It’s been an incredible 2021 for the AFL, and here we are a the conclusion of the season.
In a repeat of the 1954 VFL grand final, albeit with the historic twist of the first grand final to be played in Western Australia, minor primers Melbourne will take on the fifth-placed Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium on Saturday evening.
Melbourne are aiming for their first premiership since 1964 in what currently stands the longest premiership drought in the league, at 57 years. They reached the grand final after beating Brisbane by 33 points in the qualifying final before treating Geelong like a field of training cones in the preliminary final in an 83-point thrashing.
The Dogs are aiming for a third-ever premiership and looking to repeat their triumph of 2016, when they came from outside the top four to break a 62-year premiership drought. They had a late-season slump, sliding from second place to fifth by losing their last three games. But in the finals they have proved their doubters wrong to make it to the final weekend.
(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
The Bulldogs comfortably took care of Essendon by 49 points in the elimination final. Carrying that form on, they took a massive scalp in Brisbane, eliminating the Lions by a solitary point with an act of desperation in the form of a decisive late rushed behind. Finally, they caused yet another upset in the preliminary final with a 71-point demolition of Port Adelaide to earn a spot in the grand final.
If you want to look at the key players, look no further than two of the top three in the Brownlow Medal count: Marcus Bontempelli and Clayton Oliver, who finished second and third with 33 and 31 votes respectively.
But these are two sides packed with highlights, and they won’t be relying on their best-and-fairest leaders alone.
He’s been leading from the front all year. Gawn’s late-season form has been nothing short of incredible, culminating in kicking the matchwinning goal after the final siren in Round 23 to win the Demons their first minor premiership since 1964. His form continued into the finals, kicking four of his five goals to strongly turn the preliminary final against Geelong in Melbourne’s favour.
The Demons will hope he will be in top shape for the big show.
Coming a sensational third in the Brownlow count, Oliver has been in stellar form this season, averaging 31 disposals, 14 kicks and 17 handballs.
The small forward is averaging ten disposals, seven kicks, four marks and two goals a game.
Viney has been an inspirational and true leader all year. His form has him gaining an average of 22 disposals, ten kicks and 11 handballs.
Other key players
Christian Petracca, Jake Lever, Steven May, Ed Langdon, Ben Brown, Kysaiah Pickett, Luke Jackson, Angus Brayshaw and Charlie Spargo.
(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Second in the Brownlow rankings, his form has been second to none this season, averaging 26 disposals, 15 kicks and 11 handballs.
Dale’s a young gun on the rise, averaging 24 disposals, 17 kicks and six handballs.
What a season this young star has had, averaging 23 disposals, 13 kicks, nine handballs and three marks a game. He’s a little goal sneak who will want to be on fire on the big stage.
He’s been one of the inform Dogs players all year, averaging, 34 disposals, 16 kicks, 17 handballs and four handballs.
Other key players
Caleb Daniel, Lachie Hunter, Tom Liberatore, Adam Treloar, Aaron Naughton, Patrick Lipinski and Tim English.
(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
These sides have met twice this year. The Demons prevailed in the first match in Round 11 by 28 points with an impressive runaway second half. The Dogs got their vengeance in Round 19 to take back top spot at the time. Had it not been for their late-season slump, they could have easily won the minor premiership this year off the back of that victory.
A key factor will be that the Dogs do have some grand final experience. Many of their players from their flag five years ago are still around, as is coach Luke Beveridge, who has coached on the big day successfully.
But this Melbourne side has been the in-form team all year. They have talent all over the park. This has been the Demons’ best season in many decades. They have unquestionably turned heads with how impressive they’ve been, starting the season with nine straight wins and remaining on the top of the ladder for the vast majority of the year.
Melbourne supporters have long suffered, but they should have faith that this is their side’s best chance of a premiership since 1964. Melbourne has the talent, and their players and supporters should be confident it is their time.
If Gawn, Fritsch, Brown, Oliver and their many other talented players can put their best foot forward, it will be Melbourne’s time after 57 long years. Not only could it be their year, but this could also be the start of something special to be sustained over the coming years. Who knows? Maybe a couple of flags, a dynasty or at least a few successful seasons at the top and in competition for the flag.
Prediction: Melbourne by 25 points.
Norm Smith Medal: Clayton Oliver.