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Five grand finals that truly deserve their 'classic' status

Who were the best draft picks from 1995? (Paul Coster/Wikimedia Commons)
Expert
29th September, 2017
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Just as it did last year, the MCG will rock with greater-than-usual excitement on grand final day. Once again, a success-starved Victorian team is the underdog against a powerful team from another state.

While Adelaide doesn’t have the same Melbourne support as that of the Swans, thousands will cross the border to back the Crows. As for the Tigers’ backing, well, last Saturday was surely one of the most amazing football events anyone has ever witnessed.

Notwithstanding sadly inadequate ticket allocations to competing clubs, Richmond will again be strongly supported.

And just as the emotional ingredients are all there, so are the football elements. The game will pit the best offensive team of 2017 against the one that defends best. Both teams have midfields that run deep and which are playing superbly.

Hopefully – for the unaligned at least – it will be close for a long way.

Fifty years ago, Richmond won a drought-breaking premiership in what was a great grand final of its time. Can Saturday’s game, like that one, place itself among those special matches which retain their mystique through the years?

Here are five grand finals from my time – first as a follower of the game, then as a professional observer – that warrant the description ‘classic’.

Don’t scoff at the apparently cumbersome nature of the old replays – the game may have been amateur back in the day, but the skills were the best that could be offered in their time.

The game might’ve been slower and less skilled, but it had an unpredictability that kept crowds enthralled.

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1. 1958: Collingwood d Melbourne by 18 points
It was a long time ago and the pictures, and memories, are sepia-toned. The historical significance, though, will never die.

The Demons were certainties to win and equal Collingwood’s jealously held record of four straight flags from the late-1920s. Phonse Kyne, the Magpies’ coach, ensured the men of Jock McHale’s legendary ‘Machine’ were in the rooms pre-match.

As he neared the end of a passionate pre-match address, he beseeched his players: “Don’t let these men down!”

In 19 encounters at the MCG between 1955 and 1965, the Pies would beat Melbourne just once. This was it. And it was the one they simply had to win!

This game affirms what supporters clutch at every time they watch their team run out as an underdog – on any given day, if a group of players is sufficiently committed, they can move mountains.

2. 1970: Carlton d Collingwood by 10 points
It probably should take a share of the gold medal. A record crowd of 121,696 that will never be broken. The VFL’s two greatest rivals. The biggest-ever grand final comeback (Collingwood led by 44 points at half-time).

The day football changed. The day Ron Barassi became a legend. The day that broke Bob Rose’s heart.

You could go on, I often do…

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3. 1989: Hawthorn d Geelong by 6 points
The opening sequence could have been from a blockbuster movie. Dermott Brereton running in off the line, looking to intimidate with Mark Yeates, in the shadows, waiting for him.

Gary Ablett kicking a goal while Dermie lies on his back in the middle – the Hawthorn coaching box is in chaos.

Then, the Hawks kick eight goals to one by quarter time.

But the battle toll mounts as a brutal day wears on. Hawthorn still lead by 36 points at the last change but the champions have been weakened.

The Cats charge with eight goals to three in the final term but run out of time. Ablett kicks nine in a losing team. This, too, could take a share of gold.

4. 2009: Geelong d St Kilda by 12 points
Two great teams on a damp and icy day. The Cats still in domination mode, but the Saints under Ross Lyon now a ground-breaking defensive unit.

St Kilda won 19 straight before two one-kick losses, then ploughed into the grand final. But the Cats were on a mission of atonement following the previous year’s shock loss.

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The Saints lead at every change – by two, six, and seven points – but the Cats graft the only three goals of the last quarter.

The second of them, with the game hanging in the balance, produces an immortal moment with Matthew Scarlett toe-poking to Ablett Junior in a crucial mid-field exchange, then running behind, shepherding, exhorting, as the Little Master puts the ball into the right spot for a crumbed goal and the lead.

Prior to another one after the siren, the Cats led by six points, although five of these had come courtesy of a goal umpiring error after a Tom Hawkins shot grazed the post.

Gary Ablett AFL Geelong Cats

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

5. 1977: The Collingwood v North Melbourne draw
There have been three drawn grand finals and now, with the extra-time rule, there won’t be another. At least one has to sit among the classics.

I’m choosing 1977 because, as though Barassi willed such things, it was a game of remarkable swings. North kicked four goals to one in the opening term, then didn’t kick another in the next two quarters. Collingwood led by 27 at the last change and the Colliwobbles were about to be buried.

But no, the Kangaroos came back. They claimed the lead late, then surrendered it when a cool Ross Dunne torp tied the scores. The Kangas won the replay handsomely, but the draw is better remembered.

So many great games, so many memories. Lest anyone feel aggrieved, there are lots of honourable mentions.

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The Saints’ win in 1966, Tommy’s Tigers in ’67, Big Nick’s master-plan in ‘72, Sheedy’s first in ’84, the Swans, after 72 years, in 2005, the Hawks’ monumental boilover in ‘08, the 2010 draw, and then there’s last year.

Now… what does Saturday hold in store?