Brisbane and Carlton will meet for the sixth time in a final in 29 years at the Gabba on Saturday. It’s a September rivalry that has spanned three clearly distinct footballing eras yet has two common denominators.

The first is Michael Voss. He was Lions captain in the first four finals meetings between the clubs, Lions coach in the fifth, and this week he will return ‘home’ as Carlton coach. The enemy.

And while Lions fans will be delighted to see their triple premiership captain and club legend making a good fist of things in his second AFL coaching appointment, they will be steadfastly hoping he doesn’t buck the trend of the other common denominator – home wins.

The home side has won all five finals between Brisbane and Carlton in 1995-96, 1999-2000 and 2009. Brisbane are 3-0 against Carlton in finals at the Gabba, and 0-2 against Carlton in finals at the MCG. It’s gone Carlton-Brisbane-Brisbane-Carlton-Brisbane.

Indeed, Brisbane have played Carlton more often in the finals than any other side. They are 3-1 against Port Adelaide and Richmond, 2-2 against the Western Bulldogs, 2-1 against Collingwood, 2-0 against Essendon and Adelaide, 1-2 v Geelong, 0-2 against North Melbourne, 1-1 against Melbourne and St.Kilda, 1-0 against Sydney and 0-1 against GWS. They’ve never played Fremantle, Gold Coast, Hawthorn or West Coast in a final.

Qualifying Final - 1995

It was a moment in Brisbane history when the then Bears played in the AFL finals for the first time in 1995. Sitting 14th on the 16-team ladder at Round 15 with a 4-11 record, they won six of their last seven games to sneak in to eighth spot.

They were 10th at Round 21 but beat eighth-placed Melbourne to close out the home-and-away season in what was the second night game ever at the Gabba after the lights were turned on for the first time in Round 21 against Essendon.

It was Robert Walls’ last season as coach, and in the run to September the Bears had lost only Carlton by 14 points at Princes Park. As fate would have it, they were drawn to make their finals debut against the Blues, minor premiers after a club record 20 wins, in was at the time was a 1 v 8 qualifying final.

Vice-captain Michael McLean, Craig Lambert and Dion Scott, senior regulars who missed the game against Melbourne through injury, were racing against time to be fit. And on the Thursday night Walls named all three in his starting line-up, and bracketed Jason Akermanis, Shane Hodges, Matthew Kennedy, Justin Leppitsch and Chris Scott, who had played against the Demons, on the bench with Craig Starcevich, who had not played in the senior side since Round 10.

On the Friday night Walls went with an all-teenage bench of first-year pair Akermanis and Bartlett and 19-year-old Scott, who had won the AFL’s Rising Star award in 1994.

After training on the Friday night the players were addressed by ex-Australian rugby coach and radio personality Alan Jones, and, as per normal routine for a Sunday game, flew to Melbourne on Saturday afternoon.

It was a massive airlift. Every listed player, plus a large group of wives and girlfriends and long-serving support staff, headed south. But on the Sunday morning there was heartache for Dion Scott. His groin injury, which would later require off-season surgery, was not quite right. So Leppitsch got a late reprieve as the 10th player aged 22 or younger in the club’s first finals side.

The first Brisbane finals side was:-

B: Andrew Bews, Richard Champion, Nathan Chapman
HB: Michael McLean, Scott McIvor, Chris Scott
C: Marcus Ashcroft, Adrian Fletcher, Gilbert McAdam
HF: Craig McRae, Trent Bartlett, Michael Voss
F: Nigel Lappin, Roger Merrett, Darryl White
R: Matthew Clarke, Craig Lambert, Shaun Hart
INT: Andrew Gowers, Jason Akermanis, Justin Leppitsch

The Bears had adopted an aggressive ‘Boo a Blue’ advertising campaign, looking to pick up non-Blues fans in an MCG crowd of 52,092. There was free face painting for kids and 5000 free Bears banners.

In the Carlton side was Brad Pearce, who had played two games with the Bears in 1993 and, more famously, been brave enough to the data the daughter of coach Robert Walls.

Perfect conditions greeted the sides but disaster struck Brisbane in the opening minutes when Marcus Ashcroft, in his 67th consecutive game, collided with Carlton ruckman Justin Madden and damaged his shoulder. He was done for the day.

Carlton kicked the first three goals before Gilbert McAdam accepted a bullet-like pass from Michael Voss and opened the Brisbane account. The Blues kicked two more, broken by an opportunistic solo effort from Craig McRae, and at quarter-time the Bears trailed 2-1 to 5-5. Privately, Walls was quite satisfied. They’d weathered the early storm.

His faith was well-justified when Lambert, McAdam and Shaun Hart kicked the first three goals of the second quarter but more trouble hit when Chris Scott collected an accidental knee from Dean Rice and was stretchered off not to return.

They were down to 19 men, with two prime-movers out of the game, but still the momentum swung. And when McRae kicked his second the visitors hit the front 21 minutes into the second term.

A late snap from Earl Spalding gave Carlton a five-point edge at halftime, but the bookies were nervous. Carlton, quoted at 8-1 on, were under all sorts of pressure from the 4-1 underdogs.

Scores were level twice in the first 20 minutes of the third quarter when Bartlett kicked his first AFL goal and the silky-skilled Voss dragged in a spectacular mark from the side of a pack. Then, at the 21-minute mark, the crowd went crazy when captain Merrett accepted a pass from Nigel Lappin, played on at centre half forward, and put Brisbane six points up.

“It was the first time in 20 years in football I heard the press box barracking as if there was no tomorrow,” said one long-serving scribe before Carlton answered twice in time-on and led 9-10 to 9-4 at the last change.

The first nine minutes of the fourth quarter were decisive. Anthony Koutoufides, who three weeks later would play a key role in the grand final, pushed forward and after Kernahan kicked one ‘Kouta’ kicked three in double-quick time. It was the Blues by 31 points nine minutes into the last.

Effectively it was over, but the young, depleted Brisbane side was not going to let it blow out. McAdam and Lappin kicked the next two, and moments from the end Merrett gathered his last ounce of energy to fly over Lambert and Carlton’s Brett Ratten to pull down a screamer. He drilled it from 35m to leave the final score 12-5 (77) to 13-12 (90).

Lambert, in only his 10th game of the year after twice breaking his leg in a season of chronic injury frustration, was a clear Brisbane standout with 34 possessions according to AFL statistics, and 38 according to the club count. Having insisted all week that ‘good players play well in finals’, he’d done that and more.

Scott McIvor was superb at centre half back, McRae was ever-dangerous as he closed out his first AFL season, and Matthew Clarke got the better of Madden. Voss was similarly outstanding with Adrian Fletcher his usual workmanlike self.

An emotional Walls, having addressed the players for the last time, told the media how proud he was of his young side. “A lot of good judges thought we’d get blown away  … it was a hard slot and both sides were tremendous. We are disappointed to lose because we honestly thought we could win, but we’re not disappointed with our effort.”

Indeed, Brisbane had out-scored Carlton by nine points after quarter-time, and for almost an hour after the first change they added 7-3 to 2-5 in a performance which looked better than good when, in subsequent weeks, Carlton beat North Melbourne by 62 points in the preliminary final and Geelong by 61 points in the grand final.

Carlton             5-5       6-8       9-10     13-12 (90)
Brisbane           2-1       6-3       9-4       12-5 (77)

Goals: Carl: Kernahan 5, Koutoufides 3, Brown, Camporeale, Pearce, Spalding, Whitehead. Bris: McAdam 3, McRae 2, Merrett 2, Lambert, Voss, Bartlett, Hart, Lappin.

Poss: Carl: Brown 30, Bradley 23, McKay 21, Ratten 20, Dean 19, Christou 17. Bris: Lambert 34, Fletcher 25, McRae 25, McIvor 23, Voss 22, Champion 18.

Crowd: 52,092 at the MCG.

Semi-Final – 1996

The Bears, under new coach John Northey, had finished third on the home-and-away ladder at 15-1-6 and beaten Essendon by a point in a heart-stopping Gabba qualifying final. Carlton had qualified fifth at 15-7 and beat West Coast by 55 points at Subiaco.

It looked an even contest on paper, but when they met in a Gabba semi-final it was anything but. The home side won 26-14 (170) to 10-13 (73). Alastair Lynch kicked seven goals, Craig McRae five and Darryl White three as Ashcroft picked up 34 possessions in a brilliant showing to make up for the disappointment of his first final against Carlton.

Dion Scott and Matthew Kennedy were part of the side after the disappointment of 12 months earlier, while Alastair Lynch was back to his best after missing all but the first game of 1995 with Chronic Fatigue. Danny Dickfos and Tristan Lynch, new to the club in 1996, were the other inclusions.

Brisbane           6-2       14-5     17-13   26-14 (170)
Carlton             3-1       8-4       9-7       10-13 (73)

Goals: Bris: Lynch 7, McRae 5, White 3, Hart 2, Leppitsch 2, Merrett 2, Ashcroft, Lappin, D Scott, Voss, Akermanis. Carl: Kernahan 6, Koutoufides, Hamill, Hickmott, Rice.

Poss: Bris: Ashcroft 34, Lambert 25, Lappin 25, Fletcher 23, Hart 23,, McRae 22. Carl: Bradley 34, Brown 23, Koutoufides 22, Ratten 20, McKay 19, Manton 18.

Crowd: 21,767 at the Gabba (sellout).

Qualifying Final – 1999

Brisbane, in their first season under coach Leigh Matthews, had gone 16-6 to finish third on the home-and-away ladder and earn homeground advantage as they opened their 1999 finals campaign against sixth-placed 12-10 Carlton.

There were seven news faces in the Brisbane side. Tim Notting, drafted in 1996, and Clark Keating, who debuted in 1996, made their finals debut, while ex-Fitzroy utility Jarrod Molloy was in his third season in Brisbane. Brad Scott, traded from Hawthorn in 1998 to join twin brother Chris, was in his second year, and Adam Heuskes, an ex-Sydney and Port Adelaide utility, was in his first year at the Gabba. Draftees Simon Black and Luke Power completed the list.

In the Carlton side, playing his 11th game and first final, was Queenslander Brett Backwell, son of local Queensland champion Owen Backwell who next month will be inducted into the Queensland Football Hall of Fame.

It was a repeat of the 1996 semi-final … a big Brisbane win 20-18 (138) to 8-17 (65). Alastair Lynch and Molloy kicked four goals, with Molloy picking up a $10,000 bonus in the last quarter when he worked the ball along the boundary line in front of the Social Club, accepted a slick handpass from Black and snapped truly from an impossible angle for Goal of the Year.

Jason Akermanis, Shaun Hart and Marcus Ashcroft topped the possession count with 30, while Clark Keating, in doubt in the lead-up with a heavy flu, quelled the influence of Carlton All-Australian ruckman Matthew Allan and Darryl White, deployed in defence by coach Matthews, did a first-class shutdown job on the dangerous Anthony Koutoufides.

Brisbane           4-6       9-13     17-15   20-18 (138)
Carlton             1-5       4-8       5-13     8-17 (65)

Goals: Bris: A Lynch 4, Molloy 4, Power 3, Lappin 2, Lawrence 2, Akermanis, Hart,, C Scott, Notting, Voss. Carl: Whitnall 2, Backwell, Camporeale, Franchina,, M Lappin, J Murphy, Rice.

Poss: Bris: Akermanis 30, Hart 30, Ashcroft 30, C Scott 26, Black 25, Power 19. Carl: Camporeale 31,, Bradley 30, Ratten 29, J Murphy 25, M Lappin 23, Whitnall 20.

Crowd: 26,112 at the Gabba.

Semi-Final – 2000

The fourth final between the clubs in seven years had left its mark even before the ball was bounced when Brisbane forward Daniel Bradshaw was a late withdrawal on the morning of the game. His wife Angie went into labor with first son Jake overnight and he’d spent most of the night at the hospital.

It didn’t matter. Already without Luke Power and Chris Scott, the Lions were always going to be up against it in a season in which they finished sixth on the home-and-away ladder at 12-10 and beat the Bulldogs by 34 points in a 6 v 7 Gabba elimination final to earn a crack at a Carlton side which had qualified second at 16-6 and beaten Melbourne by nine points in a 2 v 3 qualifying final at the MCG.

There were some new faces. A young Jono Brown was in his first season, and made his finals debut with Beau McDonald, Trent Knobel, Craig Bolton and Des Headland against the Dogs before fellow youngsters Damien Cupido and Marcus Picken were included against  the Blues.

It was tight early. Carlton led by two points at quarter-time, but it blew out to 37, 59 and ultimately 82 points as Aaron Hamill, now a member of the Carlton coaching staff, kicked seven for the Blues and a 19-year-old Brendon Fevola kicked four in his 15th game. Backwell played against his ‘home’ side again.

Carlton             3-3       10-5     18-9     23-13 (151)
Brisbane           3-1       4-4       9-4       10-9 (69)

Goals: Carl: Hamill 7, Fevola 4, Allan 3, M Lappin, Whitnall 2, Bradley, Camporeale, Freeborn, Porter, Ratten. Bris: Leppitsch 4, Akermanis, A Lynch 2, C Bolton, N Lappin.

Poss: Carl: Bradley 27, McKay 25, Allan 23, Ratten 23, Beaumont 23, Camporeale 21, M Lappin 20. Bris: Akermanis 28, Voss 25, Black 20, White 19, Leppitsch 18, Hart 17.

Crowd: 56,924 at the MCG.

Elimination Final – 2009

It was an entirely new team. Coach Matthews had been replaced by coach Voss after he’d been set to accept an assistant-coaching role at West Coast only to be convinced by the Lions hierarchy it was the right thing to do to  coach his former side. And only Simon Black, Daniel Bradshaw, Jonathan Brown, Ash McGrath and Luke Power remained of the premiership players of 2001-02-03.

Brisbane, sixth on the home-and-ladder at 13-1-8, played seventh-placed Carlton, who were 13-9. It was the club’s first finals appearance since the 2004 grand final loss, with captain Dayne Zorko playing his first final in what was Jared Brennan’s 100th game and a 19-year-old Daniel Rich making his finals debut in his first season and his 23rd game.

It was a cracker. Carlton led 3-3 to 0-0 inside nine minutes and were six points up at quarter-time. At halftime it was Brisbane by a point but 15 minutes later Carlton were 17 points clear. It was 24 points to the visitors at the last change and 30 points 75 seconds into the final term.

But Brisbane rallied superbly. Goals to Brown, Rhan Hooper and Brown again cut it to 10 points. Then it was Rich, Bradshaw and Bradshaw again, and all of a sudden the home team was in front. They won by seven points.

Brisbane           4-4       8-7       10-10   16-15 (111)
Carlton             5-4       8-6       14-10   15-14 (104)

Goals: Bris: Bradshaw 5, Brown 4, Johnstone, Sherman 2, Hooper, Redden, Rich. Carl: Fevola 3, C Cloke, N Stevens 2, Betts, Carrazzo, Garlett, Houlihan, Judd, Kreuzer, M Murphy, Russell.

Poss: Black 29, Power 24, Johnstone 20, McGrath 19, Brennan 18, Roe 17. Carl: Judd 30, Carrazzo, Houlihan, M Murphy 25, Simpson 23, Kreuzer 19, Scotland 19.

Crowd: 32,702 at the Gabba (sellout)

The Stars

Brisbane’s Alastair Lynch and Carlton’s Aaron Hamill share the record for most goals in a Brisbane v Carlton final with seven, while Stephen Kernahan had bags of six and five for Carlton, and Daniel Bradshaw and Craig McRae kicked five for Brisbane.

Brisbane’s Marcus Ashcroft and Craig Lambert and Carlton’s Craig Bradley share the possession record at 34, while Ashcroft and Brisbane’s Jason Akermanis and Shaun Hart each had 30. Scott Camporeale had 31 for Carlton and Bradley, Fraser Brown and Chris Judd 30.

Hart was Brisbane’s leading possession-winner overall in Brisbane v Carlton finals with 81 from Ashcroft (79), Lambert (75), Black (74) and Akermanis (72). Carlton’s leading possession-winner was Bradley (114) from Brett Ratten (92), Andrew McKay (78), Scott Camporeale (71) and Fraser Brown (71). Brisbane used 61 players in the five finals and Carlton 59. Ashcroft, Hart, Akermanis, Nigel Lappin, Voss, White, Leppitsch and Matthew Clarke played four of the five finals for Brisbane and Bradley and Ratten played four for Carlton.

And Now …

More than half of the Brisbane playing list in contention to play this week were not even born when the Brisbane v Carlton finals rivalry began in 1995. Zorko was born in 1989, Rich (1990), Jack Gunston (1991), Ryan Lester, Jarryd Lyons (1992), Lachie Neale, Linc McCarthy, Darcy Fort (1993) and Charlie Cameron, Joe Daniher and Oscar McInerney (94). Darcy Gardiner was born 12 days after the first Brisbane v Carlton final on 10 September 1995.

The corresponding list in the Carlton camp is even shorter – Sam Docherty, Nic Newman (1993), Adam Saad, Mitch McGovern, Lachie Plowman (1994), Jack Martin and Patrick Cripps (1995). Blake Acres was born two days before Gardiner, and George Hewett were born on 29 December 1995.

And it will all count for nothing at twilight on Saturday as all but five players from both sides look forward to the biggest game of their lives and a chance to qualify for the AFL grand final.

It’s a feeling Gunston, a four-time grand final player and three-time premiership player at Hawthorn, knows well. Josh Dunkley was a premiership player at the Western Bulldogs, and Lachie Neale and Charlie Cameron played in losing grand finals with Fremantle and Adelaide respectively. In the Carlton camp, only George Hewitt, a losing grand final player with Sydney, knows what the last day in September is all about.

It’s the second-best feeling in the game … beaten only by winning a grand final.