The Oral History of the 1997 Preliminary Final

I’m not sure any Western Bulldogs fan, or any Footscray fan will ever get over the events of 1997. Whether they were adults or kids… it doesn’t matter. If you bring up the Preliminary Final against the Adelaide Crows, you can see them visibly recoil, as though the mere mention of that game has caused an involuntary emotional reaction.

It is a scar that has never fully healed.

“I still can’t watch it,” said one Doggies supporter. “When I hear someone mention it, the memories come flooding back.”

He looks down and away, then shakes his head.

“We should have won that one.”

Is there a worse feeling than having something you’ve longed for within your grasp, tantalisingly close, only for it to be snatched away? And does it make it worse knowing that you’re responsible for allowing it to slip away?

The Western Bulldogs should have met St Kilda in the 1997 AFL Grand Final. They should have ended a long Grand Final drought 19 years before they raised the premiership cup against the Sydney Swans in 2016.

But they didn’t.

It was the Adelaide Crows who ran over the top of the Dogs, with Malcolm Blight swinging the changes at halftime and the Crows riding some powerful contested marking from Nigel Smart, some midfield grunt from Mark Bickley, a sign of things to come from Tyson Edwards, and a blistering burst of Darren Jarman forward-craft to snatch the victory. An Adelaide team full of self-belief made their way into their first-ever Grand Final, and defeated St Kilda to win it all.

They were a team of destiny, fuelled by a coach who was, fair to say, a little bit left of centre. And they got inside the heads of the Bulldogs players. It was self-belief versus self-doubt, and there can only ever be one winner in such a contest.

Where did things go so right for the Crows? And where did things go so wrong for the Bulldogs? Was it the coaching genius of Blight, or a flaw in the coaching of Terry Wallace? Was it the adoption of tactics to save the game, or the dare demonstrated to win it that was the catalyst for one of the greatest victories in Adelaide history, and perhaps the most devastating loss in the lives of Dogs supporters everywhere?

It was the 1997 AFL Preliminary Final. It was the day the Crows grew up. It was the day the Dogs fell over. And it remains one of the greatest games, with one of the greatest stories, in the history of the AFL.

There had to be a winner and there had to be a loser. And their stories have to be told.

Here is the Mongrel Punt’s oral history of one of the most famous Preliminary Finals of the modern era.




If it wasn’t the Doggies supporters willing us on, it was the Victorian supporters who wanted to see a Grand Final between the Dogs and Saints. It was going to be a fairy tale. Terry Wallace in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

Practically my whole family travelled to Melbourne for the match, and I can remember feeling as nervous as I’ve ever been. No one gave us a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.Simon Goodwin, in his bio, Goody

These are the lucky roomsMalcolm Blight before the game, as told by Shaun Rehn on the 1997 documentary.

We had Danny Southern get a week for a trip. We had Paul Dimmatina in the standsPaul Hudson on This is your Sporting Life with Pete Donegan



We were sluggish and seemed nervous, which ran contrary to the way we had played out the previous two finals matchesGoodwin from his biography Goody

I jumped into a pack, lost my bearings as I landed and my leg wasn’t ready for the impact. The pain came pretty much straight away and I knew deep down that I’d done something pretty serious. – 1997 Coleman Medallist, Tony Modra.

This is a tragedy now for AdelaideKevin Bartlett on commentary after the Modra injury

It just went “crack” and I knew straight away. There was a fair bit of painModra on Open Mike

Not a great start. So we’ve got our two All-Australians not playingBlight during the 1997 documentary, referring to Modra and the absent Mark Ricciuto.



The Crows had an inaccurate first term, kicking 0.7 and allowing the Dogs the ascendancy. As we headed to halftime, the Western Bulldogs sat 31 points clear and the result seemed beyond doubt.

Ruck advantage? What fucking ruck advantage? – Blight as he walked through the rooms at halftime, making sure everyone could hear.

He (Rehn) reacted in the most positive way, so Shaun was a good one to lever onBlight during the 1997 doco

Rehn had been wearing a knee brace since returning from injury, but it was painfully apparent that Blight had no time for excuses. He needed results, and he needed them quickly.

In the back of my mind, I was still really paranoid before games. I still had it on my mind and part of getting over that mental hurdle was putting on the knee brace. – Shaun Rehn in the 1997 doco

We were in a situation where if we don’t change something, we went in feeling like we’re gonna miss out on a Grand Final. So for me, it was like ‘We’ve come this far – time to release the shackles’. – Rehn in the 1997 doco

He just grabbed his knee brace and threw it in the room. I’m sure everyone saw itDarren Jarman in the 1997 doco

For him to do that, he was a bit of a spiritual leader for us as a footy club. He had the ability to bring others along with himAndrew McLeod on Rehn in the 1997 doco

Probably one of the inspirational moves that got us back into the gameJarman, on Rehn taking the field without the brace in the 1997 doco

I ran out and I felt greatRehn in the 1997 doco

Four goals per quarter, our usual target, was the halftime message. We were 31 points up at halftime; four more goals in the third quarter and we would have been in a great positionBrad Johnson in his autobiography

Malcolm Blight was throwing his players all over the place in a bid to spark somethingTony Liberatore in his bio

Because we were struggling, I put Bond onto the ball at the same time as McLeodBlight in his biography

I can’t believe the opposition left McLeod pretty much alone at half-back. He sliced teams up with his run and kick, and we got away with it all year. A couple of times during the year we tried him on the ball for five or ten minutes and he could clearly do it, so we put it away for later. Because we were so far down we had to change the midfield. That was where we had a chance to change the game. That was the bonus I had up my sleeveBlight in his biography

It was the first time we’d played him there in public view, a big stageBlight on McLeod in his biography.

Maybe someone could have done something about it?

Mark West, one of my good mates from Darwin, was playing for the Bulldogs at the time. During the match, he had knocked a tooth out of one of my teammate’s jaw with one of his well-timed hip and shoulders. Later in the game, Mark had an opportunity to knock me into next week, too, but he eased up on me and I got to keep my beautiful smile. – McLeod in his biography, Black Crow

We had that respect for each other, plus he knew he always got a good feed from Mum and Dad’s place in DarwinMcLeod on West in Black Crow

It makes you wonder if the game could have changed had West not eased up on his mate? I wonder if he’d now trade a few good meals for a shot at the flag? Mark West played a wonderful game for the Dogs and had a chance to settle them late in the game, but missed. That was two occasions his actions could have altered the result of this game.

I wonder what the Dogs could do next week when they take on St Kilda?Sandy Roberts on commentary in the third quarter



The boys thought, ‘We’re still in this’, and that’s when they came back and got over the line. – Modra

This will be the biggest quarter of your life – Wallace to Brad Johnson at three-quarter time – Brad Johnson’s autobiography

Can you believe this – one more solid quarter and all that hard work and planning will end in a Grand FinalWestern Bulldogs President, David Smorgon to board member, Ray Baxter at three quarter time – Perth Now Aug 17 2007

Hey, hang on David, there’s one quarter to goBaxter in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

I spoke to four players. Darcy, Smith, Johnson and Grant. I said ‘It’s your time in the sun – we need you to step up.Wallace Perth Now Aug 17 2007

The one thing we speak about today in modern footy is ‘process-driven’ … (my address) was about what it would mean to the club and supporter base, and I think it was just a little bit too overwhelming for the group as a wholeWallace on Channel 9 regarding his three-quarter time speech to the players.



You could feel it shift. People still ask ‘Why didn’t you stop the momentum?’ But once you realise the momentum is swinging against you, it’s almost too lateScott West in Brad Johnson’s autobiography

You look at it today and say ‘Why didn’t we drop two behind the ball, have Chris Grant playing like that? But it wasn’t played like that. – Wallace on Channel 9

Jarman was a superstar, but gee, I would have loved to have Granty floating in front of him for a while and see whether he would have been able to kick themWallace on Channel 9

Fortunately for us, the momentum shifted in the second half. I think it was when Tony Liberatore celebrated thinking he’d kicked a goal, but it was a point. – Modra

Ah yes… THE point.



If we had score review back then, it might have been a different storyBrad Johnson, in the 1997 doco

I was right next to him. In fact, the ball went over my head and I watched it go over my head and I can tell you now…I don’t knowRehn in the 1997 doco

I was running towards the goal square, and even yelled at the goal umpire ‘That’s all clear’Brad Johnson in his autobiography

Obviously, he didn’t agree with me. That was the major moment. We kick that one goal, game over. –  Brad Johnson in his autobiography

I think you’ll find I went back and grabbed the footy before the umpire made his decision. I was pretty sure (it missed)Rod Jameson in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

To the eye, I thought it was through by a footPaul Hudson in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

Everyone says it was through. It looked like it was a goal. Brad Johnson swears it was a goalLiberatore in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

You can see by my excitement, what I thought. I get excited by goals, not pointsHudson in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

From where I was it looked like it did miss. It was tight, thoughJameson in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

For it to be called a point was pretty devastatingHudson in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

Gee, I’d love to have vision behind the goals. I still swear it was a goal – Hudson in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

I did (think it was a goal), and the only reason I say that I thought it was a goal is just about the most honest person that I know is Brad Johnson who was standing right on the goal line at the time and he swears to this day that it was a goal. – Wallace on Channel 9

I know I should have nailed the goal, and have had that kick again in my sleep many times overLiberatore in his bio

It would have lifted the roof – it did, almost. We just needed one goal to get over the line. We kicked 0.6 in the last quarter of that game and it was only the second quarter of the season that we didn’t kick a goal in a quarter, so that’s why I think the whole thing just got a bit overwhelming. – Wallace on Channel 9

Wrong decision, bad luck, move on. – Liberatore on Open Mike



One of my proudest moments in footy came with just a couple of minutes left in the match when we trailed by ten points but were charging home. I took a mark in the forward pocket and managed to kick a goal, which essentially kept us in the hunt. – Goodwin in his bio, Goody

I’ve kicked plenty of goals since that one, but probably none have been as important in the context of a season. I still rate that kick under enormous pressure as one of my biggest achievements in footy.Goodwin in his bio, Goody.

We got a little nervous. Panic started to set in, I thinkRohan Smith after Goodwin’s last quarter goal in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

Then Darren Jarman went berserkBrad Johnson in his autobiography



He’s just a whiz. His football IQ is as good as anyone I’ve ever seenBlight on Jarman in the 1997 doco

It was just ‘get it to Jars’Mark Bickley in the 1997 doco

People ask about Todd Curley playing on Jarman. Well, Curley had done a good job on him both times that year, but Jarman went to another level that day. The following week he kicked five in the Grand Final. He was a freak. – Wallace in Brad Johnson’s autobiography

I saw Kane (Johnson) coming through the centre and he laced me out.Jarman in the 1997 doco

Mr Magic’s got itBartlett on commentary

Run straight. Kick through the ballJarman in the 1997 doco

Who would you rather have with the ball in hand? He was just so calm over the ballBickley on Jarman in the 1997 doco

As he had already done twice that afternoon, DJ went back and slotted the goal that would propel the Adelaide Football Club into their first Grand Final. – Goodwin in his bio, Goody

Ice running through his veinsBickley on Jars in the 1997 doco

If I’d missed that we didn’t make the GFJarman in the 1997 doco

It was him proving to the whole world that he’s not just a brilliant footballer, but he’s a brilliant footballer who performs when it matters the most. That’s the best accolade you can getRehn on Jarman in the 1997 doco



You would have backed him with $1 million. He was the best kick of the lotWallace in Perth Now Aug 17 2007 on James Cook’s miss in the last quarter

It just drifted a bit. I thought ‘oops, we’ve got to go again’. Given the time in the game, that’s all you could doMark West on his miss with 2.38 remaining in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

I just remember giving it to Westy and shouting that loud to run, run, run. He couldn’t hear me  – Hudson on the West miss in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

I was shouting my lungs out, but obviously, he had a shot. It was the pressure of the gameHudson on the Scott West kick inside 50 late in the last quarter in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

The last quarter was like watching a fairy tale turn into a horror movieSmorgon in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

Paul Hudson and Chris Grant ran together as the ball bobbled toward goal late in the last quarter. Both went to the ball instead of one laying a shepherd. It was a huge mistake.

He (Grant) took a snapshot on a tight angle. That’s the pressure of footy… finals footy… the closeness of the scoresHudson on the Grant miss in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

In hindsight, Granty could have picked it up, gone around and snapped it on his left. But he did what was the natural reaction under pressureHudson in Perth Now Aug 17 2007




It was disbelief more than anything. We felt we’d dominated the game for so longRohan Smith in Brad Johnson’s autobiography

I can remember my legs going from underneath me. We’d worked our arses off. I was emotionally spent. ExhaustedWallace in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

It was just the most amazing feelingJarman in the 1997 doco

You’re the face of the club. You’ve got to be the one that stands up when we get back across the other sideGordon Casey to a shaken Terry Wallace after the final siren, in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

It was a bloody long walk. I reckon the song was played six times while I was on the ground. It’s not one of my favourite songs, I can guarantee you that. – Wallace in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

I cried. So did Southo (Danny Southern)Paul Dimmatina in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

I gave the ground a fair pounding. I think the dents are still thereRohan Smith in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

I walked out of the Southern Stand after the game and the Adelaide Crows supporters walked past me saying ‘We’ve waited seven years for this’. It was 36 years we had waited at the timeWallace on Channel 9

Seven long years, you’re kidding – Wallace in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

Channel 7 had footage of a girl distraught in the stands. That was my younger sisterPaul Dimmatina in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

It was because I had broken three bloody chairs carrying on like an idiot. I didn’t know what to do.Dimmatina in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

To do what we did that second half, I still reckon, to this day, it’s still the best game I’ve been involved withJarman in the 1997 doco

That win came out of sheer guts, determination and mental toughness. – Goodwin in his bio, Goody

Sometimes in life, you have to face those facts: we blew itScott West in Brad Johnson’s autobiography

I remember walking to the car with my old man. I got in, and for five, maybe ten minutes, I just broke down. I couldn’t believe itBrad Johnson in his autobiography

Wow. It was probably the best game I ever played inGoodwin in Blight’s biography



Was it our best opportunity to win it? Yes. Did we deserve to win it? Absolutely not. The premiers for that year ended up being the Adelaide footy club – deserved premiersChris Grant on Open Mike

That year was the best year of footy and the worst year of footy – Liberatore on Open Mike

I’m sure if we had a few things go our way… I still swear that was a goalHudson on This is your Sporting Life with Pete Donegan

It was there on a platter. And we’d thrown it away. It was as if someone close to me had diedLiberatore in his bio

My daughter was born three days earlier. I was on such a high having a baby then such a lowRohan Smith in Perth Now Aug 17 2007

I didn’t watch a video of it for six or seven yearsWallace Perth Now Aug 17 2007

Absolutely, by that far it’s not funnyWallace on if this was the most disappointing day of his coaching career, in Perth Now Aug 17 2007



As happens when success is not achieved, fingers are pointed and rifts develop. Someone has to be at fault, right?

We believed that the coach focused too heavily on the individual rewards the game offers, such as the best and fairest awards and All-Australian honours.Luke Darcy in a column for

We felt that if we gave the coach feedback and created a strong, player-driven culture at the Bulldogs then we could resolve the small issues we had and deliver the club’s second flag. Unfortunately, Terry Wallace was not the right character to handle this feedback; he believed that players meeting among themselves would lead to discontent.Darcy in his column for

I just think I am an easy target. As much as I have tried to mend bridges with the Dogs in my last press conference, for some people that hasn’t been able to happen. – Wallace in The Age July 30 2010

When you create an environment that doesn’t allow people below you in a team to challenge your ideas, it makes it hard for them to develop and improve.Darcy in his column for

We must have been doing something right, we came from 15th to third; to do that you mustn’t have been doing it all wrong. I thought it was grossly unfair.Wallace in The Age 30 July 2010

It was quite emotional sitting in the crowd a couple of years ago watching the Dogs. Everything went right whereas in 1997, everything went wrong, to be honestHudson on This is your Sporting Life with Pete Donegan

I regret it more than any other game because we had control for so long and I just didn’t play a great last quarter. –Brad Johnson in his autobiography

Football is about mistakes. It’s not a perfect game. 36 bodies and mayhem. Controlled mayhem, we hopeBlight, in his bio



It’s one of the specials, isn’t it?Blight in the post-game interview on the field

Absolutely it was.



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