So, it’s grand final day

It’s funny to think that today’s AFL grand final day. I think in previous years I’ve described it as one of my favourite days of the year. This year I’m in no mood for it, and there’s no vibe around town, as there is every other year.

For the first time, the game is being played outside of Melbourne – in Brisbane, and about a month later than usual. The quarters are shorter, the crowd smaller. And it’s being played at night for the first time. All in all, it feels quite distant – though I say that having enjoyed watching some cracking finals matches in recent weeks.

This is normally a big social day in the Melbourne calendar. If you’re not at the game, generally you’ll be at a grand final party or barbecue. Most of that is impossible this year because of ‘rona. I’ll we watching in my buddy bubble with JV at his home. We planned a barbecue, but it’s been pouring with rain since the middle of the night.

Everyone keeps on saying that this flag means as much as any of the others, and maybe more because of the challenges of the season, but I can’t feel it completely. The shorter games, the low scores, and a distinct drop in quality make it feel a bit like a toy season. It’s a pity because the play-off today is between what I think are the clear two best sides in the competition.

In a lot of years, one side has made it to the granny through a combination of happenstance and a spurt of form. You don’t always get the two best teams playing off, and because of that, the game can sometimes be a disappointment.

There’s no guarantee that tonight’s game won’t be a disappointment, but right now it seems a close thing and I’m hard-pressed to pick a favourite.

I know who I want to win – not Richmond, which means Geelong. Richmond has been the powerhouse the last few years, while Geelong has been thereabouts for years.

They play contrasting styles, which is one of the fascinations of tonight’s game. Richmond is all action, moving the ball forward by any means, and harassing their opponent when they’re in possession. It makes for a fast-moving, occasionally untidy, but effective style.

By contrast, Geelong is much more methodical and structured. They move the ball much slower and with more deliberation, not pulling the trigger until they’re certain of it.

Both have some great players, Geelong particularly. This will be Gary Ablett’s last game, win or lose. He’s not the player he was, but many consider him the greatest player of the modern era. Then there’s their captain, Joel Selwood, who epitomises leadership and courage. And Dangerfield, who’s a game-breaker.

The two big names going into this match are Danger and Dusty, from Richmond. Dustin Martin is a tad over-hyped. He’s a matchwinner and a mighty onfield presence, but I rate Dangerfield higher because he’s a bit more explosive.

Geelong goes into this game in great form and, after recent years of disappointing failures, will be red hot to get the win. You have to be motivated playing in a grand final, but I reckon that there might be more of an edge to it with Geelong.

I slightly favour Geelong to win, but the weather may play a part too. If it’s wet, then it’s advantage Richmond. I expect it will be close either way.

As a general comment, I think neither of these teams would win against grand finalists of ten years ago. That’s the general trend of footy, for various reasons. I’ve had this conversation a bit lately with different people. For whatever reason, I think the skills now are inferior to what they used to be. Even if you go back 30-40 years, you’ll see more dynamic footy with more precise skills.

A lot has changed in that time, and much of it to do with matchday tactics. Much of the game today is set up for and coached to negate the opposition, whereas once the focus was much more offensive. There’s no doubt that the defensive skills are better now than ever before, but at the expense of flair and attacking prowess.

I’ve seen a lot of footy over the years. The best teams I’ve seen are the Essendon team of 1985 and 2000, Hawthorn in 1988, and Geelong around 2007. Carlton in 1995 and possibly the 2003 Brisbane side are next best.

What I like to remind people is, that though the game was less professional back in the day, there were fewer teams, which meant talent was more tightly packed. The great teams of the eighties had more champions per starting 18 than any team today.

That’s a historical aside. I hope Geelong win tonight if only because Richmond has more shit blokes playing for them. I’m not a fan of Geelong, but their best players have more grace and humility – not to mention their supporters, which is another story again.

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