Top Five Preliminary Finals of the AFL Era

In the 28 years since the VFL became the AFL, we’ve had hoodoos broken, upsets sprung and after the siren thrillers. Preliminary Final weekend has truly had it all, which matches will make the cut?. And which one will be number one?

It’s Preliminary Final weekend once again, one of the best weekends for the year. As we prepare to see Richmond, Collingwood, West Coast and Melbourne square off for their shot at glory, lets take a look back at the best Preliminary Finals of the AFL era.

In the 28 years since the VFL became the AFL, we’ve had hoodoos broken, upsets sprung and after the siren thrillers. Preliminary Final weekend has truly had it all, which matches will make the cut?. And which one will be number one?

Adelaide Grading

5. Exorcising Kennett’s Curse

What they don’t have, I think, is the quality of some of our players; they don’t have the psychological drive we have. We’ve beaten Geelong when it matters.

Jeff Kennett

When Hawthorn met Geelong in the 2013 Prelim Final they hadn’t tasted success over their rival since the 2008 Grand Final. With nine of the eleven matches decided by less than two goals, many fans were blaming the supernatural for the run of outs and Jeff Kennett’s words were often pointed to as the cause. So, when Jordan Murdoch kicked truly for the Cats deep in time on of the third quarter for a twenty point lead, the same fans might have been forgiven for thinking Kennett’s Curse would never be overcome.

Calm and composed after the last break, the Hawks worked their way back into the match but it seemed a forlorn effort when Josh Caddy again extended the Cats lead to more than three goals with just seven minutes to play. With Sam Mitchell and Grant Birchall leading the way they came once again and with goals to Bradley Hill, Jack Gunston and Shaun Burgoyne they grabbed an unlikely lead.

Brought to their feet with excitement, Hawthorn fans had their hearts in their mouths again when Travis Varcoe had a chance to tie the score with time running down. “I was thinking ‘here we go again’,” said defender Ben Stratton to the AFL Record in 2014. “Varcoe would kick that nine times out of 10 and these things keep on happening to us against Geelong.” It was not to be this time though with the classy Cat’s shot only registering a behind. With the MCG at fever pitch, the siren that brought an end to Kennett’s Curse was almost drowned out by the sound of 85,569 excited fans. While it was the end of Geelong’s dominance of the rivalry, the fixture’s reputation for nail-biting results continues to this day with four of the last five matches between the teams decided by less than two goals.

HAWTHORN   3.5   7.8   10.10  14.18 (102)
GEELONG       4.0   7.4   14.6    15.7 (97)
Hawthorn: Gunston 4, Burgoyne 3, Hale 2, Hill 2, Guerra, Breust, Franklin
Geelong: Johnson 4, Motlop 2, Christensen, Hawkins, Vardy, Bartel, Selwood, Guthrie, Taylor, Murdoch, Caddy
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Burgoyne, Gunston, Hale, Birchall, Guerra, Hill
Geelong: Johnson, Motlop, Guthrie, Selwood, Taylor, Stokes, Duncan
Official crowd: 85,569 at the MCG

Adelaide Grading

4. The Great Steal

When the siren sounded to end the first half of the 1993 Preliminary Final, it seemed to be nothing more than a brief interruption of a dominant Adelaide Crows performance that would see them progress to their first ever Grand Final. With Tony Modra on fire up forward for the Crows, they went into the main break with a commanding 42-point lead.

With Kevin Sheedy imploring his team to play the second half for their friends and family in the crowd, the Bombers calmly began the slow road back with few early goals to start the third. Then a moment writ large in footy folklore. “It was a 15-20m kick,” Andrew Jarman told the Herald Sun in 2013. “If I kicked that it would have changed the momentum back to us again.”

“I bloody blew it. I had Mark Thompson ripping in to me after that kick. I can hear his voice now just giving it to me: ‘You’ve cost them the game, you’ve cost them the game, we’re going to win it’.” It would be a telling miss, with Sean Denham clamping down on Tony McGuiness and Michael Long weaving magic, the Bombers kicked 6.1 to 1.2 to end the third quarter trailing by just 12 points.

Playing with eight players under 20-years old, and with the mostly pro-Bomber crowd of 76,380 behind them, Sheedy’s Baby Bombers continued to attack the contest. With the momentum squarely at their back, the mercurial Darren Bewick kicked his fifth and sixth goal to grab the lead. The game would go down to the wire with Essendon grimly hanging onto a six-point lead in time on. One of the greatest comebacks in Finals history finally settled, somewhat poetically, with a goal to Tim Watson who was on the way to his own fairytale comeback story having come out of retirement at the start of the season.

Essendon 4.5   6.6     12.8     17.9 (111)
Adelaide  7.4  12.12  13.14  14.16 (100)
Essendon: Bewick 6, Salmon 4, Watson 2, Mercuri, Kickett, O’Donnell, Long, Hird.
Adelaide: Modra 6, Smart 2, Brown 2, Wigney, Anderson, Hodges, Liptak.
Essendon: Long, O’Donnell, Bewick, Thompson , Flood, Olarenshaw, Denham.
Adelaide: Rehn, Modra , Smart, McGuinness, Jarman , Tegenza.
Crowd: 76,380 at the MCG

Adelaide Grading

3. The end to a Giant wait

GWS were favourites to win the 2016 Prelim Final and move into their first Grand Final in just their fifth year in the competition. Their opponents, the Western Bulldogs, had been waiting 11 times as long and lost eight prelim finals since their last Grand Final way back in 1961.

Having overcome a trip to Perth and the three-time defending champs the Hawks just to make the Prelim Final, the Bulldogs were riding a wave of emotion in front of a crowd bathed in red, blue and white. Despite this when they fell 14-points down in the last quarter it appeared that the unlikely run would come to an end. But a game doesn’t end up on this list if it tamely played out that way.

With players throwing themselves headlong into the contest, nerves were frayed as the Bulldogs missed countless opportunities before goals to Dickson and Bontempelli saw them grab a priceless seven-point lead. Jon Patton pulled one back for the Giants before Jeremy Cameron and Toby Greene missed chances to retake the lead.

With the game hanging tantalizingly in the balance Jackson Macrae grabbed himself a chance to be the hero. Belying the fact he had kicked just one goal for the season Macrae stood up under the spotlight to once again wrench back the lead. Devon Smith had a late chance to force the game into extra time but missed his shot leaving the Giants out of lives and the Bulldogs in their first Grand Final in 55 years.

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY         2.1      5.2      9.7     12.11    (83)
WESTERN BULLDOGS                      2.3      6.5      9.6     13.11    (89)
Greater Western Sydney: Patton 4, Greene 3, Lobb 3, D. Smith, Shaw
Western Bulldogs: C. Smith 4, Dickson 4,Cordy 2, Daniel, Bontempelli, Macrae
Greater Western Sydney: Kelly, Scully, Patton, Coniglio, Wilson, Greene
Western Bulldogs: C. Smith, Dahlhaus, Dickson, Morris, Wood, Johannisen, Macrae, Picken
Official crowd: 21,790 at Spotless Stadium

1994 Prelim

2. Divine Intervention

North Melbourne qualified for the Preliminary Final after winning the first ever final decided by extra time. Geelong took their place as a result of an upset win over Carlton following an after the siren thriller in the first week that Billy Brownless has probably talked about somewhere near 3 million times in the years since. Despite the thrilling nature of both of those games, they pale in the shadow of the drama of the preliminary final between the two sides.

With Wayne Carey at his imperial best, North Melbourne jumped out to an early but found themselves 24 points down at the main break. What followed was a classic, just as brutal as it was skillful as each team moved the ball end to end. A four-goal third term effort from Carey bring the Kangaroos to within three goals with half an hour to play.

With the Kangaroos coming hard at them, the Cats continued to take the game on and the last quarter became a last man standing affair. A Brett Allison goal put the Kangaroos in front late before the scores were once again leveled. With 90 seconds to play a Glenn Archer long bomb was intercepted by John Barnes in the goal square. The Cats attacked once more with Peter Riccardi sending the crowd into raptures as he took three bounces along the wing.

It would come to naught, there was still time but it was running out fast when Ken Hinkley intercepted a hurried Wayne Schwass kick, who moved the ball onto Paul Couch who in turn drove the ball forward. Couch’s searching kick couldn’t find a target going into touch for the last two boundary throw-ins of the match. After the secondary restart the ball hacked out of defence by Mick Martyn, who had kept Gary Ablett to just two goals to this stage of the game, but only as far as Leigh Colbert who returned it with interest. The hopeful kick went through the hands of Barnes and scooped up by Leigh Tudor who hooked the ball back past a despairing spoil attempt from Martyn and into the waiting hands of Ablett.

As Ablett walked back to take his kick time expired, leaving him the chance after the siren to win the game for his team. He would make no mistake and kicked the Cats only goal of the quarter and winning them a place in the Grand Final after their second after-the siren classic of the finals series.


Geelong                  3.3 10.7 15.9 16.13 (109)
North Melbourne 5.9 5.13 11.15 14.19 (103)
Geelong: Ablett 3, Couch 3, Breuer 2, Brownless 2, Mensch 2, Pickering 2, Tudor 2.
North Melbourne: Carey 6, Allison 3, Longmire 3, Blakey, McAdam
Geelong: G.Hocking, Hinkley, Breuer, Couch, Handley, O’Reilly
North Melbourne: Carey, Stevens, Martyn, Schwass, Laidley, Sholl
ATTENDANCE: 80,121 at the MCG


1. The one that got away

If you ask Essendon and Carlton fans of a certain age about the 1999 Preliminary Final and one group will tell you it was the hardest loss they’ve ever watched and for the other the sweetest victory. With the Bombers as close to unbackable favourites as is possible in a two horse race, the match is without question the one that got away for the Bombers.

Essendon entered the match having won 14 of their last 15 matches and having easily accounted for the Swans in the first week of the Finals. Carlton, on the other hand, were lucky to still be in the competition having finished sixth and lost their first final by 73 points. Taking full of a double chance that wouldn’t be offered them today, the Blues accounted for an injury-depleted West Coast team but were still expected to offer little opposition to the Bombers in the Prelim.

Despite this, the Blues jumped out of the blocks early and to the surprise of the large crowd took a 24-point lead into the half-time break. Finally brought to life in the second half, the Bombers looked home when they kicked 7.7 to 2.2 in the third quarter to steal the momentum going into the final term.

Enter Anthony Koutifides.

In one of the all-time great finals performances, Kouta was unstoppable in the last quarter. In a time where possessions were a little harder to earn, he would have ten in the final quarter and had a role in pretty much every Carlton scoring thrust. Seemingly omnipresent he was able to impose himself whenever the Blues needed him. Despite the see-sawing encounter would go down to the games last moments.

As the game entered the final minute there was just two points separating the two teams as the players hit the contest with more and more intensity. In this chaos the ball would spill loose to Mark Mercuri who missed in heavy traffic from 30 metres out. Blues veteran Craig Bradley drove the kick-in as far as possible but watched it come straight back in. Dean Rice cleared the ball once more but saw his effort intercepted by Dean Wallis who played on immediately. It would be a decision that he might like to have again with Fraser Brown famously claiming him in a tremendous ball and all tackle.

The final moments would play out with Justin Murphy initially electrifyingly running through the middle before sense prevailed and he gave off to Brett Ratten. The ball would again end up in his hands from Ratten’s kick where it would stay until he excitedly hurled it skywards upon the final siren. One of the greatest upsets in Preliminary Final history was complete.

1999 First Preliminary Final
Essendon 3.5 3.10 10.17 14.19 (103)
Carlton    6.3  8.4    10.6   16.8  (104)
Essendon: Lloyd 5, Moorcroft 2, Rioli 2, Young
Carlton: Whitnall 3, Hamill 3, Lappin 2, Brown 2, Koutoufides 2, Massie, Camporeale, Manton, Allan
Essendon: Long, Misiti, Fletcher, Lloyd, Heffernan
Carlton: Koutoufides, Ratten, Brown, Hamill, Whitnall
Attendance: 80,519 at the MCG

With Richmond, Collingwood, West Coast and Melbourne all set to write the next chapter in Preliminary Final folklore will we see the kind of contest to sit comfortably amongst these classics that have gone before?

What do you think, did we get it right? Which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments below or like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to join the conversation on line.


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