Dipper DiPierdomenico – Former Australian Rules Football Brownlow Medal Winner
The 1986 Brownlow Medal was shared by Greg Williams, playing for the Sydney Swans at the time, and Berto “Robert” DiPierdomenico (5May 1958) of the mighty Hawthorn Hawks.
Whilst we would prefer to profile the career of Williams because his name is much easier to type, we have already covered “Diesel,” so we will have to focus on DiPierdomenico’s 15 seasons with Hawthorn and we hope you do not object that all future mention of this famous Hawks midfielder by his nickname “Dipper,” or simply, RD. Our fingers thank you for your indulgence.
As someone might reasonably conclude, Dipper was of Italian heritage. His parents Stefano and Antonietta immigrated to Australia from Abbateggio, Italy, a 10th century farming town in the Abruzzo region not far from the Adriatic Sea.
During his 15 seasons with the Hawks, Dipper was not a prodigious goal kicker, as his career 130 total clearly indicates, but with relatively few exceptions, midfielders seldom kick many goals. The frequent criticism that the Brownlow Medal selection is slanted towards midfielders would seem to apply here, but Dipper was unique in that he played for a successful side, something many Charlie winners could not claim.
In fact, Dipper was on more premiership winning sides (five) than there are Brownlow Medal winners from the Hawks (four). No other team has fewer Brownlows than the Hawks, so long as only the original teams are considered. The conclusion would seem to be that ample evidence exists that it is hard to be best and fairest when most of your time is spent waving flags about. The Hawks average almost 22 years between Brownlows, so it was truly a rare sports occurrence when RD’s was backed by another Hawks player, John Platten, who shared the award with the Saints’ Tony Lockett, another first for providing the only time in Brownlow Medal history that there was a dual award two consecutive seasons.
All remarkable precedents aside, here is a closer look at the career of RD.
Dipper made his debut in a 1975 Round 18 game against Fitzroy. It was his only senior appearance of the season and the Hawks lost 113 – 79, one of only five they lost the entire year. They had jumped right out with five consecutive before losing to the Blues, and then running off 11 in a row. A win in the semifinal over North Melbourne was followed by a convincing 55-point Grand Final loss to that same North Melbourne side, the first ever for the Roos.
RD’s start in the VFL was rather slow. He played 99 reserve grade games before he caught on in 1978 and got on the ground 21 times and even managed to be declared best on ground in the Hawks’ 18-point Grand Final victory over those same Roos that had denied them in 1975. He contributed 21 disposals and would have expressed satisfaction in doing so against a North Melbourne side that featured future Brownlow winner Ross Glendinning (1983) and two-time Brownlow recipient Keith Greig (1973-74).
The Hawks fell hard in 1979. They finished seventh on the 12-team ladder. The 1980 season was an exact duplicate, other than the side fell to eighth. Their fortunes improved slightly in 1981, but they were one win and four points behind Fitzroy and did not qualify for the finals. They made a strong comeback in 1982 and finished the home and away season behind only the Richmond Tigers, but it was the Blues in third position that came away with the flag that season after beating the Hawks in the qualifying and the preliminary final.
During this time, Dipper continued to improve. He attracted 13 Brownlow votes combined for 1979 and 1980 and his other statistics were those of a player on the rise.
RD and the Hawks would continue their ascension in 1983 and they would capture the flag for the second time during RD’s tenure. They finished second on the ladder again. They eked out a narrow 127 – 124 win over Fitzroy in the qualifying final, followed by a decisive 88 – 48 semifinal win over the Roos. North Melbourne was crushed by the Bombers in the preliminary, but the 140 – 57 thrashing the Hawks applied to the Bombers in the Grand Final eliminated any doubts as to which was the preeminent team in 1983. Dipper received eight Brownlow votes after being ignored the prior two seasons.
Unlike the precipitous decline the Hawks experienced in 1979 following their premiership in 1978, the 1984 season was another prosperous one for the side. The finished home and away in second and battled their way into the Grand Final, but they surrendered the flag to the Bombers in meek fashion, even though they had beaten that same side in the semifinals. The Hawks held the lead throughout the first three quarters, but it was the 21 behinds Essendon kicked in the fourth quarter that proved the Hawks’ undoing. Dipper had a respectable effort, contributing 13 disposals, but the Bombers were superior in that regard also. Dipper received 12 Brownlow votes, his best showing to date other than the year he won and the second highest for his career.
The Hawks were again near the top in 1985, although RD was not the steady presence he had been prior. He was limited to 17 appearances and that was reflected in his four Brownlow votes. As for the Hawks, they made the finals and trounced Footscray 155 – 62 before losing to the Bombers in the semifinal. They won the preliminary over Footscray, but the Essendon side again proved too much in the Grand Final that saw the Bombers triumph 170 – 92. The Bombers’ effort was the second highest in terms of number of points scored in a Grad Final, trailing only Carlton by seven.
Dipper would see perhaps his greatest triumph in 1986, winning the Brownlow tied with Greg Williams whilst being on his third premiership winning side. He established career highs for appearances, kicks taken, and hand balls. His 571 disposals was also a career mark by 53. He also kicked 23 goals, something he did only one other time, in 1984. He was one of an elite few to win the Brownlow and a premiership in the same season.
RD, now in his prime as a veteran, would help the Hawks capture flags again in 1988 and 1989, but he fell off the radar screen as far as Brownlow votes was concerned. He played two more seasons, although he only made one appearance in 1991, a Round 12 loss to the Cats. Dipper was just beyond 33 years of age. He wound up playing 240 games, 15th all-time for the Hawks, and even though goal kicker was not his job description, he still managed to wind up 45th on the Hawks’ list.
Along with the five flags and the Brownlow Medal, his career honours include induction into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2007, the VFL/AFL Italian Team of the Century, four Night Series Premierships and three VFL Team of the Year recognitions.
No doubt, he would consider the VFL/AFL Italian Team of the Century as his greatest accolade.