After the cancelled season of 2020, there was a fair bit of optimism and excitement when pre-season training resumed in November. Training before Christmas is usually well attended, but the numbers for this year were huge. Not only was pre-season a good chance to get out kicking a footy around again, it was a good way to sharpen up our COVID safe practices with QR codes and sanitizers the new normal.
Post-Christmas, the numbers were growing even more as we continued to welcome new players, returning players and our lockdown players (the term used for new players who trained in 2020 but who still hadn’t played a game for the Roys).
Our pre-season was running along fairly smoothly with only the one-week lockdown interrupting our plans! There was no camp, but there were still opportunities to bond and lay out our plans for the 2021 season. The biggest disappointments were the long term injuries suffered in pre-season training to our captain Julian Turner and in the first practice game to Will Zaghis and new player Luke Minahan. Two intra club matches and three practice games gave us a solid platform to launch into round one, and had the coaches excited by the new talent that had arrived.
Finally in the first week of April, football was back and round one at Brunswick Street Oval against the flag faves in Uni Blacks was the perfect way to return. The pre-match preparation was longer than usual with six players given their first jumper in the Seniors. We started the game well and matched it with Uni for a long part of the game before they took over in the last quarter. The performance gave the group a lot of confidence that we could match it for longer with the better sides in the comp. A trip to Parkdale followed with our biggest win of the year recorded with an 18 goal second half providing a 110-point win. We finally sang the song again!
The following week we were frustrated by AJAX who choked us down and scratched out a narrow win in a low scoring game. It was a disappointing loss and the team were keen to avenge against another quality side in De La Salle who had been relegated from Premier. In a similar story to the Blacks game, the team took it up to them for a good period before a dominant 15min patch was enough for DeLa to etch out a 5 goal win.
After a season that was promising so much, we were now 1-3 and playing away against Old Haileybury who had recruited very well over the off-season. Things weren’t looking great half way through the second quarter when we still had not registered a score and OH had 45 points on the board! A couple of quick goals before the half to our new ruck/forward Jack McKay sparked the side and we slowly started to chip away at the margin. With 5 minutes to play, we were within a goal, but unfortunately our gallant effort was too late and we suffered another defeat. While the loss was disappointing, again we were given hope that we can mix it with the top sides.
Our reward for that effort was to go and visit Beaumaris where our happy memories from round 18 in 2019 were still well and truly vivid. The boys got on the bus and were welcomed by a strong, northerly breeze making it difficult to score at the clubroom end. This day however, was not a memorable one as we were comprehensively beaten in what was our most disappointing performance of the season so far. We were now 1-5 and all of a sudden were desperate to find that winning feeling again.
Enter what everyone now remembers as the ‘’Don Toohey game’’ against St Bedes Mentone Tigers. In what was a first for the men's side, we played under lights at BSO with a large crowd present. Both sides were evenly matched throughout the first half before the opposition found themselves with a handy break at three quarter time. Our boys continued to fight out the game and were gradually wearing them down, it all looked lost with the ball buried away in our forward line for the last two minutes. As we all know, the rest is history, the composure from Bill Clayton to centre the ball to Ross who remarkably spotted Don hanging around the 50-metre arc. For the record, I always knew he would kick it!
It was clearly our most memorable moment for the season and the reaction was a great reminder of how good footy can be for the club and its community. To go from that high to the news that we were back into lockdown was a bitter blow for the group. The confidence was restored after the win and with fixtures coming against the two teams around us in Williamstown CYMS and Carey, I can’t help but think we had a bit of momentum halted.
Luckily we got back under way a month later in strange circumstances with no spectators allowed to watch our away game to Uni Blacks. Maybe that was a good thing as we were clearly outplayed on the day by an experienced and ruthless opponent. History repeated the following week when we welcomed Old Haileybury who again got out to a lead that was too big to cut back.
At 2-7, it was fair to say our season was on the line when we travelled to Albert Park to face AJAX again. The performance in the end was super as we applied a high level of pressure that eventually broke the game open in the third quarter. Remarkably our season was halted again with a mixture of a two-week comp bye and another lockdown meaning we missed our return leg against DeLa.
We did get one more in against Parkdale, again no spectators but a lot of dog walkers! The team won well doing what they had to do to get another four points and leaving us at 4-7 and jumping to 6th on the ladder. With the current lockdown going past our last scheduled game our season has been confirmed as finished. At the time of writing, our Reserves and two Thirds sides are still hopeful of having an opportunity to play finals.
While our year came to an abrupt end, there are still so many positives in 2021 to give us a lot to look forward to in 2022. In 11 games, we played 43 players in the Seniors, 16 made their Senior debut with the Club. Of our 11 games, six of those were against the top four, with five against three sides in the bottom half of the ladder. While we were competitive against the top four at times, we clearly have some work to do to be in the games for longer and turn these honourable losses turn into wins. We must be more consistent from week-to-week, and ensure that the gap between our best and worst days is closer. The development of our younger players and our new players playing more football together will be instrumental in that.
As a Club, we should all be very proud of our players and the way they represented Fitzroy. Despite the lockdowns, despite the restrictions, despite the setbacks they kept turning up in numbers and having a crack at training and in games. This year was a huge challenge for all involved to keep motivated going through a stop-start season.
Thank you to the Board for everything they did throughout the season in what was a truly unique year. Our volunteers and sponsors were also vitally important this year in a season that required all hands-on deck to get our teams on the ground. Thank you also to our coaches who also put in a fair bit to ensure training and games were COVID-safe.
Let’s hope that this year was the precursor to things getting back on track and we come back bigger, stronger, faster in 2022 with 18 games plus! Look forward to seeing everyone back at the footy soon.
Fitzroy coaches: the 1970s
By David Leydon
This week we continue our look back at Fitzroy coaches of the past and check out the men in charge in the 1970s.
GRAHAM DONALDSON Fitzroy Coaching record 1971—1974 Games: 85, Won: 34, Draw 1, Lost: 50
As a player for Carlton, Graham Donaldson was a strong marking ruckman who notched up 106 games between 1955 and 1962. He captained the side in their losing 1962 Grand Final against Essendon.
After a stint coaching at Morwell in the mid-60s, Donaldson became Ron Barassi’s assistant coach back at Carlton.
When Bill Stephen stepped down from the coach’s role at Fitzroy at the end of the 1970 season, the Roys were quick to snap up the well credentialed Donaldson and he was appointed for the 1971 season.
In ’71 the Roys got off to a poor start losing three of the first four games before a late season rally saw them win six of the last seven games to finish in 6th place on the ladder with 12 wins. This was our best finish since 1960.
Unfortunately in 1972 the reverse happened when the team won four of the first five rounds and then lost four of the last five rounds to finish a somewhat disappointing 9th on the ladder with nine wins.
A further nine wins and 8th spot on the ladder had the team treading water and after just four wins in the first 19 games of 1974, Donaldson resigned and was replaced by Graham Campbell for the last three games of the season.
GRAHAM CAMPBELL Fitzroy Coaching record 1974 Games: 3, Won: 0, Lost: 3.
Graham Campbell’s first brief senior coaching term at Fitzroy saw out the last three games of 1974. He later went on to a slightly more celebrated second coming as a Lions coach in 1978.
Campbell was a former champion Fitzroy rover and won the Club's 1957 Best and Fairest award. In a unique end to the 1974 VFL season, Graham coached the Fitzroy Reserves side to the Premiership with a 61 point victory over Footscray.
KEVIN ROSE Fitzroy Coaching record 1975—1977 Games: 66, Won: 22, Lost: 44
In the endless search for success and restored on-field prestige, Fitzroy appointed former Collingwood player, Kevin Rose as the new Club coach for the 1975 season.
Rose had played 159 games over a decade with Collingwood and was a member of their 1958 Premiership team. Many years later he was also the President of Collingwood Football Club from 1996 until he was replaced by Eddie McGuire in 1998.
As coach of Fitzroy, hopes were high that the team, which had made some progress early in the piece under Graham Donaldson, was now mature enough and ready to take some positive steps. Armed with players like John Murphy, Garry Wilson, Warwick Irwin, Harvey Merrigan and David McMahon, plus the additions in 1976 of star West Australian recruits Ron Alexander and Bob Beecroft, the team on paper looked like it was on the way.
Unfortunately, yet again, things just didn’t improve. Nine wins, seven wins and six wins across the three respective seasons was a sizeable and frustrating underachievement and again, we were going backwards by the end of 1977.
GRAHAM CAMPBELL Fitzroy Coaching record 1978 Games: 22, Won: 8, Lost: 14
1978 was the only full season Graham Campbell coached Fitzroy and although the team continued its lower mid-ladder form with eight wins and a 9th place finish, many people regard this season as the one that laid the groundwork for the five finals series the team would take part in between 1979 and 1986.
It was under Campbell that the Roys secured the services in ’78 of the man who went on to become one of our greatest players – Bernie Quinlan. Carlton great and future Fitzroy coach Robert Walls also came across to play for the Club and with a group of young blokes like Mick Conlan and Grant Lawrie in the early stages of their Fitzroy careers, things were again looking better.
Under Campbell the Club had its first major success in two decades when we won the 1978 Night Premiership in a stirring victory against reigning day premiers North Melbourne.
Just as the pieces were falling into place for some special years ahead on-field, Graham Campbell resigned as coach at the end of ’78 and returned to Western Australia citing family reasons.
BILL STEPHEN Fitzroy Coaching record 1979 —1980 Games: 44, Won: 19, Lost: 25
The much loved and universally respected Billy Stephen took over coaching duties at Fitzroy for his third and final, and ultimately most successful, term in 1979.
One of our greatest ever players, Bill was welcomed back with open arms by the Fitzroy faithful. He had us all buzzing in 1979 when in round one, the team went over to Victoria Park and knocked a cocky Collingwood off by 80 points on their home ground!
Later that season, Fitzroy kicked an astonishing 36-22-238 to defeat Melbourne 6-12-48 and record a league record highest score. Although that highest score record was broken some years later, the winning margin of 190 points still remains an AFL record that is never likely to be broken.
In September, Billy Stephen’s Fitzroy team made the finals for the first time since 1960. When Fitzroy beat Essendon by 81 points in the Elimination Final, we were flying high only to be stopped by Collingwood in the Semi Final a week later at the MCG.
In the combined 11 years Bill Stephen coached Fitzroy, this was his finest season. 1980 was not a great year for the club on-field and Bill stepped down for the last time at season's end, but after the heroics and gains of 1979, some hugely memorable moments were on the way in the 1980s under new Coach Robert Walls.
Stay tuned next week for the next instalment: Fitzroy coaches of the 1980s!
Good luck Brisbane Lions!
We wish the Brisbane Lions all the best as they begin their finals campaign against Melbourne on Saturday night!
Last chance for raffle tickets!
The total ticket allocation for the Toyota Good for Footy raffle is almost sold out! This is your last chance to grab some raffle tickets to support the Roys and have your chance to win!
Tickets are only $5 each, with three brand new Toyotas up for grabs!
The Good For Footy raffle officially closes at 12pm on 10 September, but if the total is reached earlier, which it looks like it will soon, it will be closed off - so what are you waiting for?!