Collaboration with Oddschecker
More than 5 million viewers are expected to tune in for Saturday’s AFL Grand Final and it promises to be a thriller, pitting the formidable Storm against plucky underdogs the Cowboys. Neutrals will be hoping for a classic, full of excitement and intrigue, but it will have to be special to break into the five greatest AFL Grand Finals of all time. Here we run through the greatest finals since the AFL was inaugurated in 1990, when it succeeded the VFL, and they will all go down in history as magnificent sporting contests that captivated the nation:
- St Kilda vs Collingwood, 2010
If you were to name the greatest Grand Final in the 140-year history of the VFL and AFL, it would have to go to the 1996 bout between these two sides. St Kila defeated Collingwood in an absolute nail-biter in front of 102,055 fans at the MCG, sneaking home by one point after dazzling heroics by both sides. But they also played out a cracking contest in the AFL era, back in 2010, when it ended in a draw. It was the only final since the AFL began to end in a tie, and no final will ever finish in a draw again thanks to new extra-time rules. It is always an anti-climax when a big game ends in a draw, but the 2010 final will go down as a cracker thanks to St Kilda’s remarkable comeback. They trailed by 24 points at half-time and eight at three-quarter time, but were resurgent and eventually took an astonishing lead with a goal from Brendan Goddard. But they suffered heartbreak as a long kick from Lenny Hayes bounced awkwardly past Stephen Milne to level the scores in the final minute. Collingwood went on to thrash Saints in the replay, but fans will long remember the first game.
- Brisbane vs Collingwood, 2002
This was an enthralling game played out by two tough teams as heavy rain lashed down on the MCG. Collingwood were in their first final since 1994 and were not given much of a chance after finishing fourth in the ladder and overcoming the odds to beat Port Adelaide and Adelaide and set up a showdown with the defending champions, the Brisbane Lions. Collingwood were expected to succumb to a one-sided defeat, but they battled bravely throughout a marvellous back and forth spectacle as the teams traded goals and points with great regularity. The margin fluctuated between three, four and five points throughout the game, but a late goal from Jason Akermanis gave the Lions a nine-point margin and secured victory. They went on to become AFL premiers for three seasons in a row, but this was their greatest victory, in a tense, high-pressured game of wet-weather football.
- Hawthorn vs Sydney, 2012
Head over to Oddschecker for the odds for the 2017 Grand Final and you will see that the Storm are the heavy favourites to beat the Cowboys, but the underdogs can take heart from the 2012 final. Hawthorn went into this game as overwhelming favourites, but were undone by a spirited Sydney team. It started perfectly for Hawthorn, who opened up a 19-point lead at quarter-time and looked to be cruising to victory. But the Swans rallied to devastating effect in the second quarter as Mitch Morgan, Lance Franklin and Clinton Young turned a 19-point deficit into a 16-point lead at half-time. Then it was Hawthorn’s turn to emerge resurgent after the break in this remarkably open final. By the end of the third quarter they had reduced the deficit to just a single point, and at one point in the final quarter they were in front by 12 points. But inaccuracy hit them hard and Sydney banged in the final four goals of the game to secure a 10-point victory in an exhilarating contest decided by a final minute snap from Nick Malceski.
- Sydney vs West Coast, 2005
This was not one of the highest-scoring finals, but it deserves its status as a modern classic thanks to the superb defending exhibited by both teams in a really close contest. It was an intense tactical battle, reminiscent of a game of chess, and a great final for the purists. There were near misses, drama and intrigue aplenty as the game ebbed and flowed and the lead changed hands consistently. Sydney were the better team in the first half and went into the break with a 20-point lead, but West Coast were resurgent in the third quarter and got off to a flying start in the final quarter to move ahead by 10 points. However, Sydney scraped back into the lead and were clinging on for dear life in the final seconds as West Coast sent a long kick back to the half forward line by. Leo Barry was the hero as he took a spectacular mark in the middle of a pack of Eagles players. It ended a 72-year drought for the Swans and Barry would forever be famous for the move that caught the cup.
- West Coast vs Sydney, 2006
These two were at it again the following year and this Grand Final was the greatest battle we have seen in the AFL era. West Coast got their revenge by beating Sydney in the most nail-biting fashion imaginable, sneaking victory by a single point, 12.13.85 to 12.12.84, in a match that had everything you could wish for from a Grand Final. It was a higher-scoring and more exciting game than the previous year, but it had a similarly thrilling ebb and flow to it. The Eagles were by far the better team at the start and led by 25 points at half-time, but they would have been kicking themselves for failing to turn their dominance into an even greater margin, especially when Sydney clawed their way back into it in the third quarter. There were just 11 points in it going into the final quarter and Adam Goodes set the tone by scoring after just 11 seconds. Thereafter it was goal for goal until the end of the match in a wonderful display of end-to-end football where all caution was thrown to the wind. The Eagles’ lead fluctuated between one and seven points throughout, and stood at just one point in the final seconds, with West Coast desperately defending, and they held out to secure a famous victory in the most intense final quarter ever seen.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and has been covering the AFL for many years.