Contributed by: Brett NortheyAfter probably the closest preliminary final weekend on record, the two dominant sides of recent years have advanced to the 2004 AFL Grand Final.
Port Adelaide, keen to shake off the choker tag that had developed in recent years, again looked shaky early as young guns St Kilda dominated the play at AAMI Stadium (Adelaide, South Australia) last Friday night. Saints full forward Fraser Gehrig's 100th goal for the season brought play to a halt as hundreds of fans streamed on to the ground to congratulate their hero. This traditional occurrence may seem somewhat out of place in the professional world of the modern AFL, but short of hundreds of security personnel, it is a difficult phenomena to prevent. Alas for St Kilda, Port sprang to life after the stoppage, and by quarter time there was no reward on the scoreboard for St Kilda's dominance. The game became an arm-wrestle thereafter, with neither side able to break away. In the dying seconds of the match, ex-Port player Brent Guerra, under extreme pressure, attempted to soccer a goal that would have tied the scores. The siren sounded and what followed were jubilant scenes as the Port players celebrated making their first AFL Grand Final (the club only entered the AFL in 1997, but its predeccessor had a long history of success in the SANFL for well over 100 years). Port Adelaide 14.10 (94) def St Kilda 13.10 (88)
The following night saw Brisbane travel to Melbourne to play rising stars Geelong. The Lions were not happy to be in town, as AFL rules meant they should have had a home match, but an AFL agreement with the MCG meant one of the two preliminary finals had to be played there. Brisbane looked sluggish and a shadow of what they were just two weeks earlier against St Kilda. Geelong had a lot more of the player but in a mirror image of the night before, never managed to break away. Despite many more entries into their forward 50m, the Cats could not break the Lions and Brisbane ran out winners by nine points. Brisbane 12.12 (84) def Geelong 10.15 (75)
Although Geelong and St Kilda had great years, and both were probably unlucky not to win their finals, the 2004 AFL Grand Final will see the two best performed teams of the last few years matching up. The finalists have dominated the past three AFL seasons. Brisbane's credentials are undeniable, as three-in-a-row reigning premiers, and Port Power have deserved their shot, having finished minor premiers for the third season in succession. So the scene is set for an enormous tussle this coming Saturday. Brisbane have already etched their names in the record books as the only club to win three-in-a-row in the modern AFL era, and will be looking to make their record stick by adding a fourth (only Colliingwood have ever achieved this, in the old VFL days before there was a national competition). Port will be seeking their first AFL flag, aiming to permanently shed their questionable September form. It should also be noted that this will be the first AFL Grand Final in which no Victorian team will play, in the 10 to 20 years since the end of the VFL and emergence of the AFL (obviously in the previous 90 or so years of the VFL there were always only Victorian clubs in those finals, as there was no national league, and teams from each state only competed locally, e.g. in the VFL for Victoria, SANFL for SA and WAFL for WA).
In other AFL news, St Kilda's Fraser Gehrig was the Coleman Medalist as leading goalkicker in the minor round, with 90, and finished on 103 when St Kilda bowed out of the finals. Matthew Lloyd of Essendon finished with 89 after round 22, extending it to 96 with two finals. West Coast Eagles' Chris Judd won the Brownlow Medal with 30 votes, well clear of the field, with Adelaide's 2003 joint-winner Mark Riccuito runner-up. Judd has had an incredible rise from his junior days in Victoria, to win the nation's highest individual football honour, yet only turning 21 less than two weeks ago. All is now ready for the AFL Grand Final. After that, Australia will tour Ireland in an International Rules series (a compromise rules series merging Australian Rules football and Gaelic football, playing on a Gaelic football pitch and with a round ball).
World Footy News