The 1989 VFL Grand Final is regarded as one of the best in history. (Photo: AFL)

Had it not been for Peter Schwab's semi-final suspension, Greg Madigan wouldn't have had the chance to take the field in the 1989 Grand Final. This is the story of Madigan's sixth game of VFL football.

Hawthorn legend Michael Tuck took young defender Greg Madigan aside moments before the 1989 Grand Final.

At 19-years-old and in just his sixth VFL game, Madigan was set to run out alongside his captain in what would be his 383rd game, in his 18th year of league football.

“You’re as equally deserving of being out there today as we are,” Madigan recalls the footballing legend saying to him before the game.

“If you think if you can go and get the ball, go and get it. Even if I’m in your way and you think you can get it, you’ve got to go for the ball.”

As fate would have it, when Madigan came onto the ground for the first time in the dying minutes of the third quarter, he found himself directly in the path of both his captain and the pigskin.

It was a day that will stick with him forever, though the little details have faded over time.

Australian music icon John Farnham famously sung the national anthem before the game – Madigan didn’t even know he was at the ground on the day.

It’s not just him though. He speaks candidly of catching up with John Kennedy Jr, his premiership teammate, who had forgotten that his father, Hawthorn legend John Kennedy Sr, had spoken to the team in the rooms before they ran out.

“He’d coached North Melbourne that year which was a bit bizarre, that an opposition coach was in our rooms speaking to us before the game,” Madigan laughed.

‘Bizarre’ seems to be the word that comes most forefront to his mind when describing the events of the day, both on field and off.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, 66-game V/AFL player Greg Madigan recalls how he came to win a premiership medal in the 1989 VFL Grand Final.

Replacing Schwab and selection news

Three-time Hawthorn premiership player Peter Schwab was famously suspended in the semi-final win over Essendon.

He struck young forward Andrew Manning, in what has since been described as an ‘ill-timed high tackle.’ It was enough for the tribunal though, and Schwab would be no chance of adding a fourth medal to his cabinet.

Peter Schwab in Vietnam! - Vietnam SwansVietnam Swans
Schwab would go on to coach the Hawks for 104 games from 2000-2004. (Photo: Hawthorn FC)

With a week off to ponder who his replacement would be, legendary coach Allan Jeans settled on Madigan after watching Geelong hand Essendon a 94 point thrashing in the preliminary.

It was his versatility, Madigan said, of being able to pinch hit in the ruck that saw him make the side over his fellow, more experienced, teammates in contention. This was even after only having played five games prior, interrupted by a broken jaw.

“I was training, but I didn’t ever really give myself the chance to get selected,” Madigan said.

“There’s a lot of other guys that didn’t play in that second semi that had finals experience, and had played in grand finals and everything else. I was happy enough just to be in the squad and training, and experiencing that.

“Thursday night, I trained and didn’t get told anything. I went home and listened to [team selection] on the radio! Greg Dear was a bit suspect and Chris Mew was a bit suspect, not majorly. I was brought in to be backup for either of them.

“The other guys in contention who ended up being emergencies were Steve Lawrence, Rob Dickson, and Ray Jencke, could do one part of it but not both.

“Rob Dickson was very small, Steve Lawrence could play ruck and probably centre half back but not in other positions.

“I was told by Allan Jeans that I would give them the flexibility if they needed as a bench player. They chose me ahead of them.

“I knew I was starting on the bench. After Thursday night in the team meetings, we caught up on Friday again and went through things, I knew I wasn’t going to start.”

Madigan would be named as the 19th man on the bench, alongside forward James Morrissey.

He admits that he knew the madness that was going to unfold before the match even started. What it would lead to, however, was something he could have never imagined.

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Taking to the field

The 1989 VFL Grand Final is affectionately known as one of the most aggressive and violent games of the era.

Geelong’s Mark Yeates famously ran through star Hawthorn goalkicker Dermott Brereton just moments into the match, breaking his ribs and bruising his kidney.

Had Brereton not shaken off the doctors and refused to come to the bench, the young defender could have found himself on the ground within minutes.

“Word very quickly came down that James was going to go on and they were going to move Peter Curran to centre half forward,” he said.

“If Dermott had have come off, that would have been the moves, but he obviously stayed on. I don’t know how.”

Dermott Brereton barely moments into the match. (Picture from Channel 7 Broadcast)

There was a sigh of relief across the bench as Brereton got up, trudged down to the forward pocket, and kicked a settling goal.

Hawthorn would go on to kick eight goals in the first term, taking on a 40 point lead at the first break, which was barely whittled down to 36 at three quarter time.

The injuries leading up to the final term had begun to pile up. John Platten was brutally concussed, while Robert DiPierdomenico, similarly to Brereton, suffered a punctured lung and was rushed to hospital directly after the final siren.

But amidst all the chaos, it was a calf strain to Gary Ayres that saw Madigan’s chance arise.

“There were a couple of opportunities that they were considering, but they didn’t make the changes that they do today,” Madigan said.

“You had to be pretty bad to actually come off. We were playing well, so no reason to make any changes other than if someone got injured and couldn’t go on.

“Ayresy couldn’t go on with his calf, so late in the third quarter I got a chance and played the rest of the game.”

With Geelong utilising a high press up the ground, their forwards nearly sitting on the edge of Hawthorn’s forward line, Madigan found himself guarding grass alongside John Kennedy.

The two were given jobs on David Cameron and Scott Hamilton, who ended up with four goals between them. Ironically, the pair would find themselves traded to the Brisbane Bears the next year.

Appreciating the Ablett show

Geelong legend Gary Ablett Sr’s game in the 1989 Grand Final is regarded as one of the best individual performances in V/AFL history.

He became just the second man to kick nine goals in a grand final, equalling the record set by Gordon Coventry in 1928. Many would argue Ablett’s is more impressive, in an era with much higher standards of professionalism.

It was so highly rated by the people voting on the performances of the day that Ablett became just the second man to that point to win the Norm Smith Medal as the best on ground in a losing grand final. Maurice Rioli had done so prior in 1982, while Nathan Buckley and Chris Judd would also achieve the feat in 2002 and 2005 respectively.

Despite sitting on the bench for three quarters of the game, even Madigan didn’t quite understand the true marvel that was Ablett’s freakish athleticism and feats of skill across those two hours of football.

“Sitting in that hole [in the backline] was a bit daunting,” Madigan said.

“The ball gets kicked out of the centre and you’re just waiting there under the ball thinking ‘just keep your head up and make a contest,’ and hope that you don’t end up on a poster with Gary sitting on your head, immortalised forever as a stepladder for him.

“Being out there to witness that, I didn’t really get a sense that he’d done exactly what he’d done. You knew he’d had a fair impact on the game. When he kicked the first goal, it was like ‘what’s this going to be like today?’

“You just focused on what you had to do and who you had to look after and man up. I didn’t really appreciate it when I was out there, but you watch back and it was just a remarkable performance that he put on.

“Just the different sort of goals and skills that he showed, taking the ball out of the ruck and other ones leading out and taking strong marks.

“It was probably the best game, in hindsight, that I’ve seen someone play.”

Bringing home the cup

With Geelong charging home late, the match suddenly surged to another level.

On the back of Ablett, the Cats got closer and closer to the great margin the Hawks had set out, as the clock continued to wind down.

Though he was in the backline weathering the storm, Madigan didn’t register just how tight the ending really was until the cup was in his hands.

“After the siren sounded, looking at the scoreboard I only then realised how close it was,” he said.

“I didn’t really get a sense for the fact that it was a goal a difference at that point. I knew it was close, but I didn’t realise it was that close, given that we were so far up.

“We were so far up when I came on, and I had never really watched the scoreboard when I was playing to know if it was a close game or not. You just kept doing what you had to do, and try and do that to the best level you could.”

With the cup secured, and in spite of the casualty list, the Hawthorn Hawks had gone back-to-back for the first time in the club’s history.

No matter how strong the great Hawks teams of the 80s and earlier, they could never seem to establish that run that the club was after. They would ultimately win three premierships across the 1970s, and four across the 80s.

Having only been at the Hawks for a season, even Madigan understood how special it was. It formed bonds that have stayed with him forever.

“Not only [was it special for] those that were in the premiership team, but guys that were around the club at that time,” he said.

“It certainly makes the bond a bit tighter, having played in the premiership with that group.

“The guys that went through all of the 80s, playing in seven in a row and then [they] miss one and play in another one in 91, is an unbelievable experience in comparison to other footy clubs.

“That era at Hawthorn was pretty special, and I got onto the end of it.”

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