Some random facts for the 2021 AFL Preliminary Finals

Straight off the top, here’s a useless fact from the aftermath of the Semi Finals:

With the Brisbane Lions losing both their finals, they’ve lost their status as holding the best Finals winning percentage in league history, which was 64% (16-9), but has now fallen to 59.26% (16-11).

Admittedly it is a tiny sample size compared to the other leaders, but their downfall means the new all-time best Finals winning percentage is Hawthorn at 61.63% (53-33), with Richmond going into 2nd at 60.75% (56-1-36), and prior to Friday night’s Prelim, Melbourne are 3rd on 59% (52-2-34), or 60.4% if you consider they have had 2 drawn finals.

Moving on, and in something that may be a bit more than a coincidence, the four-best defensive teams from the home & away season, in terms of points conceded, are all playing this weekend.

Melbourne were No.1 (65.6), Geelong were No.2 (66.2), Port Adelaide were No.3 (67.8), and the Western Bulldogs were No.4 (68.2).

And, both Prelim Finals are exact rematches of those Round 23 Top Four thrillers, making this only the third time in the Final 8 era (1994-) that the Preliminary Finals are both rematches of games that occurred in the same round of a season… Unsurprisingly, they all involve Geelong:

1st Preliminary Final: Melbourne vs Geelong at Optus Stadium, Friday 5:50pm AWST

In a rematch of the Round 23 minor premiership decider at Kardinia Park, the two oldest clubs in the league will decide who takes the first spot in the Perth Grand Final, and in a major milestone, this is Geelong’s 2500th VFL/AFL game, becoming the 4th out of the 8 original VFL clubs to reach the mark, the most recent being Essendon back in Round 4 – Melbourne are due to bring up the milestone in 2023.

The Demons and Cats have played in 8 previous finals, with Geelong leading 5-3 after Melbourne’s win in the 2018 Elimination Final, and out of those 8, only one has been a Preliminary Final, way back in 1954, when Norm Smith’s Demons defeated Reg Hickey’s Cats by 17 points at the MCG.

Melbourne won both games against Geelong this season, the first time they’ve done that since 2005, although the last team to win a Preliminary Final after going 2-0 against their opponent during the home & away season was St Kilda against the Western Bulldogs in 2009 – More recently, Richmond went 2-0 against Collingwood in 2018, before the Prelim Final rolled around and Mason Cox happened.

Geelong captain Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins played in their 200th win as teammates in last week’s Semi Final against GWS, becoming the first teammates to ever achieve that milestone, and this week, Selwood will match Essendon legend Dick Reynolds on 224 games as a captain, the 2nd-most in league history, just behind Stephen Kernahan’s 226 games as captain of Carlton:

As you’ve probably seen, this is Geelong’s 12th Preliminary Final in the 21st Century, the most of any team (Collingwood is next best with 9), and unsurprisingly, the Cats have the equal most Prelim Final wins (5, tied with Collingwood, Hawthorn & Sydney), and the most defeats (6).

If the Cats win, it’ll be the fifth time in the club’s history they’ve made consecutive Grand Final appearances (2007-09, 1994-95, 1951-53, 1929-30).

Inclusive of the year 2000, Melbourne have only appeared in 2 Preliminary Finals in that time, the last being the horror show at Optus in 2018 against West Coast, with their most recent Prelim victory coming back in the year 2000 against North Melbourne, in which Jeff ‘The Wizard’ Farmer kicked 8 goals, and the Demons kicked 23.18-156, the highest score of any team in a Preliminary Final under the current Final 8 system.

If Melbourne do win, they’ll have also defeated Geelong at 3 different grounds this season (MCG, Kardinia Park, Perth Stadium), which hasn’t been achieved by any team since 2013, when Geelong defeated Port Adelaide at Football Park, Kardinia Park at the MCG.

Prior to last week’s win against GWS, Geelong had never played a final in Perth, even though they’ve played West Coast and Fremantle a collective 9 times in the finals, while Melbourne are playing a final in Perth for the fourth time, having lost all three previous visits, with two being Preliminary Finals against West Coast that ended in near identical margins:

The first was the 1994 Preliminary Final at the WACA, which the Eagles won by 65 points, before they went on to resoundingly win the flag against the Cats 7 days later.

In 2006, they lost a Semi Final to Fremantle by 28 points at Subiaco, which was the Dockers’ maiden finals victory, and served as the Demons’ last finals appearance until the aforementioned 2018 Elimination Final against Geelong:

And the most recent was the aforementioned horror show that was the 2018 Preliminary Final against West Coast at Optus Stadium, in which the visitors lost by 66 points, and became the first team to be held goalless in the 1st Half of a final since Richmond in 1927 – Once again, the Eagles won the flag 7 days later.

Here’s a potential omen for Melbourne – The previous 9 times that the Demons have finished top of the ladder, they’ve made the Grand Final on every single occasion, winning the Premiership in of those 8 times, with the lone exception being the 1958 Grand Final against Collingwood, which would be the only Premiership that Melbourne didn’t win between 1955 and 1960.

A potential omen for Geelong is that the last time Melbourne defeated the Cats twice in a season (2005) followed a somewhat similar pattern to this year; The Dees defeated the Cats early in the season at the MCG, made a massive comeback to win at Kardinia Park late in the year, in a game that also featured a kick after the siren, before they met 3 weeks later in the finals, where the Cats would end the Dees’ season.

Somehow, I don’t think Rhys Stanley will do to Max Gawn what Steven King did to Jeff White… accidentally:

One final note – Another trend that the Demons will have to end is that in addition to the minor premier not having won the flag since Hawthorn in 2013, the last minor premier to appear in a Grand Final full stop was Adelaide in 2017.

This current run of three years without a minor premier appearing in the Grand Final is the longest in league history.

2nd Preliminary Final: Port Adelaide vs Western Bulldogs at the Adelaide Oval, Saturday 7:10pm ACST

Port Adelaide have quite literally waited since August for this Preliminary Final, they’ll get a Round 23 rematch against the Western Bulldogs, who did knock off the Power at the Adelaide Oval in Round 9, in what will be the maiden finals meeting between the teams after 33 home & away games against one another, and it’ll also be the first time the Bulldogs have played a final in South Australia.

On that note, the Bulldogs share the record for the most head to head games without a final, having played 157 times against Richmond without ever playing the Tigers in a final – They came extremely close to meeting in a Semi Final last year, after Richmond lost to Brisbane in the Qualifying Final, although the Bulldogs lost to St Kilda by 3 points in an Elimination Final the next day, and the Saints would end up being the team to lose to the Tigers.

Going back to last week, the 1 point result between the Bulldogs and the Lions was the 17th final in history to be decided by a point, and it was the first Semi Final to be decided by 1 point since the Second Semi Final of 1965 between St Kilda and Collingwood, way back in the era of the McIntyre Final Four system, in which the winner of the Second Semi earned direct entry into the Grand Final.

Staying on the subject of 1 point games, the Bulldogs have the best record in the league when it comes to 1 point margins, winning 25 out of 41 games (60.9%) to be decided by the barest of margins in the club’s history.

Moving on to Port, this is their seventh Preliminary Final since entering the AFL, winning two and losing four, with both their previous Preliminary Final appearances under Ken Hinkley ending in agonising single digit defeats, by 3 points against Hawthorn in 2014, and by 6 points against Richmond at home last year.

Last year’s score of 6.4-40 is the lowest in a Preliminary Final this century, although it does come with a massive asterisk of being scored in a year of 16 minute quarters, the 2014 defeat is tied for the closest Preliminary Final margin this century, while on a more positive note, the Power still have the mark for the greatest winning margin in a Preliminary Final this century, coming in their 87 point win against North Melbourne in 2007, their last Prelim Final win to date:

We won’t mention what happened to Port 7 days later, but let’s just say Geelong nearly got sent to The Hague for it.

Port have also won 7 consecutive games heading into Saturday night – A win to appear in their first Grand Final in 14 years would match the 8 consecutive wins in 2002 and 2014, which stand as the Power’s best winning runs.

Going back to the Bulldogs, they’re the first team to reach the Preliminary Final after losing their last 3 home & away games since Hawthorn in 2001, who also went interstate and won their Semi Final by under a kick (Port Adelaide by 3 points), before they lost the Prelim Final to Essendon by 9 points.

Of course, this is the Dogs’ first Prelim Final appearance since that epic 2016 win against GWS at Sydney Olympic Park, and prior to that win, the Bulldogs’ record in Preliminary Finals was famously tragic.

They had only won once from 10 previous Preliminary Finals in their history (1961 against Melbourne), and they’d lost their last 7 Prelim Finals (1985, 1992, 1997-98, 2008-10), before 55 years of heartbreak was put to bed in a pulsating night out at Olympic Park, and the longest premiership drought in the league was ended a week later.

Are these Dogs the same as 2016?

Probably not, because this final is in Adelaide, that one was in Sydney.

And finally, Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge is tied with Ted Whitten on 91 wins – A win for the Dogs on Saturday night, and the 2016 premiership coach will become the most successful coach in the history of the Footscray/Western Bulldogs.

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