Crio’s Question: Who are some notable September performers and failures?

“Give me 80,000 people at the MCG and I was Hercules. Give me a grey day at the Western Oval and I wasn’t worth a cracker.”

– Brent Crosswell

At this time of the year it’s always trumpeted that reputations are made and lost in finals (sorry Skilts!). Think Dermie, Gazza in ’89, KB in ’80 …
Who are some of the other notable September performers and failures?
And what of this year’s achievements?

I say Cooney is en route to bolstering his credentials whilst Neon Leon’s facing a grim jury.


  1. Leon Davis …

    Steele Sidebottom …

  2. For Collingwood no mention of 2002 would be complete without the words Rupert Betheras.

    Leon Davis has a few shots left in the locker. Could be time for him to unleash this week against the Cats’ small defenders. Watch this space.

  3. Stephen Cooke says

    Billy Brownless had some cracking finals, including hauls of 8 against the Bulldogs and the Saints and a match-winning goal after the siren, but when it came to Grand Finals, he rarely fired a shot. I guess that puts him in no man’s land.

  4. Some random comments.

    Somebody might have to do some research e.g. scanning The Courage Book of VFL Finals or knows this.
    Kevin Bartlett may have been named in the best players for Richmond in almost every final that he played in.

    D Jarman and B Keddie were last quarter specialists that come to mind.

    Bairstow (I think and happy to be wrong) played on Matera and Kemp (Norm Smith medallists) in 1992 and 1994 respectively. In the former, Bairstow had 20ish kicks and kicked only points while Matera had less kicks than Toby and slotted a lazy 5. Most from about 60m out on the run.
    Still painful.

    Crosswell was an incredible finals performer, particularly in GFs.

  5. Richard Cole never recovered from ’03 and Rhys Shaw was years in rehab.
    If I remember rightly, Rolf Harris’ brown suit angered North supporters in the 1978 pre-match!

  6. Snake Baker!

  7. Same game, but they lost. The Snake and Gladys Moncreiff got 10 between them. Baker’s leap over Kelvin Moore was in front of my post in the old standing (and canning!) room.
    Notably Tiger Crosswell could not play that day for North.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Pains me to say it, but Leigh Matthews, Dermie, Dipper,KB, Wayne Johnson, Wayne Harmes and Bruce Doull from my childhood.

    Billy Picken was one who gave his all in every final I saw.

    In later years, Macleod,Aker,Martin Pike,Darren Jarman,Glen Archer and Vossy stand out as champions in the big ones.

  9. Nathan Buckley

  10. Matthew Scarlett is building a formidable September reputation. Was outstanding in 2007 and 2008 (one of the few really good players for Geelong last year in the GF).

  11. You’d have to say Andrew McLeod lifted his game on the biggest stage, along with Gary Ayres.

    Good movers in heavy traffic.

    Judd and Ablett Jr in big matches have been similar but not taken home the Norm each time.
    Hird obviously the bigger stage suited him to the ground.

    David Rhys-Jones I remember always lifted. I’m trying to find the average players who rose to the occasions though instead of champions who were always great. The Hyphen was one.

  12. Damian Watson says

    Glen Freeborn was finals specialist he kicked three crucial goals in the 96 Grand Final and was pivotal in the 2002 Prelim Final for the Magpies.

    Would Murray Wrensted count as a failure? never recovered after hooking the deciding kick in the 88 Elimination Final at Waverley.

  13. Here are four very different experiences.
    Perhaps it is true that performances in Finals are career defining.
    I never was a huge wrap for The Dominator pre-1979 GF. Thereafter he seemed made for the big occasion.
    Lucas, Perhaps Brisbane’s Keating might fit your criteria?
    An interesting finals footnote is Tony Modra. Who’d’ve foreseen adelaide’s success after his ’97 Prelim injury?
    And, please, no one mention Shane Ellen!

  14. Sage re Scarlett Dips.
    If he was a forward he’d be lauded even more for his imposing finals’ record.

  15. Prior to Leon, I’m pretty sure that Derek Shaw was also statless for the Pies in a GF.

    Sumich – if he’d kicked a goal instead of hitting the post………

    I (vaguely) remember Gary Crane starring for Carlton in several finals in late 60s. Big Nick also used to stand up year in, year out.

  16. Tricky question because you’re actually covering several categories of player:
    1. The unheard of players that emerged from obscurity, played a one-off blinder, and then disappeared into obscurity again. Ted Hopkins, Shane Ellen …Stephen Mount, Tiger fans?
    2. The good players who really lifted in finals. Crosswell, Rhys-Jones, Johnston etc. Some of these were so good in finals that their overall reputation was probably boosted beyond “good ordinary footballer” status. Gary Ayers? Dare I suggest, the Shinboner of the Century?
    3. The players whose failure on the finals stage probably wrecked their whole careers (probably unfair to name these publicly but a few have been mentioned above).
    4. Very good players whose failure in finals or lack of opportunity to play in them caused them to fall short of genuine “champion” status. Many Collingwood players in the 70s and 80s and plenty from Geelong in the 90s.
    5. Out and out champions whose reputation was cemented by great finals performances. Most of the big names of the modern era ticked this box, although G. Ablett snr had a typically enigmatic finals career – sublime in 1989, disappointing in the other years.

    Call me parochial but if anyone can suggest a better finals performer than KB in terms of consistently excellent games over many many years then let’s hear about him.

  17. Of course the number of finals today means so many more p[layers and more opportunities.
    What about this year so far?
    Stevie J has his chance this week to reinforce his legend.

  18. Of the finals I’ve attended, it’s mainly been youngsters that have caught my eye.

    Can’t go past my namesake, Steele Sidebottom, for a rookie really impressing in a genuinely intense final. Tippett, Dangerfield and Vince were also terrific for the Crows.

    I’d also put in a plug for Sam Sheldon. If he’d nailed that early chance for Brisbane on Friday night, I think we’d all be talking about him. He swerved past two Bulldog defenders with real pace and panache but after doing all the hard work, missed the easy shot. Still, I thought there was lots to like about his performance and I was particularly impressed with the way Brown gave him a consolation pat and what looked like some lengthy words of encouragement straight afterwards. With mentoring like that, he’ll go a long way.

    Callan Ward was prominent among the Doggies’ youngsters. He looks a real talent and I overheard some supporters gloating that they’d got him with the draft pick exchanged with Richmond for Jordan McMahon – “Wallace’s last gift to us”. Is this true?

    Of the more experienced players, Black (on one leg) v Carlton was outstanding, Lake and Scarlett have both clearly justified their All-Australian selections, Ablett was Ablett and Enright showed why Geelong has been so good for so long – depth. And although I wasn’t at the game, I’ve watched the replay and I can’t believe that anyone can still be sceptical about Riewoldt.

    But for the most part, there have been more disappointments than great games from the experienced cohort. Rather than criticise, let me simply nominate a few high-profile players who have room for improvement this weekend:
    Davis, Medhurst, Didak, Lockyer, Murphy, Higgins, Minson, Milne.

  19. I’m not sure that Tarkin Lockyer belongs on that group, Stainless. Phil D is right about Billy Picken. He performed well in every final he played in for Collingwood. In 1980 when Collingwood was getting murdered in the Grand Final Billy was probably the only player in Black and White still trying in the last quarter. Which is why I am still furious that the Pies didn’t pick up Liam Picken under the father/son rule. I notice that Liam is having a pretty good finals series for the Bulldogs – of course he is, he’s a Picken.

    Collingwood’s greatest finals player during the last thirty years was Darren Millane.

  20. Len Thompson is usually regarded as Collingwood’s worst performer in finals – they’ve had a few!
    Howver, I think he is much maligned – he certainly had a good series in ’77, as I recall he played pretty well in both grand finals.
    The Richardson bros. also used to come in for some blame for poor performances in finals.

    Billy Barrott was very good in both the ’67 & ’69 GF’s as were Dicky Clay & Frank Bourke.

  21. Does winning “Best finals player” in the U16s count?

  22. Cameron Mooney was statless in the 1999 grand final and costly in 2008.

  23. For the pies late 80’s and early 90’s Craig Starcevich was a good finals and big game player he was another who should have stayed at home on a cold day at the western oval when the only sats he would get would be Peter Foster’s or Michael Ford’s fist in the back of his head. Was on track for a Norm Smith in my opinion before Terry Daniher got to him in 1990.

  24. That’s interesting Ripsnorter. I would never have suspected him ascritical to any side, but then I probably watched him on a cold afternoon at the Western Oval!
    He was certainly valued when he moved to work at Brisbane so your views were clearly shared.

  25. To Stephen “Possibly a Distant Relative of Mine” Cooke (my grandma’s maiden name): My memory of the ’95 GF was the Billy Brownless was about the only one who played a half-decent game. That said, I don’t think he covered himself with glory in ’92 and ’94.

  26. Agree with McLeod, Baker and Billy Picken (almost saved the GF in ’79). Bily’s son Liam strikes me as one not overawed by a big occasion either. For the Dogs, Akermanis is THE one who has that unwavering September belief and I think he’s the one who could drag us over the line if the Dogs were somehow to conjure a flag.

  27. Clark Keating, 2001-2003 finals. Injury-stuffed for much of the time, he’d emerge from the medical cabinet around July-August and then monster the opposition. Must have been all those sessions in the hyperbaric(?) chambers. Ten seasons for around 130 games. About ten that mattered.

  28. Adam,

    We used to call Clark Keating “The Lawnmower” because he was not seen in winter and then came out in spring.

    He had a real finals aura.

  29. Stephen Cooke says

    To my cousin Gigs, you could be quite right about Billy in 1995. I had a wedding that day and snuck into the toilets after the ceremony to check my radio – we were about 10 goals down so I went to the reception and haven’t seen the game since.

  30. Stephen Cooke says

    In defence of Cam Mooney, Pagan put him on late in the 1999 grand final and pulled him off the ground after giving away a free kick and he was good in 2007, including a 50m goal from the boundary after half time that pushed the margin over 10 goals and helped each nervous Geelong supporter relax. I’ve certainly watched the 07 replay a few times since and it’s funny watching it now and seeing we had the game won 10 minutes into the first quarter but on the day I still thought we would blow it 75 points up!

  31. Looks like Medhurst has had his September eulogy written for him, and young Josh Hill the week before.

  32. I think Stephen Milne can be elevated to near the top of the non-achievers list, plus R. Clarke.

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