Shaun Hart is best remembered by Brisbane Lions fans for his heroic in the 2001 AFL grand final. And rightly so. He won the club’s first Norm Smith Medal in the club’s first premiership win.
But while nothing will compare with such an unforgettable day there was another very special Hart moment five years earlier which at the time was very important and is the headline feature in this week’s episode of the Coronavirus pandemic Footy Flashback series.
It was Round 21 in 1996 as Fremantle, originally scheduled to play the Brisbane Lions in Perth on Saturday night before the pandemic hit, visited the Gabba for the first time.
With a moment of quick-thinking brilliance 25-year-old Hart gave the then Brisbane Bears their first win over the 1995 competition newcomers and guaranteed a key first in Queensland football history.
And all in a game in which a long-time teammate and friend achieved another first for the club and the code in the Sunshine State.
The Bears, third on the ladder and on a seven-game winning streak, were at home to the Dockers, who were 14th, or third-last, after they had finished 13th in their first AFL season in 1995.
Chasing a second consecutive finals appearances, they had not played well. The lead changed during each quarter but the Dockers led at each change by seven points, two points and nine points.
With 10 minutes to play the visitors were 16 points clear and it was going to take a Bears miracle.
Justin Leppitsch kicked his 50th career goal to cut it to 10 points before captain Roger Merrett, in his fifth-last game, goaled to make it just four.
With 83 seconds to play and the ball camped in the Brisbane scoring zone Hart, in his 98th game, registered full points with a freak left-foot soccer off the ground from 25m. It was a miracle.
The Bears won 10-11 (71) to 10-10 (70) to claim top spot on the AFL ladder.
Regardless of what happened in Round 22, the special hype of AFL football in September was coming to the Gabba.
And when they were beaten by Collingwood the following week to surrender the minor premiership to Sydney it was reassuring to have the pre-booked Gabba final up their sleeve.
The last-kick win over Fremantle was also especially significant for 21-year-old Michael Voss. He had 21 possessions and kicked a goal and picked up two votes in the Brownlow Medal.
They were his last votes of the season and took his season tally to 21 - just enough for him to share the Brownlow with Essendon’s James Hird four weeks later.
BRISBANE v FREMANTLE – BY THE NUMBERS
Over 25 years and 31 meetings Brisbane have 15-16 record against Fremantle. It’s 9-4 at the Gabba and 6-12 in Perth, and 2-1 under coach Chris Fagan, with a 47-point Gabba win in 2017 followed by a 55-point win at Optus Stadium in Perth in 2018 and a one-point loss at Optus last year, when the Dockers’ Michael Walters kicked the 45m winner after the final siren.
IN THE BROWNLOW
Fremantle would have known a young Simon Black very well. After all, he was an East Fremantle junior. And they could have drafted him. Three times.
In a 1997 National Draft in which Black was to prove a mega-bargain when eventually claimed by Brisbane at #31, the Dockers had three earlier picks. They took the North Ballarat Rebels’ James Walker at #6, South Fremantle’s Clem Michael at #21 and Tasmanian Brodie Holland at $26.
Walker played 151 games and polled three Brownlow votes. Michael played 43 games for four votes. And Holland 36 games for zero votes for Fremantle before 119 games and 12 votes at Collingwood.
Black played 322 games for 184 votes for Brisbane, including 20 finals when votes were not on offer.
To make matters retrospectively worse for the Fremantle recruiting team at the time, the champion midfielder’s best Brownlow record was against the Dockers. In 17 games against them he polled eight times for 18 votes and was judged best afield four times. A personal best.
Black heads the all-time Brisbane vote-count against Fremantle from Michael Voss (13), Jonathan Brown (7), Tim Notting (5) and Dayne Beams (5). Current players to poll for Brisbane against Fremantle have been Daniel Rich (3), Dayne Zorko (3), Stefan Martin (2), Hugh McCluggage (2) and Jarrod Berry (10.
Among 322 Brisbane players and 221 Fremantle players only six have played for both clubs. And only just six.
In the Bears days WA pair John Hutton and Brendon Retzlaff followed an eerily similar path that saw them wear the colors of both as teammates before and after a stint elsewhere as opponents.
Hutton, the #1 pick in the 1991 AFL National Draft, played 18 games for Brisbane in 1992, five games for Sydney in 1993 and, after a year out of the League, played 13 games for Fremantle in 1995.
Retzlaff, originally drafted to Collingwood without playing in black and white, played 15 games for Brisbane in 1992, three games for West Coast in 1993 and, after a year out of the League, played 12 games for Fremantle in 1995.
Adrian Fletcher, who started his career at Geelong and St.Kilda, played 107 games for Brisbane from 1993-97 before 79 games for Fremantle from 1998-2001. Having finished 5th-4th-2nd-4th in the Bears B&F in 1993-94-95-96, he won the Fremantle B&F in 1999 and shared the captaincy with Shaun McManus in 2000-01.
Des Headland, #1 pick in the 1998 AFL National Draft, was the fourth player to make what might otherwise be a shocking fashion choice to wear Fremantle’s purple and white on top of Brisbane’s maroon, gold and blue.
He played 52 games with Brisbane from 1992-2002, sharing in the’02 flag in the same week in which he finished equal sixth in the Brownlow Medal, and, stung by the ‘go home’ factor, added 114 games with the Dockers from 2003-10.
Lachie Neale, such a sensation in his first season with Brisbane in 2019, has already gone one step beyond Fletcher’s near B&F double. Having won the #1 award in 2016 and 2018 at Fremantle, where he played 135 games from 2012-18, he added the Merrett/Murray Medal to his trophy cabinet in 2019 and now has played 25 games with the Lions.
The ‘just’ is James Aish. Having played 32 games with Brisbane in 2014-15 and 50 with Collingwood from 2016-19 he played his first game for Fremantle in Round 1 2020. And has been waiting since to play his second game.
First Visit to Optus Stadium
Brisbane have played at 23 different venues along their AFL journey spread across six Australian states, one Australian territory, and one international venue.
Optus Stadium in Perth was #22 on the list and played host to the Lions for the first time in Round 15 2018. It was Chris Fagan’s 36th game in charge eight days after his 57th birthday. It was against Fremantle and it was one very special moment.
At Round 14 the Lions sat 17th on the AFL ladder with a 1-12 record and hadn’t won since Round 9. Fremantle were 13th but had a much better 6-7 record and were on a two-game winning streak.
Somehow, the Lions were in control from the moment Cam Rayner kicked the first goal inside three minutes. They led by 17 at the first change, 24 at halftime, 41 at the last change and won 18-11 (119) to 9-10 (64).
Their 55-point triumph in the Sunday afternoon timeslot was the club’s equal biggest against Fremantle in Perth, matching the effort of Round 5 1999 in Leigh Matthews’ first season at the helm.
And it came without emerging defender Harris Andrews, who was ko’d GWS’ Jeremy Cameron the week before a much-publicised incident which cost the Giants full forward a five-match suspension.
Dayne Beams was judged best afield with 33 possessions and 12 clearances and Stefan Martin, with 19 possessions, 46 hit-outs and seven clearances in his 150th AFL game, picked up two votes.
It was Fagan’s seventh win as coach and the start of a three-game winning streak for the Lions as Fagan and his troops started to see some rewards a lot of hard work and perseverance.
Trivia Question: Can you name the 23 grounds at which the club has played an official AFL match for premiership points? Remember, six Australian states, one Australian territory, and one international venue.
Answer: In chronological order, they are (1) MCG, (2) Kardinia Park, (3) Moorabbin, (4) Carrara, (5) Victoria Park, (6) WACA, (7) Whitten Oval, (8) Princes Park, (9) Windy Hill, (10) SCG, (11) Waverley, (12) Subiaco, (13) Gabba, (14) Football Park, (15) Docklands, (16) Stadium Australia, (17) York Park, (18) Marrara, (19) Adelaide Oval, (20) Wellington Stadium, (21) Sydney Showgrounds, (22) Optus Stadium and (23) Eureka Stadium, Ballarat.
Of these, nine are no longer used for AFL football – Moorabbin, Victoria Park, WACA, Whitten Oval, Princes Park, Windy Hill, Waverley, Subiaco and Football Park. And a return to Wellington in New Zealand isn’t on the AFL radar.
Among current AFL venues, Brisbane have never played at Bellerive Oval in Hobart, Cazaly’s Stadium in Cairns, Manuka Oval in Canberra, Riverway Stadium in Townsville or Traeger Park in Alice Springs.