You couldn’t have written a more dramatic finish to the regular season as Melbourne won their first minor premiership, since 1964, with the very last kick of the game.
It’s the first time the McClelland Trophy was not confirmed until after the siren in the last round since 1987 and that the Dees have scored at that stage to win a match.
They were 44 points down at one point, in the third, to Geelong but pulled off a quite remarkable comeback. Captain Max Gawn marked, then went back and held his nerve before putting the ball through the big sticks to help his side get over the line.
On his big moment, the 29-year-old told Demons TV “With no crowd, I think I can remember all 22 Geelong players saying something to me at some point during my routine. Those that were worried that I was going a little arc, that is what I do from that sort of angle to help me kick a bit more free and I was able to put it in.”
Looking ahead, he added “The season starts again now. But what we can get is that 23 rounds of football and we have finished on top. They don’t do a home and away round for no reason. So, we have been able to outplay the rest to this point so if that doesn’t get you confident going into a final series then I don’t know what will.”
In an equally thrilling finish, Port Adelaide claimed the runners-up spot with Robbie Gray scoring the winner as they defeated the Western Bulldogs by just two points.
It means that the Power will have home advantage, despite the current restrictions, as they look to claim the ultimate prize for only the second time in their history.
As for the Bulldogs, a complete disaster with their third straight loss seeing them drop from top spot down to finishing fifth and missing out on that double chance.
Their slip-up allowed Brisbane to claim that opportunity, and fourth place, as they did what they had to do and win by a big enough margin over a spirited West Coast.
They did leave it late though, in making up the percentage, needing a very strong fourth quarter to see off the Eagles with Charlie Cameron kicking the decisive goal.
Speaking in the post-match presser, Lions coach Chris Fagan said “I’ve been involved in AFL footy for 20-odd years, I’ve been in a few of those round 23 games, and I’ve never been in a situation where not only did we have to win, but we had to win by a certain amount, which made it quite tricky.”
He continued “It was a little difficult because you can’t get your runner out there late in the quarter, and we’d run out of rotations because that last quarter went for so long. To be honest I didn’t think we’d win by enough to get us up into the fourth spot. But our boys, like they have had a habit of doing it over the last three or four years.”
Sydney will head into their elimination final full of confidence as they kicked their biggest score of the year in the thrashing of a very poor Gold Coast outfit.
Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin returned to the side and booted six majors, taking his career tally to 992, as the Swans were never troubled and led for the whole afternoon.
They will face their arch-rivals Greater Western Sydney, next Saturday, who booked their place by coming from behind to get the job done against Carlton by 14 points.
Jesse Hogan kicked three goals while Callan Ward (28 disposals and 12 score involvements) was instrumental in leading the charge following a slow opening.
The AFL said goodbye to one of the greats of the modern era with Blues forward Eddie Betts signing off on a wonderful 17-year career (350 games, 640 goals).
Coach David Teague conceded that “It doesn’t look like it’s going to go in my favour” with the speculation about his future and the external review findings due imminently.
Essendon claimed the last spot in that all-important eight as they continued their recent excellent form and romped home to a 38-point success over Collingwood.
Peter Wright and Alec Waterman kicked four goals apiece while Jack Stringer, Mason Redman and Zach Merrett all played important roles for the Bombers.
Speaking to Fox Footy, post-match, captain Dyson Heppell said “It’s awesome. I have really enjoyed the season as a whole. I just think the culture we are building, the care we have for each other and I think it has really started to show in this momentum we’ve had through the back half of the year. I am proud of the boys’ efforts today and for the bulk of the year.”
Fremantle went into their encounter with an outside chance of being involved but then served up a horror show as they were belted by St.Kilda down in Tasmania.
Cooper Sharman scored a career-high four majors, in only his fifth match for the club, as the Saints upped their intensity, after half-time, and simply blew the Dockers away to bring to an end a frustrating campaign; full of highs, lows and ‘what ifs’.
Alistair Clarkson’s four flag, a 17-year tenure as Hawthorn coach came to a close with a dramatic draw against Richmond at an empty MCG – it is the first-ever between the two clubs since they began playing against each other in 1925.
It looked like he would be ending on a four-match winning streak but the Tigers stormed home late with Jack Riewoldt scoring twice to ensure a share of the spoils.
In a fitting and emotional send-off, Hawks legend Shaun Burgoyne (407 appearances) along with Tiges’ Bachar Houli (232) and David Astbury (155) were given a guard of honour having announced their retirements from the sport.
Closing out the round, Adelaide finished on a positive note as they secured a 44-point triumph over bottom side North Melbourne in front of a vocal crowd at the Oval.
The Crows say farewell to the duo of Tom Lynch and David Mackay who both got on the scoresheet. All eyes will now be on the future of Taylor Walker and whether he continues at the club following his recent suspension for making a racist comment.
Round 23 Results
Western Bulldogs 10.4 (64)
Port Adelaide 9.12 (66)
Hawthorn 12.11 (83)
Richmond 12.11 (83)
Sydney 21.10 (136)
Gold Coast 6.13 (49)
Brisbane 19.11 (125)
West Coast 13.9 (87)
Geelong 12.5 (77)
Melbourne 12.9 (81)
Carlton 11.9 (75)
GWS 12.17 (89)
St.Kilda 17.5 (107)
Fremantle 6.13 (49)
Essendon 16.6 (102)
Collingwood 9.10 (64)
Adelaide 13.20 (98)
North Melbourne 8.6 (54)
- Stay up to date with all the latest news via the official afl.com.au website.
- AFL Exchange Podcast
- AFL Daily Podcast
- AFL 2021 Round 22: 53rd Western Derby, Clarkson’s Tassie farewell
- AFL 2021 Round 21: Giants cause upset, Battle for the 8, Showdown 50
- AFL 2021 Round 20: Dockers finals hopes, Boak club record, Demons huge win
- AFL 2021 Round 19: Top two clash, GF re-gun, Q-Clash, seven-goal Larkey
- AFL 2021 Round 18: Riewoldt 300th, Battle of the Bridge, Selwood deal