Bendigo FNLRIchard Jones | Europe was already embroiled in World War 2 as September 1939 rolled towards its conclusion. The BFL’s semi-finals continued on however with South Bendigo taking on Golden Square in the first semi while an all-country clash between Maryborough and Rochester headlined second semi-final afternoon.

We’ll come back to the first semi shortly as it is, after all, the first week of the finals for BFNL clubs this weekend. But let’s look firstly at the thrilling second semi played on the 23rd of September 80 years ago. The flowery, adjective-laden Bendigo Advertiser report seemed to sum up the Maryborough-Rochester clash perfectly. “Midway through the final term of the second semi-final Rochester, with an advantage of more than two goals and playing superior football, appeared the winner. “But the northern combination failed to check the final invasions of Maryborough which gradually bridged the gap and secured the deciding goal within a minute of the final bell.”

I’ve written a lot of footy match reports in my time but never, never have I typed “the final invasions” to describe a last quarter fightback. “It was an exhilarating finish to a keenly contested encounter. The transfer of Joe Murdoch, the former Richmond and Castlemaine player, to the centre half-forward position in the final term enabled Maryborough to pull through,” the Addy report noted. “And while each side was strong in defence the attacking divisions lacked sting.” An interesting selection sidebar to note was the absence of a 20th man (what we’d call a second interchange player) for the finals sides in 1939.

With the military forces enrolling thousands of young men to serve in the Army, Navy and Air Force country and regional clubs struggled to field full teams. So only a 19th man was selected. Coppock and Murdoch were inspirational in Maryborough’s fightback. “Murdoch scored a major with a prodigious punt kick with Maryborough now only four points in arrears. “Sinclair of Rochester played stubbornly in defence to repel two other forceful attacks and with only a minute’s play left the northern side looked certain to emerge the victor. “But Rochester failed to reject another rally by Maryborough which ended with Bolger goaling seconds before the bell. “It was one of the most sensational finishing efforts seen in the Bendigo league,” the chirpy writer added. Final scores: Maryborough 8.18 def. Rochester 9.11. A one-point victory to the Princes Park team. Four players kicked a pair of majors each – Bolger and Murdoch of Maryborough and Barrett and Kerlin for Rochester.

Now let’s go back a week earlier to the South-Square knockout first semi-final seeing this weekend marks the opening round of BFNL finals for 2019. At the end of the 1939 home-and-away season Maryborough topped the ladder with 42 premiership points. Then followed Rochester (40), Golden Square (38) and South Bendigo (32). Rochester’s big victory over Kyneton in the final match of the regular season saw the Tigers eliminated from the 1939 finals series. “Golden Square gained such an overwhelming victory over South Bendigo in the first semi-final of the BFL on Saturday that the team’s prospects of winning the pennant in two successive seasons have been enhanced,” the report in the Monday edition of September 18th noted.

“Maryborough and Rochester can provide stout opposition but the teamwork and strong finish of Golden Square impressed keen judges,” the Addy report stated. “Unorthodox methods were carried out to counter South’s centre line by switching the rovers onto the weak flanks when they were spelling,” the headline article stated. And apparently the “value of this plan” worked in the Square’s favour from early in the second term. “South sustained a severe loss in the first few minutes when captain C. Hindson was carried from the field with a serious injury to the elbow.”

Muir, South’s crack half-forward and follower, had not passed a fitness test on the Thursday night so he was out of the side. Golden Square controlled the first half with their backmen in Lee and Lapsley “providing a barrier which could not be penetrated by South.” “The judgment of these players, particularly Richie Lee, was amazing. They seemed to be working on a pre-arranged plan and the desired defensive results were being achieved,” the Monday report read. “South’s contribution for the second term was a single point,” the reporter noted. The half-time scores were: Golden Square 6 goals 6 behinds, South Bendigo 4 goals 3 behinds.

On resumption of play Square’s zig-zag moves frequently left South’s players yards behind. “Rosewall who was the master of South’s Hawkins contributed a goal before Hawkins secured the maximum for the Bloods with a nicely-judged punt.” It was a much-needed goal for South By three-quarter time Square was well on the road to victory leading 11 goals 10 behinds to South’s 7 goals 5 behinds. “In an effort to balance the side for the last quarter drastic changes were made to South’s team, but they were of no avail.

“Square still held command and the smooth way in which the team worked revealed the thorough preparation the team had undergone. “May’s hefty punts after never failing to mark were always advantageous to Golden Square. When he played to Rohda the Golden Square forward kicked accurately for the fourth of his five six-pointers.” “South’s first goal of the quarter came from Greenwood but it wasn’t posted until more than 15 minutes of the final quarter had passed,” the scribe noted. “Square ended up winning by 35 points.”

Final scores: Golden Square 14 goals 14 behinds def. South Bendigo 9 goals 9 behinds. Major goalkickers, Square: Rohda 5, Bailey 2 and May 2. South: Greenwood 2 and Whatley 2. Even though the match report stated “Golden Square did not have a weak player”, eventually the reporter must have settled on a list. Best players, G. Square: May, Lee, Ford, Rosewall, Rohda, Hargreaves, Cumming, Lapsley. South Bendigo: S. Scott, Greenwood, Addison, Conolan, Masters, A. Scott and Whatley. Field umpire: Blackburn. Gate takings: 142 pounds. In the 1939 VFL play-offs Melbourne won its way into that season’s grand final by downing Collingwood.

The second semi-final was played in front of a crowd of 55,000 at the MCG. The Demons led by a point at the first change with the Magpies outscoring Melbourne in the second term to snatch a 13-point advantage by half-time. The match report of the day noted the second quarter had been marred by “a number of unsportsmanlike methods.” “Melbourne settled down in the third quarter and “got into a smooth working system” taking a three-point lead into the final change-over.

Melbourne ended up winning by 11 points: 15 goals 11 behinds to Collingwood’s 12 goals 18 behinds. (The scoring system used in newspapers 80 years ago did not add a final total, in brackets, after the goals and behinds tallies.) In the VFA Williamstown won the first semi-final defeating Northcote 11.14 to 10.11. Prahran was scheduled to meet Brunswick in the VFA second semi-final the following weekend. *Richard’s tips for Week 1 of 2019 finals: Eaglehawk (vs. Gisborne), Sandhurst (vs. Golden Square).