The Grand Final Story – Football is the Winner
When the final siren sounded on what was a brilliant football season – attended by more fans than ever before – it’s centrepiece game, the Grand Final, catapulted the 2018 season into rarefied air.
Who would have thought that the last game of the year would be the best game of the season? 2018 set a new benchmark off the field with record crowds post-MCG development. Those who made it to the Grand Final witnessed a truly unforgettable two hours of sport.
For the first time since the draw of 2010, when the siren caused the loudest hush the MCG has ever heard, we watched the clock tick down and awaited not just a roar, but a winner. The agony and ecstasy of footy washed across the colosseum all on the sound of a siren.
The winner we awaited was the West Coast Eagles, and what a worthy winner they were. The Eagles were premiership favourites for all of two minutes but that was all that was needed to clinch a flag. In 2018 they triumphed over injury, suspension, an MCG home ground disadvantage and most extraordinarily, luck. The Eagles follow the Western Bulldogs and Richmond before them who discovered and mastered that little thing extra about footy, best described by coach Adam Simpson as “spirit” in the post-premiership-presser.
A fourth premiership in the national competition launches the club into the upper third of the flag bearers. A premiership every eight seasons as a strike rate is only bettered by five AFL clubs; historically strong Victorian powerhouses Essendon, Hawthorn, Carlton and Collingwood as well as Port Adelaide courtesy of more than a century of dominance across the border.
The winner we all awaited arrived on the final buzzer, as we either celebrated or lamented the results. However, the other winner was with us from the moment the umpire held the ball aloft.
In a year where the game has been bashed and bruised like never before, it was never actually beaten. It triumphed in the biggest game of all, striking back hard against those who would see it become something other than what it currently is.
Perhaps it is not too late to pull this game out of the fire after all? Maybe. If it is then the Footy Gods have at least chiselled a Grand Final of a lifetime into the minds of Gillon McLachlan, Steve Hocking and the powers that be at AFL House (the glass of which was ironically shattered by a truck delivering the Footy Record on Friday). As decision time approaches, the game bellowed a mighty warning towards those who plan to reinvent our sport with a host of nonsensical suggestions. It screamed to be left alone.
While this message has been evident right throughout an epic second half of the season it has never been more pronounced than on the biggest day of all. Because this Grand Final was one for the history books. Now let’s hope that by the time the next game of AFL football is played, the game will not be swept up by a plethora of ‘rule changes’ or (compulsory and enforced) ‘game adjustments’, based on what happened at Coburg in the VFL instead of what happened at the MCG on Grand Final day.
This Grand Final embodied everything that is great about the game we love - and love in the form it is currently. Liam Ryan’s bump on Brayden Maynard was something that you could feel from your living room as both players never deviated from their line, in a football version of a game of chicken. There was palpable excitement when Jordan de Goey controlled the footy close to the boundary line, broke two tackles and guided the ball through for a classic goal in the first quarter. Maybe it was the courage of Jeremy McGovern to continually go back with the flight of the ball despite suffering severe internal bleeding all week, or could it have been his contested mark over Brodie Mihocek and Lewis Jetta late in the final quarter – a mark that made the Eagles’ push forward to Sheed possible.
We saw Mason Cox, an American who did not know how to kick a football four years ago, kick not one but two crucial goals on the biggest stage imaginable. We became completely immersed in the skill displayed in the second quarter, though nobody kicked a goal until time-on. Goals are not the only thing that makes footy entertaining. The greatness of football may have been exemplified when we watched Dom Sheed hold the hopes of the Eagles in his hands as he lined up for goal on a near impossible angle with two minutes to play – and flushed it to live out everyone’s childhood dream before our eyes. We lapped up the drama as Jack Darling dropped a mark and conjured a version of his 2015 recurring nightmares in the goal square (not rectangle) that would’ve sealed a premiership and we all had to wait an agonising minute to see whether he would be the most devastated or relieved man in the world.
What the fans love about the game could have been any or all of those things combined.
When you look at how good the showcase game of the year was, you have to ask; why would we change a thing?
As the Final Series comes to a close and 2018 enters the football record books, the announcement around rule changes for the 2019 season can’t be too far away. It looks as though we will have an embarrassing 6-6-6 centre bounce rule as a definite implementation, potentially alongside an 18 metre goal square-cum-rectangle. But if and when the AFL Commission follows Steve Hocking and the crew down the path of wholesale and ridiculous changes, I have no doubt the game will prevail. With the help of the Footy Gods, it will kick on and see off all challengers; be they zones, protected areas or sub vests because of one simple reason.
The game itself is just too good to be shackled by stupid new rules. It will endure.
May the West Coast Eagles enjoy their victory and be the winners (at least for a little while) but above all may football forever be the winner. Hands off AFL, it’s time to control your obsession with meddling, so we can all continue to enjoy football the way we did on the last Saturday in September in 2018.
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