It was a moment many in Brisbane thought would never come. The Lions were going to the ‘big dance’.
On Saturday night 22 September 2001 at the Gabba the Lions beat Richmond 20-16 (136) to 10-8 (68) in the preliminary final to qualify for the grand final against Essendon.
It was unforgettable. In 48 games between the two clubs it is the best moment. Easily. Anything short of a grand final win over Richmond will never beat it.
So, as we continue our Coronavirus pandemic ‘Footy Flashback’ series, and with the Lions and the Tigers originally scheduled to meet at the Gabba on Friday night, we recount that special day and the history between the two clubs.
It wasn’t a particularly hard choice to identify the club’s best moments against Richmond because good moments have been limited. Just 16 wins and a draw in 48 meetings. And that after the Bears won their first four meetings in 1987-88.
They have not beaten Richmond since 2009, and such was the limited field of special moments we even had to ditch the original home-and-away only criteria.
One person who won’t mind is Darryl White. He played his 200th AFL game and celebrated his 100th win in the 2001 grand final qualifier.
Or Craig McRae. Now on the coaching staff at Richmond, he played what at the time was the biggest game of his life on his 28th birthday.
The Lions were on a massive roll. They’d won 14 games in a row after a 74-point loss to Carlton in Round 8 and a five-point loss to Adelaide had seen them slip to ninth on the ladder with a 4-5 win/loss record.
In Round 10 they beat Essendon, the 2000 premiers, in the famous ‘if it bleeds you can kill it’ game.
On the back of coach Leigh Matthews’ pre-game verbal masterstroke they led at every change against the Bombers as Alastair Lynch kicked four goals, Jonathan Brown three, and Chris Johnson, Simon Black and Nigel Lappin took the Brownlow Medal votes.
They were away. They beat West Coast by 22 points the following week, then Melbourne by 49, Hawthorn by 87, StKilda by 57, Collingwood by 26 and Port Adelaide by 34 in Round 16.
They were equal second on the ladder but still two games and a big percentage behind Essendon.
They beat North Melbourne by 21, Western Bulldogs by 33, Richmond by 31, Fremantle by 51, Geelong by 43 and Sydney by 31 in Round 22 to finish second on the home-and-away ladder with a 17-5 record, behind Essendon on percentage. Port finished third and Richmond fourth.
Brisbane beat Port by 32 points in the qualifying final at the Gabba after being 16 points down at halftime, and enjoyed a week off as they awaited Richmond, who had lost to Essendon in the qualifying final before beating Carlton in the semi-final.
There was only one problem. Lynch had been reported by a goal umpire for striking Port’s Darryl Wakelin. He fronted the tribunal via video link on the Tuesday night following and was suspended for one match.
But by the time he got home it was all secondary. On the other side of the world two planes had flown into the North and South Tower of the World Trade Centre. Both collapsed as 2977 people died and more than 25,000 were injured.
The US declared war on terrorism and Osama bin Laden and suddenly it didn’t seem quite so important that Lynch would miss the preliminary final against Richmond.
As it turned out, it didn’t matter. Matthew Kennedy came into the side in the only change to the qualifying final team, and after a tight first term the Lions kicked 14-15 to 6-7 to win 20-16 (136) to 10.8 (68).
Six weeks earlier Richmond coach Danny Frawley had said publicly a trip to Brisbane to play the Lions in a final was to be avoided at all costs because the Lions were near unbeatable at home. How prophetic his words had proved to be.
“They were far too good for us, they were sensational the way they played, and they were well coached,” a gracious Frawley said afterwards. “A number of guys going to the goalsquare unbalanced us a bit – it was great planning and full credit to them.”
The heroes were many. Voss, used at full forward at times in rotation with Chris Scott to cover the Lynch absence, kicked three goals to go with 25 possessions. He was best afield.
Nigel Lappin had 29 and three, Simon Black 27 and one. Mal Michael, secured from Collingwood over the previous summer in a trade for Jarrod Molloy, blitzed Brad Ottens, Justin Leppitsch shut down Matthew Richardson and White celebrated in style with six saving marks deep in defence.
Said Matthews: “Mal Michael is the recruit of the year. He has been excellent all year and has given us another player in a part of the ground which we were a bit vulnerable in last year. Leppa and Mal were terrific on those two dangerous players.”
A huge roar went up around the Gabba when veteran Kennedy, in his 188th and ultimately his last game before making way for Lynch’s grand final return, ran from the interchange bench at the 23 minute mark of the third term for his first run of the night. How times have changed.
A sell-out crowd of 37,032 stood as one to cheer the Lions off the field. Their home season at the Gabba was done, but they had one challenge still to face. The grand final against Essendon and a moment Queensland football and Lions fans across the country will never forget.
BACK IN YEAR ONE
Richmond were going through a rough trot when the Brisbane Bears joined the then VFL in 1987.
With Geelong they lost twice to the Bears in the expansion club’s first season, but one game was especially sweet for fans of the team wearing maroon and gold.
It was Round 22. The Lions and the Tigers were to meet in a wooden-spoon grand final.
They were level with a 5-16 record at Round 21, but Richmond’s percentage advantage was big enough that Brisbane had to win to get off the bottom.
The Bears, on a six-game losing streak, were coming off an 82-point Carrara loss to sixth-placed Footscray in round 21 and were on a five-day break with travel. Again, how times have changed.
Richmond had lost by 42 points to fourth-placed North in Round 21 but had beaten 11th-placed StKilda by 76 points at their previous start.
Bears coach Peter Knights made three changes. He dropped Jamie Duursma after his one and only game for the club, and Stephen Williams, brother of vice-captain Mark, after he had played his fourth and last game.
An injured Mark Roberts also missed as Knights included Brenton Phillips, David O’Keeffe and Dale Dickson, who had been members of the very first Bears side in Round 1.
Just 12,079 people were on hand to see the bottom two sides go at it but Bears fans among them enjoyed every minute as they led by 12 points at quarter time, 29 points at half time and 48 points at three-quarter time.
Seven goals to six in a final quarter shoot-out saw Brisbane win 26-13 (169) to 17-11 (113).
It was their highest score and biggest win of the season.
It was a special night, too, for Phillip Walsh, who was later to win the inaugural Bears B&F. He had started his career at Collingwood but was at Richmond when he was released by the club to head to Brisbane.
A RECORD WIN
Late in the 1995 season the Brisbane Bears were making a bold but unlikely charge at the finals.
Coach Robert Walls had already announced he would stand down at the end of the season and in Round 16 they came from 45 points down at three-quarter time against Hawthorn at the Gabba to win.
It was an all-time AFL record and enough for original Bears coach Peter Knights, by then coaching Hawthorn, to be sacked.
They followed up with a 30-point win over 11th-placed Adelaide at Football Park, a 15-point win over 13th-placed Sydney at the SCG and a creditable 14-point loss to ladder leaders and hot premiership favorites Carlton.
Things had improved enormously but the Bears, 12th on the ladder with a 7-12 record, were still two wins plus a big percentage outside the eight. And they were to play second-placed Richmond at the Gabba in Round 20.
On a massive Sunday afternoon they didn’t just beat Richmond they obliterated them. They kicked 6-5 to 0-2 in the final quarter to win 24-16 (160) to 13-5 (83) – an all-time record Bears/Lions win over the Tigers.
It was a big momentum-builder, and afterwards they beat Essendon and Melbourne in the last two rounds to miraculously make the finals when an unlikely set of scenarios in Round 22 fell into place.
They were eventually beaten by Carlton by 13 points in the 1 v 8 qualifying final after being 22 points down at quarter-time, but they’d made their mark. Especially when Carlton beat North by 62 points in the preliminary final and Geelong by 61 points in the grand final.
For late-arriving fans of the Brisbane premiership era that was to come, there were a lot of familiar faces that took on Richmond in the Round 20 match at the Gabba.
No less than nine members of the 2001 premiership side were playing – Jason Akermanis (18), Nigel Lappin, Chris Scott and Justin Leppitsch (19), Michael Voss (20), Craig McRae (21), Darryl White (22), Marcus Ashcroft (23) and Shaun Hart (24). Southport forward Brent Green made his debut.
Oddly, coaching the Richmond side was John Northey who in 1996 would take over Brisbane coaching reins after Walls’ exit.
A BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT
The Brisbane Lions headed to the MCG in Round 7 2009 having lost eight consecutive games interstate dating back to the Leigh Matthews golden era. Now under first-year coach Michael Voss, they sat ninth on the ladder with a 3-3 win/loss record coming off a 43-point win over Essendon.
Albeit in a limited sample, they had never won two games in a row under Voss and had never won interstate as they set themselves to meet Richmond.
They conceded the first four goals to a Tigers outfit that was 15th on the ladder at 1-5, but thereafter they worked into the contest beautifully.
Jared Brennan kicked their first goal after 27 minutes and they trailed 1-4 to 4-5 at quarter-time.
Six goals in the second term, including two each to Jonathan Brown and Daniel Bradshaw, saw the visitors pull to within a point at halftime before Michael Rischitelli put them in front.
After leading by three points at three-quarter time the Lions kicked the first five goals of the final term via Brown (2), Bradshaw (2), Justin Sherman and Jed Adcock and it was over. Rischitelli kicked the sealer and the Lions won 15-7 (97) to 10-11 (71).
Brown’s 19 possessions, 11 marks and four goals earned him three Brownlow Medal votes, and Daniel Merrett, superb at the other end of the ground, had 16 possessions for two votes.
Sadly, it was the Lions’ last win over the Tigers, but it was a very special one.
FITZROY’S GREATEST COMEBACK
Fitzroy were playing home games at Junction Oval in 1978. By Round 20 they were 10th on the 12-team ladder and out of finals contention as they prepared to host a Richmond side that had lost three games in a row to slip from fifth to seventh and were fighting for their finals life.
It wasn’t to be for the Tigers. Instead, it was remarkable day for the home side. A record-breaking comeback win for Fitzroy and the most unlikely of heroes.
By quarter-time Richmond led 10-4 to 3-1 and things were going pretty much as most expected. Kevin Bartlett was on his way to a five-goal haul, Bruce Monteath had a bag of four in the making and Fitzroy trailed by 45.
Ninety minutes later Fitzroy celebrated an unforgettable 17-point win.
Remarkably, they’d hit the front by halftime 10-6 to 10-5, holding the Tigers goalless in the second quarter, but the visitors steadied and let by seven at the final change.
But again Fitzroy answered, and a 7-4 to 3-4 final term saw them win 20-14 (134) to 17-15 (117).
It is the biggest deficit at any quarter-time break that Fitzroy ever turned into a win, over-riding a 42-point quarter-time deficit against Richmond again that followed in 1981, a 39-point halftime deficit against Essendon in 1987, and a 39-point three-quarter time deficit against South Melbourne in 1960.
The hero of the day is a story just as special.
John Frazer was a 19-year-old 191cm marking forward playing his fourth game for Fitzroy and his 14th game overall.
He was the least experienced member of a side which included a 19-year-old Laurie Serafini, later to serve on the inaugural Board of the Brisbane Lions, a 20-year-old Mick Conlan, later to win selection in the Fitzroy Team of the Century and serve as CEO of AFL Queensland, and a 21-year-old Brian Brown, who fathered one of the club’s all-time greats.
Brown played his 37th game for Fitzroy. He added one more the following week, played Rounds 1-2-4-5-6-8 in 1979 and, after a year out of the side, played Rounds 7-8-9-12-13-14-15 in 1981 for a total of 51.
That he transferred to Essendon in 1982 to play two more games was irrelevant to Fitzroy fans. He’d played the necessary 50 games (just) for son Jonathan to be eligible to join the Brisbane Lions as a father/son selection.
If it was possible to breath a giant sigh of relief 19 years in advance there would have been a lot of Brisbane people doing just that.
But at the time it was all about Frazer, who had played 10 games at North Melbourne in 1976-77. His last game was Round 20 in ’77 when they went on to win the flag in a grand final replay against Collingwood after the teams had drawn the original grand final.
He moved to Fitzroy in 1978 and played Rounds 1-3-11 under coach Graham Donaldson for a total of four disposals, one mark and one goal.
Against the odds he found himself in the side to play Richmond in Round 21 when Bob Beecroft, the club’s leading goal-kicker in 1977-78-79-80, was ruled out.
He joined a side captained by 28-year-old Harvey Merrigan in his 173rd game.
Robert Walls, also 28, was Fitzroy’s most experienced player in his 231st game alongside five other 100-gamers - Bernie Quinlan (190), Warwick Irwin (159), Garry Wilson (142), Allan Thompson (136) and David McMahon (112).
It was a side that include six players later chosen in the Fitzroy Team of the Century – Merrigan, Quinlan, Irwin, Wilson, McMahon and Conlan.
Frazer, wearing the #3 jumper and sitting between #2 Brown and #5 Quinlan in the locker room, was undaunted by the calibre of his teammates. He just did what he was asked to do. Amazingly so.
He took four marks, earned four free kicks, had 11 possessions and kicked 9-2. Yes, nine goals. And in his only win in Fitzroy colors.
Just as remarkably, Frazer went goalless the following week against Geelong, when he had just one possession, and goalless against Carlton in Round 4 the following year, when he had five possessions. And he never played again.
It’s the sort of story if your heard it at the pub on a Sunday afternoon and didn’t know the facts you’d probably question it.
But it really did happen. Fitzroy came from 45 points down at quarter-time to win and John Frazer, who had a career total of 21 possessions in six games for the club, kicked nine goals.