PRELIMINARY finals can be more exciting - and deliver better football - than AFL grand finals, it is often said.
Port Adelaide's 2004 AFL preliminary final against St Kilda at Football Park certainly makes the case. It is one of the greatest games of the century and the ...
"Most important win in the club's AFL journey," says Port Adelaide premiership captain Warren Tredrea.
"Go through the list of landmark moments for the Port Adelaide Football Club on entering the AFL in 1997 .... First win against the Crows says the team is going alright. But you have to win a preliminary final to get to a grand final ... and we all know the storyline we carried at that time."
Port Adelaide were the "Chokers". Brilliant - and ground-breaking - in home-and-away football. In 2001, Port Adelaide won 16 of 22 AFL home-and-away games. In 2002, 18; again 18 in 2003 and 17 in 2004 to complete a hat trick of McClelland Trophy triumphs as the AFL minor premier.
As Channel Seven master commentator Bruce McAvaney repeatedly notes in admiring Port Adelaide's work at the start of a new century and a new era, no AFL team has ever put together such a commanding body of work from March to September across four consecutive home-and-away seasons. In total, 69 wins from 88 home-and-away matches - a phenomenal 78.41 per cent winning record.
But in September, there had been just two wins from six finals before the 2004 major round. Port Adelaide had fallen in straight sets in 2001 and lost the home qualifying finals in 2002 and 2003 to Collingwood and Sydney teams that started as underdogs. It was consumed by the time the 2002 and 2003 preliminary finals had to be played on the road.
Port Adelaide were "The Chokers".
There were no more excuses left. We had finished the year very high once again and the team was using all it could to get over the line. There was a lot of pressure on the team to succeed after the earlier disappointments.
Port Adelaide premiership hero Shaun Burgoyne
SEASON 2004 changed the script. After establishing a 55-point winning average at Football Park while winning 11 of 12 minor round games at West Lakes, Port Adelaide stayed true to its home-and-away form by beating fourth-ranked Geelong by 55 points in the home qualifying final. It claimed the week's break to have fully charged players for the first AFL preliminary final played in Adelaide and Football Park (in an era when the AFL was still locked to at least one preliminary final at the MCG).
And St Kilda arrived for the West Lakes preliminary final ... with full forward Fraser Gehrig on 98 goals and in line to become the 27th player in VFL-AFL history to crack the ton.
"I said to (Port Adelaide full back and former St Kilda player) Darryl (Wakelin), you keep Gehrig to three goals and we win," recalls Tredrea. The second of Gehrig's goals is to be forever remembered as the score that changed a preliminary final - and premiership race.
There was no scoring in the first five minutes of this Friday night final. And, more concerning for Port Adelaide, the statisicians were busy marking down a core group of St Kilda players working up the possessions count with the only notable resistance coming from determined Port Adelaide midfielder Roger James.
Gehrig kicked his 99th goal of the season in the eighth minute. St Kilda 1.2, Port Adelaide 0.0.
Gehrig cracked the century in the 10th minute. St Kilda 2.2, Port Adelaide 0.0.
While thousands jumped the fence to invade Football Park, Gehrig rushed from the northern goal to the St Kilda race while police and security teams tried to restore order. The time-out was perfect for Port Adelaide.
Tredrea gathered his troops in the centre square. Team runner David Arnfield carried Williams' orders to a team that was again appearing tight around the neck.
"After all these years," says Tredrea, "I can't remember what I said. But 'Arnie' was big in that moment as he had us all refocus. The maturity of the group came through immediately on the restart. We did not concede any more before I had a goal and Kane Cornes scored our second a minute later. We were instantly back in the game."
Port Adelaide 2.0, St Kilda 2.2.
"It was an important moment for us," adds Tredrea of the "time-out". "Some people say we would not have won without the crowd invading and stopping the match. We were 15 minutes in ... 15 minutes.
"There was a lot of that game still to play. We looked each other in the eyes. We reset, we concentrated on what needed to be done rather than what had already happened.
"(St Kilda coach Grant Thomas says the final was lost on the AFL not acting on his demand for more security guards) ... but no-one was going to stop 10,000 people running onto the field. And there was a lot of football still to be played - and it was a big game.
"We also had great belief. St Kilda came into that preliminary final having rewritten their record books during the season; they had good form. But they had not beaten us in six games since 2001.
"It is one of those preliminary finals that turns out to be a far better game than the grand final. We had got ourselves back into one helluva fight. There were some special moments to come."
It was the most intense, nerve-wracking game I have ever played in. Usually, the nerves dissipate when the game starts. I was nervous for the whole time, the whole game. And the atmosphere was electric.
Port Adelaide premiership midfielder and 300-game hero Kane Cornes
FROM quarter-time, with St Kilda leading by four points, the lead changed three times in the second term in which the greatest margin was eight points for Port Adelaide - and four points in Port Adelaide's favour at half-time.
In the third term, scores were level once (61-61 at time-on) and the lead changed again three times before St Kilda carried a one-point lead to the dramatic last quarter.
Port Adelaide regained the lead (74-69) in the first 40 seconds from former captain Gavin Wanganeen, who was challenged by coach Mark Williams at the break to make his mark on a game that had seen little from the Brownlow Medallist.
"We were having that sort of night, all of us except Roger James," said Tredrea. "No-one, except Roger, was playing unbelievably well. The rest of us, we had our moments. We did bits and pieces."
The lead changed three times during the first seven minutes of the final term. Port Adelaide carved out an 11-point lead midway through the term before St Kilda forward Nick Riewoldt inspired a fightback that put the game square at 88-88 from Luke Ball's goal in the 19th minute.
Wanganeen, unmarked on the defensive side of a boundary throw-in, took St Kilda ruckman Trent Knobel's tap clean handed and finished the scoring for the night with his stunning goal from 50 metres on the boundary in the north-east pocket. His kick had the precision to match a high-technology intercept missile aimed at the centre point of the northern goalmouth. Considering the stakes and the pressure on Wanganeen to respond to coach Mark Williams' emotive appeals both at half-time and at three quarter-time, this score remains one of the finest goals ever kicked.
There was real passion in (Mark Williams') voice. He said, 'We need you Gav ... we bloody need you'. The pressure is on you as an individual, let alone the team. The previous two or three years, we had dominated the competition for no reward in September.
Port Adelaide 94, St Kilda 88 - and 21 minutes on the clock (at a time when AFL broadcaster Channel 10 preferred to mask how many seconds were left to play).
And now for the dramatic finish.
"Footy karma," says Tredrea. "The game did send a message about being professional in your approach and preparation."
Roger James, the man who saved Port Adelaide at the start was now at risk of becoming the mocked goat of this preliminary final. His 28th disposal went out of bounds on the full at half-forward.
Aussie Jones took the free kick for St Kilda to find team-mate Stephen Powell inside the corridor at centre half-back. Nick Riewoldt made a commanding lead and on taking the ball had no quick option ahead of him ... and no idea how much time was left on the clock.
"The ball went over the back," recalls James. "And to (former Port Adelaide team-mate) Brent Guerra. Shaun Burgoyne came out of nowhere and threw himself across Brent's boot ... and had he scored, it would've been my fault. It was an amazing effort from Shaun, one we have seen again and again later in his career. But he only a young bloke then. Not too many would've got to the ball way Shaun did."
I knew 'Goo' couldn't kick right foot. That was one thing we didn't teach him.
Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams on Brent Guerra who played 65 AFL games from 2000-2003 at Port Adelaide before joining St Kilda in 2004.
FRASER Gehrig kicked 5.2 - and, despite Warren Tredrea's pre-game forecast to team-mate Darryl Wakelin, Port Adelaide still won, 14.10 (94) to 13.10 (88).
In its eighth season in the national league Port Adelaide had qualified for its first AFL grand final - against the three-peat champions from Brisbane.
After three years of tears - and choking - Port Adelaide created an overwhelming euphoria on and off the field at Football Park.
"(Carlton premiership coach and player) Robert Walls said we celebrated too hard," Tredrea recalls. "I took that on board for a moment. I thought about it. And I didn't care. After all we had been through, maybe we did celebrate hard ... but stuff it. We'd not been here before. We had won a big final on a dramatic night. It was a moment well worth celebrating."
Port Adelaide won the grand final by 40 points - and Tredrea is just as emphatic in his response to the critics who seek to make excuses for the end of the Brisbane dynasty.
"We had the extra day's break ... and Brisbane was banged up," said Tredrea. "So were we. Roger James needed knee surgery and never made it back. (Ruckman-forward) Brendon Lade had his back issues. I had a ruptured shoulder ..."
And coach Mark WillIiams had a tie to tug to shake off the choker's tag.
BEFORE THE BIG ONE
PORT Adelaide has a 2-3 win-loss record in AFL preliminary finals with two of the play-offs to the grand finals being listed among the game's classic encounters.
Port Adelaide 12.10 (82) lost to Brisbane 21.12 (138) at the Gabba
PORT Adelaide went into the final series with six consecutive wins, finishing the minor round with its first McClelland Trophy after an epic six-point win against Brisbane for the minor premiership at Football Park.
The chance for a repeat encounter with Brisbane in the AFL grand final on neutral territory at the MCG was denied on opening the major round with a 13-point home qualifying final loss to a fourth-ranked Collingwood unit that started as the underdog and without Nathan Buckley in the line-up. This final series did bring Port Adelaide's first AFL finals triumph a week later - by 24 points to Essendon in the semi-final at Football Park.
Port Adelaide and Brisbane did meet again - in the preliminary final at the Gabba where Brisbane broke open the contest with six goals in each of the second and third terms. A week later at the MCG, Brisbane successfully defended its premiership crown.
Port Adelaide 9.14 (68) lost to Collingwood 17.10 (112) at the MCG
EIGHT consecutive wins to the finals ... and a home qualifying final against a recast Sydney line-up that was inspired by the doomsday script. There was a strong second-half fightback by Port Adelaide after trailing by 40 points (71-31) at half-time, but the 12-point loss added to the "choker" theme.
Port Adelaide worked over Essendon again in the semi-finals, winning by 44 points at Football Park before playing its preliminary final at the MCG against Collingwood. Again, this preliminary final was done by three quarter-time when Collingwood led by 31 points after Port Adelaide scored 0.5 in the third term. Brisbane completed the three-peat in the grand final.
Port Adelaide 14.10 (94) d St Kilda 13.10 (88) at Football Park
"We stepped it up a little bit more - to be able to hang on, edge away, scrape and stay in the game. To be able to keep going, refuse to give up and get the result was just wonderful."
Port Adelaide coach Mark Williams.
Port Adelaide completed the perfect run in September - and a seven-game winning streak - with Williams mocking the "choker's tag" after claiming the club's first AFL premiership with the 40-point win against Brisbane at the MCG.
The six-point preliminary final win against St Kilda ranks as one of the greatest games in Australian football. It set up the ultimate grudge match with the biggest prize in contests between Port Adelaide and Brisbane after they battled each other in a pre-season Cup final (won by Port Adelaide) and minor premierships (also won by Port Adelaide).
Port Adelaide 20.13 (133) d North Melbourne 5.16 (46) at Football Park
FROM ranking second (15-7) with a new-look line-up, Port Adelaide dismissed 2006 premier West Coast by three points in a home qualifying final. The preliminary final with North Melbourne turned into whitewash after Port Adelaide opened with 6.0 and kept the "Kangaroos" (as the Victorian club was branded while measuring northern markets) to 0.5 in the second term. It became worse for the Shinboners when Port Adelaide blitzed with 8.7 in the third quarter to lead by 78 points. The 87-point margin matched the demolition of North Melbourne in the 2005 elimination final at the Docklands.
History will remember Port Adelaide captain Warren Tredrea taking a bow after kicking one of his three goals - and both batterings of North Melbourne in preliminary finals not having great encores with the 2005 Showdown semi-final or the 2007 grand final against Geelong.
Port Adelaide 13.16 (94) lost to Hawthorn 15.7 (97) at the MCG
YEAR 2 of the revival also marked the return to Adelaide Oval, dubbed "The Portress" by Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy. Port Adelaide won its first seven games at the "new" Oval, had a 9-3 win-loss in home-and-away matches and qualified for a home elimination final against Richmond - the first AFL final at the Oval. The one with the black-and-white bars jumper.
From beating Richmond by 57 points, Port Adelaide went west to upset Fremantle with a solid second-half comeback in the semi-final that was won by 22 points at Subiaco Oval in Perth. Next stop, the MCG to face
Defending champion Hawthorn had already taken a hit from Port Adelaide in losing an enthralling Saturday nightclash at Adelaide Oval by 14 points.
This preliminary final, another classic preliminary final, might have finished differently had Port Adelaide averted the yips - 3.9 at quarter-time. Down by 29 points midway through the last term, Port Adelaide was true to coach Ken Hinkley's "Never, ever give up" mantra. Hawthorn did not score after the 13th minute while Port Adelaide charged with four goals in nine minutes to have the game at just four points with three minutes of real time still to play out.
History might leave forever to be debated the "what ifs" of the dramatic final minute - Port Adelaide midfielder Andrew Moore's tough set shot from a pocket that scored a behind; Port Adelaide vice-captain Brad Ebert's kick to the goalfront being smothered by Hawthorn premiership hero Luke Hodge; and Port Adelaide goalsneak Angus Monfries' appeal for a holding-the-ball free kick on Jack Gunston at the top of the 50-metre arc just before the siren ...
Hawthorn won the premiership, the second of its three-peat.
Port Adelaide to host Richmond at Adelaide Oval
Friday, October 16. 7.20pm (SA time).
FOR the first time since 2004, Port Adelaide has advanced from the AFL minor premiership to the preliminary final - and again by beating Geelong in a home qualifying final, this time at Adelaide Oval.
On the pathway to a third AFL grand final (after 2004 and 2007) is the toughest, best-connected rival.
Richmond is the defending champion, playing in its fourth consecutive AFL preliminary final - but first away from the MCG. The 2017 and 2019 premier lost its qualifying final to second-ranked Brisbane by 15 points at the Gabba and opted to play its semi-final against St Kilda - won by 31 points - on the Gold Coast.
This is the second Port Adelaide-Richmond AFL final - and second of this pairing at Adelaide Oval. Port Adelaide won the "black-and-white bars" elimination final in 2014 by 57 points.
Brisbane will host Geelong at the Gabba in Saturday evening's preliminary final.
The grand final combinations are - Port Adelaide v Brisbane for the second time and first since 2004; Port Adelaide v Geelong for second time and first since 2007; Richmond v Brisbane for first time; or Richmond v Geelong for third time and first since 1967.