Hawthorn win by 2 points
On a day where help from mother nature help the Demons kick with the wind for three quarters it seemed that the finals and grand final droughts stretching back to 1964 were going to be broken in the same year.
John Northey played his first tactical wildcard before the first bounce when he allowed anyone who wanted to visit the rooms before the bounce to do so in order to motivate his squad. His big on-field move was Rod Grinter lining up in attack. His aggression was a welcome addition to the forward line, and he flattened Hawk Chris Mew with a knockout bump.
Having kicked with the wind in the first term the wind decided to swing around and the Demons were kicking with it again in the second. As the lead stretched out to over three goals during the term the Hawks had their first big win for the day when Robert Dipierdomenico ironed out Robert Flower with a hard bump. The Melbourne captain was forced to leave the ground with a damaged shoulder and it seemed that he was about to be cheated out of a Grand Final appearance in the cruellest possible way.
22 points in front at half-time and while things looked good for Melbourne, there was still a half to play against one of the best teams of their generation. Hawthorn had looked terrible in losing to Carlton the week before, but they were still reigning premiers. The two sides broke even in the third term, leaving the Demons still 22 points up at three-quarter time and suddenly the Demons fans dared to dream. Surely the suffering of the past 23 years was going to come to end in spectacular fashion?
Melbourne had winners all over the park, Sean Wight beat Dermott Brereton handily, while taggers Bret Bailey and Dean Chiron blanketed their opponents. Todd Viney and Ricky Jackson were also prominent. Wight's domination of Brereton would ironically play a part in Melbourne's downfall when the controversial Hawk ended up at centre-half back, following a failed move to full-forward, and helped turn the tide for his team.
With both Brian Wilson and Jackson having left the ground injured the Hawks stormed back into the match and crept to within nine points. Initially they botched their chances, but drew to within a goal with just 30 seconds left in time-on. Melbourne's legs were tiring, but if they could just hold on for another minute or so they'd have a week to recover before the big one.
Three times in the frantic last quarter the Demons could have sealed the match. Simon Eishold missed an absolute sitter, Ricky Jackson set up Graeme Yeats 30m out from goal and watched him miss, and Tony Campbell did likewise with seconds left after Greg Healy had pounced on a centre clearance.
After Campbell's miss Michael Tuck kicked in to Peter Schwab, who handballed to Chris Langford. He kicked towards Buckenara who became entangled with Rod Grinter and hit the deck. A free kick was paid outside 50, but in the chaos of those final moments Jim Stynes chased his opponent across the mark. Buckenera received a 15m penalty and, unaware that the siren had sounded, goalled to put the Demons out in the most heartbreaking circumstances. Even Hawk Robert DiPierdomenico admitted his side were lucky. "We're thieves" he said.
John Northey, still in shock at his side's loss, said "Now we've got to go through the trauma of 12 months to get back where we are now". He was famously pictured pointing at Stynes in the rooms, saying "Don't you ever do that again, Jim". Ironically Buckenara would never have been there if he'd accepted a big money offer from West Coast to return to Perth at the beginning of the year.
Robert Flower, who weeks before had merely wanted to play one final, had now been robbed out of the ultimate test. Despite his injury he had returned to the ground during the last quarter when Jackson went down with cramp and played at full-forward. He was matched up against Chris Mew who was dazed after feeling the full force of a Rod Grinter shirtfront earlier in the match. Nobody will ever know if he would have been able to play a week later. Wilson for sure would have missed the Grand Final if his side had made it, he had broken his collarbone.
Tears flowed in the dressing room as talk turned to 1988, but Northey wasn't having any sort of praise for his side. "It's the biggest disappointment of my life" he said. "It's the chance of a lifetime - who knows whether we'll get another opportunity. They might say we've done well over the season. That's a lot of bullshit. We have let everybody down. The players will suffer today, they've got to".
Best were Jackson, Wight and Viney.
After The Siren