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AFL grand final 2020: Gabba finale the fairytale of a season to celebrate

This season has been anything but inferior. Clubs, broadcasters and even most supporters are now almost unified on this.

All should be applauded; players and clubs for their compromise and commitment, the media for its extended coverage remotely and often on the run, and fans for tuning in, renewing memberships, even as the odds of seeing your team play in the flesh fell.

Everyone backed up. A ‘footy frenzy’ saw 33 games in 20 days and the competition come alive, as a light shone on the resilience of players and our love of the game, the feat made possible by Queensland, a rugby state that risked much to allow the AFL and other major sports to swarm there.

It’s hard to get your head around in many ways, it’s going to be a remarkable day.

Bruce McAvaney

Early fears of a faux premiership were whitewashed, as the sacrifices of players and families surfaced sharply and the football hit a frenetic note. Richmond and Geelong managed to shrug off the strictness of hub life with preliminary final wins over home teams Port Adelaide and Brisbane and set up a first grand final between two Victorian clubs since 2011 – at the Gabba.

The achievement has come with little angst: there were streakers and a few COVID breaches, while Kangaroos coach Rhys Shaw had to quit after a taxing season, but clubs and players generally persevered and found their groove.


Gary Ablett and Shane Edwards, who square up tomorrow, trained together in quarantine before returning to familiar folds. Rival players have shared hotels and flights.

The legacy of the 2020 season will be seen as early as next year, with McLachlan flagging the fixture be released in stages to maximise reach and context, while hub stints and shorter quarters will stay.

On paper, Saturday’s grand final is a compelling match-up, full of fairytale plotlines for two teams vastly different in nature but impossible to split.

At the end of 2016, the Tigers were a basketcase, with coach Damian Hardwick facing the sack and the board an official challenge from outsiders.

Now they hunt a third premiership in four years, led by the dynamic Dustin Martin, while the Cats chase a first for their own supremo Patrick Dangerfield and last for favourite son Gary Ablett Jnr, who rides into the sunset afterwards a giant of the modern game.

This entire weekend should be cherished: the world’s toughest horse race the Cox Plate runs immediately prior to the AFL decider, before the NRL grand final lights up Sunday and also features a Victorian team. Spare a thought for Channel Seven caller Bruce McAvaney, who heads the network’s coverage of Mooney Valley before commentating the AFL finale.

“It’s hard to get your head around in many ways, it’s going to be a remarkable day … it’ll be a time to reflect afterwards, it’s been such a whirlwind for everyone this season, we’ve all been on a treadmill, just keeping up, and haven’t had a lot of time to really think through it all,” he said this week.

Footy in 2020 was much more than a game, and more than ever a mental escape, a fire in the belly amid the bitter mundanity of pandemic life. Looking back, one shudders to think where we’d be without it.

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