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TBT: Fitzroy beat North to win VFL Night Series Grand Final

TBT: Fitzroy v North Melbourne 1978 Night Series Grand Final This week's Throwback Thursday is the 1978 VFL Night Series Grand Final between North and Fitzroy.

Ahead of Saturday's clash against North Melbourne, lions.com.au is throwing back to one of Fitzroy's most stunning performances that saw them trounce reigning VFL Premiers, North Melbourne, by 76 points. 

The performance occurred in the 1978 VFL Night Series Grand Final. The Night Series first started back in 1956 and has since taken on many different forms.

At the time, North Melbourne was the competition benchmark and sitting atop the VFL ladder, while Fitzroy were consigned to the bottom.

To compound matters for the ‘Roys, they were forced to enter the match without injured Captain and star defender Harvey Merrigan.

Garry Wilson was temporarily handed the captaincy duties, and along with Coach Graham Campbell, helped steer the team to a remarkable win. 

It’s believed that Campbell’s winning move was rotating Fitzroy's mid-season purchases Robert Walls (from Carlton) and Bernie Quinlan (from Footscray) through the half-forward line.

Quinlan, eager to prove himself to his new Fitzroy team, set the game alight when he booted a 75-metre goal midway through the third quarter. It was one of the team’s seven for the term, while the Kangaroos managed just a solitary behind.

The Roos had initially looked strong kicking their first two goals in the first three and a half minutes of the game. But by the time the final siren had sounded, North Melbourne had not managed another major for the match.

Even Lions fans couldn’t quite believe the scoreboard, which read 13.18 (96) to 2.8 (20) in their team’s favour.

The win was a huge confidence booster for the Lions, shocking the North Melbourne Roos, who had been a powerhouse of the decade, making appearances in five grand finals from 1974- 1978.

It was Fitzroy's first Senior title since the 1959 Night Series when it defeated Hawthorn.

Coincidentally, Coach Graham Campbell played for Fitzroy in that particular game and kicked two goals.

Garry Wilson, Coach Campbell & Ron Alexander celebrate Fitzroy's 1978 Night Premiership.

Lions Hall of Famer Garry Wilson told lions.com.au that the 1978 Night Series Grand Final remained one of the highlights of his illustrious football career.

“It certainly ranks up there very highly,” Wilson said.

“Back in those days it was a mid-week competition at Waverley and the Night Premiership was well sought after. North Melbourne were a powerhouse, and we annihilated them.”

“Winning the Night premiership was also a lead-up to us playing Finals in the ensuing years, and we became one of the best sides in the competition.

“We made Finals in 1979, 1981, 1983 and 1984. It really was the start of Fitzroy becoming a really solid team.”

A fresh-faced Laurie Serafini was also a member of Fitzroy’s 1978 Night premiership side.

“It was when games were in the middle of the year and it was very exciting. Fitzroy weren’t world-beaters and to get on TV was a pretty big deal,” Serafini remembered.

“North Melbourne were a powerhouse – they had guys like Malcolm Blight, Wayne Schimmelbusch and Keith Greig. We were underdogs.”

“After probably my first ever game and representing Victoria, it was definitely one of the highlights of my career.”

The 76-point margin was the greatest ever-winning margin in the history of the Night Series.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs