The Hawks finished 3rd in 1974 and 2nd in 1975. In 1976 there was a sense of destiny, but it was not based on any charted rise, rather it was based on the resolve of the football club to put things right. The nature of the loss in the previous year’s Grand Final needed to be remedied, and then there was the little fella, Peter Crimmins.
Crimmins began the year in hospital undergoing more surgery, this time to remove a third of his lung. Previously the caretaker captain, Don Scott was now officially appointed, with Leigh Matthews as vice-captain. David Parkin returned to the club from Perth as assistant coach to John Kennedy. Early in the season he rejected an offer to be senior coach at Carlton when John Nicholls quit the post there.
Kennedy used the 1975 Grand Final as a spur to motivate the players. Rightly or wrongly, he told them, there was a perception that they hadn’t tried hard enough in that game. He added talent to the side, with some immediate impact. Rodney Eade was a wingman who would play 229 games, including 5 Grand Finals for 4 Premierships. Peter Murnane (also a wingman), David O’Halloran (160 games, mostly on the last line of defence) and Ian Paton (155 games as a 191cm ruckman) would all win 2 premierships with the Hawks. Murnane, O’Halloran and Eade would all be members of the premiership side in their debut year.
After a six-year absence, the League re-introduced the night competition, initially as a National Carnival involving teams from the SANFL and the WAFL. It was played throughout the regular season and in the preliminary rounds Hawthorn beat West Perth by 61 points, Sturt by 42, and Glenelg by 26, to set up a Grand Final meeting with arch-rival North Melbourne in August.
The season began well, with a win at Moorabbin over St Kilda. Despite the Saints coming home strongly the Hawks still won comfortably by 22 points. This brought the Hawks to an engagement with nemesis North Melbourne at Princes Park. Kennedy made it plain to the players that they needed to atone for the Grand Final loss, again bringing up the notion of not having tried hard enough. The Hawks booted 6 goals straight in the first quarter, but North had matched that with 5.3. In the second quarter, Hawthorn put their foot to the floor and slammed on 8.2 to open up a handy break which they maintained throughout the second half to win again by 22 points. Michael Moncrieff helped himself to seven goals, while Matthews bagged five. Peter Welsh, Barry Rowlings, Bernie Jones and Michael Tuck all starred. After the game North coach Ron Barassi accused Hawthorn of waging a vendetta. Kennedy agreed, but insisted ‘vendetta’ was not strong enough a word.
In round 3 Hawthorn smashed Collingwood by 88 points. Moncrieff kicked 10.1. The Hawks’ score of 25.22 172 was just 1 point below their highest score, but it remains the club’s highest ever score against Collingwood. The following week at VFL Park the Hawks trailed 3rd placed Footscray at three quarter-time, but came home strongly to win by 12 points. In round 5 Hawthorn travelled to Windy Hill and after a close match the Hawks motored away in the last quarter to win by 19 points.
After the first five rounds, Carlton and Hawthorn sat atop the ladder undefeated. They clashed in round 6 at Princes Park, but the Hawks were rarely in the hunt and despite the same number of scoring shots, lost by 40 points, 7.20 62 to 15.12 102. The side’s response was to win the next five games, starting with a 48-point win over 5th placed Melbourne. After leading by just 11 at three quarter-time, the Hawks booted 8 fourth-quarter goals to blow the game open.
A ten-goal thrashing of South Melbourne in round 8 was followed by a 27-point win over Fitzroy that put the Hawks on top of the ladder. The next week, trailing Richmond in round 10 at three quarter-time by a couple of points, the Hawks got up by two goals. A top of the table clash with Geelong (one game behind in 2nd place) followed in round 11. The game was on the Queen’s Birthday Monday at the MCG. Inaccuracy again hurt the Hawks early, but they managed to convert a 7-point half-time deficit into a 12-point win, 11.22 to 11.10. Matthews kicked four and Moncrieff 2, with other good players being Scott, Rowlings, Ian Bremner, Peter Knights and Alan Goad.
Hawthorn then lost to 6th placed St Kilda by 25 points, leading them to another crucial showdown with North. In a very even struggle at Arden Street, the Hawks got up by 8 points. By thrashing Footscray by 80 points the week after, the club opened up a 3-game break at the top of the ladder.
Then suddenly, the Hawks began to struggle. They overcame wooden-spooners Collingwood by just two goals, before losing to Essendon by 16, and Carlton by 31. In round 18, the Hawks had an 18-point win over 9th placed Melbourne, followed by a 14 point win over 7th placed South, and a narrow 3-point win over 11th placed Fitzroy. The unconvincing form was arrested slightly when the Hawks emerged from their ‘slumber’ to bury North Melbourne in the National Carnival Grand Final, played bizarrely on a Wednesday night in mid-August. Hawthorn were crowned National Champions, defeating North 12.17 89 to 5.11 41, by 48 points.
Despite the satisfaction gained from another win over bitter rivals North Melbourne, the mid-week game in August took its toll, and the Hawks lost their next game to Richmond by 32 points. The loss dropped the Hawks off the top of the ladder for the first time since round 8, and in very similar fashion to the year before, the Hawks then lost their final Home and Away match to Geelong by 25 points.
With haunting similarity to 1975, the Hawks had lost 4 of their last 7 games, with the wins being against teams finishing low on the ladder. Carlton had snatched top-spot, Hawthorn had staggered into 2nd, North were 3rd. Geelong and Footscray made up the five.
Hawthorn renewed its resolve in the finals series and overcame North in the Qualifying Final at the MCG by 20 points. Leigh Matthews lead the way, helping himself to 31 kicks, 7 marks, and booting 7 goals 6 behinds. Scott and Knights were also excellent, Eade and Ablett great on the wings. The win meant the Hawks faced the rested Carlton side in the 2nd Semi at VFL Park. With Matthews again dominant, Hawthorn took control in the third quarter and won by 17 points. Ablett, Scott, Rowlings and Hendrie were superb as the Hawks booked another Grand Final berth.
The club had to wait until the final seconds of the Preliminary Final to find out who they would play, as North downed Carlton by a point. Kennedy was stoked, the Hawks had beaten North 4 times already that season, but now would be afforded the chance for ultimate vengeance. The 1976 Grand Final side was chosen as follows:
B: B.Douge, K.Moore, B.Jones
HB: I.Bremner, P.Knights, D.O’Halloran
C: G.Ablett, B.Rowlings, R.Eade
HF: D.Polkinghorne, A.Martello, K.Matthews
F: M.Moncrieff, J.Hendrie, A.Goad
Foll: D.Scott, M.Tuck
Res: L.Rice, P.Murnane
On September 25th a crowd of 110,143 gathered at the MCG. In the rooms before the match, Kennedy told the players, “There are lots of reasons why you have to win today. Most of all though, do it for the little fella.” Crimmins was too ill to attend, but from his hospital bed he sent the players a telegram that read: Good luck to you and all the boys. It will be a long, hard 100 minutes but I am sure you will be there at the end. Regards. Peter Crimmins.
Crimmins listened to the match on radio, and would have heard the fierce opening as both side wasted early chances. But after Hendrie and Moncrieff had kicked points, Leigh Matthews roved a pack in the forward pocket and snapped truly for the opening goal. A minute later, Goad received a free kick in the pocket and duly converted to open up an early break. But North replied quickly when Cable snapped a great goal and then three minutes later kicked another. A short time after, Moncrieff dived to mark a scrambled Leigh Matthews kick and went back to boot it straight through from 35 out directly in front.
At the midway point of the quarter Scott and ‘Crackers’ Keenan waged a private war that resulted in a free kick down field being reversed, reversed back, and reversed back again before the umpire in frustration simply asked the boundary umpire to throw the ball in. Shortly after, Hendrie received a free kick and booted a huge torpedo through for a goal to re-establish a 14 point lead. But again North’s stars in Barry Cable, Keith Greig, Malcolm Blight and Wayne Schimmelbusch lifted and the Roos booted two goals in quick succession. Into time-on Peter Knights dashed from defence and set up Rowlings who passed cleverly to Moncrieff, who slotted the goal from 45 metres out on a 45 degree angle. It was his 96th for the season. The quarter ended with Leigh Matthews decking Greig and leaving him stunned. The Hawks were 10 points up, 5.6 36 to 4.2 26.
Early in the second quarter the Hawks were well on top. Playing a very straight ahead brand of footy, they had all the play, combining creative footy with physical tackling. Goad got on the end of a quick Ablett kick and kicked a goal, but it was answered by North’s Burns. Rowlings was becoming a prolific ball winner in the middle and drifted forward to collect from a spoil and snap a brilliant goal to put the Hawks up by 18. But while the defence was well on top, with Knights, Moore and O’Halloran doing particularly well, the forwards were well off-target. After four-straight points to Hawthorn, North’s Steven Icke kicked a goal on the run. But the Hawks’ intensity was sensational, tackling, harassing, smothering, and bumping. Hendrie was electric up forward, but was off-target as well.
Just before time-on Kelvin Matthews roved superbly in the goal square and snapped over his shoulder for a goal to put the Hawks up by 19. The Hawks’ commitment to making North earn every quick was plainly evident. North jagged one back after a poor Douge clearance, but Don Scott, playing mostly in attack, intercepted a errant handpass and snapped truly to restore the 19-point buffer on half-time, 9.12 66 to 7.5 47. The second quarter had been spent mostly in Hawthorn’s forward line, but they hadn’t made the most of their dominance.
The Hawks began the second half in ferocious style. The pressure the Hawks placed on the Kangaroos’ defence was immense and created many turnovers. But it was still just producing more points. North kicked another goal through Icke after a very dubious free and the Roos seemed to lift. Rowlings and Douge lifted in response with some great play but again the Hawks just kicked behinds. At the 23-minute mark Alan Martello got on the end of a Don Scott kick and booted a huge spiraling torpedo through the big sticks to end the goal-drought after five straight behinds. But North immediately answered to bring the margin back to 16 points. Suddenly they had the momentum and attacked incessantly. Croswell goaled off the ground to reduce the margin to 11 points. More North attacks were repelled by Knights and a Kel Moore smother saved a certain goal. The three quarter-time siren sounded with Hawthorn up by 10 points, 10.18 78 to 10.8 68. The Hawks had wasted their opportunities that quarter, kicking 1.6 to North’s 3.3, and the last 10 minutes had been all the Kangaroos.
With a quarter to play on the season, the prize was very much up for grabs. North began the final quarter throwing everything at Hawthorn. They attacked again and again, but in this critical stage it was Peter Knights who stood tallest. He took mark after mark to repel the North forward thrusts. No fewer than five contested defensive marks from Knights, the hard work of Douge and a great last quarter from David Polkinghorne absorbed everything that North could muster and the tide turned on their efforts. Ten minutes in Moncrieff was brought down and given a free kick which he converted for a goal (his 3rd) and put the Hawks ahead by 15. Twelve minutes in, Polkinghorne marked strongly, kicked to the centre where Scott collected the loose ball and booted it forward. Kelvin Matthews closed in on his opponent and made the spoil when it appeared an easy mark to North, roved his own spoil, evaded a tackle and found space to turn and snap a brilliant goal to put the Hawks 22 points up.
Unhappy with his effort in the first quarter, Leigh Matthews again ironed out Keith Craig, leaving him lying motionless on the turf. O’Halloran took a big mark as Peter Murnane replaced an unlucky Kel Matthews. For five minutes the Hawks continuously locked the ball into the forward line until Polkinghorne fed Hendrie, who dodged around and speared the ball through for a goal to seal the game. Further points to Moncrieff and Bernie Jones extended the lead to 30 points well into time-on and the Hawks began to slow the game down. Two great marks to ‘Rubber’ O’Halloran saw the Hawks through to the siren and the Premiership was won, 13.22 100 to 10.10 70.
Peter Knights, who after missing the 1971 Grand Final thought the chance may never come again, was near impassable in defence and was named best-on-ground. John Hendrie cut the North defence to shreds but finished with 2.8. Rowlings, Ablett, L.Matthews, Tuck and Goad all won through the middle but it was the defensive unit of Knights, Moore, Douge, O’Halloran, Bremner and Polkinghorne that had won the day for Hawthorn. The goalkickers were Moncrieff 3, Goad 2, Hendrie 2, K.Matthews 2, L.Matthews 1, Martello 1, Rowlings 1, Scott 1. Rod Eade, who played a top game also, is still the youngest ever Hawk Premiership player at 18yrs 174 days. Don Scott accepted the Premiership Cup and showed his no-nonsense style by bashing open the champagne bottle on the edge of the dais. For the club, the satisfaction in avenging the previous year’s grand final defeat was immense. In 1976 the Hawks had beaten North all five times they played.
And the Hawks had kept their promise to the little fella. That evening, Peter Knights, Brian Douge, Alan Martello, Barry Rowlings and Bernie Jones took the Premiership Cup to Crimmins’ bedside. Wasted but excited, he relived every moment of the game with his mates. Three days later, September 28th, he died. He was just 28 years of age, survived by his wife Gwen and two boys, Ben and Sam.
On football issues, the Club could of course be well pleased with its season. For the first time, the club had made the finals in all three competitions, with the Reserves and Under-19s both finishing 3rd. Michael Moncrieff finished 2nd in the Coleman Medal, kicking 97 goals 68 behinds. Leigh Matthews finished fourth, with 71 goals.
Matthews won his fourth Club Champion award, and Peter Knights, who was named the AFMA’s Most Valuable Player, was runner up in the Brownlow with 45 votes (under the 2 umpire voting system). Matthews was 10th with 23. Matthews and Kel Moore represented Victoria, and Alan Martello played his 150th game, at age 23 years and 299 days – the youngest ever at Hawthorn, and 3rd youngest ever.
The club later farewelled premiership players Des Meagher, Ian Bremner and Brian Douge. And though it wasn’t known at the time, the 1976 Grand Final would be John Kennedy Snr’s last game as coach of Hawthorn. One of his sons had developed a mental illness and he relinquished the position, putting his family first. He had won the club all three of its flags, and coached 298 games for 181 wins (60.7%). He would say later, “It has always been in my mind that Hawthorn has done more for me than I have for Hawthorn.”
The Hawthorn Football Club was exceptionally fortunate to have the spirit of Kennedy and Crimmins entrenched deep within its psyche, enabling the years ahead to produce more and more success.
1976 - The Facts
Finished: 1 of 12
Highest score: 25.22.172 v Collingwood, Round 3 at Princes Park
Lowest score: 7.20.62 v Carlton, Round 6 at Princes Park
Greatest Winning Margin: 88 points, 25.22.172 to Collingwood 12.12.84, Round 3 at Princes Park
Greatest Losing Margin: 40 points, 7.20.62 to Carlton 15.12.102, Round 6 at Princes Park
Longest Winning Streak: 5, Rounds 1 to 5 and rounds 7 to 11
Longest Losing Streak: 2, Rounds 16 to 17 and round 21 to 22.
Coach: John Kennedy Snr
Captain: Don Scott
Club Champion: Leigh Matthews
Most Brownlow votes: Peter Knights, 45 (2 umpire system)
Leading goalkicker: Michael Moncrieff, 97
President: Phil Ryan
Secretary/CEO: Ivan Moore