Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

ESSENDON great Terry Daniher never was one for varnishing the truth. Remembering how he lined up Collingwood's Gavin Brown as the infamous quarter-time brawl in the 1990 grand final escalated, Daniher drawls: ''I jobbed him.'' When the red mist cleared that day, the Magpies were quicker than the Bombers to settle to the job at hand and, in the second term, kicked six goals to one, effectively to win the premiership.

But both sides still were seething. Brown, who had been knocked out, sat out that quarter. As the teams retreated to the rooms at half-time, their races separated only by wire mesh, Collingwood coach Leigh Matthews grabbed Brown, held him against the fence and screamed at Daniher on the other side: ''He's coming back.'' Many expletives flew.

In the third quarter, Daniher made a late attempt to spoil Craig Starcevich and knocked him out. It resulted in a free kick, 50-metre penalty and goal to Collingwood, kicked by Mick McGuane.

Now, Matthews says - only a little sheepishly - that he was happy to sacrifice Starcevich for that gain.

All this and much else besides, is recounted in The Final Story: 1990, the last of the latest series of three documentaries on memorable grand finals, artfully made by Peter Dickson. It will screen tomorrow morning on Channel Seven.

At a VIP screening this week, Collingwood captain Tony Shaw and teammates Craig Kelly and Shane Morwood attended, also Denise Millane, mother of the heroic and ill-fated Darren, but no Bombers, though seats were kept. They were easily forgiven. Victory in a grand final is forever, but defeat never can be mitigated, not even by time.

This emerges, powerfully, in frank interviews with both coaches and players from both clubs, interleaving archival footage. Distance has created perspective and made room for a little humour, but it has not dulled the emotions. Between the clubs, there was real antipathy, but also genuine respect. Sheedy concludes by saying that he loathed defeat, but could almost abide it at the hands of a club whose fans turn up every week of every season.

He also says: ''It wasn't a great Collingwood side, but their spirit was great and their hunger was great.''

In history's sweep, this grand final was recent, but it was also another time. In preliminary final week, Collingwood retreated to Peninsula Golf Club. High jinks ensued, including an elaborately planned ''escape'' to Frankston's nightclubs and a corkie for Gavin Crosisca, sustained at the abrupt end of a slide down a bannister. On grand final eve, the Essendon players had to be at a club function at Flemington racecourse; Mark Harvey's eyes widen at the very idea.

Matthews remembers the way Paul Salmon towered over the start of the match, and how he swapped Michael Christian for Kelly on him, then swapped back to Christian, saying: ''He's yours for the rest of the day.'' Denis Banks remembers ankle-tapping Kieran Sporn as the quarter-time brawl broke out, and Kelly remembers seeing mild-mannered Sporn lay into Banks, and thinking: ''That's wrong.'' He also remembers lying trapped beneath Michael Long, now a client.

Matthews remembers the urgency of his need to re-train the players' minds at quarter-time. ''I wanted to see their eyes,'' he says. His message was simple: have eyes only for the ball now and jittery umpires would provide the spoils. Sheedy gave the same instruction to Essendon, but one or two ears were deaf to it and that proved to be the difference.

But Collingwood hadn't won a flag for 32 years and the Colliwobbles were as real as the flu. Harvey remembers that Essendon invoked them at every turn, even as late as three-quarter-time, when the Magpies were leading by 40 points. But at last there was greater force abroad. Essendon veteran Tim Watson remembers how he watched out for signs of Collingwood wavering, but saw none. When the margin widened to seven goals in the last quarter, Shaw muttered to Watson: ''I think we've got you.'' Rejoined Watson: ''You had us at half-time.''

Harvey remembers that at match's end, Sheedy wanted to look into each Essendon player's eyes, to see who was hurting, and how much. So, perhaps, were the seeds of the 1993 premiership sown.

A year later, Millane died in a car accident. One of the mini-triumphs of Dickson's film is to secure the agreement of Denise Millane to incorporate - but not labour - a message to young men about the perils of their assumed invincibility. It is mutely underscored by the tears of Banks, Millane's best mate.

The post-brawl sanctions included fines and suspensions, even for a doorman. Daniher copped a disproportionate 12 matches; he was made an example. Nothing like it has been seen in a grand final since. But sometimes I wonder, in this tribalised game, what lurks just beneath, and perhaps always will.

This week, in a typically bluff reflection of that day's central events, Kelly called on the AFL to ''loosen up a bit''. Unexpectedly, he prompted from the darkness of the Kino cinema a loud and assenting cheer.