2023 Legendary Team – Cooee Bulldogs team of 1978

AFL Tasmania has announced the newest legendary team of Tasmanian football, the Cooee Bulldogs team of 1978, which has been selected for induction into the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame in 2023.

The Cooee Bulldogs team of 1978 was coached by Tasmanian Football inductee and champion midfielder, John Bonney, and their victory over Sandy Bay in the Tasmanian State Premiership Final was the high-water mark of Cooee’s golden era between 1973 and 1984. This era of sustained success by Cooee was amongst the most dominant periods for any one Club in the history of football on the North-west Coast and actually emboldened the Club to join the inaugural Tasmanian Statewide League in 1987. Cooee Football Club had been accepted in the North West Football Union after the Second World War and had their initial premiership success in 1961. Not long after, with a young John Bonney roving, the Bulldogs secured the 1964 and 1965 NWFU flags and also their first state premiership title in 1964.

The return of John Bonney to the Bulldogs, after making his mark with St Kilda in the VFL and also with cross-town rivals, Burnie, in 1974 was rightly treated with great anticipation in 1978 and the hope that he would lead Cooee to the summit of Tasmanian football once again. The Bulldog’s fans did not have to wait long as ‘The Twinkle Toed’ Bonney was perfectly equipped and qualified to mould the many talented individuals that had been brought together by the Cooee Football Club, including John Greening, Graeme Shepherd, Tom Lee, Stephen Beaumont, Max Deverell, Doug Baird, Paul Reinmuth and Darrell Shepherd, into a champion combination.

The win by Cooee in the 1978 NWFU decider was achieved the hard way. The Bulldogs were minor premiers but went down in the Second Semi Final to Wynyard Cats. A come from behind victory in the last quarter of the preliminary final against Ulverstone Robins gave them another opportunity to lift the title and this they did in fine fashion. The win set up a tantalising State Premiership battle at West Park (Burnie) against the triple TFL premiers – Sandy Bay Seagulls. The Bay were considered favourites but no one on the North-west Coast was willing to concede without a battle. The State Premiership game in 1978 was the last that was contested in the 3 regional intrastate format and was the second title for Cooee Bulldogs.

THE BULLDOG’S GOLDEN ERA – 1973 to 1984

The return of John Bonney to the Bulldogs, after making his mark with St Kilda in the VFL and also with cross-town rivals, Burnie, in 1974 was rightly treated with great anticipation in 1978 and the hope that he would lead Cooee to the summit of Tasmanian football once again.

With VFL games under his belt with the highly competitive Saints, John Bonney, was perfectly equipped and qualified to mould talented individuals like John Greening, Graeme Shepherd, Tom Lee, Stephen Beaumont, Max Deverell, Doug Baird, Paul Reinmuth and Darrell Shepherd, into a champion combination. The Bulldogs enjoyed 4 premierships (and three times runner – up) under Vern Drake (1973), John Bonney (1978) and Warren ‘Putt’ McCarthy (1982 – 1984) in the NWFU.

As well, during this golden era they annexed the 1978 State title and were runners-up in 1973 and also took the Greater Northern Premiership in 1982. On the back of this great era, Cooee Bulldogs were emboldened to take on the challenge of the inaugural Tasmanian Statewide League in 1987. Becoming the Burnie Hawks they were able to play finals without threatening to make the grand final. In the early 1990s Cooee merged with Burnie Tigers, their co-tenants at West Park, and became the Burnie Dockers.

Other individual achievements:

Wander Medallists (NWFU best & fairest): Graeme Shephard 1973; Tom Lee 1979

Alstergren Trophy (best intrastate series): Hugh Strahan 1973 & 1975: Max Deverall 1977

NWFU Leading Goalkickers: Athol Hodgetts (61) 1973; Darrel Shephard (56) 1975 & (89) 1976; Stephen Beaumont (83) 1978 & (124)

1984 Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame Inductees: Stephen Beaumont, John Bonney, John Greening, Athol Hodgetts, Tom Lee, Graeme Shephard

Tasmanian State Premiership

The Sandy Bay Seagulls started as favourites having crushed North Launceston in the State Preliminary Final. The Bay’s medium forward Michael Elliott added to his century goal tally with 8 goals in the game against the Robins and would have to be countered by Cooee’s defense. Any advantage that Sandy Bay had was quickly surrendered in the first quarter of the game as the Cooee team handled the tricky wind at West Park much better than their opponents. Kicking into the breeze the Bulldogs were able to outscore the Bay and continued to build an advantage into the final stanza. Sandy Bay were able to make a late push for victory and got to within 5 points half – way through the 4th quarter, but then the Bulldogs kicked the last 3 majors of the game to take the win by a comfortable 26 points.

State Final Teams