Robbie Gray’s set shot match-winner for Port Adelaide against the Western Bulldogs last weekend did more than just earn his side second spot and a home final.
It also marked an individual statistical achievement that puts him at the top of the conversation for the best under-pressure players of the past 20 seasons.
That goal was the fourth time in Gray’s career that he kicked a final-term goal that was the last of the match, to put his team ahead by one to six points, and his team went on to win.
No one has done that more than Gray across 20 AFL seasons.
It’s tough to argue which of those four goals was the best. This one directly led to a home final and if Port go on to win the premiership in 2021 it will probably be the greatest.
The other three were: earlier in 2021 against Richmond, after the siren against Carlton in 2020 and in 2017 against St Kilda.
The composure Gray displayed with last week’s goal against the Bulldogs and the post-siren set shot from wide and long against Carlton are hard to top for executing under pressure.
But don’t discount that goal against St Kilda. It’s hard to find a better bit of teamwork, anticipation and skill than what he produced from then-Port player Paddy Ryder’s over-the-back ruck tap.
There are also four other times when Gray’s fourth-quarter goals were not the final goal of the game, but were scores that put Port in front in games they went onto win (v Richmond 2020, v Carlton 2014, v Sydney 2013, v Hawthorn 2009).
“[He’s] such a humble character and he was so ice-cold at the end,” Port’s football boss Chris Davies said of Gray’s composure after the goal against Carlton in 2020.
“We wouldn’t have wanted the ball in anyone else’s hands in our team. He’s such a great person and great player at this club and deserves every accolade he’s getting at the moment.
“Our challenge over a period of time has been to be better without our stars needing to play well every week. Robbie has contributed every game that he’s played and he probably hasn’t lived up to the lofty standards he has set but what is clear is that he comes through for us in clutch moments.”
Port had battled to beat a top-eight team all season and this meant it was hard, for some, to see them challenging for the premiership.
That win, off the back of Gray’s clutch goal, has shifted in the minds of many what might be possible for Port this season. A home qualifying final against Geelong with home fans in the stands will do that.
Davies has said Gray will play on in 2022. Even still, at 33, the chances for Gray to get a premiership are waning.
As Port assistant Brett Montgomery told SEN SA earlier this week: “There’s a little bit more about the way Robbie is going about his game. There’s a bit of unfinished business”.
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