You can be forgiven for forgetting Round 1’s most thrilling match was an almighty North Melbourne comeback win.
In the absence of any live sport while the globe fights the COVID-19 pandemic, I will continue to revisit some of the most memorable matches between the two sides that would have met this weekend.
In this flashback we will revisit three famous preliminary finals, while there are also huge victories by the Brisbane Lions, North Melbourne, the Geelong Cats, St Kilda and the Gold Coast Suns to have a look back at.
Top of the list is Carlton’s stunning victory over Essendon in the 1999 preliminary final, which changed the course of the whole season, while the Western Bulldogs’ 2016 victory over the GWS Giants will go down as one of the classic matches to be played in the 2010s.
So let’s have a look at some of the classic matches between the would-be Round 3 sides.
1999 preliminary final: Carlton 16.8 (104) defeated Essendon 14.19 (93)
When it comes to preliminary final upsets, none come bigger than that of Carlton’s one-point victory over a rampaging Essendon in 1999.
Despite being without captain James Hird for all but the opening two rounds of the season due to a foot injury he suffered in Round 2, the Bombers would dominate the regular season, finishing as minor premiers for the first time since 1993.
In their first final, they would thrash the eighth-placed Sydney Swans by 69 points at the MCG in what was Tony Lockett’s final AFL game for the Swans before his ill-fated comeback in 2002.
Awaiting them in the preliminary final would be Carlton, which finished sixth at the end of the regular season and were soundly beaten by the Brisbane Lions in their qualifying final at the Gabba.
Under the finals system that was in effect at the time, the Blues got a second chance and were to face the West Coast Eagles in Perth, but a contract agreement then in place with the Melbourne Cricket Club saw the match relocated to the MCG.
The Blues made the most of their fortune, defeating the Eagles by 54 points to book their date with the Bombers.
Kevin Sheedy’s side started as the hot favourites, but the Blues started the stronger, leading by 16 points at quarter-time – 6.3 (39) to 3.5 (23).
David Parkin’s Blues kept their foot on the pedal in the second quarter, kicking two goals to nil in the second quarter to build a 24-point lead at the major break, silencing the red-and-black faithful.
The Bombers hit back in the third quarter, kicking seven goals to two in the third quarter, to lead by eleven points at the final change of ends, and it was thought they were on their way to their first grand final since 1993.
Once Steven Alessio kicked the first goal of the final quarter, the Bombers were out to a 17-point lead. However, the Blues would kick the next four majors to take a seven-point lead, and from there it was anyone’s game.
21-year-old Bomber Matthew Lloyd would kick two goals – for a personal haul of five – to give the Bombers back the lead, but the Blues would not give in, kicking the next two after that to lead by eight points.
With just over two minutes remaining, Mark Johnson goalled for the Bombers and the margin was down to two points. A missed snap shot at goal from Mark Mercuri then reduced the margin to just a solitary point.
Then came the most pivotal moment of the match – if not the entire season – when Fraser Brown laid a tackle on a goal-bound Dean Wallis, after which the Blues cleared the ball out of their defensive 50, eventually finding the hands of Justin Murphy on the full-time siren.
With that, the Blues won by one point, and progressed to the grand final which they would later lose to North Melbourne (then known as the Kangaroos). As of 2020, this is the most recent grand final appearance for either Carlton or North Melbourne.
For Essendon, it marked their second preliminary final defeat by a solitary point in four years, after suffering similar heartbreak against the Sydney Swans in 1996.
Bombers coach Kevin Sheedy then forced his entire side to attend the 1999 grand final as spectators, hoping that it would motivate them to achieve the ultimate success the following year.
Indeed, the club would dominate the 2000 season, occupying top spot in all 22 rounds, losing only one regular season match and exacting revenge on the Blues in the preliminary final before ultimately winning its 16th premiership by thrashing Melbourne in the grand final.
2016 preliminary final: Western Bulldogs 13.11 (89) defeated GWS Giants 12.11 (83)
17 years later, we witnessed one of the greatest preliminary finals this millennium, and arguably the greatest AFL match of the 2010s, when the Western Bulldogs outlasted the GWS Giants by just six points to reach its first grand final in over half a century.
In their fifth year in the competition, the GWS Giants took the AFL by storm, with their attacking flair seeing them finish fourth at the end of the regular season and therefore qualify for their first finals series under third-year coach Leon Cameron.
In their inaugural AFL final, they upset bigger brothers the Sydney Swans by 36 points to secure direct passage to the preliminary final, where they would face the Western Bulldogs.
Despite being without several key players, including captain Bob Murphy, Mitch Wallis and Jack Redpath, due to serious injuries, the Bulldogs managed to finish seventh at the end of the regular season, winning 15 of its 22 matches.
They proceeded to knock out the previous year’s grand finalists, the West Coast Eagles and Hawthorn, at Subiaco Oval and the MCG respectively to advance to its first preliminary final since 2010.
What unfolded at Giants Stadium would be a war of attrition with neither side giving an inch over the course of just under three hours.
Two goals to each side saw the Bulldogs claim a two-point lead at quarter-time, but the match would turn ugly for both sides in the second quarter.
The Giants, who were without triple-premiership winning Cat Steve Johnson due to suspension, saw their co-captain, and ex-Bulldog, Callan Ward, knocked out after he was kneed in the head by Zaine Cordy, while Bulldog Jordan Roughead copped a ball to his head.
Neither player took further part in the match, and at halftime, the Bulldogs led by nine points after kicking four goals to three.
The Giants enjoyed an ideal start to the second half, when Rory Lobb goalled to bring the margin to a solitary point. The lead changed several times, and the Giants started pulling ahead when Lobb and Jonathan Patton each kicked a goal to give them an eleven-point lead.
However, the Bulldogs would peg them back, and goals to Marcus Bontempelli and Caleb Daniel would see them enter the final change of ends a solitary point down.
Two goals to the Giants would see them open up a 14-point lead – the biggest by any side in the match – but the Bulldogs would again peg them back, and with less than five minutes remaining, scores would be tied at 12.10 (82) apiece.
Jack Macrae, who had only kicked one goal for the season, stepped up to kick what would prove to be the match-winning goal for the Bulldogs, and despite attempts by the Giants to peg the margin back, the Dogs would hang on to win by six points.
Channel Seven commentator, and ex-Western Bulldogs captain Luke Darcy summed up his feelings in commentary, saying “I’ve been wanting to say this for as long as I can remember – the Bulldogs go through to a grand final, can you believe it?”.
The Dogs would ultimately go on to defeat the Sydney Swans by 22 points in the grand final, ending the AFL’s then-longest active premiership drought – 62 years.
2011 preliminary final: Collingwood 10.8 (68) defeated Hawthorn 9.11 (65)
After dominating the regular season in 2011, losing only two matches (both against the Geelong Cats), Collingwood’s bid for a 16th premiership hit turbulence when they faced Hawthorn in the preliminary final.
The Pies had handed Hawthorn their worst defeat of the season, winning by 41 points after keeping the Hawks goalless in the opening quarter, but this would be a different Hawks side that Mick Malthouse’s side would face in the preliminary final.
The Hawks, which finished in the top four for the first time since winning the premiership in 2008 with an 18-4 record, took it right up to the Pies, leading by a point at quarter-time, eight at halftime and then 17 points at three-quarter-time.
The final quarter was a war of attrition, with neither side giving an inch with a grand final berth at stake.
With less than four minutes remaining, the Pies led by two points, but a miraculous goal from Lance “Buddy” Franklin saw the Hawks reclaim the lead by four points and seemingly silence the Black and White Army, led by Jeff “Joffa” Corfe.
However, the Pies would be quick to reply, and after Ryan Schoenmakers dropped a mark in defence, Luke Ball stepped up to kick the match-winning goal for his side with less than three minutes remaining.
It proved to be the final goal of the match, and Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson would later be seen punching the shelter of the interchange bench upon the full-time siren, knowing that his side had blown a golden chance to qualify for the grand final.
Conversely, Pies president Eddie McGuire would be seen celebrating in the stands, while coach Mick Malthouse would be seen in tears knowing the 2011 grand final would be his final game as Collingwood coach.
Ultimately, the Pies would lose to the Geelong Cats by 38 points in the decider, and Malthouse would hand the reins of the club he coached for twelve years to Nathan Buckley, who remains their coach as of today.
As for the Hawks, the pain of that preliminary final defeat would spur them on to dominate the 2012 regular season, after which they reached the grand final, only to lose to the Sydney Swans. The rest, as they say, is history.
Round 17, 2004: Brisbane Lions 29.15 (189) defeated Adelaide Crows 6.12 (48)
You only need to cast your mind all the way back to 2004 to find out just how dominant the Brisbane Lions once were.
A hat-trick of flags between 2001-03, which came fresh off the heels of the Brisbane Broncos winning the 2000 NRL premiership, made Brisbane the sporting capital of Australia for a brief period at the turn of the century.
The Lions had just about the best team in the competition, with a midfield led by captain Michael Voss and ex-Brownlow Medallists Jason Akermanis and Simon Black, a backline marshaled by Mal Michael and Justin Leppitsch and Alastair Lynch heading up the forward line.
Just how strong and dominant the Brisbane Lions were was demonstrated when, on a cold July night at the Gabba in 2004, they handed the Adelaide Crows their worst ever defeat, thrashing the men from West Lakes by a whopping 141 points.
Lions coach Leigh Matthews had warned his side several times that percentage would be important in the run to September, and the players responded by posting the second-highest score of the season – 29.15 (189) (only St Kilda’s 31.10 (196) against Carlton in Round 10 was higher).
It was also the club’s highest ever score, and the winning margin of 141 points was also their highest winning margin – records which remain as of 2020.
The Lions had led by only ten points in the shadows of halftime, but went on a second-half rampage, kicking ten goals in the third quarter and then another eleven in the final quarter for a match total of 28 majors, with Alastair Lynch contributing six of them.
Notably, it was the debut game for Michael Rischitelli, whose parents flew up from Melbourne to watch him make his AFL debut in the club’s biggest ever win.
Ultimately, the Lions’ bid for a fourth straight premiership would end at the hands of Port Adelaide in the grand final.
Round 22, 2019: North Melbourne 22.12 (144) defeated Port Adelaide 8.10 (58)
A week after kicking just one goal in a horror loss to the Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park, North Melbourne bounced back in the most brutal way possible, thrashing Port Adelaide by 86 points at Marvel Stadium in Round 22 last season.
Roos coach Rhyce Shaw, who was permanently appointed the club’s successor to Brad Scott just a few weeks ago, put the onus on his team to rebound following their 55-point loss to the Cats in which Todd Goldstein kicked their only goal in the second quarter.
But by quarter-time in the match against the Power, who won by 16 points in the teams’ previous meeting at the Oval in Round 6 earlier that season, the Roos had kicked six goals, and were never headed from there on in.
Ben Brown became just the ninth North Melbourne player in history to kick ten majors, six of which came in the first half, and the remaining four seeing him overtake a wounded Jeremy Cameron in the Coleman Medal race.
By full-time, Brown had outscored the entire Port Adelaide side by three points as the Roos recorded their largest victory of the 2019 season, which saw them miss out on a September berth for the third straight year, triggering the mid-season departure of coach Brad Scott.
The loss would prove fatal for the Power, which would miss the finals for the fourth time in five seasons, and also came as their cross-town rivals the Adelaide Crows suffered an eleven-goal thrashing by Collingwood at home earlier in the day, sending South Australia into a state of embarrassment.
Round 13, 2008: Geelong Cats 28.14 (182) defeated West Coast Eagles 5.17 (47)
If the Brisbane Lions were the most dominant team of the first half of the noughties, then the Geelong Cats were the team to watch in the second half of it.
While the Lions were dominating the upper half of the ladder, the Cats spent that period of time building a side that would ultimately go on to win premierships in 2007, 2009 and 2011 – the first thanks to a grand final-record 119-point victory over Port Adelaide.
The Cats were cruising on top of the ladder by the time they headed to Subiaco Oval to face the West Coast Eagles, which had just won the premiership in 2006 but were on a swift fall towards the bottom of the ladder.
Mark Thompson’s side were only starting to reach peak form, which came after they were thrashed by Collingwood by 86 points in Round 9 – their heaviest defeat for the whole year.
They hadn’t beaten the Eagles at Subiaco since Round 16, 2001, but they threw the history book out of the window kicking the first five goals of the match, and never being headed against a side which had only climbed the premiership dais in the previous 21 months.
The Cats continued to toy with the Eagles for the remainder of the match, eventually racking up the season’s highest score – 28.14 (182) – and handing the hosts their worst ever home defeat with a 135-point victory in front of a stunned, Subiaco Oval sell-out crowd of 38,414.
It was just seven points short of the Eagles’ worst ever defeat, though, which stands at 142 points against Essendon in 1989.
Given the embarrassing ease in which the Cats dominated the match, Thompson thought he’d enjoy a mid-match snack while watching his troops dominate.
The victory was masterminded by Gary Ablett Jr, who picked up the three Brownlow Medal votes for his 37 disposals, while Paul Chapman and Cameron Mooney both kicked five majors.
Round 7, 2008: Melbourne 17.17 (119) defeated Fremantle 15.23 (113)
While the Geelong Cats were one of the most dominant teams in 2008, it proved to be a miserable one for Melbourne, which spent the entire season anchored to the bottom of the ladder.
Dean Bailey was appointed as the club’s new coach shortly before the end of the 2007 season, during which long-serving mentor Neale Daniher resigned just short of a decade in charge of the game’s oldest club.
His first match in charge resulted in a humiliating 104-point loss to Hawthorn at the MCG, with that result showing how much work was ahead of Bailey in his bid to rebuild the club.
By the time they entered their Round 7 match against Fremantle, they were still winless with a percentage of 54.3.
At halftime in the match against the Dockers, they trailed by 50 points, and another triple-figure defeat seemed likely.
However, they would play out of their skins in the second half and start to eat into the Dockers’ lead, kicking five goals to two in the third quarter to enter the final change of ends 32 points down.
The Dees would unleash in the final quarter, kicking nine goals to two in the final quarter to register a six-point victory – and their first of just 22 victories under Bailey as coach between 2008-11. Until 2013, it would be the club’s highest scoring final quarter in history.
For the Dockers, this was the second match in a string of five consecutive matches which they lost after leading at three-quarter-time – a V/AFL record.
Round 16, 2017: St Kilda 21.12 (138) defeated Richmond 10.11 (71)
Saints fans currently suffering through a prolonged and indefinite period without any football need not look as far back as Round 16, 2017 to find one of the club’s biggest victories of the 2010s.
In Maddie’s Match – an annual match dedicated to Nick Riewoldt’s late sister, who died from aplastic anaemia in February 2015 aged just 26 – the Saints unleashed on the finals-bound Tigers, kicking fourteen goals to one in the first half to lead by 82 points.
Quite appropriately, it was Riewoldt, who owns the record for the most games played, and most goals kicked, at Docklands Stadium, who kicked the first goal of the game at the renamed Riewoldt End (the original name for the southern end of this ground is the Coventry End) to set the Saints in motion.
By three-quarter-time, the Saints had led by 89 points, and were seemingly on track for a 100+ point win before the Tigers saved face in the final quarter, kicking six goals to two to reduce the margin to 71 points.
Nick Riewoldt, who would retire at the end of the season and join a long list of players to have never tasted the ultimate success, kicked three goals for the night, while his cousin Jack booted just one on what was a dirty night for the Tigers.
It proved to be a turning point for the Tigers, which would reverse their loss to the Saints with a 41-point victory at the MCG in Round 23 before ultimately going all the way for the first time since 1980.
Round 18, 2018: Gold Coast Suns 12.14 (86) defeated Sydney Swans 8.14 (62)
We wrap up this round of flashbacks with one of the biggest upsets of the 2010s.
After an ex-Sydney Swans coach in Rodney Eade failed to guide the Gold Coast Suns into their first finals series, it was up to then-Swans assistant coach Stuart Dew to take on what has proven to be the most poisoned chalice in the AFL.
After a celebrated playing career which included flags at Port Adelaide and Hawthorn in 2004 and 2008 respectively, Dew moved into assistant coaching at the Swans, working under Paul Roos for one season and then under John Longmire for seven seasons.
He was then selected to take on the coaching role on the Gold Coast, and given the club’s struggles in their first seven seasons, it was clear that he had a lot of work to do.
The Suns started the 2018 season well, winning three of their first five matches (with the two losses in that period being to the two Western Australia clubs in back-to-back matches at Optus Stadium), but would lose their next twelve matches to fall to 17th place on the ladder.
And when they descended onto the SCG in Round 18, only the die-hard Suns fans were daring to dream of their team pulling off an improbable victory.
At quarter-time, the Swans were seemingly cruising, having kicked six goals to one in the first quarter to lead by 29 points.
But in Dew’s first return to Moore Park after leaving at the end of the 2017 season, the Suns would keep the Swans, who were missing Jarrad McVeigh and Dan Hannebery due to injuries, goalless in the middle two quarters to take a shock 20-point three-quarter-time lead.
The Suns would kick three goals to two in the final quarter to eventually record a 24-point victory, adding the Swans to a list of teams they have beaten since entering the AFL in 2011, which is only missing the Adelaide Crows.
Though the Suns would not win another match until Round 2 the following year, it was an important victory for team morale and proved that they could match it with some of the competition’s best teams.
Unfortunately, there would be no sequel, with the Swans exacting revenge with a 42-point win at the SCG in Round 15 last year.