AFL Wrap: Finals Week 1

Queenslanders in AFL Finals, A History

Submitted by Peter Blucher

Noah Cumberland is a Sunshine Coaster who grew up dreaming of playing AFL football at the Gabba. Especially finals football. It’s a dream that will become a reality on Thursday night with a very big variation to the script.

A product of the Brisbane Lions Academy, he dreamed of wearing maroon, gold and blue. And he did so when the Lions Reserves completed an unbeaten NEAFL season in 2019, kicking two goals in the grand final win over Southport.

But the realisation of his childhood dream will not come playing for the Lions in the finals but playing for Richmond against the Lions at the Gabba.

One of the big success stories of the 2022 AFL season, the 21-year-old medium forward originally from Maroochydore, drafted by Richmond after Brisbane chose not to match a bid on him for pick #43 in the 2019 NAB AFL National Draft, will make his Toyota AFL finals debut in just his ninth AFL game.

Interestingly, on the day Cumberland was invited to the AFL Draft Combine in 2019 AFL Talent Ambassador Kevin Sheehan offered an insightful general comment of players against which Cumberland would be compared in the draft.

Sheehan said: “Medium forwards in the AFL today need to have an X-factor or point of difference to make the grade. Innate goal sense, strength overhead, and the ability to turn opponents inside out are some of the attributes of this positional group.”

He could hardly have described Cumberland any better.

Yet three years on not even Sheehan could have forecast Cumberland’s football journey or his unthinkable recent rise, given that it wasn’t until 31 July this year, when Cumberland played his fifth AFL game for Richmond and his first against Brisbane at the MCG, that he enjoyed his first AFL win.

Delisted and re-drafted by Richmond at the end of last season after a 2020 knee reconstruction delayed the start of his AFL career and recently re-signed by the Tigers until the end of 2024, Cumberland will head ‘home’ for his September debut with a start to his goal-kicking exploits better than all but one Queenslander.

He has kicked 18 goals in his first eight games – and that despite being an unused medical substitute on debut, when he was famously plucked midway through a Reserves match hours before his debut to be a late inclusion in Sydney in Round 11.

The only Queenslander who kicked more goals in his first eight games was the great Jason Dunstall. The Hawthorn champion had 20 majors at that point of his career, and 19 after seven games in a ‘real’ comparison with Cumberland.

Nick Riewoldt, Queensland’s No.2 AFL goal-kicker behind Dunstall, had kicked just three goals in his first eight games, and Jason Akermanis, next on the list, had nine goals.

Kurt Tippett, fourth among Queensland AFL goal-kickers, had 13 goals, while corresponding numbers for others in the top 10 are Charlie Dixon (6), Charlie Cameron (10), Michael Voss (6), David Hale (4), Dayne Zorko (7) and Che Cockatoo-Collins (14).

As quickly as Cumberland’s finals debut has come around, he will be only equal fifth on the Queensland list.

Gold Coast ruckman Aaron Keating played his first AFL final in just his second game for Adelaide in the 1997 preliminary final before sharing in the Crows’ first premiership in his third game a week later.

Brisbane pair Keidean Coleman and Jack Payne, who will play against Cumberland on Thursday night, had their first taste of finals football in their fifth game in 2020, albeit in different games.

Hawthorn’s Brent Renouf made his finals debut in his sixth game before a flag in his eighth, and Trent Knobel played his first final in his ninth game with Brisbane in 2000.

Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko, who will play his seventh final against Richmond on Thursday night, had the longest wait to his first final among all Queensland AFL players of 167 games.

Mitch Hahn, now the Lions Reserves coach, waited 135 games at the Western Bulldogs, while Marcus Ashcroft was 127 games with Brisbane, ex-teammate Matthew Kennedy 111 and Charlie Dixon a combined 106 games with Gold Coast and Port Adelaide.

Depending on selection, the Lions this week could equal the record for most Queenslanders in an AFL finals team.

It stands at seven, when Marcus Ashcroft, Jason Akermanis, Robert Copeland, Clark Keating, Matthew Kennedy, Mal Michael and Michael Voss played together in the 2001 preliminary final, when Kennedy filled in for the suspended Alastair Lynch, and when Ashcroft, Akermanis, Jamie Charman, Copeland, Keating, Michael and Voss played together in the in the qualifying final, semi-final and grand final of 2003.

Tom Fullarton, who played in the Lions’ VFL semi-final last Saturday, would need a surprise call-up to join Zorko, Harris Andrews, Eric Hipwood, Charlie Cameron, Coleman and Payne in the side.

But even with Fullarton playing for Brisbane and Cumberland playing for Richmond Thursday night will fall short of the record for most Queenslanders playing together in an AFL final.

That stands at nine in the 2004 qualifying final at the Gabba, when Michael Voss, Mal Michael, Robert Copeland, Jason Akermanis and Joel Macdonald play for Brisbane against St.Kilda’s Nick Riewoldt, Max Hudghton, Trent Knobel and Brett Voss.

The Thursday night Gabba final will have all but one of the Queenslanders likely to play in the first week of the finals.

Ruckman Tom Hickey, a key Sydney player against Melbourne at the MCG on Friday night, will be the ‘outsider’. It will be Hickey’s second final for the Swans and his fourth overall after he waited until his 98th game at his third club for taste of September football with West Coast in 2019.

Peter is a Vivid Sport Consultant. 

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