokes forging their reputations against all expectations. Every Grand Final seems to have one.


Hopkins and Ellen are two of the best examples of these unlikely heroes.  So, at a time when the major awards are being given to an ever-narrower and more predictable group of star midfielders, it’s time to restore that old Aussie concept of giving the battler a chance to upstage the silvertails.  I hereby propose the concept of the Hopkins-Ellen Medal to be retrospectively awarded to unlikely stars in Grand Finals, players who defied logic, form, experience and their own playing limitations, to produce something fleetingly special on football’s biggest stage.  The eligibility criteria are deliberately vague.  It’s the vibe, really. My only strict rule is that in the spirit of lightning not striking twice in the one spot, no player can win this award more than once.


Obviously, Hopkins and Ellen are the nominees for those respective Grand Finals.  Below are some further nominations for Grand Finals during my lifetime and my reasoning.  But there are plenty of blanks.  It’s over to you to fill them.


I look forward to your contributions.




1965 Ted Fordham.  OK, Fordham had a consistent career with Essendon through the 60s, but he was hardly John Coleman.  Seven goals in the Grand Final was a standout performance in a game full of much brighter stars.




1967 John Ronaldson.  How could we Tiger fans forget Ronaldson’s two magnificent long goals in that thrilling last quarter? A stand-in for suspended ruckman Neville Crowe, Ronaldson played his role perfectly, upstaging the great Polly Farmer.


1968 Brian Kekovich. On a brutally windy day that made ball-handling and scoring incredibly difficult, the lesser-known Kekovich booted four of his team’s seven goals to set up a thrilling victory.




1970 Ted Hopkins.  For all the reasons mentioned.


1971 Bob Keddie.  Hawthorn’s last-quarter hero, standing in for the heavily concussed Peter Hudson, kicking four goals as the Hawks surged home over the Saints.






1974 Robert McGhie.  Gets extra points for his cult figure status, but McGhie was rock-solid in defence for the Tigers, especially early, when Messrs Wade, Kekovich, Cable and co were threatening.








1977 Replay




1979 Peter Francis.  A good example of a football journeyman who had a patchy career at several clubs, but put it all together in Carlton’s slogging victory over Collingwood.


1980 Stephen Mount.  Played just 31 games over four seasons but slotted beautifully into the centre half-back role in the Tigers’ romp over Collingwood, allowing Jim Jess to go forward and the semi-fit David Cloke to lurk in the forward pocket.






1983 Colin Robertson.  Yes, I am allowing Norm Smith Medallists to win this award on the rare occasions where they meet the criteria. In a team laden with stars, Robertson struggled to hold a regular place in the Hawthorn lineup, but hit a purple patch late in 1983 that culminated in a superb Grand Final.










1988 Paul Abbott.  Had similar challenges to Robertson in breaking into this great Hawthorn side, but six goals in the Hawks’ massacre of Melbourne was Abbott’s finest hour.


1989 Dean Anderson.  Hawthorn was like a hydra this day.  No matter how many stars Geelong incapacitated, another couple would bob up.  The underrated Anderson gets the nod for his four crucial goals including Hawthorn’s 21st, when most of the team was, literally, out on their feet.




1991 Stephen Lawrence. His co-ruckman, Paul Dear won the Norm Smith, but Lawrence was the dominant ruckman on the day, at a time where this looked to be a weakness in Hawthorn’s lineup.  Lawrence played nearly 100 more games after this day, but never quite reached the levels of his superb 1991 finals series.


1992 Tony Evans.  A classic example of one who got under the opposition’s guard, Evans’ three goals as a small forward/rover were critical in the Eagles’ inaugural Premiership triumph.


1993 David Calthorpe. Plenty of contenders from Essendon’s “Baby Bombers” lineup, but I’m going with Calthorpe as he burst onto the scene in the second half of ’93, producing a livewire performance in the Grand Final, including a 60-metre bomb that broke Carlton hearts just as they were mounting a comeback.  Played another 100 games after this day but never quite lived up to the expectations.






1996 Glen Freeborn.  Important goals in the second quarter ignited North Melbourne when they trailed Sydney by four goals.  Hardly an obscure player but very much a lesser light in this star-studded lineup.


1997 Shane Ellen.  For all the reasons mentioned.






2000 Paul Barnard.  A classic journeyman made-good story, Barnard’s energetic, aggressive approach fitted perfectly into the brilliant Essendon lineup of 2000.  An equal game-high four goals in the Grand Final was a standout on a day where the team performance was top quality across the board.








2004 Toby Thurstans.  Three goals from the lanky backup ruckman/forward was a real left-field bonus for Port Adelaide.


2005 Lewis Roberts-Thomson.  Although LRT went on to become a long-term regular in the Sydney lineup, he was only in his third season in 2005 and was regarded as a bit flaky and unreliable at the time.  But put it all together in this defensive slug-fest, at one stage figuring in Norm Smith Medal considerations.






2008 Stuart Dew.  The story of Dew’s revival as a player in 2008 gives him multiple bonus points, but that takes nothing away from his 19 possession game and critical two goals late in the third quarter, the period of Grand Finals I now refer to as “Stuey Dew time”.






2010 Replay




2012 Mitch Morton.  OK, I may be biased here, as Morton was an ex-Tiger and I was pretty familiar with his limitations, but Morton stood up in one of the great Grand Finals and contributed two telling goals.


2013 Brian Lake. Another rare Norm Smith/Hopkins Ellen recipient. See Colin Robertson.


2014 Will Langford.  Twenty-one possessions and three goals in just his 20th game marked Langford as a huge prospect for the Hawks, especially given his famous surname and pedigree.  Unfortunately, his 50-odd games over the next four seasons didn’t really live up to the hype.






2017 Jack Graham.  Who else could it be but the 5th gamer, slotting a game-high three goals and tagging Adelaide’s star, Rory Sloane, out of the game?  The only mark against Graham for this award might be the outstanding career that he is steadily building.




2019 Marlion Pickett.  Again, how could you overlook a Grand Final debutant, who figures in Norm Smith calculations with 22 touches and an ice-cool goal?




2021 Luke Jackson.  As much as Max Gawn is rightly hyped for his standout ruck performance and captaincy, it cannot be overstated how important Jackson’s backup support has been in 2021.  This was particularly evident in the Grand Final where Jackson’s ruckwork and remarkable ball handling and agility for a big bloke were telling during Melbourne’s comeback.



We’ll do our best to publish two books in the lead-up to Christmas 2021. The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020  and the 2021 edition to celebrate the Dees’ magnificent premiership season(title is up for discussion at the moment!). These books will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers and Demons season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from these two Covid winters. Enquiries 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. 1982 – Mario Bortolotto. The guy who watched the 1981 GF in its entirety from the interchange bench, and didn’t even get to hear his name when he received his medallion (Aylett introducing him as ‘Scott Howell’), made sure he was noticed the following year when he played on a rampant David Cloke and did not thrash him, but did a good enough job to let some much more versatile players (such as Ken Hunter) stay where they were more needed on the day. A great clubman, Mario stayed at Carlton for a few more years before a bad knee forced his retirement.

    1987 – difficult to single one Carlton player out in a performance most noteworthy for the even-ness of the team effort, but on a stinking hot day which made domination for the entire 120 minutes practically impossible, Richard ‘Rocky’ Dennis’s outstanding sticky hands even in the swirling wind inside the cauldron, especially early in the match, made him yet another problem for the Hawthorn defence already struggling to hold Kernahan, Hunter and company. In the last quarter, the fresh men, up-and-comer Adrian Gleeson and journeymen Mick Kennedy and Warren McKenzie all played vital roles as Carlton routed Hawthorn in the first ten minutes of the last quarter. Of that quartet, only Gleeson managed to reach 100 games or finish his AFL career still a Carlton player, and of the others only Kennedy had any kind of impact at his second club (finished fifth in the Swans B&F in 1990), but all played their part that day.

  2. 1981 – Peter McConville. The era’s unofficial but universally-recognised ‘best mark for his size in the competition’ (a bit like Phil Baker the finals specialist or Max Urquhart the mudlark) had played finals in each of his first four years at Carlton without ever really repeating his generally consistent home and away form, and the club’s dreaded Influential Bloody Supporters were starting to notice. By the time he finished at the club in the mid-80s, his reputation for reliability and versatility meant he was often the bloke rushed back at finals time despite lack of match practice. The clean, mature display he gave this time wasn’t as eye-catching as the bloke on the other flank, but with three first-choice defenders already out and another (Des English) gone by half-time, it was vital that he stood up.

  3. I think Tom Boyd is a worthy nomination for 2016. He certainly contributed on the day and his long goal late in the last quarter was the beginning of premiership celebrations. Sadly the number one draft pick couldn’t live up to his highly touted reputation. For various reasons his career was cut short, but the big man will forever live in the history of Dogs’ supporters.

  4. 1980 Peter Welsh, recruited from Hawthorn apparently he was sitting on the bench in the reserves several weeks prior to the finals.

  5. Great idea/thread with great selections.
    Loved the story of the unsung hero
    Loved Shane Ellen story

    Mario for his job on Cloke in 1982

    1990 Shane Kerrison was one of Collingwood best players, not bad when he was named emergency
    1991 Jamie Morrisey another one who played a great game on Chris Lewis in back pocket when he was renowned forward.
    1998 ex tiger James Thiessen, Adelaide had some unknown premiership heroes in 97/98 in Thiessen, Keating, Marsh, Sampson, Rintoul
    1999 Cameron Mooney !! Peter Bell was he a star then, kicked 4 goals, I thought he was BOG
    2001-03 Mr September Clark Keating, just rose to another level Grand Final Day
    2007 Steven King I know previous All Australian but he and Otto had great games with King winning 2 premiership in 7 days
    2009 Jason Gram in a losing side, compensation for equal most votes in Norm Smith. Max Rooke maybe
    2010 match 1 Sam Gilbert moved up forward and provided a focus there and played well, thought he kicked more than one.
    2011 Tom Lonergan who stopped a red hot Travis Cloke at1/4 time
    2016 agree with John, Tom Boyd his best game ever

    Different topic but there some obscure/journeyman premiership players
    Richard Walter, Michael Young, Darryl Freame, Scott Howell, Mario Bortolotto, Tony Elshaug, Greg Madigan, Aaron Keating, Chad Rintoul, Clay Sampson, Ben Marsh, James Thiessen, Shannon Motlop, Mitch Morton,Tom Simpkin,Matt Sphangher, Joel Hamling, SHane Biggs, Jacob Townsend, Steven Armstrong

  6. Thanks for the comments, folks. Some great suggestions here.
    Rick – it pains me to agree but I thought Mario Bortolotto would get the nomination for 1982. Much more difficult for the ’81 and ’87 Carlton wins I agree.
    John – I’d concur with Tom Boyd. A classic case of seeing what might have been for a fleeting, but vitally important, moment.
    Noel – yes, “Woosha” was on the reserves interchange in the last home and away round and got the call up as the Tigers suffered a raft of injuries going into the finals. I think he did a job on Michael Turner in the Semi Final that turned heads. Became a great cult hero at Richmond in the subsequent years. His passing was far too soon.
    Rodney – fantastic list. I reckon I agree with all of them. You raise an interesting point with Jason Gram – can this award be given to a member of the losing team? I’d thought not but there are some GFs where I think you could make an exception. Neither side deserved to lose in 2009 and Gram was a standout.

  7. 1999: for me, Adam Simpson played a very under-rated game but was in everything

  8. 2012, Mike Pyke’s fourth quarter.

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