The 2020 AFL season has come to its conclusion.
A most bizarre season, we began with no crowds in Victoria. Quarters shortened to 16 minutes, Round 2 postponed for over two months with an entire fixture re-arrangement. Teams travelling and staying in hubs, crowds of very small numbers, no games in Victoria after Round 5.
After all that we have arrived at the conclusion of the home-and-away season, meaning it’s finals time!
Once again it will be a weird feeling having no finals in Victoria, limited crowds and, most of all, the grand final played outside Melbourne for the first time in AFL history. But we are down to the final eight teams in what looks an intriguing first week of finals ahead.
On Thursday, 1 October, minor premiers Port Adelaide will take on Geelong in the first qualifying final. It has been an incredible season for Port, being on top of the ladder at the conclusion of every round of the year, gaining top spot with a 14-3 record. The Cats have had a consistent year as well, entering the top four with at 12-5.
These two sides met earlier in the year at Metricon Stadium, where the Cats comfortably took care of the Power in a ten-goal victory. Tom Hawkins was a star, kicking six goals. He has also earned himself the Colman Medal this year with a 42-goal effort.
Port will be glad to have the home ground advantage and a crowd behind them, as they will need to stop Hawkins, Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood from dominating. Port veteran defender Justin Westhoff announced this season would be his last, so the Power will be hoping to get the win and get themselves into a preliminary final to give him a good chance of a premiership.
As for the Cats, it may be their last chance to give stars Dangerfield and Gary Ablett a shot at a premiership. No question this will be an enthralling qualifying final.
In a repeat of last year’s qualifying final, Brisbane will take on Richmond at the Gabba on Friday night the second of October. These sides once again finished second and third on the ladder, as they did in 2019. Richmond were too good for Brisbane in last year’s qualifying final, and the Lions have not beaten the Tigers since 2009, including this year, when Richmond comfortably defeated them in Round 10 by 41 points.
One huge factor when it comes to finals is experience. When these sides met in last year’s finals series the Tigers had made the finals six out of the last seven years. The Lions made it to their first finals series for a decade, rising from 16th in 2018 to second in 2019 in an incredible turnaround of form.
This year they were able to retain that form, falling short to Port Adelaide by percentage in the minor premiership race. But with a year of finals experience under their belt, Brisbane will have to find a way to get passed Richmond if they want to achieve a preliminary final on home their ground.
One advantage for Brisbane is they have a 100 per cent winning record at the Gabba this year, boasting an impressive nine wins from nine. They will look to the experience of Lachie Neale, youngster Cameron Rayner, Lincoln McCarthy and Charlie Cameron to lead the way.
As for Richmond, they have plenty of firepower, with Jack Riewoldt leading the way down forward along with the electric Dustin Martin, who’s yet again in Brownlow form.
Brisbane will have to be at their very best to find a way against the reigning premiers if they want to win their first final since 2009 and secure their first preliminary since 2004. But if the Tigers get up, they are well placed to achieve another flag with a preliminary berth secured.
St Kilda have made it to the finals for the first time in nine years, finishing sixth. They will take on the seventh-placed Western Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon’s elimination final at the Gabba. Saints fans will be hoping they can break a decade-long finals win drought, their last post-season victory coming against the Bulldogs in 2010, when for the second straight year they knocked them out at the preliminary finals to reach the grand final.
But the Dogs do have that little extra finals experience – how could anyone forget they won their second flag in 2016, making an extraordinary run from seventh, where they coincidentally ended this season.
St Kilda’s major pick-up this year was Richmond premiership player Dan Butler. He has had a stellar season, playing every game and kicking 27 goals. Max King has been a wonderful pick-up as well down forward this season, playing 16 games and scoring 20 goals.
The Dogs will look to the leadership of Marcus Bontempelli and Josh Bruce, the former Saint who will line up against his old team. They’ll hope he can kick a bag to help his new team to victory. One thing’s for sure: it will be another classic final between these two rivals.
Finally, West Coast will host Collingwood in Saturday night’s elimination final. The Eagles have been in hot form of late, winning nine of their last 11 games to storm into a fifth-spot finish. They have had a remarkable record at Optus Stadium, winning 100 per cent of their games played there this season, seven from seven, including when they met Collingwood in Round 8, taking care of them emphatically by 66 points.
The Eagles hope they can turn to Josh Kennedy, who has had a remarkable year up forward, kicking 31 goals and missing only one game. Tim Kelly has been a wonderful inclusion this year, coming across from Geelong and having an impressive year, playing every game and averaging 20.5 disposals.
Collingwood will have a hard time on Saturday night and will have to be at their very best to stop the Eagles in Perth. It will take something special from them.
But after a season like no other, here we are with the final eight teams raring to compete for the 2020 premiership. It will be an enthralling first week of finals, so sit back and enjoy – it’s not to be missed!