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On September 29, two groups of athletes will attempt to destroy each other in pursuit of the AFL’s ultimate success.

Naturally, supporters of both sides will never forget the occasion – the winners will cherish the spoils, regardless of the circumstances, while the pangs of defeat can haunt the losers for decades, particularly if they fall just a few points short.

But occasionally, the events of a grand final attain an even higher level of notoriety, recalled instantly by the millions of neutrals who watch the game, destined to be replayed over and over on highlights reels.

It can be a spectacular match-winning goal, a decisive passage of play or a heroic individual performance. It can be a crowning glory that elevates a good player to the level of greatness.

Or perhaps it can be a heartbreaking loss that leaves the careers of the most decorated players somehow incomplete.

There’s no formula and the only guarantee is that the players involved, even if their careers span several years either side, will forever be recalled by their performances on the biggest stage of all.

1989 School of hard knocks

In the years since, there have been classic grand finals, ones that went right down to the wire, but the 1989 decider between Hawthorn and Geelong remains the gold standard for epic struggles.

It began with Hawthorn centre-half forward Dermott Brereton (main image) being brutally pole-axed in the opening minutes – Cats hard-man Mark Yeates ironing him out, leaving Brereton with internal bleeding and broken ribs.

Brereton famously refused to leave the ground, though, and kicked three crucial goals as Hawthorn hung on to win by six points.

And, of course, at the other end of the ground, the mercurial, dysfunctional Gary Ablett booted nine goals in a losing side, which remains a record in a grand final.

It stands as a poignant metaphor for the flawed genius of the man the folks of Sleepy Hollow referred to as ‘god’.

1992 Matera sets sail for home

The VFL had expanded to include the Sydney Swans in 1982 but it wasn’t until the West Coast Eagles and the Brisbane Bears joined in 1987 that a truly national competition emerged.

And it was the Eagles who broke through to become the first non-Victorian side to win a premiership, coming from behind to beat Geelong by 28 points.

The match was highlighted by the performance of fleet-footed Eagles wingman Peter Matera, who proved a match-winner in kicking five goals from the midfield.

In the third quarter, when West Coast surged over the top of Geelong, it was a stunning 60m goal from Matera, on the run after bursting through the centre square, that put the Eagles in front.

1997 Jarman turns it on

St Kilda were warm favourites to win their second ever premiership in 1997 – they had finished top of the ladder after the regular season and the Adelaide Crows, without two of their stars in Tony Modra and Mark Ricciutto, had staged a remarkable comeback to beat the Western Bulldogs in the preliminary final the week before.

Long-suffering Saints fans had cause for optimism at half-time, when their side led by 13 points.

But the Crows ran over the top of the Saints in the second half, and the final quarter belonged to Crows’ goal-sneak Darren Jarman, who booted five goals for the term to get the party started.


AFL Grand Final spotlight: We look back on some of the greatest moments
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