What is the greatest grand final of all time?
It’s a question that will lead to broad discussion and controversial opinions at every footy gathering under the sun – and is the perfect fodder for a pre-gran final barbecue chat this Saturday.
So to help you out, I’ve gone through all 24 deciders played in the 2000s (including the 2010 draw), and ranked them from best to worst.
Will you agree with me? Almost certainly not! Should it matter? Hell, no! Let’s begin.
24. 2019, Richmond 17.12 (144) defeated GWS 3.7 (25) by 89 points
Good Lord, was this a tough watch.
From the moment the quarter time siren sounded with Daniel Rioli driving through a long goal to put Richmond, after a slow start, seven points ahead, this game felt over as a contest – and so it proved.
There were some nice moments – Marlion Pickett’s first goal and the subsequent pandemonium was iconic, and Trent Cotchin’s late major really should get more fanfare (but by then, I assume nearly everyone had tuned out) – but this was putrid. The worst grand final of my lifetime, and not a single Richmond fan I’ve spoken to has this as their favourite of the three Tiger premierships.
23. 2022, Geelong 20.13 (133) defeated Sydney 8.4 (52) by 81 points
In a lot of ways, last year’s mind-numbing big dance was even more excruciating than the Tigers lamping the Giants three years earlier: the match was over as a contest before quarter time, with the Cats six goals to one up by the first break, and the entire second half was effectively party time.
Gets a bonus point – and off the bottom – for mending Joel Selwood’s reputation at a stroke: from his heartwarming interactions with Levi Ablett, Sam Morfoot and Auskicker Archie Stockdale, to putting the exclamation mark on his career with a wonderful goal in the dying minutes, everyone fell in love with Joel that day.
22. 2000, Essendon 19.21 (135) defeated Melbourne 11.9 (75) by 60 points
The only grand final I’ve not seen in its entirety – I got bored and turned off a replay halfway through the third quarter – this was another one-sided outing that was over before half time.
Really, it was over before it started – the Bombers were as short-priced a favourite as we’ve seen in a generation, and really the game just served as a prolonged victory lap to complete the greatest individual season ever.
Watch if you’re a Bombers fan yearning for nostalgia, but otherwise, just take solace from the fact it was the beginning of the end for the Dons.
21. 2014, Hawthorn 21.11 (137) defeated Sydney 11.8 (74) by 63 points
“The captain kicks the tenth! He can feel that cup in his hands, I reckon!”
When Luke Hodge cut off a kick-in and goalled to put the Hawks 47 points ahead after a quarter and 12 minutes, this game was done.
Yet another grand final snooze-fest – except if your heart bleeds brown and gold – this is basically the unloved middle child of the Hawks’ three-peat. It only gets up to 21st on this list because Alastair Clarkson’s men were absolutely sensational that day, for what was perfectly summed up by Bruce McAvaney after the siren as their ‘masterpiece’.
19. 2015, Hawthorn 16.11 (107) defeated West Coast 8.13 (61) by 46 points
Another year, another Hawthorn massacre in a grand final. The mid-2010s were a tough slog if you followed anyone else.
This gets elevated out of ‘unwatchable’ mostly for how spectacular Cyril Rioli was, particularly early: among the most compelling players of his generation, his crowning jewel was a delight to witness, especially when his Norm Smith win was so secure that Hawks fans were chanting ‘Cyril’ as it was being announced. (And Andrew McLeod presenting it – the script couldn’t have been written any more perfectly.)
Other than that, this was one-sided from start to finish barring a period to start the third term where the Eagles brought the margin back to 25 points… only for Jack Darling to land on the podium for grand final comedy moments with a dropped sitter to snuff out all their momentum.
18. 2007, Geelong 24.19 (163) defeated Port Adelaide 6.8 (44) by 119 points
Yep, the most one-sided grand final in history isn’t even in the lowest tier!
Why? Two reasons: the first is that, while the bottom four were all only watchable for the winning club’s supporters in the last quarter, 2007 was at least compelling out of a morbid curiosity to see just how bad the pummelling would get. It’s the first and only 100-point decider in history, and with the margin at 90 at three-quarter time it was actually quite interesting for my nine-year old self to witness the extent of the humiliation.
The other is that the Cats played the perfect grand final: honestly, it’s worth watching for neutral supporters just for how stone cold brilliant they were. Ferociously fast, brutal in defence and with the most exquisite skills, no team in my footy-watching lifetime would have got close to the Cats that day. Port were just unlucky to be the ones who drew the short straw.
18. 2010 replay, Collingwood 16.12 (108) defeated St Kilda 7.10 (52) by 56 points
Every one-sided grand final has a moment where you know, in your heart of hearts, that it’s over: this one was at least memorable. You surely know what moment I’m talking about.
Aside from that famous moment, though, this was grim, especially if you were raised on a diet of Collingwood hatred like I was. 12 years old at the time, I distinctly remember my dad coming home in a filthy mood having spent the afternoon in the MCC Members surrounded by jubilant Magpies fans – he’s dreading a repeat this Saturday.
17. 2017, Richmond 16.12 (108) defeated Adelaide 8.12 (60) by 48 points
Bonus points for being a drought-breaking premiership AND an underdog story, but that and the second quarter in which the Tigers turned the tide are about the only memorable things about this grand final.
The day that a great Crows team was sent spinning into utter disarray – remember the power stance? The camp? The bus where they played the Richmond theme song over and over? – this day will always hold a special place in Tigers fans’ hearts. For the rest of us, though, just skip to the bit where Jack Riewoldt sings Mr Brightside with The Killers.
16. 2003, Brisbane 20.14 (134) defeated Collingwood 12.12 (84) by 50 points
On the plus side – a Collingwood grand final loss is always good fun for us neutrals!
On the minus – this was more a Hawthorn-esque crowning jewel on an all time great team, the Lions seldom troubled, 42 points up at half time and getting to enjoy the last 15 minutes with no fear of a comeback. Worth watching just to see Jason Akermanis utterly light it up with the best non-Norm Smith-winning performance I’ve ever seen.
15. 2005, Sydney 8.10 (58) defeated West Coast 7.12 (54) by 4 points
Just because a game is close doesn’t mean it’s any good – and if I needed to defend that point, the 2005 grand final would be the first slide of my PowerPoint presentation.
The tight finish – plus, of course, “LEO BARRY YOU STAR!” – means just about every footy fan has watched at least a bit of this one, but a combination of dour Swans defence and some abysmal foot skills made this the lowest-quality grand final I’ve watched.
I’ll also die on the hill that Chris Judd’s Norm Smith Medal was every bit as unearned as Jason Johannisen’s 11 years on; no, I will not be taking questions.
14. 2021, Melbourne 21.14 (140) defeated Western Bulldogs 10.6 (66) by 74 points
For three quarters and 25 minutes, this was a great grand final: sure, it went to hell, especially for us Bulldogs fans, but you can’t tell me that up until then it wasn’t compelling.
A red-hot start from the Demons, matched by a sizzling Bulldogs comeback to turn a 21-point quarter time deficit into a 19-point lead halfway through the third, and the turnaround was staggering. Plus, of course, the ‘Mad Minute’ to end that term was utterly spectacular for everyone – I’ve even watched it again a few times, just to convince myself it really happened.
If you’ve only got time to watch the first three quarters of any grand final, this might be the one to pick.
13. 2013, Hawthorn 11.11 (77) defeated Fremantle 8.14 (62) by 15 points
The best of the Hawks’ threepeat of flags… but I’m still not sure it was properly good.
The final margin is deceptive – this game was over halfway through the last and the Hawks never trailed – but while Freo were never put away, Ross Lyon’s commitment to dour defence made this one a hard slog at times to get through.
The dictionary definition of a ‘meh’ grand final: much like Birds of Tokyo’s pre-match performance that day, certainly not putrid enough to be unforgettable and I wouldn’t blame you for not remembering a minute of it either.
12. 2004, Port Adelaide 17.11 (113) defeated Brisbane 10.13 (73) by 40 points
Like 2021 but on a smaller scale, the first two and a half quarters of this game, before Port and Gavin Wanganeen kicked it to bed, were great.
From there, though, the last term was just a victory lap with the tension removed; an unlike other grand finals of its like further up this list, the skill level wasn’t quite good enough to merit a higher place than mid-table. Bonus points for Alastair Lynch trying to kill Darryl Wakelin in the last proper grand final punch-on we’ll probably ever see.
11. 2020, Richmond 12.9 (81) defeated Geelong 7.8 (50) by 31 points
More than any other grand final, this one really bugs me, because it really should have been a classic. Yet Tigers-Cats games of this era tended to follow a similar path: evenly fought or even in Geelong’s advantage for the first half, and then turning on a dime.
It’s why, despite some compelling drama – Dustin Martin’s third, and greatest, Norm Smith the pick of the bunch – I can’t have it any higher than 11th. From the moment Jack Riewoldt goalled in the first minute of the third quarter, it felt like the Tigers had it despite still being nine points down – and the Cats from there offered scant resistance as the match slowly but inevitably was ripped from them.
10. 2001, Brisbane 15.18 (108) defeated Essendon 12.10 (82) by 26 points
This was actually a pretty fun grand final – but I also think it’s the most widely forgotten one of the 21st century. It serves as just ‘the one that started it all’ for the Lions’ hat-trick of flags, and while it’s better than that, I think it also suffers from having no proper iconic moments like so many others on this list – even the floggings.
Still, for the Lions to be 14 points down at half time and come storming over the top of the year’s best team was spectacular, so it’s definitely worth a rewatch.
9. 2006, West Coast 12.13 (85) defeated Sydney 12.12 (84) by 1 point
“Who would have thought the sequel would be just as good as the original?” was Anthony Hudson’s famous proclamation at the final siren – sorry, Huddo, but this was a million miles better than 2005.
Higher-scoring, with better skills from start to finish and a slashing performance from Andrew Embley to claim the Norm Smith, this was a perfectly good grand final until a hectic final minutes to push this up until the second-top tier.
Daniel Chick’ smother, Adam Hunter’s goal, the closeness of the final margin… and fittingly, the Eagles and the Swans, the two greatest rivals of the mid-2000s, would end with one flag apiece. Can’t say fairer than that!
8. 2016, Western Bulldogs 13.11 (89) defeated Sydney 10.7 (67) by 22 points
“BOYD’S KICKED A GOAL! FROM INSIDE THE CENTRE SQUARE! F–K!”
Any Bulldogs fan worth their salt has spam-replayed the final 15 minutes to infinity – but even if the final margin doesn’t reflect it, this was a properly excellent grand final between two evenly-matched teams.
Was the umpiring great? No (and of course no one will take me seriously if I say it wasn’t as bad as it seemed – so maybe just take Has the Umpire Made a Bad Decison’s Twitter summary for proof), but if you’re not a Sydney fan and your first assessment of a day that was wildly entertaining – and close – throughout, plus so meaningful to so many people, is to claim it was ruined by the umps I don’t think you’re enjoying footy fandom as much as you could be.
That it’s down in eight is mostly because the top seven are of such high quality – as much as we complain about grand finals being fizzers more often than not, we’ve also been lucky enough to see some truly terrific encounters!
7. 2002, Brisbane 10.15 (75) defeated Collingwood 9.12 (66) by 9 points
The second-toughest grand final of the 21st century – more on the first later – this was as hard-fought a game of footy as you will ever see. At no point did the margin reach double figures for either side, and with the advent of the five-minute warning for the first time thanks to the dawn of Ten’s coverage, fans watching on TV could claim to still have doubts over the result right up until the final siren.
Jason Akermanis’ last-quarter match-sealer might be the defining moment out of this one, but the conditions and the brutality of both sides just made this game a more difficult watching experience than some of the ones higher up this list, hence its spot here.
6. 2008, Hawthorn 18.7 (115) defeated Geelong 11.23 (89) by 26 points
The quintessential grand final upset, I don’t think this game gets the respect it deserves.
I’d argue 2008 was the most entertaining footy season of all time – scores were high, the footy was breathtaking and the top teams played with an aggression and gusto never to be repeated as everyone tried to mimic Geelong – and the decider certainly lived up to that.
There was drama – Cam Mooney missing on the half time siren for a Cats scoreline of 6.12, Brent Guerra changing the rushed behind rule overnight with an orgy of handballs back over the line – and of course no Hawthorn fan will ever forget THOSE five minutes from the ‘unlikely, bulky hero’ Stuart Dew late in the third.
My core memory, though, is Cyril Rioli’s incredible effort to win a three-on-one late in the third quarter on the wing: the first, but certainly not the last, time he’d pull off what seemed to be impossible at the MCG.
5. 2010 draw, Collingwood 9.14 (68) drew with St Kilda 9.14 (68)
The last quarter of the first 2010 grand final is the greatest, tensest, and most compelling I’ve ever watched live, and more than makes up for the first three being decent but far from spectacular.
That final term, though… Nick Maxwell getting a touch to Nick Riewoldt’s snap right on the line, Brendon Goddard’s iconic hanger that would have been remembered forever had the Saints got up, and of course, the bounce of fates that left Stephen Milne the ultimate AFL embodiment of ‘what might have been’.
4. 2011, Geelong 18.11 (119) defeated Collingwood 12.9 (81) by 38 points
It’s a great shame the Cats kicked five goals to none in the last quarter to blow the margin out, because the first three quarters of this one were some of the greatest any grand final has ever seen.
I’ve never seen a grand final, live or replay, with a higher skill level: the Cats and Pies were at the top of their game, and it showed. Tom Hawkins came of age and marked everything (you’ll always be MY Norm Smith, Tom), and with twists and turns, momentum swings, purple patches and even a score review controversy, this was a joy to watch.
Even the last quarter was compelling: from Travis Varcoe running end to end to kick an iconic grand final goal to start the rot in the last, to Cameron Ling icing his career in just as sweet fashion as Selwood would manage 11 years later with a final-term captain’s goal, it’s certainly worth a watch.
If you could combine the first three quarters of this game with the last of the 2010 draw, you’d have one of the greatest matches of all time.
3. 2009, Geelong 12.8 (80) defeated St Kilda 9.14 (68) by 12 points
Remember when I said the 2002 grand final was the second-most brutal ever? This one is on top.
Perhaps the hardest, most gruelling game of footy ever played, this was an arm-wrestle from start to finish; at time on in the last quarter, the scores were even tied, before a Matthew Scarlett toe-poke started a famous chain of events that led to Paul Chapman’s game-winner.
There was drama to boot as well – Darren Milburn giving up a double-goal by sticking two fingers up at umpire Steve McBurney nicely cancelling out Hawkins’ goal that hit the post – and with the margin only getting to 12 points thanks to a Max Rooke goal after the siren, I’m quite comfortable calling this a six-point game.
2. 2018, West Coast 11.13 (79) defeated Collingwood 11.8 (74) by 5 points
A lot of people have this classic up the very top of their lists – and it’s hard to disagree.
The ultimate grand final thriller, Dom Sheed’s winning goal – and the end-to-end play that led to it – will be replayed forever and a day. As will Collingwood kicking the first five goals of a grand final and losing, perhaps the greatest ‘Colliwobble’ of all, if 28 years after they’d put that curse to bed.
With iconic moments – Liam Ryan flattening Brayden Maynard, the Magpies runner blocking Jaidyn Stephenson and leading to an Eagles goal in the third quarter, Jordan De Goey putting the Pies in front in the first 20 seconds of the last – everywhere you looked and an utterly thrilling finish, this was truly one of the greats.
Just not the greatest.
1. 2012, Sydney 14.7 (91) defeated Hawthorn 11.15 (81) by 10 points
The most underrated decider in footy history, I’m pleased to see this game start to get some more love in recent years.
One of my few regrets as a neutral footy fan is that this is the only grand final since 2005 I didn’t see live – I was coming home from a school trip to China, and while I did my best to avoid spoilers, a glimpse of red and white on a TV screen in the airport and a classmate telling me the score and Norm Smith winner while pretending he was joking gave the game away. Max, if you’re reading this, you’re still a prick.
So why do I rate this game so highly? Simple – it had absolutely everything.
A thrilling finish? Yep – the game was only decided with Nick Malceski’s left-foot snap with 40 seconds to go.
A tight tussle? Yep – with one point between them at three-quarter time, this match ebbed and flowed like no game I’ve seen before or since.
Momentum swings? Yep – the Hawks were 19 points up at quarter time, before the Swans kicked the next eight goals to dominate the next term and a half, only to see the Hawks bang on five goals in 15 minutes with some of the best footy they played in their golden era to lead again.
Then, two goals behind in the last term, the Swans kicked the last four of the game to take the points. Unreal.
Magic moments? Everywhere. Cyril Rioli chasing Lewis Jetta down the wing in the first term (“It’s a main event in any stadium in the world!” – Dennis Cometti). Dan Hannebery’s courageous mark while getting poleaxed by David Hale. Kieren Jack snatching the ball from a falling-over Clint Young in the goalsquare to tie the scores halfway through the last. Adam Goodes defying a torn PCL to play through the pain and snap the go-ahead goal late.
There was even drama; from Lance Franklin’s wayward goalkicking spoiling one of his most brilliant games, to Sam Mitchell giving away a 50m penalty with a sloppy return of the footy to gift the Swans a goal and the lead on the troke of thee quarter time, to Jack Gunston, a dead-eye all season, hitting the post with three minutes to go that would have put the Hawks in front.
In fact, I think this game a better one, if not quite as high-skilled, as the famous 2009 home-and-away clash between Geelong and St Kilda, regarded as the greatest match ever played.
Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.