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Jim Main's Classic Matches - SF, 1942

Jim Cleary was the South Melbourne full back in the 1942 Semi Final win over Footscray
With the Sydney Swans playing the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium on Sunday, this week’s Classic Matches looks at the Swans’ only finals victory over the Bulldogs.

South Melbourne v Footscray
Semi Final, August 29, 1942
Princes Park


Although the Swans and Bulldogs have been VFL/AFL rivals for almost 90 years, they have clashed in finals only four times, with just one victory to the red and white.

That was in 1942 when South Melbourne defeated Footscray by 27 points in the first semi-final at Princes Park.

South had finished the home and away season in third position, with Footscray fourth.

All finals matches that season were played at Princes Park because the MCG was unavailable as it was used by the military during World War II.

In some ways this advantaged the Swans as the Lake Oval also was unavailable and South played its “home” matches at Carlton’s ground.

Footscray’s Western Oval also was unavailable in 1942 and the Bulldogs played their “home” games at Yarraville.

Both sides had been devastated by the war, with sides being chopped and changed on a weekly basis because of war service.

Also, South earlier that season mourned the death of former player Alf Hedge, who was killed on May 4 when the Halifax bomber he was flying was shot down over Germany.

On the other hand, South picked up several players – including Lindsay White and Bill Harwood – when Geelong temporarily pulled out of the competition. White was the star full-forward of his era, while Harwood was a clever winger in his time with the Cats.

Conditions for the first semi-final were difficult as rain tumbled down on the morning of the match.

The rain might not have been torrential, but it made the Princes Park surface slippery. The VFL later complained that there was not enough rain to earn a 1000-pound ($2000) insurance payout.

The Argus’ highly-respected Percy Taylor noted the following Monday that the greasy conditions “disadvantaged both teams”.

He reported that the ball became increasingly greasy and this resulted in “inaccurate kicking”.

This affected Footscray more than South as the Bulldogs were playing only their second VFL finals match since entering the competition in 1925.

In fact, the Bulldogs could have had the match wrapped up by half-time, but scored a shockingly inaccurate 3.14 to South’s 3.5.

Taylor reported that many of the Footscray misses were the result of the pressure applied by South’s defenders, but conceded that the Bulldogs looked by far the better side over the first half.

South, stung by coach Joe Kelly’s half-time address, looked a different side after half-time.

Taylor noted that the ground had dried out and South used its pace to burn off its opposition. He wrote that South showed “splendid dash and quickly took control”.

In a brilliant burst of football, South kicked six goals in just 10 minutes to take control of the match.

South led by 15 points at the final change but its defence, led superbly by full-back Jim Cleary, held tight as Footscray mounted several late challenges.

The 27-point victory was inspired by Bill King, who was named the best player on the ground.

King normally played on a wing, but coach Kelly pulled off a masterstroke in using him as a rover resting on a half-forward flank.

King, whose nephew David King decades later became a star defender with North Melbourne, continually drove the Swans into attack.

One of South’s other stars was Ron Bywater, who was making his VFL debut after making a huge impression as a defender in services matches.

Bywater immediately returned to war service, but went on to play 58 games with the Swans before leaving to coach Corowa at the end of the 1950 season. A superb defender, he was third in the 1947 Brownlow Medal count.

South might have celebrated that victory over Footscray, but went down to eventual premier Essendon by 28 points in the preliminary final.

SOUTH MELBOURNE   1.4     3.5     9.9     13.13 (91)
FOOTSCRAY                   1.4     3.14   5.18     7.22 (64)

GOALS: White 4, Chinn 4, Collard 2, Traynor 2, King.

B: Keith Smith, Jim Cleary, Ron Bywater
HB: Jack Hacker, Don Taylor, Jack Williams
C: Bill Harwood, Herbie Matthews, Harold Traynor
HF: Jack Butcher, Bernie Neenan, Vic Castles
F: Allan Mullenger, Lindsay White, Ian Chinn
Foll: Jack Graham, George Collard, Bill King
Res: Alf Bennison
Coach: Joe Kelly