It’s the time of year all clubs and players want to be involved in – September, and now with introduction of the Gold Coast and GWS next year, October. Finals is the time when premiership glory is tasted, careers are built and immortalised, and several become known as September Specialists.
The list below is a brief but a well credentialed one. These players stepped-up when they entered the post-season and departed the ‘G with that treasured medallion; some with more than others and then there’s those warriors with a Norm Smith and Brownlow as well.
In no particular order, the first finals specialist is CLARK “CRACKERS” KEATING – Debuting for the Brisbane Bears in 1996, Keating went on to claim the headline of “September Specialist” after dominating in the Lions three-peat. Keating was plagued by shoulder injuries which caused him to miss many regular season games, but come finals time, he was instrumental to the Lions success.
The big men of the game are vital to a team holding the cup aloft at the end of the battle. Introducing COREY McKERNAN – In just his third season in the AFL, the versatile big man took control of the match in the premiership quarter when North Melbourne held a two-point lead at the main break. His work in the middle set the Roos up for a 131-88 thrashing ofSydney.
The same year, McKernan was named as the AFLPA MVP in addition to polling equal most votes in the Brownlow Medal count but due to suspension, he was ineligible (Voss and Hird both took home “Charlie”).
McKernan bounced back in 1999 from a shoulder injury sustained in the 1997 finals series and a poor 1998 season to again show audiences why he was so highly rated. In the ’99 grand final against Carlton, McKernan kicked three majors including two in the second quarter – one from 65 metres out; the other on a tight angle within a minute of each other.
From a tall to a small, this All-Australian was electric and one whom all AFL fans appreciated when he took to the playing arena. DARREN JARMAN – DJ commenced his finals career in his debut season with Hawthorn – a game however that saw him be restricted to only five possessions.
Jarman would make a forceful re-entrance on the big stage when the Crows lined-up against St.Kilda in the ’97 grand final.Adelaidewent in without key forward Tony Modra and fellow All-Australian Mark Riccuito, as well as Peter Vardy. Trailing by more than give goals at half-time, the Crows fought back as they did against the Western Bulldogs in the preliminary final to claim the ultimate prize. In an awesome but brief performance, Jarman slotted five of his six goals in the fourth quarter.
Jarman backed up the next year to again kick a bag (five) against North Melbourne in a 105-70 victory.
Staying in South Australia, another Adelaide and dominant midfielder who was a key figure in finals was ANDREW McLEOD – What a blunder (that word may not be sufficient) the Fremantle Dockers made when they traded McLeod to Adelaide for Chris Groom.
The introduction of Malcolm Blight in 1997 as head coach of the Crows may well be the main reason for McLeod’s career taking off in superstar status. McLeod was moved into the middle against the Western Bulldogs and continued to flourish from then on. After covering the Dogs outfit, McLeod had the ball on a string with 31 touches and was judged best-afield, claiming the Norm Smith Medal.
Like Jarman, McLeod backed-up his dazzling efforts the following year when again versus the Western Bulldogs he kicked a career-high seven goals. It is worth mentioning that his opponent was none-other than the annoying but effective Libba – Tony Liberatore.
In that years grand final, McLeod would have the Sherrin one less time (30 disposals) than the year before and be awarded for the second year in a row, the Norm Smith Medal.
The next on the list is another premiership, Norm Smith and Brownlow Medal holder, CHRIS JUDD – In his first season as captain of West Coach (succeeding Ben Cousins), the dual Brownlow Medallist led his team to the 2006 premiership win and was among the bests on the day. The year before, Judd and the Eagles went down narrowly to Sydney; however, Judd was named Norm Smith Medallist in a losing side.
Moving to one more that remains a September star in today’s game in addition to Judd is Geelong big man BRAD OTTENS – The modern-day Clark Keating? In the 2007 finals series, the Cats ruckmen was best on ground after an outstanding effort in the ruck against Collingwood; a game Geelong won by five points in the preliminary final.
The big man continued his dominant efforts the week later when they faced off in the grand final against Port Adelaide.
In 2011, Ottens has been a key player for Geelong in their run to the premiership and their chances of winning the ultimate prize will rest heavily on his performances.
The next champion of the game needs no foreword. WAYNE CAREY – Despite bowing out to eventual premiers Carlton in ’95, Carey produced a five goal haul and 22 possessions in the qualifying final win, but was then well held by Jackovich and then Silvagni in the subsequent finals.
In 1996 Carey was a stand out for the Kangaroos throughout the finals series and led his team to premiership glory. Glenn Archer was awarded the Norm Smith Medal on the day, with the King as runner-up.
The 1999 series was again a successful one for North Melbourne. In a wet and miserable qualifying final against Port Adelaide, the Duck had 11 marks, 24 disposals and 6 goals in one of his greatest finals performances. Matched up against Carlton’s Stephen Silvagni in the grand final, Carey played a slightly unfamiliar role. He continued to lead from the front and finished the year kicking two majors in the big dance.
After marking and kicking North Melbourne’s opening goal in the first period, the Duck struggled to get on top of the Carlton champion and was pushed into the midfield following the half-time break. He collected the most disposals afield in the premiership quarter and was the catalyst in a dominant quarter for North. Carey returned to the forward line in the last quarter for the season to take a magnificent one-handed mark and boot home the last goal of the match.
The next who did it all is SIMON BLACK – Three premierships, a Brownlow Medal and a Norm Smith Medal – a fantastic career. Black is another specialist when it came to finals time. Black was part of the awesome Brisbane midfield and was consistent throughout the 2001 finals which resulted in the clubs breakthrough premiership win.
2002 was another sensational year for Black and the Lions. The midfielder polled 25 Brownlow votes to be awarded the game’s most prominent individual prize just days before Brisbane’s back to back premiership victory. In the grand final and his 100th AFL game, Black would record 22 disposals even with a Scott Burns tag.
The ’03 finals series was a sealer for Black and stamped him as a true September specialist when he was judged as best afield and left the arena with a Norm Smith Medal to complement his third premiership medallion. On grand final day, Collingwood simply could not harness Black as he went about collecting a career-best 39 touches, also the most by any player ever to don a jersey in a grand final.
To conclude the list I must add past Hawthorn defender and great of the game, GARRY AYRES – Five premierships (1983, ’86, ’88, ’89, and ’91) and two Norm Smith Medals (1986 and 1988). Need I say anymore?