The Panthers had won the flag in 1969 and were attempting to win ‘Back to Back’ flags for the first time in its history.
Only 8 times since the DVFL was formed in 1922 had clubs managed back to back flags, so the task was not going to be an easy one.
1969 Premiership coach Hugh Mitchell had returned to Dandenong as coach so the Panthers appointed John Walker from Preston as playing coach. He had won the VFA Top Goal-kicking Award in 1966 & 67 and would play centre half forward at Eltham.
Importantly the Panthers had kept Barry Capuano (Essendon) and Cliff Stewart (Carlton) as well as the vast majority of the squad it had built up in ‘69. Eltham bolstered its side with the recruitment of Michael Annett from Collingwood/Hamilton (played from round 5) and Robert Pettigrew (played from round 4) who came across from Preston with John Walker. Pettigrew earnt the nickname ‘Peaceful’ as he was far from that on the field.
Whilst Eltham had a strong side, clubs like Diamond Creek, Reservoir Lakeside, Macleod/Rosanna, Templestowe, Epping, Greensborough and Heidelberg were also very strong with ex VFL players playing for many clubs. Eltham were the bench mark and clubs were out to hunt down the Panthers. John Walker followed the training methods of ’69 coach Hugh Mitchell and on a number of occasions left training to seconds coach Alan Harding (who was the driving force in the recruitment of quality players.)
Eltham were a tall side in those days. Two rucks on the ball with another in the back pocket and one in the forward pocket which was the norm.
Social functions were held at the old shire hall (Crn of Main Rd and Arthur St) and at the Youth Club (now the Scout Hall) behind the clubrooms ($1 a head BYO supper and refreshments). They also held car trials and Dick Norman organised a visit to ‘TV Ringside’ which was a Melbourne Institution in the 1960s and ’70s on Channel 7.
The Central Oval surface was to become so bad during the season, that for the following 2 years, Eltham would play at Lower Eltham Park whilst Central was being redrained, resurfaced and resided (with the ground widened towards the creek).
The Panthers started the season with a home game against their 1969 Grand Final opponents Diamond Creek. ‘Diamo’ held a 5 goal lead at quarter time but a 9 goal second quarter had Eltham on top and they went on to win by 3 goals.
After Round 9, Eltham had opened a 2 win lead over other sides, although the vast majority of their wins were not by large margins.
The Panthers next games saw wins against South Morang (28pts), Watsonia (86pts), Heidelberg West (170 pts) and North Heidelberg (17.34 to 5.6), before they ‘trounced’ arch rivals Diamond Creek by 40 points to record their 22nd win on end. In that game “the value of the drop-kick” was used by Capuano and Rob Fitzpatrick.
Eltham suffered their first defeat in 12 months when Reservoir Lakeside ‘overwhelmed’ them kicking 9-5 to 2-7 in the 2nd half to win by 12 points, The Panthers were missing Rod Bray and Robert Scott and its stars in Capuano, Pettigrew and Stewart were well down on form.
Eltham bounced back with wins against Templestowe (42pts), Montmorency (48pts), Heidelberg (54 pts), Greensborough (72 pts) and Lalor (121 pts) to go into the DVFL Finals as firm favourites.
Three Eltham players had stood out as goal kickers for the home and away season with Walker (67), Pettigrew (59) and White (40), the Panthers had many players who could kick a bag of goals given the opportunity.
Article contribution from Alan Sheehan – History Season 1970 – Part 2 The Finals next week