As if they were only warming up the previous year, Essendon were never in doubt all day in the 1985 VFL Grand Final. Playing Hawthorn for the third successive year, on this day, Essendon started off strong and kept going that way. They led at the end of every quarter, finally recording a winning margin of 78 points (or 13 goals).
This game was also notable for several other reasons – it was the 332nd and final game of Hawthorn captain ‘Lethal’ Leigh Matthews, widely regarding as one the greatest players in the history of the game; Essendon won back to back premierships for the fourth time in the club’s history; and Dermott Brereton of Hawthorn acheived two records for a Grand Final player: most goals kicked by a player on the losing team (8), and most times reported during a Grand Final (3).
Favoured going into the game, Essendon played hard all day, but nonetheless trailed Hawthorn going into the game’s final quarter. But in that last quarter, they turned it all around, kicking 11 goals and 6 points (a record score for the last quarter of any VFL/AFL Grand Final), and more than doubling their score for the rest of the match.
They romped home at the game’s conclusion, defeating Hawthorn by four goals and winning Essendon’s 13th Premiership. It was particularly satisfying victory for Essendon’s fans – in the previous year’s Grand Final, the same two teams had fought, but the result had been very different, with Hawthorn winning by 83 points on that occasion.
In his first year as captain-coach of Carlton, veteran ruckman John Nicholls acheived a minor miracle. While Carlton were one of the top sides in the competition, it was widely believed that with the departure of Ron Barassi as coach, they would struggle to keep form. Nicholls proved them all wrong. Carlton topped the ladder at the end of the regular season and defeated Richmond in the Grand Final by 27 points.
In the match itself, Nicholls, who was widely believed to be slowing down with age, kicked six goals, having taken himself off the ruck and instead played from the forward pocket. Nicholls would remain coach for three more seasons, though he retired as player and captain at the end of the 1974 season, but Carlton did not add to its Premiership tally any further, losing to the same team they had defeated in 1973 and failing to reach the Grand Final in 1974 and 1975.
By half time, it looked like it was all over for Carlton. Another good year for them, but on the day, Collingwood had them outmatched. Minutes before the end of the second quarter, Jesaulenko marked over Jenkin (in what would become one of the game’s most iconic images), but it availed the Blues little. When the second quarter siren sounded, Carlton trailed by 44 points, an all-but insurmountable lead.
The half-time oration by Ron Barassi, with its legendary injunction to handball, has also become legend. Carlton changed their style of play in the game’s second half, to a faster, looser style of play that depended more on handballing than kicking to move the ball forward. Carlton kicked 8 goals to Collingwood’s 3 in the third quarter, and even though they entered the final term trailing by about three goals, the momentum had decisively shifted in their direction. They won the game by only 10 points, but a narrow win is still a win.