Ahead of this week's decider between Sydney and the Bulldogs, here is a look back at some Grand Final match-ups that we missed out in the modern AFL era.
1994 – West Coast vs. North Melbourne
The Eagles claimed their second flag in three years when they easily accounted for Geelong by 80 points in the 1994 Grand Final. The Cats had reached the final game of the year courtesy of some masterful performances through the 1994 finals series. An after-the-siren win over Footscray was followed with a gutsy win over 2nd placed Carlton in the semi-final, despite missing a host of stars.
Then, in one of the most famous preliminary finals, Gary Ablett snr goaled to give Geelong their second after-the-siren win to grant them a Grand Final berth. Alas, the Cats were no match for West Coast.
West Coast and North Melbourne met twice in 1994, with the Eagles winning both occasions, although the second meeting was decided by just nine points, as the Kangaroos stormed home in the final quarter only to just fall short. The Eagles had also ended the Kangaroos 1993 campaign in an upset elimination final after North Melbourne had finished third.
1994 represented something of a changing of the guard as future discussions centred around who was the ‘team of the 90’s’. The Eagles finished in the top four from 1990 to 1994 collecting two premierships from three grand finals, while the Kangaroos were on the brink of seven consecutive preliminary finals through the second half of the decade, also winning two flags from three attempts.
As well as potentially being a great Grand Final, an Eagles-Kangaroos Grand Final would also have pitted the iconic individual match-up of the 90’s in Wayne Carey and Glen Jakovich. The two superstars waged many battles throughout their careers, and were often the major focal point of any game between the two sides. Jakovich and Carey would have three encounters in finals, but never on the biggest stage.
1997 – St.Kilda vs. Western Bulldogs
The Crows claimed their first ever flag in one of the more memorable Grand Finals overturning a half-time deficit to storm to a 31 point win. However, one of the more sentimental match-ups could have seen two perennial battlers of the competition meet up instead in the 1997 decider.
As the 1997 season started, the Saints and Bulldogs had managed just one premiership each from 100 seasons and 72 seasons, respectively. St.Kilda had made the finals just twice in 23 seasons, but showed signs of a rise when they collected 10 wins in 1996.
The Bulldogs on the other hand had won just five games the previous season, but in Terry Wallace’s second season in charge things had turned around. The Bulldogs topped the ladder after Round 14, before four consecutive losses dropped them out of the top eight. Wins in the final four weeks of the season enabled the Bulldogs to climb back up to third with 14 wins for the seasons.
The Saints took out the McLelland Trophy after finishing top, with new recruit Jason Heatley kicking 62 goals at full-forward and Robert Harvey’s superb year culminating in a Brownlow at season’s end (although Harvey did poll one less vote than the ineligible Bulldogs captain, Chris Grant).
The Saints took care of a plucky Brisbane in the opening week, while the Bulldogs shot out of the blocks to boot nine opening goals against the Swans before coasting to victory. North Melbourne’s upset win over the 2nd placed Geelong meant that the Bulldogs and Saints were both given the week off and handed home preliminary finals.
Suddenly, the two least successful clubs in the AFL had a chance to make a Grand Final, which would have guaranteed a second premiership for one set of long-suffering fans.
St.Kilda defeated the reigning premiers in the opening preliminary final, with North Melbourne rising from 7th before their luck, and Corey McKernan’s shoulder, popped out.
The following afternoon, the Bulldogs looked set to complete the fairy-tale match-up when they led Adelaide by 31 points at half-time. The Crows, through Andrew McLeod, worked their way into the contest in the third quarter, but still trailed by 22 with one quarter to play.
Tony Liberatore thought he had sealed the game early in the last quarter but his shot on goal was ruled a point, before the Crows booted the only four goals of the last term to steal the win and break Bulldog hearts.
Adelaide would go on the next week to claim their maiden premiership, Darren Jarman the hero when he booted five final quarter goals to deny the Saints their first flag in 31 years. For both the Bulldogs and Saints, 1997 would be the start of a number of painful preliminary and grand final losses that would halt them from adding to their one premiership triumph.
1998 – North Melbourne vs. Western Bulldogs
The Bulldogs and Kangaroos were the premier two teams in the competition for 1998, with the two defeated preliminary finalists from 1997 on track to square off in the final game of the year.
The Bulldogs topped the ladder for much of the year, but the Kangaroos overtook the Bulldogs by percentage after they thrashed Fremantle by 104 points in Round 20. The two teams met in the final round with both teams on 15 wins, meaning the victor would claim the minor premiership.
On the Friday night in front of 68,000 people, a possible grand final preview saw North Melbourne claim a thrilling five point win and secure top spot at the close of the home and away season.
Both teams progressed to the preliminary final with wins over the Bombers and Eagles and in the first preliminary final, North Melbourne confirmed their place in the Grand Final with a 30 point win over a gallant Melbourne. The next day, the Bulldogs faced their 1997 nemesis, the Crows, with a view to reaching their first Grand Final in 37 years.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs history repeated itself, only in much more devastating fashion. The Crows thumped the Bulldogs by 68 points, with Andrew McLeod kicking a career high 7 goals and Matthew Robran a personal best 6.
Adelaide would then make it back-to-back flags when they toppled North Melbourne, coming from fifth to do so. For the Bulldogs, the preliminary final defeat would be their third in seven seasons, taking a further 18 years to finally break through to a Grand Final berth.
1999 – North Melbourne vs. Essendon
The 1999 preliminary final is arguably the greatest upset of finals history, when the Blues defeated their arch rivals Essendon by a solitary point to gatecrash the 1999 Grand Final. While the win will be long remembered for all of those who watched or were involved, the Blues win denied what could have been one of the great grand finals.
The Bombers had finished atop the ladder with 18 wins in the 1999 season, while the Kangaroos had finished in 2nd spot, just one win behind. Both teams easily won their opening finals game sending the two sides directly through to the preliminary final.
Essendon and the Kangaroos had met twice during the 1999 season, with the Bombers winning both encounters in high-scoring affairs. The 2nd meeting in Round 17 in particular had been a classic, as the two respective spearheads led a goal-scoring glut. In a game that had 44 goals, Matthew Lloyd booted seven, while Wayne Carey kicked 10 and the promise of a similar performance in the biggest game of the year was salivating for fans and the AFL alike.
In the first preliminary final, the Kangaroos confirmed their place in the 1999 decider courtesy of a 45 point win over Brisbane who had made great strides in Leigh Matthews’ first season as coach. The Bombers played Carlton the next day, and were expected to account for the Blues with ease, having won six more games than their opponents in the regular season.
The Blues for their part had done well to make it to the penultimate weekend of the season after finishing sixth at the end of the home and away season. Carlton were thrashed in the opening week of the finals to the tune of 73 points by Brisbane, but due to the anomaly of the AFL’s grounds arrangement were given a home final against West Coast the following week, even though they had beaten the Bulldogs. Carlton bounced back to defeat the Eagles by 9 goals, setting up the meeting with Essendon.
Inspired by Anthony Koutofides’ last quarter and a desperate last minute tackle by Fraser Brown, the Blues held on against an inaccurate Essendon. Carlton proved to be no match the following week, as the Kangaroos eased to a 35 point win to claim their second premiership in four seasons, and avenge their 1998 Grand Final defeat to Adelaide.
2000 – Essendon vs. Carlton
While the Blues may have been fortunate to make the 1999 Grand Final, for much of the 2000 season, Carlton appeared to be the best challenger to the Essendon juggernaut. The Bombers were taking all before them as they looked to make up for the disappointing end to 1999.
While much has been made of the 20 straight wins that Essendon would rack up to start the year, the Blues strung 13 consecutive wins to sit three games behind the Bombers in 2nd spot at the end of Round 18. Carlton had just thrashed rivals Collingwood by 111 points and possessed a solid blend of experienced champions in Stephen Silvagni, Craig Bradley and Andrew McKay alongside future stars Lance Whitnall and Scott Camporeale.
As Carlton kept pace with Essendon, the hype over their Round 20 meeting grew, with both teams expected to be on long winning streaks. However, the Blues hit a snag the week before when they fell to the Bulldogs (who would also later end the Bombers streak). Still on a Friday night in July, over 91,000 people crammed into the MCG to witness the expected Grand Final preview. The contest was a tight affair for the majority of the night, as Essendon took a two-point lead into the final term. The Bombers would claim their 20th straight win thanks to a seven goal final quarter, winning by 26 points.
The Blues would drop a third straight game the following week against Port Adelaide, before a final round win over Richmond confirmed their place in 2nd spot (five games behind Essendon). Carlton were still expected to be the best team to topple the Bombers at the end of the season, with the previous year’s preliminary final heroics still warm in the hearts of Carlton fans in the country.
Under the newly revised finals format, the Blues took on the 3rd placed Melbourne and were expected to win, having thrashed the Demons by 98 points in their only meeting earlier in the season. However, the Demons flipped the finals on its head, coming back from 21 points down at three quarter time to upset the Blues by 9 points.
This placed the Blues onto the Bombers side of the draw, and after they dispatched of Brisbane in the semi-final, faced up against Essendon in the penultimate week for the second consecutive year. The Bombers were keen to amend the previous year’s shock exit and had the game in their keeping by half time, eventually winning by 45 points. Essendon then defeated Melbourne the following week to claim the flag.
A late season stagger by Carlton prevented a dream Grand Final match-up but it is fair to say that nobody was stopping the Bombers in 2000.
2011 – Geelong vs. Hawthorn
The Cats were still seething three years after the Hawks ‘stole’ their 2008 Grand Final, and after two seasons out of contention, the Hawks had surged back up the ladder in 2011 to finish third. The Cats were one win ahead in second spot and the two sides met in the opening week of the finals. Geelong won comfortably enough, but the Hawks had a chance to give fans the Grand Final re-match when they took on Collingwood in the preliminary final.
In a low-scoring affair, the Hawks led by 17 points at the final break but the Magpies booted four of the first five goals of the last quarter to take the lead with only six minutes remaining. A dribbled Lance Franklin goal restored the Hawks lead a couple of minutes later. Luke Ball though would have the final say, with his goal putting Collingwood back in front, where they stayed at the final siren.
An injury-hit Magpies fell away against the Cats the next week, who claimed their third flag in five years. Geelong and Hawthorn were destined to play many great finals in future years, but the 2008 classic remains the last meeting in the biggest final for one of the great modern rivals.
2011 – Collingwood vs. West Coast
The Eagles were the fairy-tale story of 2011 rising from the wooden spoon in 2010 to top four. West Coast had rebounded back courtesy of their forward press style, as well as the return of key players who had missed much of the previous year through injury and the addition of first year players Andrew Gaff and Jack Darling.
The Magpies were the reigning premiers and finished top of the ladder having dropped just two games for the season (both against Geelong). However, much of the year had been clouded in the off-field saga surrounding the succession plan involving head coach Michael Malthouse and assistant Nathan Buckley.
The two sides met in the opening week with Collingwood claiming victory over a plucky West Coast side by 20 points. The Eagles won at home the following week against Carlton before travelling back to the MCG to take on Geelong in the preliminary final.
With Collingwood through the night before, a West Coast win would have seen Michael Malthouse coach his (then) final game against the side where he had won two premierships, with his former captain John Worsfold at the helm of West Coast.
The Eagles though were no match for Geelong, and the Cats would claim the 2011 flag with a 38 point win over Collingwood.
2015 – West Coast vs. Fremantle
One for the Western Australian fans, an all-WA derby looked a distinct possibilty for much of the 2015 season.
The Dockers flew out of the blocks to win their opening nine games holding top spot from Round 4 until the end of the season.
West Coast weren’t expected to be challengers for the flag, but their web defence saw them finish in 2nd spot with 16 wins and a draw. The Eagles then stunned the two-time reigning premiers in the opening week when they defeated the Hawks by 32 points to book a home preliminary final.
The Dockers meanwhile had also won their opening final against the Swans, although were fortunate to get over the line by 9 points against an undermanned Sydney who were missing Lance Franklin and Luke Parker, as well as losing Sam Reid early in the game.
With two preliminary finals in Perth, excitement built around the state for an historic derby Grand Final. The Dockers though were stumbling as injuries started to take their toll at the end of a long season. The Hawks returned to Perth for the second time in the finals series and accounted for the home side by 27 points, with Fremantle spluttering to the end.
West Coast overcame a slow start against North Melbourne to win by 20 points to reach the Grand Final, but were ultimately outclassed by a more experienced Hawthorn side, who claimed their third straight premiership by 46 points.
Had Fremantle made it through, it is likely they would have struggled, with Nat Fyfe breaking a leg against the Hawks and Matthew Pavlich later revealing he had torn a calf. A number of other key players also had injury issues. Still, it would have been a dream Grand Final for WA fans in a rare season where both Perth sides found themselves deep in the final series.
Which Grand Final would have been on your wish list?