MAGPIES END LONG MELBOURNE REIGN
Great Comeback Wins 1958 Premiership
by Percy Beames, in The Age
Melbourne’s reign as the dominating power of League football was ended unexpectedly on Saturday when Collingwood rose to its greatest heights to win convincingly in the 1958 grand final.
The Magpies took the premiership because they found the perfect way to bring about the Demon’s downfall – by combining fiercely applied vigor with the best type of football for the conditions.
Their victory must go down not only as one of the most important in the illustrious history of their great club, but also as one of the best on record.
Against them, Melbourne fell down badly in attack, failed to get the expected results in roving, lost heavily on both wings – and made vital mistakes in defence.
After the second semi-final, which Melbourne won by 45 points, it did not seem possible that the Magpies could come any closer than they had in other years to finding the answer to Melbourne’s might.
Nor did their improved form in sweeping North Melbourne out of the premiership fight the following week suggest they were on the threshold of producing the biggest football surprise of the season.
But now the whole picture of the premiership fight has been unfolded, the great influence of that second semi-final game on the grand final can be seen clearly.
Had Collingwood won, and not lost, the semi-final, it is almost certain it would not be celebrating its 1958 premiership win now.
Victory would have lifted them straight into the grand final, and would have deluded selectors into believing in and sticking to, that badly arranged semi-final side.
Had that happened, match winning moves that followed the semi-final defeat would not have been made – moves that brought Graeme Fellowes into the side, switched Mike Delanty from the wing to centre-half-back, used Kevin Rose on a half-back flank, and spelled Thorold Merrett in the forward pocket instead of on a half-forward flank.
Out of that semi-final loss Collingwood gained the strength, both in team composition and tactical application, to rise from a very ordinary side to a premiership combination.
The deciding weapon in their win, however, was something Melbourne simply could not match on the day – the fierce desire of Collingwood’s players to win Saturday’s honor for their club.
Those Collingwood players had something more than courage and determination behind them.
They were defending the League record of four successive premierships handed down to them by champion teams of the past, and they played throughout the grand final as though their very lives depended on keeping that record.
Regardless of danger, they hurled themselves recklessly into packs; fiercely blocked or met any Melbourne player attempting to break away, shepherded, backed up, lifted each other with encouragement, and did everything with only the thought of teamwork and Collingwood in mind.
It was so different with Melbourne.
The Demons started as though they were in control of the game.
Set in motion by early ruck dominancy and the drive of Laurie Mithen from the centre, and topped off by the activity of the rovers and Bob Johnson and Ron Barassi around the goals, Melbourne ran to a 5.1 to 2.2 lead by the end of the first quarter.
At that stage it should have been comparatively easy for Melbourne, refreshed, and with the great experience of previous grand final wins behind it, to have gone on and clinched the win.
Instead, the Demons began to falter, and finally slipped out of the game when they kicked only two points to Collingwood’s 5.3 in the third quarter.
First real doubts about Melbourne came in the second quarter, when a suspicion was aroused that some of its players were not prepared to match Collingwood’s enthusiasm to go in and get the ball, no matter how “hot” the pressure.
The Magpies seemed to sense this slight hesitation, and it encouraged them into even fiercer efforts.
But, much as this helped weaken Melbourne’s grip, the rise of the Collingwood followers played possibly an even more important part in the win.
Ray Gabelich, with his terrific strength, took control of the packs, and Graeme Fellowes started to outreach both Bob Johnson and Dick Fenton-Smith. When that happened, Magpie rovers, Thorold Merrett and Ken Bennett, were brought into the play in a constructive, purposeful way.
Two clever goals in as many minutes by Bennett, who battled his way courageously through the Melbourne defence, were the spark that set the Magpies aflame. When half-time came they had shot to the front by two points.
Even at that stage, however, it looked as though Melbourne had only to come out in the second half, make the most of its pace and skill, profit from its semi-final lesson that the ball could be won if players were prepared to keep going in without thought of hard knocks and go on and win the flag.
But that did not happen. Instead, too many Melbourne men set about trying to “even up” scores, and by the time they had regained poise after a quarter of “explosive” incidents the Magpies were more than five goals ahead.
Don Williams, at centre half-back, and Ron Barassi tried desperately to lift the Demons, but they were losing efforts. Collingwood’s heroic defenders, Harry Sullivan, Ron Reeves and Mike Delanty, never faltered against token Melbourne attacks, and made the game safe for the Magpies.
The lesson from the match is that it is what a team gives all over the field that counts – not just brilliance in a few positions.
Collingwood had evenness, and received near maximum value from almost all players. With the Demons, it was easier to pick out the weak spots than to select the good players.
Saturday was the first time since Melbourne’s post-war rise to power that its “big timber” in Bob Johnson, Dick Fenton-Smith and others have found themselves unable to outreach opposing followers. Shod of this accustomed advantage, Melbourne lost its mantle of greatness.
Another fact, suspected all the season and brought to some reality on Saturday, was that when Ron Barassi has one of his quiet days the Demons’ capacity to generate effective teamwork falls back sharply.
Barassi and Mithen were the two Melbourne players always concerned in the flare-ups that entertained the crowd from start to finish of a tough, torrid and typical grand final clash.
There were times when some of these “incidents” threatened to get out of hand, but it was a credit to umpire Nash that they never did. Nash always acted quickly, and never lost control of the situation.
Collingwood 12.10.82 d Melbourne 9.10.64
Goals: Weideman 2, Bennett 2, Beers 2, Brewer 2, Merrett 2, Fellowes, M Twomey.
Best: Merrett, Fellows, Turner, Delanty, Reeves, Bennett.