Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
As Collingwood’s premiership celebrations continued, the debate turned in earnest to this undoubtedly great grand final’s place in the pantheon of AFL deciders. Outgoing CEO Gillon McLachlan had already declared it the equal of any day of live sport he’d experienced.
Setting aside recency bias, though, how do you judge a great grand final? We looked at all the grand finals of the AFL era (since the competition turned national in 1990) and used three criteria to compile a top 10.
Captain Darcy Moore and coach Craig McRae celebrate Collingwood’s win over Brisbane.Credit: Michael Willson
First, the margin. Was it close? Tick. Second, the spectacle. Was the footy good to watch, with tough contests and exhilarating moments? Again, thanks to the skill of Bobby Hill and Zac Bailey and the bravery of Jeremy Howe and others, a big tick. Finally, the emotion. The 2023 grand final had it in spades, thanks to the Magpies’ tortured history in grand finals and the subplots around the Daicos, Moore and McRae families.
All three measurements are subjective, but after much deliberation and input from the likes of commentator and 1986 Coleman medallist Brian Taylor, 1990 Norm Smith medallist and premiership captain Tony Shaw,and triple-premiership Brisbane Lion Alastair Lynch, here are the games we rate as the top 10 grand finals since 1990.
But first, the honourable mentions
West Coast defeat Geelong (1992)
Under coach Mick Malthouse and with five goals from Peter Matera, the Eagles became the first interstate club to win a VFL-AFL premiership, the state of Western Australia in rapture.
Adelaide defeat St Kilda (1997)
Darren Jarman had another day out, booting six goals, including five in the final term, as the Crows celebrated their maiden flag.
Western Bulldogs defeat Sydney (2016)
The teary emotions of Bulldogs supporters, who had almost seen their club merge in 1989, were on full display when the Dogs claimed only their second premiership, edging the Swans by 22 points.
Melbourne defeat Western Bulldogs (2021)
Pandemic restrictions meant the AFL grand final was held interstate for the second straight season, the Demons producing an unforgettable third-term comeback to torpedo the Bulldogs at Perth Stadium.
The top 10. Drum roll, please
10. Richmond defeat Adelaide by 48 points (2017)
This was another blowout result but it was Richmond’s first triumph since 1980, and came after coach Damien Hardwick was on the verge of getting the sack a year earlier. Dustin Martin claimed the first of his three Norm Smith Medals, this capping one of the great individual seasons, for he was also the Brownlow medallist. The Tigers embraced a new mantra of being emotionally vulnerable, and they left the Crows, who had led by 11 points at the first change, a rabble.
9. Essendon defeat Carlton by 44 points (1993)
It may seem odd to have a seven-goal win in the top 10, but the emotion of this victory by the “Baby Bombers”, toppling the favoured and more experienced Blues, remains as much of a talking point among the Essendon faithful today as it did then. The Bombers got the jump and never looked back. Michael Long was brilliant with 33 touches and two goals, including one over the outstretched hand of Stephen Silvagni. Paul Salmon booted five goals, while Gavin Wanganeen and Mark Mercuri were among the best. Blues skipper Steve Kernahan booted seven goals.
Michael Long leaps for joy after his defining goal in Essendon’s 1993 premiership.Credit: Sebastian Costanzo
8. Collingwood defeat Essendon by 48 points (1990)
There have been few more emotional victories than this, the Magpies storming to their first flag since 1958, after nine unsuccessful grand final attempts in 32 years. There was a wild brawl, Peter Daicos’ brilliance and 32 touches from skipper Tony Shaw, who had endured his fair share of heartache. The spectacle wasn’t great – the running joke remains who kicked five goals for Essendon? Answer: Essendon – but the vigour with which the Magpies partied for months highlighted what this premiership meant.
Brian Taylor, now a prominent Seven commentator who calls the grand final, was a heartbreak omission from the ’90 playoff because of a bung knee, but insists the stirring post-game celebrations were unprecedented.
“I don’t think that has ever been equalled. I think the emotion of 1990 is the greatest emotion that we will ever see because, not just the game, not just the dinner, not just the next day, but that night Johnston St, the bus ride from the Southern Cross [Hotel] back to the ground, it really was like the Beatles, people lining the streets. I have never seen anything like it, and I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it again,” Taylor said.
7. Hawthorn defeat Geelong by 26 points (2008)
There were 29 combined goals in this high-scoring clash. The Hawks were on the rise, but this premiership was delivered a year or two earlier than expected. The Cats, who won 21 of 22 games through the home-and-away season, were heavily favoured, but poor kicking for goal hurt (they were 6.12 to half-time). On a hot afternoon, the Hawks lost Trent Croad to injury, but had Luke Hodge as the Norm Smith medallist, edging Ablett for the top award. Lance Franklin booted two goals. The Hawks, with then skipper Sam Mitchell, Hodge and Jarryd Roughead as the centrepieces, went on to enjoy a three-peat between 2013-15, but the ’08 premiership is a standout.
Collingwood great Tony Shaw, the 1990 Norm Smith medallist, said the Hawks’ ability to defy predictions had been a standout.
“Nobody thought the Hawks would get it done. That was the big thing,” he said.
A teenage Rioli lights up the 2008 grand final.Credit: Paul Rovere
6. Sydney defeat West Coast by four points (2005)
This was a dour affair, the two teams combining for only 15 goals (the Magpies and Lions combined for 11 alone in the second term on Saturday). Stoppages were prevalent, leading to the closest result, at that time, since the 1977 grand final. A classic image remains Leo Barry’s famous pack mark in defence, which denied the Eagles the chance to kick what would have been the winning goal. Chris Judd, despite being on the losing side, was the Norm Smith medallist. The Eagles may have won a heart-stopper a year later by one point, but ’05 was the Swans’ first flag since the club left for Sydney more than two decades earlier. The emotion was palpable. Paul Roos’ immortal words upon taking hold of the premiership cup – “here it is” – are still recited by Swans fans.
Shaw, now a 3AW commentator, said the contested-ball toughness of both sides ensured this was a game to remember.
“That was a brilliant game, that was tough. The Swans, to get across the line, after 70-odd years, that was emotional. They had two grand final in two years under a goal. That was the era of really defensive footy. They were great contests, but I like our footy to be a bit more attacking,” Shaw said.
Leo barry’s famous mark in 2005.Credit: Getty Images
5. Brisbane Lions defeat Collingwood by nine points (2002)
The Lions enjoyed a triple treat of premierships between 2001 and 2003. The ’01 flag, the club’s first in the Brisbane era, when they beat up on a limping Essendon was emotional, while the ’03 triumph was heroic, but was a blowout result. The ’02 decider was the best spectacle, and equally heroic. Led brilliantly all day by skipper Michael Voss, the Lions booted two goals in the final minute of the third term to lead by four points at the start of the last. In a torrid final quarter, it was not until Jason Akermanis snapped a left-foot goal 24 minutes in, giving the Lions a nine-point lead, that they were safely home on a wet afternoon. It was the biggest margin all day. Buckley was Norm Smith medallist.
Alastair Lynch, the Lions forward who booted four goals that day, and is now a Fox Footy commentator, said his team had embraced the big moments.
“I didn’t appreciate how close it was or how much of a chance Collingwood had. When you talk about moments, more than Collingwood did in 2002, we seized our moments, and they maybe missed a couple, which includes the (Anthony) Rocca point or goal, whichever that really was,” Lynch said.
4. Collingwood and St Kilda draw (2010)
This wasn’t a high-scoring game – there were only 19 combined goals – but it was a memorable spectacle. The Saints had a chance to pinch victory when, trailing by a point with 90 seconds remaining, a 60-metre kick by Norm Smith medallist Lenny Hayes landed 10m in front of the right behind post, but didn’t give Stephen Milne the friendly bounce he wanted. The ball dribbled through for a tying point, sealing just the third grand final draw in VFL-AFL history. Brendon Goddard, who took a spectacular mark in the final term, and Dale Thomas were strong all game. Draws spark a range of emotions, Nick Maxwell’s clear when the Magpies captain said it was an “absolute joke” there was no overtime. For the record, the Magpies won the replay the following Saturday by 56 points.
3. West Coast defeat Collingwood by five points (2018)
In terms of spectacle and margin, this was a classic, and wasn’t decided until the dying minutes after a sequence of play beginning with Jeremy McGovern’s mark in defence, and ending with a mark in the forward pocket by Dom Sheed, who slotted through a 45m goal on the boundary line, gave the Eagles a four-point lead. The Magpies had led by 29 points at quarter-time, but scores were locked at the final break. Luke Shuey was the Norm Smith medallist and Magpies coach Nathan Buckley yet again denied the prize he craved.
West Coast broke Collingwood hearts in 2018.Credit: Eddie Jim
Taylor said the coast-to-coast play culminating in Sheed’s goal remained firmly in mind, ensuring this was one of the best grand finals of the past three decades.
“The one moment for me, there was the Sheed goal, but the build-up, from defence down that southern side, the Shane Warne Stand side, that whole play was full of other possibilities,” Taylor said.
2. Geelong defeat St Kilda by 12 points (2009)
There was all-too-familiar grand final heartbreak for the Saints in this low-scoring game, this time Matthew Scarlett’s famous toe-poke in the centre circle denying them potential victory. With four minutes remaining, Scarlett, against two Saints opponents, nudged the ball forward to Gary Ablett, leading to a pivotal Paul Chapman goal. In cold and wet conditions, Chapman was awarded the Norm Smith Medal for his three goals, while St Kilda’s Jason Gram also polled strongly. This was a robust contest, the Cats’ emotions spilling over after the disappointment of a season earlier. “That was up there [in the rankings],” Shaw said.
Heart stopper: The Cats of 2009 edged their way to victory against St Kilda in a dramatic final few minutes. Credit: Vince Caligiuri
1. Collingwood defeat Brisbane Lions by four points (2023)
This contest had it all. Stunning goals including Zac Bailey’s two moments of brilliance in the first term and Steele Sidebottom’s 55-metre bomb in the final term to all but seal the deal were standouts, while Norm Smith medallist Bobby Hill did it all with four goals and a high-leaping mark of the day. In 30-degree heat, neither side gave an inch, the lead changing 10 seven times, the Lions closing to within a goal with 1.33 minutes remaining. This was a high-class spectacle full of drama, not seen often enough in grand finals, while the outpouring of emotion of a largely pro-Magpies crowd among the 100,024 on hand was a sight to behold, capped with revelation that Magpies coach Craig McRae and his wife had welcomed a baby daughter into the world less than seven hours before the opening bounce.
Day to celebrate: Bobby Hill with his premiership and Norm Smith medals after what was a classic grand final.Credit: Getty Images
Kane Cornes, a 2004 premiership player with Port Adelaide, and now an Age columnist and Sunday Footy Show panellist, said the 2023 grand final was the best game he had seen.
“Some of the goals that were scored, the high marks, the skill level, particularly with the ball movement, to do that in front of 100,000, on the biggest day of all, I thought it was the best game I have ever seen, let alone in terms of what we witnessed,” Cornes said.
“It’s going to go down in history.”
Essendon premiership great Matthew Lloyd said this latest grand final was one of the best he had seen.
“I always talk about 1989 when I fell in love with footy watching that game, Hawthorn v Geelong. It was just brutal, that game. But I think it’s the best one I have seen since then, probably since the year 2000,” Lloyd said.
Taylor said the seven combined goals after half-time belied how tense a contest it had been.
“If you are talking since 1990, I would say it’s the greatest grand final because of the tense nature of the entire second half, the lack of scoring in the second half, the inaccuracy at times, but the quality of football for a low-scoring second half was extremely high. The goal scoring in the first half was of the highest quality,” Taylor said.
“There were so many moments in that game. If I could sum it up, I have never seen a more tense grand final.”
Shaw said the quality of the contest made it one of the best of all time.
“It was just brilliant football. I know that Collingwood won, but for entertainment and the excitement and the unknown factor, I thought it was one of the best of all time,” he said.
Keep up to date with the best AFL coverage in the country. Sign up for the Real Footy newsletter.
Most Viewed in Sport
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article