A funny thing happened at Gino’s in Fremantle recently. Another funny thing happened to me in 1980 – funnily enough they were connected.
Let’s start in 1980 when, as a life-time East Perth supporter, I decided I was going to watch South Fremantle every week. Stephen Michael was the reason – I’d never seen anyone play the way he did and wanted to see him as much as I could. I still supported the Royals but got to know the Bulldogs well.
Mal Brown, who made his name at East Perth, took over as coach of South Fremantle in 1978 – the Bulldogs lost a derby grand final in 1979, won the premiership in 1980, lost the grand final to Claremont in 1981 and finished on top in 1983 but didn’t make the grand final. Underachievers? Probably, but they were interesting and exciting.
Back to Gino’s. There was a small group of men sharing beers and yarns. I thought a couple of them looked familiar and when they enticed a staff member to take a framed South Fremantle jumper from the 1980 grand final off the wall it twigged.
It was half way through a big couple of weeks for old Bulldogs. On 20 June the club held a Hall of Fame dinner and the following weekend the 1970 and 1980 premiership teams got together – the playing coach of the 1970 team was Hassa Mann.
The group at Gino’s included Wayne Delmenico, Derek Shaw and Basil Campbell three of the six interstate imports in the 1980 premiership team.
The 1980 footy year began with a bit of drama. Shaw took out a Supreme Court injunction to ensure he could gain a clearance from Collingwood, where he’d played in the losing 1979 grand final team, to South Fremantle. He went back to Collingwood in 1981 and finished up playing 47 games for the Magpies. He was the second ruckman for the Bulldogs.
Delmenico had played 31 games for Melbourne before coming to South Fremantle in 1976. He was the centre half forward in the 1980 premiership line-up, a tough hard-working player in a team with more than its share of spectacular performers.
Campbell was one of three recruits from the NT in the team. He was a fearsome forward despised by all but Bulldogs fans until the day he flattened Don Scott in an interstate game between WA and Victoria at Subiaco Oval in 1977.
The other NT recruits were the great Maurice Rioli, who won the Simpson Medal, and spectacular wingman Benny Vigona, who kicked three goals in the grand final.
Another interstate recruit was captain Noel Carter, who was a premiership rover with Richmond in 1973. Originally from Ulverstone in Tasmania, Carter came to South Fremantle in 1978 and was noted for his brilliant kicking during 155 games for Bulldogs.
There were not a lot big names in the South Fremantle back line. Tony Kelly was the kind of full back who just got the job done, Rod Barrett was a back pocket player who loved to run – he would be a star in the modern game. Ross Sweetman, Kevin Cornell and Phil Cronan were all skilful and athletic. Cronan went on to play 75 VFL games for St Kilda and Footscray. Centre half back Joe McKay, who provided his bit of pre-season Supreme Court drama by pushing hard for a clearance to East Perth, was the closest thing to a star in the South defence. McKay won the club fairest and best award in 1976 and was a regular for WA including the first State of Origin game in 1977.
Jamie Lockyer was the other player on the premiership centreline with Rioli and Vigona – he weighed about 60kg but had speed, lots of hair and almost crazed courage.
Tony Morley started on a half forward flank and probably spent time on the wing. Another member of the 1977 State of Origin team, Morley had great skills and bad ankles. The other members of the attack were Don Haddow, also a member of the 1970 premiership team and noted for his long hair and the nuggety Geoff O’Brien.
Michael led the ruck and, as was his way, also did his share of roving and ruck-roving. Former Perth player Paul Vasoli was the prototype ruck-rover of the time – providing lots of run and picking up lots of kicks.
On the bench were two contrasting players – highly skilled youngster Brad Hardie and Simon Outhwaite, who was noted for his lack of skill and incredible tenacity – they each kicked three goals in the grand final. Hardie went on to win the Brownlow Medal in 1985 when he was with Footscray.
There was one other piece of off-field drama for the Bulldogs early in the season. Brown resigned as coach after round six – it didn’t last and wasn’t particularly unusual for Brown.
South Fremantle’s opponents in the grand final were Swan Districts, a team on the rise if ever there was one. Swans, under John Todd, won their first 13 games of the 1980 season. They lost the second semi final by just 10 points to South Fremantle and thrashed East Perth by 76 points in the preliminary final with rover Graham Melrose kicking nine goals and full forward Simon Beasley scoring seven. Swans went on to claim the WAFL premiership in 1982, 1983 and 1984.
The grand final was tight early but the Bulldogs blew it apart in the second quarter kicking 8.7 to Swans 1.5. The final margin of 58 points is flattering to Swan Districts who kicked the last six goals on the game.
Carter kicked four goals for South Fremantle while Rioli’s powerful performance in the centre earned him best on ground honours. Rioli showed his liking for big games by sharing the Simpson Medal (with Claremont’s Gary Shaw) in 1981 and winning the Norm Smith Medal with Richmond in 1982.
South Fremantle 23.18 (156) Swan Districts 15.8 (98).