Round 17 will always hold a special place in the hearts of Fitzroy fans, producing four significant club records that are etched indelibly in the history books.
In 1978 Garry Wilson posted a club record 45 possessions against Collingwood at Waverley. In 1979 Fitzroy recorded their highest score and biggest win when they obliterated Melbourne at Waverley. And in 1983 they enjoyed their biggest single-quarter scoring blitz when they added 12-6 (78) in the second quarter against St.Kilda at Junction Oval.
Wilson was a ball-winning marvel whose statistics stack up even in the modern era in which possession counts of the big ball-winners are appreciably higher than the 1970s and ‘80s in which Wilson was one of the game’s very best.
In 268 games he topped 30 possessions 83 times, including four games of 40+ possessions, to rank a clear No.1 among Fitzroy players. John Murphy (55) was next best, followed by Warwick Irwin (17), Brad Boyd (15), Scott McIvor (14), Paul Roos (13), Leon Harris (11), Mathew Armstrong (11) and Paull Broderick (10).
In comparison, Simon Black sits on top of the Brisbane 30+ list with 59 from Tom Rockliff (58) Nigel Lappin (35), Luke Power (30), Lachie Neale (29), Dayne Beams (27), Dayne Zorko (25), Michael Voss (24) and Adrian Fletcher (23).
In what was typical of Wilson’s never-say-die attitude, his record 45 possessions came in a 30-point loss to Collingwood. It was one of four 40-possesion games for the Fitzroy Team of the Century vice-captain and saw him take back the club record from Murphy.
It was a record held initially by John Newnham, who had 26 possessions in the Round 1 game of 1965 in which statistics were kept for the first time.
The progression (including ties) from Newnham’s 27 possessions in 1965 to Wilson’s 45 in 1978 took in Norm Brown (27), John Hayes (28), Brown (32), Kevin Murray (32), Murray (33), Murphy (34), Murphy (35), Barry Padley (35), Murphy (38), Wilson (38), Wilson (40) and Murphy (43).
In 1979 Fitzroy had started the season 1-3 at the start of Bill Stephen’s third stint as coach before a nine-game winning streak catapulted them to second on the AFL ladder. After going LLW they were third as they hosted 11thplaced Melbourne in Round 17.
It was 7-7 to 2-1 before the Lions took complete control. They added 7-7 to 0-4 in the second term and piled on 12-3 in the third and 10-5 in the last to win 36-22 (228) to 6-12 (48).
Their score was not only a Fitzroy record but also bettered the previous AFL record of 33-15 (213) set by Footscray only four weeks earlier. And 43 years on it still ranks second-highest all-time in AFL football, bettered only by Geelong’s 37-17 (239) against the Brisbane Bears in 1992.
Bob Beecroft, a West Australian full forward who kicked 291 goals in 96 games with Fitzroy from 1976-80, led the onslaught with an equal career-best 10 goals on his way to the second of four consecutive club goal-kicking titles.
It was a statistical feast. Garry Wilson had 42 possessions and kicked three goals, Warwick Irwin a career-best 36 possessions and a career-best five goals, and Kevin Higgins, who played only 25 games for Fitzroy after a move from Geelong, had 30 possessions. Mick Conlan and Bernie Quinlan kicked four goals, and Robert Walls and Graeme Allan three goals.
The mammoth Fitzroy win also still holds a place in the Melbourne record books as the foundation club’s biggest loss and highest score conceded.
The 12-3 third quarter scoring blitz that day was surpassed as Fitzroy’s highest-scoring quarter four weeks later when they posted 12-4 against Footscray at Junction Oval, and four years later it fell again to the side of 1983.
In Round 17 against St.Kilda at Junction Oval they trailed 2-4 to 7-6 at quarter-time before an astonishing 12-6 second term that would last forever as the club’s highest scoring quarter all-time.
Just as astonishing, though, was the fact that it wasn’t enough to get Fitzroy a win. They kicked only two goals in the third quarter and four in the last to lose 20-18 (138) to 22-17 (149). Bernie Quinlan kicked six goals for Fitzroy and Trevor Barker five goals for St.Kilda.
The highest scoring quarter in AFL football all-time was South Melbourne’s 17-4 (106) against St.Kilda at Lake Oval in 1999. It was the single-quarter score of 100 points or more and came in the game in which Harold Robertson kicked 14 goals for the Swans.
AND FITZROY’S LAST ROUND 17 GAME …
Fitzroy made their last trip to Adelaide to play the Crows at Football Park in Round 17 1996, And while the final score showed a resounding loss 9-13 (67) to 26-10 (166) there was actually plenty for caretaker coach Alan McConnell to be pleased with after his side won the second half.
McConnell had made three changes to the side that had lost to Collingwood at Victoria Park in Round 16, with Jason Baldwin recalled as captain Brad Boyd and Matthew Dent returned from injury. Making way were the injured Anthony Mellington, Peter Doyle and Trent Cummings.
It was a demoralising 1-5 to 19-3 to Adelaide at halftime, but after the deficit reached 115 points by three-quarter time Fitzroy out-scored the home side 6-3 to 3-4 in the final stanza.
Simon Hawking kicked a career-best four goals in the absence of Mellington, the club’s leading goal-kicker in their final season, while Dent (27), Boyd (24), Simon Atkins (24), Brett Chandler (24) and Martin Pike (21) topped the possession count.