Almanac Books: Champions All extract – Grand Finals 2000s

Champions All - by Matt Zurbo

Champions All – by Matt Zurbo

Today’s extract from Matt Zurbo’s book Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words covers the Grand Finals in the 2000s.


2010 Drawn Grand Final

Collingwood 9.14 St Kilda 10.8

Collingwood 16.12 St Kilda 7.10

Ben Johnson, Collingwood: In ’10 we started our press . . . It’s all about getting your guys into position. And when you get the ball, crack, you’re off . . . ! We weren’t risky through the middle because we didn’t want to be . . . Playing the boundary, the extra distance, the tighter space, we were confident no team was going to get through.

St Kilda were the best in the first half of the year, and we were the best in the second half.

The game started, we were dominating . . . We missed a few chances, Goddard played probably the best half of footy you’ve ever seen, Lenny Hayes was just amazing. They just got back in the game by pure, great individual performances. Goddard took that speckie, kicked that goal. They hit the front. Then Cloke got us in front again. By a point. Then in the last few seconds the ball came in, Milne is running onto a bouncing ball in front of an open goal. I was right behind him . . . People talk about how unlucky that last bounce was, going at right-angles away from goal, but what about that first bounce, it shouldn’t have even got near him!

We were both there, and boom, it went over the top! It was just a joke. Then, luckily, the second bounce was a joke also! (laughs) If he had won the game I would have buried myself. Just buried myself. The team had its match review. Mick pointed out a couple of little things, lowering our eyes, stuff like that, and we walked out thinking: ‘Bring it on! We’re going to destroy this team!’

And that’s how it ultimately worked. In the last ten minutes, mate, I was just running around with the biggest smile on my face. I told Swannie and H. ‘I’m not going near a contest! I’m not getting injuries, nothing to spoil my night!’ (laughs) Even talking about it now, it’s just brilliant.

Mate, the celebrations didn’t stop until two weeks before the finals in 2011. As a group, we screwed it in ’11.


2011 Grand Final

Geelong 18.11 Collingwood 12.9

Ben Johnson, Collingwood: Mate, 2011, that was the one. We’d only lost three games for the year, winning margin of . . .I dunno . . . heaps. We were smashing them. It really hurt. It was shit. Just shit.

We were a lot of sore boys. I was getting jabs in my knee just to train in the last four weeks leading into the finals. Reidy was gone, a lot of our players were not up and about. It was bad timing. Geelong had good timing. We were with them until three-quarter time, then . . . that’s how it panned out. Yeah, credit to Geelong, though. They were a great team!


2012 Grand Final

Sydney 14.7 Hawthorn 11.15

Ryan O’Keefe, Sydney: I went into the day thinking – all right these are the opportunities that don’t come down very often, I’m not going to waste this, I’m going to make up for that stuff-up I did in 2006. It was just a hectic game, just constant on, on, on . . . !

There was no time to take it in, no time to enjoy it. It’s why many players remember so little of their Grand Finals. The concentration. Just focusing on each moment.

Rhyce Shaw, Sydney: The Grand Final was a fucking tussle, just a massive arm-wrestle up and down. We could feel it out on the field, the huge swings in the game and the score. Alex Johnson, was an absolute superstar. Attacking from the back flank, he was probably Norm Smith for the first half.

There were a couple of key moments, like the Jetta and Rioli run down the wing. Jetta got the ball deep and wide and just took him on . . . Cyril’s fricking lightning, but Jetts was running flat out, bouncing, I knew he had another gear . . . It was just unbelievable! Everyone stood up in the crowd. I thought, ‘This is a key moment, if it goes belly-up here, Hawthorn is going to get some momentum.’ Oh yeah, I lifted after that. Definitely.

Byron Pickett, NM/PA/Brisbane: 2012 (Grand Final) I was in Ceduna. We were in a tent with a few other guys watching it. As soon as Jetta got the ball, he took off and everyone just jumped up and went – Waaaaah! Blackfella chasing blackfella! It was awesome!

Rhyce Shaw, Sydney: Dan Hannebery’s mark going back with the flight against David Hale, that was the turning point. We all just fucking grit our teeth from then on – If Han’s going back like that, we’re not losing this game. Last quarter, we’d got the ball in the forward line, less than a minute to go, only four points up. I was yelling, ‘Boys push up!’ Get on their men, so they don’t get any easy outlet. Mal (Nick Malceski) (laughs) he somehow got involved in a stoppage, and he kicked this fricking one out of his arse! (chuckles) Meant to do it! I chased him as hard as I could. (laughs) We’re celebrating, and then you hear Ryan O’Keefe, ‘Let’s get back, everyone back!’ We just knew. We knew we couldn’t lose the Grand Final. That was one of the best moments of my life.

Ryan O’Keefe, Sydney: Then, the siren went, ten points up, and that relief . . . !

Bobby Skilton, Swans legend: I was asked to present the premiership cup. That’s my most wonderful sporting moment.

Rhyce Shaw, Sydney: Ryan O’Keefe is one of the most dedicated people I’ve seen in footy. Meticulous in his preparation. A real hard bastard . . . One of the greats of the Sydney Swans, and the AFL I suppose. Damn, he played an awesome Grand Final! (laughs)


2013 Grand Final

Hawthorn 11.11 Fremantle 8.14

Matt de Boer, Fremantle: They won it, we lost it. A bit of both . . . we weren’t good enough. We weren’t hard enough. You need to do the basics really well and we were found wanting. It’s something that keeps me up at night still. You lie there and want to press the refresh button and play it again.

Matt Spangher, Hawthorn (injured): It felt like we were always in control. Even when they had that push at the end. A lot of people say Freo lost it rather than the Hawks won it. I don’t believe that. The better team is the one that won.


2014 Grand Final

Hawthorn 21.11 Sydney 11.8

Matt Spangher, Hawthorn: We won the Prelim and I was like, ‘Fuck . . .’ I wouldn’t have been surprised if they didn’t pick me for the Grand Final. Three clubs, three parts of the continent, three premierships, I’d just missed all of them. This time had to be it! Fortunately, we were playing Sydney, who had a very tall forward line. They needed me. The ball was hot early. Every time Sydney got a goal, we answered straight away . . . You’re not thinking about the game, just the processes . . . I wasn’t looking at things like momentum, the scores, the fact Sydney couldn’t shake us. I was thinking, ‘Okay, how are they getting their goals? Is it us or a midfield issue?’ A couple of times I’d been caught up the ground on Sam Reid. I was meant to stay deep. I’d want to combat that.

‘How do I fix it?’

You could feel the pressure, the boys were on. You wouldn’t think we were hungrier, for Christ’s sake, it’s a Grand Final. But there was something there. I think I underestimated the power of what happened in 2012.

We pulled away after the first quarter, yet I never felt like we had it won. It was never ‘We’re doing well here’. It was always ‘Sydney are going to come . . .’

The big credo of the whole team – Tick your man off, then help somebody else. At one stage Hodge was on Buddy. A few weeks earlier Sam Mitchell found himself on Tom Hawkins. (laughs) We attack, we cover for each other. Ten minutes or so to go we were about 50 points up. Shaunie Burgoyne kicks one and Sam Reid, obviously a mate from my Sydney days, walks back and goes, ‘Well done, Spang, you’ve finally got one.’ I’m like, ‘Shit . . . !?’ (laughs) From then on you could tell Sydney were over it, they just wanted to go home. The boys were almost in party mode.

No-one was blowing up about instructions and positioning – just stay away from the bench so you can be on the ground when the siren goes!

Rhyce Shaw, Sydney: We didn’t turn up. We got beaten up pretty much. Hawthorn were a lot more physical in terms of going hard at the ball and going hard at the man . . . I tried to be really composed with the ball but we just had no time. We were bombing it out and that played into their hands.

Matt Spangher, Hawthorn: My proudest moment for the year, though, was not winning the flag, but after it, when at the B&F night I won the Best Clubman. Funny enough, it was also my father’s. He didn’t really care about the premiership. ‘This award is more a reflection of the person than the player.’

It was a nice full stop on the year.


Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words by Matt Zurbo

Published by Echo Publishing


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You can purchase a copy online via this link.


  1. Earl O'Neill says

    Dad’s Christmas present sorted. Thanx Matt.

  2. Enjoyed that,Old dog with O Keefe being a assistant coach at the crows ( guest speaker at Ad Uni FC press night ) found the recommendation about him interesting

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