Brereton’s grand final

The courage of one man helped define an epic grand final 19 January 2020


In 1989 Geelong played Hawthorn in the VFL/AFL Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

Domestic airline strikes had curtailed plans to get from Perth to the match. This was fixed by taking an international flight to Bali, spending an afternoon by the pool at a hotel where we had booked a room and then catching another international the same day to Sydney and eventually Melbourne. We (Kim Hunter, Steve Bow and Bomber Wylie) travelled Business Class and drank Tattinger.

At the match our seats were about mid height on the members’ wing. The seat in front of me was filled by  Alan Joyce, Hawthorn’s caretaker coach of 1988. He had taken them to a flag while Allan Jeans recovered from illness. It was then I realised just how good our seats were among the 94,796 others.

The ball was bounced and Geelong defender Mark Yeates ran through the centre circle and shirt-fronted Hawthorn centre half-forward Dermott Brereton, eyes fixed on the ball, advancing in another direction. The champion went down. He had a lacerated kidney, was in shock and vomiting. Trainers and the doctor said his colour was grey. He had to leave the ground.

Brereton refused. 

Guided by trainers and sucking in air while wincing with the pain, he went to the forward pocket. His staying on the ground and what happened next remains the bravest moment I have ever seen in sport.

Hawthorn kicked a goal and players were being flattened in hellish contests of strength and sometimes thuggery.  Minutes later the ball was again heading towards the Hawthorn forward line. Hawthorn wingman Robert Dipierdomenico was wrestling three Geelong players on his wing, the ball long gone. 

Brereton, guarded by an opponent, advanced, saw the ball was going over his head and began backing into no man’s land. He marked about 30 metres from goal. 

He kicked it.

In front of us, Joyce, one of the dourest men ever to coach football, leapt from his seat and punched the air. We had all witnessed heroism, ability and a game-changing moment but Joyce’s reaction underlined for me its supreme greatness. 

From that moment, Hawthorn, the previous year’s grand final winners by 16 goals, took hold of the match. They led by more than six goals at each of the three breaks.

With more injured players than Geelong, the tide turned. The tide was called Gary Ablett. Years before he had started his career at Hawthorn and Jeans, observing a lazy yokel from rural Victoria, told him to leave. He may even have said: “Piss off.”


Ablett went to Geelong and his individual performances are still marvelled at. They nicknamed him ‘God’ because he was that good.

With Ablett at his zenith in the last quarter, and he had only played well in short bursts until then, Geelong got within six points at the siren. Everyone knows if the game had gone another three minutes, perhaps even 30 seconds, the Cats would have won.

Ablett finished with nine goals.

It is still called the greatest-ever Grand Final. It is the only one I have seen live and the privilege I feel is deep.

But it is the image of Brereton refusing to accept the magnitude of his pain; refusing to give the Trojans the mental edge that Achilles had been slain, that I still feel the deepest.

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