View Full Version : Interview With Tony Liberatore

The Coon Dog
15-07-2008, 03:03 PM
Tony Liberatore – 1986-2002, 283 games & 195 goals.
Brownlow Medallist 1990
Gardiner Medallist 1986 & 1988
Morrish Medallist 1984
Charles Sutton Medallist 1991
Western Bulldogs Team of the Century
AFL Italian Team of the Century



TCD: Hi Tony. Thanks so much for your time.

TL: No worries.

I was a bit worried that when you heard the words ‘Western Bulldogs’ you might not want to talk to me.

No, nothing could be further from the truth. I love the club & always will. I still attend matches when I can with my family & barrack like mad. My concern earlier this year was with one or two individuals, NOT the club.

I’m glad to hear that, because I think most supporters would love to see you & the individual’s concerned patch up your differences. Is that a possibility?

I hope so, we’ll just have to wait & see.

When did you start playing football?

When I was 9 years old I played for Brunswick City.

Who did you barrack for as a youngster?


Why did you go to North Melbourne?

Because of where I lived I was zoned there. I first went down there as a 17 year old in 1983 & played half the season with the under 19’s & half the season with Brunswick City. Dennis Pagan was the coach back then & I played half the following season with the under 19’s & half the season with the Reserves.

So you won the Morrish Medal in 1984, despite only playing half the season?

Yes, that’s correct.

Why did you leave North?

North felt that my height might work against me, so at the start of 1986 I rang Footscray, Hawthorn & St.Kilda to see if I could do a pre season.

When do you make your senior debut?

Round 13 in 1986 against Fitzroy at the Whitten Oval. I played 4 games that season.

Eventful year 1986. You broke your collarbone & missed 6 games, played seniors & still found time to win the Gardiner Medal.

Yes, it was.

You played 12 senior games in 1987, but then only 1 game in each of 1988 & 1989, again winning another Gardiner Medal along the way in 1988. Did you feel like you weren’t going to make it?

No, I always believed in my own ability, but seriously considered nominating for the 1990 Pre Season draft. There were huge changes around that time, not least of all the club nearly being forced into a merger with Fitzroy.

That might have been the end for you & some of your team mates.

Yes, I’ve still got a newspaper clipping of myself & a few of the reserves players having a ‘final drink’ in the Social Club.

So, just how close were you to nominating for the draft?

Very, I had filled out all the paperwork. Doug Hawkins was terrific & rang me & kept my spirits up & as I was about to head off to AFL House to lodge the forms Terry Wheeler rang. He said he wanted me to stay & would play me the following day in a practice match against Collingwood at The Basin. We had already been knocked out of the Ansett Cup & I hadn’t got a game.

After listening to Wheels I decided it was better the devil you know than the devil you don’t & ended up playing quite well on Tony Francis in the practice match.

I then played in round 1 against St.Kilda & kicked the first goal of the game.

Did you ever in your wildest dreams ever imagine you would win the Brownlow Medal in 1990?

No, I had had a good season & got lots of possesions, but injured my knee late in the season & missed the last 4 games. Greg Anderson went into the count as favourite & with one round remaining I led Stephen Silvagni by 1 vote. Terry Wallace then told me I had it as Carlton lost the last game to Fitzroy. He was right; Fitzroy players polled all the votes in that game.

You had a number of coaches. What were their strengths?

• Denis Pagan – I was a wide eyed 17 year old when I first met Denis. He moulded me into the player I am today. A great motivator who had a regimented game plan.
• Michael Malthouse – Tactically a very good coach. A defensive coach. Was thrown to the wolves somewhat coaching immediately after retiring as a player. I have complete admiration for Mick & the job he’s done over 20 odd years.
• Terry Wheeler – He made everyone, from the players down valued. He made it his business to be intimate with the players & know everything about them. An outstanding teacher who was ahead of his time. Bought back ex-players to the club, including George Bisset who was my mentor. I can honestly say that without George I’m not sure I would have made it to be honest.
• Alan Joyce – Respected him as he’d coached an AFL Premiership. Bought professionalism with him.
• Terry Wallace – Extremely innovative. I reckoned he learnt a lot from Wheels as they were similar. Very astute tactically, particularly on the opposition. He really put the acid on individuals including myself when he changed my role in 1996-97. He also gave accolades publicly for players who did their job, even if their stats weren’t high.

You went from being an offensive ball winner to being a ‘tagger’. How did that come about?

In 1996 Terry Wallace said he wanted me to change my game & felt if I succeeded it would benefit the club & keep me in the game longer. The last game of 1996 we played Essendon & Garry O’Donnell had been playing well in defence. My job that night was to negate his influence, which I managed to do.

The ‘goal’ in the 1997 Preliminary Final. Was it a goal?

From where I was I thought it was & Brad Johnson who was on the goal line also thought it was too. It’s probably remembered more than some other misses due to the celebration.

You retired in 2002. Was that your decision?

No, it was Plough’s. Funny earlier in the year I had played on Gary Ablett Jnr & just knew right from the word go he was going to be a superstar. He had electrifying pace off the mark so I had to continually body him. I had done well & Plough was thinking of having me go on a further year, but I started to get soft tissue injuries, sore hammies & calves.

My last game was against North Melbourne I spent most of the game on the bench. Early on I ran into Sav Rocca & broke my nose. Late on & with the win assured, Rex Hunt, who was commentating on the radio, started the ‘Libba’ chant, which was quickly picked up by the crowd. I came on for a brief run late on.

Who were the better players you played with?

• 1) Scott Wynd – He was the rock of the footy club during his time there. A great presence & fantastic leader.
• 2) Chris Grant – Played on some of the best in the comp as a 17 year old. A smart player, an icon of the game & champion bloke off the field.
• 3) Doug Hawkins – I didn’t play with Hawk during his prime, but his sheer brilliance was just fantastic.
• 4) Scott West – A ball magnet, just knows how to find it. A great work ethic.
• 5) Brad Johnson – Could run all day as a midfielder. Great mark for his size. Great set shot for goal.

Those you played against?

• Garry Hocking - I actually loved playing against him, I admired the way he played, either foot, could be a bit unaccountable at times but very aggressive.
• Nathan Buckley – Just his running ability. Was never spent & a beautiful kick
• John Platen – Had a great work ethic.

Bulldogs fans loved & adored you as a player whereas opposition fans loved to boo you. Did that worry you at all?

No, not in the slightest. Funny, many of those opposition supporters when talking one on one claimed to admire me & wished their team had someone like me in their team.

What did you do after retiring as a player?

I coached Box Hill in the VFL. Unfortunately we lost the Grand Final that year.

What did you then do in 2004?

I applied for assistants jobs at both Carlton & the Western Bulldogs & got both jobs. I spoke with people I respected who suggested it might be better in the longer run to look at a club other than where you played, so I chose Carlton.

With the penalties in place for salary cap breaches it ended up being a particularly tough time at Carlton.

You didn’t enjoy it there towards the end did you?

No & I don’t regret what I said either. I always believe you should play every game to win & firmly believe we should abolish priority draft picks & even revert to the NBA model where you draw marbles to determine early draft picks.

What are you doing this season?

I’m coaching the Sunbury Lions in the Ballarat League. We’re sitting second on the ladder.

Is it true you are playing this season?

Yes, we lost 15 players from last year, so I pulled the boots on one last time.

I see you managed to talk a couple of old stagers out of retirement to play with you.

Yes, Jose & Dimma had a run on Saturday.

Can the Bulldogs win the premiership this season?

I hope so, tho at this stage Geelong look the stand out.

Tony, thank you so much for your time. I hope you can sort out your differences & we see you welcomed back with open arms.

That would be nice.

* Before anyone asks about Matthew Knights, I forgot to ask about it, so it's my fault there is no mention of it.

15-07-2008, 03:25 PM
Another great interview TCD ... I loved watching Libba is his prime ... he is still the only player to date to have won all three medals, The Brownlow, Gardiner, and Morrish ... its just a shame that's not how he is remembered !!

15-07-2008, 04:32 PM
I always loved watching libba play and I am glad too see that he has no bad feelings towaards the club.

15-07-2008, 04:46 PM
I adore Libba. Always have and always will.

My little girl's middle name is Liberatore.

15-07-2008, 04:48 PM
Oh and it was a goal. I was three rows from the fence behind the bloody things!

15-07-2008, 05:30 PM
I remember his first game and thought he would never make it. His brownlow year was sensational and people forget the years between 1990 to 1996 when he played a different style. Libba is some one you can really admire the way he succededwith pure persistance and never say die attitude.

His book " Libba Living on the edge" is a great read.

15-07-2008, 11:03 PM
I remember telling everyone that labba would win the brownlow they all thought i had a screw loose but i got the last laugh !
Coondog you never inquired after thomas either i believe he is playing great footy at the moment .

15-07-2008, 11:57 PM
Libba was my all time favourite. I always felt that, like Footscray he had to overcome considerable disadvantage to play AFL.

I really wish him well, and nothing would make me happier than to see him back at his old club.:)

EJ Smith
16-07-2008, 08:54 AM
One of the Dogs greatest ever players - second only to EJ in my view.

16-07-2008, 02:26 PM
Good work on the interview TCD. Libba was always one of my favourites as a kid - great player who always gave 100% and never backed out of a contest.

16-07-2008, 02:26 PM
Thanks Coon Dog! Another great interview with a legend. I too, always have and always will love Tony Liberatore.

17-07-2008, 08:48 AM
Great job Coon Dog 39 was the first number I had on my back back in the day.

18-07-2008, 10:11 AM
I first met Libba in the Area Nightclub at the Croydon Hotel. Must have been around 87/88. He couldn't believe anyone recognised him and also couldn't believe there was a Bulldogs supporter so far away from the Western Oval. He was there with Angelo Petraglia who was a somewhat local as he hailed from The Basin.

Let's hope he can repair any differences he has with those at the Bulldogs. It would be great to see him back at the club.

Good work again TCD.

The Dogs Bollocks
22-07-2008, 11:05 PM
Great read again