Best On Ground: 153-game AFL journey complete, now for finale

LAST ONE STANDING: Who will take home the premiership cup - Geelong or Richmond? Picture: Getty Images
LAST ONE STANDING: Who will take home the premiership cup - Geelong or Richmond? Picture: Getty Images

A competition steeped in tradition is one game away from completing the most unique season in its 123-year history.

The AFL has dodged curve balls dished out by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic like a Gary Ablett side-step.

It's overcome obstacles and delivered an outlet for people, particularly those enduring Victoria's lockdown, in a time where it was needed most.

It was unfathomable in early March to think the 2020 season was under threat. But as round one crept closer so did the possibility of a winter without football.

Crowds were banned from round one contests. The season was then postponed until May 31 at the earliest.

Chief executive officer Gillon McLachlan spoke candidly when announcing the shutdown.

"To say that this is the most serious threat to our game in 100 years is an understatement," he said at the time.

LAST HURRAH: Saturday's grand final will be Gary Ablett's final AFL appearance. Picture: Morgan Hancock

LAST HURRAH: Saturday's grand final will be Gary Ablett's final AFL appearance. Picture: Morgan Hancock

"It is unprecedented in its impact. It is unprecedented in the impact it is having on our game and the wider community."

Football returned in June, again behind closed doors, with the two Western Australian and two South Australian clubs re-starting in Queensland bubbles.

Roles were reversed when all 10 Victorian clubs were forced into interstate hubs as that state battled a spike in virus cases.

At first it was for 30-odd days; it's turned into a four-month stint for grand finalists Richmond and Geelong.

Queensland became the home of football and Western Australia's hard border meant teams had to quarantine upon arrival.

Fixtures - traditionally rolled out in 23-round, 22-game form in October - became a day-by-day proposition, a "153-game journey" to the final series.

Four-day breaks were the norm for some when 33 games in 20 days meant there was a match on TV every night.

Early forecasts predicted an entire season without crowds.

But little by little fans trickled in. First in their 100s and then in their 1000s.

Optus Stadium was the first to welcome back large gatherings when 30,000 watched the derby between Fremantle and West Coast in late July.

This weekend's night-time decider at the Gabba will have 30,000 in attendance too.

It's a far cry from the 100,000-person capacity MCG but a fitting finale to a season which at one stage was teetering on the edge.

Who knows, we might even see a couple more famous Ablett side-steps in his 357th and final AFL game.

This week's edition of Best On Ground was written by Warrnambool Standard journalist Justine McCullagh-Beasy

THE FOOTY NEWS YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO MISS:

GRAND FINAL

Saturday, October 24

  • Richmond v Geelong, Gabba, 7.30pm
This story AFL's 153-game journey complete, now for the finale first appeared on The Standard.