Finally, we are here. Six months ago, the football world had strong doubts this day (or night) would even arrive at all. When the AFL was shut down after the opening round on 22 March, CEO Gillian McLachlan described it as ‘the biggest financial crises in our history’. All eighteen clubs had their training suspended, the AFLW season was cancelled with no premiership awarded and there was no confirmed resumption date. We fast forward to mid-October, and the league has survived its most difficult year, getting through a shorter season filled with football frenzies, weekday matches, hub-based campuses and limited crowds. With one of the most exciting finals series in recent times, we now have one final game. The 2020 AFL Grand Final between Richmond and Geelong is different in every sense, it’s at the Gabba which makes it the first Grand Final away from the famous MCG since 1991, and first out of Victoria ever. It is also, the first all-Victorian Grand Final since 2011, and to add an extra dynamic… it will be played at night for the first time.
Richmond and Geelong have been two of the most consistent clubs in the AFL for the past half decade, with Richmond finishing in the top four the last four seasons, Geelong every season since 2016 bar one. It was only ever going to be a matter of time before these two met for the big dance. So who stacks up better?
The Tigers now have an opportunity to create their dynasty, going for flag number three in four years. Realistically, they should be contesting for a four-peat, having fallen short in the 2018 Preliminary Final despite being almost unbackable favourites. For many years their only Achilles-heal was playing away from home, having won just nine matches out of Victoria in the past three seasons. They have been forced to buck that trend this season, being locked out of Victoria since early July. With this stigma out of the equation, the Tiger’s strength is now in their ability to make use of their limited possessions. While they rank 12th for disposals this season, that is an average of 240 less than their opposition. They are however, first for inside 50s, averaging 46 per game. This allows the twin-towers in Jack Reiwoldt and Tom Lynch to score frequently, both have kicked 30 goals each this year. Another stat that favours Richmond is they are sixth for goal kicking accuracy. They do however, have an issue with their direct control of play, they are ranked 10th for average marks which means they are more often than not, having to run out the game from the outset rather than stopping and propping.
On the other end, Geelong cannot get enough of the ball. They are ranked second for disposals, averaging over 300 per game. This is in tandem with ball magnets in Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Luke Dalhaus who more often than not, win the clearances in the middle. They are also, the highest scoring team in the competition, averaging ten goals per game. Typically speaking, this is quite low, but in conjunction with this COVID-impacted season, this figure is quite high. They have however, struggled for accuracy over the past few weeks. 5.12 ruined their Qualifying Final against Port Adelaide, and despite the win against the Lions, it could have been a bigger margin as they only managed to convert 11.16.
It will simply be a battle of the midfield. Cotchin, Martin and Prestia face off against Dangerfield, Dalhaus and Selwood. Whoever gains the accendancy out of the middle and directs the ball to give their forwards the best possible advantage will go a long way to deciding the result. There is a lot on the line for both clubs, more than just a cup and some medals.
If Richmond win, this is counted as a dynasty. Three out of four is a result anyone would take, Dustin Martin could become the first man in the game’s history to win three Norm Smith Medals. This would certainly put him in the category of the game’s greatest finals player. For Geelong, they have many players who could be facing their final opportunity to win a premiership, with Harry Taylor and Gary Ablett Jnr. In particular, almost certain to retire. They can also finally shake off the stigma of being finals chokers.
It is set to be the most interesting Grand Final in recent time, as well as the most unique.