Round 9 – Essendon v Brisbane: ‘The Principal’ Skinner and the sliding door Gods of footy karma.



Sometimes I feel like I should send the Essendon Football Club one of those ‘thank you for coming to our wedding/party/birthday’ cards. In my lifetime, some of our greatest moments as Lions fans have taken place against the Bombers. Nothing over the top or too flowery, just a simple yet elegant thank-you/acknowledgment card that expresses ‘Thank you Essendon for being with us as we celebrated our very special days; firstly as Fitzroy in 1986 and then as Brisbane in 2001. We are deeply grateful for your attendance and greatly appreciate your participation.’


Last Friday night’s win may not go on to loom in that hallowed vortex of my memory the way that the ’86 Elimination Final and of course the Grand Final of 2001 do. There was also the famous game where Leigh Matthews invoked Arnie Schwarzenegger with his ‘if it bleeds, we can kill it’ line – and they did, and we did. We went on to win the flag that year. The following year, Kevin Sheedy declared that there would be ‘no rules’ when we met them again in the home and away season. Just the invitation the brothers Scott, Martin Pike and Jonathan Brown needed.


It hasn’t been all beer and skittles though. I can still see a Mark Zanotti set shot drifting wide in ’93 and Tim Watson running rampant. It was 1983 and I was six when I learnt a cruel axiom of life that bad things can indeed happen to good people. In the first semi-final the implacable Trojan warrior Billy Duckworth hobbled the great Greek Achilles (I obviously mean Bernie Quinlan but I’m trying to create a sense of mythos here) and it was Essendon who advanced to the Grand Final as a result. But the Gods are not mocked, as 1986 and 2001 proved. Asterix season or not, a win against Essendon is always a portentous sign.


It is a new look Brisbane side tonight. Regular seniors like Martin and Rich are rehabbing injuries and Dan McStay is out suspended for what was a very clumsy tackle last week. It opens the door for Ballenden to debut, Witherden to get another opportunity and Sam Skinner’s second career game, but more about him later.


It’s Friday night and the Lions are on free to air television. I’ve promised my youngest daughter that she can stay up until Charlie Cameron kicks his first goal. When he misses a very early and very gettable set shot, a wave of gambler’s remorse engulfs me. Maybe Brisbane will kick themselves out of this game if we waste too many early opportunities like this and if Charlie doesn’t kick a goal, we will have an overtired seven-year-old to deal with all weekend. I’m playing with the bank’s money on this gamble.


Our first quarter is like an inaccurate blitzkrieg. Maybe it’s a revolutionary seven-point play that Brisbane have been devising, three times in a row they miss a goal but swindle the resulting kick in for a follow up goal. But thankfully, like Phar Lap, our recently re-signed champion comes through with his first goal soon after – a typical Charlie goal that transcends physics, geography, geometry and sends my daughter off to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in her head. It turns into one of those nights for Charlie, four goals for the match and an electric unpredictability to his game. Last year he tended to be anchored to the goal square and if the ball didn’t come out the back of the pack his impact was neutralised a bit. In some canny coaching this year, Fagan seems to be having plays that see Charlie drift up to the wings where his speed and skills have the Essendon defenders and midfielders flummoxed. It’s a great quarter for the Lions, five goals to one. Death, taxes and Charlie Cameron kicking goals while our youngest sleeps soundly.


Brisbane have had this frustrating tendency this year to dominate games without actually scoring. The second quarter is like soccer without the heightened anticipation. I almost cheer when Essendon’s Devon Smith kicks a goal and breaks the tedium. It’s the only major for either team in the quarter. I find myself admiring Dylan Shiel’s samurai style man bun and sportingly acknowledging the way that Andy McGrath is accumulating possessions for the Dons. Like our Cam Rayner, he is having a year where the reality is matching the reputation. I’m a civilised fan and they aren’t scoring much either, I’m happy to salute their good work. Our lead is intact but then I remember that the Bombers started slowly against Collingwood as well before reeling them in.


There is a parallel universe where Sam Skinner hasn’t had to endure so many unfortunately and untimely injuries and is a pillar of the team like Harris Andrews. In this alternate existence, he is one of the competition’s best young key position players. In reality, the poor guy has had three knee reconstructions and has had to wait for three years since his debut in 2017 for tonight, his sophomore game. Skinner comes from Moe, just the other side of an open cut from where I live in Traralgon. I really want this footy thing to work out for him. I really want him to be so much more than just a brilliant Simpsons referenced nickname. Tonight though, I just want him to get through unscathed. He can join Bernie Quinlan as the Latrobe Valley’s greatest export since the briquette in the games and years to come. But when he finds himself alone in the goal square early in the third quarter and slots through an easy goal, I wonder if the sporting Gods, with their long memories have orchestrated it as karma for Billy Duckworth all those years ago.


There were many more moments to enjoy, particularly with the game iced. Hipwood kicks a great goal in an otherwise forgettable game. Rayner and Zorko are flashy but also consistent. Charlie decorates his four-goal game with a ruthless run-down tackle of Francis in the middle of the ground. Forget about his Baby-Shark goal celebration, in this defensive effort he was more like Jaws. Lachie has probably ended up with a vote or two or three from the umpires again and Ballenden kicked a goal on debut. Alex Witherden grabbed his opportunity to impress by both nostrils tonight, Lachie aside, he is probably our best player. It does the soul good to see Garry Wilson’s famous number 29 back in action again. Witho did the famous guernsey proud tonight.


It’s a tight turn around with a game against the other sash team, Richmond, on Tuesday night. Amidst the enjoyment of being equal top I remember that we haven’t beaten the Tigers since 2004. Having said that, they’ve never had to worry about a Lions team with Sam Skinner before.



ESSENDON     1.3      2.3      3.4      3.10 (28)
BRISBANE     5.3      5.5      10.6    14.7 (91)


Smith 2, Parish
Brisbane: Cameron 4, Neale 2, Ellis-Yolmen, Ballenden, Hipwood, Lyons, McCarthy, Rayner, Skinner, Zorko


McGrath, Hurley, Ridley, Parish
Brisbane: Neale, Witherden, Berry, Zorko, Answerth, Cameron 


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About Shane Reid

Loving life as a husband, dad and teacher. I'm trying to develop enough skill as a writer so that one day Doc Wheildon's Newborough, Bernie Quinlan's Traralgon and Mick Conlon's 86 Eliminatiuon final goal will be considered contemporaneous with Twain's Mississippi, Hemingway's Cuba, Beethoven's 9th and Coltrane's Love Supreme.


  1. Phil Hill says

    I do think Garry Wilson every time Witherden gets a kick. All Fitzroy supporters do.Great write up abd thnaks for putting it p quickly. Often I read writes up that are somewhat’stale’ as they appear on Tuesday. I mean severa days after the game as we will have games on Tuesday

  2. Shane Reid says

    Thanks Phil, I think I was reading your piece as you were reading mine! It is great to see the #29 out there, it was the first number I had on my jumper as a three-year-old, I’ve still got the old jumper tucked away. Fingers crossed for Tuesday

  3. The Principal is a great nickname for young Sam – my mate Shirl and I were onboard with a similar theme; I think “patented Skinnergoals, old family recipe” was mentioned at one point…

    I wasn’t quite out in the world in ’86, but 2001 was surely the summit of joy for supporters of all stripes post ’96.

    You could potentially add Vossy to the list of exports, but I think he fits more readily into the SEQ category…

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Great piece Shane, love the mix of past and present Lions memories.

    Hope young Skinner turns out more Seymour than Armin Tamzarian.

  5. Shane Reid says

    We’ll take Vossy too Jarrod. When I was in year 10 we went down to watch a Teal cup game at the Traralgon Showgrounds. One of the boys from our school was playing for Vic Country. Trouble was this red headed kid from Queensland (who later found out was born in Traralgon and raised in Orbost) kicked 14 goals playing as an on-baller. Still not sure that Vossy played a better game than that one.

    Cheers Luke, one of the unexpected joys of parenthood has been revisiting The Simpsons with my twelve your old recently!

  6. Tim O'Hare says

    We have beaten Richmond since 2004. I remember watching the Lions beat the Tigers at the Gabba in 2006. I think there were times since then. One of the commentators said we haven’t beaten them since 2009

  7. I might be wrong but I think those rare Lions wins came in Melbourne, Tim. No chance of that happening for the rest of this year though!

  8. Shane Reid says

    Thanks Jarrod, Tim. I think I was a bit sloppy with my proofreading. I think I meant 2009. Fingers crossed that after tomorrow it will be a moot point!

  9. Stainless says

    Shane – for the record

    2009 is correct for Brissy’s last win against the Tigers. It was at the MCG just before Terry Wallace fell on his sword. Since then it’s been fourteen straight wins for Richmond under Hardwick. The Lions haven’t beaten the Tigers at the Gabba since 2004, but would be a good chance tomorrow to notch their first win against them at Metricon since it was Carrara in 1990.

    Keep an eye out for my series on the 1981 season – more Fitzroy-triumphing-over-Essendon action imminent! (Though personally I cannot buy the Fitzroy-Brisbane Lions connection).

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