While the outlier Hawks continued to fill their cupboards with premiership cups throughout 2013-2015, they masked something sneaking up on us in the AFL landscape and landing with a bang in 2016, with the Doggies’ fairytale flag from seventh place.
This has just been hammered in that bit deeper again with the Tigers this year, after a 37-year drought and coming from 13th last year.
The AFL’s equalisation policy, combined with the saturation and evening out of coaching staff, has made fast rises and fairytales the new normal.
Assistant coaches are on a merry-go,-round with everyone looking to poach and recreate the magic Hawthorn formula. With so many assistant coaches changing clubs, few secrets would be kept in-house anymore. Everyone now knows what everyone else is doing and the gap between the best and the worst has narrowed big time.
We have reached a point where all a side needs from as low as maybe 14th to be a contender is a dream draw, good run with injuries, stable list and a good summer at the draft table.
The last three grand finals have now featured six different teams – Hawthorn, West Coast, Bulldogs, Sydney, Richmond, Adelaide – the first time this has happened since 1995-1997. After that, we go all the way back to 1966-68 for six different teams in three grand finals.
On this trend, get ready for another fairytale rise in 2018. It’s no longer fanciful to think of two new teams featuring in the 2018 decider. West Coast vs Melbourne maybe? Greater Western Sydney vs St Kilda anyone? Collingwood vs Port perhaps? It sounds absurd, yet it would have sounded absurd this time last year to call an Adelaide vs Richmond grand final.
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It wasn’t that long ago, you could mark your footy tips in advance for a few teams before the season even started. It used to be almost the unheard of where a bottom four team could upset a top four team, now it happens all the time and football tipping is an absolute nightmare. Equalisation has happened and anyone from first to 14th can beat anyone on their day.
West Coast finished 13th in 2013, ninth in 2014 and played in a grand final in 2015.
The Bulldogs finished 14th in 2014, sixth in 2015 and then were premiers in 2016.
The Tigers finished fifth in 2015, 13th in 2016, then straight back again to the very top this year.
Tigers fans will be dreaming of a Hawthorn style dynasty, perhaps two, three in a row? We all do it when our team wins and wins as well as the Tigers did, but while they have had an amazing year, the stars need to align for teams to go all the way.
In 2016, the finals bye allowed to the Doggies to regroup, take on a hostile away final in Perth, and then scrap all the way to the ultimate. This year, the Tigers’ favourable draw and marvellous run with a largely healthy list gave them a shot at the top four, which they proved worthy of with three almost perfect finals.
There was nothing lucky in the Tigers flag, they won their three finals comprehensively on the basis of desperate numbers at the contest and ferocious pressure. Damien Hardwick also took the leash off a little, perhaps the most important coaching tip for one Nathan Buckley.
Perhaps the Tigers will have another great run and defend their crown. However, the new trend suggests two new sides may make the grand final in 2018, and also that a bolter will pop up from the lower half of the ladder.
Melbourne? St Kilda? Dare we say Collingwood? North? The AFL would be well pleased with eight different grand final teams in four years.