I read with interest the comments from Alastair Clarkson about his criticism of the state of the game.
In what is expected to be the final edition of my AFL throwback series, we look back at an elimination final from 2015, a preliminary final from 2006, the emotional comeback and retirement of a Kangaroos club great, one of the biggest upsets of the 2017 season and Melbourne’s failed bid to match the four-in-a-row record held by Collingwood.
To the current state of affairs first, and unless there is a major change, the AFL’s plans to resume the premiership on June 11 remains on track, with fixtures for Rounds 2 to 5 having been released over the last week.
The competition will resume next Thursday with a clash between Collingwood and Richmond at the MCG, while there will also be a Showdown to look forward to before the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide temporarily move to their Gold Coast hub.
The two WA-teams, the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle have already set up camp on the holiday strip, and will remain there for at least a month while the state of Western Australia remains under the lock and key of their premier Mark McGowan.
The AFL has also not given up any hope of fans being permitted to attend matches this year, with plans well in place for their return. Fans would have their temperature checked upon entry into stadiums, and usage of the COVID-safe app would be mandatory.
In the meantime, for the final time (hopefully), sit back and enjoy while we guide you through past match-ups between the would-be Round 12 opponents.
Note: We only have six matches to look back at, because in the original fixture, six other teams (the Brisbane Lions, Essendon, Geelong Cats, Port Adelaide, St Kilda and West Coast Eagles) would have the bye this weekend in the normal world.
2015 Elimination Final: Adelaide Crows 16.13 (109) defeated Western Bulldogs 14.18 (102) at the MCG
Best on ground: Ricky Henderson (29 disposals)
Number one song on ARIA Charts: “How Deep Is Your Love” by Calvin Harris + Disciples
After the tragic mid-season passing of Phil Walsh in July 2015, many questioned whether the Adelaide Crows had the mental strength to plough on with eight matches remaining in the season.
Former Carlton champion Scott Camporeale was installed as caretaker coach and did a remarkable job in keeping the players focused on the task at hand, winning six of their final eight regular season matches to finish seventh on the ladder.
They were then drawn to face the sixth-placed Western Bulldogs at the MCG in an elimination final.
When the teams met earlier in the season at Etihad Stadium, the Dogs won by 57 points, after which the late Walsh threatened to have his players “jump off a jetty [into a cold sea of water]” if they lost the ‘ground ball get’ stat for a third straight week, which they did.
They probably would have learnt a lesson or two from that defeat, and were thus better equipped for another shot at the Dogs, who had overcome numerous injuries to key players to finish in the top eight for the first time since 2010.
A long night loomed for the men from West Lakes when the Bulldogs kicked four of the first five goals of the game, but a run of five straight from the Crows saw them lead by nine points at quarter-time.
From there, neither side managed to stretch the margin beyond 15 points, and in the end the men from West Lakes hung on for a seven-point victory, marking their first finals win away from South Australia since 2002.
Small forward Eddie Betts kicked five goals, while Ricky Henderson gathered 29 disposals for the victors. It was also Patrick Dangerfield’s final game for the Crows, as he was then traded to the Geelong Cats at season’s end.
As for the Bulldogs, it was a disappointing end to a season in which they exceeded expectations, having not been expected to feature that far into the season after losing captain Ryan Griffen and coach Brendan McCartney at the end of the previous season.
For his efforts in lifting the club back to the finals, rookie coach Luke Beveridge won the AFL Coaches Association coach of the year award, and then won it again the following year when they rose from seventh to claim an unexpected drought-breaking premiership.
2006 Preliminary Final: Sydney Swans 19.13 (127) defeated Fremantle 14.8 (92) at Telstra Stadium
Best on ground: Barry Hall (six goals)
Number one song on ARIA Charts: “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker” by Sandi Thom
The next match we will look back at involves Fremantle, who were playing in a preliminary final for the first time in their club history.
The Dockers had long been a target of criticism and ridicule for its constant underachieving since entering the AFL in 1995, and it wasn’t until 2006 that they were able to finally play to their potential.
After a mid-season loss to the Swans at the SCG left them at risk of missing finals for an eleventh time in twelve seasons, the Dockers embarked on a nine-match winning streak to finish the regular season in third place on the ladder.
They then lost a qualifying final to the Adelaide Crows at AAMI Stadium before returning home to face, and defeat, Melbourne in the semi-final to set up a preliminary final showdown against the Sydney Swans at Telstra Stadium.
The Swans, after finishing fourth, earned a home preliminary final after a gripping one-point win over West Coast in the other qualifying final at Subiaco Oval.
A quirk of the finals contracts and systems in place in both the AFL and NRL at the time meant that the Swans and the NRL’s Bulldogs played their preliminary finals at each other’s precincts on the same evening.
Thus, the Swans played their prelim at Telstra Stadium, which was (and still is) the Bulldogs’ home ground in the NRL, while the Bulldogs played their prelim against the Brisbane Broncos at the since-demolished Allianz Stadium, next door to the SCG, the Swans’ usual home ground.
The match itself saw the Swans lead from start to finish, but not before an almighty challenge from the Dockers who drew to within seven points at one stage in the third quarter.
However, fourteen goals between Barry Hall, Ryan O’Keefe and Michael O’Loughlin got the Swans home by 35 points, and into another Grand Final showdown which they would lose to the Eagles by a solitary point.
Matthew Pavlich was best for the Dockers with four majors, but they otherwise lacked composure in what was their first (of only two) match at the Olympic stadium in Sydney.
The two teams would again meet in a preliminary final in 2013, this time at Subiaco Oval, and as was the case in 2006, the Swans were also defending premiers. However, on this occasion, the Dockers won by 25 points.
Round 24, 2011: Hawthorn 16.10 (106) defeated Gold Coast Suns 14.13 (97) at Metricon Stadium
Brownlow Medal votes: 3. Gary Ablett Jr., 2. Luke Breust, 1. Brandon Matera
Number one song on ARIA Charts: “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye feat. Kimbra
When the Gold Coast Suns and Hawthorn faced off in the final round of the 2011 season, there was everything at stake for both clubs.
For the Suns, it was their final chance to officially avoid the wooden spoon, with only Port Adelaide below them with one round to play, and for Hawthorn, one final chance to warm up ahead of another finals series.
While many expected the Suns to struggle in their first season, they did well to win three games – against the Power, Brisbane Lions and Richmond – and were served well by first-year captain Gary Ablett Jr, who brought his individual form from Geelong to the holiday strip.
Thus, the Hawks, who were missing Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Luke Hodge, knew that they would be in for an almighty fight against a side that had performed admirably well in their first season, despite numerous heavy defeats.
The Suns started the stronger of the two sides, kicking five goals to four in the first quarter to lead by eight points at quarter-time. An even second quarter, in which both sides kicked three goals apiece, saw the Suns extend their lead to eleven points at the long break.
Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson would not have been impressed by what he saw from his troops, knowing that the finals was just around the corner and they couldn’t afford to let their guard down so close to the business end of the year.
The players responded to whatever he told them at half-time, kicking six goals to two in the third quarter to turn the match on its head and take a ten-point lead into the final change of ends.
A pair of goals to Brendan Whitecross extended the Hawks’ lead to 22 points, but the Suns would not go away, pegging back three goals to reduce the margin to just five points at the 24-minute mark of the final quarter.
Paul Johnson and Paul Puopolo would then kick the Hawks clear to safety, each kicking a goal to stretch their lead to 15 points.
Jacob Gillbee would peg back a goal for the Suns with less than a minute remaining, but the Hawks would escape with a nine-point win, and leave the Suns sweating on the result of the Port Adelaide vs Melbourne match the next day to see if they would finish last.
Unfortunately, the Power would beat the Dees by just eight points in the first ever AFL match to be played at the Adelaide Oval, ensuring they moved off the bottom of the ladder and sentenced the Suns to the wooden spoon.
Round 12, 2017: Carlton 10.11 (71) defeated GWS Giants 9.17 (71) at Etihad Stadium
Brownlow Medal votes: 3. Matthew Kreuzer, 2. Dylan Shiel, 1. Lachie Whitfield
Number one song on ARIA Charts: “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee
The on-field rivalry between the GWS Giants and Carlton went up a notch when the two teams faced off at Etihad Stadium on a cold Sunday afternoon in round 12 of the 2017 season.
Over 23,000 fans turned up for what was the only AFL game in Melbourne that day, and they got treated to a blockbuster.
The first goal came two minutes in, when Jonathan Patton landed the first for the Giants.
But it didn’t take long for the Blues to settle into the contest, with Levi Casboult and Matthew Wright both kicking a goal each to put them in front halfway through the opening quarter.
Another goal to Patton put the Giants back in front, but that would be the last time they saw the lead until the final quarter, as the Blues booted another two goals to lead by seven points at the first change.
The second quarter saw three goals kicked by each side, but the Blues would only extend their quarter-time lead by a point to lead by eight at the long break.
As was to be expected from a side that had reached the preliminary final the previous year, the Giants kicked two of the three third quarter goals to cut the deficit to four points, and the stage was set for a grandstand final quarter.
A goal to Dylan Shiel five minutes into the final quarter saw the Giants reclaim the lead, but they would fall back behind when ex-Giant Jed Lamb goalled to put the Blues back in front merely two minutes later.
Another goal to Wright saw the Blues extend their lead to seven, before another Shiel goal put the visitors back in front.
Leon Cameron’s men then got the lead back, but only by two missed shots at goal from Toby Greene. A missed shot from Casboult brought the scores level, before Zac Fisher kicked the best point of his career to put the Blues ahead by the barest of margins.
The Giants then went forward in an attempt to find a match-winner at the death, but the Blues would extract it out of defence and hang on to win by a solitary point.
Round 11, 2003: North Melbourne 13.14 (92) defeated Richmond 13.11 (89) at Telstra Dome
Brownlow Medal votes: 3. Shannon Grant, 2. Leigh Brown, 1. Adam Simpson
Number one song on ARIA Charts: “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence
For many North Melbourne supporters, this will forever go down as one of the most emotional days in the club’s recent history.
It was on June 6, 2003, when Jason McCartney made his AFL comeback eight months after nearly losing his life in the Bali bombings which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
As the survivors battled to fly out of Bali and back into safety in Australia after the bombings, McCartney remained in Bali for a few days and by the time he was sent in for treatment at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, he had lost over half of his skin and his body became infected.
He then spent six days in an induced coma as part of his recovery effort, and then defied the odds to first get married only two months after the bombings, and secondly make his AFL comeback against Richmond on a Friday night at the Telstra Dome in round 11, 2003.
The Kangaroos cheer squad organised a banner that read “WELCOME BACK JASON McCARTNEY, AN INSPIRATION TO ALL”.
McCartney started the match on the bench, and it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that he made an impact, converting a set shot at goal that gave the Roos an eight-point lead.
As the ball sailed into the Coventry End, the Richmond cheer squad stood up and applauded as one.
Then, with the Tigers ahead by three points, he kicked the ball forward to Leigh Harding, who converted on the run to give the Roos a three-point lead with less than two minutes remaining – and victory by that margin.
As the final siren went, Channel Nine commentator Dennis Cometti exclaimed, “Fairytales do come true!”.
In an on-field interview after the game, McCartney announced that he would be retiring with immediate effect, saying “because I’m spent, it’s been a tough time but that’s enough for me, mate”.
There was barely a dry eye among the 43,200 fans in attendance at the Dome.
It is also somewhat coincidental that the Evanescence song “Bring Me to Life” was the number-one charting song in Australia at the time of this match.
These days, McCartney is the General Manager of Football Operations at the Greater Western Sydney Giants, having previously served as the club’s list manager.
As part of the original 2020 fixture, which was binned after round one, had the Richmond vs North Melbourne match been scheduled for the Saturday (June 6) instead of the Sunday (June 7), it would’ve been played 17 years to the day since that emotional match at Docklands.
1958 VFL Grand Final: Collingwood 12.10 (82) defeated Melbourne 9.10 (64) at the MCG
Best on ground: Unknown
Number one song in Australia: “When” by The Kalin Twins
Finally we dig deeper than we’ve never dug before, all the way back to the 1958 VFL Grand Final between Melbourne and Collingwood at the MCG.
The Dees had won the previous three flags and were attempting to match the Collingwood class of 1927-30 in winning four consecutive premierships. It seemed coincidental that it would be the Pies they would face in their quest for a four-peat.
Norm Smith’s side went into the match as hot favourites, having not lost to the Pies for three years and having beaten them nine consecutive times in finals matches.
Additionally, the Pies had been thrashed by the Dees in the major semi-final, which meant they had to contest a preliminary final against North Melbourne the following week.
The black and whites subsequently beat the Roos by 20 points to win its way through to the Grand Final, and a rematch against the Dees. But without captain Frank Tuck and arguably their most talented player in Bill Twomey, they entered the decider as huge underdogs.
Indeed, the Dees started the match strongly, kicking five goals to two in the first quarter to lead by 17 points at quarter-time – 5.1 (31) to 2.2 (14) (does this sound familiar to you, Collingwood fans?).
But the Pies would start to work their way back into the match, kicking five goals to two in the second quarter to lead by two points at half-time.
They then kept the Dees goalless in the third quarter to set up a 33-point lead, and the Dees’ dream of a fourth straight premiership was quickly starting to turn into a nightmare.
The Pies themselves would be kept goalless in the final quarter, but the Dees could only manage two final quarter goals, reducing the final margin to 18 points and ensuring the Pies’ four-in-a-row record remained unmatched.
To that point in history, the Pies were the most successful club in the VFL, with 13 premierships – three ahead of Essendon (ten) and four ahead of Carlton (nine).
It wouldn’t be until another 32 years that the Pies would again taste premiership glory; in the intervention, they suffered what was known as the “Colliwobbles” – a period in which they contested nine Grand Finals for a return of eight losses and one draw between 1960 and 1981 inclusive.
As of 2020, the following still remains
* Only the Brisbane Lions (2001-03) and Hawthorn (2013-15) have managed to win three consecutive flags since Melbourne’s hat-trick of flags between 1955-57. In a cruel twist of irony, the Lions were denied a four-peat by a team that was known as the Magpies in the SANFL in 2004 (Port Adelaide, now known as the Power, won by 40 points).
* Collingwood’s 1958 premiership win was its most recent Grand Final win in September. They have only won two flags since then, in 1990 and 2010, and both were won in the month of October after two drawn matches (both involving the Pies) caused the decider (or, in the case of 2010, a replay scheduled) to be pushed back.
That was my final series of matches “From the Vault”, during which we have been digging through the archives to revisit past AFL matches while the season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Next weekend, barring any further hiccups, we will finally see a return to live AFL action, though fans will continue to be banned from attending matches owing to strict social distancing regulations banning non-essential mass gatherings of over 500 people.
Thursday, June 11
Collingwood vs Richmond at the MCG
Friday, June 12
Geelong Cats vs Hawthorn at GMHBA Stadium
Saturday, June 13
Brisbane Lions vs Fremantle at the Gabba
Carlton vs Melbourne at Marvel Stadium
Gold Coast Suns vs West Coast Eagles at Metricon Stadium
Adelaide Crows vs Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval
Sunday, June 14
GWS Giants vs North Melbourne at Giants Stadium
Sydney Swans vs Essendon at the SCG
St Kilda vs Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium