In terms of winning against all odds, the two greatest victories that Carlton have had over the Bombers are the 1999 Preliminary Final and the 1947 Grand Final. In both matches Essendon were tipped to prevail against supposedly inferior Carlton teams. Yet on both occasions Carlton was victorious by the slender margin of just one point.

Every true-blue Carlton supporter who witnessed the 1999 Prelim has a special place in their heart for this match. It wasn’t just the fact that they beat a supposedly superior team, it was also that they kept coming back at Essendon when by rights they should have given up. There were many heroes in this match. In fact, every Carlton player who took the ground on that day was a hero, but the two players that I have concentrated on were the two that turned expected defeat into victory in the last seconds of the match.

The 1999 Preliminary Final – Brown and Murphy
Although Koutoufides justifiably received all the accolades for his blitz on the Bombers in the Preliminary Final, the role of Fraser Brown and Justin Murphy in the last frantic moments of this match were vital. Their deeds, whilst Carlton defended a one point lead, were the difference between victory and defeat.
Dean Rice, Matthew Hogg and Justin Murphy
When Essendon’s Dean Wallis came storming through the midfield, with less than a minute remaining in the match, the last thing one expected was a perfect tackle to stop him in his tracks. The tackle from the junkyard dog, Brown, deserves to be rated as one of the most important tackles in finals history. So unexpected was the tackle that when the ball fell from Wallis’s grasp time seemed to stand still, as all the players around the ball stood transfixed, wondering what was to happen next.

Someone had to make the next move and even though the football could have been taken by anyone of four players Justin Murphy was the only one to act. He collected the ball, broke a tackle and scooted free of the danger zone. Game over.

For many Blues supporters it was poetic justice that the game ended this way. Dean Wallis, the player who hit Mil Hanna with a swinging elbow in the 93 grand final, was the last Essendon player to touch the ball before victory was sealed for Carlton. As preliminary finals go, it couldn’t have been scripted any better and went some way to erase the bitter disappointment of that match in ‘93.

The 1947 Grand Final – Davies and Bennett
The other finals match against the Bombers that provided just as much unexpected drama was the 1947 grand final. As with the 1999 Preliminary Final there were two unsung heroes in the match of 1947 who played inspirational football in the final moments of the game – their names were Fred Davies and Jack Bennett.

The day before the Grand Final the chief football writer for the Melbourne Herald confidently predicted the winner. “Essendon to win league pennant in grand final,” stated Alf Brown. He based this prediction on Essendon having the better midfield combination, Carlton’s attack being “not particularly good” and the injuries to key Carlton defenders in Deacon and Grieve.

Yet despite the odds being stacked against the Blues they ended up winning the day. And a great deal of the credit for this victory must go to two unsung players – Fred Davies and Jack Bennett. To this day, finding mention of their names in most football history books, even in Carlton, the 100 Greatest, is almost impossible. Both players just didn’t command the high profile of the stars of that era in Bert Deacon, Ern Henfry and “Chooka” Howell.

Fred “Mulga Fred” Davies played as the back up ruckman to “Chooka” Howell in the Grand Final. Yet more than his role in the ruck, Davies received praise from the football writers of the day for his marking ability. When the Blues were two goals behind Essendon, the chief writer for The Age newspaper, Percy Beames, stated, “The crowd cheered every attack in the last few minutes of the match. Outmanouvering Ruddell to mark cleverly, Davies goaled to leave Carlton six points down. Carlton again swarmed forward for Davies to mark 15 yards out. Groans of anguish followed his easy miss, leaving Carlton five points down.” It may well have been a costly miss but, thanks to Fred Stafford’s wonder goal with less than a minute remaining in the match, Davies’s deeds didn’t go unrewarded.

Teammate Jim Baird believed that Davies was one of the strongest marks because of his job. “Being a bricklayer strengthened the grip of his hands. Fred was also usually an accurate shot for goal,” said Baird.
Another teammate, Jim Clark, recalled the central role Davies had in the tactical side of this match. “Davies was a great focal point at full-forward. In those days the resting ruckman played in the forward pocket and would go back into the goal square while the full-forward led out from goals as a decoy. Norm Smith used this tactic successfully in the 1950’s for Melbourne,” said Clark.

It was a tactic that worked well in the Grand Final for Carlton with Davies contributing four invaluable goals. In hindsight, Davies never received many personal accolades in his 125 game career, yet he was a vital member of the team. A premiership victory was a just reward for this fine servant of the club.

Another player who was rated as one of the best on ground for the Blues in the Grand Final was Jack Bennett. Just like Davies, he never received recognition for his deeds because of his relatively low profile when compared to the likes of Deacon and Howell.

Selected as a ruck-rover, Bennett’s physical build was considerably different to the ruck-rovers of today. While most present day ruck-rovers are midsize athletic runners, Bennett most certainly was not. As club legend Ken Hands stated, “Rucks and ruck rovers in those days were all big fellows, 14 or 15 stones.”

Teammate, Jim Clark, backed up Ken Hands’ statement and gave further insight into the tactics of the game in the 1940’s when he stated, “Football teams in those days were like a naval battle. Your ruckmen and ruck rovers were like your battleships. You sent your big battleships in first to blast each other apart and then you send in the destroyers to finish it off. If you didn’t have a couple of top ruckmen in your side your smaller players got worn down.”

Two other teammates, Jim Baird and Ron Hines, believed that Bennett was one of the toughest players going around at the time. “Jack was a rough and tumble sought of bloke. If anyone hit one of our players he would let them know. Jack was pretty active in the Grand Final against opponents who were a bit slower,” said Baird.

“We used to call him “Mother Bennett”, as he would look after all us little blokes. If a player hit us, he would tell us not to worry about it, as he would make certain that that player wouldn’t see out the game. He was very big. A solid, nuggety player,” said teammate Ron Hines.

Essendon coach for the 1947 Grand Final, Dick Reynolds, verified the importance of Bennett in his article for the Argus newspaper. “For Carlton, Bennett stopped many of our attacks. Bennett, a strong ruckman, was a real menace in the torrid moves at the finish,” Dick Reynolds.

Against all odds Carlton have had many courageous victories over the Bombers in years past, but none were more impressive than the 1947 Grand Final and the 1999 Preliminary Final. Fred Davies, Jack Bennett, Fraser Brown and Justin Murphy – they are the players that have done their bit to ensure Carlton victories against more highly fancied Essendon teams in finals –and it just doesn’t get better than that.

Blueseum: The 1947 Grand Final | The 1999 Preliminary