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Footscray vs. Adelaide, MCG, 1997
1996 was a horrible year for Footscray. As evidenced in the wonderful documentary, Year of the Dogs, the club was short on cash, resources and luck. After playing finals in 1992, 1994 and 1995, the Dogs finished the year in 15th spot, only the soon-to-be non-existent Fitzroy below them.
Thus, 1997 was a remarkable year for the Western Bulldogs (as they were now known to some). After a remarkably close season, in which the top team on the ladder changed regularly, Footscray finished the year in third spot, one win behind St. Kilda and Geelong.
Thanks to a Geelong loss in the Qualifying Final, the Dogs secured a week off going into the Preliminary Final against Adelaide. It was set up perfectly for Footscray to make their first Grand Final in 36 years, facing a travelling team with fresh legs, and the first half appeared to point towards that as well.
Despite the play around the ground being relatively even, Adelaide couldn't convert their opportunities and went into quarter time trailing 0.7 to the Dogs' 2.2. The pain of the scoreboard was compounded by a knee injury to the Crows' Coleman Medalist. Tony Modra.
The second quarter was even worse for Adelaide, conceding eight goals to the Dogs and trailing by 31 points at halftime. James Cook was particularly good for Footscray with four goals to his name going into the main break. He continued his good work in the third term and brought his tally to six goals at three quarter time. Mark West was another lively presence for the Dogs up forward, while Scott West led the way in the middle.
The third term was a better one for Adelaide, though. Andrew McLeod, Ben Hart and Nigel Smart were important players as the Crows outscored the Dogs for the quarter and managed to get the deficit back under four goals at the last break.
With Modra out of the game, coach Malcolm Blight turned to the mercurial Darren Jarman to provide a target in the forward line. As was Jarman's way, he obliged, sparking the Crows up forward as they began to run over the top of the Dogs. Helped by ferocious pressure up the ground - Adelaide laid 43 tackles to Footscray's 17 on the day - Jarman helped himself to three goals for the game to inspire one of the great finals comebacks.
Chris Grant had a chance to put the Dogs back in front with a scramble kick in the dying moments, but had it smothered by Tyson Edwards as it went through for a behind. As the siren sounded Adelaide led Footscray, 12.21.93 to 13.13.91, and were on their way to the club's first flag.
Port Adelaide vs. St. Kilda, Football Park, 2004
To some extent, Port Adelaide are the forgotten side of the early 2000s. We all remember the three-peat of the Brisbane Lions between 2001 and 2003, but it was Port that finished on top of the ladder in two of those years and did it again in 2004.
As dominant as the Power were in the home and away season, they had their problems in finals. They went out in straight sets in 2001, while they lost the Qualifying and the Preliminary in both 2002 and 2003. In 2004 they set the scene by beating Geelong by nine goals in the first week of finals, earning the week off in week two.
The St. Kilda team they faced were the new kids on the block. After getting rid of Stan Alves as coach in 1998, the Saints hadn't made the finals for five years. Under Grant Thomas as coach the Saints had built a list of superb young talent and in 2004 sat on top of the ladder for the majority of the year. There was a feeling throughout the season, though, that their young legs may have trouble seeing out the season.
It certainly looked that way in the Qualifying Final when Brisbane gave St. Kilda a touchup to the tune of 80 points. They weren't going down without a fight when they got to the Preliminary though. Fraser Gehrig got the ball rolling in the first quarter, kicking the first two goals of the game. His second goal was his 100th for the season and the ensuing ground invasion appeared to halt St. Kilda's momentum somewhat. To that point they had controlled the play and kicked 2.2 to Port's zero.
When play finally resumed, the Power clicked into gear and a mark to Warren Tredrea led to their first goal. From that point in the game it was more or less goal for goal until the final siren. St. Kilda led at quarter time, 4.5.29 to Port 4.0.24. Port scored the first goal of the second term through Roger James to hit the front, but they could never get their lead over much more than a goal. At halftime Port were in front by four points.
Former Port Adelaide captain, Gavin Wanganeen, hadn't touched the ball for the first half. With his first handball of the game he found Stuart Dew who set up Tredrea's second goal that put Port two goals up. Just as it looked as though the Power were taking back control of the game, St. Kilda kicked the next two goals to draw level again. A goal to Heath Black on the three quarter time siren put the Saints in front by a point.
It was Wanaganeen that sparked things again for Port Adelaide in the final term. A long range goal after a mark on the 50 metre line gave the Power the lead again. That was quickly followed by a St. Kilda goal to a young Nick Riewoldt, his first of two for the quarter, leading to yet another lead change.
Goals to Dew and Dean Brogan put the Power two goals ahead again, but they were followed by Riewoldt's third goal for the game and another to Luke Ball. Scores were level when the man of the moment, Gavin Wanganeen, kicked a mercurial goal from the boundary to take the lead for Port. Incredibly, with still over six minutes left on the clock, Port Adelaide were able to hold on from there and qualify for their first AFL Grand Final. Final score - Port Adelaide 14.10.94 to St. Kilda 13.10.88.
Hawthorn vs. Geelong, MCG, 2013
The rivalry between Hawthorn and Geelong has largely been a defining characteristic of the current era of the AFL. Following the 2008 Grand Final, which resulted in an upset win to Hawthorn, that rivalry was defined by the dreaded "Kennett Curse" named in honour of comments made by Hawthorn president, Jeff Kennett.
The 2008 Grand Final win was Hawthorn's fourth in five encounters with Geelong. In the five years after that game Hawthorn lost 11 consecutive games to the Cats by an average of less than nine points. The Preliminary Final of 2013 was their chance to put the curse top rest.
The Hawks and the Cats had been the two best teams all year. Hawthorn managed a monumental 19 wins in the home and away season, two of their three losses coming against Geelong. In between their first and second losses to the Cats they strung together 12 wins in a row and looked intent on avenging their Grand Final loss to Sydney in 2012. Geelong, meanwhile, were always right there alongside and finished the year second on the ladder with 18 wins.
Disaster struck in the Qualifying Final for Geelong, though. Despite a rare true home ground final at Kardinia Park, the Cats lost in the first week to the travelling Fremantle. That meant having to take the long way to the Prelim and having to face Hawthorn if they were to make the Grand Final.
The first half was a close tussle with neither team gaining the ascendancy. Geelong were able to stretch their lead to three goals in the second quarter but two late goals to Jack Gunston and one to Shaun Burgoyne meant Hawthorn went to the long break with a four point lead.
The third quarter was all Geelong's. Hawthorn managed the first goal of the term through David Hale but when Steve Johnson kicked his fourth goal a few minutes later it started a run of seven of the next nine goals. After a controversial boundary throw in with only seconds left in the quarter Geelong took a handy lead of 20 points into the final change.
Lance Franklin kicked his only goal of the game to open Hawthorn's last quarter account and Hawthorn's rested bodies immediately started to show, as Geelong slowed to a crawl. Josh Caddy, who started the game as the sub for Geelong, came on and kicked a goal for the Cats, but it would prove to be their last for the game.
Hawthorn went on to kick 4.8 to Geelong's 1.1 for the quarter. If not for wayward goal kicking Hawthorn could have blown the Cats away, but as it was it took until well into the time on period for Shaun Burgoyne to put his team in front with his third goal for the night. The Hawks had opportunities to put the game beyond Geelong's reach late in the game but weren't able to convert their opportunities into goals. Fortunately for Hawthorn, neither could the Cats, as Travis Varcoe had a chance to level the scores but missed from close range.
In the end the "Kennett Curse" was finally laid to rest as Hawthorn finished the game five points up, 14.18.102 to Geelong 15.7.97, and went on to win the first of three consecutive premierships the following week.