Thirty-Six years ago today, Geoff Cunningham had a day out against the Bulldogs. With the Saints in their then usual position at the bottom end of the table, the visitors were expected to have little trouble in their visit to Moorabbin. It would take a best on ground performance from the 25-year-old Cunningham to help the Saints to an 18-point upset victory as he collected 27-possessions, two goals, and the three Brownlow votes.
There wouldn’t have been many people predicting what was to follow when, aided by a strong breeze, the Mick Malthouse coached Bulldogs took an early lead. While it was only 10-points, with the Saints casualty ward including the likes of Trevor Barker, Silvio Foschini and Tony Lockett they were long odds to drag themselves back into the contest.
The second quarter was a bruising affair and the fortunes of the game changed with a renewed vigour from the Saints. It was a subject of lament for Bulldogs Coach Mick Malthouse post-game. “St Kilda had the ball and made more use of it,” he said. “I think they turned the tables at quarter-time when they began to tackle fiercely and did not allow us to get in front.”
Footscray didn’t surrender meekly though and there was much animosity throughout a term in which the Saints outscored their visitors six goals to two. A number of spot fires throughout the term saw Brian Cordy and Stephen MacPherson reported for Footscray. They were joined in the umpire’s book by the Saints Phil Cronan, who had a running battle with MacPherson, and Robert Mace who was reported three times!
Despite the best efforts of Cunningham, Robert Elphinstone, and Allan Sidebottom, the 18,100 strong crowd watched on in horror as two goals in a minute to Jim Sewell gave the visitors the lead in the final term. Alan Jenkin calmed some of the frayed nerves with his second of the afternoon to level the scores. With Max Crow dominating the ruck late, the Saints onballers began to dominate possession but it would take a brave effort from injured skipper Trevor Barker to wrest back control.
Felled by Brian Cordy early in the contest, Barker was positioned deep in attack as a result of Lockett (groin) and Foschini (dislocated shoulder) unable to retake the field. Capitalising on a long bomb from Crow, Barker found himself with possession goal side of the pack to give his team the lead. Moments later he would again find himself with the ball as a flying Phil Cronan found him with an accurate pass after a 30 metre dash. Barker would again make no mistake and extend the Saints lead.
Fittingly though, it would be Cunningham who would seal the four premiership points for the Saints. Out-marking Cordy strongly, he would play on immediately and kick his team three goals clear. It was a deserved exclamation mark on a fantastic individual performance.
St Kilda Coach Tony Jewell was all about the team post-match. “I was especially pleased with the way we won,” he said. “It was great for the club all round. I think our skills have improved but what was also pleasing was the way we continued playing well when some of our leading players were out with injuries,” he told the press post-match.
A memorable Moorabbin afternoon for the St Kilda faithful. It was without question a terrific team performance, headlined by an outstanding individual performance from Joffa Cunningham.
VFL 1984 – ROUND EIGHT
St Kilda 1.1 7.7 8.8 13.11 (89)
Footscray 2.5 4.8 6.13 9.17 (71)
Best: St Kilda — G. Cunningham, Cowie,
Cronan, Elphinstone, Jenkin. Footscray —
Sewell, MacPherson, Edmond, McKenna,
Goals: St Kilda — G. Cunningham 2, Cowie
2, Jenkin 2, Cross 2, Barker 2, Smith, Crow,
Sidebottom. Footscray: Sewell 4, MacPherson, Rickman, Edmond, Edwards.
Umpires: N. Nash, B. Hood.
Attendance at Moorabbin: 18,100.