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How a cartoon has decided the last ten AFL grand finals

The 2016 AFL grand final. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Guru
25th September, 2017
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5180 Reads

The Herald Sun ‘Premiers’ poster, featuring a cartoon representation of the winning team’s emblem, is a long tradition of grand final day. Drawn by cartoonist William Ellis Green (WEG) for 54 years, they were taken over in 2009 by political cartoonist Mark Knight, following WEG’s passing.

This year, only the second grand final to not feature either a Swan, Hawk or Cat in more than a decade, is an opportunity for Knight to start afresh and put his own spin on things.

Two posters are created per year – one for each grand finalist – and there is no more poignant commentary on the sadness of failed dreams than the existence of the losing team’s cartoon.

WEG
WEG drew a million Tigers, Blues and Hawks in the pre-equalisation era, but when he was given the opportunity to branch out with St Kilda in 1997 and Melbourne in 2000, he made a disappointing fist of them both.

St Kilda’s 1997 poster appears less of an angelic, actual saint than a random dude merely donning Saints garb. Was WEG making a commentary on St Kilda’s workmanlike team that year, a one-year wonder who just about came out on top in an almost random fashion?

He does not look so different from Melbourne’s 2000 poster, a square-headed demon who does not capture the imagination, much like the club itself.

The lost demon who does capture that imagination is that of Melbourne’s 1958 poster, counting off a fourth-consecutive premiership on his pitchfork, but in real life succumbing to the proudest boilover of all time in that year’s grand final.

WEG was obliged to draw four consecutive lions last decade, as Brisbane reached four grand finals. A win in the fourth, like Melbourne in 1958, would have equalled Collingwood’s consecutive premiership record on 1930. WEG, no doubt at wit’s end on how to tweak a lion yet again, produced a masterpiece to celebrate a historic occasion: four lions celebrating four premierships.

But it was not to be. Port Adelaide trumped them, a somewhat forgettable premier supplemented with a forgettable poster.

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Knight
Knight’s first effort was the 2009 grand final, producing a fabulous, muscular cat and an apologetic saint – provoking karma with these contrasts.

Sure enough, against the vibe of the overall 2009 season and St Kilda’s 19 consecutive victories, the Cat poster survived for posterity and the sad-looking, Riewoldt-ish saint was consigned to landfill, St Kilda producing a dribbly performance in front of goal to match the image.

2010 was a unique outcome, cartoon-wise. Knight was obviously feeling repentant for single-handedly costing St Kilda the 2009 premiership, and drew a fine saint in flight the year after. He also produced a genius magpie, with Dane Swan-like tattoos.

With both posters as good as each other, neither was there separation of the clubs on-field, and a draw resulted in a fusion of the two posters to produce Draw 2010 – St Kilda’s only official moment in the cartoon sun.

But while both are ‘equally good’, the Dane Swan magpie must have actually been superior, as proven in the replay a week later.

Knight was wonderful at drawing cats – his Geelong 2011 poster is a beautiful work of art. But the now-lost back-to-back magpies poster is also a quality work.

On the other hand, his vanilla hawk and docker attempts in 2013 were matched by an average decider. The docker, fun, bright but somewhat featureless, resembles saint and demon posters of the past, giving us the ability to imagine a fantastical world in which these teams emerge with the premiership. It is a bittersweet drawing.

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Knight had to draw four hawks in a row. The best of them, in drawing and in the performance of the footballers, was 2014, in which – freed from the docker shackles of the year before – the hawk takes flight both in football and poster form.

By 2015, the repeated domination was getting ridiculous, as illustrated by Knight’s over-the-top 2015 premiers – a cartoony hawk even by cartoon standards!

Hawthorn Hawks 2015 AFL Grand Final Premiership Flag

AAP Image/Julian Smith

Knight has endeavoured to differentiate the various birds, which WEG drew ad hoc. He focuses on standout species characteristics, such as the swan neck in 2012, and the bulldog tongue last year.

But, like WEG, there are only so many ways to produce a swan (three grand finals) or a hawk (four) – even for a gifted artist.

This directly decided last year’s grand final, the dynamic bulldog outshining Knight’s somewhat tired 2016 swan.

Thank goodness the premiers 2016 survived past October 1, 2016. It is a wonderful work that aptly celebrates a wonderful event.

The lesson Knight gives us would be to not make a grand final tip based on your head, like the hawk successes, nor your heart, like last year.

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Rather, do it on the evidence of your eyes.