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A team to stake your life on

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WHICH team will stand up best to the intense physical and psychological pressure that goes with an AFL grand final? And which individuals will find that little bit extra required. Which champion will move into an even higher gear, or which lesser light will play the game of his life?

They're questions that will be answered tomorrow, and have been answered annually on this weekend, in a game that consistently makes, breaks or enshrines reputations for performance on the biggest of stages.

If you had to pick a grand final team of the post-1989 AFL era to play for your life, who'd make the cut and who'd miss out? I've had a crack, the result in some cases obvious, in a few more out of left field, but the bottom line is that any opposition side would have a hell of a time finding any weak spots.

Let's start with some automatic choices. Like Andrew McLeod, winner of two consecutive Norm Smith Medals in 1997-98, with a 31-disposal midfield effort against St Kilda, backed up by 30 more in the upset of North Melbourne the following year, pivotal to both Adelaide flags. And his teammate, Darren Jarman. Quiet for Hawthorn in the 1991 grand final, he sure made up for it with his second club - six goals, five of them in the match-winning final-quarter burst in 1997, five more, a couple of them again clutch efforts, in '98.

Two more walk-up starts have to be Brisbane pair Michael Voss and Nigel Lappin. Lions' skipper Voss was named one of Brisbane's best three in each of its hat-trick of flag wins from 2001-03, and might well have won the 2002 Norm Smith Medal with an absolutely commanding final 15 minutes had not the votes already been collected, that anomaly forcing a change in the voting procedure. Wingman Lappin similarly was in Brisbane's three winning grand finals with prolific ball-winning and run, then again in the 2004 play-off the Lions finally lost.

There's a few more Eagles besides Dean Kemp, who won the 1994 best-on-ground and had also been in the best in 1992; and spearhead Peter Sumich, who kicked five goals in the grand final West Coast lost in 1991, six in their ice-breaking flag success the following year, and a couple in the 1994 win.

Perhaps the biggest eyebrow-raiser in this side is yet another Sandgroper, too. Remember Tony Evans? The West Coast rover finished an eight-season and at times injury-afflicted career with only 108 games, but two of the very best just happened to be winning grand finals.

In 1992, it was Evans' ball-winning and a couple of critical goals just on half-time that got his side back into the contest against Geelong. He'd finish with three goals, as he did again two years later, along with a stack more possessions in a far easier win over the Cats.

You could argue similarly with Shane Ellen, an Adelaide spare-parts man who played the game of his life in 1997, finishing with five goals for the Crows.

Starting up forward, Ellen booted two early. Moved to half-back, he would surge forward to kick another three as Adelaide ran all over a tiring St Kilda. To that point, he'd managed just two in his entire career.

There's plenty of Geelong representation, of course, Norm Smith winners Paul Chapman and Steve Johnson, along with full-back Matthew Scarlett, he of the famous 2009 toe-poke to Gary Ablett, and three more solid grand final performances besides.

Ruck honours go to ''Mr September'', Brisbane's big man Clark Keating, a part of all three Brisbane flags, and a supreme centre-square presence in the last two, when in either season he played just a dozen games, easily the best in both cases being the last. There's some big names not in this 22. Chris Judd was a Norm Smith winner in one grand final, and solid in the other, but ultimately was just shaded. Ditto Nathan Buckley, while James Hird only scrapes onto the bench in spite of a poor 2001 grand final. He was saved by a solid effort as a ''Baby Bomber'' in 1993 and a dominant, Norm Smith-winning performance in 2000 with 29 disposals and two goals.

Of course, they'd all be in a best-qualified grand final team. But this is a best-performed 22 of grand final greats. And Hawthorn and Sydney would love any of them, given what they did on the biggest of stages.

33 comments

  • Wayne carey at CHF? Yes a champion of his generation, and one of the best ever to play the game. But played well below his best in both 1996 and 1999, and to be honest was embarrassingly woeful in 1998. Wasn't even close to getting a Norm Smith in 96. I would have thought that Kernahan with 7 goals in 93 and I think about 5 goals in 95 was more appropriate. Jonathan Brown didn't do much in the Lions 3 flags, but still did more than Carey.

    Commenter
    Moods
    Date and time
    September 28, 2012, 10:58AM
    • I agree Moods. Also note Rohan's bias. Both Collingwood and Hawthorn have won 2 AFL flags and no players from either team have been included. Just so happens that Rohan supports Essendon whose three biggest rivals are Collingwood, Hawthorn and Carlton (he couldn't really ignore Kernahan after 1993/1995 but I'm sure he was reluctant). These teams are always flawed by bias just look at the AFL's team of the century. Collingwood at the time had played in the most finals and grand finals and they couldn't fit in one player? Collingwood's Jock McHale won 8 flags from 17 grand finals in 38 years and he wasn't coach of the century?

      Commenter
      Greg
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 28, 2012, 11:51AM
    • Moods, check your records. Carey was unanimous as either second or third best on ground in the 1996 GF, turned the 1999 GF with a huge third quarter and (inaccuracy aside) was hardly shabby in 1998, either. Greg, are you serious? Yes, of course, it was all an elaborate conspiracy to exclude Collingwood and Hawthorn players. I actually selected the team from a grassy knoll, too!

      Commenter
      Rohan Connolly
      Date and time
      September 28, 2012, 2:26PM
  • So I guess jimmy bartel hasn't played in any grand finals...

    Commenter
    Unsung
    Date and time
    September 28, 2012, 11:20AM
    • Rohan, normally a big fan of your work. But if we are just judging by the performance in a GF wouldnt we go for every Normsmith winner? Also every grandfinal is different so producing a team over 2 decades of performances with the change of tactics doesnt do these players justice.. I mean find me a coach who would willing walk out for a GF without Gary Ablett snr (or one that would take sumich over Gary ablett).. No Judd? No Buckley? Im glad this isnt another article about Travis Cloke and signing with Collingwood and definitely worth the read :)

      Commenter
      Not Sold
      Date and time
      September 28, 2012, 11:24AM
      • G Ablett did Sweet Fanny Adams in the era under review

        Commenter
        Marty
        Location
        Chelsea
        Date and time
        September 28, 2012, 3:06PM
    • How did you come up with this team? How can you not have Tony Shaw in it when he virtually willed Collingwood to a flag in 1990? No Lenny Hayes after his 2010 drawn GF almost won the Saints the flag? Either of these players would have been more valuable that Tony Evans (who?). Why so may Brisbane players? Yes they won three flags but there weren't many challengers in that era.

      Commenter
      Greg
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 28, 2012, 11:42AM
      • Luke Hodge's game in 08 was better than Hart's 2 combined, n the same position. No Collingwood players, despite them appearing in 6 grand finals in the allotted time period? And surely Hird played 1 good game out of 3, with '01 cancelling 00?

        Commenter
        Paul Dear
        Date and time
        September 28, 2012, 12:52PM
        • Simon Black would have to be 1st rover in this side Rohan. Blacks 2003 grandfinal was the best individual effort in an AFL/VFL grand final ever. Over 40 touches, all qualiy at that. Black for whatever reason, never gets the praise he should by most. I'm not biased as i'm a Tiger, but Wayne Carey and Simon Black are the two best players i've seen in 44 years,although Little Gazza is not far from joining them

          Commenter
          manny
          Location
          willowgrove sth
          Date and time
          September 28, 2012, 1:09PM
          • Moods you foolm Carey was fantastic in the 96 granny and had he kicked straight in 98, he would have won the flag for North. If ya gonna comment Moods, know what your'e talking about mate..

            Commenter
            manny
            Location
            willowgrove sth
            Date and time
            September 28, 2012, 1:14PM

            More comments

            Comments are now closed

            HuffPost Australia

            AFL 2016

            Round 1
            Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
            RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
            Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
            MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
            GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
            NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
            SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
            Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
            WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
            PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
            WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
            Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
            GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
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            Round 2
            Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
            COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
            Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
            ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
            ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
            BRI vs NTH 16:35G
            STK vs WBU 19:25ES
            FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
            Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
            GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
            HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
            CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
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            Round 3
            Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
            PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
            Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
            STK vs COL 13:45MCG
            RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
            SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
            GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
            WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
            Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
            NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
            WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
            GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
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            Round 4
            Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
            WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
            Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
            ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
            HAW vs STK 14:10AS
            BRI vs GCF 16:35G
            CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
            ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
            Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
            GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
            COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
            NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
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            Round 5
            Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
            HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
            Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
            SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
            GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
            WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
            PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
            Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
            STK vs GWS 13:10ES
            FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
            MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
            Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
            COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
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            Round 6
            Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
            NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
            Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
            MEL vs STK 13:45ES
            ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
            GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
            RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
            GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
            Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
            BRI vs SYD 13:10G
            CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
            WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
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            Round 7
            Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
            RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
            Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
            COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
            GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
            SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
            GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
            WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
            FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
            Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
            STK vs NTH 15:20ES
            PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
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            Round 8
            Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
            ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
            Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
            ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
            HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
            GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
            BRI vs COL 19:25G
            RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
            Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
            CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
            MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
            WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
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            Round 9
            Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
            HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
            Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
            COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
            GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
            PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
            NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
            FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
            Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
            MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
            GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
            STK vs ESS 16:40ES
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            Round 10
            Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
            SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
            Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
            BRI vs HAW 13:45G
            MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
            STK vs FRE 16:35ES
            ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
            ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
            Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
            CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
            COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
            WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
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            Round 11
            Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
            NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
            Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
            HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
            CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
            GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
            GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
            FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
            Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
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            WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
            ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
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            Round 12
            Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
            ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
            Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
            PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
            BRI vs FRE 16:35G
            GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
            WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
            Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
            STK vs CAR 13:10ES
            RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
            GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
            Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
            MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
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            Round 13
            Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
            NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
            Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
            BRI vs WCE 13:40G
            FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
            WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
            Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
            SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
            ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
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            Round 14
            Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
            ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
            Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
            COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
            Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
            RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
            GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
            STK vs GEE 19:25ES
            Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
            HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
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            Round 15
            Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
            WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
            Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
            PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
            Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
            GCF vs STK 13:40MS
            SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
            CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
            Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
            MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
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            Round 16
            Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
            PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
            Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
            GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
            Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
            GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
            GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
            WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
            MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
            Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
            CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
            WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
            ESS vs STK 16:40ES
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            Round 17
            Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
            SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
            Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
            FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
            Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
            RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
            NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
            WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
            ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
            Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
            CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
            STK vs MEL 15:20ES
            BRI vs GWS 16:40G
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            Round 18
            Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
            COL vs NTH 19:50ES
            Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
            SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
            GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
            WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
            WBU vs STK 19:25ES
            GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
            Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
            ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
            HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
            PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
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            Round 19
            Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
            GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
            Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
            GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
            HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
            COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
            BRI vs PTA 19:25G
            NTH vs STK 19:25ES
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            MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
            FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
            ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
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            Round 20
            Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
            RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
            Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
            SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
            MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
            GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
            WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
            ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
            Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
            CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
            GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
            FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
            View All Fixtures
            Round 21
            Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
            WBU vs COL 19:50ES
            Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
            BRI vs CAR 13:45G
            HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
            GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
            STK vs SYD 19:25ES
            PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
            Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
            ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
            RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
            FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
            View All Fixtures
            Round 22
            Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
            WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
            Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
            NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
            RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
            GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
            COL vs GCF 19:25ES
            PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
            Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
            CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
            BRI vs GEE 15:20G
            ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
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            Round 23
            Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
            HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
            STK vs BRI 12:00ES
            ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
            GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
            SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
            NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
            GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
            ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
            FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
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            Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
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            Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
            Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
            Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
            Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
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