Melbourne vs Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium, Saturday 5:15pm AWST/7:15pm AEST
Alright, after 198 home & away games, 8 finals a Victorian earthquake and at least 2 Melbourne lockdowns, the AFL Grand Final is here, it’s the first Grand Final west of the Murray River, and Melbourne, off the back of the winningest season in their 162 year history, are going for their first flag since the year in which Tokyo hosted the 1964 Summer Olympic Games and Pig Iron Bob Menzies was the Prime Minister, in what is only their third Grand Final appearance since the sacking of Norm Smith (1988 & 2000)…..
While the Western Bulldogs are gunning for 2 flags in 5 years after going without one for 62 years, as they seek to become the third team in history to win a premiership from outside the Top 4…
Something they themselves pulled off in 2016, when they won from 7th!
This is the second Grand Final in history between the Demons and Bulldogs, and the first since 1954, when Charlie Sutton’s Footscray thumped Norm Smith’s Demons by 51 points, and if you want a few coincidences straight off the bat, the 1954 decider was also played on September 25, and the Demons qualified for the Grand Final by defeating Geelong in a Preliminary Final!
I can’t help but think that might be a good omen for Bulldogs fans.
Overall, it’s the 5th finals encounter between Melbourne and the Bulldogs, with the ledger evenly split at 2 wins apiece, and it’s also their first finals meeting since the Bulldogs rebadged themselves from Footscray to the Western Bulldogs in late 1996.
That last encounter came way back in the 1994 Semi Finals, when Melbourne sent the Bulldogs out in straight sets with a 79 point win, and Demons captain Garry Lyon, who will be at Optus Stadium on Saturday night, kicked 10 goals, making him one of only four players to kick double figures in a final, and the only player in the last 70 years to achieve the feat:
Amazingly enough, no player has kicked 9 goals in a final, let alone 10, since Lyon in 1994.
For the record, the 3 other players to kick at least 10 goals in a final are former Carlton captain Harry ‘Soapy’ Vallence, who did twice in 1931 & ’32, Collingwood spearhead Ron Todd also did twice in 1938 & ’39, and Geelong’s George Goninon in 1951.
Finally, this is Melbourne’s 19th Grand Final appearance, including the drawn 1948 Grand Final against Essendon, with the Demons seeking to join Richmond and Hawthorn on 13 VFL/AFL Premierships, and the Bulldogs will play in their 4th Grand Final, seeking to join the Brisbane Lions on 3 VFL/AFL Premierships, which would also tie them for having the best winning percentage in Grand Finals at 75%.
Funnily enough, Melbourne’s Grand Final winning percentage of 69.44% (12-1-5) is the best of any club that’s played in more than 5 Grand Finals.
There’ll be 3 Father-Son connections from that last finals meeting between the Demons and Bulldogs that’ll feature this weekend.
For the Bulldogs, Tony Liberatore and Mark Hunter both played in ’94, with sons Tom and Lachie, who both played in the 2016 flag, playing on Saturday, and for the Demons, former captain Todd Viney played in 1994, with son Jack, himself a former Demons captain, playing his 150th game this weekend.
In fact, assuming all goes well, both Vineys will have played in a Grand Final for the Demons, with Todd playing in the losing 1988 team, and Jack hoping to go one better this weekend.
The Coveted List Of Grand Final Venues grows again
Melbourne Cricket Ground
Junction Oval (1898-99, 1944)
East Melbourne Cricket Ground (1900)
Lake Oval (1901)
Princes Park (1942-43, 1945)
Waverley Park (1991)
The Gabba (2020)
And, despite the best efforts of Gladys’ truckies, Perth Stadium (2021)
Grand Finals on September 25
2021 is the 12th decider to be played on September 25, with Hawthorn and Essendon leading the way with 2 Grand Final wins on the date, and as previously mentioned, the Demons and Bulldogs played their only previous Grand Final on the 25th, with this year being the first Grand Final to be played on the 25th since the historic drawn Grand Final of 2010 between Collingwood and St Kilda:
Another random fact – Prior to this weekend, 2010 is the most recent Grand Final between two Melbourne-based teams.
Some Grand Final week earthquake consistency for Melbourne’s last two Grand Final appearances
On the 29th of August in the year 2000, Boolarra in Victoria was the epicentre of a 5.0 magnitude earthquake, with Melbourne losing the Grand Final to Essendon 4 days later.
And just yesterday, Mansfield was the epicenter of the 5.9 magnitude earthquake…. Melbourne will have played in a Grand Final 3 days later.
1st vs 5th in Grand Finals
This is the 3rd Grand Final to feature the minor premier against the team that finished 5th, with the ledger currently sitting at 1 apiece, with 2021 marking the first time a 1st vs 5th Grand Final hasn’t occurred in a year ending in 8:
1988 – Melbourne finished in 5th and won 3 straight finals to get through to their first Grand Final since 1964, where they had the double misfortune of losing Strawbs O’Dwyer to suspension, and they were taking on the almighty Hawthorn team of the 1980s, and in a game described as being a Ferrari against a pushbike, the Hawks won by a then-record margin of 96 points.
1998 – Defending premiers Adelaide finished 5th and convincingly lost their first final against the Demons, but wound up staying alive thanks to the McIntyre Top 8 system, in which the two lowest ranked losers were knocked out (7th and 8th both lost), so the Crows went to Sydney and knocked out the Swans, promptly crushed the Western Bulldogs in a Preliminary Final for the second year running, setting them up to play minor premiers North Melbourne, who had won 11 straight games…
Buuuut as we all know, the Kangaroos kicked horrendously in the 1st Half and kept the Crows alive, despite one of the more dominant halves ever seen (6.15 to 4.3), and in the 2nd Half, the Crows made them pay dearly by kicking 11 goals to 2 and storming home to win by 35 points, as Darren Jarman and Andrew McLeod led the way again.
Thus, the Crows became the first team in league history to win the flag from outside the Top Four, with the Bulldogs joining them from 7th in 2016.
Whatever happens, this Saturday will see both the first player born in the 2000s to play in a Grand Final, and the first player born in the 2000s to win a premiership
Well spotted by /u/FairBumpPlayOn, and it turns out it is true, even if you classify the Millennium as starting in 2001:
From the Prelim Final teams, Melbourne have Tom Sparrow (31-5-2000), James Jordon (20-12-2000), Kozzy Pickett (2-6-2001), Trent Rivers (30-7-2001), Luke Jackson (29-9-2001) and Jake Bowey (12-9-2002) raring to claim a place in history as the first 2000s babies to win a flag, while the Bulldogs have the Bazlenka himself Bailey Smith (7-12-2000), and assuming he comes back into the team, Cody Weightman (15-1-2001).
Max Gawn’s first mark & disposal in the AFL came via a kick from his opponent on Saturday, Stefan Martin
Round 11, 2011 against Essendon at the MCG… just listen to the way Dennis Cometti lets out that “Okay…..” after Gawn scrubs the kick:
The All Australian ruckman premiership drought
Demons captain Max Gawn will become just the fourth 21st century All-Australian ruckman to play in that season’s Grand Final, and it appears Maxy will have to overcome the weight of recent history, because the only ruckman this century to appear in the All-Australian team and the Premiership team in the same season was West Coast great Dean Cox in 2006, and I’ll claim that on a technicality, because Cox was named on the interchange for the All-Australian team, and Brendon Lade was the ruckman.
The other two AA ruckmen to appear in the big dance this century are Lade with Port Adelaide in 2007, when Geelong dropped the atomic bomb on the power, and Brodie Grundy with Collingwood in 2018, who felt the Need for Sheed with 2 minutes to go.
Prior to Cox, you have to go all the way back to Shaun Rehn for Adelaide in 1998 to find the last All-Australian ruckman that played in the premiership team.
Dennis Cometti’s centimetre perfect retirements from commentary
The best part about this one is that Den himself is a Bulldogs supporter, stretching way back to 1971, when he made the senior list at Footscray but was unable to play a game in the VFL.
In 2016, Cometti retired from TV commentary after well over 3 decades on television, most of them with Channel 7, with the Bulldogs finally appearing in (And winning) a Grand Final.
On Saturday, Dennis will retire from radio commentary after some 53 years in radio, with the Bulldogs playing in yet another Grand Final.
Played and coached in a winning premiership team
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin, who played in Adelaide’s 1997 & 1998 premierships during his Hall of Fame career, can join the small list of current coaches who have won flags as a player & coach:
Chris Scott played in Brisbane’s 2001 & 2002 flags before coaching Geelong’s premiership team in 2011.
John Longmire retired after playing in North Melbourne’s 1999 flag, and coached the Sydney Swans in 2012.
Damien Hardwick played in Essendon’s 2000 flag and retired after Port Adelaide’s 2004 flag, and coached all 3 of Richmond’s flags in 2017, 2019 and 2020.
And, Adam Simpson played in North Melbourne’s 1996 & 1999 flags, followed by coaching the West Coast Eagles in 2018, appropriately receiving the premiership cup from Roos premiership coach Denis Pagan.
Luke Beveridge played for both the Bulldogs and Demons
Luke Beveridge is only the fourth coach in history to coach in a Grand Final involving two teams he played for, having played for the Demons between 1989 to 1992, before playing for the Bulldogs between 1993-95, ultimately finishing his playing days at St Kilda between 1996-99.
The last Grand Final coach with such a distinction was Denis Pagan when he coached North Melbourne to victory in the 1996 Grand Final against the South Melbourne/Sydney Swans, with Pagan having played for the Kangaroos between 1967 to 1974, and the Swans in 1975-76.
Luke Beveridge can also keep the Alastair Clarkson Coaching Tree premiership streak alive
This could also be considered a not-so random fact considering quite a few people know about it, but stretching back to 2013, Alastair Clarkson and his many former assistants have won every single AFL premiership:
Clarkson coached Hawthorn to their Threepeat in 2013, ’14 and ’15.
Beveridge (Hawks assistant between 2012-14) coached the Western Bulldogs to glory in 2016.
The aforementioned Adam Simpson (Hawks assistant between 2010-13) coached the West Coast Eagles to glory in 2018…..
And the also aforementioned Damien Hardwick (Hawks assistant between 2005-09) coached those three Richmond flags in ’17, ’19 and ’20.
The last coach to win the flag from outside Clarkson’s sphere of influence was John Longmire for Sydney in 2012, who has something in common with Demons coach Simon Goodwin…
They both succeeded Paul Roos as head coach at their respective clubs.
The Spargo connection to the Bulldogs
I do believe this has already been highlighted by at least the Herald Sun, but Melbourne’s Charlie Spargo, son of former Kangaroo and Brisbane Bear Paul Spargo, is the fifth member of the Spargo family to play in the VFL/AFL, with the two being the only Spargos who didn’t play for Footscray.
Paul’s father & Charlie’s grandfather Bob Spargo played 80 games for Footscray, and appeared in the Bulldogs’ losing 1961 Grand Final team, Bob’s brother Ricky played 64 games for Footscray, and their father Bob Spargo Sr. played 65 games for Footscray and 2 games for Melbourne between 1934 and 1942.
Bulldogs players making history
Prior to Saturday, the only player in the history of the Footscray/Western Bulldogs to play in two Grand Final is the one and only legend Ted Whitten, who played in the victorious 1954 Grand Final against the Demons, and the losing 1961 Grand Final against Hawthorn, which remained the only Grand Final appearances for the Bulldogs prior to 2016.
Speaking of EJ, here’s this rarely seen video of him in full flight:
From the Preliminary Final team, at least 9 current Bulldogs will join that list; 2016 Norm Smith Medalist Jason Johannisen, premiership captain Easton Wood, Jack Macrae, Marcus Bontempelli, Zaine Cordy, Lachie Hunter, Caleb Daniel, Josh Dunkley, and Tom Liberatore.
Also in the Bulldogs team, Taylor Duryea played in Hawthorn’s 2014 and 2015 premierships, and Adam Treloar played in Collingwood’s losing 2018 team, and if the Dogs win, Duryea will become the 31st player in league history to win flags for 2 different clubs, and the first since Lewis Jetta for West Coast in 2018, having previously won the flag with Sydney in 2012.
By contrast, the only player in the Melbourne side with Grand Final experience is defender Jake Lever, who played for Adelaide in 2017, his last game for the Crows before being traded to the Demons.
Mitch Hannan vs Melbourne
Mitch Hannan moved from the Demons to the Bulldogs at the end of 2020, if my maths are right, Hannan, plus teammate Stefan Martin, are the first players to play their former club in a Grand Final since Shane Biggs played for the Western Bulldogs against former club Sydney in 2016, but Hannan is the first to play his old team in a Grand Final the season after leaving them since Lance Franklin played for Sydney against Hawthorn in 2014:
There won’t be any 200 game players in the Grand Final for the first time since Hawthorn vs St Kilda in 1971
And it will have been 50 years to the day between the two events taking place:
Here’s another concidence – The most experienced player in the ’71 decider was St Kilda captain Ross Smith, who played his 199th game.
This weekend, the most experienced player is Bulldogs ruckman Stefan Martin…. who will play his 199th game.
Melbourne’s minor premiership to Grand Final strike rate is a perfect 10/10
By qualifying for this year’s Grand Final, Melbourne have kept up their perfect record of appearing in the Grand Final every time they’ve won the minor premiership (10/10), a fact that is also helped by the fact that 9 of their 10 minor premierships came during an era when the minor premier only had to win the Second Semi Final to make the Grand Final.
That said, the Demons have won the flag in 8 out of the 9 previous years in which they’ve won the minor premiership.
In 1939-40, the Checker Hughes coached Demons finished on top and won the flag in both years, before completing the club’s first premiership Threepeat in 1941.
Between 1955 and 1960, Norm Smith’s Demons won the minor premiership in every season, the most consecutive minor premierships in league history, with the Demons winning 5 out of 6 premierships in that time, with the only blemish being the 1958 Grand Final, when Collingwood sprang the upset of the century and denied the Demons what would’ve been the second Fourpeat in league history, alongside the 1927-30 Magpies, and what might’ve been a Sixpeat.
And in 1964, Melbourne finished on top spot by half a game, thanks mainly to Hassa Mann’s late goal against Hawthorn at Glenferrie in the penultimate round of the season, before they won their 12th and most recent premiership by 4 points against Collingwood, thanks to a late goal by defender Neil Crompton.
It was the only goal Crompton kicked between 1962 and 1966.
Conversely, the wonky recent Premiership record of minor premiers
The Demons are the first minor premier to appear in the Grand Final since Adelaide lost in 2017, with the Red & Blue seeking to become the first minor premier to win the flag since Hawthorn in 2013, in which time only 3 minor premiers have appeared in the Grand Final, with this 8 year flagless drought being the longest in league history.
More historically, since the introduction of the Top 8 in 1994, the minor premier has only won the premiership in 8 out of 27 seasons, a fact that can be attributed to the benefits of winning the minor premiership being slashed (Having to win 2 finals instead of 1 to make the Grand Final) in an expanded finals system.
In fact, since 2000, teams that finished 2nd and 3rd in the Home & Away season have won more premierships (7 apiece) than the minor premiers, who have only won 6 flags from 14 Grand Final appearances.
Essendon 2000, Port Adelaide 2004, West Coast 2006, Geelong 2007, Collingwood 2010 (In a replay), Hawthorn 2013….. We could see Melbourne join the list.
In the Preliminary Final, Melbourne became the first team since 1992 to defeat Geelong 3 times in a season
And the team to pull off a hat-trick on the Cats in ’92 was the West Coast Eagles, who defeated the Cats in 3 out of their 4 meetings that year, including both the Second Semi Final and the historic 1992 Grand Final to win their maiden premiership.
In pulling it off this year, Melbourne also became the first team to defeat an opponent at 3 different venues in a season (MCG, Kardinia Park & Perth Stadiun) since Geelong themselves did it to Port Adelaide in 2013.
Fewer Total Brownlow Votes = Win The Flag
In a streak stretching back to 2013, the Grand Final team that polled fewer total Brownlow Medal votes on the night of the count has gone on to win the Premiership:
2020: Geelong out-polled Richmond (64-56), Richmond won the Grand Final 81-50
2019: GWS out-polled Richmond (84-72), Richmond won the Grand Final 114-25
2018: Collingwood out-polled West Coast (96-81), West Coast won the Grand Final 79-74
2017: Adelaide out-polled Richmond (88-80), Richmond won the Grand Final 108-60
2016: Sydney out-polled the Western Bulldogs (105-81), Western Bulldogs won 89-67
2015: West Coast out-polled Hawthorn (97-88), Hawthorn won the Grand Final 107-61
2014: Sydney out-polled Hawthorn (96-90), Hawthorn won the Grand Final 137-74
2013: Fremantle out-polled Hawthorn (90-83), Hawthorn won the Grand Final 77-62
Melbourne out-polled the Bulldogs 96-85 back on Sunday night, with the 2012 Sydney Swans the last team to poll more votes and win the flag.
That year the Swans out-polled the Hawks 95-92, and won the Grand Final 91-81.
TWO helmeted heroes in Grand Finals for the first time in 24 years
For reference, here’s what Aaron Keating looked like:
And this was Saints captain Nathan Burke in his familiar helmet:
Similarities between Melbourne’s captain in 1964 and 2021
In 1964, Melbourne’s premiership captain was Ron Barassi, and he was gone from Melbourne the next year.
There’s every chance that the Demons’ captain next year will also be Gawn from Melbourne.
And the last random fact – Only 1 team in the last 35 years has come from behind at 3/4 time to win the Grand Final
That team was Geelong in 2009 against St Kilda – The Cats trailed by 7 points at the last break, but kicked the only 3 goals of the final quarter to win that epic decider by 12 points.
In the process, St Kilda also become the only Grand Final team of the last 30 years to win 3 out of the 4 quarters and still lose the game.