By Peter Blucher.
Kurt Tippett will fly the flag for Queensland football solo in Saturday’s Toyota AFL grand final.
The 29-year-old Sydney Swans forward/ruckman will be the only Queenslander in action on the biggest day of the football year after Swans teammate Aliir Aliir was sadly ruled unfit for the clash with the Western Bulldogs and goal umpire Chelsea Roffey missed selection.
Roffey, the 204-game AFL trailblazer hoping to secure her second grand final appointment, was named as the emergency goal umpire.
So, as much as the Bulldogs’ quest for a drought-ending flag has grabbed the imagination of AFL fans not in the Swans camp, the purebred Queensland fan will be hoping Tippett can win his first premiership medal.
He will play in his second grand final and his 16th final, moving to outright seventh on the all-time finals list among Queenslanders behind only Jason Akermanis (25), Jason Dunstall (21), David Hale (20), Marcus Ashcroft and Michael Voss (19), and Nick Riewoldt (17).
In his seventh finals campaign and set for his 170th game, the Sydney-born Gold Coaster will have bitter-sweet memories of his previous grand final appearance for Sydney against Hawthorn two years ago.
He was among only a handful of good players for the Swans in a game that was effectively over at halftime, when the Hawks led by seven goals before going on to win by 63 points.
Tippett, playing primarily as a key forward, had 16 possessions (14 contested) and a goal, plus six hit-outs, two tackles, three clearances, four 1%ers and four contested marks.
His contested mark tally was second only to Lance Franklin’s game-high of five and saw him ranked among the Swans top four players in voting for the best and fairest award.
Tippett, in his 10th season in the AFL after being taken at #32 in the 2006 AFL National Draft, will become the 18th Queenslander premiership player and the second-oldest first-timer if the Swans get over the line. He’ll be 29 years 148 days old.
Only Ashcroft, who was 30 years 4 days old when he won the first of three flags with the Lions in 2001, has been older when he tasted premiership success for the first time.
Tippett’s 170-game wait for a flag will be fourth-longest among Queenslanders behind Ashcroft (268), Hale (197) and Voss (176) if the Swans win.
Tippett told Sydney Daily Telegraph the Swans’ 2014 grand final loss to Hawthorn was “an embarrassment” and would be a driving force towards redemption on Saturday.
“We learnt a lot that year,” Tippett told the newspaper. “We were embarrassed by the way we turned up and it’s something we don’t ever want to do again.
“We were very disappointed with our performance that day and we want to go back there to the MCG and be proud of the way we perform for ourselves, the club and our supporters.
It hasn’t escaped Tippett’s memory that Hawthorn blew Sydney away in the first half of the 2014 premiership decider, dominating the contested football and pressuring them into mistakes.
“You always focus in on your first couple of contests and we do as a side,” Tippett said. “You want to start the game well and set up a strong performance and that’s the way we go about it.”
Tippett was named at full forward in the Sydney side by coach John Longmire and will join Franklin in providing a two-pronged target up forward while sharing the ruck duties with grand final debutant Sam Naismith.
Longmire made two changes to the side that beat Geelong in the preliminary final last week, with co-captain Jarrad McVeigh and Rising Star winner Callum Mills returning from injury for the desperately unlucky Aliir (knee) and Harry Marsh (omitted).
Aliir, who failed to come up from a strained medical ligament, joined Brendan Whitecross and Dayne Beams as recent Queensland football products to miss a grand final through injury.
Whitecross missed out with Hawthorn in 2013 due to a knee problem suffered in the preliminary final, after a groin problem kept Beams out of the Collingwood grand final side in 2011.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge named the same side that won a thriller against the GWS Giants last weekend to reach their first grand final since 1961 and earn a crack at their first flag since 1954.
This meant there was no room for 2014-15 Hawthorn premiership player Matt Suckling after he missed the preliminary final with Achilles problems, or Lin Jong, who was best afield in the VFL grand final in his return from a broken collarbone suffered in week one of the AFL finals.
The Dogs selection was subject to ruckman Jordan Roughead getting a final all-clear on the eye injury that forced him out of the preliminary final.
Suckling Jong and Tom Campbell were named as emergencies for the Dogs, while Marsh, Harry Cunningham and Toby Nankervis were the standby players for the Swans.