“THE crucial moment in the match came late in the third quarter,” according to Leongatha premiership defender Gary Webster.
“Christian Burgess (a Morwell onballer) went for a run and looked to have kicked a great goal from 35 metres out, only for a late whistle from the umpire, signalling he’d run too far.
“It was a big call, but he was probably right.
“We got the free kick and raced the ball down the other end where Adrian Campbell kicked the goal for a 12-point turnaround. It was huge moment in the overall result.
“Another to Billy Clarke in time-on and we were back within a kick at the last change, instead of being four goals down with a lot to do.”
Former Sentinel-Times’ editor and Parrots’ player, Nathan Johnston, saw the incident the same way, in a highly controversial 1997 Latrobe Valley Grand Final, between Morwell and Leongatha, in his report in the ‘Sentinel’ on Tuesday, September 23.
Umpire Jim Watt made the decision, at the 26-minute mark, he said, and instead of Morwell having the momentum with four goals in a row going into the last quarter, the Parrots grabbed the initiative and went on to a glorious four-point win.
But Webster recalls there was a lot going on at the time.
“Everyone remembers Rod Taylor kicking a record 10 goals in the match and Morwell still losing but many also believe he shouldn’t have been playing at all.”
Taylor was reported for striking Troy Moloney in the second semi-final and was given a six-week suspended sentence, despite the Leongatha player sustaining a broken jaw, and missing the grand final.
However, if there was bad blood on the Parrots’ side, there was an equal amount among Tigers’ supporters following a nasty injury to one of the Waller brothers, Adrian, Morwell’s ruckman, who also missed the match.
They also blamed the same Leongatha player for cleaning up their key onballer, Danny Miller, who had been pivotal in Morwell taking control of the grand final in the second and third quarters.
“A lot of Leongatha people were pretty upset that Taylor was playing but the Morwell people weren’t happy either. Someone from the crowd hit Allister Scott after the game, mistaking him for the player they thought was at fault, and there was nearly a riot after that with more punches thrown.”
The bad feeling lingered long after that with Morwell refusing to participate in the tradition of travelling across the hills to share ‘Mad Monday’ with the winning team.
It was probably just as well in the fiery circumstances.
But the match itself was an absolute cracker.
“I’d always rated Lachie Sim as a coach, ahead of his time in our league for preparation. He always came at you with something different.
“We’d had a great first quarter, but they came back just as hard in the second quarter with the strategy of isolating Taylor one-out with Billy Clarke.
“Billy had cleaned him out during the season, so he was the obvious one to take him, but Taylor just had an absolute day out.”
In fact, Leongatha kicked what is still a first-quarter record in a grand final, 7.8.50 for a 31-point lead at quarter time, but with Taylor kicking five in the second quarter, a total of seven by half time, something had to give.
It did with Gary Webster given the tough job on a rampant Taylor after half time.
But it was a win-win for the Parrots. Webster held Taylor to three more, including a down-field free, and Clarke injected himself into the contest with a thrilling second half, which included two goals.
“Al Scott broke his thumb in the third quarter but refused to come off. You can see him favouring it in the video when punching the ball,” he said.
It was a brave effort.
Nathan Johnston highlights Craig McGannon marking the ball at half back “a dozen times” in the last quarter.
A sixth goal by Adrian Campbell for the Parrots, his 100th for the
season, put them close with time to spare, and another to the Parrots’ playing coach Matt Mansfield near the end along with a superb performance by the defence and the Parrots were home; Leongatha 14.14.98 to Morwell 13.16.94.
Webster says the 1997 grand final was a standout in many ways, not all of them on the field, but he also rates Leongatha’s 1989 victory over Maffra, by two points, “when Maffra’s Jason O’Doherty ran into an open goal with a minute to go and missed”.
“Beau Vernon’s win in 2017, by a point over Maffra, is another.”
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Bad blood boils in thrilling 1997 shootout