Tradition should be celebrated, but not when it prevents the growth and integrity of the game.
The year is 2009. Geelong and Hawthorn are battling it out in another episode of a long-term grand final rivalry. Melbourne, however, are as abysmal as ever, sitting in last place on the ladder.
Almost just as hopeless, Richmond finish in a typical ladder position: 15th.
Time really does change results. Fast forward ten years, and the Tigers are three-time premiers. In that decade since the Geelong-Hawthorn deciders, the Western Bulldogs emerged out of nowhere to stun the competition and win the flag in 2016.
The Bulldogs enter the grand final with almost an identical amount of form and spirit compared to 2016. Back then, the Dogs were a team most expected would be happy to just make a grand final. Little did anyone expect one thing: the hijacking attack and ambush brand of footy Luke Beveridge’s troops brought to the table. The Bulldogs started to get hungry at some point early in the third quarter, and a talented Sydney team simply couldn’t cope.
Melbourne must be very wary of just how long and grueling an AFL grand final can be. Half time often can feel like full time. The one advantage the Bulldogs have is premiership experience. They will know what it feels like, and will pace themselves accordingly. In last year’s decider, impatience from Geelong, along with giving away the ball after half time, was the beginning of the end for them, as the Tigers overcame a hefty deficit to storm home and claim their second straight premiership.
Richmond were methodical rather than flash, and often grand finals can be decided on a grinding game plan, rather than spur of the moment brilliance. Despite grand finals often being won and lost through risk-taking, winning teams realise this is a privilege and not a right. Going for broke on every play often is the wrong answer, and coaches know that- it’s why coaches are there in the first place. The game plan is what a team should strive to emulate – not bouts of individual brilliance, as sensational as Dustin Martin’s efforts in his three Norm Smith Medal-winning performances were.
In saying that, history tends to repeat itself. The Demons are a real chance of getting a 57-year old monkey off their back. Melbourne has experienced a resurgence over the past 5 years. Making the finals for the first time in 12 years, back in 2018, was the beginning. That season, they sniffed victory, and tasted defeat.
Melbourne are in a position so few Dees players have ever experienced before. For most current AFL players, they only ever remember a diabolical Melbourne Football Club. One that was so used to sitting in last place on the ladder.
But they also say lightning doesn’t strike twice.
If Melbourne lets a second premiership opportunity slip away, only time will tell if the Demons will be given another chance, and their prayers answered.