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Five talking points from the 2020 AFL grand final

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24th October, 2020
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The 2020 AFL grand final has come to an end, and the Richmond Tigers have claimed the 2020 premiership. Here are my talking points from the match.

Tigers triumphant as Cats rue wasted dominance
If you offered it to them before the game then no Geelong fan on earth would’ve turned down a 15-point halftime lead, but when it arrived at the main break they surely must have been just as frustrated as they were hopeful.

Leaving aside Richmond kicking the first two goals of the game, the Cats dominated the first half far more than a two-goals-and-some lead would suggest.

In that sense it was quite similar to last week’s preliminary finals win over Brisbane – the Cats dominant early but unable to put the game beyond doubt on the scoreboard, leaving more than enough room for the opposition to come back if they could take momentum.

Geelong got away with some luck against the Lions. Brisbane’s comeback surge never came and the Cats went on to win comfortably. But they would not get lucky again.

Richmond looked to be outplayed at their own game in the first half, the Cats thriving in the fast-paced, intense contest. The Tigers went into the main break with a desperate need to collect themselves and come back a different team.

I’ve said a few times this year that Richmond’s biggest edge on the competition is belief – no matter the scenario, no matter the odds, this team know they’re good enough to win, and that if they play their game their way, the goals will come.

Come they did. The Tigers booted nine goals to two in what was ultimately a dominant second half, turning a 15-point deficit into a 31-point victory. They have now taken home a third premiership in four years.

In doing so they stake their claim as one of the great teams of the modern era. Some will say they don’t have the same star-power as those legendary Lions, Cats or Hawks – but as time goes on that argument is holding less and less water.

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The Tigers celebrate with the Premiership Cup after winning the 2020 AFL Grand Final

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Dusty versus Dangerfield proves to be a demolition
Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield may well be the two greatest players of the last five years, and a grand final between Richmond and Geelong offered up the opportunity to see these two superstars go head to head on the biggest stage of all.

They are, in some ways, like two sides of the same coin – both elite midfielders who can also be dangerous forwards, remarkable footballing weapons that when wielded correctly can be impossible to defend against. So similar and yet so distinctly different.

It’s fair to say that, since Martin’s Brownlow year in 2017, Dangerfield has probably been the more consistent of the two during home-and-away matches – though they’ve both been regulars in the All Australian side, so it’s hardly a big distinction.

Martin, on the other hand, has become known as a player who saves his best for finals, and his best simply transcends what anyone else in the game seems able to do – as we saw again on Saturday night.

This was Dangerfield’s chance to prove that he can be just as much of a finals matchwinner as his counterpart – but it was not to be. He played well and kicked a good goal early, but had little to no impact after halftime.

Martin, though, was simply magnificent. He took his time to work into the game, but his goal out of traffic just before halftime was a crucial one that stole just a little momentum back for the Tigers and made the margin at the break look so much more manageable.

Then bang, bang, bang – three goals in the second half, one to put Richmond back in the lead for the first time since the opening quarter, one to make the result certain, and another that was just icing on the cake.

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A brilliant effort from the man who is now the first and only player ever to win three Norm Smith Medals. A legacy like no other.

Dustin Martin of the Tigers celebrates kicking a goal

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Early injuries shape the contest
You might not expect much of importance to happen in the first few minutes of a grand final. I certainly didn’t – that’s why I was still down the street picking up some fish and chips at the time. More fool me.

I came back to my keyboard to find two players already down with major injuries, both of which would go on to shape the game.

Nick Vlastuin’s grand final was over early after a collision with Dangerfield that may cost the superstar Cat the first week or two of season 2021. He extended his arm to punch the ball away as both ran to the contest and collected Vlastuin high.

That was a blow that clearly took Richmond’s defence some time to recover from. Vlastuin flies under the radar, but is one of the most important players in their backline, and a leader of the club – likely a future captain.

Only a split second later came another blow that every footy fan felt in the pit of their stomach, as Gary Ablett collided with Trent Cotchin, injuring his historically troublesome shoulder.

The Cats superstar remarkably soldiered on to play out the game, and while he couldn’t will his side over the line, he had some impressive moments – most memorably helping to set up a crucial Tom Hawkins goal in the second quarter.

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Watching him walk off the ground was one of the moments of the year, the respect paid to him by friend and foe alike something that will linger in the memory for years to come. One of football’s all-time greats exits the game, unfortunately without the fairytale finish that would have been so fitting for a player of his talent and humility.

Vlastuin, on the other hand, could only watch from the bench and trust in the talent and tenacity of his teammates – and boy did they deliver.

Gary Ablett and Daniel Rioli

Gary Ablett. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Halftime entertainment sparks another grand final debate
The AFL has said for a long time that trialling a night-time grand final was an inevitability rather than a possibility, and this bizarre 2020 season gave them the perfect opportunity to finally conduct the experiment they’ve so long lusted after.

The scheduled entertainment proved just as divisive as always, but it would be hard to deny that the light effects and fireworks of the halftime show during a dark night were genuinely enjoyable and added something special to the atmosphere.

Night-time grand final spruikers everywhere took that as a cue to push their case on social media and many now think we will never see a day grand final again. Perhaps they are correct.

I’ll admit that I don’t feel too strongly about it. My preference would be to stick with a day fixture, but honestly, my interest in debating the issue has been worn down over the years by the vistation, revistation and re-revisitation of the topic.

I will say this though: good lighting effects and fireworks, spectacular as they were, are the kind of reason that concerts are held at night. But should that really then apply to footy games? Should that be our greatest priority?

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There’s no doubt that when the TV ratings for last night’s game come in they will be among the best we’ve ever seen – giving the AFL more than enough ammunition to declare night grand finals in perpetuity, should they so desire.

But hopefully they can take a moment to remember that the city of Melbourne is in lockdown, and that more than anything else will be responsible for some presumably record-breaking numbers. So let’s not rush into anything here.

Can the Cats come again?
Recent history has not been too kind to grand final losers. Simply look at how far Adelaide have fallen since 2017, or the seemingly complete collapse of the GWS Giants over the last 12 months – it isn’t pretty.

But Geelong may be the team to turn the tide. Depending on how the next few weeks play out, they may well enter 2021 as the popular choice for premiership favourites.

They are losing one of the greatest ever to play the game in Gary Ablett and, while nothing is confirmed just yet, it seems likely that Harry Taylor may finish up his sterling career also.

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But that star-power is set to be replaced with the like of Jeremy Cameron, Shaun Higgins, and possibly others too.

Richmond’s last two seasons have shown just how devasting a team can be when they have two elite key forwards available to them. Most clubs AFL don’t even have one.

Even while Riewoldt’s star has waned this year, he has still provided a solid enough foil to Lynch to allow Richmond’s forward line to function beautifully – and he was justly rewarded with two goals and a third premiership medal.

I won’t do you the disservice of talking any more on trade rumours today, of course. There’ll be plenty of that in the weeks to come. This time right now is about the Tigers, a third flag in four years, and the reinvigoration of one of our code’s most famous clubs.

Congratulations to Richmond and thank you to all our readers through the 2020 AFL season. It’s been as bizarre a year of footy as you’ll ever see, and a privilege to share it with all of you.