1986 Escort Cup: Glenelg 12.7 (79) Sturt 11.12 (78)
Whilst the Tigers had had a lot of footy, this March night (more like a slow Tuesday evening than the weekend, or so it seemed) they looked more than tired – they looked bored. It was the off-season competition, in front of 5,000 odd fans. At quarter time, Sturt led 2.3 to 1 goal; at half time, the Double Blues led 6.4 to 2.4, but in the third quarter, Sturt kicked 5.5. to zip, to lead by 59 points. Willmott at full forward had kicked twice as many goals on his own as Glenelg had in toto, and that quisling John Paynter had chipped-in with 3 stylish goals. Sturt weren’t superior or dominant as such, but they were the only team playing footy. Graham Campbell summed it up: “Really, the longer the game goes, the worse Glenelg are going…”
Of course, that was the situation at three-quarter time. What Glenelg coach Graham Cornes said to his players over the oranges, or perhaps what someone put in the oranges, who knows? But the game then saw “a remarkable final-quarter revival.”*
The Bays got out of the blocks early (thanks to one of many bad centre bounces), attacked and Craig Woodlands tango’d out of trouble to snap a goal. This coincided with a melee in the centre involving some 30 players, and for at least 10 minutes afterward, some Blues players seemed more keen to settle scores than to actually score. Within another minute, after another shocking bounce, Sturt went forward but Alan Stringer counter-punched with a pass to Kym Hodgeman who goaled from a fine set shot. Hodgeman had another chance soon after but instead passed to Steve Copping, who marked on the line and passed back to Tony Hall, who goaled. A very bright start, with the Bays kicking more goals in 3 minutes than in the previous three quarters, but even so, none would have disagreed with Ian Day’s comment that Glenelg’s ‘chances of salvaging the game are slim.’
Cornes had swung Wayne Henwood into ruck, where he started to match Sturt’s great Frank Spiel, and the Tigers attacked again. Woodlands kicked to James West and from a very acute angle, he never looked like missing. 4 goals in 7 minutes – the crowd, and Blues coach Mervyn Keane, were beginning to stir. Then a boundary umpire pinged a hamstring and reserve Rick Kinnear, a very experienced field umpire, took his place (several uncharitable fans expressed the view that that was his place). Sturt went forward and Reynolds had a long shot for a point. Merv Keane had been on the phone and Sturt attacked for the next 5 minutes or so but couldn’t score. Then Henwood kicked to West, who handballed to Chris McDermott, and ‘Bone’ snuck in a goal under heavy pressure. Glenelg were within 5 goals. Woodlands marked in the square but he’d nudged his opponent in the back and lost the ball. After some toing and froing, Maynard kicked a point. But from the kick-in, Fisher gathered, got the ball to Maynard, who gave to Woodlands, surrounded by defenders, and he snapped a goal from the pocket. David Darcy exclaimed “Crikey – they’ve kicked 6 in 15 minutes.”**
It was becoming relentless. When Maynard kicked to full forward where Tony Hall out-marked 2 defenders and goaled, Glenelg was up to 9 goals, the Sturt coach was looking a little sick, and we all started thinking “What if…?” Another shocking bounce ensued, favouring Hodgeman (an unlikely ruckman) who tapped to West, who hand-passed to McDermott. Sturt gained possession and went into attack, and Paynter snapped a point. Then Sturt’s best player on the night, Neil Craig, had a set shot that just missed to the left, giving them a 19 point lead. It was end-to-end stuff – the Bays went forward and Woodlands, slung as he kicked, got a point. Then Wayne Stringer kicked to centre-half forward and West marked and goaled from 45 metres. That was the Tiger’s 8th goal of the quarter and Merv Keane was spitting chips. He made some changes, including putting Jim Derrington, a good player, back on. For several minutes there was desperate punch and counter, as the Sturt players increased the intensity of their efforts to hang on to the lead. But Glenelg swept forward and Peter Maynard got what we might perhaps loosely call a ‘soft’ free for a push in the back. He put us within a goal.
A hectic final minute or so saw Sturt clear from defence and from a throw-in on the wing, Robert Klomp put the ball deep in Sturt’s attacking zone. Max Kruse ran the gauntlet, kept the ball in play, evaded three opponents and hand-balled to Wayne Stringer. He kicked forward where Marshall buttered-up and kicked to full forward. The ball came off hands and Woodlands, at full gallop, gloved the ball and snapped…a point. That might have been it – Cornes shrugged stoically and remained calm (although he had the pallor of a consumptive under the guillotine).
Finally, there was some Boy’s Own, basket-on-the-buzzer stuff: Sturt, up by only 5 points now, cleared via a booming McCarthy kick, and Tony Hall took a strong mark on the far side of Footy Park, between wing and half forward. Two Sturt defenders assumed each other would contest. While they were sorting that out, Hall thumped it forward and Jim West grabbed clean hold of a great pack mark. The final siren rang and West had the chance to line up and kick the winning goal. He duly popped it through, to complete a 10-goal miracle comeback, with the Tigers taking the chocolates in a 1 point win.
We don’t entirely understand Ian Day’s comment that it was “the greatest fightback since Gunga Din.” From our memory of that insipid Kipling poem, Gunga Din ate a bullet, so heroic as that was, it was hardly a victory. Let’s take it as an homage to valour against the odds. There’s also a nice comment by a Sturt fan, ‘Blues_brat’, on the site ‘Best non-A/VFL comebacks: “1986 Escort Cup. I’ll never forget that. I thought we were going to win by 15 goals. Jim West kicked the winning goal, I’ve hated him ever since.” We’ve all been there, brat (and I don’t mean hating Jim West, who’s a good guy) – there is nothing so horrible as snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.[* Peter Cornwall, Pride of the Bay, p. 282.] [**If you want to watch the last quarter, here it is c/- You Tube]: