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After years of blowouts and shockers, do we finally have an AFL Grand Final worth watching?

28th September, 2023
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28th September, 2023
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On behalf of every neutral observer, can the Magpies and Lions please put on a good show for this year’s Grand Final?

We haven’t had a competitive season finale since 2018 but for a quarter here and there and really, only the fondness in which we remember the Bulldogs’ remarkable run can join the Eagles/Magpies showdown in terms of entertainment in the last decade.

Now, the stage is set and the opportunity has been provided for a truly spectacular end to an eventful season.

This is the first time since 2014 that the top two teams have played off in the big dance. The two best performing teams and the ones that have really proven themselves to be a level above in a multitude of ways have made it, which should be seen as a positive.

Stylistically too, it has all the makings for a potential classic, if both clubs show up on the day.

It’ll be the direct ball movement, through the guts style of Brisbane who’ll try to continue having a strong marking presence offensively, against the strong groundball work of the Magpies, who’d prefer to keep it low and attack contests head on.

A sunny, warm day theoretically favours the Lions, but the potential for windy conditions could counteract that with precise ball movement more difficult to pull off. A bit of chaos ball tends to ensue, which throws it back marginally towards Collingwood.

Brody Mihocek celebrates Collingwood's preliminary final win.

Brody Mihocek celebrates Collingwood’s preliminary final win. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

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For the Magpies, they had to fight tooth and nail to get here and sneaking over the line against GWS in an ugly performance from them was just another in a long list of examples of them getting the job done in close games.

Defensive integrity really is the key to their success, which aligns with the old adage that “defence wins premierships.”

All their defenders are pretty good and the scheme is effective – sure, it can be exploited, but when the commitment is there across the ground, it holds up.

Yet they still put on a really good show on the counter, whether it’s the slingshot, quick ball movement to get the ball over the back of the opposition, or a more methodical approach that involves some of the cleanest ball use by one Nick Daicos.

The way they hunt as a group and overwhelm the opposition with numbers, it’s breathtaking at times. Other than Daicos, they’re not necessarily the most talented group of individuals, certainly not of the two teams in this final, but they operate as a well-oiled machine.

It’s hard without Taylor Adams’ pressure or Dan McStay straightening them up, but they’re good enough to overcome it.

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Brisbane, on the other hand, well it’s all about how they attack and put a massive score on the board.

Naturally, that tends to be where the mind is drawn to when we think of entertaining footy. The Lions at full force are the most captivating team in the league, particularly when you have Joe Daniher capable of hitting the scoreboard from 70 metres out – he’s had an unbelievable season.

They want to be direct, they want to use their footskills to manipulate the field position of their opponents and they want first use at the contest. That’s part of the reason Lachie Neale won his second Brownlow Medal, no one is better in and under.

Lachie Neale celebrates a goal.

Lachie Neale celebrates a goal.(Photo by Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Their chances will rest on how they hold up defensively at a ground that they tend to concede more than they score, while the question on Collingwood is whether they’ll be able to score enough points.

We know the Magpies haven’t beaten the Lions in a while, just like we know the visiting team has an abhorrent record at the Grand Final venue, but all of that feels like trying to use past performance to indicate how the future will play out – certain advertisements indicate that it isn’t a reliable indicator.

A Grand Final is different to any other game that these two teams have played against each other in for 20 years and this Saturday will show what happens when the top two teams reach that upper level.

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Collingwood will go in with full confidence that they’ve been the best team all year and that any losing streak against the Lions is irrelevant.

It can be absolutely guaranteed Chris Fagan and his men won’t be concerned about the venue, given how dominant they’ve looked at times this season. They’ll look to overcome any challenge too, after withstanding Carlton’s early onslaught.

It’s why there hasn’t been an opportunity for two teams to put on the most entertaining Grand Final we’ve seen in years, with the two best teams having a whole heap to prove.

Charlie Cameron celebrates.

Charlie Cameron. (Photo by Russell Freeman/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Of course, the two supporter bases involved won’t care about how entertaining the game is.

Magpies’ fans want to forget about Dom Sheed, Lions’ fans want the last few years’ worth of heartbreak to actually mean something.

But it’s not about them.

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Quite frankly, we, the neutral, deserve an epic final hoorah – we’re the ones that sit through six months’ worth of footy and most of us don’t really have any skin in the game. Most of our teams never really had a chance, it always felt like there were only four or five teams that could actually contend.

So again, we can only hope that this Saturday is what no other Grand Final has been for the past handful of years, and that’s one worth the objective observer’s excitement and time.

As for a prediction? It’s best if we steer clear in this particular piece on the game itself, but for a tip, it’s worth finding a comfortable seat and maybe make sure your Spotify is logged in while the main musical act is playing for some actual enjoyment.

We’re due an entertaining final Saturday in September and we finally have the best two teams in the league playing off to give us what we want.

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