Twenty-six years ago this week, Round 8 1996, the football world heard a famous club song pumped out in victory for the last time.
It was Saturday 18 May when Fitzroy beat Fremantle by 31 points at Whitten Oval. It was their 869th win in the AFL and, as the next 14 weeks to confirm, their last win.
Such was the historical significance of the occasion that it is the headline story for the “Remember When … Round 8” story this week.
Fitzroy were winless through the first seven weeks of the season under coach Mick Nunan and were coming off a 63-point loss to Carlton amid wild media speculation about the club’s future.
The word ‘merger’ was bring thrown around repeatedly, although at the time all the speculation pointed to a union with North Melbourne, who had actively pursued the struggling Lions.
Fitzroy, who had gone a full season since their last win in Round 8 1995, faced a Fremantle side that was 12th at 3-4 but had copped a 96-point hiding from Adelaide in Adelaide six days earlier.
By chance, the fixture had brought together the same two sides who, in Round 3 1995, had met at the same venue in what turned out to be Fremantle’s first win in the AFL.
Coach Nunan made three changes, welcoming the return of captain Brad Boyd and John McCarthy for his 150thAFL game and promoting Brad Cassidy for his third game. They replaced the injured Rowan Warfe and the omitted pair of Matthew Manfield and Brent Frewen.
Responding to the media blowtorch, Fitzroy led at every change after John Rombotis had kicked the opening goal just two minutes. Anthony Mellington added two early ones and at quarter-time it was 5-3 to 2-1 in typically blustery conditions at what had been Fitzroy’s match day home since 1994. It was the club’s fourth different ‘home’ in 10 years.
It was a side which included just one player with more than 100 games – McCarthy in his 150th – and only six beyond 50 games. The average age was 22 years 255 days, with 10 players aged 21 or younger.
But they responded to the dire circumstances and were much the better side, leading 8-3 to 3-5 at halftime before piling on 5-4 to 1-5 in the third term to grab an unassailable 51-point lead at the final change.
Fremantle rallied in the final term to cut the deficit but poor kicking cost them any chance and after ninth-game full forward Anthony Mellington kicked his sixth goal and what would be the last Fitzroy goal in a winning side it was done. Final score was 16-11 (107) to 10-16 (76).
By chance, the eight Fitzroy players who would later move to Brisbane via the merger were all members of the winning side – Boyd, Chris Johnson Jarrod Molloy, John Barker, Simon Hawking, Scott Bamford, Nick Carter and Shane Clayton. Plus Martin Pike, who five years later would re-join the Lions family after a stint at North.
Fittingly, in his 45th game a 19-year-old Johnson earned three Brownlow Medal votes for his 24 possessions and three goals. Playing in the midfield, he provided real dash and was a strong target when he pushed forward.
It was the second-last three-voting rating Fitzroy would ever receive, coming after Pike’s three-voter in their Round 2 loss to Adelaide at Whitten Oval, when Johnson received two votes, and before Pike picked up the last three-voter in Round 16, when they lost to Collingwood at Victoria Park.
Mellington’s six goals, a personal best in a career that later took him North and stretched to 44 games, picked up two votes in the last win, while Bamford, a livewire on the wing in his first season in the AFL, got one vote for his 20 possessions.
But the heroes were many. Eighteen-year-old Carter had 31 possessions in just his third game and was damaging throughout, while Molloy (22 possessions) was a tower of strength at centre half back flanked by Baker (25 possessions, 1 goal) and Hawking (22 possessions). Seventeen-year-old Clayton did a fine job playing on Fremantle dangerman Andrew Wills.
Boyd, a young captain in 1995-96 and a wonderful figurehead for the club through such difficult times, was injured early nevertheless enjoyed what was just the third win of his time in charge.
And Pike, barely recognisable playing with hair, continued what would be a best & fairest year with 26 possessions working through the midfield.
Dennis Cometti, trumpeting the win at the final siren, declared “it’s celebration time” and quickly added “you can forget the second siren” as hundreds of Fitzroy fans from a miniscule crowd of 5083 swarmed onto the playing arena.
McCarthy, interviewed immediately after the siren, said he could not think of a better moment in which to celebrate is 150th game. “It’s been a pretty tough week but we showed the Fitzroy supporters what we are all about. Some of the kids today were just sensational … Nick Carter’s skills were sensational, and Shane Clayton did back was tremendous.”
The final Fitzroy winning team in notional positions only was:
B: Shane Clayton, John McCarthy, Stephen Paxman
HB: Simon Hawking, Jarrod Molloy, John Barker
C: Scott Bamford, John Rombotis, Nick Carter
HF: Matthew Dent, Brad Boyd, Danny Morton
F: Mick Dwyer, Anthony Mellington, Frank Bizzotto
R: Matthew Primus, Martin Pike, Chris Johnson
INT: Brad Cassidy, Anthony McGregor, Darren Holmes
COACH: Mick Nunan
In 35 Round 8 games the Brisbane Bears/Lions have enjoyed a 15-20 record – 10-6 at home. Highlights included:-
1993 – A Scoring Blitz
The Bears posted the club’s highest score and the 12th-highest all-time in the AFL in belting the Sydney Swans 33-21 (219) to 8-9 (57) at the Gabba in Round 8 1993, re-writing the AFL record books in the process.
It was a goal-fest. They kicked 10-7 to 0-1 in the first quarter and 9-3 to 0-3 in the second for a halftime score of 19-10 (124) to 0-4 (4). Twenty-nine years on this remains the biggest half-time margin in AFL history, six points ahead of Geelong’s 114-point lead over Melbourne in 2011 which prompted the sacking of Melbourne coach Dean Bailey.
It was 27-17 to 2-6 at the final change before the shell-shocked Swans, in their second game under Ron Barassi after the early season sacking of Gary Buckenara and two weeks under caretaker coach Brett Scott, kicked six goals in the final term to cut the final margin to a still mind-blowing 162 points at 33-21 (219) to 8-9 (57).
Captain Roger Merrett, in his 102nd game in Brisbane colors, and Michael Murphy, a former North Melbourne and Adelaide player in the seventh of what would be just 10 games for Brisbane before a long stint in the club’s commercial team, each kicked eight goals.
Danny Craven, in only his third game for the club, topped the possession count with 31, while Nathan Buckley had 28 possessions and kicked two goals to pick up three Brownlow Medal votes. Matthew Kennedy, with 24 possessions, two goals and 12 hit-outs, received two votes and Troy Clarke, with 23 possessions and a goal, one vote.
2004-05-06-08-09 – The Simon Black Show
It wasn’t just one Round 8 highlight but was a period of sustained Round 8 excellence. Five times in six years in which Simon Black collected three Brownlow Medal votes, and all of them in wins despite the fact that only two were at the Gabba and at the latter end of his run the Lions were on the slide.
It was Carlton at the Gabba in 2004 followed by Adelaide and Port Adelaide at Football Park in 2005-06, and then Carlton at Docklands in 2008 and Adelaide at the Gabba in 2009, by which time he had turned 30 and was playing his 240th game.
The 2005 game against the Crows in the City of Churches was a cracker. The Lions led by 32 points at halftime and by 22 points at the last change but found themselves just two points up nine minutes from time.
The unlikely hero in what turned out to be a nine-point win was 18-year-old Justin Sherman. He kicked the steadier 90 seconds from the final siren in just his fifth game.
The Round 8 2006 game in Adelaide was extra special too for Joel Patfull. Originally from SANFL club Norwood, Patfull spent the 2003-04 seasons on the Port rookie list without getting a game.
The drafted by the Lions with pick #56 in 2005, he was extra pleased to debut against the club that shunned him and at the ground where he had always dreamed he might play.
Still only 21, Patfull played 94% of game time for eight possessions and a first-quarter goal to begin a career that would 182 games and two Merrett-Murray Medals with the Lions before 38 games with GWS in 2015-16 saw him join the AFL 200 Club.
2012 – “Hot Sauce”
Daniel Merrett is best remembered throughout his 200 AFL games for his thumping spoils. Six years into retirement he still leads the club in all-time defensive one-percenters at 1299, although Harris Andrews (1281) is closing fast.
But in Round 8 2012, as the Lions played the GWS Giants for the first time at the Gabba, Merrett had a big day out in front of the big sticks. Known affectionately as ‘Sauce’, the now 38-year-old kicked a career-best seven goals for three Brownlow Medal votes in a 92-point home win.
It was a personal best by almost double as Merrett, now ever-busy in the Lions commercial team at the Gabba, upstaged the great Jonathan Brown. And Brown still kicked five goals for one vote.
Staggeringly, the game was virtually over inside 25 minutes when the score was 7-1 to 1-2 and Merrett had kicked five goals. He added one in the third quarter and one in the last in what was Simon Black’s 303rd game and Dayne Zorko’s second game.
It was also the only time triple premiership Lion Luke Power played against the Lions. He had 16 possessions in the seventh game of a 20-game stint with the Giants which took him beyond 300.
Only two of Power’s premiership teammates played against him – Brown and Black – while his premiership skipper Michael Voss was in the Brisbane coaching box. Coincidentally, Voss is now the senior coach at Carlton where Power is an assistant-coach.
2020 – The Emerging SuperPower?
If you believe the media these days defending premiers Melbourne are just about over the line for back-to-back flags this year. But Lions fans only need to go back two years to see why football is never as simple as that.
In Round 8 of the Covid-infested 2020 season Brisbane played Melbourne at Metricon Stadium. And they won by four points in a heart-stopper.
It was the seventh game of the competition re-start after the extended break. Scores were level at quarter-time but thereafter the Lions looked to have full control, leading by 14 points at halftime and 18 points at three-quarter time.
But three Melbourne goals inside 15 minutes cut it two points with still 10 minutes to play.
In the end a senseless 50m penalty against Melbourne’s Bailey Fritsch eased the pressure, giving the ball back to the Lions before a crunch mark from Dan McStay sealed it. That he missed the straight-forward shot didn't matter. Time was up.
Lachie Neale topped the Lions possession count for the eighth time in his as many games with 33, while Jarryd Lyons (22 possessions, nine tackles) earned one vote.
The trek down the highway was the Lions first without Stefan Martin after he’d been ruled out for eight weeks with a stress reaction in his back. Facing Max Gawn in the ruck, Oscar McInerney found a willing ally in Archie Smith, who played his first game in almost 12 months.
It was a memorable moment for Smith, who with McInerney did a good job against the Demons skipper, but nothing like the joy of three days ago when he and wife Sophie welcomed their first child – son Montgomery ‘Monty’ Sebastian Smith.