BLACKS LOOK TO REPLICATE 1974

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The following article was written by Fairfax/Metro Media Publishing journalist Ewen McRae and is taken with permission from the Melbourne Times Weekly Review. You can read the original story here and you can follow Ewen’s VAFA coverage by following him on Twitter: @EwenMcRae. 
The year 1974 is remembered for many things; Australia’s first appearance at the FIFA World Cup, John Howard entering parliament, and Cyclone Tracy devastating Darwin.
For the University Blacks Football Club it marks its most recent ascension to the top of amateur football in Melbourne – an A-Grade flag after a 14-point triumph over the powerhouse of the time, Ormond, 12.10 (82) to 9.14 (68).
The deeds of that side will be celebrated by the Blacks faithful this weekend when players reunite ahead of the Blacks clash with Old Brighton at University Oval.
The win was the Blacks 13th flag at that level – a record at the time.
My father played on that famous day, holding down centre half-back in a young side that won three straight finals to clinch the flag, while at the other end of the ground was Blacks skipper Jack Batten who recalls a side lucky just to have the chance to challenge for the premiership.
“My recollection about winning that year is the fact that we lost eight games in the run up, scraped in winning 10, and towards the end of the year we got on a roll,” Batten says.
“We got players back, the weather got better, we got better and we just sort of peaked.”
It was a different time, with just one field umpire, no out of bounds on the full, and players like Batten often enjoying a cigarette during the quarter breaks.
The Blacks scraped into the final four on percentage, knocked off St Bernards and Coburg in the first two finals to make it through to the grand final, before jumping Ormond in the first term and holding on for a famous win.
More remarkable was the fact the Blacks had been belted by Coburg and Ormond in each of their four clashes throughout the year, and the grand final win came against a side aiming for four premierships in a row.
“We had some extremely young, small-bodied kids who were very talented players who of course were in college, but we were a side who could mark,” Batten recalls.
“You’d get a mark, go back take your kick, get another mark and so on. We had some really good overhead marks in the side, Ian and Chris Cordner, Tony Moffat, and I suppose myself were all good overhead so we used that to our advantage.”
Rod McLean played off the half back line and through the midfield in the ‘74 premiership after playing the first half of the season in Melbourne’s VFL reserves side. From the first quarter where the Blacks kicked six goals to one it looked like it was going to be their day.
“It was windy as all hell,” McLean recalls. “I remember Tony Moffat kicked a goal in the first quarter that started at the mid-point of the left behind post and the wind took it through for a goal. It was a scrambly sort of day, Andy Johnstone got taken out by a swinging left hook from an Ormond player in the third, but the defence held strong in the last term.”
The coach on the day was Peter O’Donohue, who passed away last year. Batten remembers him as a pragmatic man who kept things simple on the field and brought the team together off it.
“He was a most likeable, straight-forward man who really didn’t have favourites, except for me,” Batten says.
“You kicked up and down the line, I think one handball might have been ok, two was disaster, three was a nightmare and four Peter would be screaming. It was real man-to-man stuff.
“My memory of him was of a Norm Smith model of teaching; The price of success is what you’re prepared to put in, and what you put in measure for measure is only what you’re allowed to take out. If you want to get something out you’ve got to pay the price.”
The Blacks slid down the VAFA pecking order soon after the 1974 victory, and in the 1990s they found themselves in the lower reaches of the competition.
They have steadily climbed since winning the D2 [E-Grade] flag in 2000, and this year sit on top of the ladder with their best chance in 40 years for an A-Grade (now Premier) flag. Batten for one hopes this is the year he relinquishes the title of ‘last A-Grade premiership captain.’
“They’ve got the players this year,” Batten says.
“There’s only one side I’ve seen this year that’s good enough to beat them and that’s St Bernards, and we were competitive when we faced them. We’re a much tougher side than we showed that day, so some good luck and fitness and lack of injuries should hopefully see the Blacks knock off the 40 year hoodoo.” 
The 1974 premiership reunion luncheon will take place at the Melbourne University Oval pavilion from 11.30am on June 21, ahead of the Blacks clash with Old Brighton.