The 2021 AFL Grand Final Is The Match-Up We Deserve
The word ‘deserve’ doesn’t really carry much weight these days.
For a raft of reasons Victorians don’t deserve to be once again enduring a protracted lockdown, and they don’t deserve to have to suffer the sight of a vacant MCG on grand final day for a second-straight year.
Having said that, this year’s AFL season will culminate in one of the most deserved grand finals in years and which will pit the league’s unquestionably two best teams together.
Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs spent 21 of the competition’s 23 rounds perched at the very top of the ladder and both marauded their way through finals. They also have a combined eight players wearing All-Australian blazers this year, the most by a set of grand finalists in 10 years.
The Demons have won all six of their encounters against top-four opponents this year, a feat not achieved since the 2000 Bombers.
All season long they’ve bullied their victims with a combination of class and unrelenting tenacity in midfield and thanks to one of the stingiest defences of the modern era. Even their forward line has erupted lately, averaging 100 points over their last four contests, having averaged just 85.1 over the season.
As for the Dogs, they continue to function as the AFL’s Houdini, constantly defying the odds and leaving audiences spellbound.
This is the second time in five years they’ve qualified for a premiership decider without the luxury of a double chance, once again surviving multiple interstate do-or-die assignments to secure their ticket.
Speaking of interstate, they’ve played nine games outside Victoria this year and won eight of them. If the AFL scheduled them on Jupiter, and even if they weren’t allowed to train on the planet’s surface, you can be sure Luke Beveridge would devise a way to give his troops the best chance of success.
Not since Collingwood squared off in 2011 against Geelong have the league’s two grand finalists been so clearly the AFL’s best over the entire course of the season. Those two spent 23 of the league’s 24 rounds on top and both ranked top two for both attack and defence. They would of course go on to produce a brilliant decider with the Cats ultimately storming home to claim their third flag in five seasons.
Obviously, every grand finalist deserves its spot on the biggest stage. You can’t accidentally find yourself under the brightest of lights and with the AFL’s eyes trained exclusively on you. It’s the result of months and years of planning and effort, all coalescing with a bold run through the intensity of September.
And it’s been within this finals colosseum where the Dogs and Demons have soared most emphatically in 2021, signing off on largely flawless seasons while leaving no doubt as to their premiership legitimacy.
Melbourne blew both Brisbane and Geelong to smithereens in its two finals wins while dialling up to 11 everything that worked so convincingly in the home and away season.
The Demons’ plus-36 inside-50 differential over those games was the largest gap they produced all year over a two-week sample, while their plus-30 contested possession edge against Geelong was their second healthiest return of the season.
The Dogs have been just as impressive, keeping Essendon goalless in the second half in Launceston, crawling back from a three-quarter time deficit at the Gabba against the Lions before smashing Port to pieces on the Adelaide Oval with the 117 points they posted the most the Power had conceded all season.
In fact, the combined 154-point winning margin these two produced over preliminary final weekend was the largest in the 28 seasons the AFL has been hosting two such games, with both teams making a mockery of their more than decent adversaries.
They’ll enter Saturday’s grand final not just as worthy premiership candidates, but as teams who’ve been staggeringly dominant, particularly over the last few weeks, and who have now set the standard for the league’s other 16 teams to strive for over the off-season.
This will be a grand final like no other, not just because it’s in Perth and not just because Melbourne will be attempting to break a 57-year premiership drought, but because the Dogs and Demons have, for now, left the rest of the league in their wake.
No one deserves the absolute wretchedness of the last couple of years, yet AFL fans absolutely deserve this grand final.
* This article first appeared on Rohan Connolly's FOOTYOLOGY website
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