September action is now in full swing in the AFL and it’s already brought some enthralling contests. In honour of the West Coast Eagles’ thrilling extra time win over Port Adelaide, here is a list of the 12 best finals in recent memory.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Lance Franklin’s seven-goal elimination final performance to lift the Hawks over the Crows in 2007.
12: ST KILDA VS WESTERN BULLDOGS – 2009 PRELIMINARY FINAL
The Saints were coming off a club record 20-2 season (including 19 in a row) and one of the most dominant home and away performances in history. Still, the brave Western Bulldogs put up an almighty fight against the minor premiers in the preliminary final. After the Saints were held goalless in the first term, they hit back on the scoreboard in the latter two quarters (including a controversial free kick to champion Nick Riewoldt at the start of the third) to eventually hold a slim one-point lead with 1.20 minutes remaining. Unsurprisingly, it was then Riewoldt, who was coming off a career best 78 goal season, who kicked his fourth for the match to send the Saints to the Grand final.
11: HAWTHORN VS ADELAIDE – PRELIMINARY FINAL 2012
This was the first entry of the Hawks’ four epic preliminary finals from 2011-14. Hawthorn was the red hot favourite even without skipper Luke Hodge in the lineup and looked certain to advance to the Grand Final after a huge third quarter led by Cyril Rioli and Lance Franklin, as well as Sam Mitchell (29 disposals). But the Crows withstood a Hawks’ avalanche and began to trim the margin to five points thanks to goals from Kurt Tippett and then from Jason Porplyzia. Veteran Graham Johncock delivered an unlikely lead for the Crows with five minutes remaining before a match winning Rioli snatched back the lead moments later. He struck again by combining with Franklin to give the Hawks a 10 point lead. A late goal from Tex Walker wasn’t enough as Hawthorn advanced to its first of four successive Grand Final appearances.
10: SYDNEY VS WEST COAST – 2006 QUALIFYING FINAL
The Swans and Eagles had a fantastic rivalry from the years 2005 to 2007, and in the six times (including two Grand Finals) they met in those years the final margins of those games were: 4 points, 4 points, 2 points, 1 point, 1 point, 1 point. One of these clashes was the qualifying final in 2006 in which the Swans upset the Eagles at Subiaco oval. Sydney led for most of the match until the Eagles fought back in the third term led by Chris Judd (34 disposals). The champion sides traded goals in a thrilling final quarter before Michael O’Loughlin (4 goals) landed the final blow to book the Swans a home preliminary final. Famously the Eagles and Swans would meet in the 2006 Grand Final weeks later, this time the Eagles taking out premiership by one point.
9: COLLINGWOOD VS WEST COAST – 2007 SEMI FINAL
The Eagles were coming off a qualifying final loss to Port Adelaide and hosted an up and coming Collingwood side at Subiaco. The veteran Eagles looked like they were going to blow the game open, racing to a 23-point lead in the third term before three late goals to the Magpies (2 from Anthony Rocca) brought the margin back to four points at the final change. Alan Didak gave Collingwood a two-point lead with eight minutes remaining, then after a frantic final few minutes, the scores were eventually locked at 72-72 to send the match into extra time. The young Magpies steadied in the overtime periods, and thanks to goals from a 19-year-old Scott Pendlebury and a 23-year-old Dane Swan (38 disposals), the Pies booked a spot in the preliminary final.
8: GEELONG VS COLLINGWOOD – 2007 PRELIMINARY FINAL
Just one week later, the Pies were again involved in another classic, this time taking on the 2007 Geelong powerhouse. The Cats were coming off a dominant 18-4 season and a huge 106 point win over North Melbourne in the qualifying final. But the Magpies again provided a great challenge in front of more than 98,000 people at the MCG. The Cats seemed to answer every Magpie run and held a 17 point lead during the last quarter before Collingwood pulled within 5 points with a minute remaining. But time eventually ran out for the Magpies in Nathan Buckley’s final game, and thanks to performances from Gary Ablett (31 disposals) and Brad Ottens (23 disposals, 24 hitouts) Geelong booked their first grand final appearance since 1995.
7: HAWTHORN VS PORT ADELAIDE – 2014 PRELIMINARY FINAL
The Power became known for their fast finishes, none bigger than when they gave the Hawks a giant scare in the 2014 prelim. Again the red hot favourites, the Hawks increased the pressure from their huge third quarter to blow the margin out to 28 points with 10 minutes remaining, then the Power flicked the switch and piled on four goals from the likes of Chad Wingard, Jared Polec and Angus Monfries (four majors) to narrow the Hawks lead to four points. Port Adelaide had its chance to steal victory when Andrew Moore had a shot for goal, but it wasn’t to be as the likes of Luke Hodge (27 disposals) stood up for the Hawks as they advanced to the Grand Final to take on Sydney the next week.
6: GEELONG VS HAWTHORN – 2016 QUALIFYING FINAL
The Cats and the Hawks raised the bar of their epic rivalry yet again in the 2016 qualifying final in front of 87,000 screaming fans at the G. Hawthorn had made a stunning habit of winning close games in 2016, taking out six games by less than 10 points. And, after a fierce 120 minutes of football with superstars like Patrick Dangerfield (35 disposals) and Sam Mitchell (30 disposals) providing great performances, Geelong looked set to hang on with a 3 point lead with under 30 seconds remaining. But Hawthorn would get one more chance through Isaac Smith after he marked a pass from Luke Bruest with 10 seconds remaining. The siren blew and, fortunately for the Cats, Smith’s kick hooked and the Cats found their way into another preliminary final.
5: COLLINGWOOD VS HAWTHORN – 2011 PRELIMINARY FINAL
Collingwood were chasing back-to-back flags in 2011, and only lost twice in the home and away season but they almost didn’t make the big dance thanks to a valiant effort from Hawthorn. The Hawks led by Sam Mitchell (31 disposals) and Jordan Lewis (28 disposals) held a 17 point lead over the minor premiers at the final change, but the 2010 premiers came home strong and took the lead thanks to a goals from Dane Swan (32 disposals) Chris Dawes, Leon Davis and Travis Cloke. In the final four minutes, Lance Franklin rose to the occasion though and kicked a miracle goal to pinch the lead back, but it wasn’t to be in 2011 for Hawthorn, thanks to a brilliant goal from Luke Ball (pictured) to drag the Pies over the line.
4: HAWTHORN VS GEELONG – 2013 PRELIMINARY FINAL
There could not have been a script written for this match. The Cats had won their last 11 encounters against the Hawks after the 2008 Grand final upset, dubbed “The Kennett Curse” after former Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett made controversial comments about the Cats. And the Cats looked like they were going to get the Hawks, yet again led by a rampaging Stevie Johnson (32 disposals, 4 goals), after a late run of goals in the third term that saw the Cats hold a 20 point lead at the final change. But the Hawks would storm home thanks to the play of Jack Gunston (4 goals) and Shaun Burgoyone who put the Hawks in front. Travis Varcoe had a chance to tie the match inside the final minute but couldn’t capitalise as the Hawks made their way to the Grand final and first of three straight flags.
3: SYDNEY VS GEELONG – 2005 SEMI FINAL
One of the most famous finals in history and a heart breaker for Cats fans. The young Geelong side came up against the veteran lineup from the Swans and took it right up to them for three quarters, and it looked as if the Cats would pull off a gutsy win, leading by 22 points with 13 minutes remaining in a low scoring clash. Enter Nick Davis, who pulled together one of the most remarkable quarters in finals history, kicking the last four goals of the match and lifting the Swans over the line, en route to the club’s first Premiership in 72 years.
2: WESTERN BULLDOGS VS GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY – 2016 PRELIMINARY FINAL
The Dog’s were against the odds throughout all of 2016 finals series, and were up against it yet again in the prelim against the enormously talented GWS Giants at Spotless stadium. Led by performances from Luke Dahlhaus (32 disposals) and Clay Smith (4 goals) the Dogs fought back from a 14 point final quarter deficit to hit the front with 3 minutes left thanks to a goal from Jack Macrae. Some frantic football followed and the siren blew with the ball in Tory Dickson’s hands to end a 55 year Grand Final drought.
1: WEST COAST EAGLES VS PORT ADELAIDE – 2017 ELIMINATION FINAL
What more can be said about this match? Extra time and a goal after the siren cements this final as one of the greatest in AFL history. The Eagles and Power could not be separated after two hours of exhilarating footy. The Power were just seconds away from advancing to a semi final date with the GWS Giants in the second extra time period before Luke Shuey (32 disposals, 2 goals) drew a high tackle in the dying moments and a shot at victory. Cool and calmly, Shuey slotted the major and ended the Power’s season in heartbreaking fashion.