The story of the last AFL Grand Final on September 24… 2005

September 24 is the earliest possible date to hold the AFL Grand Final on the semi-traditional last Saturday of September, so for various reasons, there’s only been 3 Grand Finals held on September 24 in the last 40 years.

1983 and 1988 were both won by Hawthorn in blowouts, but the most recent September 24 Grand Final comes in the year 2005, which contained a Grand Final that wasn’t so much remembered for the quality of play, but for the final margin, the final act of the game, an epic rivalry that spanned 3 seasons, and the historical drought that ended as a result.

The hero of the day for the Sydney Swans, and Leo Barry

Now, time for a story.

The context for the 2005 Grand Final

The Sydney Swans were into the 72nd year of the longest premiership drought in league history, a futile run that stretched back to the heyday of South Melbourne’s ‘Foreign Legion’ in 1933, and included cursed moments like Bob Pratt being hit by a truck on Grand Final Eve 1935 when Souths were strong favourites to topple Collingwood, the violent Bloodbath Grand Final of 1945 in which Carlton toppled Souths, after which the Swans fell into irrelevance and didn’t win a final for a record 51 years, despite having quality players like Bob Skilton, John Rantall and Barry Round, during which time the club avoided the abyss and left South Melbourne for Sydney to fight an uphill battle on behalf of the VFL/AFL in rugby league heartland, which looked up the creek by the mid-1990s with a hat-trick of wooden spoons and crowds below 10,000, but the arrivals of people like Ron Barassi & Tony Lockett led to the historic 1996 Grand Final appearance, and the Swans were finally pointed in the right direction.

The Swans had made the finals in the previous 2 seasons under Swans great Paul Roos and his Bloods Culture, although the ’05 season started out poorly as they sat 2-4 after 6 games, captain Stuart Maxfield’s career was ended in Round 6 due to knee injuries, and a month later the club copped a group roasting from every Channel 10 commentator and even AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou for their “unattractive” brand of football after a Round 10 defeat to St Kilda at Docklands (Broadcast nationally on 10) in which they kicked only 8 goals and fell to 5-5 in 9th spot, and a certain Mr Positive Robert Walls commented that the Swans couldn’t win a premiership with Roos’ defensive, low scoring style of play, which was averaging 10.7 goals per game.

Alas, the Swans recovered, won 10 out of 12 games (Both losses by under 10 points) and finished 3rd with a 15-7 record, Barry Hall finished 2nd in the Coleman Medal and won the Coaches’ Award, but come the Finals the Swans lost the Qualifying Final against West Coast at Subiaco by only 4 points after leading by 14 points at 3/4 time, as a couple of late decisions went against the Swans, namely a shepherding free kick that was incorrectly paid against Leo Barry that led to an Eagles goal (See this), and an apparent trip by David Wirrpanda on Adam Goodes at the 28 minute mark that was called play-on.

The Qualifying Final would prove to be Episode I in the epic 6-game saga between the Eagles and Swans, but it very nearly ended after 1 heartstopper, as the Swans’ season looked shot to bits against their 2022 Grand Final opponents Geelong in a Semi-Final at the SCG, with the Cats leading by 23 points early in the final quarter and the Swans having just 3 goals to their name…

Then Nick ****in’ Davis happened.

“It’s grand larceny, highway robbery, it’s Ronnie Biggs, it’s Ned Kelly, it’s the greatest thieving effort you will ever see!” – Clinton Grybas

With their season saved by an all-time great finals display with only 3 seconds to go, the Swans played their 2004 finals nemesis St Kilda in a Preliminary Final at the MCG, and once again found themselves trailing as the Saints led by 7 points at 3/4 time, but the team of destiny proceeded to obliterate the Saints with 7 goals in 13 minutes to win by 31 points, qualifying for their first Grand Final since the defeat of 1996, with the win also standing as the Swans’ first finals win at the MCG since 1936, when Souths defeated Melbourne in a Preliminary Final.

Of course, the main point from that Friday night was captain Barry Hall belting Matt Maguire in the guts off the ball, which even Hall himself later admitted should’ve been the end of his Grand Final chances, but the Swans’ legal team made the argument to the AFL Tribunal that Hall had struck Maguire in play (Despite the ball being 30 metres away) because he was trying to escape Maguire’s grasp and make a lead, and somehow his charge was downgraded to a reprimand.

17 years later, Patrick Cripps’ legal team carried on the loophole legacy.

As for their opponents, John Worsfold’s young West Coast Eagles, who had lost to the Swans in the 2004 Elimination Final during a massive thunderstorm to make it a hat-trick of Week 1 finals exits, made the great leap forward and won their first 8 games to hold top spot for most of 2005, until they lost to a last-placed Collingwood in Round 9, as the Rolls Royce midfield of Dean Cox, Chris Judd, captain Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr (Plus Chad Fletcher, new recruit Tyson Stenglein & Andrew Embley) dominated game after game, before their forward line faltered and they lost 4 out of their last 6 games to finish 2nd behind Adelaide after losing the Round 22 minor premiership decider to the Crows at Subiaco, ending a 20 game-winning streak at the ground.

However, the Eagles rebounded in the heart-stopping Qualifying Final against their future Grand Final opponents Sydney, the Crows lost at home to St Kilda in Week One, and in the Preliminary Final rematch of Round 22 at Subiaco, the Eagles surged in the 3rd Quarter and saw off a valiant comeback from the minor premiers to appear in their first Grand Final since the 1994 premiership win, when Worsfold was still the captain.

In the lead-up to the Grand Final, 3 Eagles finished in the Top 5 of the Brownlow Medal as Ben Cousins won the award with 20 votes, Daniel Kerr was 1 vote behind, while Barry Hall finished 5th on 16 votes, while the Grand Final was noteworthy in that it was the second consecutive year in which two non-Victorian teams faced off (Port Adelaide & Brisbane featured in 2004), and it also featured two players from the Eagles’ 1994 Premiership team; Drew Banfield was the sole survivor in blue & gold, while Swans ruckman Jason Ball had lined up at Centre Half-Forward for the Eagles 11 years prior, with the 2005 decider being his last AFL game.

The Grand Final

September 24 rolled around, and the Eagles had an early blow when leading goalkicker Phillip Matera was a late withdrawal due to a groin injury (He would retire that offseason), while Quentin Lynch was overlooked after missing the Preliminary Final due to illness, while the pre-game entertainment was led by Delta Goodrem, honorary Australian Michael BublĂ© and Dame Edna Everage, because it’s Australia and we do that sort of thing..

And after that, 2:30pm rolled around, Dean Cox stared down Darren Jolly, Umpire Goldspink held the ball aloft, and the game got underway.

The Eagles had most of the early play, and eventually struck gold from a throw-in on centre wing, as Chris Judd fed a handball to Mark Nicoski on the run that resulted in the opening goal of the game after 2:34, although the Eagles had an early blow when Daniel Kerr limped off with a left ankle injury that limited him for the rest of the day.

Darren Jolly got Sydney’s opening goal from a free kick a few minutes later, Dean Cox kicked a great goal from 50 metres on the run from centre wing, but the Eagles missed a couple of shots on goal (Michael Gardiner twice) in between allowing Lewis Roberts-Thomson to have a field day as the loose man in defence, and late goals to Adam Schneider and Barry Hall gave the Swans the lead by 2 points at Quarter Time, 3.0-18 to 2.4-16.

The Second Quarter started with a 10-minute stalemate featuring plenty of stoppages and key defensive acts, which defined much of the game as the goals were as rare as hen’s teeth, but the Swans broke the ice thanks to Michael O’Loughlin (The only remaining player from 1996), with the Swans adding 2 more goals in the next 6 minutes from Tadhg Kennelly (Who had kicked 1 goal for the year before the Grand Final) and Adam Goodes, which would turn out to be the only 3 goals of the quarter as the Swans put the Eagles in a firm choker hold, leading 6.3-39 to 2.6-18 at the long break, with the Eagles probably lucky to keep it to 21 points, as both O’Loughlin and Jude Bolton both missed set shots.

Having gone some 45 minutes of play without a goal, Eagles coach John Worsfold used the half-time break to pull out his world-famous magic trick of throwing swingman Adam Hunter up forward when shit was hitting the fan, and the move paid off during the 3rd Quarter, as Hunter spotted Andrew Embley Inside 50 to break the Eagles’ drought, Ash Hansen kicked a foato cut the margin down to 10 points, then Hunter, after a bad miss from 45m out straight in front, marked on the boundary line and kicked a superb goal just before 3/4 time, cutting the margin to just 2 points at the final change, with the Swans ahead 6.5-41 to 5.9-39 despite a goalless quarter, as Chris Judd’s immense work in the stoppages was finally starting to get rewarded.

Yes, Adam Hunter kicked a goal from there

In the early stages of the final quarter, Luke Ablett (Son of Kevin Ablett, cousin of Gary Jr & Nathan) committed what could’ve been remembered as one of the most egregious clangers ever seen in a Grand Final, as he took a great one-handed mark in the Swans’ Defensive 50, before his kick intended for Leo Barry across goal fell straight into the waiting arms of Eagles captain Ben Cousins at the teeth of goal, putting Eagles in front for the first time since the opening quarter:

An all-time clanger… look at how far away Leo Barry was

Compounding the error, straight from the next centre clearance, Judd won a free kick for a hold and kicked it straight to Daniel Kerr, who streamed Inside 50 and kicked long to goal, with Hunter taking another vital mark just inside the behind line, and the swingman snapped truly to become the first player on the ground to kick multiple goals, giving the Eagles their equal game-high lead of 10 points (51 to 41), as a collective dream that had lasted 72 years was crumbling to dust at a rate of knots.

Thankfully for the Swans, the Eagles couldn’t ram home the advantage, and eventually Jolly got another ruck free against Cox and found Barry Hall, who beat Glass on the lead and kicked a huge goal from 50 metres out, cutting the lead back to 4 points, which was followed by O’Loughlin and Kerr trading behinds, before Drew Banfield got Inside 50 and had a shot with 9 minutes remaining, which agonisingly slammed into the left goal post.

The Swans got the ball from the kick-in, and a minute later during a stoppage Inside 50, Jason Ball won one of the last hit-outs of his career straight into the path of Amon ‘Cannon Ball’ Buchanan, once described as a “Weak dog“, weaved through tacklers and kicked the goal that put Sydney ahead for good, in a kick that was reminiscent of Nick Davis’ goal a few weeks earlier.

With 7:30 to play and momentum now well and truly on their side, the Swans set up camp in their forward half and had at least 5 chances to seal the game, but wasted the lot.

Jude Bolton, wearing Brett Kirk’s helmet thanks to a massive gash, found room from a throw-in Inside 50 and had a snap on his non-preferred left foot, but the kick missed narrowly to the left (55-53 with 6:12 to play).

Ryan O’Keefe marked 50 metres out straight in front, but his kick didn’t come back enough and missed narrowly to the left (56-53 with 5:15 to play).

Wirrpanda’s kick-in from the O’Keefe miss went out on the full, giving Paul Williams a shot on goal from the boundary line, but Williams’ kick slid across the face and missed (57-53 with 5:02 to play).

Another bad moment for the Swans in the final minutes was Bolton again charging into goal with Judd giving chase, and instead of thinking about passing the ball to Adam Schneider in at least 15 metres of air in front of him, Bolton had a shot and kicked the ball out of the full from close range thanks to some pressure from Judd and Wirrpanda.

See there? If Bolton handballs that, Leo Barry’s moment never happens.

Then, well into time-on with 2:16 remaining, Adam Goodes took a mark in front of the MCC Members and earned himself a 50-metre penalty after a late hit by Brent Staker, giving Goodes a long shot at goal, but the Brownlow Medalist had the distance but never the accuracy, increasing the Swans’ lead to a precarious 5 points with 1:55 to play.

With a minute to go, the Eagles got the ball out from a midfield stoppage and had the last good chance Inside 50, but in a tale of the tape they couldn’t find a decent target, and Kennelly rushed a behind to make the scores 58-54, with the game unknowingly into the final 30 seconds.

Then comes the last memorable series of events.

Kennelly’s kick-out went short to Barry, whose long kick out of the 50 intended for Darren Jolly went straight to Cox, who threw the ball on his big left boot and sent it back from whence it came….

And with a huge pack forming and Ashley Sampi being clearly bear-hugged by Kennelly, in from the side to rectify his mistake was none other than Leo Bloody Barry, taking the most famous Grand Final mark since Alex Jesaulenko’s hanger in 1970, to which Stephen Quartermain exclaimed “LEO BARRY, YOU STAR!”.

That’s another moment that gets forgotten about Leo Barry’s mark – He was the player that turned the ball over to Dean Cox in the first place, before he buttered up and made a legend of himself.

So with the last act of the 2005 season, Leo Barry You Star had ensured the Swans won by 4 points, ending the longest premiership drought in footballing history at 72 years, opening the floodgates across the MCG, South Melbourne and Sydney, in what was the first Grand Final decided by 6 points or fewer since 1989.

On another note, you can hear Tim Lane (Right as the siren sounded) describe Barry’s mark as “Bob Murray reincarnate”, referring to the final seconds of the 1966 Grand Final, when St Kilda defender Murray thwarted Collingwood’s last attack Inside 50 by taking a contested mark with 15 seconds remaining, before hitting the boundary line and ensuring the Saints won that lonely old premiership by 1 point.

As for the post-game ceremonies, typically the winning team contains the Norm Smith Medalist, which could’ve been the great Lewis Roberts-Thomson for starring down back when the game was on the line (17 disposals, 6 marks and 100% game time), but in the eyes of fat cats in suits LRT isn’t Chris Judd, and the champion Eagle with 29 disposals, 17 contested possessions and 11 clearances (All game highs) would be voted the Norm Smith winner in a losing cause, joining Maurice Rioli (1982), Gary Ablett Snr (1989) and Nathan Buckley (2002) as the 4th player to win the award in a losing Grand Final.

It would seem every Norm Smith voter since has tried to avoid the scenario, because Judd is the most recent Norm Smith winner to come from the losing team.

Former Swans captain + Brownlow Medalist Paul Kelly presented the Premiership Cup to Paul Roos and Barry Hall, and in his victory speech, Roos memorably stated “To the people who’ve waited 72 years to see South Melbourne/Sydney Swans win the premiership, HERE IT IS!”

Funnily enough, which Swans great to present the Cup to the Swans if they win on Saturday?

Paul Kelly.

Fun Facts from the game:

If you want to get technically Leo Barry didn’t win the flag for the Swans, Amon Buchanan did by kicking the last goal of the game.

2005 was the last Grand Final prior to the completion of the redeveloped Northern Stands of the MCG (The top section of the Olympic Stand was incomplete) in time for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, resulting in the crowd of 91,828, the first AFL crowd beyond 80,000 since the 2002 Grand Final.

The two best players on the ground, Lewis Roberts-Thomson and Chris Judd, were born on the same day – September 8, 1983.

Thanks to the history at stake, the Grand Final was viewed by an estimated average audience of 4.449 million people on Channel 10, making it the highest-rating AFL game in history, with the peak audience in Sydney hitting 1.23 million, while it peaked at 570,000 viewers in Perth.

Despite the close result, there were only 3 lead changes during the game – After Barry Hall’s goal in the 1st Quarter, Ben Cousins’ goal in the Final Quarter, and Amon Buchanan’s goal to give Sydney the lead 54-53.

The Eagles and Swans matched Carlton & Collingwood in 1970 by having two Finals decided by the same margin (4 points)… They went even better in 2006, as both finals the teams played were decided by 1 point, with the exact same scores (85-84) as the sequel proved to be just as good as the original.

The 2005 Grand Final was the last game in which the Swans wore all-red socks – They reverted back to the old red & white hooped socks in 2006, and have worn them ever since.

The 2005 Swans are one of only 3 Premiers in the last 50 years that failed to score 100+ points in a Final; The 2012 Swans are another (scores of 71, 96 & 91), while Richmond of 2020 are the other, but they did win in the year of 16-minute quarters.

Further to that, this year’s Swans team scored 91 and 95 points in both of their Finals wins, which means they’ve lined up another omen if they don’t score 100 points on Saturday.

The Swans are also one of 3 Premiers in the last 50 years to record a goalless quarter in the Grand Final – Carlton in 1979 (Goalless in the 1st Quarter) and the 2002 Brisbane Lions (Goalless in the 1st Quarter) are the others.

Robert Walls apologised to Paul Roos for his comments earlier in the season… Roosy told him where to go.

As of 2022, Tadhg Kennelly is the only Irishman to play in an AFL Premiership team (He later made more history and won a Senior All-Ireland Championship with Kerry in 2009) with Zach Tuohy and Mark O’Connor getting the chance to join Kennelly this weekend if Geelong win.

Photo from Fairfax

Paul Williams broke the record for the most games played before winning a Premiership (294), a record that was surpassed by Shane Crawford with Hawthorn in 2008 (305 games), while Patrick Dangerfield could also jump Williams into 2nd on the list if Geelong win on Saturday, with the Grand Final being his 303rd AFL game without a flag.

Jason Ball became the 25th player to play in premierships for 2 clubs, matching Gavin Wanganeen’s 11-year gap between his first and second premierships in the AFL era (Wanganeen was with Essendon in 1993 and Port Adelaide in 2004), but 12 months later, Ball’s old teammate Drew Banfield ended a 12-year wait between premierships, matching the league record set by Doug Wade (Geelong 1963 to North Melbourne 1975), after which Banfield retired.

Dean Cox has been an assistant coach at Sydney since 2018.

Robert Walls later learned from the mistakes of 2005, and predicted the 2018 West Coast Eagles to win the Wooden Spoon.

The opposite occurred.

And finally, I remembered I still had this little bit of memorabilia amidst my old Footy Cards…

A Leo Barry Gold Card from AFL Team Coach 2006, complete with the mark.

What could I get for that on eBay, 40 cents, 50 cents?

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