The Finals: Perfect Prelims – A Walk Down Memory Lane

It’s the pointy end of the AFL season. This weekend, Hawthorn face Port Adelaide at the Temple Down the Road, while North Melbourne will look to keep its premiership dream alive when they meet the Harlem Globetrotters Sydney Swans at Homebush in the 2014 Preliminary Final.

If recent years are anything to go by, it’s little wonder that some fans place the Prelim’s ahead of the Grand Final as their match of the season. Yes, the Grand Final is special, but you have to get there first. You can’t win a flag without winning a Preliminary Final and these games are played accordingly: tough and uncompromising affairs that genuinely deserve to be called classics.

Because I have too much time on my hands love footy like a thirteen year old private schoolgirl loves a pony, I give you some of the greatest Preliminary Finals the game has seen over the last 30 or so years. You can decide the rankings, I’ve simply placed them in chronological order.


1987 – Hawthorn 11.14.80 def Melbourne 10.18.78 at VFL Park – 71,298 attend.
Gary Buckenara marks on the wing with Melbourne leading by 4pts. A young Irish rookie follows his man through the mark, giving away a 15m* penalty. Buckenara is now only JUST within his range. He kicks truly. Club legend Robbie Flower is in his swan song season and is denied the chance to ever play in a Grand Final over his 272 game career. A photo of John Northey giving the inconsolable Irishman a spray in front of the playing group and the press is the back page lead the next day.


1993 – Essendon 17.9.111 def Adelaide 14.16.100 at the MCG – 76,380 attend
By half time in this Prelim final, the Crows lead by 48 points and are looking set for a re-match against their Semi-Final nemesis; Carlton. They would kick only another two goals for the entire match. Somehow, the Bombers find a way to pile on eleven goals to win by 11points. A young kid named Dustin Fletcher is in his first season for the Bombers. Graham Cornes is shown in the coach’s box with one of the all-time greatest ‘WTF’ looks ever broadcast on TV when in the third quarter (if I’m not mistaken), Andrew Jarman misses a set shot from 15 meters out, directly in front.


1994 – Geelong 16.13.109 def Norf 14.19.103 at the MCG – 80,000 attend
The Cats look home by the long break, with a seven goal to nothing second quarter. North steadies and the second half is as intense a game as you’ll ever see. Mick Martyn has held G Ablett to just two goals. With the scores level in the dying seconds, Cats on-baller Leigh Tudor snaps from the boundary line and finds Gaz in the goal square. Mick is caught under the ball and Ablett marks. The siren goes. Any score wins. Ablett kicks the goal, Martyn is inconsolable. Terry Wheeler declares “there’s no justice in football, Micky Martyn has been tremendous all day…”


1996 – Sydney 10.10.70 def Essendon 10.9.64 at the SCG – 41,731 attend
North smack the Bears to place themselves into the 1996 Grand Final. Redemption for 1994 is nigh. The Sydney V Essendon Prelim later that night is closely fought, with plenty of lead changes. After leaving St Kilda the season before, the Swans drawcard Plugger Lockett is all the rage. As luck would have it, he has the ball in his hands when the siren goes and the scores level. Any score will do. Plugger misses, but who cares, the Bloods make their first Grand Final since Noah was a Auskicker and 40,000 ‘fans’ invade the field. James Hird wins the Brownlow two days later with Michael Voss, sporting a cut under his eye courtesy of Andrew Dunkley. Dunkley’s immediate opponent that night Matthew Lloyd almost loses his spleen in a Sydney hospital that night. Dunks is rubbed out but goes to the Supreme Court and gets the okay to play. North hump the Swans a week later. Ha! Up your arse Dunkley, up your arse Sydney.


1997 – Adelaide 12.21.93 def  West Bullies 13.13.91 at the MCG – 70,800 attend.
It is 3/4 time. The Dogs have played the Crows off the park and stand on the edge of their first Grand Final in yonks. It seems a formality. Mal Blight has other ideas. Darren Jarman and Andrew McLeod are let off the chain and the Crows have a five goal final quarter while the Doggies manage 5 behinds – including the premature celebrations of Tony Liberatore and co in time on only to see the goal umpire signal a behind. Not for the first time, Terry Wallace, now ironically known on media street as ‘The List Manager’ manages to get himself out-coached and sees defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.


1999 – Carlton 16.8.104 def Essendon 14.19.103 at the MCG – 80519 attend.
After losing to Brisbane in the first Qualifying Final and despite not having a double chance Carlton somehow find themselves still in the finals. After taking care of business against the Eagles and booking a Prelim berth, Glenn Manton is caught on camera with John Elliott telling teammates he “can’t wait to stick it up the Bombers next week…” Kouta runs amok with help from Camporeale and Ratten and Essendon can’t get out of the blocks. The game eventually comes down to two key moments: Mark Mercuri misses a sitter that would hand Essendon the win, and Fraser Brown elevates himself to footy legend status with a game-saving tackle out of nowhere on Dean Wallis who’s all set to get the ball to Matthew Lloyd who’s managed to get 10 yards on Silvagni. Eggs and taunts are thrown at Essendon supporters camped out at Windy Hill’s Ticketmaster outlet within minutes of the final siren. Carlton fans don’t care about the loss to North in the following week’s Grand Final coz: “Fraser Brown’s tackle mate…”


2004 Port Adelaide 14.10.94 def St Kilda 13.10.88 at Football Park – 47,000 attend.
One of the all-time classic Preliminary finals with lead changes at every break and the greatest of those margins less than 10 points. Fraser Gehrig gets his ton and fans try to honour the tradition of running on to the ground to celebrate. Does it stop the Saints momentum? Is there a more Orwellian term than “invade the ground”? Rodger James and Kane Cornes are superb for the Power while Lenny Hayes and Stephen Powell leave it all on the park for St Kilda. The Power go on the following week to end the dominance of the Brisbane Lions – adding even more silverware to an already chockas trophy cabinet at Alberton.


2007 – Geelong 13.14.92 def Collingwood 13.9.87 at the MCG – 90,002 attend.
On the back of an infamous football department ‘review’ at the end of 2006, Mark Thompson almost walks out on the Cats. Steve Johnson is banished to the Geelong two’s indefinitely after a mob called ‘Leading Teams’ start working with the hoop d’affire to sort out leadership issues. Matthew Scarlett and Geelong’s back six are superb. Dane Swan, Steve Johnson and Cameron Ling announce themselves as genuine superstars. The game comes down to the final minutes. Geelong prevails, a bona-fide rivalry is born and never before will the term ‘keeping a lid on” be wheeled out as much as it would be over the next 7 days.


2011 – Collingwood 10.8.68 def Hawthorn 9.11.65 at the MCG – 87,112 attend.
The Pies finish the season as reigning Premiers on top of the ladder and look set to go back-to-back. Hawthorn are desperate to add to 2008s cup with it current generation of stars. Another match which remains in the balance until the final siren. Swan, Pendlebury and Ball leave no doubt they’re elite, while Mitchell, Lewis and Birchall give their all.


2013 – Hawthorn 14.18.102 def Geelong 15.7.97 at the MCG – 85,569 attend.
Desperate to atone for their 2012 Grand Final loss to Sydney, Hawthorn denies form and history to finally roll Geelong for the first time since the 2008 Grand Final– albeit by 5 points. Once again, another AFL final which no one is prepared to call before the final siren goes.


My memory only goes so far back. Surely there’s some gems pre 1987? I’m looking at YOU Almanac community!



*This was originally posted as Stynes giving away a fifty metre penalty. As numerous people have alerted me to, it was – in fact – a fifteen metre penalty awarded against Big Jimmah that put Buckenara within goal scoring range. Mea culpa and (sincerely) thanks for helping set the record straight. It’s part of what I love about the Almanac community.

About Steve Baker

Weapons-grade grump. Currently in an "it's complicated" relationship with Essendon.


  1. A few more classics we can add would include 1973 when Royce Hart came on at half time to lead the Tigers to a fighting victory over Collingwood.

    Not to mention North Melbournes thriling victory over Hawhtorn the following year, which got them into only their second Grand Final.

    Who could forget the episode in 1981 when Gary Sidebottom missed the bus, and Collingwood beat Geelong by 7 points.

    I’m sure there’s more, but this trio come quickly to mind .


  2. You have got me salivating Stone Cold. I’m playing golf early on Saturday in the hope that Port and the Squawkers can turn on a classic in the afternoon. Just hoping North are competitive and make the Emerald City Millionaires earn it.
    Great memories. Thanks.

  3. 97…Jeez thanks Steve….still shattered, Plough was a very good game day coach, but Plough like most has an enormous ego and like Fonzie has never been wr..wr..wr..wr..wr…
    That last quarter he had Todd Curley (a good honest servant but no star) on Jarman, who ran amok, and he had Leon Cameron sitting on the pine.
    Can still remember my heart thumping through my chest as the entire crowd rose when Mark West came running out of the centre, glided to 30 and pushed it right..Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrkkkkkkkkk!

  4. Great memories, thanks. I think you’ll find that in ’87, the ‘young Irish rookie’ gave away a fifteen-metre penalty, not fifty.

  5. Thanks Greg, I’ve corrected the error. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Glen: Just the kind of stuff I was hoping to be brought up. I have no doubt that the 60s and 70s produced some great Preliminary Finals, it’s just the that 80s onwards is more my vintage. I was sorely tempted to add G Sidebottom missing the bus to Waverley.

    Peter B: Now the 4.40pm start for the Squarks V Sparks makes sense. Gives W.A Golfers with an interest in the footy the opportunity for a casual 18 holes before the bounce!

    Sorry Cowshed. It had to be brought up. Go to the top of the class for working Fonzie never being wr… wrrr… wr… into the mix. Whatever became of Mark West anyway? The trailblazer for the dreadlocked footballer

  6. Love it Steve.
    Got me thinking of consequences from Preliminary finals, too.
    Reports leading to suspensions from the GF probably the most dramatic.
    Thinking J Cloke in 2002 – rubbed out for the GF after striking Adelaide’s Tyson Edwards in the Prelim. Would he have made a differnece v Brisbane in the GF? Yes.

    Top article on P Schwab’s missing of the 1989 GF after being suspended for striking in the Prelim, by M Flanagan here. The pain, the pain. Long afterwards, the pain.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Re 1993 – ’twas only 42 points at the half (might have been more before then)

    Yep, A Jarman, but closer to 12 metres. Blighty punished him three years later when he gave him the tijuana.

    I spent half time trying to work out how to get across from Adelaide the following week; didn’t need to worry, did I?

    Thought 1998 was better than 1997. Distant memories now, but I’m sure that Simon will be as successful as other “jobs for the boys” recipients such as Voss, Buckley and Hird.

  8. I don’t think Roger James played a better game than that 2004 prelim. Without him the Saints would have blown the Power away in the first half.

    Different league but while we are reminiscing about 1997 and possible new Crows coaches, Garry McIntosh got rubbed out of the SANFL GF for snotting Stewy Dew in the prelim. From memory Centrals were beating Norwood at the time but, weirdly, after said snotting the realisation that Macca would not be playing in the GF lifted the rest of the team and the legs got over the top and then went on to beat Port by 12 goals in the GF. Someone at the ABC got in trouble for presenting Macca with a premiership medallion.

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Should’ve read my twitter feed earlier, sorry Simon

  10. E.regnans,
    Just read Martin Flanagan’s story.
    Never heard of that poem before. I’ve never cried at a poem before.
    Hopefully I never will…

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Steve geez there are some great games there ironic that Libbas miss or as the Crows guys point out a amazing decision by the goal umpire is still so vivid re memories . Buckenara was a tad closer than that to start with we all acknowledge ,
    Stynes amazing character re fighting for his life but in retrospect he showed us all in rebounding from his error so strongly a incredible person . Koutas game and last q will go down as 1 of the best in football folklore . Browny Rob Popplestone got in trouble re the medal ( bloody nervous listening to prelim on the drive back from , Melb )
    Sidebottom re the bus as mentioned above was the 1 I immediately thought of
    Will go thru footy record book in next couple of days thanks , Steve

  12. 1976 Minor Premiers Carlton pepper the goals in the last few minutes but go down to North by a point at Waverley.

    1980 Ditto Geelong v Collingwod, losing by 4.

    1985 Leigh Matthews inspires Hawthorn to a 10 point win against a gallant Footscray (sorry Dogs’ fans).

  13. We can go all the way back to Essendon V Colingwood in 1965 when Essendons John Somerville ‘fainted’ behind the play, with Colingwod player Duncan Wright standing beside him, seemingly oblivious to the event.

    There was of course 1989 with the famous Gary Ablett goal v Essendon. The mark, then baulking around a hapless Paul Hamilton, saw Ablett bomb a six pointer. The great man at his best.


  14. Michael Viljoen says

    Plugger was once asked what was the best goal he ever kicked in his career. He responded, ‘The point I kicked to get Sydney into the Grand Final.’

    If I’m ever asked what was the best game of footy I’ve ever seen, I say the 1999 Carlton/Essendon Prelim, although I only saw the last quarter. Tickets were impossible to come by for an ordinary fan, so we just turned up at 3/4 time when they opened the gates (in those days when you could.)

    Steve, in your summary above, you forgot to mention that Carlton might well not have won the week before had they not been given the undeserved home state advantage over the Eagles, due to an archaic rule about the MCG not being allowed to be vacant during a final’s weekend. This added to the injustice of Carlton even being allowed to play, and not being considered a worthy match for Essendon. This made winning even sweeter.

  15. Michael Viljoen says

    I was at the ’87 Prelim when Buckenara kicked the winner after the siren. After the 15 metre penalty, he was within comfortable range for the class of forward he was. But without the penalty, it looked against the odds, as he would have been kicking from outside 50 (in today’s language). But he still might well have pulled it off. He was that sort of player.

    I was in the third row but never actually heard the siren sound.

    Can some Almanacker please, please, answer this question for me, that has haunted me for years. Buckenara marked before the siren, but kicked it after the siren. But did Stynes run over the mark before the siren or after it? When precisely did the siren sound? If he ran through the mark after the siren, my understanding of the rules is that the penalty should not be paid.

    I have a theory that the siren may have been difficult to hear, and that if it was louder, then some, including maybe Stynes and the umpire, might have heard it earlier, and the result may have been different.

  16. G’day Michael, Stynes ran over the mark after the siren. Umpires can pay 15 metre penalties (or 50 metres now) after the siren. I remember it happening in a junior footy match I was playing in, and never ever forgot it after that!

  17. Mick Jeffrey says

    Won’t get over 1997, we had 5 chances to seal it in the last term

    – Romero hits the post from 40 on the run, James Cook unmarked inside 25…

    – Cook misses very much gettable set shot from 20. Even if we won it may well have been his last kick of the season having tried to decapitate Jarman before HT

    – Libba

    – M.West

    – Grant with a minute left having Paul Hudson get in his way.

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