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Who were the heroes of '98?

May 1, 2008 12:22 PM

They are 22 men united by one famous day.

Adelaide’s 1998 premiership team included 16 players who had collected a premiership medal the previous year but it also featured first-timers including Mark Ricciuto and Peter Vardy, who missed out through injury in 1997.

These are the Crows who will forever be known as Adelaide’s 1998 premiership players …

Mark Bickley: The captain was taken out of defence and thrown into the midfield mix, where had had an enormous impact in the second half. He said: “The learned people will tell you it’s harder to do it again. And this year was certainly a lot harder. So I think the achievement in itself is a lot greater. And there is an enormous sense of satisfaction.”

Kane Johnson: One of the younger Crows in the 1997 success, Johnson was playing only his 37th match when he returned to the MCG. Started in defence but was sent into the centre square in the second half and finished with 24 possessions. He said: “When I sit down and finish footy, I’ll realise how lucky I was to play in a couple of premierships.”

Ben Hart: Many believe Adelaide’s win would not have happened if not for Hart’s early one-on-one efforts in defence against Craig Sholl and he stayed involved all day.

Nigel Smart: Started in defence and after copping a heavy knock to the neck was sent forward in the second half – and kicked three goals. He said: “I just kept yelling at myself to push through the pain – and somehow it worked.”

Peter Caven: Had the biggest job of the day – standing Wayne Carey – and took the points. Carey kicked 1.4 while Caven had 20 of his own possessions from centre half-back. He said: “I still can’t believe it. The year’s gone so quickly. And Blighty … at half-time he just looked at us and went straight to the heart. We just didn’t want to let up.”

Shane Ellen: The five-goal hero of the 1997 win was not sent forward in 1998 and instead spent most of the game in his regular role across half-back. He said: “I really feel for Mark Ricciuto and Peter Vardy. It’s great they got the opportunity to win a premiership.”

Peter Vardy: The opportunist forward thought he had missed his premiership ‘window’ when a broken collarbone stopped him from playing in the 1997 success. And then he had to carry a badly bruised heel through the last six weeks of the Crows’ 1998 campaign. Six goals in the second semi-final win over Sydney at the SCG was a crucial contribution in the run to the grand final. Started on the wing in the decider and kicked two second half goals. He said: “I got through and persevered with it … luckily I kept getting picked.”

Simon Goodwin: Used in a variety of roles but had some important touches. It was his second premiership in just his second AFL season. He said: “I think Blighty must be a genius now. He’s done it two years in a row.”

James Thiessen: Lined up against All Australian wingman David King and did well, finishing with 17 possessions and the important first goal of the final term. Delisted by Richmond four years earlier, Thiessen played in Norwood’s 1997 SANFL premiership before drafted by the Crows. He said: “Blighty said this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of you and you have just got to go for it.”

Andrew McLeod: The 1997 Norm Smith Medallist had another day out in the 1998 grand final. A week after booting seven goals in the preliminary final, McLeod was busy as a forward in the first half but and was even better after the break when thrown into the midfield, finishing with a game-high 30 possessions – and another Norm Smith. He said: “The Norm Smith Medals are a bonus if you’re playing well. The premiership medal is the ultimate. I’m prouder to have a second premiership medal.”

Matthew Robran: Starred in the preliminary final with six goals from centre half forward but had just one kick and one handball in the first half of the grand final. Blight kept faith, however, and Robran lifted. He said: “I couldn’t imagine anything better than this.”

Brett James: Went from half-forward into defence, where his clever reading of the play and sharp handballing created important movement.

Mark Ricciuto: A severe groin injury stopped ‘Roo’ from playing in the 1997 premiership but his dream came true a year later. He was relatively quiet in the first half after starting at full forward but was switched to half-back at half-time and had an impact. He said: “It was the lowest day of my career last year and this year is probably the highlight of my career. I will savor every moment. It’s a huge effort to win back to back in a competition as ruthless as the AFL.”

David Pittman: Started as a tall forward and then played the supporting ruck role to Rehn. He said: “They (North) were probably unfortunate they weren’t more accurate in the first half, which in a sense could have closed the door on us. It was an unbelievable comeback.”

Tyson Edwards: Went from the forward pocket to a wing and had 10 possessions.

Shaun Rehn: Two premiership medals certainly eased the painful memories of two knee reconstructions. The champion ruckman helped keep Adelaide in the game in the first half and overpowered Corey McKernan and Matthew Capuano, finishing with 24 disposals and 22 hit outs to be high in the Crows’ best. .He said: “I am stuck for words. I can’t believe we have done what we have just done.”

Darren Jarman: With six goals in the 1997 win – including five in the last quarter – it was no surprise Blight again looked to Jarman to add some firepower in the second half of the 1998 clash. And again he proved a match-winner, kicking four of his five goals in the second half. He said: “Three out of three grand finals … a few more would be nice before I retire. There were two halves in this game – North Melbourne’s and ours. Our half was best.”

Kym Koster: Started in the midfield following Peter Bell but watched a fair bit of the game from the bench.

Matt Connell: Replaced Koster in the second term but was back on the bench in the second half. He said: “Three weeks ago this was not possible after we lost to Melbourne.”

Andrew Eccles: The youngest player in the grand final (he turned 19 in June) was fortunate to be involved. He had played 18 AFL games in his first season but was returning from injury in the SANFL reserves before promoted for the preliminary final and he held his spot for the decider. Eccles started on the bench and made a huge clanger with his first kick but finished with 12 possessions. He said: “When we won it last year I thought ‘not many sides win it back-to-back’ so I thought my chance might have slipped for a couple of years.”

Mark Stevens: Recruited from North Melbourne less than a year earlier after nearly giving the game away, Stevens had important jobs in defence against former team-mates Martin Pike and Corey McKernan. He said: “I was just itching to get out there, especially against the old team.”

Ben Marsh: Upgraded from the rookie list to make his AFL debut in 1998, the ruckman went through a rollercoaster ride of emotions before the final. He was left out of the preliminary final win but then recalled for the grand final to help match North’s tall line-up. He said: “It’s pretty special, isn’t it? It just proves anything can happen.”