So, the starting field of eighteen has been whittled to eight: five teams from Victoria and three from the other (mainland) states. Bearing in mind that Victoria provides the majority shareholding, that feels as close as possible to proportional representation.
The mathematicians among you, however, will be quick to point out that it’s not. On a Victoria versus The Rest basis, a 50-50 breakdown of finalists actually goes closer to representing the ratio of the two categories of team.
No complaint about that, though, as what we have is a result achieved on merit. Last year, five of the non-Victorian clubs made the finals, giving the minority cohort a 62.5 per cent representation!
As we know, that wasn’t enough to prevent ‘Old Big-Ears’ – the AFL premiership cup – staying in the state from where the game is administered. And it started some murmurings of disquiet from outside Victoria’s borders.
Richmond’s win over Adelaide marked the fifth straight year in which a Victorian team had beaten an interstate opponent in the Grand Final.
The case is now being mounted in some quarters that the AFL’s long-term contractual deal with the Melbourne Cricket Club, to play the season decider at the MCG, provides an unfair advantage to the Victorian teams.
Of course, it’s rubbish.
The fact is that, since the expansion of the competition in the late-1980s, the flag has – without obvious exception – been won by the most deserving team.
The best single exhibit against that sweeping statement is not a non-Victorian team, but Geelong in 2008. The Cats won 23 of 24 games that year before losing on the big day.
But our season’s champion is decided on a one-off, winner-take-all basis, and Hawthorn found a way. That they did it in 30-degree heat, having lost two men before half-time, rules out luck as the reason. The Hawks won – and won well – when it counted.
Anyway, have a look through the outcomes of the last five years and tell me which one (or more) was an injustice.
Was Hawthorn not the best team in its three-year premiership reign? Two of the Grand Final wins were absolute floggings, to the extent that there could be no argument about the result. This was one of history’s great teams.
Eagles fans might bemoan that their team beat the Hawks in Perth earlier in the 2015 finals. But Collingwood beat Brisbane in a Qualifying Final in 2003. Sometimes these things happen.
And remember Hawthorn had to go to Perth twice in the 2015 finals series and, with its guard up on the second trip, proved too good for Fremantle in a Preliminary Final.
Then there’s the Western Bulldogs’ 2016 win over Sydney. Almost from the moment the Dogs won that flag, questions were raised about their legitimacy.
Yet this flies in the face of the facts, for no club ever produced a grittier, more impressive finals campaign.
Week one in Perth, they trounced the Eagles. Week two, and three-time champion, Hawthorn, was given a start, reeled in, and overwhelmed. Week three at Spotless Stadium saw the Dogs pitted against GWS: the so-called orange Ferrari. And the Giants, too, were bettered after an epic struggle.
In the Grand Final, the more experienced Swans – who had known the MCG Grand Final experience twice in the preceding four years – were the opponent. They’d lost to GWS two weeks earlier but now had the benefit of the double-chance.
But… again the Dogs won. Don’t give me that one about the Swans being hard-done-by.
And don’t try it on me, either, in relation to Adelaide last year. Look at the subsequent paths taken by the 2017 Grand Finalists.
Quite simply, by September last year the Tigers had advanced far more than anyone realised. They’d become a superior team to the Crows.
The cracks exposed in the Adelaide ranks on the big day have become gaping holes. Richmond has revealed itself to be a champion team.
There was no injustice last year. And neither was there in any of the other years in which Victorian teams have met non-Victorian Grand Final rivals.
Does anyone want to argue Port Adelaide would’ve reversed Geelong’s 119-point margin in 2007? You could have played that one anywhere this side of the moon and got the same result.
North Melbourne were too good for a developing Sydney in 1996. And Hawthorn beat West Coast away – as well as at home – during the 1991 finals series.
Outstanding teams have travelled to Melbourne and beaten Victorian teams in seven Grand Finals. Victorian teams have prevailed eight times against visitors. The full history must be examined, not just a selective, recent sample.
Come Grand Final day, with everything to play for and a sense of occasion that lifts both teams, the MCG is everyone’s home ground.