This is a good read if you weren't around in the 80's to witness some of the punishment these teams dished out to each other.
Etched in blood
Written by: Mark Robinson
A rivalry begins when blood is spilled. Nothing more, nothing less.
From then, human emotions take hold. Anger. Revenge. And finally hatred. They compounded what many describe as the fiercest rivalry between two clubs – Essendon and Hawthorn – of the past 25 years.
They played in consecutive Grand Finals from 1983 to 1985, and another eight times in those three home-and-away seasons. By its end, the Bombers had won six matches and two flags and the Hawks five and one.
Their matches were brutal. Brawls and cheap shots made headlines. Players were knocked out and stomped on and punches were given like handballs. There were back-handers, elbows and, let's be honest, the occasional soft-shoe shuffle.
Better still, both teams played awesome football. The slick, running Hawks against the ruthless Bombers. The credence then, as it should be today, was take it, give it and still win the ball.
The coaches – Allan Jeans and Kevin Sheedy – also played their role. It was, and still is, opined that Jeans and Sheedy disliked each other. One the traditionalist, the other the wise-cracking, first-time professional wonder boy.
Asked recently if he liked Sheedy, Jeans said: "He's all right. He's a different person to me, that's all."
Asked if he was jealous of Jeans, Sheedy said: "No. Allan deserved the flag in '83. Let's face it, he didn't have many up until then and he put in a lot of time and effort to get his second, and I respect that."
In just two years, Sheedy had transformed the Bombers from pacifists into paratroopers, a fighting, snarling football machine. And their enemy was everywhere, but none more so than Leigh Matthews' boys at Glenferrie.
"When you played Hawthorn, you went to play," Sheedy said. "You went to war. Absolutely. And so it should've been. Do you want to fill stadiums or do you want to go and play with plasticine, or get on a skateboard, or catch a wave, or listen to music? Even the people who didn't barrack for Essendon or Hawthorn went to the MCG to see Essendon play Hawthorn."
They wanted violence? "So what, bad luck, that's the way it was 20 years ago."
Bombers great Tim Watson said: "It was more intense than any rivalry that we had with any other club in the time I played footy.
"We didn't really have much communication between the two clubs.
"Even on interstate trips, they kept to themselves, the Hawthorn boys. I've spoken to Derm about this and that was the instruction. He painted it as a way of maintaining their segregation from the rest of the competition."
For Essendon folk, the rivalry began the day the bullocking Robert Dipierdomenico knocked out Allan Stoneham with a savage elbow to the face, on the bell of halftime at Princes Park. It was Round 8, 1983, and the Hawks won by 42 points.
Television footage shows Stoneham being helped from the field, his bloodied nose plastered across his face. Dipper claims it was self-defence.
"Allan Stoneham was coming at me at 100 miles an hour and all I did was put my elbow up. My feet didn't move, he came at me and I went bang to protect myself," he said.
Essendon's wild wingman Merv Neagle was the first to seek retribution – "Neagle was the first one in most times," Sheedy said – but it wasn't until the return match at Windy Hill, in Round 19, when the Bombers drew their line in the sand.
On his arrival at Essendon in 1981, Sheedy scoured the country for tough footballers. You can't describe them any other way. Billy Duckworth from West Perth. Steve Carey from North Launceston. He got Bryan Wood from Richmond and Rene Kink from Collingwood. He encouraged Ronnie Andrews, Roger Merrett and Neagle to dish it out, told Watson and Simon Madden to play like men and got a nuggetty rover called Darren Williams to give AFL another crack.
Yet, it was a bloke from Richmond, Cameron Clayton, a no-frills half-back flanker nicknamed Rattler, who said enough was enough.
"That's when it started, in '83, when Cameron Clayton said that's it," Sheedy said.
It is folklore at Essendon. Clayton came off the bench that day at Windy Hill, went to Dipper on the wing, had words and then delivered a stinging right punch that decked the Hawks goliath. War had begun.
Wood recalls the incident.
"Clayton must have given Dipper a whack as he was running past him, and Dipper must have called out, `You weak prick' or something like that," he said.
"Cameron turned round and walked back about four steps. Dipper obviously thought he was going to say something, but he didn't say a word. He jabbed out a left hand that stuck Dipper's head up and then Cameron hit him with this right cross. It was unbelievable."
Watson heard the roar of the crowd.
"We were running around playing and I just heard this enormous eruption from the crowd because it happened right in front of the Dick Reynolds Stand," he said.
"They all disliked Dipper because he played well against us and he would run into people. They disliked him as much as they disliked Dermott. He was genuinely tough, Rattler."
Dermott Brereton was an audacious 18-year-old at the time. "I saw it, yeah. I remember thinking I'd prefer Cameron Clayton chasing Dipper than me," he says, laughing.
D IPPER said he feared for his life. "The ball went over the boundary line and he just turned around and snapped me, bang, bang. I didn't expect it. We were fierce competitors, but we weren't just going to punch with a closed fist, I thought," he said.
"But I got poleaxed. I came off the ground with a blood nose. There's some great photos of me sitting on the bench with blood all over me.
"I remember going back on the ground and I actually feared for my life at Windy Hill. Obviously I was a marked man and I thought,
Oh well, I'm ready to go, I'll take you all on'. And then Gary Foulds hit me. I said to him,What the f--- you doing?' And he said, `I've just been told anyone near you is going to snap you'. He ended up getting two weeks, I think."
After the match, won by Essendon by 46 points, the Windy Hill social club was euphoric. "I had Essendon coterie saying that's one of the best things we've seen, that this is football where we've never been," Sheedy said.
Not everyone at Essendon embraced Sheedy's philosophy of football, however. Ken Fraser, then a board member and one of the fairest players to don the red and black, called on Sheedy soon after.
"Ken asked me one day,
Do you really have to play football like this?' " Sheedy said. "And I answered him honestly.Ruthless, and that's the way it's going to be'. He said,
Can't we . . . ?' and I said,Ken, we're going nowhere until we harden up'."
Sheedy offered no beg pardons about how his boys played the game. And why would he? A Tigers legend, he and Neil Balme, Ricky McLean and Robert McGhie crashed and bashed through the 1970s, their enemy being Carlton. After all, he knew nothing different.
Watson was a Brad Pitt type. He had looks, flair and blinding speed. Every mum wanted Timmy to marry her daughter. And so you can imagine, when Sheedy used to educate on how to rough up the opposition, Watson was gobsmacked.
"Certain players will do certain things and other players won't," Watson said. "We used to sit up the back in the rooms and Sheeds would go through videos and, it was like, `This is what you should do in this situation', etc. Some of us would be laughing because it was so foreign to us. But all the other blokes would be there, their eyes would be rolling back in their heads, froth would be coming out of their mouths, they couldn't wait to try the next trick."
Indeed, the Bombers played rough. There are shocking stories – rare but true – of eye-gouging, biting, kicking, stomping and dropping the knees into fallen opponents' backs. More confronting is the story of how a long-time Hawks player lost half a testicle after an Essendon player punched him in the groin.
"Sheeds would bend the rules as far as they could be bent," Watson said. Sheedy half conceded: "We were probably over the top, but that's where life was in those days."
It was a life Duckworth revelled in.
"There was some bloody big hits dished out," Duckworth said. "I loved playing against Hawthorn. I enjoyed playing Carlton too, I hated Carlton. We used to get told, a couple of us, if things started going against us, we had to start a blue. The message used to come out. He (Sheedy) would probably deny that (laughing), but we had to get tougher, stand up for ourselves."
Was he ever embarrassed about what he did? "Nuh. If the heads were there to be stood on, you stood on them. Ronnie Andrews used to say that to me. Stand on them. It was part of the game. If we could upset them, then upset them, grabbing them by the throat, or trip them or kick 'em or whatever. Anything."
While the Bombers had battle plans, across at conservative Hawthorn, the Hawks remained matter of fact. Except for a few such as Brereton, Dipper, at times Terry Wallace, even Peter Schwab, the Hawks treated Essendon as just another opponent.
Jeans said it was nothing personal. "They were the two top clubs at the time, playing for the ultimate prize, and they stood in our way," he said.
Even Matthews, one of the game's greats and no shrinking violet, couldn't remember hating Essendon. Indeed, he played every match with the same intensity.
"I had nothing about Essendon. That thing that football is a pretty impersonal game, I mean, it was more the fact they happened to be our opponent three years in a row, which made it strange," Matthews said.
Wallace remembers it differently. "They were tough, they were mongrels, but you can't win it with just that. They had the other aspect as well. We had a good combination, but they physically challenged you. There was no one like Essendon," he said.
Dipper agrees: "I loved the fact I was waking up knowing I was going to play in front of big crowds against Essendon. And in a way you wanted to stick it up Sheedy. I used to run around saying, `Hey, tell Sheedy we're after him, too'. Fair dinkum, I loved it. When I put that jumper on against Essendon, I knew that's what I was born for. I was born to play finals and I was born to play against Essendon."
The 1983 Grand Final was played in front of more than 110,000. For all of Essendon's bravado and big-game manpower, the Hawks embarrassed the Dons by 83 points, a then record margin in a Grand Final.
The Hawks' renowned midfield of Michael Tuck (27 touches), Wallace (32), Rodney Eade (26), Colin Robertson (29), Russell Greene (22), Richard Loveridge (22) and Schwab (21) dominated, and backman John Kennedy collected 30 possessions.
Matthews booted 6.5, Chris Mew beat Terry Daniher, Gary Ayres beat everyone, and a young Brereton had the better of Peter Bradbury early and then had to contend with Foulds and Paul van der Haar after that.
Neagle was among his team's best with 25 touches. He later revealed he had received a death threat to his wife and child on the Tuesday before the game. Those not to fire a shot included Glen Hawker, Van der Haar, Wood, Carey, Alan Ezard, Kink, Kevin Walsh and Merrett, who at one stage was reported twice in five minutes, collecting Ken Judge and then Matthews.
It was a reasonably tame affair, save for one incident that has been a major talking point since.
Watson, Essendon's dynamic matchwinner, was knocked semi-unconscious by his tagger, Robertson, who won the Norm Smith Medal.
I T WAS 20 minutes into the torrid first quarter when television footage showed a staggering Watson in the hands of three trainers. He played on, was taken off, reappeared at halftime, but departed again minutes into the third quarter, never to return. After the match he was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital suffering severe concussion.
Breaking a 22-year silence, Robertson told the Herald Sun he didn't king-hit Watson, a claim supported by Watson's teammate Wood.
"I was only 15, 20m away," Wood said. "They had words and they shaped up to each other, face to face. Robbo didn't do anything wrong really, and I don't know if Tim threw any punches or not, but Robbo landed a couple and Tim went down. Basically, Robbo handled himself better than Timmy."
Wood took off after Robertson, who had left Watson crumpled on the ground. "He ran down the forward line and I remember thinking to myself, `What am I going to do once I get to him?' " Wood said. "I didn't feel like king-hitting him from behind because I didn't think he'd really done anything wrong. So I just grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, threw him to the ground and wrestled."
Like many, Matthews didn't see it. "I don't think I've ever asked Robbo what happened. My understanding is he got one and gave one and the one he gave must have made better contact."
Brereton said: "Robbo reckons when he saw Watson shape up, he thought, `Well, it's a Grand Final', and he let it go."
Duckworth also missed it, but even if he had seen it, there was little he could do about it. Duckworth missed the Grand Final after suffering a severely corked thigh in the preliminary final against North Melbourne.
In a wild melee, Duckworth had one of the Krakouer brothers in a headlock – "I can't remember which," he said – and the other came to help. "I didn't see him and he kneed me in the leg and gave me a huge almighty corky."
He just wishes one of the game's toughest players, Andrews, had been playing to square up with Robertson.
It is Sheedy's greatest regret he didn't play "Rotten" Ronnie that day.
"Ron really loved the club and really protected the young players coming through," Sheedy said. "If I had my time again, it would be the one I'd question-mark myself."
Duckworth said: "Bryan probably wasn't the bloke to chase him. If it had been Ronnie Andrews or Roger Merrett, they would've killed him. Bryan did what he had to do, but he didn't have the ■■■■ in him like Ronnie. Imagine if someone did that to a Hawthorn player, what Leigh Matthews would have done. He would've killed him, too."
Watson has no recollection, and as is his character, never sought payback.
"I just accepted it as part of the game," he said. "From my point of view, there's never been any seeking of retribution. It wasn't the way I played the game. The other guys, they did. They gave him a hard time. I heard them the following year, Roger, Merv and those guys."
S HEEDY is cryptic when asked if he demanded revenge. "Not that year," he said. "Who got him? I can't remember . . . I've never said to an Essendon player to go and king-hit a player. I'm not going to do that, but if it's a 50-50 contest, well, just make sure.
"But all I know is the AFL anointed people to give a vote on the Norm Smith Medal. Robertson won it, and I don't think they understood the issue."
Were you angry he won it? "Well, I would've thought the nearest player to Watson was Robertson. There was only two people there . . . and I don't know how good Colin Robertson was after that." The incident sent Watson's teammates into a frenzy, but it mattered little. The Hawks wore plenty, but won elsewhere, especially on the scoreboard. It was a monumental anti-climax. Just hours later, after watching his players throw cream puffs at Hawthorn, Sheedy lobbed hand grenades at the team dinner at the Southern Cross Hotel.
He was seething. His club had won 50 games in three years in the lead-up to the Grand Final, only to be humiliated by 14 goals. "It was close to, if not, the most disappointing day of my life," Sheedy said.
To a hushed crowd, already lathered by beer and wine, a sneering Sheedy described the performance as disgraceful. "Today, some of you players probably played your last game for Essendon," he barked. Players were shocked. Wives and girlfriends disbelieving.
Mike Sheahan, a 30-something reporter for the then Herald, was in the audience, as was the heavily coveted South Australian Craig Bradley, who would eventually sign with Carlton.
"It was a weird night," Sheahan said. "Despite such a crushing loss, so many of the Essendon faithful were so proud the Bombers had reached a Grand Final for the first time since 1968.
"Sheedy jolted everyone back to reality. To me, it was 1974 and Ron Barassi revisited: a clear statement from someone from a successful club that there was no pride in running second. Somewhere round 1am, I remember sharing the table with Neale Daniher, writing names on the paper tablecloth of blokes we thought would be good enough to take the Bombers to a premiership.
"Daniher was far more generous than I, an assessment vindicated in the following two years."
So stinging was Sheedy that 20 years on a few in the crowd that night were still to make peace with him.
"I hurt a lot of people's feelings," he said. "I have people who haven't spoken to me for 20 years. I had a person who came up to me on 2000 premiership night and say, `I'm sorry I've not spoken to you. I didn't understand what you were on about'.
"But I knew this club had to change. I wanted them to understand that if you wanted to be loved in the social club, then move on. The dynamics of this organisation had to change."
A players' meeting at Windy Hill the next night was peppered with similar home truths, and, to a man, they knew the seeds of 1984 had been planted.