The fart that cost a premiership
6 minutes ago
Graham Cornes’s 1993 preliminary final halftime speech was rudely interrupted.
AS the final four teams in the AFL prepare to do battle on preliminary final weekend, let’s relive one of the most famous prelims in footy history.
In 1993 the Adelaide Crows — in just their third season — squared off against minor premier Essendon for the opportunity to play Carlton in the Grand Final.
The “Baby Bombers” entered the game a strong favourite but stunningly trailed by 42 points at halftime. But a rude interruption in the Crows halftime huddle changed everything.
This is the story of the game, as told by the key men involved.
This piece was first run in The Advertiser and Sunday Mail in 2013.
GAVIN WANGENEEN (back pocket, Essendon): We went into that game quite confident. Carlton had only beaten us by under a kick in the first final so we knew if we could get into the Grand Final we’d give it a good shake. We were still wary of Adelaide. They had a star-studded side.
ANDREW JARMAN (centre, Adelaide): What we focused on was just getting a fast start. They were playing on their home deck. It was 26C, it was hot. The ground was hard. We thought ‘we beat Hawthorn, we almost beat Carlton, we’re not afraid of these top sides’.
GAVIN WANGANEEN: They jumped us. They played some really good football. They moved the ball around with handball, broke the lines and played a really good brand of footy. They caught us off-guard.
Up 7.4 to 4.5 at quarter time, the Crows continued on their merry way in the second quarter. star full forward Tony Modra had five goals to his name and was finding all sorts of space on Dustin Fletcher.
ANDREW JARMAN: We were all over them. That was the best football we played since the start of the Crows.
GRAHAM CORNES (coach, Adelaide): We were so dominant in that first half and then Shaun Rehn missed a goal which might have made it an eight goal lead.
SHAUN REHN (ruck, Adelaide): I missed a couple of shots late in the second quarter and there were a couple of other opportunities. We could have actually gone in further in front.
Cornes also raised a few eyebrows by dragging forward pocket Scott Hodges and replacing him with Stuart Wigney just before halftime.
TONY MODRA (full forward, Adelaide): In the first half I was going OK. We had a double-pronged attack down there with Scott Hodges but Scotty came off for some reason and as soon as he came off they double teamed me. It turned in Essendon’s favour and it all fell apart from there.
GRAHAM CORNES: Hodges had kicked a goal but he only had one kick in the first half. He ended up coming back on in the third quarter anyway.
Nigel Smart gets a handball away as Gavin Wanganeen (left) looks on.
Still, the Crows had exceeded their wildest dreams in the first half. Leading 12.12 to 6.6 they entered the main break with one foot in the Grand Final.
SHAUN REHN: We were up by seven goals in a preliminary final — a place we never thought we’d be. At halftime I just thought we weren’t as calm as we could have been. There was a lot of movement, a lot of high voice, that sort of stuff.
Cornes thought carefully about how to approach the break. He’d been in a similar position in a game as Glenelg coach and had learnt a valuable lesson about self-fulfilling prophecies.
GRAHAM CORNES: At Glenelg this particular day we were five or six goals in front and I’ve come in at halftime and said ‘Don’t you be satisfied with that. Don’t think for one minute this game is over. They’re going to come back at you, make no mistake about that, you’ve got to be on your guard.’ They came back at us, but we won. After the game our team psychologist Scott Way came up to me and said: ‘You know what happened then, don’t you? At halftime you planted a self-fulfilling prophecy in their brain, that they were going to come back and they did come back’. That always stayed with me. So at halftime of the Essendon game I can see Scott Way’s face saying no self-fulfilling prophecies. You’re in front because you’ve played well and it’s just a matter of keeping on doing things you’re doing.
In the end Cornes’ message never really got home. As he huddled the players together for his final address there was a rude interruption.
MARK BICKLEY (midfielder, Adelaide): This has become footy folklore. I play it up a little bit. Greg Anderson was working for Musashi at the time and he had us on all these powders and mixtures which did play havoc with everyone’s gas. Just before we went out after halftime Cornesy pulled us into this tight pack and someone let one go. I don’t think it was me to be quite honest. But I haven’t denied it because I can’t remember. Someone farted while he was trying to be serious and deliver this great speech and everyone was holding their nose. When you get in that tight huddle it’s not a great place to drop one — it’s worse than an elevator.
MATTHEW LIPTAK (forward pocket, Adelaide): It was the most ill-timed release of gas. Cornesy was in the most serious mode, trying to get us up for the second half and we’re all in the huddle. Musashi was the choice of supplement in those days and that was rumbling in Bicks’ stomach for a while. He just let out this stink bomb and not only did it sound like his stomach was falling out but the smell that reached out just changed the demeanour of the halftime break. I don’t know if that was the thing that bombed us but it changed the mood in there that’s for sure.
SHAUN REHN: If you look back it was quite funny because Graham found it quite difficult to make his last speech when the smell was so rancid. It basically emptied out the main area.
Crows midfielder Mark Bickley.
Over in the Essendon rooms Sheedy was working the Essendon players into a fervour.
GAVIN WANGANEEN: Sheeds spilt his heart out to us at halftime. He was talking about how our families, our wives, our parents are all in the stands watching. Go out there and play for them. That was part of it. It was very motivating and emotional. He just got us going.
KEVIN SHEEDY (coach, Essendon): It was important we didn’t keel over. You can fight back to a respectable score by three quarter time and then anything can happen. There’s a lot of horses who lead in the Melbourne Cup to the bend and then they come into the straight and all of a sudden they’ve got to find something. Luckily for us we found something.
MARK BICKLEY: They came out in the third and got a goal or two and started to get a bit closer and then Andrew Jarman got a free kick at the top of the goal square and missed — which was amazing because Jars was probably the best kick in the side. It would have been a nice steadier.
ANDREW JARMAN: That haunts me. I don’t have too many bad memories of my football career but that one will sit with me. It was a 15-20m kick. If I kicked that it would have changed the momentum back to us again. I ■■■■■■ blew it. I had Mark Thompson ripping in to me after that kick. I can hear his voice now just giving it to me: ‘You’ve cost them the game, you’ve cost them the game, we’re going to win it’.
KEVIN SHEEDY: It would have been very difficult if Jarman had kicked that goal.
GAVIN WANGANEEN: We got that first goal and then Darren Bewick got on the end of a couple. That was the spark. We started running the ball out of defence and taking the game on. A few things went our way.
Cornes reacted by sending Bickley to Michael Long and took David Brown off to play Scott Lee loose in defence. But the Bombers kicked 6.2 to 1.2 to reduce the margin to 12 points at three quarter time.
MARK BICKLEY: We made some really fundamental errors. There’s a certain point where you get far enough in front that teams don’t believe they can win it.
MARK RICCIUTO (back pocket, Adelaide): I was standing Bewick and he kicked a few goals on me but it was one of those momentum changes where you couldn’t do anything about it.
The Bombers continued to press early in the third. Rohan Bewick kicked his fifth and sixth goals to level scores before Gary O’Donnell gave his side the lead. Sean Denham was winning his battle with Tony McGuinness and Long continued to shine.
GRAHAM CORNES: That’s the one that got under my guard — Denham played well in the second half. He was tagging Tony McGuinness and so you’re not so worried about the tagger’s offensive capabilities. He definitely got under our guard.
KEVIN SHEEDY: Denham was a very good player, he won a best and fairest. He was very focused. He was an accountant and he played like an accountant.
MARK BICKLEY: I know I spent time on Michael Long and he had the better of me.
GAVIN WANGANEEN: That 1993 finals series Michael Long played was the best I’ve ever seen. He was best on ground in three of our finals (in the preliminary final against the Crows and the qualifying and grand final against Carlton) and dominated against West Coast as well. Very electrifying stuff.
GRAHAM CORNES: We didn’t lose it in the forward lines, it was the midfield battle. Our offensive players didn’t have great defensive strategies and when Denham and Michael Long and a couple of others got on top our defensive strategies weren’t good enough. The other thing was the free kick count.
Adelaide’s Ben Hart attempts to smother a kick by James Hird.
Adelaide had regularly been on the wrong side of the free kick count when it played in Melbourne. Despite the count being 8-7 early, a free kick against Rodney Maynard for holding David Calthorpe late in the game saw it finish 32-15 in Essendon’s favour. Gavin Wanganeen’s personal count was 8-0.
MARK BICKLEY: I don’t remember feeling cheated … but 32-15 is pretty one-sided.
GAVIN WANGANEEN: Eight for and zero against, shivers! Hopefully that was something to do with me getting to the footy first. Back in those days you did try to milk the odd free kick here and there and I was probably good at it.
KEVIN SHEEDY: I think we were very fortunate to be honest. I think Adelaide was a little unlucky. There’s no doubt 32-15 is a big difference. That’s a helluva lot more free kicks.
With a few minutes left on the clock the Bombers were hanging on to a six-point lead. The Crows broke through the middle of the ground but Wanganeen made a game-changing tackle on Brown and Essendon pushed forward and found the sealer through Tim Watson.
KEVIN SHEEDY: That’s why we got Watson back. If we hadn’t have got Watson back out of retirement we would have been one experienced player short.
ANDREW JARMAN: He went for the ball and he kept his feet. I was exhausted and I fell over. I probably should have gone in a bit harder or kept my feet or been a bit more goal side on him. He was so strong through the hips. He was 45m out and he span around and I thought ‘Nah, he can’t kick this’. And bang, it’s gone straight through. I knew then and there that was it, we’d lost it.
The final score was Essendon 17.9 (111) Adelaide 14.16 (100). The mood in the Crows’ changerooms quickly turned sour.
GRAHAM CORNES: I was pretty measured until I talked about the previous Saturday night. You get what you deserve. If you don’t prepare properly there’s a price you pay. I mentioned the reports of players being at a nightclub until 3am or 4am. I must have been looking and talking at Sean Tasker. He said ‘it wasn’t me’ and had a crack back at me.
SEAN TASKER (forward, Adelaide): He got that all wrong. He ripped into us and he was really wrong. A few of us went to The Grand for dinner. McDermott and McGuinness had organised a room just to have a meal. (Team manager) John Condon gave Mark Ricciuto, Stuey Wigney and I a cabcharge because we all lived around the corner from each other. We caught a cab home. There was nothing untoward, we had dinner and went home. After that game Graham absolutely ripped the guts out of a few of us. It was a bit harsh because we didn’t actually do what he said we did. Someone had obviously dobbed us in for something we didn’t do. He pointed the finger at me and named me. I like Graham and I respect him but that moment was a real dark moment.
MARK RICCIUTO: Cornesy didn’t want blokes drinking because he didn’t drink. We had rules back then — six day breaks you definitely couldn’t have a drink, seven days you could, but he didn’t like it, and eight there’s an opportunity to have a drink if you want … You don’t get seven goals up from bad preparation. That’s not why you lose games of football. If preparation was a problem we would have got blown out all day. That had nothing to do with it … If you’re using that as an excuse, you’re clutching at straws.
GRAHAM CORNES: The Lord Mayor wanted to give us a welcome home parade. We finished third for crying out loud.
BILL SANDERS (general manager, Adelaide): I quickly knocked it on the head. Across the state there was a feeling of achievement but internally we knew we’d fallen short and it would have been embarrassing to accept a public parade.
Crows skipper Chris McDermott walks off among jubilant Essendon opponents.
The Bombers progressed to the Grand Final and led Carlton start to finish winning by 44 points. The Crows were left to wonder what might have been.
TONY MODRA: That was definitely one we let slip. For a lot of guys it was a new experience. Looking back now there’s things you can say you would have changed but that’s the way it rolls. A few of those guys got the opportunity again in 1997 and 1998 and made the most of it then.
ANDREW JARMAN: 1993 was our opportunity to win a flag and we blew it. That’s the bottom line. Three years in the competition and we could have won a Grand Final. It’s unheard of. None of us watched the Grand Final, it was too hard. Because we would have beaten Carlton — and they knew that. Carlton knew that.
SHAUN REHN: We played a lot of really good footy towards the end of that season and had a lot of really good players in the prime of their careers. Essendon went on to win the premiership and really run all over Carlton. Had we got past Essendon than we might have been able to get there as well. It was a massive missed opportunity. We just didn’t take our chances. Maybe we didn’t quite believe enough, I don’t know.
ROD JAMESON (fullback, Adelaide): With the greatest respect to Carlton we felt whoever made it through to the Grand Final was going to win. It was certainly one that got away.
CRAIG BRADLEY (midfielder, Carlton): We would have been more than happy to play Adelaide in the Grand Final, I can assure you of that.
Adelaide, with a side that was on average less than half a year older than the baby Bombers, seemed poised for a sustained period of success. But the Crows failed to repeat the highs of ‘93, missing the finals from 1994-96.
SHAUN REHN: The wheels fell off. I don’t think we realised how hard it was to make it into the finals with all those good Victorian sides — especially in a final six.
MARK RICCIUTO: I remember as a youngster thinking it doesn’t matter, I’ll do it again next year … It was just one that got away. Cornesy would have been a premiership coach in his third year in the AFL. The Crows would have won a premiership after three years in the AFL. That would have been unbelievable. McGuinness, McDermott, Jarman would have all been premiership players. In AFL football, the bounce of the ball, an umpiring decision, a ■■■■■■ fart at halftime … can change history.
MARK BICKLEY: No one was ever game to say that (the fart) was the reason we lost in the first five or so years afterwards. Once the pain slowly drifted away after we won in 1997 and 1998 we were prepared to look back and make light of it. I’m not sure that was the reason, come on … I’d hate that to go down in history — someone farted at halftime and cost us a place in the Grand Final.
Originally published as The fart that cost a premiership