Almanac Lunch (Report): 1989 The Great Grand Final


Tony Wilson and Hawthorn’s Dean Anderson


1989, the great grand final.


Footy Almanac Friday lunch; the great lunch. [This was the one last Friday, March 13, at the North Fitzroy Arms Hotel – Ed]


I’m a Cats supporter but the 1989 grand final has a spiritual significance for me. It wasn’t a game of football it was the stuff of life. We lost but footy won. Sounds noble doesn’t it? But it’s true.


Tony Wilson presented his book, 1989. The Great Grand Final, at the lunch and had Dean Anderson and Darren Flanigan with him. They spoke of characters and moments in the game, described how centimetres mattered, and how agonisingly thin the line can be between fortune and failure. They illustrated how, as young men, they tried to understand their quirky older coaches; Blight the eccentric and Jeans the psychologist, and they portrayed their contrasting preparations for the game. Anderson woke at 4am and dealt with nerves all day. Flanigan got up early too as he had to open his recently acquired pub, then went to the hardware shop to buy a new vacuum cleaner.


Geelong’s Darren Flanigan with Cats fan Al Hamblin.



“Then I wandered into the `G”, he said with a Katamatite grin.


Contrasts and comparisons.


Anderson said the Hawks were very conscious of the Cats’ monumental talent but believed they had “the mortar between the bricks, which makes great teams.”


The Cats were going to rely on the magnificent Blightism that saw them kick record scores across the next 4 or 5 seasons: “They kick 25 goals, but we kick 26.” And why not go with that strategy when a bloke called Gary Ablett is playing at full forward? Ablett kicked 27 goals and 16 behinds in the 1989 finals series, across four games. If he’d kicked 28 goals 15 behinds, we might have won a flag.


It was Anderson who sunk the final dagger into the Cats’ hearts. He kicked the last Hawk goal.


“We knew we had to keep scoring” he said, “because the Cats were coming, and we knew they would definitely keep scoring.”


Scoring to win, not defending to win. How brilliant.


As it turned out his last goal, their last goal, would be enough. Just. He spoke about the fragility of the situation. How the Hawks were “probably one injury, or even one niggle, away from defeat”. They were shot. Dipper was crook (far crooker than they knew), Tuck had split webbing in his finger, and Dermie was playing on auto pilot. The fact that he rose from the dirt after the Yeates hit cemented his place in folklore too. The barrel chest heaving. The blond locks still a constant menace. He was indestructible and therefore the Hawks were.  But the 42 point lead was down to almost nothing. What drove them?


“No one ever died of exhaustion on the footy field” yelled Jeans at three quarter time to his fatigued and battered troops.


“Well I nearly did,” quipped Dipper from his hospital bed after the game, where he’d received an adrenaline injection in the chest to release air from a leaking lung.


Flanigan expressed the Cats’ frustration: “Every time we got close, they’d kick a goal. We just needed to get the difference down to single figures.” They did that but only in the dying seconds. And the seconds died quickly.


But it is the fable of Ablett that draws me to this game despite the fact that a reminder of the outcome is like ripping off a scab. The legend he built that day matches anything seen in the history of the game. Perhaps exceeds them all? It was a game of pure genius. His very own masterpiece that was crafted in front of 100,000 people.


“He was in a bubble,” Flanigan said. “He just ran around doing whatever he wanted.”


He told stories of Ablett’s nine goals in a second division soccer game (I really hope that’s not urban myth), and his effort in catching five of the eight rabbits that the whole Cats team caught as part of a pre-season Blight exercise (long hilarious story here too). Ablett’s aura grew like Jeremiah Johnson in the 1972 Robert Redford classic. It’s about a man looking for peace who is forced to fight. But in the fight, he wins respect. At the end of the movie the native American tribal chief held up his hand, palm open, acknowledging Johnson as a mighty foe. I think the Hawks, to their credit, did the same after Ablett’s performance. Circumstances required something mystical and Ablett had that within him. Few would.


The tale of THAT goal exemplifies the legend. The ball is thrown in from the boundary deep in the forward pocket. Ablett leaps over the rucks and “snaps a goal over his head before he’d even hit the ground”.


Of course, he did hit the ground, and he did have a split second to assess the goals and screw the ball over his left shoulder. But the IDEA that he didn’t hit the ground is where the magic lies.  He flew, levitated, kicked. He knew. Somehow, he knew. We all want to believe that stuff.


I’ve started reading Tony’s book. It’s super. As good a footy book as I’ve read. A story about a story. It’s flighty and funny and brilliantly aimed. A yarn full of bravery, heroes, humour, genius, eccentricity, and brutality. A book that tells the story of young men playing an extraordinary game of football while Ablett entered the metaphysical. One of the chapters in the book is simply called: “The Miracle Man”. In Tony’s words its “60\40 about the Hawks”. Fair enough. They won. But when I rip off the scab these days, when pondering what might have been in 1989, the skin underneath is healed and pink. I saw it. How lucky am I?


Get this book, sit under a tree and let it come to you. You might long for something lost.





To order a copy of 1989 The Great Grand Final send us an email HERE.



Some other photos:



Dean Anderson with Percy Jones.




Syd Jackson popped in. Always great to see him.




JTH hosted.


The Footy Almanac/Odd Friday lunches are held on Friday’s which have an odd-numbered date. Keep an eye on the Calendar of Events on our home page. The next lunch is scheduled for March 27 (at this stage, pending public health considerations).



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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.



    The jury is out on the correct spelling of Darren’s Surname

  2. Not according to the man himself. “i”

  3. The room at GMHBA Stadium named after his father certainly seems to be the Fred Flanagan Room !

  4. Or perhaps I have just always ASSUMED this relationship ….. erroneously !!!??

  5. Fred ‘Troubles’ Flanagan and Darren ‘Derr’ Flanigan may share a common ancestor but that would be in about fifth century Ireland. They’re not related.

  6. I actually asked him about it because there is a “Flanagan’s” Road in Yarrawonga, not that far from Katamatite.

    He called them “the other mob”.

  7. Daniel Flesch says

    Dips , thanks so much . Living 1500 kms. from Melbourne and running a one man micro- business i can’t get away much at all , so am grateful for your account of the occasion which tempers the regret at not making it.

  8. A jolly good lunch and report

  9. Superb Dips you brought us along to the lunch it is the grand final as a neutral.The best coach I have been involved with favourite saying it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain geez this gf had that in so many doses.( I will admit I have never watched a losing,Norwood grand final ever again you’re a better man than
    me,Dips ) thank you

  10. Brilliant review, old mate.
    Disappointed to have missed the lunch.

  11. Colin Ritchie says

    Great lunch, great stories, and great company!

  12. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic words and photos of sounded like a wonderful day. Like Smokie, very disappointed I couldn’t make it.

    What a finals series G.Ablett had in 1989. I can’t think of anyone else putting in four finals of sheer brilliance of that standard.

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