Port wins an epic
10:42:18 PM Fri 17 September, 2004
Paul Gough in Adelaide
Sportal/exclusive to afl.com.au
Gavin Wanganeen has produced one of the great individual comebacks to lead Port Adelaide into its first AFL grand final.
Wanganeen did not manage a single touch in the first half of Friday night's preliminary final against St Kilda at AAMI Stadium but proved his champion qualities by producing a match-winning last quarter as Port held off the gallant Saints by just six points.
In one of the best games of football imaginable, the Power hung on in a thrilling finish to win 14.10 (94) to 13.10 (88) to send a record Port finals crowd of nearly 47,000 delirious with joy at the final siren.
Port will now meet the winner of Saturday night's Geelong-Brisbane Lions preliminary final at the MCG in next week's grand final, as the most successful club in SANFL history attempts to win its AFL first premiership.
But if it wasn't for Port’s former skipper, it would be the brave Saints who would be have been contesting only their second grand final in 33 years next week.
After a thrilling first three quarters, the Saints led by one point at the last change and the Power crowd could not have been more nervous at the last change.
The game was crying out for someone on either side to play the hero role and it was Wanganeen, who up until that stage of the match had only three possessions, who stepped forward.
After taking a great diving mark in the opening minute of the final term, he unloaded with a huge 55 metre goal to put Port in front and lift the entire Power crowd.
And then after Luke Ball had goaled for the Saints to level the scores yet again with just over eight minutes left, Wanganeen virtually won the game for the Power single-handedly with the type of goal which has become his trademark.
Gathering the ball near the boundary line, Wanganeen produced a miracle snap goal from 40 metres out to put the Power a goal in front at the 21 minute mark and that's how the scores stayed for the thrilling last nine minutes of the match.
St Kilda had one last chance to save the match in the dying seconds when the ball spilled to Brent Guerra over the back of a marking contest, with no-one between the former Port player and the goals.
However Guerra was unable to soccer the ball through for what would have been the tying goal and the Power hung on.
Earlier the match had got off to an electrifying start when Fraser Gehrig kicked the two goals he needed to bring up his first century of goals in a season in the first 11 minutes.
Gehrig was taken off the field by security guards immediately after bringing up the three figures as St Kilda fans ran onto the ground to celebrate - but play was only held up for around three minutes.
The big spearhead's great start saw the Saints dominate the opening quarter but in the end they paid a heavy price for not making more of their early control.
The Saints had 19 inside 50's to six in the opening term as well as 70 possessions to 49 yet at quarter-time they led by just five points.
And with Warren Tredrea lifting in the second term, the Power went in at half-time with a four point lead in a game which had everything.
Goals were much harder to come by in the second half and Daryl Wakelin fought back brilliantly for Port by keeping Gehrig goalless after the main break after conceding five goals to the "G-Train" in the first half.
But Nick Riewoldt was equally as dangerous and his two goals in the final term so nearly got St Kilda home.
The Saints were magnificently served by their experienced on-ballers Robert Harvey and Stephen Powell as well as skipper Lenny Hayes, who kept forcing the ball forward but occasionally let himself down with poor disposal.
But they got little out of the classy Nick Dal Santo and badly needed Stephen Milne to fire at ground level in attack but Milne was thrashed by Shaun Burgoyne, who was one of Port's best players.
The Power also had several of their big name players down with key players Brendon Lade and Byron Pickett managing just four touches each.
But Port had plenty of other heroes besides Wanganeen with Roger James starring in midfield, particularly against the Saints' opening quarter onslaught.
Kane Cornes was another Port player who just kept winning the hard-ball and inspiring his teammates as did Michael Wilson, who has enjoyed a wonderful finals series to date.
But in the end it was the magical skills of Port's former skipper which proved the difference between the two teams in what was one of the all-time great finals matches.
Port coach Mark Williams conceded that his side did not play particularly weel, but was delighted all the same.
"To be able to hang on and scrape and stay in the game and to get that result was wonderful," he said. "With 10 seconds to go we were still sitting on the edge of our seats so I can imagine how everyone else was feeling."
"I was very proud of the guys but we expect to play better than that next week."
St Kilda coach Grant Thomas said Port Adelaide was the better team on the night and took advantage of its opportunities.
"I don’t think we’re a long way away to be honest. I think that we’re on the cusp but we’ve got to maximise that opportunity and we’ve got to make the most of everything. I think the playing group showed tonight that they have the determination and the resilience to perform in big games.
"I felt that we played well enough to win and had enough of the ball to win, so we’ve just got to improve and take the next step.
4.0, 8.3, 10.8, 14.10 (94)
4.5, 7.5, 10.9, 13.10 (88)
Goals: Port Adelaide:
Tredrea 3, Lade 2, Wanganeen 2, James, K Cornes, Carr, Cassisi, Dew, Mahoney, Brogan
Gehrig 5, Riewoldt 3, Ball 2, Dal Santo, Voss, Black
Best: Port Adelaide:
James, K Cornes, Wilson, Tredrea, P Burgoyne, Wanganeen
Riewoldt, Powell, Harvey, Gehrig, Thompson, Hayes
Injuries: Port Adelaide:
Changes: St Kilda:
Hamill (knee) replaced in selected side by Knobel
Allen, McLaren, McInerney
46,978 at AAMI Stadium