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The Roar


Grand Final heartbreak - the Pies and Lions who'll feel it the most

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29th September, 2023

Devastated, gutted and shattered – these are just some of the words to describe the feelings of players who, for various reasons, miss out on playing in a Grand Final.

If they said they felt frustrated, angry and threw in some expletives too, they could easily be forgiven.

And spare a thought for the emergencies on both sides too – those so close to being selected but falling agonisingly short.

Every year, there are heartbreak stories during the biggest week on the AFL calendar. Sometimes more than one.

In some cases, it can be controversial.

Full forward now-commentator Brian Taylor copped Grand Final heartbreak twice. In 1982 while playing for Richmond, he was selected and even ran out with the team only to be withdrawn. Then after, he crossed over to Collingwood, and he was not selected by Leigh Matthews to play in the 1990 premiership decider against Essendon.

In other cases, it can be career-ending and leave a lasting impact.


Just ask Derek Kickett. The versatile defender played every match in 1992 and 1993, up until the preliminary final of 1993.

Preparing to play the biggest game of his career, he was infamously omitted by Essendon Coach Kevin Sheedy for the 1993 Grand Final.

Sheedy opted to play a schoolkid instead, Dustin Fletcher, who went on to be more than just a handy defender.

The baby Bombers would go on to win that 1993 AFL Grand Final and Kickett, who was absolutely devastated, walked out on the club. He was inconsolable.

Such was the extent of Kickett’s hurt, it took him more than 25 years to forgive his former mentor.

In 2008, it was Hawthorn ruckman Simon Taylor. After playing most of the season, he was dropped for the Grand Final in favour of Brent Renouf. Having missed that chance at a flag, he ended up retiring before tasting premiership success.

Mark Blake was the unlucky one for Geelong that year.


Hawthorn’s Brendan Whitecross was incredibly unlucky. He played during a time when his side featured in five and won four Grand Finals but, unfortunately, was cruelly hit by injuries just as his team was on the verge of tasting premiership success and missed out.

Brad Sewell was a man who knew how to play on the big stage. He dominated for years including coming third in the Norm Smith medal voting in the Hawks’ 2008 premiership over Geelong. He was a stalwart of the club who had won a Peter Crimmins Medal.

So, it was seen as a harsh decision by master coach Alastair Clarkson to drop him after the qualifying final in 2014. And the Hawks’ star midfielder was not recalled for the Grand Final side that went on to win the second of three consecutive premierships.

Fast forward to 2021, and former Melbourne captain Nathan Jones who stuck fat with the club during some of its darkest days, was left out of the Grand Final side. Told he would not be selected leading up to the GF, the inspirational leader then left the club in Perth to be by his wife’s side as they welcomed their newest addition into the world. But one can only imagine the devastation he would have felt about the granny.

Nathan Jones of the Demons celebrates kicking a goal

Nathan Jones. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Jon Ceglar is another – after being named as an emergency during the Hawk’s premiership success, he moved to Geelong for that elusive flag, only to be named an emergency again in 2022 as the Cats won the Grand Final and Ceglar retired without ever getting a premiership medal.

Every year there’s heartbreak and this year is no exception.


So as Collingwood prepares to battle it out against the Brisbane Lions for the 2023 premiership, let’s look at some of this year’s unlucky ones.


1. Dan McStay – the former Lion who moved to the Pies at the end of 2022 now has to watch his current and his former side battle it out for every AFL player’s dream after suffering a season-ending, high-grade MCL strain in the preliminary final against the Giants. It was a cruel blow for the star forward.

2. John Noble – the Pies’ backman played every game of the season only to be dropped by coach Craig McRae on the eve of the finals. Footage was seen of the 26-year-old being shattered when he found out he would miss the qualifying final, so one can only imagine how he feels now after missing out on the big dance.

3. Taylor Adams – the Magpies’ vice-captain was desperate to prove his fitness and earn a recall for the Grand Final after he copped a hamstring strain a week out from the preliminary final. The 30-year-old was the first player out on the ground for Tuesday’s training session at the AIA Centre (Collingwood’s training base) but left the track early when he experienced more hamstring awareness and realised his worst nightmare – he wouldn’t be able to do it justice and take to the field with his teammates.

4. Ash Johnson – an athletic tall exciting forward. The 25-year-old fractured his arm during the VFL elimination final earlier this month. With McStay’s injury, a fit and firing Johnson would have been a great replacement for the key forward.

5. Finlay Macrae and Harvey Harrison – having been named as emergencies, the 21 and 19-year-old would be feeling gutted after coming so close to being selected. With age on their side, hopefully they will get their chance in the future but, as we know, there are no guarantees in footy.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 03: John Noble of the Magpies and Cameron Guthrie of the Cats in action during the 2022 AFL First Qualifying Final match between the Geelong Cats and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 3, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

John Noble. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Brisbane Lions:

1. Jarryd Lyons, James Tunstill, and ruckman Darcy Fort – listed as the emergencies, they came so agonisingly close. One of these unlucky players could get a late reprieve starting as the tactical sub.

2. Jack Payne – the experienced defender passed a major fitness test but unfortunately coach Chris Fagan and the selection committee opted to keep Darcy Gardiner after he did a superb job curtailing the influence of Carlton’s star full-forward Charlie Curnow in the preliminary final. The decision means Gardiner keeps his spot in the 22 while Payne has been listed as an emergency and will most likely have to watch his teammates battle it out. Despite playing 23 games for the Lions this season, including the dominant qualifying final victory over Port Adelaide, he suffered an injured ankle in that match and missed the prelim final win over the Blues.

3. Daniel Rich – a Lions’ stalwart who has been through all the dark times with the club but finally when they’re about to taste success, the defender with a spearing kick was left out in the cold (à la Nathan Jones in 2021). It’s a bitter blow for the retiring club legend.

Daniel Rich of the Lions runs with the ball

Daniel Rich. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

4. Will Ashcroft – the 19-year-old midfield gun was playing sublime footy when he suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee midway through the final term of Brisbane’s Round 19 victory over Geelong. He would have been a lock to play had he not suffered this setback.


5. Jack Gunston – surprisingly the triple premiership star at Hawthorn hasn’t even been named as a sub in Brisbane’s side. It’s an interesting decision, considering Chris Fagan would have recruited him to the club for his premiership experience but the veteran coach has declared he is reluctant to select players in finals who are not fully fit. While he’ll be disappointed not to run out with his Lions teammates, at least Gunston has tasted premiership success at the Hawks.

It can be a lonely feeling missing out, especially when all of their mates win a premiership on Saturday.

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So, spare a thought for those who came so close.