The number 23 in world sport is so often associated with jaw-dropping performances and unforgettable moments. In the AFL, round 23 delivered similarly.
Port Adelaide shifted the narrative around its premiership-winning capability with a superb come-from-behind win over the Western Bulldogs.
The Power had won 16 of 21 games during the home-and-away season but had not consistently measured up against the competition’s best teams.
Friday night’s performance put to rest any doubts around the team’s calibre.
With the game slipping away midway through the final quarter, champion midfielder Ollie Wines inspired a memorable fightback as the Power kicked three consecutive goals to win a thriller.
Former captain Travis Boak was also highly influential and of course, when the opportunity to put Port Adelaide in front emerged, seasoned match winner Robbie Gray seized the moment.
Along with a healthy dose of self-belief, comes the huge reward of a qualifying final at the Adelaide Oval.
Tigers-Hawks draw first of many crazy finishes
Friday night’s heartstopper set the tone for the weekend with Richmond launching an astonishing revival from 31 points down late in the last quarter of its clash with Hawthorn at the MCG.
It was fair to assume that during his storied 17-season tenure at Hawthorn, four-time premiership winning coach Alastair Clarkson must have seen just about everything. But a draw between the Tigers and Hawks was something completely new — the first between the two sides in 162 meetings.
It felt a bizarre way to end the Clarkson era and the careers of some of the game’s most revered. Perhaps it was fitting.
Three-time premiership-winning defenders Bachar Houli and David Astbury were chaired off the ground by teammates, while Clarkson followed arm in arm with Shaun Burgoyne, who had just completed the 407th and final game of his decorated career.
It was such a privilege to be one of the few inside the MCG for such a historic football occasion, but never has the absence of the crowd hit me more. This was a moment in time, one that deserved to be witnessed by the masses.
Thankfully, a healthy crowd was on hand to watch Brisbane’s bid for a top-four finish. The Lions needed a win over West Coast and a slim percentage boost to displace the Western Bulldogs.
Even when it became clear that the Lions had the Eagles’ measure, their final-quarter pursuit of the required margin created a sense of mass tension.
Brisbane coach Chris Fagan furrowed furiously, red-faced and unable to hide the strain. It was like every player and every crowd member had a pocket calculator crunching the numbers with every score in the game.
Lincoln McCarthy’s behind in the final seconds sealed the desired result, leading to euphoric celebrations. Fagan’s boys had pinched fourth spot.
Demons’ resilience secures the minor premiership
If earlier Saturday clashes were remarkable, Saturday night was downright ridiculous.
Melbourne really has taken its success-starved fans on a thrilling ride this season. With the Demons 44 points behind in the third quarter, the match appeared over.
Supporters, so enthused by the potential for a first minor premiership since 1964, were resigned to playing Port Adelaide in a qualifying final at the Adelaide Oval.
But the Demons have found a deep resilience — a critical never-say-die quality that’s fuelling an increasingly powerful premiership tilt.
Melbourne and Geelong have a recent history of nail-biting finishes with Max Gawn a key protagonist.
As he lined up to win the game, thoughts immediately went to that failed attempt against the Cats in 2018. But much like the beating heart of Melbourne fans, Gawn’s kick was true. It led to on-field pandemonium. Celebrations to the Max.
Teague treatment a stain on final week of season
Amid a host of weekend highlights, there was one glaring lowlight – in truth there’s been a stench pervading through the competition for weeks.
While the magnificent 350-game career of Eddie Betts was beautifully recognised with a guard of honour, Carlton coach David Teague walked off Docklands to little fanfare, just a few consoling pats on the shoulder. It was obvious to everyone he was also bidding farewell.
While conjecture surrounds the story of the death of Thomas Cromwell at the hands of the drunken executioner, there’s no disputing Carlton’s botched handling of Teague’s demise. This has been no clean severing of the head, more a painful drawn-out act of barbarism – blow after blow.
Legendary coach Mick Malthouse, also previously sacked by Carlton, was appalled at the club’s handling of Teague.
“I don’t think David Teague is going to leave with dignity intact and that is a bloody disgrace,” he said.
“He has clearly been given no support.”
Malthouse also condemned former St Kilda and Fremantle coach Ross Lyon, who went public with his interest in coaching Carlton despite Teague still holding the position.
“For others to be dancing around … it is quite disgraceful,” Malthouse said.
Carlton’s decision to publicly announce a football review when Teague had a year remaining on his contract made his demise inevitable. To watch him front press conferences week after week answering continual questions about his future and without a word of backing was like putting him through the mincer.
Yes, football is a ruthless business, but football clubs are also work places and Teague’s treatment sits uncomfortably, particularly given the game’s increasing focus on mental health and wellbeing.
Was he the right man to coach Carlton? Perhaps not. Did he deserve to be treated with respect and dignity? That’s another thing.
The team that never lets you down, hey.