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    Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year


    Tony Liberatore couldn’t help but chuckle.

    There he was standing on stage at the Southern Cross hotel being presented with the 1990 Brownlow Medal by then AFL boss Ross Oakley.

    The very same man who less than a year earlier had almost killed off Footscray by attempting to merge them with Fitzroy.

    “We were going to be out of the competition one year earlier and there were all those ‘Up yours Oakley’ bumper stickers around,” Liberatore said.

    “One year later he had to present the medal to me.

    “Talk about irony.”

    Emotions were still raw in Melbourne’s west in 1990, with the fightback of 1989 still fresh in every Bulldog’s eyes.

    Liberatore will never forget the rally at the Whitten Oval and heroes of that time, such as supporter Irene Chatfield.

    “It‘s my understanding that she had to put up her house as collateral to the courts,” he said.

    “Really she is the one that owns the club, not us.

    “It wasn’t for her and for all the other rank and file supporters, we wouldn’t have a footy club today.”

    WHEN LIBBA ALMOST LEFT BEFORE 1990
    Liberatore’s 1990 year might not be the best individual season in Bulldogs’ recent history, but it is the most remarkable.

    He went in having played just 18 senior games the previous four years.

    In 1988 and 1989, he captained the reserves and managed just two senior appearances in that time.

    He arrived at the kennel only after being discarded by North Melbourne as a teenager after Kangaroos bosses told him he was too small to make it.

    By the end of 1990 he would be the recipient of the highest individual honour in the game.

    It so nearly never happened.

    The man known as ‘Libba’ thought his time at the Bulldogs was up due to lack of opportunity.

    Just prior to the start of his Brownlow year, he had one foot out the door.

    “I was actually going to play for Port Melbourne in the VFL and I’d done a training run down there,” Liberatore said.

    Before committing to the move, he sought out new Footscray coach Terry Wheeler for a frank discussion following a pool session in Sunshine one night.

    “He said he’d like to get a clearance,” Wheeler said.

    “He’d won the Morrish medal (VFL under 19’s best and fairest) and the Gardiner medal (VFL reserves best and fairest) and he was disillusioned with his last few years at the Bulldogs and wanted a change.

    “I said: ‘Libba, don’t be too hasty with this. We’ve got a couple of changes going on around us and I think you can be a much better player for us than you have been and be able to play five or six games this year.’”

    Teammate and Bulldogs great Doug Hawkins remembers trying to talk Liberatore into staying in between lifting weights in the club gymnasium.

    “I said: ‘No mate, don’t go, Things look like they’re changing here at the club,’” Hawkins said.

    “He was saying it was all over for him and I urged him to hang around.”

    Liberatore said the conversation with Hawkins swayed him into staying at the Dogs.

    “He (Hawkins) was and still is a fantastic fella and a mentor for the players,” Liberatore said.

    “If you’ve got a bronzed statue at the Braybrook Hotel alongside Ted Whitten, you’re pretty good.

    “He’s the greatest player at the Bulldogs that I saw, and Scott Wynd just comes under him.

    “If it wasn’t for Hawk, I wouldn’t have stayed.”

    Liberatore made up his mind and told Wheeler his decision the next time he saw him.

    “He decided to stay on a whimsical prediction of just five or six games from the senior coach,” Wheeler said.

    “Well, I played him Round 1 and I never dropped him after that.

    “Not once, ever.”

    THE MAKINGS OF A BROWNLOW
    Liberatore played 19 consecutive games in 1990, but not once did he feel comfortable.

    “After I played my first game of seniors, I felt like every game was my last game,” he said.

    “I always thought I’d be dropped and I had that fear, so I never took any game for granted.”

    Wheeler selected the little Bulldog in Round 1 for the start of his “five or six games for the year” they had discussed.

    It was against St Kilda at the Whitten Oval and it was to be a huge occasion.

    “It was a packed house and it was our return from the fightback period,” Wheeler said.

    “It was my first day on the job and we got beaten by 10 goals, so you start to wonder if you had the calibre of players.

    “The next week we go to Sydney and beat them, and Libba was instrumental in that.”

    Liberatore remembers the game at the SCG fondly.

    “Footscray had never beaten Sydney in Sydney until that day,” he said.

    “Terry, who to me was the best coach I’d ever played under, predicted we would win.

    “He said we’d get a shield made up if we won and made us believe that.”

    BROWNLOW NIGHT AND BEING IN AWE OF BRUCE
    It was Liberatore’s first time at the Brownlow in 1990, which meant he didn’t know the trade secrets of the night.

    Turning up in crutches after recent knee surgery, he was unfashionably early.

    “It said be there by 5pm, and I had no idea everyone didn’t rock up until 6,” Liberatore said.

    “I was the first person there and I pushed the elevator to go up to the first floor, and to my disbelief Bruce McAvaney came out the other side.

    “To me that was like ‘wow’ because he was a media star and I thought he was incredible and knew football back to front.

    “He knew my name and I couldn’t believe that.

    “He said ‘good luck’ and I replied ‘thank you, nice to meet you, Mr McAvaney.’

    “I didn’t know what to say, I was a bit in awe.”

    Liberatore today chuckles at the memory of Brownlow counts from yesteryear.

    “When you watch it back now, the room was full of smoke because a lot of people were smoking,” he said.

    The Bulldog got out to an early lead and was able to hold on, despite missing the last three games after hurting his knee.

    “I remember with four rounds to go I was still one or two votes in front and the camera started panning into me and there was a bit more interest,” he said.

    “I remember thinking ‘well, I can’t win because I’ve missed the last three or four games.’

    “We got to the last round and I’m still one vote in front.”

    In the final round only Carlton star Stephen Silvagni could knock him off, but the Blues’ loss to Fitzroy meant ‘SOS’ failed to poll a vote.

    Liberatore fought back tears as he hobbled to the stage to a standing ovation.

    “I’ve walked up limping to the stage and in my head I was thinking ‘these people here wouldn’t probably wouldn’t even know my name,” he said.

    THE RIVAL
    The 1990 season was to be the year of the little men in football.

    Liberatore took out the Brownlow, and Tony Shaw captained Collingwood to its first flag in 32 years and won the Norm Smith Medal.

    Not that there was too much camaraderie when the pair tangled in their first head to head meeting at Victoria Park in early 1990.

    “If my memory is right I think I gave him a nice old corkie in that first game,” Shaw laughed.

    “But he was a ripper and I got on really well with him.”

    Shaw said he did not enjoy the same fondness from the men in white that his Bulldogs rival appeared to enjoy.

    “He was always a good vote getter,” Shaw said.

    “He must have done something right.

    “I don’t know if he verbalised the umpires like he did, I can’t remember.

    “That probably cost me.”

    LIBBA THE WARRIOR
    Hawkins knew to keep well out of Liberatore’s way after a loss.

    The same tenacity and fire that propelled him the Brownlow was the same that saw him chalk up 283 AFL games after the stuttering start to his career.

    “He took losing really bad,” Hawkins said.

    “Some blokes used to take their jumpers off and just throw it because they were pissed off.

    “He used to always fold it and had it to the property steward.

    “He was still polite even though he was filthy, but I could look at him and just see the steam coming out of his ears.”

    Hawkins said ‘Libba’ was one of the best he played with.

    “If you were going to go to war, he’d be one of the first I would go with,” he said.

    “He was a player you just loved playing with, and if you were playing against him you’d want to kill him.”

    Wheeler described Liberatore’s win as an ‘unbelievable outcome for himself, for our club and our community.’

    “His mum had on the mantelpiece at home the Morrish Medal, the Gardiner Medal and she left a little space,” he said.

    “She had that for the years leading up, she was ready to put a Brownlow there for her son.

    “She got her wish.”

  2. #2
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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    That's a ripping read, thanks for posting it
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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Great story, many people never saw Libba play before he became a tagger. He was tough as nails and never shirked a contest.

    Malthouse never really played him, but Wheeler saw something in him.
    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    Great story, many people never saw Libba play before he became a tagger. He was tough as nails and never shirked a contest.

    Malthouse never really played him, but Wheeler saw something in him.
    Coaches just pick guys they like, sometimes they get it right sometimes wrong. Part of it is team balance and stage of development, admittedly.
    Malthouse wanted Picken (during the Willy alignment days) but the Pies recruiter didn't rate him.
    Eade liked Gilbee, Rhode didn't rate him.
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  6. #5
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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    That was a ripping read

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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    I heard Kevin Bartlett or Ian Robinson call him Libba the spaghetti eater during a call once. Outrageous.

    That's an awesome read, thank you for posting!

    How's the leaderboard for the event. Some surprising names:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_Brownlow_Medal

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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Quote Originally Posted by jeemak View Post
    I heard Kevin Bartlett or Ian Robinson call him Libba the spaghetti eater during a call once. Outrageous.

    That's an awesome read, thank you for posting!

    How's the leaderboard for the event. Some surprising names:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_Brownlow_Medal
    I'd forgotten that Tony Macguiness was only 4 votes behind Libba.

    And it's a fair effort from David Bain too, finishing 4th in a Brownlow count for the Brisbane Bears..
    WASH YOUR HANDS!!!

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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Quote Originally Posted by Twodogs View Post
    I'd forgotten that Tony Macguiness was only 4 votes behind Libba.

    And it's a fair effort from David Bain too, finishing 4th in a Brownlow count for the Brisbane Bears..
    And Brett Lovett! I always thought he was a bit of a plodder until recently when I read an article on the topic of VFL teams of the year vs. all Australian teams prior to the AFL era.

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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Quote Originally Posted by jeemak View Post
    And Brett Lovett! I always thought he was a bit of a plodder until recently when I read an article on the topic of VFL teams of the year vs. all Australian teams prior to the AFL era.
    When I did teaching rounds (bet you didn't know I am a qualified school teacher!) Brett Lovett's mum was the principal of the special school I did my rounds at.
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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    That has to be Tom’s mother with Tony.....
    Dunks for PM...

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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Will have to give some of these articles a read. Thanks for sharing Axe Man.
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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Quote Originally Posted by Smads57 View Post
    That has to be Tom’s mother with Tony.....
    Yes that's Jane, Tom was born less than 2 years after that.

    Apparently in the divorce proceedings she attempted to force Tony to sell all his footy medals. I assume that didn't occur but not certain.

  14. #13
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    Re: Bulldogs great Tony Liberatore went from almost out the door to Brownlow Medallist in less than a year

    Quote Originally Posted by Axe Man View Post
    Yes that's Jane, Tom was born less than 2 years after that.

    Apparently in the divorce proceedings she attempted to force Tony to sell all his footy medals. I assume that didn't occur but not certain.

    I'd have said " no problem. The moment you sell all your jewellery including anything your parents and your grandmother gave you, any trophys you won at school, and I have the wedding and engagement rings back in my possession then I might consider selling my medals. Until then it ain't happening "babe".


    And if you think I am kidding then you really haven't been paying much attention the last few years. I'm intense and I don't stop until I've won. Just try me and see how it works out for you.
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