The Roar
The Roar


Ranking the best grand finals of the AFL era

The Hawks have featured in plenty of grand final classics going back to the beginning of the AFL era. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Guru
25th September, 2016
1448 Reads

It’s Sydney against the Western Bulldogs next weekend, the first time these teams have matched up in a grand final.

There’s great anticipation in the lead up to Saturday’s match and it will be interesting to see how it will compare to other grand finals.

We’ve ranked the 27 grand finals of the AFL era (since 1990 when the VFL was rebadged at the AFL). There have been some great games with close finishes but, more often than not, there have been fizzers and flops where it has been difficult for the neutral observer to maintain interest as the game has progressed.

How will the Sydney–Western Bulldogs game rank? Will the ‘Dogs continue with their incredible form from the past three weeks and pull off one of the all-time great memorable wins? Or will Sydney open the game up in the first quarter like they did against Geelong and Adelaide and consign the match to the dustbin of forgotten matches that are all over by the half-time break?

These rankings are fair and accurate. Are there any grand finals that should be ranked higher or lower? Do you agree with the verdict on the number one ranking? Read on!

#27. 2010 – Collingwood 16.12 v St Kilda 7.10
This ranks as the least spectacular grand final – a replay after the grand heights of the drawn match the previous week. St Kilda only had one goal on the board at half-time, and the signals were not great after Heath Shaw mowed down Nick Reiwoldt in the goal square in the first quarter, stopping a certain goal for St Kilda.

#26. 2015 – Hawthorn 16.11 v West Coast 8.13
Not much on offer here. The game never reached great heights, after Hawthorn were switched on from the first minute, and West Coast were not. It was the hottest grand final day ever, but all the heat fell onto West Coast – drop marks, low pressure, they kicked some junk goals towards the end of the match but were totally outclassed.

#25. 2007 – Geelong 24.19 v Port Adelaide 6.8
Certainly a debacle on the scoreboard and the greatest ever thrashing in a grand final, but at least Geelong showed all the skills of a brilliant team. Had the feeling of being over at the end of the first quarter.

Definitely over at half-time and, at one point in the final quarter, Geelong led by 128 points. 128 points!


#24. 1995 – Carlton 21.15 v Geelong 11.14
After both teams had thumping wins in their respective preliminary finals, this had the expectation of a top game, but it was all over before half time, Geelong totally beaten all around the ground.

Carlton had only lost two games during the season, but Geelong were expected to put up a better fight.

#23. 2014 – Hawthorn 21.11 v Sydney 11.8
This one also had expectations of a grand match up but, aside from the first ten minutes, fell apart after Sydney came across a high-powered and aggressive Hawthorn team. Everything Hawthorn touched turned to gold, everything Sydney touched turned to chaff.

All over at half-time, and the biggest defeat in a grand final for the team finishing the season on top of the ladder.

#22. 2000 – Essendon 19.21 v Melbourne 11.9
Essendon had only lost one match all season and was a hot favourite, but Melbourne was all at sea, and the game was lost half-way through the second quarter. Excellent Essendon, woeful Melbourne, it was question of whether Essendon would break any grand final records.

#21. 2003 – Brisbane 20.14 d Collingwood 12.12
Very similar to the 2014 grand final, where a great game was expected, but the favourites buckled and came across an aggressive and switched-on Brisbane. Using Mick Malthouse’s favourite words, Collingwood ‘didn’t come to play’, and Brisbane completed a hat-trick of premierships.

#20. 1990 – Collingwood 13.11 d Essendon 5.11
A great victory for Collingwood supporters, but it was a low-scoring scrappy match. Collingwood repeated their thrashing of Essendon from the Semi-Final but, aside from ending a 32-year drought, the match never reached any great heights.

#19. 1999 – North Melbourne 19.10 d Carlton 12.17
North Melbourne atoned for their loss in the 1998 grand final, but they were up against a Carlton team that somehow managed to win against table-topping Essendon in the preliminary final – Carlton had reached the grand final before their time, and it showed. There was some interest in the match up until the early parts of the third quarter, but then North ran away with the game.


#18. 1994 – West Coast 20.23 d Geelong 8.15
Only 18 points separated the two teams mid-way through the third quarter – West Coast always had the answers and powered away in the final quarter and a half. West Coast was clinical and professional, and although it was a one-sided game, interest remained until early in the third quarter.

#17. 1993 – Essendon 20.13 d Carlton 13.11
Following on from their comeback win in the preliminary final against Adelaide (down by 42 points at half-time), Essendon pulverised Carlton in the first quarter to lead by 30 points.

Michael Long scored a great long-running goal for Essendon, and Steve Kernahan scored seven of Carlton’s first nine goals, but they were no match for the fabled ‘Baby Bombers’. One of the most even seasons ever, three games separating teams 1–12.

#16. 1996 – North Melbourne 19.17 d Sydney 13.10
The first half was vibrant and energetic, with Sydney leading by 22 points at one stage. Any game featuring Tony Lockett, Paul Kelly and Wayne Carey is bound to thrill, but the experience of North was telling in the second half and they powered to a 25-point lead at three-quarter time.

The final 43-point margin was misleading, but Sydney did well in their first grand final in 51 years and just two seasons after a hat-trick of wooden spoons.

#15. 1991 – Hawthorn 20.19 d West Coast 13.8
This was an excellent game for three quarters – high pressure, great skill levels. West Coast, in their first ever grand final, scored the first four goals, but Hawthorn reeled them in, taking a ten-point lead at half-time and three-quarter time, before an avalanche of eight goals in the final quarter. The only grand final played at VFL Park.

#14. 2013 – Hawthorn 11.11 d Fremantle 8.14
This is a difficult game to assess – low scoring, many missed opportunities for Fremantle. Any game where a team scores only one goal in a half isn’t going to fare well but, Fremantle, in their first ever grand final, managed to reel in Hawthorn, getting to within three points during the third quarter.

They had the last seven shots for goals, with Hawthorn holding off a fast-finishing Dockers. Should have been Fremantle’s year after thumping Sydney in the preliminary final but it wasn’t to be. Hawthorn were too clinical and precise for an inaccurate Fremantle.


#13. 1998 – Adelaide 15.15 d North Melbourne 8.22
This is definitely the one that got away, even though the final score doesn’t suggest it. It was a comeback of grand proportions – Adelaide was down and out at half-time, behind by 24 points and absolutely pulverised around the ground.

But North Melbourne’s woeful kicking let them down – 6.15 to 4.3, including 2.11 in the second quarter. Some of North’s misses had to be seen to be believed, Corey McKernan missing from 15 metres out.

Adelaide recovered to lead at three-quarter time after a brilliant high-powered third quarter, and sealed the deal in the final quarter.

#12. 2004 – Port Adelaide 17.11 d Brisbane 10.13
This was a tough bruising match, pitting two of the AFL heavyweights between 2001–2004. Port’s first grand final, with Brisbane leading at half-time in their quest for four consecutive flags.

Brisbane’s Alistair Lynch confused the game with a boxing match and was booked for multiple punches and was rubbed out ten matches (he retired after the grand final). Port ran away with the match in the final quarter, putting an end to the Brisbane era of dominance.

#11. 1997 – Adelaide 19.11 d St Kilda 13.16
This was a classic match, with the Saints leading by 13 points at half-time, seemingly on their way to a famous second premiership. It was Adelaide’s first grand final but Darren Jarman stood tall in the final quarter, scoring five of his six goals, and Andrew McLeod putting in a brilliant performance.

#10. 2001 – Brisbane 15.18 d Essendon 12.10
‘If it can bleed, we can kill it’. Brisbane coach Leigh Matthews used these words from Predator in the Round 10 game against Essendon, but the words resonated in the grand final. Down at half-time, Brisbane turned the game around against a great Essendon team that spent most of the season reigning in big leads against opponents, and tired in the final half of the game.

#9. 1992 – West Coast 16.17 d Geelong 12.11
The 1992, 1997 and 2001 grand finals were very similar – on each occasion, an interstate team winning their first Premiership, against a Victorian team, behind at half-time (12, 13 and 14 points), and launching a grand comeback in the third quarter before recording comfortable wins (28, 31 and 26 points).


In this game, West Coast started poorly but after a goal near the half-time siren, was only 12 points down. The famous ‘like a cork in the ocean’ goal by Peter Wilson and a brilliant third-quarter by Peter Matera set up a stirring final quarter, and West Coast claimed the first AFL Premiership to leave Victoria.

#8. 2011 – Geelong 18.11 d Collingwood 12.9
For three quarters, this was one of the greatest grand finals. Ebbs and flows, fast-paced, excellent goals and a close tussle between the two heavyweights of the season. Collingwood carried a few injuries into the game, which they should never have allowed, and a classy Geelong team ran over the top of them in the final 15 minutes of the game.

Mick Malthouse’s coached his last game for Collingwood.

#7. 2008 – Hawthorn 18.7 d Geelong 11.23
A game pitting a new aspiring coach and his ‘clusters’ against a reining premier. Alastair Clarkson outwitted Geelong’s Mark Thompson, and woeful kicking by Geelong and a brilliant third quarter led by Stuart Dew, Sam Mitchell and Cyril Rioli, set up an unexpected victory for Hawthorn.

This was the first all-Victorian grand final for eight years, and although Geelong had nine extra scoring shots, they lost by 26 points.

#6. 2005 – Sydney 8.10 d West Coast 7.12
A drought-ending result, a close game, near misses, and a top defensive mark to end the match. This was like watching a game of high-powered chess, with moves and counter-moves, ebbs and flows, lead-changes, and high drama.

Sydney got out to a 20-point lead at half-time, only for that to drop off to a two-point lead at three-quarter time. West Coast scored the first two goals of the final quarter to lead by 10 points, Sydney clawed back the lead and hung on in the final seconds, with Leo Barry’s famous mark saving the match.

The win ended a 72-year drought for the Swans.


#5. 2009 – Geelong 12.8 d St Kilda 9.14
A wet-weather classic, with St Kilda outscoring Geelong in the first three quarters, only for Geelong to be the first team since 1984 to recover from a three-quarter deficit to win the game.

The game pitted the two heavyweights of the season, their only meeting during the season was a high-class game won by St Kilda by six points. A strong final quarter by Paul Chapman and a few toe pokes by Matthew Scarlett pushed Geelong over the line.

#4. 2010 – Collingwood 9.14 drew St Kilda 10.8
This was an incredible game, and the last ever drawn AFL grand final, due to new extra-time rules. A comeback by St Kilda after being 24 points down at half-time, and eight points down at three-quarter time, they actually hit the lead after a strong pack mark and goal by Brendan Goddard, and it seemed that St Kilda had the momentum to finish off the job.

Collingwood fought back hard, and an awkward bounce for Stephen Milne meant the ball went through for a behind, levelling the scores in the final minute. We’ll never have that dull feeling of anti-climax in a grand final ever again.

#3. 2006 – West Coast 12.13 d Sydney 12.12
This match had everything. An early blow out, where West Coast led by 25 points at half-time, which could have easily been greater, then a stirring comeback where Sydney scrapped their way back into the contest, to get within 11 points at three-quarter time. Adam Goodes scored a goal within 11 seconds of the final quarter, and it was goal for goal for the rest of the game.

Although Sydney never hit the lead during in the final quarter, the lead fluctuated between seven points and one point, with Sydney’s final goal with four minutes to play being the final score. What followed was frantic end-to-end football, with each Sydney foray into attack repelled by desperate West Coast defenders.

The match ended with a boundary thrown-in at Sydney’s forward 50-mark.

#2. 2002 – Brisbane 10.15 d Collingwood 9.12
This was a high-pressure game from beginning to end, and a brilliant exhibition of wet-weather football. Collingwood were not expected to get close to Brisbane, and severe weather, include rain, wind, sleet and hail was predicted. Although the sleet and hail stayed away, both teams adjusted perfectly for the weather, and it was goal for goal, point for point, for most of the game.

Brilliant tackling and execution under pressure, even handballs were smothered and it was a tense game throughout. The margin fluctuated between three, four and five points either way for the entire game, until Jason Akermanis scored a goal in the final minutes, giving Brisbane a nine-point lead – the final score and the biggest lead of the match.

#1. 2012 – Sydney 14.7 d Hawthorn 11.15
As Dennis Cometti called it, “this is a grand final from the top shelf”. This was the best grand final of the AFL era, pitting the two best teams of the year. The game had high skill throughout, and remarkable fluctuations.

Hawthorn were favoured to win, and got out to a 20-point lead at quarter time, with the siren going just before they scored another goal, which would have punished the Swans even further.

Sydney flicked a switch in the second term, scoring six goals and restricting Hawthorn to one solitary point. A further two goals from Sydney blew the margin out to 27 points, before Hawthorn launched a massive assault and hit the lead 15 minutes later.

Sydney wrested the lead due a silly 50-minute penalty, and led by a one-point margin at three-quarter time. In the final term, Hawthorn got out to a 12-point lead, with some glaringly inaccuracy costing them dearly. Sydney scored the final four goals of the game, with the result sealed by a classic snap at goal by Nick Malceski in the final minute.