Michael Voss and James Hird after tying the 1996 Brownlow Medal. Picture: Andrew Tauber
Michael Voss and James Hird after tying the 1996 Brownlow Medal. Picture: Andrew Tauber

Inside the moments that made Voss a champion

Michael Voss didn't see the cannonball coming.

But when Collingwood's Scott Burns poleaxed Voss to the ground with a fearsome hip and shoulder in the 2002 Grand Final, the warrior mentality in Brisbane's champion midfielder clicked in.

For Voss, nothing was more important than delivering for his team in the biggest moments.

And when it arrived late in the second term, Voss absorbed the punishing blow, sprang back to his feet, swooped on to the bobbling ball and then set up one of the most memorable Grand Final goals of the past two decades.

And then, in one of those unforgettable sequences, a wide-eyed Voss shouted back in the face of his raging bull rival, saying: "Is that the best you've got?"

 

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Scott Burns’ attempted bump on Michael Voss in the 2002 Grand Final.
Scott Burns’ attempted bump on Michael Voss in the 2002 Grand Final.

 

By then, Voss knew that he could not be stood over. Certainly, not as captain. And not in a premiership decider.

It was important to Voss that he leapt quickly to his feet to send a strong message.

"There were plenty of times that I didn't get it done (in a big moment). And I absolutely hated that," Voss said.

"It made me sick in the guts.

"But I have had plenty of coaching and Leigh (Matthews) had given me a couple of backhanders when there might have been times when I stayed down too long on the ground.

"And he really challenged me as a leader on that.

"He'd say, 'Vossy, when you go down, it's a little win for them, for the opposition'.

"I can tell you that really grated on me, but at the same time I took it on board.

"So in that particular game, Collingwood were pressing hard and Scotty Burns himself was a really physical, tough player.

"And, as Leigh said, if I went down it was an intangible win for them. A moment they win.

"The more moments you have like that, the more confidence and resilience you build for your team. I remember on the day, we weren't winning a lot of them, but I felt like we were winning the important ones."

 

Voss with Brisbane’s three premiership cups from 2001-03.
Voss with Brisbane’s three premiership cups from 2001-03.

 

VOSS' BRAVEHEART MOMENT

Voss, now 44, is one of the most respected players of the modern era. A triple-premiership star midfielder who, after winning the Brownlow Medal with James Hird in 1996, carved a reputation as one of the bravest ballwinners and best leaders the game has seen.

He also dished out one of the most eye-watering bumps of recent times when he levelled Collingwood's Alan Richardson off a long run at the Gabba in that same year.

Champion teammate Jason Akermanis said the sound of Voss's hits were unmistakeable.

"It was never outside the rules. It was just pure power and incredible timing," Akermanis said.

"And you could hear it. The body on body and the skin on skin.

"You would be able to hear the air come out of them (Voss's victims)".

Champion forward Jonathan Brown remembers the Burns contest well, but said there was another equally significant moment one year later in the 2003 semi-final win over Adelaide in Brisbane.

Again, the inspirational skipper's courage gave Brown goosebumps.

"In a massive game, the symbolism of that Scotty Burns incident was just huge," Brown said.

"That's the really famous one.

"But in terms of the impact on the team's psyche, there was another moment in the finals the following year. We had lost the first final to Collingwood and Vossy's knee was cooked.

"I honestly thought, 'Sh-, this could be the end of him'. You thought there was no way he was going to play Adelaide, but he played. They jabbed him up and he started on the bench.

"And I just remember the roar of the crowd, like the noise you hear when a streaker comes on to the ground.

"The ball was in a really insignificant part of the ground and you sort of thought, What on earth is that noise?' but I looked around and saw Vossy running on to the ground, maybe late in the first quarter.

"It's the old William Wallace moment (in the movie Braveheart).

"That's when I thought, 'Nah we are going to be all right here boys' and we won the next couple of games against massive odds including the '03 premiership."

 

Michael Voss holding the 2002 premiership cup.
Michael Voss holding the 2002 premiership cup.

 

 

Footballer Michael Voss with Jonathan Brown, Mal Michael and premiership cup trophy.
AFL football - Brisbane Lions vs Collingwood grand final match at the MCG 28 Sep 2002.
/Football/AFL
Footballer Michael Voss with Jonathan Brown, Mal Michael and premiership cup trophy. AFL football - Brisbane Lions vs Collingwood grand final match at the MCG 28 Sep 2002. /Football/AFL

 

 

BEST OF THE BRISBANE BUNCH?

Of all the Brisbane champions to pull on a jumper, who was the best of that brilliant bunch?

There's Voss, and fellow Brownlow medallists Simon Black and Akermanis, as well as underrated workhorse Nigel Lappin, and inspirational centre half-forward Brown.

Highly-respected former Herald Sun chief football writer Mike Sheahan rated Akermanis "the best dual-sided player I have seen".

Four-time premiership coach Matthews last week said he could not split his star pupils.

But dual premiership defender Brad Scott said Voss - a five-time All-Australian and five-time best and fairest winner - was the top dog.

"Michael Voss is the best player I ever played with," Scott said.

"He was the ultimate captain and when we needed something to happen on the field, he just did it.

"He inspired everyone. And yes, he had stars all around him, but they all looked to him.

"When Blacky went to Brisbane, for example, he shadowed Vossy.

"Some of his and Browny's games were just off the charts."

 

Michael Voss in action in 1996.
Michael Voss in action in 1996.

PLAYING THROUGH PAIN

But which of Voss's seasons was the best of his glittering 289-game career?

There was '96 when he won the Brownlow, aged 24, after he started the year on a back flank.

Or Voss's extraordinary comeback in 1999 when he was crowned All-Australian on the back of his double leg break suffered a marking contest with Fremantle's Shane Parker the year before.

In '99, Voss was still in so much pain from the horrific leg injury that he hardy trained throughout the week for the whole season. "It was one of the achievements I was most proud of because I was in a hell of a lot of pain throughout the week," Voss said.

A concerned Matthews pulled Voss aside on the eve of the Round 14 game against North Melbourne, uncertain whether his skipper could keep going.

But the Gippsland product recorded 28 possessions (17 contested), 10 clearances and two goals.

"He obviously saw me limping around during the week, but I went OK and after the game he came up to me and said, 'Don't worry, I won't question you again'," Voss said.

Then there was the triumph in 2001, when the Lions recovered from a wobbly 1-3 start.

They mowed down a red-hot Essendon mid-season to ignite a 16-game winning streak to nab the first of their three-straight flags.

For Scott, that is the year Voss peaked.

While the supremely-skilled Akermanis took the Brownlow Medal in 2001, Voss won the Lions' best and fairest in a premiership year, an enormous badge of honour.

"That year, we didn't really even really know whether we were a good side or not yet. There were massive doubts," Scott said.

"We were in a pretty precarious position in our season in 2001. We got pumped by Carlton in Round 8 (by 74 points) at Optus Oval and we were 4-4. We were in a poor spot.

"But we beat Essendon, who were almost unbeatable at the time. We just followed Vossy and he just led and played unbelievably.

"And it was as much about the way he played."

 

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'96 WAS MY BEST

Voss played in his first preliminary final in 2001 and helped destroy Richmond at the Gabba with 25 disposals and three goals (all in the first half) in the 68-point rout.

"It was one I really targeted because I missed the two preliminary finals (in 1996 and 1999) through injury, so I was pretty determined. We just weren't going to lose that game," he said.

Voss regarded his three premierships as "head and shoulders" his greatest achievements, but when pressed about his best individual season, the Hall of Fame hard nut opted for the Brownlow breakthrough in '96.

"That was my best year," Voss said.

"I started that year in the back line and I think it was Round 2 against West Coast, I was standing on the goal line at full-back.

"I remember a bloke saying from behind me over the fence, 'Vossy, don't get stuck there. Get up into the midfield, because I've got you for the Brownlow'.

"I was about 50s at the time (in the betting market) and I know my dad was on.

"But I have always remembered that guy in WA and I took his advice in the second half and ventured up the ground a bit.

"But it was a highlight year for me because it was the emergence of the (Brisbane) Bears and really put Queensland footy on the map.

"We weren't even on the radar at the time, but to win the Brownlow and make the preliminary final that year was significant for us.

"It was the year we stepped over the threshold."

 

 

LIONS STILL DIRTY ON 2004 FINAL

Some of Brisbane's greatest players have hit out at the AFL's contentious 2004 preliminary final venue call, saying the "hatchet job" was a deliberate attempt to derail the Lions.

Premiership heroes Jonathan Brown, Jason Akermanis and Michael Voss this week said the controversial decision to stage the Lions' cutthroat clash against the Cats at the MCG was a mistake which had a "huge impact" on their attempt to win a record-equalling fourth-straight flag.

The Lions finished higher than the Cats that year but were made to play the preliminary final at the MCG in line with the AFL's contentious contract with the MCC.

Premiership captain Voss said: "It felt blatant, at the time. It really felt like a deliberate attempt to stop us from wining the next one."

Brown said the decision from headquarters was "disgraceful", while Akermanis said 14 years on it "still burns in the soul".

 

Jason Akermanis during the 2004 Grand Final. Picture: Mike Keating
Jason Akermanis during the 2004 Grand Final. Picture: Mike Keating

 

The rules were changed the following year to give the higher-placed team home ground advantage on the second-last weekend of the season.

Brown said the decision was still a sore point for most of the squad as the injury-hit Lions fell 40 points short against Port Adelaide in the Grand Final.

"It (venue call) had a massive impact on us and that is why there is still an underlying frustration," Brown said.

"In the first final we destroyed St Kilda (by 80 points) at the Gabba and we looked as formidable as we did at any stage during that four years.

"But by half time in that preliminary final it was like a casualty ward (because of injuries) and we were on the road.

"Most people go, 'You should be happy with three (premierships) in a row, but to get so close to immortality, or certainly equalling history, in terms of four in a row' (is tough).

"That is why there is that underlying frustration for the whole group, including Leigh, who I think will never quite get over it."

In his 2013 book, Accept The Challenge, Matthews said he was so furious after the Grand Final full-time siren he "felt like punching" AFL officials including chief executive Andrew Demetriou.

Akermanis said the Lions' side was "railroaded" by the top brass.

"It burns in your soul because they stopped us doing what we should have had a fair chance to do," Akermanis said.

"I remember Bomber (Mark) Thompson saying on the telly that week that it would not be good for the league if the Lions won four in a row.

"They could have changed the rules at the drop of a hat.

"It was a hatchet job if you have ever seen one. I thought the AFL was doing everything it could to stop us within these stupid rules."

 

 

Originally published as Inside the moments that made Voss a champion



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