FROM THE ARCHIVES – THE 1998 GRAND FINAL
ADELAIDE V NORTH MELBOURNE
These are certainly trying times ahead for us all. But we as a population must keep looking for the positives in life. Through the magic of Kayo, we here at The Mongrel Punt will attempt to do just that. So without further ado, welcome to Part ONE of our series, as we look back on every Grand Final of the last 20 years.
To kick things off, we revisit the 1998 decider between Adelaide and North Melbourne.
History was to be had on this fateful day. Could the Pride of South Australia escort the cup back across the border for the second year in a row? Could the Shinboner Spirit make Arden Street the place to be for the second time in three years? In a see-sawing contest, it was Malcolm Blight’s men that emerged victorious, handing the Kangaroos a 35-point belting to give West Lakes back-to-back trophies. Here is the Mongrel’s Good and Not So Good from Adelaide’s second premiership.
MALCOLM BLIGHT’S COACHING
Seven scoring shots to 21 in a half of football. Two shot to 13 in the second term. In reality, Denis Pagan’s men should’ve more than put the Crows away by the time the first hour of play had concluded. We will get into North Melbourne’s poor showing in front of goal of later, but right now we’ll focus on what happened after half time. Leigh Matthews commented during the broadcast that an entirely different team had emerged after half time, and while it was the same 22 players that played the first half, it was a variety of coaching moves both on the field and in attitude that turned the game around.
Darren Jarman was moved closer to goal, Mark Ricciuto played across half back, Ben Marsh played forward to give Adelaide extra height, and the Crows were instructed to take the game on at all costs and use their supreme fitness and leg speed to cut through North Melbourne’s clutches. Even before the Grand Final, Blight made a coaching masterstroke, dropping Tony Modra from the side and electing to go with a smaller, quicker forward structure. Like playing Shane Ellen forward in 1997, Blight’s radical moving of the magnets once again bamboozled his coaching adversary.
DEFENDING THE FLAG
As mentioned above, the Kangaroos started the Grand Final full of energy and venom, and should’ve put the Crows to bed in the first half. While this is true, part of the credit to North Melbourne’s poor score line must go to Adelaide’s defensive unit, who consistently used their elite athleticism to both pressure North’s forwards into error, as well as effectively rebound from defence and thrust the Crows forward. Led on-field by Ben Hart and Peter Caven, the Crows coaching staff ensured that the Kangaroos never had to deal with the same back six for long stretches.
Mark Ricciuto was largely ineffective in the first half, and upon being moved to half back, came to life, with 12 of his 14 touches coming in the last hour. Caven and Hart destroyed their opponents Wayne Carey and Craig Sholl, with the two North key forwards kicking one goal between them.
Mark Stevens, in his first season with the Crows since ironically crossing from North Melbourne, had a second half to remember as Adelaide’s third tall backman, taking eight crucial marks to cut off Kangaroo forward thrusts. Nigel Smart was his usual courageous self, battling on after a head knock in the second quarter and when moved forward, kicked three goals.
Captain Mark Bickley and young gun Kane Johnson lit up in the second half, and after each having below average first stanzas, both exploded after half time and often started Adelaide’s movement forward in a barnstorming display. It could not have been more evident that Adelaide’s unheralded defensive unit was by far the most important piece in both keeping the Crows in the contest in the first half, and pulling clear of North Melbourne in the second half.
THE NOT SO GOOD
NORTH MELBOURNE’S INACCURACY
When Wayne Carey won the toss and elected to kick towards the Punt Road end in the first quarter, no one could have known just how effective that decision would become. In the first and third quarters, the Kangaroos kicked six goals and four behinds. What happened at the other end tells a completely different story. The wind was against them, Adelaide’s defenders piled on the pressure, and ultimately, North guided two goals and a mind-boggling 18 behinds through the goal posts in the two quarters they faced the Great Southern Stand. With a final score of 8.22.70, it is embarrassing that North Melbourne amassed the same amount of scoring shots that the Crows managed, yet lost the game by 35 points.
PRESSURE? WHAT PRESSURE?
Pressure wins matches. Teams must be willing to be malicious when the ball is in their opponents’ hands, as pressure creates mistakes, leading to turnovers and ultimately, scores on the rebound. Adelaide did this magnificently, using not only double team tackles, but sheer brute force to kill any attacking thrust that North could muster. North Melbourne, on the other hand, not so much. Adelaide recorded more possessions on the day, and in footy vernacular, the opposition should therefore have been laying more tackles and applying more pressure. It is galling then, to see that North stuck four less tackles than the Crows.
One of the most disappointing aspects of this game was that it seemed that North Melbourne simply could not be bothered with their direct opponents, and were only interested in the ball when it was heading in their direction. It was a clear lack of respect from the Kangaroos, who by midway through the second quarter, looked like they put the cue in the rack, assuming that their dominance would continue and the flag would belong to them. I imagine Denis Pagan would’ve been tearing his hair out in the coaches’ box watching some of the pitiful displays of pressure his charges were attempting to dish out, especially when Adelaide were making their run. Only six Roos registered more than one tackle, and nine failed to lay any.
Looking simply, it appeared that inaccuracy cost North Melbourne this premiership, but if you take a deeper dive, it becomes clear that North handcuffed itself with a severe case of the head wobbles, thinking that as minor premiers, and facing a team that only finished fifth in the home and away season, the Grand Final would be a walk in the park. They found out the hard way that respect must be shown to every opponent, regardless of your own perceived standing in the game.
WHO WERE THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH?
Another Grand Final, another best on ground performance from one of the best big game players the AFL has ever seen. Having started the match slowly, finding the football only twice in the first quarter, McLeod settled into his work, and after exploding in the second quarter, finished with 30 touches for the day. Denis Pagan had no answers for the Norm Smith Medallist, with McLeod using his leg speed and elite skill with the ball in-hand to give his forwards first use of the ball. Utilising Shaun Rehn’s dominance in ruck to his advantage, McLeod tore through his opponents en route to another premiership medallion.
Unheralded, Underrated, Unknown. Three words that I’m sure everyone will associate with now two-time premiership full back Peter Caven. Sent to the best player in the game, Caven had himself a day out against Wayne Carey. Not only did his pressure keep the King to just one major for the day, Caven was also a rebounding beast, amassing 20 possessions and nine marks. Giving up 12 kilograms on Carey, Caven used his superior agility to stifle the Kangaroos captain, with Carey needing to resort to moving further up the ground to try and find space from Caven.
One of the Kangaroos’ lesser midfield lights, Peter Bell upstaged his contemporaries to be North’s best on ground for the day. Gathering 26 disposals (19 kicks, seven handballs) at the feet of Corey McKernan, Bell read the ruckwork beautifully and was regularly at the bottom of the pack in a courageous display of tough, hard football that was lacking from the men in blue and white. He also managed to utilise his diminutive stature effectively, as he won four free kicks, all of them being for high tackles. Perhaps the only knock on Bell’s performance was his inaccuracy in front of the big sticks, but he certainly wasn’t alone in that regard.
It was more than a little bit surprising when Malcolm Blight elected not to start Darren Jarman in the forward 50, especially given Blight left Tony Modra out of the team and Jarman’s performance in the Grand Final the year before. Starting in the midfield, Jarman’s second half helped guide the Crows to victory, with four of his five goals coming in the last hour of the game. When moved forward in the last moments of the first half, Jarman was matched up on John Blakey, but by the end of the contest, three Kangaroos had tried to defend him, none had any answer to Jarman’s sheer brilliance.
In the first half when North Melbourne was making its charge, defensive work was often not needed. When it was, and even more so when Adelaide made its move, it was the commanding presence of Mick Martyn that proved the biggest resistance to the cause. Matching up on Matthew Robran, Martyn was a competitive beast, and as many of his teammates wilted under the pressure, Martyn was a rock, taking Robran completely out of the game and gathering a respectable 13 possessions for himself. Pagan had to resort to using Martyn on a dominant Darren Jarman, and while the damage was already done, Martyn at least stemmed the bleeding while matched up on the brilliant Crow.
AND THE WORST?
Spoiler alert, there will be more of Shannon Grant’s exploits to come in a later review. Today we focus on a player that had a brilliant 1998 season, with Grant kicking 46 goals from 25 games, while averaging 16 disposals as a half forward/wingman. But it was when Pagan needed him most that Grant failed to deliver. The normally dangerous Roo was ineffective against the Adelaide onslaught, gathering 10 possessions and kicking two behinds. While he wasn’t alone in crumbling under the pressure of Adelaide’s speed and ball use, Grant falls into this category because his fitness and agility should’ve been able to match the Crows, but it disappeared right when it was most important.
When glancing at the stats of the game, one could question David King’s inclusion in this category, given he amassed 16 disposals and four marks. However, on closer inspection, it was King’s work without the ball that cost his team the most, with King’s direct opponent, James Thiessen, providing plenty of run and carry for the Crows. King gave Thiessen no respect, and failed to give any defensive pressure when the ball was going in Adelaide’s direction. While Thiessen was a consistent threat by foot, with 14 of his 17 possessions coming off his boot, it seemed King couldn’t be bothered once the ball was behind him, as he recorded a grand total of zero tackles for the day.
Two-time premiership player Koster has experienced both the highs and lows on the last day in September, and it was on this day that Koster was utterly ineffective. 1997 saw Koster gather 14 disposals and lay seven tackles, but today, Koster only saw the ball four times, take one mark, lay a single tackle, and give away a silly free kick in the third quarter. While it seemed virtually every other Adelaide player stepped up to the plate when needed, Koster had a day to forget on the stats sheet, but he still walked away with a medal dangling from his neck.
It was the Crows’ second premiership in as many years, and whilst many will remember this as the flag that Carey and his team let slip, that would not be giving enough credit to Adelaide, their coach, and their application of tremendous pressure.
Yes, had North capitalised on their opportunities in front of goal, we may be talking about the North Melbourne 90s dynasty, with three flags in four years, but they didn’t, and we’re not. Instead, we speak of the Crows’ running and pressure players, punishing North Melbourne for their mistakes. We speak of lesser-known players stepping up as stars stepped aside. We speak of Malcolm Blight moving the magnets and motivating his players, and we speak of the brilliance of Andrew McLeod as he cemented himself as one of the greatest players of the modern era.
And finally, we speak of the Adelaide Crows – giant killers, and back-to-back AFL premiers; the first to do it under the banner of the national competition.