The era of fairytale premierships is well and truly upon us, and Melbourne gets a chance to add their club to the ever-growing list.
While our minds immediately go to the Western Bulldogs in 2016 and Richmond in 2017 when it comes to breaking long droughts, there have actually been quite a few this century. This is the AFL equalisation policy at work.
In 2001, Brisbane record their first ever premiership after coming into the competition in 1987, and when we factor in the merge with Fitzroy it was the Lions’ first flag since 1944. Either way, a drought of both 24 years and more than five decades was broken.
In 2004, Port Adelaide won their first flag at AFL level, albeit in only their eighth season. But they had desperately wanted to be part of the AFL when the license was handed to the Adelaide Crows and in a way it was a premiership 134 years in the making.
The following year, in an era of non-Victorian dominance, the Swans broke what was the longest active drought in football, saluting for their first flag since 1933. 1933! That premiership was won 48 years before they moved to Sydney, and in 2005 it was 24 years after the club was relocated up north from South Melbourne. Here it is, indeed.
In a five-year period, the premiership cup three non-Victorian clubs won their inaugural flag and it was the first time the premiership cup had gone to Queensland and New South Wales, both heartlands of the rugby codes.
Watching on with envy were a series of Victorian clubs that had been around for a century or more in one form or another that hadn’t won premierships in decades. When was it going to be their turn?
Geelong had made four grand finals in seven years from 1989-1995 without winning one. But they swept all before them in 2007 and took out the flag by a record 119 points with a display of breathtaking and perfect football. 44 years of failure was wiped out.
Hawthorn had been in the wilderness for almost two decades after their 1991 premiership, and stole away with the 2008 flag. While not as storied a victory for the length of time that others waited, it was still significant.
Collingwood had gone 20 years between premierships when they took out the 2010 season. They weren’t quite at the ‘Colliwobbles’ stage like they were in 1990, off a 32-year drought, but it wasn’t far from gathering momentum either.
2016 saw arguably the most famous drought-breaker of them all. The Western Bulldogs were 50-1 to win the flag at the start of the finals series, having occupied seventh on the ladder for the last six rounds of the season and with a trip to Perth to take on 2015 grand finalist in an elimination final. Of course, they won that and then peeled off another three victories to put to bed a 62-year wait.
Richmond’s turn was next in 2017, completely improbable in its own way given they had finished 13th the year before and hadn’t even won a final since 2001. The surge of momentum and the stuff of dreams, similar to the Dogs, carried them all the way through. It’s doubtful the MCG has ever rocked as hard in one finals series as it did in the three Tigers wins that September.
Now, Melbourne stands on the precipice of creating their own history, and putting to bed the *cough, cough* demons of the past.
What is most fascinating about all of the premierships listed above is that it was the first time those clubs had made the grand final with that group of players, and all except Collingwood in 2010 had a grand final debutant as senior coach.
The oft-held wisdom in AFL circles is that you have to lose one to win one and use the pain of defeat to inspire the deeds of victory. But when a team has a sense of destiny, that they alone can turn around the fortunes of a sad history, and they harness the power and energy of belief, it can certainly overcome everything else.
It’s also worth noting that most of those victories came as the underdog, which gives even more power to the idea of unstoppable momentum. While Melbourne will go in as favourites on Saturday week, they are also reaching the grand final for the first time.
If Melbourne can deliver on their promise, a 57-year hoodoo will be broken. It would leave Adelaide (23 years), Carlton (26), Fremantle (26), Gold Coast (11), GWS (10) and North Melbourne (22) as teams that have not won a flag this century.
Oh, and St Kilda, who have been waiting 55 long years, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them wait that long again.
While the neutrals were with the Bulldogs in 2016, they’ll be on the Demon bandwagon this time around.
History says we’ve got another Cinderella story about to happen