Essendon versus Hawthorn for more than 50 years was a clash just like any other in the then-VFL competition. Until 1983, that is.
That season, as two teams both climbing towards premiership status butted heads, this time literally, seemingly out of nowhere sprung one of league football’s great rivalries, marked by relentlessly tough affairs played for high stakes and with a catalogue of controversial incidents.
These two teams would meet in three straight grand finals between 1983-85, the score 2-1 to Essendon, a host of other finals, and even when September wasn’t part of the equation, their clashes were no less fierce.
That they remain decades later, the respect of each club towards the other only ever grudging, the enmity still present in every tussle, even more than 35 years on.
It’s been some rivalry. And on the eve of another big Essendon-Hawthorn stoush, we're looking back at the five games we’ve enjoyed the most, starting with the 1984 VFL Grand Final.
1984 VFL Grand Final
Essendon 14.21 (105) def. Hawthorn 12.9 (81)
A 19-year flag drought for the Bombers was broken, and in the most spectacular manner possible.
The Hawks had been Essendon’s nemesis for some time, smashing the Dons in the previous year’s play-off and beating them three times (including the second semi-final) in 1984.
The Grand Final appeared headed in exactly the same direction with the Bombers trailing by 23 points at three-quarter time having managed just five goals.
But coach Kevin Sheedy had thrown his players around with some effect, backmen Billy Duckworth, Paul Weston and Peter Bradbury to the forward line, Terry Daniher to defence, Darren 'Daisy' Williams into the centre and Leon Baker to a half-forward flank. And in the final term, it all exploded into gear.
Kevin Sheedy with the 1984 premiership cup in 2015. (Photo: AFL Media)
Baker goalled from the first bounce, Bradbury minutes later. A 19-year-old Mark Thompson reduced the gap to just a kick before a sublime blind turn and goal from Baker put the Bombers in front.
Then, after Kevin Walsh was KO’d and carried off on a stretcher, Roger Merrett came off the bench to help deliver the killer blow, kicking one goal and setting up several more in another devastating burst.
The amazing quarter of football yielded a then-record 9.6, a 24-point victory and nearly two decades of disappointment washed away in a hail of goals.
You can read more of Rohan Connolly’s work at his FOOTYOLOGY website.