“Superboot” Bernie Quinlan and the 1983 Qualifying Final 30 Years on

by Philip Mendes

It is 30 years since “Superboot” Bernie Quinlan almost singlehandedly spearheaded the Fitzroy Lions to victory against Hawthorn in the 1983 Qualifying Final. In one of the greatest ever individual finals performances, Quinlan had 18 possessions, took 12 marks, and kicked five goals in the last quarter and eight overall for the game to push Fitzroy to the lead in the dying moments of the game.

Fitzroy had finished the home and away season in third place on the ladder with sixteen wins which was their best performance since their last premiership in 1944. Highlights included seven wins in a row, a record 150 point win over then top of the ladder side North Melbourne, a ten goal away victory over reigning premier Carlton, and two brutal victories over eventual runner-up Essendon. The club also headed the AFL ladder for a number of weeks. The team contained a number of outstanding veterans including Quinlan, top rover Gary “the Flea” Wilson, and goal sneak Mick “the tank” Conlan plus three young champions in the making: Paul Roos, Richard Osborne and Gary Pert.

The experienced Hawks, captained by Leigh Matthews with support from the likes of Peter Knights and Michael Tuck, had lead for most of the Qualifying Final including by 20 points at three quarter time. But then Quinlan took over. His first four goals were from strong marks and included a 55 metre bomb. But his fifth and last goal was arguably the best. Playing as the ruckman at a boundary throw-in 23 minutes into the quarter, he managed to grab the ball in the forward pocket, brush off four Hawthorn defenders, and somehow snap a goal with his non-preferred left foot. Sadly a free kick in front of goal a few minutes later to Richard Loveridge gave Hawthorn victory by four points. They would go on to win that year’s premiership. One week later Fitzroy led for most of the first semi final against Essendon, and seemed home when leading by 21 points late in the third quarter. But the Bombers rammed home with often illegal aggression to win by 15 points.

It is sometimes forgotten what an absolute star the formerly inconsistent Quinlan became after joining Fitzroy from Footscray in the middle of 1978. He regularly scored 60 metre goals with ease, and in 1981 even booted a 75 metre torpedo goal against Carlton on the run. He remains the only player to kick 100 goals in a season (twice), play more than 300 games (366), and win a Brownlow medal. Remarkably, he achieved all these honours after his 30th birthday. In total, he scored 817 goals (10th highest in the AFL) which included 483 over 131 games in his last six seasons for Fitzroy from 1981-86 at an average of 3.69 goals per game. He won the club goal-kicking for five consecutive years from 1981-85.

As for Fitzroy, 1983 was their last shot at the premiership dream. They contested the finals again in 1984 and 1986 which made it an impressive five finals appearances in eight years, but were never again a serious flag threat. Their best effort in the ten seasons that followed was 6th in 1989. In their final two seasons of 1995 and 1996 they won only a total of three games before being swallowed whole by the Brisbane Bears.

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. Theo Efthymiou says

    A fantastic article about a player with a brilliant legacy. Quinlan seemed to play like a fine wine! Interestingly enough, it seems the Roys were far more competitive in the mid to latter parts of the 1980s than my Tigers ever were. Incredible how a mere 5 or 6 years later they were ‘swallowed whole’.

  2. Dianne Waddingham says

    Thank you for bringing back such sweet memories. I was there and almost drool over every word you have written. Apart from Kevin Murray, Bernie was my hero and I would still luv to meet him some day. Your article was a great read for this Fitzroy tragic who sadly could not follow the team over the border to be ‘swallowed whole’. Everyone knows I went onto the dark side and now follow Freo with one-eyed passion but there will always be a small part in my heart reserved for my fabulous Roy Boys. That is something that can never, ever be “swallowed whole”!!

  3. Hey Phil,
    I was at that 1983 Qualifying final with a mate who followed Fitzroy. We were 13 years old. I remember the comeback in the final quarter and my mate and I going nuts. We were surrounded by Hawk supporters.
    If I remember correctly, it was Gary Pert who gave away a free for in the back to Richard Loveridge.
    Loveridge was about 15 metres out.
    When he kicked the goal I was devastated.
    I often think about what might’ve happened if the Roys won. They would’ve played North the following week. They probably would’ve won their way into the grand final.
    Had they won that, it is doubtful they would’ve been consumed by the AFL 13-years later…
    Footy was cruel to Fitzroy that day at the MCG. The AFL let them down, and their supporters too.

  4. Quinlan was such an elegant and fair player. Conlan, Sidebottom and Ron Alexander also in that side from memory. Gary Wilson was the poor man’s Skilton -which is a huge rap for me.
    I loved that 83 Fitzroy side. Just goes to show how good that Hawthorn side was.

  5. Philip
    I was standing behind the goals at the Ponsford Stand end where Bernie kicked those last quarter goals. It was a super performance and a great final. When you consider the ease with which Hawthorn disposed of North and Essendon in that finals series, you’d have to think Fitzroy would have gone own to win the flag had they hung in against Hawthorn that day.

    You’re spot on about Quinlan too. Along with G Ablett senior, he was one of those rare individuals you’d go to games just to watch. In his last couple of years he was virtually unable to train during the week but was still able to produce brilliant performances on the weekend.

    Really enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

  6. Great memories Philip. How great was Quinlan circa 81-84? Remember this game well and those amazing last quarter heroics – his impact on a game was very similar to that of Ablett for mine. I was there when he booted his 100th against the Pies at the Junction Oval in Round 21. “It’s long it’s high, it’s 100!”).

    If I remember correctly the free kick to Loveridge was for a dubious “deliberate” out of bounds against Pert. I’ve always felt that rule is the most inconsistently applied rule in Australian football (even back in ’83) It happens literally dozens of times a quarter, and yet they always seem to pluck one that punishes a defender (because he didn’t “disguise” it well enough – if we all know someone is “disguising” isn’t it obvious that it is deliberate anyway?

  7. Philip, I don’t even know where to start pouring my heart out about Fitzroy. I moved north to Qld the year of the merger and have continued to follow the Lions as fanatically as one can but it’s fair to say a little part of me died at the conclusion of 1996.
    I scraped together as much coin as I could to get over and watch their last Melbourne based game against Richmond. It still burns me that the AFL couldn’t find it in their hearts to move the last game against Fremantle to Melbourne despite no bearing on the finals. That said, I’ll always have a soft spot for The Purple Haze following their efforts at helping celebrate the last game of a foundation club, which included flying Bernie and Kevin Murray over as guest speakers. A hell of a lot more than the AFL did. I think they sent a box of Cadbury Favourites.
    On Bernie, I wouldn’t mind knowing how many Brownlow medalists have failed to win a club best & fairest. Should have, mind you, but didn’t.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Roys were wonderful in 83. Should have at least played off in the GF. Bernie’s last quarter in that QF was superb.

  9. Peter Fuller says

    This appreciation invokes some wonderful memories. The early 80s Lions were magnificent to watch, the bravery of their playing style on the field mirroring the quixotic struggle off it. What players they were! As well as those deservedly mentioned in the post and comments already, I’d like to give a shout for Les Parish who died tragically young, Leon Harris, Billy Lokan, David McMahon, Laurie Serafini, Matt Rendell, Tim Pekin, Grant Lawrie and Doug Barwick.
    Incidentally, I’m not clear on how the last few minutes of the Qualifying Final played out, but I think the collective wisdom of the Knackers is conflating two incidents. The deliberate Oob was against Michael Nettlefold, recently departed Chief Executive of St. Kilda. I don’t know if Richard Loveridge received that one and whether another was awarded against Pert.

  10. On ya Phil.

    Whilst he’s best remembered for his efforts up forward with the Roys and his goal average per game (at Fitzroy) is quite phenominal, many people forget Quinlan played a lot of footy in defence for the Dogs. In fact his form at CHB during the first half of 1974 had some members of the media suggesting he was a chance at winning a Brownlow.

    A tad premature.

    Very consistent with the Roys. Goaled in 69 consecutive games at one stage.


  11. Peter F is right on the money, the free kick against Pert was awarded for dubious high contact on Loveridge, after Quinlan had put the Roys in front after freakish goal from the boundary throw in. See footage below:


    So that means Hawks were gifted 2 final quarter goals in a close game. Robbery. Considering the Lions beat North by 150 points that season, you really wonder what would have happened in season 1983 if the Lions held on that day and met the Roos in the 2nd Semi Final.

  12. Thanks for the memories, but I reckon you are seriously underselling that Roys side which had plenty of good players other than Quinlan.

  13. I also attended the 1983 Qualifying Final and marvelled at Bernie Quinlans goals that followed Gary Sidebottoms goal right at the start of the Final Quarter. Nettlfold put the ball oob, and they gave a free to Michael Tuck who goaled and then after we hit the front, that tragic Gary Pert free kick to Loveridge.
    The following week against Essendon, i agree with the writer. We were crunched illegally all day. Berni’s ankles were kicked, Sidebottoms knee was kicked and Mickey Conlan bashed and missed easy gpals because he was concussed. Still we were in front in 3rd quarter. Roger Merrett was appalling and our coach Robert Walls remonstrated with him at half-time because of his elbow to the face of Leon Harris. The umpires with of course AFL support I think ignored all the Essendon bashing tactics. We were bashed out of the game. I have never forgiven Essendon or Sheedy and hope they get a lot of players suspended over the drug case. Freo were wonderful to the Roys on their last match. THe 2nd last game against Richmond was so emotional. A Richmond supporter hugged me and cried. It is good the Brisbane Lions who I support recognize their Fitzroy heritage and the jumper of 2015 has returned to the Fitzroy Lion logo and the away jumper is just like the Fitzroy one. I will never forget the Roys and I know that the Roy boys heart beats still in the Brisbane Lions.

  14. Bernie was always a bit of a hero at school, he could always out run out jump and out kick everybody at St Michaels primary and St. Paul’s college in Traralgon. I had the privilege to play and train with him in those early days. I still remember kicking end to end before training , Bernie would be practicing kicking for goal and us mortals had to kick it back to him , but we would have to run towards him for at least 20 meters so it would land somewhere near him. He was kicking over 60 meters when he was 11 to 12 years old.i have only ran into Bernie once since I left Traralgon , he picked me up one day in Morwell when I was traveling to Melbourne , Bernie was on his way back to Melbourne for training.
    That would have been 1970 and haven’t seen him since , but I still have a lot of mates who still live in Traralgon and I regularly ask , do they see him and what sort of a person did he turn out to be.
    All the answers have been similar, great guy no big head loves the Traralgon footy club . Well done Bernie you are the man and would love to catch up one day.

  15. Shane Reid says

    I’m very late to the party finding this wonderful piece of yours Philip. I’m glad I’m not the only one compelled to write about the great Bernie. Thanks for this. I still watch that last quarter from time to time hoping for a different result!

  16. george smith says

    Look get over it.

    1. It was the only time that Fitzroy gained the double chance in their silver era 1979 to 86. They had the chance to get revenge on Hawthorn in 1986 but the inevitable happened – they were splattered from one end of Waverley to the other.

    2. they had the chance to get back on track against Essendon the following week, but the inevitable happened – another heavy defeat. So we are left with straight sets defeats – like my mob in 65, 69, 73 and 88. Basically Fitzroy looked good in the home and aways but was not so good in winning finals.

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