Fantastic Finals – A Walk Down Preliminary Final Memory Lane

It’s the pointy end of the AFL season. This weekend, Hawthorn face Port Adelaide at the Temple Down the Road, while North Melbourne will look to keep its premiership dream alive when they meet the Harlem Globetrotters Sydney Swans at Homebush in the 2014 Preliminary Finals.

If recent years are anything to go by, it’s little wonder that some fans place the Prelim’s ahead of the Grand Final as their match of the season. Yes, the Grand Final is special, but you have to get there first. You can’t win a flag without winning a Preliminary Final and these games are played accordingly: tough and uncompromising affairs that genuinely deserve to be called classics.

Because I have too much time on my hands love footy like a thirteen year private schoolgirl old loves a pony, I give you some of the greatest Preliminary Finals the game has seen over the last 30 or so years. You can decide the rankings, I’ve simply placed them in chronological order.

1987 – Hawthorn 11.14.80 def Melbourne 10.18.78 at VFL Park – 71,298 attend.
Hawthorn’s Gary Buckenara marks in the Hawks forward line, but too far out to score. Melbourne lead by 4 points. A young Irish rookie follows his man through the mark, giving away a 15-metre penalty, which places Buckenara only JUST within his goal scoring range. The siren goes. Buckenara has to kick accurately for a spot against Carlton in next week’s VFL Grand Final. He kicks truly and it’s heartbreak for Melbourne. Club legend Robbie Flower – in his farewell season – is denied the chance to play in the first Grand Final of his 272 game career. A photo of John Northey giving the inconsolable Irishman a spray in front of the playing group is the back page lead the next day.

John Northey gives Jim Stynes one of the most public bakes the game's ever seen.

John Northey and Jim Stynes post-1987 Preliminary Final.


1993 – Essendon 17.9.111 def Adelaide 14.16.100 at the MCG – 76,380 attend
By half time in this Prelim final, the Crows lead by 48 points and are looking set for a re-match against their semi-final nemesis: Carlton. They would kick only another two goals for the entire match. Somehow, the Bombers find a way to pile on eleven goals to win by 11points. A young kid named Dustin Fletcher is in his first season for the Bombers. Graham Cornes is shown in the coach’s box with one of the all-time greatest ‘WTF’ looks ever broadcast on TV when Andrew Jarman misses a set shot from 15 meters out, directly in front.


Future Essendon Hall of Famer James Hird celebrating the Bombers’ comeback to defeat Adelaide by 11 points


1994 – Geelong 16.13.109 def Norf 14.19.103 at the MCG – 80,000 attend
The Cats look home by the long break, with a seven goal to nothing second quarter. North steadies and the second half is as intense a game as you’ll ever see. Mick Martyn has held G Ablett to just two goals. With the scores level in the dying seconds, Cats on-baller Leigh Tudor snaps from the boundary line and finds Gaz in the goal square. Mick is caught under the ball and Ablett marks. The siren goes. Any score wins. Ablett kicks the goal, Martyn is inconsolable. Commentating for Channel 7, Terry Wheeler declares “there’s no justice in football, Micky Martyn has been tremendous all day…”

'That' mark. Because Mick Martyn isn't sick of this being brought up every Prelim final week...

‘That’ mark. Because Mick Martyn isn’t sick of this being brought up every Prelim final week…


1996 – Sydney 10.10.70 def Essendon 10.9.64 at the SCG 41,731
North smack the Bears to place themselves into the 1996 Grand Final. The Sydney V Essendon Prelim later that night is closely fought, with plenty of lead changes. After leaving St Kilda the season before, the Swans drawcard Plugger Lockett is all the rage. As luck would have it, he has the ball in his hands when the siren goes and the scores level. Any score will do. Plugger misses, but who cares, the Bloods make their first Grand Final since Noah was an Auskicker and 40,000 ‘fans’ invade the field. James Hird wins the Brownlow two days later with Michael Voss, sporting a cut under his eye courtesy of Andrew Dunkley. Dunkley’s immediate opponent that night – Matthew Lloyd – is rushed to hospital moments before the final siren, almost losing his spleen in a Sydney hospital. Dunks is rubbed out but goes to the Supreme Court and gets the okay to play. North hump the Swans a week later. Ha! Up your arse Dunkley, up your arse Sydney.


Sydney players thanking Tony Lockett for getting them into the 1996 Grand Final.


1997 – Adelaide 12.21.93 def  West Bullies 13.13.91 at the MCG 70,800 attend.
It is 3/4 time. The Dogs have played the Crows off the park and stand on the edge of their first Grand Final in yonks. It seems a formality. Mal Blight has other ideas. Darren Jarman and Andrew McLeod are let off the chain and the Crows have a five goal final quarter while the Doggies manage 5 behinds – including the premature celebrations of Tony Liberatore and co. as he shot at goal in time-on was called a point by the goal umpire. Not for the first time, Terry Wallace, now ironically known on media street as ‘The List Manager’ manages to get himself out-coached and sees defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Jose Romero, Luke Darcy and Tony Liberatore reeling after the goal that wasn't...

Jose Romero, Luke Darcy, Paul Hudson and Tony Liberatore reeling after the goal that wasn’t…


1999 – Carlton 16.8.104 def Essendon 14.19.103 at the MCG 80519 attend.
The Blues lose to Brisbane in the first Qualifying Final. Despite not having a double chance, Carlton somehow find themselves still in the finals when results from the other four games go Carlton’s way. After taking care of business against the Eagles the following week, thus booking a Prelim berth, Glenn Manton is caught on camera with John Elliott telling teammates he can’t wait to “stick it up the Bombers next week…” Kouta runs amok with help from Camporeale and Ratten and Essendon can’t get out of the blocks. The game eventually comes down to two key moments: Mark Mercuri misses a sitter that would hand Essendon the win, and Fraser Brown elevates himself to footy legend status with a game-saving tackle out of nowhere on Dean Wallis – who’s all set to get the ball to Matthew Lloyd, who’s managed to get 10 yards on Carlton full-back Stephen Silvagni. Eggs and taunts are thrown at Essendon supporters camped out at Windy Hill’s Ticketmaster outlet within minutes of the final siren. Carlton fans don’t care about the loss to North in the following week’s Grand Final, coz: “Fraser Brown’s tackle…”

Joyce Brown's little boy celebrates as Carlton defeat Essendon to book a spot in the 1999 Grand Final

Joyce Brown’s little boy celebrates as Carlton defeat Essendon to book a spot in the 1999 Grand Final


2004 Port Adelaide 14.10.94 def St Kilda 13.10.88 at Football Park 47,000 attend.
One of the all-time classic Preliminary finals with lead changes at every break and the greatest of those margins less than 10 points. Rodger James and Kane Cornes are superb for the Power while Lenny Hayes and Stephen Powell leave it all on the park for St Kilda. Fraser Gehrig gets his ton, but it still wasn’t enough. The Power go on the following week to end the dominance of the Brisbane Lions and add more silverware to an already staggering trophy collection at Alberton.

Saints fans try to celebrate Fraser Gehrig's ton.

Saints fans try to celebrate Fraser Gehrig’s ton.


2007 – Geelong 13.14.92 def Collingwood 13.9.87 at the MCG 90,002 attend.
On the back of an infamous footy department ‘review’ at the end of 2006, Mark Thompson almost walks out on the Cats. Steve Johnson is banished to the Geelong two’s indefinitely after a mob called ‘Leading Teams’ start working with the hoop d’affaire to sort out leadership issues. Matthew Scarlett and Geelong’s back six are superb. The Magpies’ Dane Swan, and Geelong’s Steve Johnson and Cameron Ling announce themselves as genuine superstars. The game comes down to the final seconds. Geelong prevails and a bona-fide rivalry is born.

The Cats celebrate, Maxy looks around to make sure he is on camera

The Cats celebrate, Maxy looks around to make sure he is on camera


2011 – Collingwood 10.8.68 def Hawthorn 9.11.65 at the MCG 87,112 attend.
The Pies finish the season as reigning Premiers on top of the ladder and look set to go back-to-back. Hawthorn are desperate to add to 2008s cup with it current generation of stars. Another match which remains in the balance until the final siren. Swan, Pendlebury and Ball leave no doubt they’re elite, while Mitchell, Lewis and Birchall give their all.

Bro hugs as the Pies knock off the Hawks in a classic Preliminary Final

Bro hugs as the Pies knock off the Hawks in a classic Preliminary Final. Hawks fans struggle to remember who that #23 was.


2013 – Hawthorn 14.18.102 def Geelong 15.7.97 at the MCG 85,569 attend.
Desperate to atone for their 2012 Grand Final loss to Sydney, Hawthorn denies form and history to FINALLY roll Geelong for the first time since the 2008 Grand Final– albeit by 5pts. Once again, another AFL final which no one is prepared to call before the final siren goes.

"Now the curse, it is finally lifted and the Mariner sights his home..."

“Now the curse it is finally lifted, and the Mariner sights his home…”


Maybe this weekend will throw up another classic to add to the collection…


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