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The seven greatest preliminary finals of this century

The Bulldogs celebrate a dramatic victory over the Giants in their preliminary final in 2016. All pictures: AFL Photos - AFL
The Bulldogs celebrate a dramatic victory over the Giants in their preliminary final in 2016. All pictures: AFL Photos

PRELIMINARY final weekend is when the premiership dreams of the four remaining clubs sharpens into focus.

The intensity ramps up a notch with a Grand Final berth on the line, leading to some memorable encounters since the turn of the century.

It should be no different this weekend with Richmond taking on Geelong at the MCG on Friday night, followed by Collingwood's clash with Greater Western Sydney on Saturday afternoon.

Here's a look at seven of the best preliminary finals from the past 20 years.

7 – 2009: St Kilda 9.6 (60) d. Western Bulldogs 7.11 (53)

The Saints emerged triumphant in a tense, wet-weather encounter to reach their first Grand Final in 12 years. After being kept goalless in the first quarter, they hit the front in the third term, only for the Dogs to take back the lead early in the fourth quarter. Enter inspirational skipper Nick Riewoldt, who kicked the last two goals, and four for the game in total, all in the second half, to drag the Saints over the line. Riewoldt launched himself across the front of a large pack to mark and goal from 30m out to give the Saints the lead. After Daniel Giansiracusa missed a golden opportunity at the other end, Riewoldt toe-poked the ball across the line to seal victory.

Saints hero Nick Riewoldt booted the matchwinner in a dramatic finish. 

6 – 2007: Geelong 13.14 (92) d. Collingwood 13.9 (87)

Well rested after smashing North Melbourne by 106 points in the qualifying final two weeks earlier, the Cats were red-hot favourites to advance to the decider. However, the plucky Magpies didn't make it easy and always stayed within striking distance. Paul Medhurst's goal with 57 seconds on the clock gave the Magpies one final chance to snatch victory, but the Cats held on in a classic. Gary Ablett jnr was unstoppable with 31 disposals, 16 contested possessions, 11 clearances, eight inside 50s and a crucial goal. The Cats then annihilated Port Adelaide in the Grand Final.

Gary Ablett put in a classic finals performance to lift the Cats to victory.

5 - 2012: Hawthorn 13.19 (97) d. Adelaide 14.8 (92)

The Hawks gave up a 22-point lead midway through the third quarter to be behind by a point with five minutes remaining. Goals to Cyril Rioli and Lance Franklin gave the Hawks the edge before Taylor Walker had ice in his veins from a 45m set shot to give the Crows one last roll of the dice with 16 seconds on the clock. Shaun Burgoyne came up big with the game on the line, winning the all-important centre clearance and sealed a famous victory for the Hawks. Walker and Kurt Tippett booted four goals each for the Crows, but the Hawks dominated general play and delivered in the crucial moments.

Buddy helped break Crows' hearts again in a final.

4 – 2011: Collingwood 10.8 (68) d. Hawthorn 9.11 (65)

This one appeared over at three-quarter time with the Hawks holding a 17-point lead and the Magpies having only kicked five goals in the game. But the match swung dramatically in the final term with Travis Cloke giving Mick Malthouse's men the lead with just over six minutes left on the clock. Lance Franklin put the Hawks back in front with a sublime dribbling goal off the side of his left boot three minutes later. Enter Magpies veteran Luke Ball, who kicked the matchwinner with less than three minutes on the clock. Ball won the ball from a forward 50 stoppage, snapped it over his shoulder and had just enough on it to get across the line. Dane Swan was the prime mover for the Magpies with a game-high 32 disposals, while Travis Cloke was instrumental with three goals, 11 contested possessions and eight inside 50s.

3 – 2013: Hawthorn 14.18 (102) d. Geelong 15.7 (97)

The Kennett curse was over as the Hawks snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Cats to surge into the Grand Final and claim the first of three straight premierships. The Hawks rallied from 20 points down at three-quarter time to win by five points. Sam Mitchell (38 disposals, 11 clearances, eight inside 50s) was best on ground, Jack Gunston kicked four goals and Shaun Burgoyne put them ahead at the 22-minute mark in the last quarter. The Cats had 22 fewer inside 50s, and could've sent the game into extra-time, but Travis Varcoe sent his set shot wide with 34 seconds on the clock.

Shaun Burgoyne's late goal put the Hawks in front to break the Kennett curse.

2 – 2004: Port Adelaide 14.10 (94) d. St Kilda 13.10 (88)

Nine years before he helped Hawthorn into a Grand Final, Burgoyne produced a bit of magic to get Port Adelaide into its first AFL decider. Burgoyne's heroic smother over the boot of former teammate Brent Guerra prevented a tie in the final moments of this epic encounter. Gavin Wanganeen's goal – an incredible 45m snap from a boundary throw-in - to put the Power in front was just as special. The Power had erased painful preliminary final memories after falling short the previous two seasons. They would go on to defeat Brisbane and claim the club's maiden AFL premiership.

Port Adelaide snatched a dramatic win over the Saints - and went on to claim Grand Final glory.

1 – 2016: Western Bulldogs 13.11 (89) d. GWS Giants 12.11 (83)

It's impossible to go past the drama and passion of the fairytale story that was the Bulldogs in 2016 and their thrilling six-point victory over Greater Western Sydney at Giants Stadium. Jack Macrae's goal late in the game put the seventh-placed Bulldogs into their first Grand Final in 55 years. Clay Smith and Tory Dickson kicked four goals each, Tom Boyd battled admirably in the ruck and Luke Dahlhaus never gave up. The Dogs rallied from 14 points down early in the fourth term to secure a huge victory on the road and charge into the decider, creating momentum leading to their drought-breaking win over Sydney a week later.

The injured Bob Murphy added an emotional layer to the Dogs' win. Picture: AFL Photos

 
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs