Every grand final has heartbreak stories and this one is no exception

Devastated, gutted, shattered, heartbroken, frustrated, shocked, disappointed, and angry. These are just some of the feelings going through Geelong’s Shaun Higgins and Sydney’s Logan McDonald right now.

Both for different reasons and both on different ends of their career spectrum. But the pain would be almost just as bad for each. It would really hurt.

And spare a thought for the emergencies on both sides too – those so close to being selected but will agonisingly fall short.

Geelong players like Mark O’Connor, Sam Menegola, Jonathan Ceglar and Brandan Parfitt and Sydney’s Braeden Campbell, Harry Cunningham and Will Gould.

Each year there is a heartbreak story in Grand Final week. Sometimes more than one.

Just ask Derek Kickett. The versatile defender played every match in 1992 and 1993, up until the preliminary final of 1993.

Preparing to play the biggest game of his career, he was infamously omitted by Essendon Coach Kevin Sheedy for the 1993 Grand Final.

The baby Bombers would go on to win that 1993 AFL Grand Final and Kickett who was absolutely devastated, walked out on the club. He was inconsolable.

His omission from that side continues to be one of the most controversial decisions of Sheedy’s coaching career.

Such was the extent of the hurt and pain from that experience that Kickett did not speak to Sheedy for 25 years. It took him years to find the desire to forgive his former coach for the ultimate heartbreak.

The 1989 Grand Final between Hawthorn and Geelong goes down in history as one of the all-time greats. Many argue it is the greatest of them all. But not for Peter Schwab.

The champion Hawk played a key part throughout the year in getting his side to the Grand Final. However he was suspended after striking Essendon’s Andrew Manning in the semi-final.

Unfortunately for Schwab, Manning marked the ball and Schwab arrived a touch too late and because of his ill-timed head-high tackle, was suspended by the AFL Tribunal.

It was the ultimate heartbreaker as he was forced to watch on as his teammates took care of Geelong in a classic Grand Final. Fortunately for Schwab, he played in three other premierships but could have easily finished his career with four had he not been suspended.

In 2002 it was Jason Cloke. After making his debut in round 2, Cloke played every match for the rest of the 2002 season.

But he received a two-match suspension in the club’s preliminary final victory against Adelaide, for striking Tyson Edwards. Collingwood appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected, and Cloke missed the Grand Final loss against the Leigh Matthews’ led Brisbane Lions.

In 2010, Ben McEvoy who was playing for St Kilda at the time, was dropped for hard nut Steven Baker, with then-coach Ross Lyon opting for Michael Gardiner in the ruck.

However McEvoy was recalled and played in the Grand Final Replay after the Saints and Pies played out a draw and Gardiner was injured.

McEvoy would also taste premiership success twice in 2014 and 2015 as a Hawthorn player.

In 2014, Brad Sewell was the most popular hard-luck story. He had been a champion of the club, a dual premiership player and a fan favourite but Clarko made the tough decision to leave him out of the preliminary final side and then did not recall him for the premiership decider. But he wasn’t the only one hard done by that year. His fellow emergencies for that Grand Final were Jonathan Simpkin and Jonathan Ceglar.

Simpkin got dropped for mercurial forward Cyril Rioli. Luckily for Simpkin though, he was part of the Box Hill and Hawthorn 2013 premiership sides due to Whitecross’ injury.

And after showing impressive form in the early part of the finals series, Jonathan Ceglar played a poor preliminary final and the Hawks hierarchy dropped him for the Grand Final, recalling the more experienced Ben McEvoy.

During the Hawks three-peat from 2013-2015, ruckman Ceglar missed out on selection for all three Grand Finals. He was considered the club’s third ruckman playing behind big men, Max Bailey and David Hale in 2013 and then Hale and Ben McEvoy in 2014 and 2015.

At the end of 2021, he moved to Geelong for more ruck opportunities and to chase that elusive premiership. But in his first year at the Cattery, he has unfortunately suffered many injury setbacks prohibiting him from cementing his place in the side. He has been listed as one of the four emergencies. Barring any unforeseen last-minute injury setbacks for Rhys Stanley, he will miss out on a premiership once again.

After being selected with pick 1 in the 2004 National draft, Brett Deledio played most of his career for Richmond. He played 243 games over 12 seasons for the Tigers, a period where the club consistently missed out on finals. At the end of 2016, he moved to the GWS Giants hoping to win that elusive flag.

However, after being traded to the Giants, constant injuries hindered his ability to perform.

The very next season after he moved to the GSW Giants, his former side won the premiership by beating Adelaide.

He missed out on being part of the 2017 Richmond premiership side.

Then as luck would have it, in 2019 his GSW Giants would face his former side Richmond in the Grand Final. To make matters worse, he was injured and could not even take to the field. Injuries would finally take their toll, curtailing his career and he retired after that 2019 season.

Unfortunately, his career ended without a premiership. He’s left to ponder if he had stayed at Richmond, how things could have been different. Could he have potentially finished with two – the 2017 and 2019 flags?

In 2019, with Richmond contesting both the VFL and AFL Grand Finals, fringe players Kamdyn McIntosh and Jack Ross were pulled out of the VFL Grand Final as Jack Graham and Nathan Broad battled injury.

Broad would recover and get up for the AFL Grand Final. But Graham’s dislocated shoulder in Richmond’s preliminary final win over Geelong was too much to recover from in the space of a week and he unfortunately missed out.

The Tigers celebrate with the premiership cup after winning the 2020 AFL Grand Final

The Tigers celebrate with the premiership cup (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

But with Marlion Pickett awarded the Norm Goss medal for best afield in the VFL Grand Final, Coach Damien Hardwick elected to put him in the AFL Grand Final side to replace Graham.

This meant heartbreak for Graham, McIntosh and Ross. While their teammates were out celebrating at least one Grand Final victory, and in the case of Pickett, two premierships in two weeks, these three missed out on both premierships at the VFL and AFL levels that year.

In 2008, Hawthorn ruckman Simon Taylor had played most of the year. However in Grand Final week, premiership Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson decided to go with the emerging Brent Renouf instead.

He was just one of several players that day to heartbreakingly miss out after contributing throughout the year including Tom Murphy and Tim Clarke, and Jarryd Morton.

Then there’s the champions who played their whole careers while the side was struggling and retired just before the team tasted the ultimate success. For example, Joel Smith, Ben Dixon and Richard Vandenberg who played a key part in the Hawks rebuild only to retire just before the club tasted premiership success.

Hawthorn’s Brendan Whitecross is another incredible hard luck story as he played during a time when his club played in five and won four Grand Finals but unfortunately he missed them all. It seems life couldn’t have been any crueler towards the star Hawk.

After being taken by Hawthorn with their second round draft pick in 2007, Whitecross spent the entire 2008 season in the VFL developing his skills with Hawthorn’s VFL side Box Hill. Subsequently he unfortunately missed being a part of the Hawks 2008 premiership.

He made his debut in Round 1, 2009 and was a consistent performer for the Brown and Gold in the years that followed. But then in 2012, just as the Hawks were making their claim towards the final Saturday in September, he suffered a heartbreaking anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in the Qualifying Final against Collingwood.

This meant he missed the 2012 Grand Final and most of the 2013 season.

He was determined to get back into the side as the Hawks chased premiership success in 2013. After he had successfully made his way back from injury and into the side, disaster struck again. He suffered another devastating knee injury in the final stages of the preliminary final win against Geelong.

This meant he missed the 2013 Grand Final and all of the 2014 season which in turn meant he missed the Hawks 2013 and 2014 premierships. In 2015, he was once again in and out of the side due to injuries and unfortunately missed the 2015 premiership too.

Last year the heartbreak story was Nathan Jones. The former Melbourne captain had led his struggling side during some of their darkest times in their history.

But when they finally reached the pinnacle he was left out of the side. He ended up leaving the hub during Grand Final week to be by his wife’s side as they welcomed their baby into the world.

He would have dreamt for so long of winning a premiership. And despite his commitment to the club for so long when the side was on its knees, that dream was taken away from him. It just seemed so ruthless and cruel.

These are just some of the many players that have suffered heartbreaks during Grand Final week. The list goes on.
And this year is no exception – there’s heartbreak on both sides.

Geelong veteran Higgins announced his retirement this week. After playing in five preliminary finals throughout his career, his dream of that elusive premiership is now impossible. The midfielder crossed over from North Melbourne to Geelong at the end of 2020.

Together with Isaac Smith and Jeremy Cameron, he joined the Cattery for a taste of more success. Unfortunately for Higgins, while the other two teammates will feature in the premiership decider at the MCG, he will have to watch them from the stands as he has battled with injury and form and this week announced his retirement.

For the Sydney Swans, the heartbreak story comes in the form of young star and former No.4 draft pick Logan McDonald. McDonald has booted 15 goals from 17 games this year. After playing the past five games (all wins), the 20-year-old has been sensationally dropped from the team.

He has been replaced by Hayden McLean. It’s a big move by Coach John Longmire and the selection committee as McLean has not played in the senior side since round eight.

McDonald only managed to kick one goal in Sydney’s two finals on their way to the Grand Final. He may still potentially end up with a premiership medal if he gets a late reprieve, is named as the medical substitute and the Swans get up. But at this stage it seems he will have to watch from the sidelines as his teammates pursue the ultimate dream. It’s a brutal blow for the youngster.

The Sydney spearhead has time on his side – as a 20-year-old hopefully he will have other opportunities throughout his career to play in a Grand Final, but the reality is there are no guarantees in footy.

Swans co-captain Luke Parker said, “The boys have been pretty helpful with Logan. I think it’s one of the most heartbreaking positions you can be in. He’s got such a big future at our club.

“He’ll take it hard but his attitude has been incredible. He’s still preparing like he’ll play, all week he’s trained like he’ll play and that’s been his attitude all year.

There are still question marks around the fitness of veteran Sam Reid and Justin McInerney. The versatile ruckman has been named but remains in doubt after suffering an adductor (groin) injury last week. He was subbed out of the preliminary final.

Justin McInerney

(Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

Both players have been named in the side and will be given every chance to prove their fitness.

For Geelong, Higgins has been so close to playing in a Grand Final on several occasions throughout his career. Yet once again, he will miss out. And after moving from North Melbourne to pursue an elusive premiership, this one really hurts.

There have also been question marks around Max Holmes’ status after the electric wingman suffered a hamstring injury in last week’s preliminary final win.

Normally a hamstring recovery can take up to four weeks.

It will be an incredible achievement if he plays.

Holmes has been running as he desperately tries to prove his fitness.

The Cats have named him in the side and will give him every chance to prove his fitness.

Geelong coach Chris Scott says Holmes has shown improvement and had “given himself the best shot” at being selected. But a final decision had not yet been made. “He’s probably done what he’s needed to do from a physical point of view,” Scott told reporters on Friday.

“We haven’t absolutely made the decision yet,” the premiership coach said.

Emergencies Parfitt, O‘Connor, Menegola or Ceglar would be his replacement if Holmes isn’t deemed fit to play.
It will be a ripper Grand Final between the two best sides this year.

But whatever happens in Saturday’s Grand Final, spare a thought for the heartbreak some athletes endure.

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