Windy Hill holds so many fond memories for me that I could probably recount a story every week of a game, incident or its atmosphere. But when I read this invitation to share a recollection, my mind traces back to round 13, 1981 - a famous comeback against the Tigers.
We were in the middle of a purple patch, winning 15 straight games after losing five of the first six games in Kevin Sheedy’s first year as coach.
Playing that day were a bunch of talented kids who would become Essendon legends, but they'd have to taste more heartache over three years before claiming the ultimate success.
The Madden brothers lined up alongside Daniher brothers Terry and Neale, Tim Watson, Merv Neagle and Glenn Hawker were all strutting their stuff, while seasoned players Ronnie Andrews, Max Crow, Gary Foulds and Graeme Schultz were enjoying the best form of their careers.
The ground was a bit of a quagmire. These were the days when the reserves would play the curtain-raiser, so by the end of the senior game in the depths of winter, the grounds were in bad shape.
We started well and led at the first change, but in the second quarter we were reminded why Richmond was the reigning premier, and why we were a long way from being one. The Tigers hammered us in that term, and I couldn't bring myself to look at the growing deficit on the scoreboard.
The third quarter was frustrating. We played much better, but just couldn’t hit the scoreboard. We kept kicking points and by the end of the quarter, though we'd done OK, we still found ourselves 26 points down.
I don’t know what possessed me to do think this, but I turned to my mate at three-quarter time and said, 'We’re going to win this'. I didn’t quite realise how loudly I had said it and before I knew it, strangers all around me were mocking me and questioning my knowledge of the game and whether I'd just witnessed the last two quarters.
They had a point. We were more than four goals down against a premiership team which boasted names like Bartlett, Roach, Weightman, Lee, Dunne, Wood, Raines and Jess, just to name a few. To make matters worse, we were kicking to the scoreboard end in the last quarter, so we wouldn’t have the energy of the members end when going forward. The members end was an important asset at Windy Hill.
Fellow Bombers fans around me still hadn’t finished giving me their opinions by the time the last quarter started, and I remember the first five minutes were uneventful. But suddenly we kicked a couple of unanswered goals that got us within a few majors. This is it, I thought. Everyone can stop laughing at me now. But after a few great passages of play, we started kicking points. Here we go again, I thought.
By this stage Neale Daniher seemed to be everywhere, Tony Buhagiar was starring, Neagle was going on his trademark runs and Watson was at his best.
In fact, two trademark passages of play from Watson and Neale Daniher got us in front. Watson did some great work at half-forward to get the ball out, and by the time the ball was kicked high into the forward pocket seconds later, he was somehow already there to take a strong mark and kick the goal.
After a couple of behinds, enter Neale Daniher, again. Having taken a goal-saving mark at centre-half back, he bobbed up at the attacking end a couple of minutes later to mark and convert his set shot. All of a sudden, we were in front.
This was my moment. People were giving me those looks of silent acknowledgement and apology for doubting my optimism 30 minutes before. In those days there was no high-fiveing or hugging strangers. It was just a nod and wink and a beaming smile accompanied by a 'yes'.
It didn’t take long to come back to Earth when the ball ended up in the Richmond goal square with Jimmy Jess, who duly put the Tigers back in front. Suddenly my moment had disappeared. Everyone was disappointed and would not make eye contact with me. I felt responsible.
But this was the 1981 Baby Bombers at Windy Hill. Somehow the ball was scrambled forward again and ended up with 'Schultzy', 30m out. He kicked it. We won.
As the siren blew, there was more acknowledgment of my optimistic prediction, and I do remember one chap making his way towards to me to shake my hand and tell me I was mad.
A few weeks later, we did the impossible again against the Blues, but that was at Princes Park. This recollection is about Windy Hill, and one of my most cherished memories there.
In Red & Black Reflections, we'll select a fan-written piece to feature on the website each week.
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