AFL Finals Droughts

Updated: September 24, 2018

The AFL has made big statements about trying to become a more even competition. If the executives had their way, each team would hold the Premiership Cup aloft once every 18 years. We all know that will never happen, and there are some clubs who have supporters who over 50 years old, that have NEVER seen their team win on the big stage.

We delved into the AFL archives to see just how long it has been since each team tasted success in September (or sometimes October).

Playing Finals

In what is perhaps the biggest advocate for the equalisation policy, not a single club has been out of the Finals for more than 10 years. With the exception of the Gold Coast Suns, who have yet to make the Finals in their 7 years in the competition, every supporter has been able to cheer for their team in the last decade.

** Gold Coast have not played Finals since entering the competition in 2011

The Brisbane Lions have the longest streak of not making Finals. Whilst there were very positive signs for the young Lions in 2018, it is touch to see them changing this in 2019. St. Kilda was just one game out of Finals in 2017, and was expected to contend in 2018 but didn’t come through with the goods. Even Carlton, who have had as tough a run as anyone in recent times, played Finals in 2013.

The biggest concern in this group are the Gold Coast Suns. They were given a lot of concessions when they entered the competition, and have not looked like making Finals. They have already lost one of their 2018 captains, and the other is on the trading block also. It will be very interesting to see how quickly Stuart Dew and his team can turn the teams fortunes around.

Finals Wins

Playing in Finals is one thing, but how long has it been since your team has actually celebrated a win?

**Gold Coast have not played Finals since entering the competition in 2011

The stand out in this group are the Essendon Bombers. Despite playing in Finals in 2017, 2011, 2009 and 2005, their last win in Finals action was the Elimination Final against Melbourne in 2004. Every other team (again with the exception of the Gold Coast Suns) has tasted finals success this decade.

Preliminary Finals

Making the Finals is one thing, but when was the last time your team had a decent chance to make the Grand Final. If your team can make the Preliminary Final, then they are one of the best four teams in the competition that year. Just one game away from Grand Final action.

**Gold Coast are yet to make Finals since coming into the competition in 2011

Two of the most successful clubs in the history of the AFL grace the bottom of this table. Carlton and Essendon supporters are now being referred to as ‘Long Suffering’ as it has been 18 and 17 years respectively since they have made a prelim. For both these clubs, their Preliminary Finals drought is now old enough to get a Driver’s License. Essendon were hoping that some big off-season recruits would change this in 2018, but it wasn’t to be. They missed the Finals completely after a slow start to the season as they integrated their new players into their game plan. Of the three teams that haven’t played in a Prelim in over a decade, Essendon are the most likely to end their drought in 2019.

Grand Final

Every supporter wants their team to make it to the ‘Big Dance’; the ‘Last Day in September’. Grand Final weeks becomes a glorious mixture of excitement, nervousness and hopeful dreaming. Work places are decorated with team colours, social media becomes abuzz with all sorts of stats, and families can be split down the middle should the household have supporters of both clubs under the one roof. But there are some younger supporters who have not known the feeling, as their clubs haven’t made it to the big game for their entire lifetime.

**Gold Coast have not played in a Grand Final since entering the competition in 2011

***Great Western Sydney have not played in a Grand Final since entering the competition in 2012

There are 6 teams that have not played in a Grand Final for over a decade, and Carlton and North Melbourne are nearly at 2 decades. They played off in the 1999 Grand Final, and haven’t made it back since. The other interesting team are the Geelong Cats. They are considered one of the most successful clubs of the 2000’s, but have not made a Grand Final since 2011.


Every fan remembers where they were the last time their team’s captain and coach held the Premiership Cup aloft. Unfortunately, some fans are yet to create that memory, whereas others could be forgiven for mixing up memories, as they have been blessed with multiple premierships in recent years.

*Fremantle have not won a Premiership since entering the competition in 1995

**Gold Coast have not won a Premiership since entering the competition in 2011

***Greater Western Sydney have not won a Premiership since entering the competition in 2012

In recent years, we have seen the fairy-tale stories of the Western Bulldogs and Richmond Tigers breaking long Premiership droughts. In 2018, it was the Melbourne Demons that seemed set to re-write the history books. Unfortunately for Dee’s fans, they could not get past a rampaging Eagles team and hostile Preliminary Finals crowd at Optus Stadium. They still sit as the longest team without a Premiership, at 54 years. St. Kilda have also raised the bat for a half century of heartache, coming within a sideways bounce of the footy of winning in the 2010 drawn Grand Final against Collingwood.

The Hawthorn Three-peat earlier this decade has a big impact on this table. This dynastic team dominated the competition, beating West Coast, Fremantle and Sydney during this period.

Has the Equalisation Policy Worked?

The AFL Draft, Free Agency, Compensation Picks, Trading Period, Priority Picks and Draft Concessions for GWS and Gold Coast have all been mechanisms designed to provide an even competition. Given that all bar one team (Gold Coast Suns) have seen Finals action within the last 10 years, it is fair to say that it has been successful. There is a strong chance that once again we will see Priority Picks handed out to Carlton and Brisbane, given they have finished at the bottom of the ladder consistently for the last 5 years.

Whilst they haven’t lifted the Cup, both Melbourne and St. Kilda have had a chance to break their long drought in the past few years. Hopefully for their fans, these streaks won’t be extended too much farther.

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Written by Archie Keeler (@OTLSArchie)

Header graphic by Corey Wade Media (@CoreySWade)

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