Almanac Footy History: Drawn grand finals – so what happened next?


In over 100 years of VFL/AFL football, draws on the biggest stage have been rare. Only three Grand Finals have been drawn in VFL/AFL history – in 1948, 1977 and 2010.  Sean Mortell explains what happened in those dramatic years.



In 1948 there was disbelief.

In 1977 there was confusion.

In 2010 there was a sense of nothing.


All of them share similarities. Noise punctures eardrums. You can hear the nervous screams and squeals of stressed women. The sound erupting from the cauldron that is the MCG is no longer just bubbling. It has erupted into pleas and hoarse yells.


Grown men slave away at the worn red ball. The crunching thud of body on body contact at high speeds becomes a steady beat. Bang. Clash. Thud. The grunts and groans echo, as the muscle holding weary body parts together begins to stretch and cramp. They are running on pure adrenaline.


Everyone shakes with nerves. Crowd members don’t dare to look, covering their eyes in a worried state of apprehension. It’s the fear of the unknown. The doubt over what is to come. In a footy frenzy state of Victoria, the Grand Final brings out the deepest reserves of passion.


The siren rings, washing over the crowd like a feeble wave rippling over toes. Something’s different. There’s no jubilant roar. No release of all anxiety into one earth-shattering blast of sound. All players slump to the ground, not just half of them. There’s no hugging, no tears, no smiles. Just a crestfallen look. A weird, confused anti-climax. “It’s a draw!”


Even the most avid followers of AFL rules can’t comprehend what will happen now.


When Bruce Macavaney famously raved that the draw was occurring before his very eyes upon the final siren of the 2010 AFL Grand Final, his excitement contradicted the frustration and emptiness that the players displayed. Hands went onto heads. Exhausted bodies slumped onto the perfectly manicured MCG grass. Fans in the stands went oddly silent. There was no team song blaring, nor a victorious roar. There was a bumble of confusion and an eerie ring of nothingness.


Time is said to heal, but the competing teams don’t have much time to turn their focus from finality to another ongoing seven days of preparation. Let’s take a look at how these clubs have acted in the aftermath of Grand Final draws.





The Bombers had finished on top of the ladder throughout the home and away season and were the favourite to win another flag in a dominant era for the club. With Dick Reynolds at the helm as captain-coach, the Bombers sat 14 points ahead on the ladder of second placed Melbourne, who had cobbled together a team led by Norm Smith. In September the two teams were destined to meet in the big dance, such was their superiority over the other teams, which included the consistently successful Collingwood. When both teams secured their Grand Final spots, the Bombers were expected to romp to another Premiership. But come the last Saturday in September, they were a shadow of themselves.


The fact that Melbourne contested for the flag in ’48 is a mystery in itself. Amidst the finals series, the Demons swung the axe and changed their line-up drastically. A famous masterstroke occurred.  Experienced forward and playing coach of the Melbourne reserves team Jack Mueller was plucked and placed into their finals team. Amazingly, he did more than hold his own – his preliminary final return of eight goals would be backed up by six goals in each of the Grand Finals. In a time where footy wasn’t a primary occupation, meaning that players could be working all season only to be picked from obscurity to dominate finals series, this wasn’t uncommon. But the fact he delivered in three straight games makes for a delightful story of unlikely heroes rising when it matters most.


The marking forward wore a glove to cover two lost middle fingers. At the wise old age of 34, Mueller had decided to become the playing coach of the Melbourne reserves in 1948. He couldn’t stay far away from the seniors’ action for long, as by the end of the season he was a Premiership-winning legend. Mueller was included in the team alongside Denis Cordner, brother of captain and doctor Don. Cordner, a ruckman, was thrust into the centre half-back position to replace the suspended Alan McGowan, and somehow became a makeshift cog of a premiership side. His superb form meant he would be one of the Demons best players, and would go on to play four Grand Finals in a month after playing two with the Uni Blacks. Talk about a busy September.


A teammate of Denis Cordner at Uni Blacks, Doug Heywood was also brought in for the Grand Final to replace the injured Bob McKenzie. His tale wasn’t as sweet – he was dropped for the replay, yet still held a mighty story to tell his fellow Blacks teammates.


Yet these marvellous tales were initially overshadowed by another. Essendon should’ve won the first Grand Final. They kicked dismally at goal, registering 7 goals 27 behinds.


Despite having the bulk of the scoring shots (they had around double the shots compared to Essendon for the majority of the match), their horrible kicking meant the Dees always remained within striking distance. The Bombers were two goals ahead at the final break, yet squandered their lead with 1 goal 6 behinds, compared to Melbourne’s 4 goals 1 behind. Essendon full-forward Bill Brittingham kicked a dozen behinds to go with his 2 goals. However, recent investigations into this record prove it may be exaggerated. It’s understandable – fans were outraged over kicking away a Grand Final win. Either way, it sums up the effort of the Reynolds-led Essendon, who would eventually be made to pay for their wasteful display.


But Melbourne weren’t faultless – in a dramatic ending, champion Norm Smith had a chance to put the Demons into the lead, only to play on and fluff the shot for no score. Minutes later, a goal line scramble should have resulted in the ball trickling over for a Premiership-clinching behind, only for Essendon full back Cec Ruddell to burst through the confusion and save the game. Both teams were left ruing missed opportunities come the fateful siren.


Fast-forward a week and the underdog would make the favourites pay. The second Grand Final couldn’t have gone more differently. Melbourne were revitalised, riding on their luck from the previous Saturday. Described by losing coach Dick Reynolds in The Argus as putting on a display of “copybook football”, the Dees blitzed the Bombers with a six goal to nothing first term. Mueller couldn’t be stopped. The Cordners were too strong. Despite slippery conditions, Smith and Mueller combined superbly to create a dynamic forward line that had been formed too recently to be thwarted by the Bombers. They “showed perfect understanding” said Reynolds who judged Smith as the best player on the ground. He confessed to not being able to stop Mueller, as Norm McDonald fought hard in defence against an irrepressible red and blue force.


After the initial flurry of red and blue goals, Essendon never recovered. Having to scrap for every goal, any chance to closing the margin was met with an easy Melbourne goal from their dynamic forward line. Missing their chance to clinch the flag the previous Saturday, Essendon were punished. They gave the gelling Melbourne side a week to bond and improve, and it ultimately proved to be their demise.






The 1977 season was full of interesting twists and turns. Hawthorn, after claiming the 1976 flag, finished up the top of the ladder alongside surprise packet Collingwood and perennial enemies North Melbourne. In a thrilling finals series, Collingwood and North Melbourne overcame Hawthorn to reach the final game. But the shocks weren’t done there.


The talk all pre-season had been about revenge.


Not just in the opening round of the 1977 season, but whenever North Melbourne lined up against their Grand Final vanquishers in Hawthorn.


Following a dismal performance in the 1976 Grand Final, Ron Barassi returned to coach down at Arden Street the next year with a fire in his belly. They would not let any circumstances beat them down, and they certainly weren’t going to allow Hawthorn to win the cup again.


Surely they couldn’t lose again.


Collingwood had undergone a period of turmoil in the 1960s and 70s, characterised by numerous Grand Final losses that stung. Whatever situation they were in, the Colliwobbles took full toll. They lost in all types of ways. A 1970 choke against Jesaulenko and his inspired Bluebaggers was the tip of what was a heartbreaking iceberg for Collingwood fans. Ever since the unlikely 1953 and ’58 flags, it seemed karma had been exacting its toll for such miracle wins in the years following.


But then Tom Hafey arrived.


The renowned coach of four Premierships at Richmond had changed ship. In a quick move, the Pies found some luck again. They installed their trust in the much-praised coach as the man to revamp Collingwood’s mojo. After so many close finishes, the Pies had slipped to the bottom of the ladder in ’76. Hafey sure as hell wouldn’t let that happen again.


Instilling a more physical approach to training that resulted in higher fitness levels, Collingwood went from presumed easy-beats to a sneaky Grand Final chance throughout 1977. Reigning Premiers Hawthorn were still favoured to take another flag over their arch-rivals in North Melbourne. The Kangaroos, led by the fiercely determined Ron Barassi, underwent an arduous journey where a mid-season form slump meant they were written off. In classic football media ways, the boys from Arden Street were quickly removed from Premiership calculations, which only worked in their favour. A Collingwood upset over Hawthorn to become the first team advancing into the Grand Final was soon upstaged by North Melbourne’s daring run. After getting smacked by Hawthorn in their first final, a rampant win over Richmond was followed by a jaw-defying upset over the Hawks. All of a sudden the heavyweights were gone and the two master technicians in Barassi and Hafey were facing off for a much-celebrated Premiership.


Collingwood maintaineded their underrated form, catapulting to a healthy 27-point three quarter time margin that looked insurmountable if it wasn’t the Magpies who were up.


Ron Barassi was never going to let the game peter out.


Moving David Dench forward and slinging the magnets around the whiteboard, the Roos stormed into it once more. They snatched the lead late, only for Ross ‘Twiggy’ Dunne to pop up for an almighty Grand Final cameo. He soared for a pack mark late, slotting the goal to level the scores just moments before the siren.


Hafey was livid.


There was no positive response. Instead, he turned to what he knew best, and what had won him previous premierships – hard work. After a gruelling season and a brutal contest, it was believed by the whole competition that Hafey trained the Pies like never before, seeking to push them to an even higher physical condition. Barassi caught wind of this at Arden Street, but refused to use the same tactic on his players.


Barassi took the other road, training his team hard but focusing on the mental state of his players. He understood his team had been wrung out. They’d been pushed up against the wall enough – there was no need for them to be bruised up again. In his celebrated book The Coach John Powers details Barassi’s use of verbal motivation, shrilly forcing them into a high standard of training to thus instil belief that they could and therefore must win the replay. And win it they did.


Despite the famous running goal of Phil Manassa, the Kangaroos burst out of the blocks and were never going to give it up. With Barassi mentally willing his team on with an unrivalled passion, the tired Pies crumbled under the Roos pressure. They eventually ran out 27 point winners in a high-scoring contest. Much like the 1948 replay, the building tension from two weeks of football was a make-or-break factor. Similarly, one team caged their intensity for a week, and let it out in one withering display of Grand Final football. And in 1977, the Roos simply refused to wilt.






It had been Collingwood’s year.


Following a dominant home and away season where the Pies, under Mick Malthouse, had coasted to a Grand Final on the back of rampant finals wins over the Bulldogs and reigning premiers Geelong, they went into the Grand Final as big favourites. Dane Swan had somehow not won the Brownlow Medal after an amazing season, but captain Nick Maxwell led his powerful side to the big dance. The young side was characterised by a swarming system of pressure in a ‘box’ formation. Much like they had throughout 2010, the Pies’ intensity seemed too much for the controlled tempo footy that Ross Lyon’s St Kilda were trying to play.


But St Kilda were an experienced bunch. With Ross Lyon implementing his own game style of swarming pressure and low-scoring footy, the Saints had come up short in capping off a dominant 2009 campaign with a flag. In 2010, they meant business, as champion captain and full-forward Nick Riewoldt led them into another Grand Final with a steely resolve to go one better.


The Pies had shot out to a four-goal lead at the main break. However, the inaccurate kicking that had troubled Collingwood’s quest for a cup came back to hurt them – the likes of Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes missed easy shots and allowed St Kilda to close the gap. Inspired by champion Nick Riewoldt and their hurt from their narrow loss to Geelong in the 2009 Grand Final, the Saints jumped in front with minutes left thanks to some heroic efforts by Norm Smith Medallist Lenny Hayes and a thrilling mark from Brendon Goddard. Lyon shifted defender Sam Gilbert to half-forward at the main break – the athletic Saint was a handful, booting a vital third quarter goal that raised the hairs on the back of St Kilda necks.


Fortunately for the Magpies, Cloke found his kicking boots in a tight pack to put them back in front following an inspirational play from Maxwell. The defining moment came with only a minute left – Ben Johnson and Stephen Milne tracked a ball back to the goal line that sat up for Milne. The cheeky small forward decided to let it bounce, and didn’t really attack a ball that hung up in the air for an eternity. Unluckily, the Sherrin trickled through for a point that would tie the scores.


In a modern era where player access was vastly different to that of ’77, immediately after the final siren Maxwell was quick to be cornered for his thoughts while sitting on the ground in disbelief. In front of millions of people watching live, Maxwell opened his heart up in a time of confusion for Channel 7 reporter Matthew Richardson.


“I don’t know if we’ve ever just seen 44 guys go to war like we did just then”, Maxwell uttered. He then revealed how the Grand Final replay rule was “an absolute joke” as “players come here for a win or loss, and that’s what we should be leaving with”. In one of the most confronting and bare interviews given during a live sports broadcast, Maxwell’s raw emotion could’ve been mistaken for sorrow. If initial reactions the minute after the siren rang were anything to go by, St Kilda appeared stronger. They had finished off the game in control, and were quick to stand up and rally together to show solidarity and positivity. Meanwhile, Collingwood players lay strewn across the ground, in silence and perhaps shellshock. But what  happened once the cameras were turned off and the supporters filed home provides an intriguing and different story.


To make matters worse, the changerooms for both teams had been flooded by an exploding tap, meaning kitbags had been salvaged and moved to the other side of the ground. But Maxwell wouldn’t be leaving for some time – after the post-game presentation of the Norm Smith Medal, he would be cornered by ASADA testers and forced to provide a urine sample – a difficult feat when you are dehydrated after such an exhausting game. In his book One Grand Week that describes the reactions and preparations for the replay, Maxwell discusses how head of conditioning David Buttifant was referred to by coach Mick Malthouse as “the most important person at the club this week will be David Buttifant”.


Yet there are two important takeaways from Maxwell’s recount of the turbulent week – one was their reaction post-draw. Following his drug test (which took hours due to his inability to provide a sample until two waters and a Powerade had been downed), Maxwell had to drive back to Collingwood headquarters in his playing gear to eat and collect his belongings. Despite the hold-ups, president Eddie McGuire was adamant that the post-match dinner would still go ahead. Unlike St Kilda, McGuire had learnt from John Powers’ The Coach and agreed with Malthouse that the worst thing the team could do was stay by themselves for the night. Their first concern was the psychological effect.


In the days after, Buttifant was severely distressed. Despite rallying Maxwell and the leadership group with the direction that they had to positively disperse the message that they were in another Grand Final (which Maxwell labelled was difficult when he was “lying to himself” whenever he said that), the physical toll was enormous. In their weekly pin-prick blood tests, all of the players were down to unhealthy levels that left them vulnerable to fatigue and muscle injuries. This was dangerous – Buttifant feared they wouldn’t be able to run out the whole game.


Luckily, by the Thursday Buttifant had recorded a return to normality for all of them, and all players were cleared. Only Leon Davis wouldn’t be playing – his lacklustre Grand Final meant Tyson Goldsack would be brought in to help Alan Toovey and Maxwell tag the dangerous Brendon Goddard. Luke Ball would be given the job again to (this time) successfully beat Lenny Hayes. Fortunately for the Pies, they scrambled to cobble everything together, whereas St Kilda’s initial positive behaviour was stamped out by a cancelled post-match dinner. By the time Heath Shaw enacted the ‘smother of the millennium’ on an unaware Nick Riewoldt at the Punt Road End of the ‘G, the powers of healing and intense recovery were proven. The Pies romped to a 56- point victory that was a celebration of their successful year.



*                                 *                                     *                                        *                                         *



Grand Final draws thrust clubs into a weird frenzy. 1948 was an unprecedented carnival, full of unexpected swings and a cobbled together team that played wonderful football. In ’77 and 2010, the initial moves post-draw were most important. A modern age meant players weren’t picked from nowhere as a selection trump card. The understanding that the season was long and tough reigned supreme. History says the mindset of a club can turn quickly when they are put with their family and friends. Then, they quickly realise that the draw is positive. Another key aspect is the training side. The reactions highlight how training players into the ground only increases fatigue. The modern sports science approach only agrees with this, as by 2010 Collingwood’s conditioning staff knew that a light week on the track was needed in order to heavily train the mind. Before that, Barassi was ahead of his time in assuming this. His knowledge from his own glittering career resulted in perhaps the best tactical Premiership won by a coach. Unlike other Grand Finals, the now-extinct Replays brought out a mental effort that is seldom seen in sport. It surpassed science, reason or expectation. It ran on emotion, luck and want. We’ll never know this crazy state of panic and confusion again.




Grand Final details







Melbourne      3.0    4.5    6.8    10.9 (69)

Essendon        0.6    2.15   6.21   7.27 (69)



Melbourne: Mueller 6, Smith, Arnold, Cradock, Dullard

Essendon: Hutchison 2, Brittingham 2, Bigelow, Hindley, Rawle



Melbourne: Cordner, McGrath, Smith, Mueller, Collins, McMahen

Essendon: McClure, Jones, Lambert, Bradley, McDonald, Ruddell, Bushby


Attendance: 86, 198 at the MCG





Melbourne    6.2    9.3    11.6    13.11 (89)

Essendon      0.3    5.5     6.6     7.8 (50)



Melbourne: Mueller 6, Arnold 2, Rodda 2, Smith, Dullard, McMahen

Essendon: Brittingham 2, Syme 2, Reynolds, Hutchison, Jones



Melbourne: Smith, Mueller, Arnold, Bickford, Spittle

Essendon: McClure, McDonald, Ruddell


Attendance: 52, 226 at the MCG








Collingwood              1.5    4.8    9.12    10.16 (76)

North Melbourne    4.4    4.10   4.15   9.22 (76)



Collingwood: Moore 4, Kink 2, Anderson 1, Barham 1, Dunne 1, Shaw 1

North Melbourne: Baker 6, Dench 2, Sutton 1



Collingwood: Thompson, Picken, Magro, W. Richardson, Hyde, Kink, Barham

North Melbourne: Alves, Schimmelbusch, Dench, Baker, Montgomery, Keenan, Cowton


Attendance: 108, 224 at the MCG





Collingwood             3.4    8.7     12.7      19.10 (124)

North Melbourne    5.5    9.12    15.19    21.25 (151)



Collingwood: Moore 5, Manassa 3, Barham 2, Dunne 2, Gordon 2, Anderson 1, Ireland 1, Kink 1, W. Richardson 1, Wearmouth 1

North Melbourne: Briedis 5, Baker 3, Blight 2, Byrne 2, Cable 2, Crosswell 2, Schimmelbusch 2, Cassin 1, Icke 1, Tanner 1



Collingwood: Moore, Thompson, Hyde, Manassa, Wearmouth

North Melbourne: Briedis, Tanner, Blight, Byrne, Cable, Montgomery


Attendance: 98, 491 at the MCG.








Collingwood    4.2    7.8    7.13    9.14 (68)

St Kilda            3.2    4.2    7.5      10.8 (68)



Collingwood: Cloke 2, Blair, Davis, Didak, Jolly, O’Brien, Macaffer, Thomas

St Kilda: Goddard 2, Milne 2, Riewoldt 2, Gilbert, Hayes, Koschitzke, Schneider



Collingwood: Thomas, Shaw, Cloke, Jolly, Maxwell, N. Brown

St Kilda: Hayes, Goddard, Gilbert, Schneider, Fisher, Gwilt


Attendance: 100, 016 at the MCG





Collingwood    3.2    6.5    11.8    16.12 (108)

St Kilda            0.2    1.8    4.9     7.10 (52)



Collingwood: Dawes 2, Didak 2, Macaffer 2, Sidebottom 2, Wellingham 2, Goldsack, Johnson, Jolly, O’Brien, Swan, Thomas

St Kilda: Milne 2, Dal Santo, Gilbert, Goddard, Hayes, Koschitzke



Collingwood: Pendlebury, Thomas, Ball, Sidebottom, Wellingham, Shaw, Jolly

St Kilda: Gilbery, Goddard, Jones, Dawson, Gwilt


Attendance: 93, 853 at the MCG




To read more of Sean’s work, click here.




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  1. Sean
    Nice piece of research and some interesting observations about the aftermath of drawn Grand Finals and the teams’ responses.

    I was always a believer in the replay on the basis that the outcome of an entire season shouldn’t come down to a few minutes of extra time. But after the anti-climactic replay of 2010 and the players’ evident hatred of the requirement to come back and do it all again, I’ve changed my opinion. Extra time on top of the amazing drama that had already taken place would have produced one of football’s all-time great days.

    Your piece got me thinking about how results might have differed had we had extra time rather than full replays in those games. Although extra time in finals was introduced nearly 30 years ago after the drawn 1990 Qualifying Final, we don’t have a lot of evidence to go on to understand how it typically plays out. However, in most drawn games, there is typically one team that finishes the game more strongly, and the two extra time results to date (1994 North over Hawthorn and 2007 Collingwood over West Coast) saw the team that finished regulation time with momentum go on to win easily. This suggests that the additional effort of extra time brutally exposes any physical and/or mental imbalance. By contrast, a week’s break between the drawn game and a full replay probably helps the side that may have been fortunate to escape with a draw (although acknowledging your important point that the mental and physical recovery and preparation over that week becomes telling). We’ll never know for sure but this analysis leads me to conclude that had Neil Maxwell had his wish in 2010, his team would probably have lost the Grand Final in extra time.

  2. Yes a drawn Grand Final should be replayed but that will probably never happen again. There are too many other reasons now not to replay the final (other events, concerts etc ) . The 2018 SANFL preliminary final was won by North Adelaide over the Eagles by 4 points. After the game, officials were contemplating what to do after it was realized North Adelaide had 19 men on the field for 8 or so minutes in the final quarter. There were meetings happening that evening to decide what to do, ‘ should the game be replayed? of course it should have been but due to other events occurring (concerts etc ) there was no consideration of a replay, and that was it. Not very fulfilling just emptyness , then you wonder is this really sport.

  3. If you replay a final after a draw you have 2 teams with a win each. Surely it should then be, like in baseball, 2 out of 3.Perhaps the grand final should always be 2 out if 3.

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