The AFL and its predecessor, the VFL, have always been a rich source of exasperating characters. It would rival politics or a Fox News station.
Here we are, we have made it. After a long and strange old season of AFL, we are finally down to the last two teams ahead of tonight’s 2020 AFL grand final.
We began with no crowds in attendance, a most unfamiliar look. 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 and no games in Victoria after Round 5.
The Richmond Tigers and the Geelong Cats will face off in the first-ever AFL grand final to be played outside Melbourne. Instead, they will play tonight’s grand final at the Gabba in Brisbane.
Last week I predicted that we would see a replay of the 2004 grand final between Port Adelaide and Brisbane, how wrong I was.
Richmond stunned Port in a low-scoring thriller, holding on by six points to make it to their third grand final in four years.
Geelong broke their prelim hoodoo, outclassing an inexperienced finals team in Brisbane by 40 points, to make their first grand final in nine years.
Most importantly, these sides met in last year’s preliminary final.
Geelong led by 21 points at halftime which was most unlike Richmond. But the Tigers found their mojo in the third quarter and kicked five straight goals to start the third quarter.
It was sparked by Tom Lynch’s dominance in the forward line and it laid the foundation for their 19-point win. Of course, then Richmond went on to embarrass the Giants and comprehensively take out the 2019 premiership.
Tomorrow, Richmond will have the chance to win back-to-back flags for the first time since 1973-74 and win their third in four years. For the Cats, they have the chance to win their first grand final since 2011, when they took care of Collingwood by 38 points to win their third flag in five years.
When these sides met earlier in the year, Richmond were too good for Geelong again. Jack Riewoldt led the way with four goals, and Richmond kept the Cats to only one goal for the first three quarters. They comfortably took a 26-point win.
Richmond struggled in the first week of finals without Tom Lynch up forward and got outclassed by Brisbane. Lynch kicked three goals in the last weeks and took seven marks to help bolster Richmond’s forward line.
Richmond will be glad to have him in form ahead of the big clash.
Tom Hawkins was shaky in front of goal in the first week of finals when Geelong faced Port. He kicked 0.5 as Geelong went down by 16 points in a real case of what could have been. The last two weeks he has shaken off the shackles, kicking four goals in Geelong’s humiliation of Collingwood and a crucial two goals in Geelong’s prelim win over Brisbane.
If the Cats are to cause the upset, he will need to be on fire.
For Geelong, this game means so much for some key players. Gary Ablett will have his last chance to win a premiership after a magical, 18-year career.
Tonight will be his 357th and final game, in a career where he has achieved two premierships, in 2007 and in 2009 where he also won the Brownlow Medal. He would love to cap off his wonderful career with a third premiership, as he will long be remembered as one of the greats of the game.
It is also a huge opportunity for Patrick Dangerfield to win his first flag. Tonight’s grand final will go a long way in determining the long-term legacies of Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield as individual greats, but the stats point to the Richmond star as the best player to take the field tonight.
Martin ranks third in the competition for AFL Player Ratings, while Dangerfield comes in eighth. They are the central figures in their club’s chances and hold the top two slots in the Norm Smith Medal betting.
The difference is, Martin has been here before and has a perfect grand final day record – two appearances, two flags and two Norm Smiths. He has the opportunity to create history tomorrow if he becomes the game’s only triple Norm Smith medallist, but the hunger will also be there for Dangerfield to get his first winner’s medal.
Geelong still have a few players around from their last premiership win in 2011. Joel Selwood, of course, along with Tom Hawkins and Harry Taylor.
Richmond should be the favourites, it is highly likely with the leadership of Dusty, Lynch and Riewoldt they can kick a winning score, but Geelong have many reasons to cause an upset. Especially if Gary Ablett can lift one last time, Dangerfield can be on fire and Hawkins can hold his nerve down forward and kick accurately.
One thing is for sure, it will be an enthralling contest.
Geelong will remember that 2019 prelim as a motivation to avenge the loss, break a nine-year drought and send off Ablett with a fairy tale premiership.
While Richmond’s most recent grand final experiences will tell a tale, as they look the strongest side in the competition, they came from third in their last two premierships and find themselves in that position again ahead of the big day.
So sit back and enjoy a unique grand final, played in unfamiliar territory.