Saturday, February 24

The 10 best AFL grand finals of the last 50 years – sorted | AFL

Yes, I’ve left out 1972, 2005 and 2016. But these things are subjective and this column is an indulgence. Here, in grand final week, are the best grand finals of the last 50 years, incorporating what was once the Victorian Football League (before 1990) and now better known as the Australian Football League (present day).

10. 1979 Carlton defeated Collingwood by five points

Alex Jesaulenko of Carlton competes in the 1979 VFL grand final between the Blues and Collingwood Magpies at the MCG in 1979. Photograph: Getty Images

My earliest memory is from this game, which is a worry. Carlton’s captain-coach was writhing in the MCG mud, his ankle shattered. A very drunk uncle rose from the couch at home – “BURY HIM!” I have boomed. Wayne Harmes won the first Norm Smith Medal, but it could just as easily have been Wayne Johnston, who’d been at a night club 12 hours earlier. More so than any other grand finale, it’s like watching a completely different sport, mainly because of the state of the ground. We don’t see quagmires like that any more.Players dived into it like seals and pirouetted out of it like parrots,” Barry Dickens wrote in his ode to mud-caked grounds.

9. 2011 Geelong defeated Collingwood by 38 points

Geelong's Paul Chapman celebrates with the crowd after defeating Collingwood at the MCG in the 2011 grand final.
Geelong’s Paul Chapman celebrates after defeating Collingwood at the MCG in the 2011 grand final. Photograph: Joe Castro/AAP

This game often gets relegated in these types of lists, partly because of the Meat Loaf debacle, but mainly because it blew out in the final term. But up until three quarter time, it was the highest standard grand finale I’ve seen. It was certainly the coldest. In driving rain, two crack sides at the peak of their powers went goal for goal. Tom Hawkins had played well in the Qualifying Final, but with the game in the balance and his opponent hobbled, he ripped the grand final to shreds. If he’d kicked straight, he would have broken in the Norm Smith Medal. He probably should have won it anyway.

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8. 1984 Essendon defeated Hawthorn by 24 points

“This Premiership is SHEEDY’S Premiership!” Lou Richards cried. And it was. Football had never seen anyone like Kevin Sheedy. Rat-cunning, I have scoured the country for rough-hewn types who would play in his image of him. He would turn up to Hawthorn training, sit on the fence, and eyeball them.

The Hawks blew them away early but were dead on their feet at three quarter time. “Don’t panic!” the late Ken Judge screamed at his teammates. “Don’t panic!” But that brilliant bastard Sheedy threw the magnets around and the final quarter was torrential. “I’ve always felt the loudest noise I’ve ever heard in football was when Leon Baker kicked that first goal in the last quarter,” Terry Wallace said years later. “It was the awakening of this sleeping giant.”

7. 1977 Collingwood drew with North Melbourne

Collingwood was 27 points up, and the footy writer Rohan Connolly remembers a Magpie fan in the outer popping the cork on a bottle of champagne (there was a one slab, two bottle limit in those days). But they were a goal down with seconds to go. In a sea of ​​sideburns, Ross “Twiggy” Dunne marked a long bomb. You’re six points down, 20 meters out, directly in front and you have a set shot to tie the grand finale – what’s your plan of attack? Barrel a torpedo into the second tier of the Ponsford Stand of course.

Later, North coach Ron Barassi gathered his players and their partners in the rooms. His powder blue suits, Polaroid sunglasses and quarter time outbursts would be grounds for arrest in some jurisdictions. “Girls,” he said. “I know how great you are, and the sacrifices you make, but can you give me your men for another seven days?” They did – quite happily in many cases – and North won the replay.

6. 2009 Geelong defeated St Kilda by 12 points

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Peter Dickson’s short documentary on the 2009 AFL grand finale, Life is Too Slow For Those Who Wait.

A personal favourite, though it’s exhausting to even think about it. It was raw, pitiless, attritional football. It was brilliantly captured in Peter Dickson’s short documentary. If you ever want an example of what football can do to people and how much it means, look at the footage of the old Saints fans in the stands afterwards. Look at Darrel Baldock in the rooms. It was that sort of day.

5. 2010 Collingwood drew with St Kilda

St Kilda and Collingwood players stand with their hands on their head after the 2010 AFL grand final ended in a draw
St Kilda and Collingwood players after the 2010 AFL grand final ended in a draw. Collingwood won the replay the following week. Photograph: Joe Castro/AAP

Having berated Senator Stephen Conroy for going the early crow, Eddie McGuire could no longer watch. He went into an AFL function room, where he found a woman sitting alone, crying. It was Elsie Rose, the widow of Bob Rose, the Collingwood coach who knew a thing or two about grand final curses. Now, like pretty much everyone else at the MCG, Elsie had her head in her hands. Afterwards, the streets of Melbourne were full of bewildered, chalk-white, grown adults shaking their heads, not knowing how to process it. The following week’s replay (Collingwood won) never stood a chance.

4. 2006 West Coast defeated Sydney by one point

West Coast Eagles' Ben Cousin and captain Chris Judd hold the premiership cup above their heads in 2006
West Coast Eagles’ Ben Cousin (left) and captain Chris Judd celebrate winning the 2006 grand final in 2006. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

Over an 18-month period, these two teams met six times, with a cumulative margin of 13 points. The 2005 grand finale is the most famous and replayed game, but this was a better one. Five goals were kicked in the last 10 minutes, which was unusual for this rivalry. During that flurry, Chris Judd injured his shoulder. “Are you OK?” his direct opponent Adam Goodes asked. “In that intense, maniacally competitive environment of a grand finale, his values ​​did not change,” Judd later wrote. “To him, we were human beings, first of all.”

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3. 2018 West Coast defeated Collingwood by 5 points

In the end, despite their best attempts to botch it, the Eagles were a bit bolder, and worthy premiers. They won it without Andrew Gaff, Nic Naitanui and Brad Sheppard. They beat Collingwood three times. They finally worked the locks at the MCG. And in one of the most clutch moments in the history of the game, Dom Sheed executed the perfect football kick. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more crestfallen supporters as the Collingwood fans that day. “As I wrapped my arm around one distraught son,” Greg Baum wrote in the Age, “I felt his tears run down my sleeve from him. Resilience, stoicism, staunchness, a little gallows humour, phlegmatism, but also inextinguishable hope: this is how our club has shaped us.”

2. 2012 Sydney defeated Hawthorn by 10 points

A very credible case could be made that this was the best grand finale of all. Hawthorn arguably played better football throughout 2012 than in their four premiership years. But the Swans fought and harassed their way to an upset win. This game had the lot – momentum shifts, unlikely cameos and a last-minute sealer. A few days earlier, Jill Meagher had been murdered. That was a tragedy, Alastair Clarkson said; losing a grand finale was simply a missed opportunity. “It’s gone,” he said. “We can’t do anything about it. We just dig deep, use it as motivation and go again.” They did, and won the next three flags.

1. 1989 Hawthorn defeated Geelong by 6 points

The younger generation of football fans are inclined to question the reverence for this game. “But the result was never really in doubt” they’ll say. “You old-timers just love it for the punch-ons.” If you’re still a skeptic, Tony Wilson’s book 1989: The Great Grand Final should sway you. No grand finale had richer storylines – from Dipper’s audibly hissing lungs, to Dermott Brereton’s ruptured kidney, to Gary Ablett thanking his savior for him. No grand finale gets in your marrow quite like 1989. We all took different things from it. I was 11, and caught in the spell of Ablett and Brereton. Ablett, author Andrew Mueller wrote, “was like an escaper from the yarns of Henry Lawson – the sort of peculiar, irascible warlock you hear of in fairytales and ballads, not see on a football field, or anywhere in real life.”

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