AFL Grand Final: Three-time loser

Ross Lyon had become a three-time loser.  He was crushed after the grand final, stoically brushing aside his own disappointment and aiming his sorrow at the players and the club.

The grand final might’ve been different because Fremantle weren’t inept.  They weren’t humiliated.  They might’ve won had they played a little calmer and smarter.

Lyon’s life might’ve been different, a toe poke here, a bad bounce there, but the scoreboard offers reality.  He has lost three premierships as coach.

It doesn’t mean Lyon can’t coach, but Hawthorn always looked likely to win the grand final.  The 15-point margin was flattering for Fremantle.

Hawthorn pressured the best defensive team into errors.  Fremantle had no space.  When they did, perceived pressure forced mistakes or long kicks in hope.

Basic skill errors were crucial.  Four set shots went out on the full.  Marks were dropped, targets were missed and the ball bounced the wrong way.  Players slipped over.

Fremantle offered pressure.  They closed to three points in the third quarter but Hawthorn absorbed it and got free.

The conditions and the pressure ensured the grand final provided just a handful of memorable moments.  It was hardly a classic.

Hawthorn had 40 more kicks and took 33 more marks.  Fremantle had 36 more handpasses, which is proof of a club under pressure.  The Hawks went inside fifty 45 times, Fremantle 44.  Both clubs created enough scoring shots to win.

And still, the margin flattered the Dockers.

During the post game press conference, Lyon said Fremantle would have to do the work again.  Doing the work again would’ve been much more satisfying if they won.  Nothing will be satisfying until they win a premiership.

Lyon won’t be satisfied until he coaches a premiership, but he is a three-time loser who keeps creating unfortunate history.

In 118 grand finals across VFL/AFL history, only eleven clubs have gone into half time with one goal or less on the scoreboard.  As the table below shows, St Kilda, under Ross Lyon, was the first club to do it in fifty years.

Three years later, Fremantle, under Ross Lyon, has done it again.


Year Club Goals Result
1901 Collingwood 0 loss 27
1905 Fitzroy 1 win 13
Collingwood 1  
1906 Fitzroy 1 loss 49
1913 St Kilda 0 loss 13
1920 Collingwood 1 loss 17
1921 Richmond 1 won 4
1927 Richmond 0 loss 12
1960 Collingwood 1 loss 48
2010 St Kilda 1 loss 56
2013 Fremantle 1 loss 15


Only Fitzroy and Richmond won the premiership after kicking one goal to half time.  The last time it happened, 1921, was 93 years ago.

History hurt Fremantle after half time.  Though they fought back, it was always going to be difficult.

At the weekend, the Dockers didn’t kick a goal in the first quarter.  Only five clubs since 1970, Carlton (1970-79) Brisbane (2002), St Kilda (2010 replay) and Fremantle (2013) haven’t kicked a goal in the opening term of a grand final.

It’s a rare occurrence.  Lyon has now done it twice in four years.  He is doing things few coaches have ever done.  It doesn’t mean he can’t coach, but history shows Carlton and Brisbane won the premierships listed above.

St Kilda and Fremantle couldn’t.

During the season, Fremantle went goalless four times in the opening quarter, notably against Hawthorn in round four, Geelong in round 14, St Kilda in round 23 and in the grand final.

The lessons from round four were ignored.  Lyon said the first quarter, or Q1 as he called it, would haunt everyone.

‘There was a couple of things we wanted to do, particularly structure in front of the ball,’ he said.  ‘For whatever reason it was costly in the first quarter.’

Missing set shots was costly.  Nathan Fyfe kicked twice out on the full.  The wind wasn’t interfering with the ball drop.  Fyfe just stuffed up his kicks, the first one off the outside of the boot, the second one off the instep.

The wind rarely interferes when the ball is always going to miss.

The half time margin was 23-points.  Lyon acknowledged the missed opportunities but said the scoreboard wasn’t telling the true story.

‘Even to half time it wasn’t a true reflection,’ he said.

Lyon is wrong.  With just one goal on the board, the Dockers were lucky to be 23-points down.

Five of Hawthorn’s goals came from turnovers Hawthorn.  Fremantle managed just two, with nine behinds as a reminder to bad football.  To further highlight the ineptitude, the Dockers took 16 marks inside fifty.

In the end, chasing down the Hawks in the third quarter was exhausting.

‘Missed opportunities will hurt us,’ Lyon said.  ‘The basics under pressure.  We didn’t execute with the aplomb that we can and we should’ve.’

He fended off questions about losing three premierships, mentioning Malcolm Blight, who lost three grand finals while coaching Geelong.

When Blight lost his third grand final in 1994, he resigned as coach.  ‘I’m a three-time loser,’ he said.  ‘You know where they end up.’

Simply, Blight quit before he was sacked.  Fuelled by disappointment, he became a messiah in Adelaide.

‘You don’t feel them as a collective, I certainly don’t,’ Lyon said.  ‘I understand how hard it is to get back.  I’m not going to crumble.  My job is to lead.’

Besides, plenty of great coaches in the modern era have lost three grand finals.  Consider the list below:

Won Lost
Ron Barassi



Kevin Sheedy



Tommy Hafey



Mick Malthouse



Bob Rose


Phonse Kyne



Ross Lyon



Lyon is among a select group of men.  Only he and Bob Rose haven’t got a premiership.

‘We’re here to win premierships and fell short’ Lyon said.

Lyon has fallen short three times.  His strength is defence, but that is his weakness too.  The balance isn’t right.  It wasn’t right at St Kilda.  It wasn’t right at the weekend.

As the list above shows, great coaches learn from grand final defeat.

Lyon hasn’t learned anything yet.  He just knows how hard it is to get back.  And life could be so different, a toe-poke here, a bad bounce there.


In 1975, Rod Stewart released Atlantic Crossing.  One of the songs was a cheesy sex-starved romp called three time loser.  I was five when I first heard the song.  The chorus has stuck with me forever.  When Malcolm Blight quit, he quoted Stewart’s lyric.

The chorus, with a few adjustments, also suits Ross Lyon…

I’m a three time loser

Caught it at the MCG

To it out to West Australia

Now my friends say it’s here to stay…

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Ironmike you are correct. Lyon has the balance wrong. I hope his game style and game plan continue to fail because they’re bad for the game.

    Some interesting stats and figures you’ve come up with here.

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Dear Iron Mike, straight after the defeat of Fremantle, all the way over here in the States, I said that he’d actually lost 4, as a Sants suporter the drawn Grand Final was a loss as well, so he has missed 4 opportunities. Personally, I’d rank him 0-4 and I was backing the Dockers just so he could get one. He can’t say it publicly but he must be devastated, as were Saints supporters and now the Dockers. To reach the heights and not GRAB the game with both hands will haunt him and the players forever.

    Hawthorn had last years defeat to feed their fury. They weren’t going to feel that bad again.


  3. Nice piece, ironmike.
    But as I’ve said elsewhere, I find this idea of Lyon as a failure to be very odd.
    Since 2009, there have been only four coaches that this argument would call successes:
    M.Malthouse 2010, C.Scott 2011, J.Longmire 2012, A.Clarkson 2013.
    Coaches of the runners-up in those years were:
    R.Lyon 2010, M.Malthouse 2011, A.Clarkson 2012, R.Lyon 2013.
    Ross is doing well.

    Other coaches from 2009 who failed to even make the GF that year:
    N. Craig, M.Voss, B.Ratten, M.Knights, M.Harvey, M.Thompson, D.Bailey, D.Laidley, M.Williams, T.Wallace, P.Roos, J.Worsfold, R.Eade.
    Others who have coached teams that have failed to even make the GF since 2009: B.Sanderson, N.Buckley, G.McKenna, K.Sheedy, B.Scott, K.Hinkley, D.Hardwick, S.Watters, B.McCartney, M.Neeld, M.Primus…

  4. lee donovan says

    I don’t see where these arguments are coming from regarding Fremantle being too defensive. When you havn’t got the ball you defend and Lyon’s teams defend well perhaps too well for some people who would like to see open and bruise free football. When Fremantle have the ball they attack and create oppurtunities . Unfortunately they couldn’t take them and that was costly. They created enough chances to score a winning total so what is all this crap about being too defensive.
    The margin was 15 points for a reason. Fremantle kept on coming and having a go but Hawthorn were too good on the day.
    PS-Those goaless Ist qtrs this year contained depleted teams-nothing like Saturdays side.

  5. Looking at those great coaches, don’t forget the great Alan Jeans, who I think won five Grand Finals and lost four, from the mid 1960s (with the Saints) through to the late ’80s (with the Hawks).

    Jeans didn’t coach the Hawks in their Premiership year of 1988 due to illness. I remember Dermot Brereton explaining that his influence though was enourmous as Alan Joyce took charge of a champion team on “auto-pilot” as he described it. Remarkable.

  6. Bill Martino says

    Ross Lyon and Freo are failures? Too funny. All they failed at was winning the Big One. Sixteen other clubs would’ve loved to have had the chance to do that. Oh well. And no “odd year” premiership for the Sphinxters this year. Diddums.

    Nicely put, e.regnans and lee donovan.

  7. Sasha, I totally forgot about Allan Jeans. Not sure how that legend escaped my mind.
    My mate once said he could’ve coached Hawthorn to the flag in 1988…
    To Bill, Lee and E.Regnans, I don’t think Lyon is a failure as a coach, but the stats were too interesting to ignore.
    He could be regarded as a genius, if not for a toe-poke here, a bad bounce there…

  8. Bill Martino says

    Sasha, I’d say Chris Scott’s a lot like Alan Joyce, in that he also took charge of a champion team on “auto-pilot” and got a premiership out of it in his first year there. Hasn’t made a GF since, though, so he’s not really much of a coach is he? Certainly nowhere near as good as Ross Lyon.

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