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The ten greatest grand finals of the last 30 years

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21st September, 2021
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21st September, 2021
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As the anticipation and excitement builds for the AFL grand final between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, the first tussle for the premiership between these two sides since 1954, it is timely to consider the best, most noteworthy ten deciders over the last 30 years.

As my previous article indicated, it is often the case that the preliminary finals produce the best games. Nonetheless there have been some historic and pulsating grand finals to consider. These are as follows in chronological order.

1992: West Coast 16.17.113 defeated Geelong 12.13.85
Norm Smith Medalist: Peter Matera
This one is notable for the first premiership going to a non-Victorian club. The Cats, seeking to end their premiership hoodoo, skipped out to a 28-point lead in the second quarter and looked to be on their way. However, they did not reckon on the power of the West Coast running brigade ably led by Dean Kemp, and a five-goal haul from Peter Matera from the wing no less, which landed the West Coast Eagles their first flag and Mick Malthouse his first flag, a feat repeated two years later against the same opponent.

1997: Adelaide 19.11.125 defeated St Kilda 13.16.94
Norm Smith Medalist: Andrew McLeod
The Adelaide Crows made many positional changes in the game, including the surprise selection and placement of Shane Ellen at full forward where he starred with five goals. Some Darren Jarman magic, including five goals in the last quarter, and a best afield performance by Andrew McLeod sealed the deal after St Kilda had got off the chain early in the match. Adelaide would go on to win back-to-back premierships, while for St Kilda, the grand final disappointments continued. The win was even more commendable given the absence through injury of Mark Ricciuto and Tony Modra.

Andrew McLeod runs with the ball

(Tony Lewis/Getty Images)

2002: Brisbane Lions 10.15.75 defeated Collingwood 9.12.66
Norm Smith Medalist: Nathan Buckley
The Brisbane Lions were overwhelming favourites against a battling Magpies side who fell into fourth spot at the end of the home-and-away season. On a rain-sodden MCG, this game was a close-fought one from beginning to end. There was the usual Magpies controversy with the non-goal to Anthony Rocca, and it took a snap from Jason Akermanis at the death to finally seal the game for the Lions. For Collingwood, it was yet more grand final heartache, a fact that would be repeated the following year against the same team. An enduring image of the game is the photo of Mick Malthouse and Paul Licuria in tearful embrace, knowing that their side had given it their all.

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2005: Sydney 8.10.58 defeated West Coast 7.12.54
Norm Smith Medalist: Chris Judd
The first of two pulsating grand finals between these two sides, this was the day that the Swans broke their 72-year-old hoodoo. After leading by 20 points at halftime, the Swans led at the final change by two points. The dour, tight struggle continued, punctuated by a howler from Luke Ablett, allowing Ben Cousins to goal from the goal square. Goals from Barry Hall and Amon Buchanan gave the Swans the edge. Of course, there was drama at the end when Eagles were in attack, held up by the “Leo Barry, you star” moment.

2006: West Coast 12.13.85 defeated Sydney 12.12.84
Norm Smith Medalist: Andrew Embley
The tables were turned just a year later as these two sides fought out another thriller. Some unheralded players, including Steven Armstrong with a clutch goal, stood up for the West Coast Eagles. It took a superb smother from Daniel Chick allowing Adam Hunter to goal that gave the Eagles some late breathing space but Nick Malceski goaled to get the Swans agonisingly close.

Ben Cousins of the Eagles celebrates after winning the AFL Grand Final match between the Sydney Swans and the West Coast Eagles

(Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

2009: Geelong 12.8.80 defeated St Kilda 9.14.68
Norm Smith Medalist: Paul Chapman
These two sides had played thrillers the whole season and it was not surprising that the decider was also played out in similar fashion. It was a tight, tough match, and it took a snap from Paul Chapman and a desperate toe poke from Matthew Scarlett to get the Cats over the line, continuing their trend of winning alternative years. For the Saints, the heartbreak continued.

2010: Collingwood 9.14.68 drew with St Kilda 10.8.68
Norm Smith Medalist: Lenny Hayes
Collingwood took the early ascendancy and skipped away to a 27-point lead, but were slowly and surely pegged back by the Saints. Then came the epic last quarter. A soaring pack mark and goal to Brendon Goddard, a huge dash and desperate smother by the Magpies’ skipper Nick Maxwell, and then that moment when the bounce eluded Stephen Milne, ensuring that the game was drawn as exhausted players lay strewn across the field. The Saints were literally just a few degrees of bounce away from a second premiership.

2012: Sydney 14.7.91 defeated Hawthorn 11.15.81
Norm Smith Medalist: Ryan O’Keefe
It took a snap from Nick Malceski to finally put the exclamation mark on this tight, tough affair. The Swans had to survive a fast start by Hawthorn and a withering burst by them in the third quarter. The Swans trailed the Hawks on every major indicator except the one that ultimately counts, the scoreboard. Ryan O’Keefe, Adam Goodes and Lewis Jetta were prominent for the Swans, while the lesser known Mitch Morton chipped in with a few timely goals. The Malceski snap sent the Swans propelling to their second flag in seven years, while Hawthorn were soon to be on the brink of their three-peat in the years ahead.

Adam Goodes looks on

Adam Goodes (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

2016: Western Bulldogs 13.11.89 defeated Sydney 10.7.67
Norm Smith Medalist: Jason Johannisen
As Bruce McAvaney put it, “the dam wall has burst” in describing the moment when the game was finally all over and the Western Bulldogs secured their first flag in 62 years, coming from seventh at the end of the home-and-away season. Raking runs from Norm Smith Medalist Jason Johannisen, a monster goal from Tom Boyd, an electric final quarter from Liam Picken, a cameo from the package Jake Stringer, and the cool poise of Jack Macrae – among other heroics – ended in a most famous victory for the traditional battlers from the west.

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2018: West Coast 11.13.79 defeated Collingwood 11.8.74
Norm Smith Medalist: Luke Shuey
As is their wont, Collingwood opened up the game in blazing fashion, skipping to a five-goal lead in the first quarter, before in the manner of a dripping tap, the West Coast slowly inched back and scores were level at the end of the third quarter. A couple of early goals in the last quarter had the Magpies faithful stirring, only for the moment of controversy when a free kick to Brayden Maynard was not awarded followed by a miracle goal from Dom Sheed. Collingwood still had their chances but a late saving mark by Jeremy McGovern cruelled yet again the premiership chances for the black and white.

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