By Peter Blucher.
There’s something very, very special about an AFL preliminary final.
It’s obviously not a grand final, which carries the totally contrasting emotions of utter joy and total devastation depending on the outcome. And it never will be.
But it’s so, so close. And it’s so much more than any of the other lead-up finals.
A player walking off the ground after winning a preliminary final can justifiably feel content that he’s done what he set out to do. To make the grand final so that he can have a crack at winning a flag.
He’ll know his team will either be good enough or not good enough on grand final day, but at least he’ll be part of the big show.
For many of the purists, preliminary final weekend is the best weekend of football for the year.
It’s the top four teams doing battle at the homeground of the club that has earned hosting rights, with virtually all the tickets having gone to members of the competing clubs.
There’s not the heavy commercial element of grand final day, when sponsors, VIPs and neutral supporters out-number the grassroots fans, who often have to go to extreme measures just to get a ticket.
Conversely, a player walking off the ground after losing a preliminary final is as gutted as it gets.
He’ll be feeling as if it’s all been for nothing. So close and yet so far.
Three Queenslanders will play on preliminary final weekend of the 2016 Toyota AFL premiership after selection Thursday night – all in the Friday night MCG blockbuster between the Sydney Swans and Geelong.
Kurt Tippett, who missed the Swans’ semi-final win over Adelaide last weekend with a hairline fracture of the jaw, was cleared to return and will join Aliir Aliir in a Swans side that sees two changes.
Tippett replaces fellow ruckman Tony Nankervis (omitted), while Zak Jones, out of the side since Round 17, has been recalled to replace injured co-captain Jarrad McVeigh, who was ruled out with a calf problem.
Zac Smith will complete the Queensland contingent in a Geelong side that also saw two changes, with Lachlan Henderson returning from injury for the injured Daniel Menzel (groin), and Jed Bews recalled for Tom Ruggles (omitted).
There will be no Queensland flavour to the Saturday twilight clash between the GWS Giants and the Western Bulldogs at Spotless Stadium in Sydney after Sunshine Coaster Sam Reid missed out at selection. Just.
Reid was named among the Giants emergencies after coach Leon Cameron preferred former NAB AFL Rising Star winner Rhys Palmer to replace the suspended Steve Johnson in the only change for the competition’s youngest team.
To complete the selection news, Dogs defender Matthew Suckling was ruled out with an Achilles problem. He was replaced by Fletcher Roberts.
Tippett will sample the magic of a preliminary final for the third time, having played in a losing grand final qualifier in his 104th and last game for Adelaide in 2012, and a winning grand final qualifier for Sydney in 2014.
Smith, in his sixth season in the AFL and his first with Geelong, will notch his first preliminary final in his 88th game.
And Aliir will slot in at the other end of the scale, experiencing his first preliminary final in his first season and just his 13th game.
It will cap an extraordinary week for the Sudanese-born Kenyan refugee, who was singled out as a special inspiration by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a speech to the United Nations in New York on Thursday about the world-wide rufugee crisis (see AFL website).
And yet Aliir will rank only equal fourth among Queensland football products for fewest games to a preliminary final.
Top of the list is ex-Adelaide ruckman Aaron Keating, who played in a PF in his second AFL game in 1997.
Older brother of Lions triple premiership hero Clark Keating, he was injured on debut in Round 1 against Brisbane that year and didn’t get another chance until the PF.
In one of the game’s great stories, Aaron Keating played in a winning grand final side in his third game a week later but added only three more games in 1998 before his AFL career was over.
Brent Renouf, another Gold Coaster, played in a PF for Hawthorn in his seventh game in 2008, and Cairns midfielder Mark West played in a PF in his 11th game for the Western Bulldogs in 1997.
Ex-Southport defender Zane Taylor matched the Aliir effort, playing in a PF with Geelong in his 13th game.
Others Queenslanders to play in a PF in their first season in the AFL were Dayne Beams (18 games), David Armitage (16 games), Robert Copeland (16 games), Danny Dickfos (22 games), Jason Dunstall (15 games), and Max Hudghton (16 games), plus Aliir, Aaron Keating, Renouf, West and Taylor.
Interestingly, the Queenslander who waited longest to play in a PF was none other than the legendary Michael Voss. Having missed Brisbane’s first two preliminary finals in 1996 and 1999 through injury, the triple premiership captain was 175 games when he first played in a grand final qualifier in 2001. It was his 10th season.
Others who waited more than 100 games were Marcus Ashcroft (152), Mitch Hahn (137), Matthew Kennedy (113) and Tippett (104).
Jason Akermanis holds the record for most PF appearances by a Queenslander at seven.
He played in the Brisbane Lions’ PF loss in 1999, four consecutive winning PF’s for the Lions in 2001-02-03-04, and two losing PF’s for the Western Bulldogs in 2008-09.
And he missed what could have been an eighth PF appearance in 1996, when he was ruled unfit.
Next on the list is David Hale, who will find himself curiously inactive this weekend. He played in North Melbourne’s losing PF side in 2007, and then chalked up five consecutive PF appearances for Hawthorn from 2011 to his retirement in 2015. A loss followed by four wins. Total four wins from six PF’s.
Clark Keating, so important to the Lions’ triple premiership success of 2001-02-03, played in five PF’s in 1999-2001-02-03-04. A loss followed by four wins.
Also with five PF appearances and hoping to add to his list next year is St.Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt. He’s had three PF losses in 2004-05-08 followed by wins in 2009-10.
Six Queenslanders have played in four PFs – Ashcroft, Robert, Mal Michael and Michael Voss with the Lions, Hudghton at St.Kilda, and Dayne Beams at Collingwood.
Akermanis, Copeland, Hale, Keating, Michael and Voss share the record for most PF wins at four.
Copeland, Michael and Voss each played four PF’s without a loss.
Conversely, four Queenslanders played three PF’s without a win.
Che Cockatoo-Collins played in Essendon’s one-point 1996 PF loss to the Brisbane Bears, and in PF losses with Port Adelaide in 2002-03.
Brett Voss played in Brisbane’s 1999 PF loss and St.Kilda’s PF losses in 2004-05.
Hahn and Ben Hudson played in three consecutive losing PFs with the Bulldogs in 2008-09-10.
Also, Hudghton played in three losing PF’s with St.Kilda in 2004-05-08 after a PF win with the Saints in 1997.
Hudghton’s spread of 12 years from 1997-2008 is the longest for a Queenslander between PF appearances. Akermanis played seven PF’s over 11 years.
The first Queenslander to play in an AFL preliminary was Zane Taylor, a former favourite son of the Southport Sharks after whom the medal for the best Queensland player in interstate matches is named. He played in the 1980 PF with Geelong before backing up with the Cats in 1981.
Frank Dunell’s 86-point PF win for Essendon over North Melbourne in 1983 is the biggest by a Queenslander, ahead of Tippett’s 71-point win with Sydney over North Melbourne in 2014.
The biggest PF loss by a Queenslander belongs to ex-Collingwood and Brisbane Bears rover Gary Shaw, who, playing with the Magpies in 1984, was on the wrong end of a 133-point hiding at the hands of Essendon.