OPINION

Why AFL's 2020 grand final is a match-up made in marketing heaven

Another Richmond premiership on Saturday would see the Tigers claim three premierships in four years. Photo: Matt Roberts/AFL Photos/via Getty Images
Another Richmond premiership on Saturday would see the Tigers claim three premierships in four years. Photo: Matt Roberts/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

Sometimes manufacturing a narrative surrounding an AFL grand final can take a bit of work, and sometimes it can just write itself.

No guesses the category into which this year's version falls.

Saturday night's playoff between Richmond and Geelong for the 2020 premiership is a match-up made in a marketing person's heaven, storylines dripping from everywhere. But it's not always the case, despite the importance of the occasion.

Take just last year, for example.

As important as the arrival of Greater Western Sydney on the grand final stage was for both the growth of the game and endorsement of the AFL's expansion into western Sydney, it wasn't necessarily a "hot ticket".

The Giants, still relative newcomers feeling their way, have a comparatively still small support base.

For rival club fans, particularly in Victoria, they don't yet arouse much emotion, be it admiration, envy or even antipathy.

And while Richmond did it hard as a football team and club for so long after the glory days of the 1960s and '70s, we'd already witnessed the novelty of the Tigers being back in the big game two years previously.

Indeed, so relentless was that tidal wave and so vociferous is the yellow-and-black that many neutrals, even those who remembered those old days, were already heartily sick of them again.

So what's different this time around?

A genuine heavyweight of the competition as an opponent. And for the Tigers, official franking as one of the greatest combinations in football, let alone AFL history.

Hawthorn between 2013-15 and Brisbane 2001-03 are the only teams to win premiership hat-tricks since the old days of the VFL and Melbourne of 1955-57 (the Demons actually won five out of six from 1955-60).

But another Richmond premiership on Saturday would put the Tigers, with three premierships over a four-year period, behind only those Hawthorn and Brisbane "three-peaters" in terms of rewards in the post-1990 AFL era.

The last equivalent would be the Hawks, who saw out the old VFL and ushered in the new version of the competition with three flags in 1988, 1989, then 1991.

It's been an incredible turnaround from a club which just over four years ago limped off the SCG having lost its final game of the season by 113 points to finish 13th on the ladder, and by then not having won a premiership for 36 years and not even having made a grand final for 34.

But Geelong's story is no less remarkable.

The Cats haven't saluted since 2011 and yet all that time have remained forever knocking on the door.

No team has won more games of football in the AFL era, and no team has remained as consistently close to the top even in this century than Geelong, with 13 finals campaigns over the last 14 seasons, three flags, four grand finals and 10 preliminary final appearances.

Richmond was the football romantics' choice when it played Adelaide back in 2017, but this time it's the Cats fulfilling that role. And with good reason.

There's the prospect of one of the greatest players of all time Gary Ablett Jr finishing off an amazing 357-game, dual Brownlow Medal-winning career with a richly-deserved third premiership medal.

There's one of the game's modern-day greats in Patrick Dangerfield, another Brownlow medallist, finally getting to the big stage in his 13th season and 269th game after being part of seven ultimately failed finals campaigns.

And while coach Chris Scott isn't necessarily a darling of the football public, only the churlish would begrudge him a second flag in his 10th year in the job after landing the ultimate prize way back in his debut season.

In Scott's 235 games as Geelong coach, his winning percentage remains a phenomenal 69.4 per cent.

To put that in context, it's easily the best strike rate of any coach of more than 200 games in AFL/VFL history.

The next best on the list are Essendon's Dick Reynolds (66.9 per cent) and Collingwood legend Jock McHale (66.1 per cent), two of the most revered names in football history.

And speaking of individual greatness, how about Dustin Martin?

After another superb finals display in the Tigers' preliminary final victory over Port Adelaide, critics are rightly asking whether "Dusty" might just be the greatest finals player of all time.

Little wonder he's at short odds indeed for Saturday's Norm Smith Medal.

Martin is one of just four men (Gary Ayres, Andrew McLeod and Luke Hodge the others) to have won two Norm Smiths. A third to go with a third premiership medallion and a Brownlow Medal would surely have to place Martin at least in the frame in any conversation about greatest players of all time.

All this, of course, is quite beside the fact Saturday will be the first grand final played outside Victoria and the first played at night.

You could literally fill a book with all the various sub-plots.

Richmond and Geelong have played in two previous grand finals for a scoreline of 1-1.

The Cats won the first back in 1931. The second, in 1967, won by the Tigers, has been widely acclaimed as one of the greatest and most entertaining grand finals of them all.

Anything remotely on that scale on Saturday evening would be a treat. Fingers crossed.

But even if it does fall short on the spectacle front, you can already say with some certainty there won't be any shortage of interesting angles to pursue after the final siren.