Round 2 – Essendon v Hawthorn: A Few Good Men

Essendon versus Hawthorn
3.20pm, Sunday, 12 April
Trevor Blainey

A Few Good Men

Two weeks ago we sold the house.  The house of 30-plus years wherein children were reared, books, cd’s and junk multiplied as though they were on growth hormones and the house itself grew along with the mortgage and the waistline.

Soon after we arrived there it and the new telly were anointed with a viewing of the 1984 Grand Final.  A mixed company gathered – me as the only Bomber, my wife as a sympathiser and erstwhile (and forever after) disappointed Demon and an assorted group of blackguards only too happy even then to take down the boys from Windy Hill.  But the good men from Napier Street prevailed, the spell was broken, the curse lifted and the fierce rivalry between the Bombers and the Hawks was cemented and remains intense to this day.

On the back of that win Essendon’s own one man Insane Clown Posse in Kevin Sheedy having re-invented a team set about re-inventing a club.  Soon thereafter (usually in the fallow years between flags) the Sheedy hand was found on things like the Anzac Day game, the Dreamtime Game, the creation of the women’s coterie at the club, the promotion of the recruitment and nurturing of indigenous players and a much more active engagement with the club’s fan base made the EFC a leader in the AFL both on field and off.  A club to be admired, feared, hated by the rest and to make its fans proud.  The team in the 80’s? A motley crew of Western district farm boys, larrikins from the ‘burbs, march to the beat of their own drum interstaters and a lion hearted ruckman from around the corner.  Good types, hard, driven, skilful and for a while the best of the best.  Overtaken undoubtedly from that day on by the Hawks whose last 30 years have redefined what it takes to succeed in the AFL but in 1984 and again in 1985 the Bombers were the best.

Nowadays?  Not so much.

I headed off to the ground to meet the eldest for a quick parma and a jug at the Kingston followed by a vigil at the temple expecting mayhem but not the good kind.  The son, who grew up in the house, has since moved onto the wild streets of the inner north with its bearded baristas, anti-vax lunatics and single origin decaf soy lattes and a career in the law.  As a boy he didn’t barrack for Essendon, he barracked for Terry Daniher and his love for that 5 and the one that followed was strong and without waver.  Until recently.

It’s fair to suggest that disappointment has attended the decision by some to betray what a few good men had put in place those 30 some years ago.  To encourage shamens and tricksters to experiment with the most precious resource any club has – the players.  A not popular view this, amongst the faithful, but ours nonetheless.

And (at last!) so to the game.  We sit in the swirling cold on the fourth tier ready for the medicine that the mighty Hawks would surely deliver.  The winners of about a quarter of the cups since ’84, they are, no argument from me here, the best of modern times.  Ruthless, highly skilled, brave, efficient.  Others have briefly intruded on their dominion but none have surpassed it.

The game unfolds as though a dream, the Hawks are a bit off and we’re fighting hard to carve out a small lead.  By quarter time we’ve got 2, they’ve got 1.  The backs lead by Hurley and Hooker, Bags and Hibberd, are brave and holding off the two guns in Roughy and Gunston, Cyril quiet, Hodgey and Lewis sweeping but not dangerous.  It’s been a hell of a scrap, but surely – surely – the dam wall will burst.  The Hawkers will wake up in the next, put their foot down and skate away.  The hopeful father and the bemused son (get a grip dad!) retire to the bar at the break seeking refuge from the wind, find a vantage point to a screen and nurse a couple of schooners through the 2nd quarter.

We haven’t abandoned them just retreated to a safe distance for the onslaught that must follow.

The onslaught however is executed by the Dons.  They fight, they scrap, they defend, they cause Hawk errors (How? How?) and then they counter attack with Carlisle, Daniher, Watson (names from the archives of course), Goddard and Cooney running through the middle unchallenged by their opponents and the score builds in our favour.  3 and a bit goals by half time.  WTF?

Now is the time for mature reflection.  It comes from the son not the starry eyed dad.  Perhaps the young lawyer is a bit more circumspect.  There’s evidence and history.  Fairytales and dreams usually don’t play a part when last years premiers play anyone much less a team that was doing laps and burpees instead of actually playing in the pre-season.

And so it goes.  After half time the Hawthorn champs, no doubt stung by some wisdom imparted by Clarkson, gather themselves and begin the task.  Hodge and Lewis grind and guide, Cyril and Hill and Puopolo dash and weave, Gunston does what good forwards do and scores again and again and by the oranges it’s a slither to the Dons but the end is nigh.

We’ve been brave.  The whole performance has been a replica of the last two and a bit years.  A lot of effort, a lot of skill, a lot of courage but our players look destined to stumble again.  At three quarter time I have cause to reflect again on what the effect has been on the young men who represent our club.  How alike in temperament and talent and drive they are to the 84/85’s presented to the crowd before the game.  Their numbers now thinned by sad things but united by achievement and a common cause and the memory of a brief time when they were the best.

I found myself hoping that this group would find an achievement in due course to rival that; that their reflection on their careers would not forever carry the stain placed there by those who were impatient and reckless and foolish.

The siren goes to start the last.  The son and I exchange a look.  Here goes.

Where to start?  To say that the Bomber effort in the last was mighty completely understates what took place.  Hawthorn on a bad day are still formidable.  Within sight of the four points they rarely falter.  Great teams – Brisbane, Geelong, Sydney and The Hawks – close out poor days, take the points, do their rehab and listen to the truth tellers the next day and move on.  That’s what should have happened.  It didn’t.

Instead the Bombers stayed nearby, gritted their teeth after being headed and charged at the end.  Amongst many great acts the setup of the second last goal informs the kicking of the last.  With two minutes left on the clock Hooker marks a Hawthorn thrust deep at the back and now has a choice.  Wide and long as the playbook says or straight up the guts.  Up the guts it is.  To Cooney, to Melksham, to Carlisle, to Chappy, pivot, handball on the left to a running Colyer, give it back to Jakey Trav, no, kick, goal.  4 points down.  A minute 20 left.

The equivalent from 84? Baker goals in the first 30 seconds of the last.  We can win.  Well I’ll be buttered on both sides.  Or ruder words than that.

That the architect of that play in Cale Hooker, the hapless pursuer of Buddy all those years (games? Scandals?) ago, kicks the winner is only fitting.

The timekeeper then plays his part and we’ve won the day.  I high five the family to the left and the young fellas to the right and hug the son.

All is not forgiven but today, now, the players prevail, and we get the fairy tale.  Sheedy circles with a flying scarf and the fans respond in kind.  I think of Vander and Timmy and TD and Roger (labelled an assassin in days of yore) and mad Billy and Hawker and Bakes and Madden.  I reckon they’d be pretty pleased and see an image of themselves.

Go Dons.

ESSENDON    2.2  7.3  9.4  12.6 (78)

HAWTHORN  1.3  3.5  7.8  11.10 (76)


GOALS?Essendon: Daniher 3, Chapman 2, Colyer 2, Bellchambers, Carlisle, Merrett, Hooker

Hawthorn: Gunston 3, Puopolo 2, Breust 2, Rioli, Sicily, Hill, Roughead

BEST ?Essendon: Watson, Hurley, Hooker, Daniher, Heppell, Colyer

Hawthorn: Gunston, Puopolo, Rioli, Hodge, Lewis, Burgoyne

INJURIES ?Essendon: Merrett (knee), Goddard (knee)

Hawthorn: Sam Mitchell (corked calf) replaced in selected side by James Sicily, Burgoyne (cheek), Frawley (pectoral), Suckling (ankle)

SUBSTITUTES?Essendon: Jason Ashby replaced Ben Howlett in the third quarter

Hawthorn: James Sicily replaced James Frawley in the first quarter

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Foot, Margetts, Meredith

Official crowd: 59,866 at the MCG


Our votes: 3 Hurley, 2 Hooker, 1 Watson (with apologies to Lewis, Burgoyne and Gunston).



  1. Citrus Bob says

    Brilliant Trevor
    It was a gutsy win and showed tremendous character from the Bombers. Good lord did I say that.
    Nothing like nostalgia and the thrill of the chase!
    Even sooled them home. Anything to see the Reincarnation of South Melbourne,s foreign legion go down. Still fuming over the insipid way the Crows gave up Gunston.
    Dons to finish 7th?

  2. First Essendon report I have been able to read without barfing for 2 years. Well played Trev and Son.
    The win was no surprise to me, as you have assembled a pretty good list and the performance against Sydney was no fluke. I reckon your players are united in adversity and very hungry for redemption/reward.
    You can “insert here” for how each of them sees what they’re against (including ‘the management’) – but its pretty clear what they’re for – and that’s what matters. Watson is a terrific footballer and leader.
    I’ll continue to howl abuse until you sack the coach, but I don’t expect that while you’re winning.
    Speaking of which – “you can’t handle the truth” seems like a pretty fitting epitaph for Lord Jim.

  3. Trevor Blainey says

    Thanks Peter. Happy to help keep the nausea at bay. I and a few others who follow the Bombers are in a small group. Pleased for the players who will have a keen sense of loyalty to one another. That may carry them a long way but equally likely is that they will blow up at some point. But clear air is what they and we crave. At the same time I can’t see Hird now as other than a villain who seems to have no concept of responsibility other than to repeat often that he’s taking it. Again, an unpopular view amongst the die hards.

    And thanks too Bob. It’s been hard to find empathy for those Bombers who don’t swallow the company line. In case my piece isn’t entirely clear the few good men don’t include some who should have known better.

  4. Trevor, what a great report and a gloriously revelatory passage:

    “It’s fair to suggest that disappointment has attended the decision by some to betray what a few good men had put in place those 30 some years ago. To encourage shamens and tricksters to experiment with the most precious resource any club has – the players. A not popular view this, amongst the faithful, but ours nonetheless…”

    You’ve nailed exactly how I’ve felt towards the club since February 2013. Using the players for R&D purposes, then harnessing an us-against-the-world mentality as part of club-sanctioned PR three-card-trick is about as Machiavellian as it gets for mine, So to know that there’s a cadre of fellow Essendon supporters out there of a like mind brings me some much needed peace. To be among Essendon fans on game day, yet feel utterly alone and completely disconnected from an entity that’s had an immeasurable impact on you for the better part of 40 years hasn’t been fun.

    Thanks Trev and Go Bombers – for the few good men like TD, Simon, Nobby, Daisy, Rog, Leon, Merv, Kevin Walsh, Tim and G Foulds.

  5. Nick Gibson says

    Trevor, well played sir. Hirdy as a player reignited my love of the game. That just makes the naivety of the self-appointed brainiacs at the club placing any trust in snake-oil salesmen harder to stomach.
    Hirdy brought me back, but Jobe and his team are keeping me there.
    Nothing Sir James does from now until whenever will erase the shame of the betrayal of the players. Can Sir James coach? Looks like it. He is and will always be a club legend, but boy, do the haters have a reason to spit venom now. I can’t and won’t defend him.
    It was supposed to be good stuff? All above board?
    Even if it was supposed to be distilled water it was patently, stupidly, obscenely wrong. I’m cleverer than you? Bloody geniuses, more trouble than they’re worth.

    Do you reckon Kenny Hinkley would be using his players as pincushions?
    Nah, neither do I.

    Anyway, go Bombers, let’s do a number on Mick’s boys … see if the Bluebaggers will pull the trigger on him before the games record. Another coach who operates under his own rules. Now that would be a story.

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