Bruce McAvaney cops a lot of flak these days, but he and Dennis Cometti are the last remnants of the older, superior commentators who actually trained as such and know how to give a situation its poetic grace.
Only those two, and surprisingly Anthony Hudson, have been able to apply the exact mot juste when required to these high-fraught situations.
2004: Brisbane defeat Port Adelaide
Very disappointing. Brisbane were chasing their fourth consecutive flag, an absolutely unique occasion that surely the commentary team should have built up pre-match.
More on the black holes that were the Nine/Ten-broadcasted grand finals below.
2005: Sydney defeat Geelong
“Nick Davis. Nick Davis! I don’t believe it. I see it, but I don’t believe it!” This is surely the greatest call in modern AFL broadcast history if only for the drinking games it inspired for every Swans-Cats match-up from here to eternity.
Hudson deserves credit for his enthusiasm here, given in his heart he’s a Cats man. Co-commentator Michael Christian was even losing it by Davis’ third goal, “don’t tell me! Don’t tell me!”, never mind the fourth.
I categorically refuse to accept “Leo Barry, you star!” as a great call. It’s better than “Barry takes the mark,” but is not that momentous.
2006: West Coast defeat Sydney
“Who would have thought the sequel would be just as good as the original?” Unlike the spontaneous outcry of 2005, surely Hudson planned this one in advance.
The Seven-broadcasted grand finals have a certain gravitas that the Nine/Ten-broadcasted ones lack; think 2008 and 2010, purely on McAvaney and Cometti’s commentary.
For sheer strength of lines, Hudson was the only outsider who could hang with those two.
2008: Hawthorn defeat Geelong
“Do you get the impression it’s now Geelong hanging on instead of Hawthorn? I do.” This is not memorable but it is clairvoyant and vindication for McAvaney.
About a minute before Stuart Dew begins his barrage in the third quarter, the Hawks were up by a few points and the ball was end-to-end, with many of us still wondering when Geelong would finally take control of this thing.
2010: St Kilda drew with Collingwood
“Anything will do for St Kilda.” McAvaney, with the ball 20 metres out from St Kilda’s goal with about 40 seconds left.
I still don’t actually know how Collingwood cleared that ball and if you freeze-frame there are around six Saints charging towards the ball in a line, defended by only Ben Reid and Heath Shaw.
To think a rushed behind in that play would have won a premiership, the mind boggles.
2012: Sydney defeat Hawthorn
“Sydney are premiers!” Cometti this time. Concise and exactly on point.
McAvaney was actually a tad annoying here, always saying, “and that’s a win for Sydney/Hawthorn” for every single boundary throw-in.
At that moment the camera unwisely cut away from the beautiful vista of six Swans chasing Nick Malceski like a flock of seagulls to show a deserted scene from Sydney.
“This is big. This is really big. It’s a dead-set massive moment!” McAvaney, on Clinton Young falling in the goal square. The camera exacerbated this by immediately showing some random honcho turn his back on the game and leave, as if in disgust at how the game had swung against Hawthorn.
2014: Hawthorn defeat Sydney
Hawthorn defeat Swans: “Well this is magnificent football.” McAvaney, in awe.
Luke Hodge had just scored Hawthorn’s fourth goal in as many minutes. What more could you say when the grand final is decided three-eighths of the way in?
(Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
2016: Western Bulldogs defeat Swans
In Cometti’s last game, the two outdid themselves in a last quarter that’s still hard to believe actually happened.
“Unrelenting, this game.” Cometti, introducing the second half.
“The package might deliver a cup!” McAvaney’s reaction to Jake Stringer scoring out of nowhere.
“Tom Boyd goes long. How will it bounce? The stadium holds its breath. It’s a goal! And the Western suburbs erupt.” This one became relatively famous.
To prove Cometti really had his finger on the pulse, his simple, “they fear things like this” to Jason Johannisen’s goal being disallowed neatly summed up Bulldog fan fatalism.
“It’s over!” McAvaney, to Liam Picken running into the open, sealing the goal.
2017: Richmond defeat Adelaide
Now, I’m of the minority opinion that, like children, grand finals are all beautiful. Even the terrible ones, because there is only one every year, they all have their exciting build-up and provide a story afterwards.
They each have their own non-repeatable colours, and even the blowouts are by definition close at the start and have turning points.
This game and even the colours were duds – Richmond’s change strip – but the fallout was unbeatable. If you had told me pre-game that one of those clubs would not only easily win the match but go on to become the dominant team of the competition, while the loser would go into a generational spiral, I’d have had no trouble believing it.
Need I add that I historically expected Richmond to be the latter?
“Well, Adelaide have to stand up here.” Everyone jokes that the first time it occurred to them that Richmond could win the 2017 premiership was halfway through the third quarter.
This was the moment when the Tigers had scored the first three goals and were up by five, McAvaney stated that line, disbelieving, and the camera swept over dumbfounded Crows supporters.
As a young’un present at the 1997 preliminary final, I was glad the Crows finally had a stain they could never expunge. By 2020 I actually felt sorry for them, which was just unthinkable.
Jack Riewoldt. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Media/Getty Images)
2018: West Coast defeat Collingwood
The Bulldogs won their flag just in the nick of time for Cometti to add some additional beauty to the occasion.
Imagine if he could have spoken through Dom Sheed’s shot at goal? Sigh.
This is not a comprehensive list, so, feel free to add more below as I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. Jezza you beauty is a given, you don’t need to add that one.