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Grand Final moments: Storming home

Essendon's 1984 Premiership team: Back row - Mark Thompson, N. Clarke, P.Bradbury, M. Harvey, G. Hawker, W. Duckworth, S. Heard, M. Neagle. Centre - T. Watson, P. Weston, K. Walsh, R. Merrett, S. Madden, P. Vander Haar, F. Dunell. Font - A. Ezard, D. Williams, K. Sheedy (Coach), T. Daniher (Capt), G. Foulds, L. Baker.

In the lead up to Saturday's Grand Final, author Dan Eddy will reflect on some of Essendon's greatest September triumphs.  The extracts are from Eddy's book 'Always Striving', which is available for purchase from the Bomber Shop.

Click here to secure your copy.

Always Striving covers the good, the bad and the controversial—mainly the good—and, in many cases, with detailed and entertaining first-person recollections aided by painstaking, meticulous research. There is a modern emphasis that starts with the Baby Bombers of 1993 and finishes succinctly with great expectations of the current crop of ‘Babes’, Always Striving celebrates the past while looking to the future. In ’93, it was James Hird, Mark Mercuri and Joe Misiti; today, it’s Darcy Parish, Zach Merrett and Joe Daniher making Bombers’ fans excited for the future. 

This extract reflects on the Bombers 1984 Grand Final win.

It is surely the most replayed quarter in Essendon’s history: the final quarter of the 1984 Grand Final. From the moment Simon Madden won the centre hit-out, Darren ‘Daisy’ Williams gathered the loose ball and thumped it to full-forward, and Leon Baker roved Paul Vander Haar’s crumb before snapping the opening goal, 19 years of pent-up emotion was released in one burst of volume that shook the foundations of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It would kick-start a Grand Final-record nine-goal final quarter, as the Bombers overran their Hawthorn opponents and broke the longest premiership drought in club history.

“Kicking that first goal of the last quarter, it gave our players on-field confidence straight away,” recalled former coach Kevin Sheedy, when reflecting on his first of four premierships at the Bombers. “That’s important for players on the ground,” he said. “Being on the ground as a player, you get the feeling, the understanding, that there’s some energy and some excitement ready to kick-in. In any great sporting event, it’s out on the field where that wave of electricity flows through you.”

Having fallen short in each of his first three seasons at the helm, it was Sheedy’s ability to motivate his players, and to juggle his line-up “on the fly”, that orchestrated the Essendon revival after they had trailed by 23 points at three quarter-time. “Sheeds was of the belief that Hawthorn were starting to tire a bit, and he said that if we get the first goal of the last quarter we might be able to get on a bit of a roll and get some momentum, and that’s what happened,” remembered Bill Duckworth, who had been recruited in 1982 from West Perth, in Western Australia. “Everyone got excited and we started to kick away, and we probably could have gone another quarter after we got on that roll, because nothing was going to stop us.” Said Sheedy: “I was pretty excited … I thought Hawthorn was gone.”

Mark Harvey, playing in just his 16th game, marvelled at how his coach was able to instil a winning mindset in the huddle. “Straight away he changed the mindset from what could have been to, ‘hang on, we’re right in this game. We only have to do a couple of things here and change the momentum and things will turn quickly.’”

It was Sheedy’s move of Duckworth from defence to attack in the second quarter that first helped his side to unsettle the reigning premier. “Sheeds had swung me around a few times prior to that,” Duckworth said. “I had played all my junior footy in the forward line, so it wasn’t foreign to me going forward.” In The Sun two days later, Lou Richards wrote of the move: “It was a touch of genius born out of desperation that won Essendon the 1984 flag … Sheedy could see that elusive premiership slipping from his grasp. Rather than panic, Sheeds took a punt. And boy, did he back a winner! The ace of moving Bill Duckworth into attack was a ripper ... it wasn’t just the two goals ‘Bustling’ Billy kicked, it was the way he went about his job that got the Essendon engines roaring again.”

At the final change, with Essendon having stayed within touch of the Hawks in the middle stages of the game, the wily coach moved defender Paul Weston—recruited from South Australian club, Glenelg, the previous season—into attack, sending skipper Terry Daniher deep into defence. The dangerous Baker, along with Peter Bradbury, joined Weston and Duckworth in the forward line, while a refreshed Madden, who had spent the third quarter seated on the interchange bench because he was playing “like an old chook”, was thrown back into the ruck; key play-maker, Williams, told to negate the influence of the Hawks’ prime mover, Terry Wallace. All Sheedy’s moves returned immediate dividends, which began with the Baker goal.

“At three quarter-time it was all about how hard we had worked to get to that stage and we weren’t going to throw it away,” said Vander Haar. Half-back Glenn Hawker recalled, “When ‘Bakes’ and Peter Bradbury kicked those first two goals early in the last quarter we started to swarm all over them." Duckworth adds, “The memory of ‘Bakes’ kicking that first goal will stay with all of us forever, even if the selfish bastard should have handballed to me because I had typically made perfect position.”

Despite only playing 86 games for the Bombers, Baker—recruited to Windy Hill just months earlier, from Swan Districts in Western Australia—holds a special place in club history for his remarkable performances in both the 1984 and 1985 Grand Finals. Of his 70 goals in red and black, it was the one he scored at the start of the final quarter in ’84 that all Essendon supporters remember with fondness. “We weren’t going as badly as the scoreboard said and that year we had come back a lot of times,” Baker recalled. “Even though Hawthorn had beaten us three times that year, we knew we could get them … We had a real vibe in that group and just needed a spark or two.” He had certainly ignited the fire burning within. Said Daniher: “Everything seemed to just click after that, and once we got a run on we just controlled the ball.”

Fittingly, that ball was in Daniher’s hands when the final siren sounded, starting the biggest party that the people of Essendon had ever seen. For his efforts, Duckworth was awarded the club’s first Norm Smith Medal. “At the time, it didn’t mean as much as a flag,” Duckworth said. “Winning the premiership with your teammates is what it’s all about. But it’s nice to look back now and recognise it for what it was. My wife got it framed, and it’s up on the wall in our games room.”

Secure your copy of 'Always Striving' here.