The pain of a narrow preliminary final loss will be the perfect sharp edge to carry Port Adelaide into the future, after a successful 2020.
With the current season coming to a close, focus now starts towards building the 2021 AFL fixtures, which are expected to see some normality return after this year’s COVID-19-interrupted fixtures saw no matches played in Victoria after Round 5, and none in NSW after Round 8.
The revamped fixtures also saw no matches played in Tasmania nor Canberra for the first time since 2000. Because of this, I have proposed that the current contracts held by North Melbourne/Hawthorn and the GWS Giants to play in those respective states be extended by one year.
Traditionally, the season would start with the MCG blockbuster between Carlton and Richmond, but here, I have decided to shake things up just a bit.
As a reward to the state for keeping the AFL season alive, Queensland will have the honour of hosting the season’s first match, with the Brisbane Lions to host Hawthorn at the Gabba in what will also be the first Wednesday night season opener since 2000.
The Lions will also be coming off another phenomenal season in which they finished in the top two, and are expected to be up there among the contenders for the 2021 premiership.
Meantime, it shapes as another season of transition for Hawthorn, with the club having lost two more of its premiership stars in Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo. It means that they’ll have a new captain come the start of the new year.
It will be the first time since 2005 that the Gabba hosts the season’s opening match, when the Lions defeated St Kilda by 23 points in an Easter Thursday match that became controversial due to the Lions defenders’ treatment of then-newly minted Saints captain Nick Riewoldt.
The traditional Thursday night MCG match between Carlton and Richmond will then take place the following night, and then on Friday night Essendon and Port Adelaide will face off at Docklands Stadium, 21 years after the clubs contested the first-ever match under the roof.
Assuming the COVID-19 situation in Victoria is well under control by then, both will be the first matches to be played in the state since a second wave of coronavirus cases forced all ten state-based clubs out of town after Round 5 this year.
It would be the first time since 2014 that the season has not kicked off with the traditional Richmond vs Carlton match at the MCG.
Saturday afternoon will see Melbourne hosting the Gold Coast Suns at the MCG, while in the twilight the GWS Giants return to the scene of their disastrous Round 16 loss to the Adelaide Crows when they renew acquaintances at the Adelaide Oval.
It will see Crows coach Matthew Nicks, who orchestrated his side’s upset victory over Leon Cameron’s mob on September 8 this year, look to repeat the dose on his one-time mentor.
In the evening, the Sydney Swans will lock horns with Collingwood at the SCG, in what would be the first AFL premiership match played in Sydney since the Swans and Giants were forced to go on the road for the rest of the ongoing season.
This season marked the first time since 2002 that the Swans did not get to play the Pies at either the SCG or ANZ Stadium.
Being on the road for two months were critical factors in both the Swans and Giants failing to make this year’s finals, which marks the first time since 2009 that an NSW club will not be represented in the play-offs.
On Sunday, the Geelong Cats will play their first match back home at Kardinia Park since Round 5 last year, when they host the Western Bulldogs in the early game.
The afternoon game will see North Melbourne play host to the West Coast Eagles at Marvel Stadium before the round concludes with Fremantle hosting St Kilda in the west at Optus Stadium.
It is expected that by the time Round 1 rolls around next year, there is either only a handful of coronavirus cases remaining or an effective vaccine is approved and developed by the government which would allow nearly all normality to return to our lives as soon as possible.
It will also remain to be seen what size crowds will be allowed into matches next year, with the unlikelihood that the Carlton vs Richmond MCG match, plus other matches in Victoria, will be at full capacity.
Either way, it would stand to be the first time fans are allowed into AFL matches in the state since the 2019 grand final, even if it is only a handful of fans like we saw earlier this year when crowds were gradually permitted back into the stands.
Elsewhere in the 2021 fixture, Easter will fall in Round 3, which means we’ll be expected to see the Brisbane Lions host Collingwood on the Easter Thursday, North Melbourne play its Good Friday game and Hawthorn and the Geelong Cats face each other on Easter Monday.
The Anzac Day match will fall in Round 6, with Richmond and Melbourne to face off on the Saturday evening before Essendon and Collingwood gear up for their annual Anzac Day showdown on Sunday afternoon.
And to mark a decade since they entered the AFL in 2011, I have also proposed that the Gold Coast Suns play Carlton, their inaugural opponents, in a Friday night match at Metricon Stadium in Round 2.
Wednesday, 17 March
Brisbane Lions vs Hawthorn, Gabba, 6:25pm (Seven)
Thursday, 18 March
Carlton vs Richmond, MCG, 7:25 pm (Seven)
Friday, 19 March
Essendon vs Port Adelaide, Marvel Stadium, 7:50 pm (Seven)
Saturday, 20 March
Melbourne vs Gold Coast Suns, MCG, 1:45 pm
Adelaide Crows vs GWS Giants, Adelaide Oval, 4:05 pm
Sydney Swans vs Collingwood, SCG, 7:25 pm (Seven)
Sunday, 21 March
Geelong Cats vs Western Bulldogs, GMHBA Stadium, 1:10 pm
North Melbourne vs West Coast Eagles, Marvel Stadium, 3:20 pm (Seven)
Fremantle vs St Kilda, Optus Stadium, 3:20 pm
All times are local.
Gold Coast Suns vs Carlton, Metricon Stadium
Brisbane Lions vs Collingwood, Gabba
Hawthorn vs Geelong Cats, MCG
Richmond vs Melbourne, MCG
Essendon vs Collingwood, MCG
Richmond vs Essendon, MCG
Collingwood vs Melbourne, MCG
weekend of August 20-22
Weekend of August 27-29
Week 1 finals
Weekend of September 2-4
Week 2 finals
September 10 and 11
Week 3 finals
September 17 and 18
AFL grand final