83 Grand Final Hero almost didn’t play

1983 club champion Mark Mickan and grand final stars Tony Burgess and Bruce Lindner at the 40th anniversary premiership reunion dinner in July 2023.


Grand final folklore is littered with tales of players who carried injuries into the premiership decider.

A few beat the odds to taste ultimate success but most were battered and vanquished. But one of the biggest heroes of West Adelaide’s 1983 triumph has revealed he took a hamstring strain into the match and didn’t think he would play.

Tony Burgess, who was charged with the ominous task of restricting 1983 Ken Farmer Medallist Rick Davies, said he was injured in West’s second semi-final win against Norwood. “On the Wednesday night (before the grand final), I was a bit doomed,” Burgess said. “I was thinking, ‘s…, I’m going to miss this’.”

Burgess had moved to Melbourne during the season and was commuting to play with the Bloods after training midweek with the Sydney Swans’ Melbourne-based players. But the last Wednesday of the season found him in Sydney on business and he said he cut a dejected figure after testing out his injured leg. “I trained on the Wednesday night and I could feel it – I could feel my hamstring,” he said.

Resigned to missing the premiership decider, Burgess recalled he drowned his sorrows on what was the last night of his work conference in the Harbour City. “I wasn’t in good shape,” he recalled. “On the Thursday, I flew from Sydney to Melbourne, picked up my wife and then we flew to Adelaide to go to footy training. Kerls called me over and said, ‘what, it’s no good?’ And I said, ‘no, I don’t think it is’. And he said to me, ‘go and strap it’. I wasn’t going to argue with him but I didn’t know what that was going to do.”

So he trudged indoors to meet West’s head trainer John Inge and relay Kerley’s instructions. “And he said, ‘well what’s that going to do?’ And I said, ‘I’ve got no idea’. So he strapped it and I went back out and Kerls said to me, ‘Now try to tear it’. In other words, go flat out. Geoff Morris was a bit suspect as well.”

Morris had also injured his hamstring against Norwood with Kerley declaring after the game, ‘he’s gone’. The star half-forward sought treatment from Adelaide horse trainer Len Smith in a desperate attempt to play. But Burgess’ injury had remained under wraps. “We both had a fitness test after training on the Thursday night and remarkably we both got through it. That was pretty fortunate. Friday night we had another fitness test. And then Kerls said to me, ‘You’ll take Davies’.

“From a body point of view, I couldn’t go with him, he’s just too strong for me. But I figured if I could get the ball to the ground and run off, I’m probably going to be a chance. That was the ploy.”

West captain Ian Borchard and coach Neil Kerley lift the Thomas Seymour Hill premiership trophy after the 1983 grand final.

Davies remembers it as one of his career lowlights. “No good memories from that day,” he said. “Started poorly. The ball came down and I’ll never forget it, I went to mark it and I thought, ‘I’ve got this’, but it just went through (my hands).”

Peter Motley had won a free kick on the half-forward flank for interference in the marking contest against Mark Dreher with the game barely two minutes old. Motley’s searching kick reached the goalsquare with Davies the target. He’d marked dozens and dozens of these throughout the season and he wrapped both his enormous hands around this one, too. But within a fraction of a second, Burgess, who found himself caught slightly out of position, managed to swing his right fist backwards, making clean contact with the ball, doing just enough to knock it loose from Davies’ grip. It bobbled off several more hands before hitting the ground allowing the West defence to force a ball-up.

Davies looked towards the umpire, almost in disbelief he had not completed the mark. His kick from the square would have been his 150th goal of the season and no better way to start a grand final. “If I’d marked that kick, I’d have started. But I ran to the wrong spot, it was a terrible day. Kerls had them all pumped up, he had a plan. He was a pretty good planner.”

Burgess says the success of that plan relied on the efforts of all. “When you’ve got your team-mates up the ground, with how the ball came in, he didn’t get it lace out every time,” he said. “The pressure across the half-forward line and the centre line really helped the defence with the way we played. I figured if I could get the ball on the ground and go with it, that’s probably going to help us.”

The reality is, Burgess’ game was extraordinary. With his left hamstring tightly strapped, he managed to repeatedly get to the contest and spoil his bigger opponent. Admittedly, the swirling wind made it a difficult day for pack marking. Davies repeatedly found himself out of position or under the ball from Sturt’s long bombs into attack with the wind. His opposite number, Roger Luders, fared little better in the first term with one behind and two out on the full into the breeze.

“I trained on the Wednesday night and I could feel it – I could feel my hamstring.''

West Adelaide's Tony Burgess

It’s easy to forget Sturt still led 5.4 to 3.6 at the 10-minute-mark of the second term before West unleashed a devastating burst of four goals in three-and-a-half minutes, two from the boot of mercurial Peter Meuret. By half-time, the Bloods had one hand on the pennant, leading 12.7 to 7.7, despite a withering four-goal term from Michael Graham, who gave Larry Watson and John Kantilfaftas a torrid time.

Davies had to wait until midway through the third term for his 150th goal, a Graham handball over the top in the goalsquare. Given the gravity of Sturt’s plight, it came without fanfare but it did bring the Double Blues back to within 11 points. It would be as close as they came to this mighty Bloods outfit.

Burgess still marvels at Kerley’s call to strap his hamstring. “It just gave me the confidence,” he said. “Davies kicked 10 goals the week before so to get away with two …

I took the strapping off after the game and that night I was black from the top of my knee to the bottom of my backside but it never went. Just remarkable, it never tore, so I got away with that one.”


WEST        2.4     12.7      15.10      21.16      (142)

STURT      3.4       7.7       12.11      16.12      (108)

Best – West: Borchard, Morris, Meuret, Grosser, McKinnon, Burgess, Bennett, De Jong. Sturt: Graham, Paynter, Heinrich, Howard, Motley, Fry, Zubrinich, Brown.

Goals – West: Lindner 5, Luders 4, Grosser, Morris, Meuret 3, Conlen, Borchard, Smith. Sturt: Graham 5, Motley 4, Davies, Whittlesea 2, Derrington, Howard, Hollis.

Jack Oatey Medal – Ian Borchard (West).

Umpires – Laurie Argent, Rick Kinnear. Crowd – 47,129 at Football Park.

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