Despite it being a difficult season for the club, for Trevor Barker the 1981 season was an impressive one personally. With a clean bill of health for much of the year, Barker would claim his second Best & Fairest award and finish equal fifth in the Brownlow Medal. His remarkable form was not lost on the Victorian selectors, with the 24-year-old selected for the State of Origin encounter with Western Australia in Perth alongside fellow Saint – Michael Roberts.
Ok, with Mark Williams also selected and future Saints Coach Malcolm Blight missing out due only to injury, State of Origin might not be too accurate a description of the match. This wasn’t too unusual though, with the eligibility rules for interstate football not worth the paper it was written on at times. Eight years later, Queensland’s own Jason Dunstall would stand in the goalsquare for Victoria alongside Tony Lockett to perform a demolition job on South Australia and two years later Victorian Roger Merrett led Queensland to a famous victory over Victoria. Despite this, the opportunity to don the Big V was always a proud moment as it would have been in 1981 for Barker and Roberts.
This importance wasn’t always reflected in the scheduling though. This particular encounter was locked in for April 27th in Perth, just two days after the Victorian players completed their club commitments in Melbourne. For Barker and Roberts this meant hosting Carlton, and Victorian teammates Bruce Doull, Geoff Southby, and Rod Ashman, at Moorabbin on Anzac Day. Despite the Saints taking a four goal lead into quarter time, it was the Blues contingent of state players who were able to enjoy the taste of victory at the Saints Disco that night ahead of their trip to Perth the following day.
To be fair, the Western Australian’s also played a round of matches on the Saturday ahead of their Monday clash with Victoria. With the majority of their squad based in Perth, including future Saint Phil Cronan, they were not required to cross the Nullabour in the 48-hours between matches. Just Ross Glendenning, Mike Fitzpatrick, and Brian Peake – the father of future Saint Brett, needed to make the Sunday trip west. That said, there won’t be too many sympathetic ears out West to the plights of the Victorians in 1981 given the noise in 2020 surrounding the travel demands endured by West Coast and Fremantle.
The Mal Brown coached Western Australians got a jump on the Vics and led by 31-points at quarter time. With 26,000 fans on hand, for the contest and for the opening of a new $4million Grandstand, the Sandgropers set the Subiaco turf alight in the opening term. Yet before the home team could put their celebratory Swan Lager on ice, the Victorians roared back into the contest. Whatever future St Kilda Coach Tony Jewell said to the team at the first break doing the trick, as they kicked seven goals to three and cut the margin to six points at the main break.
Barker and Roberts were solid for the visitors but were not able to have an influence on the final result. In the end the conditions, and the travel factor, proved too much for Victoria to overcome. Western Australia recovered from the second quarter scare and ran away with the match in the second half. Their own wastefulness in front of goal, they kicked 16.23 to 13.12, all that prevented them from handing Victoria a sizeable defeat.
The two Saints would board the chartered plane back to Victoria and would report for duty for the Saints again the following weekend. The luxury of a five-day break between games agreeing with them as they both starred against the Swans at Waverley. Roberts would collect 24 possessions and kick a goal while Barker would help himself to 33 touches. As would be the story of the season, their efforts weren’t enough and the Saints would fall to the Swans by 10-points.
Unfortunately for Roberts, after breakthrough season in 1980 & 81, injuries would prevent him from rediscovering the form that saw him earn Big V selection. After averaging 20-possessions a game and kicking 37-goals in this period, he would play just 30 games across the next four seasons. Despite having red, black, and white blood running through his veins he would ultimately end his career with stints at Richmond and Fitzroy.
Despite remaining an inspirational figure and leader at the club until his retirement in 1989, injury would also hamper the remainder of Trevor Barker’s career too. Despite his famous bravery and courage, and perhaps in some instances because of it, he would not be able to match his season tally of 19-games again for the remainder of his career.