By Ollie Nash
GWS reflect on a chance gone begging in the 2016 Preliminary Final against the Western Bulldogs. Photo: Getty Images
AFL history is littered with teams that have let chances at premiership glory slip through their fingertips. Watching a replay of Greater Western Sydney's 2016 Preliminary Final loss jogged my memory on the subject. They defeated minor premiers Sydney in a qualifying final, setting up a home preliminary final against the seventh placed Western Bulldogs, all while having a stacked line-up on the field. The opportunity was there, but they missed it, losing to the Dogs. There are so many more examples. Teams that have dominated the regular season but fell on the big stage. Teams that have dominated play in a grand final but kicked inaccurately or teams that were subject to some of the most dominant displays by an individual player in finals history. I've managed to cull the list to my top six.
Geelong were red-hot favourites in the 08' Grand Final but inaccuracy cost them dearly. Photo: AFL Photos
1. 2008 Geelong
There haven’t been many more dominant teams in the modern era of the AFL throughout the regular season. The 2008 Cats were minor premiers, 21-1 with a percentage of 161.8, the best of a ladder leader between 1992 and 2020 except for Collingwood of 2011. They had seven All-Australians and three players finish in the top 10 in the Brownlow Medal count. Come Grand Final day however, against the youthful, up-and-coming Hawks, the Cats kicked 11.23 and lost by 26-points. Despite dominating large portions of the game and having nine extra scoring shots, a five minute third-quarter domination from Stuart Dew handed Hawthorn a five-goal advantage and broke the favourites. An all-time great grand final and an all-time missed opportunity by Geelong.
Much like the Cats 10 years later, North Melbourne's inaccuracy proved costly. Photo: AFL Photos
2. 1998 North Melbourne
North Melbourne had a successful stretch throughout the mid to late 1990s; three grand final appearances, two premierships and a further three preliminary finals. Their golden opportunity to join the elite teams with a third premiership came in 1998, their second grand final appearance in three years. They finished the year minor premiers and eased their way through the finals with a 22-point win in the qualifying final and 30-point win in the preliminary final. Lucky for them, the remainder of the top four had been knocked out during the finals so on grand final day, they faced the fifth placed Crows, a team they’d beaten twice that season. North could only manage 8.22, kicking away a 24-point half-time lead and the chance to add a third flag to their dominant four-year period from 1996 to 1999.
The Cats won their second flag into two years while it was pain and despair for Nick Dal Santo and the Saints. Photo: News Limited
3. 2009 St Kilda
St Kilda has a strong case to be number one on this list given the way they lost the 2009 and 2010 Grand Final’s. In the season’s entirety, 2009 was their biggest lost opportunity, however. Minor premiers, 20-2 record, five All-Australians and three players in the top nine of the Brownlow Medal count; a recipe for grand final success. A rainy grand final day is what met them however, not ideal for their key forward pairing of Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke. The Saints kicked 9.14 for the day and had three more shots on goal than Geelong, eventually losing by 12-points. They led by two, six and seven points at each respective break, but a 3.4 to 0.3 last quarter from Geelong handed them a two-goal win.
Mason Cox played the game of his life to help beat the red-hot 2018 Richmond. Photo: AAP - Julian Smith
4. 2018 Richmond
After their surprise 2017 Premiership, Richmond backed it up by becoming the dominant side of 2018. Minor premiers with a record of 18-4 and an average winning margin of 37 points, it was all set up for the Tigers to go back-to-back. They made easy work of Hawthorn by 31-points in the qualifying final and came into a preliminary final against Collingwood raging favourites with two wins against the Pies throughout the season under the belt. It didn’t go to plan however. The Magpies led by 44-points at half-time and continued on to win by 39-points. American native Mason Cox kicked three goals and took eight contested marks to rip the game apart while Steele Sidebottom racked up 41 disposals. The Tigers have made up for the loss with back-to-back premierships, but 2018 was a year gone begging.
Taylor Walker and Rory Sloane were instrumental in Adelaide's 2017 success but they fell short on grand final day. Photo: AAP
5. 2017 Adelaide
As a Richmond fan, I had taken a keen interest in how dominant Adelaide were during the 2017 season and leading into the grand final. They were minor premiers and had an average winning margin of 48.5 points in their qualifying and preliminary final wins. For the Tigers, who were just happy to be there, it was a recipe for disaster on grand final day, especially given their 76-point loss to the Crows in round six. We couldn’t have been more wrong though. After kicking 4.2 to Richmond’s 2.3 in the first term, Adelaide proceeded to kick 4.10 to the Tigers 14.9 for the remainder of the contest. A 48-point loss that has led to a quick decline for the club, claiming the wooden spoon in 2020.
It was a case of deja vu for Port Adelaide in 2003, losing a second consecutive preliminary final. Photo: AFL Photos
6. 2003 Port Adelaide
All the pain of 2002 and 2003 was made up for by Port Adelaide's 2004 Premiership, but it was looking dire for the Power at the end of 03'. For two straight years Port were minor premiers with an 18-4 record. In both years they lost home qualifying finals, won their semi-final match-ups then lost in the preliminary final. We focus on 2003 for this article though. They trailed Sydney by 44 points at half-time of the qualifying final, eventually losing by two goals. They made easy work of Essendon the next week but didn't fire a shot against Collingwood the next week, going down by 44 points. A second straight year as minor premiers and a second straight year not making the grand final. Worst case they could have had two premierships instead of the one, best case they could have become one of the historically best teams with three flags.
Unlucky to miss - 1992 Geelong, 1999 Essendon, 2011 Collingwood, 2016 Sydney and GWS
Cover Photo: AFL Media