Sub-plots aplenty in the AFL final chapter

Lui Zacher
September 22, 2022 / 9:52 pm

Sub plots aplenty in the AFL final chapter

Like all gripping final chapters, common themes and sub-plots collide.

Geelong and Sydney both enter the AFL grand final on the hottest of streaks – 15 wins and nine respectively.

Both are perennial powerhouses of past decades. Yet both find the final summit hard to conquer.

Both coaches have identical head-to-head records. Both started in the same season.

Both clubs harvest local crops of talent.

And both clubs have the genuine feel-good characters in the storyline of the AFL season.

Saturday’s premiership decider, returning to the MCG after two years elsewhere due to COVID-19, is writ large with fascinating back stories.

The stereotypical monikers of their cities differ – sleepy hollow versus sin city – yet similiarities abound between the clubs.

Geelong and Sydney (nee South Melbourne) are among eight foundation VFL clubs but have never met in a grand final.

The Cats have played in 17 of the past 19 finals series; the Swans 17 of the past 20.

But both find planting the flag on the summit difficult: the last of Geelong’s nine premierships was 2011; Sydney’s last of five flags was the following year.

Geelong coach Chris Scott and his Sydney counterpart John Longmire both began their tenures in 2011. Scott claimed the flag in his first year, Longmire in his second.

Both have since lost grand finals, Scott in 2020, Longmire in 2014 and 2016.

Their head-to-head record is identical: 10 wins, including one finals triumph, each.

Geelong captain Joel Selwood and his teammate Isaac Smith are gunning for a fourth premiership – a dizzy height not scaled by any current player yet well shy of Hawthorn legend Michael Tuck’s record of seven flags.

Selwood will pass one major Tuck landmark by playing his 40th final, one more than the bearded Hawk’s record.

Again, Selwood will cross paths with Sydney megastar Lance Franklin some 14 years after they last met in a grand final, in 2008 when Buddy was at Hawthorn.

Both entering their sixth grand finals, they will be the first pair of VFL/AFL opponents to clash in a grand final more than a decade apart.

And if Selwood salutes, his 15-year gap between flags will equal Tuck’s 1976-91 span between winning premierships.

“He typifies everything that we want to be as players,” Geelong ace Patrick Dagerfield said of Selwood.

“He’s the ultimate competitor. But his care for others … it’s superhuman.”

Dangerfield, an eight-time All Australian, Brownlow medallist, four-time club champion, is seeking the missing piece of his storied career: a premiership.

The 32-year-old is among a born and bred Geelong core: Tom Stewart, Jed Bews, Tom Atkins, Gryan Miers, Jack Henry.

The theme of bumper local crops is mirrored in Sydney: Isaac Heeney, Callum Mills, Nick Blakey Errol Gulden, Dane Rampe are local products.

Geelong’s Guthrie brothers, Cam and Zach, or Sydney’s McCartin siblings, Paddy and Tom, will become the first premiership brothers since Geelong’s Abletts, Gary Jnr and Nathan, in 2007.

Ironically, the McCartins are Geelong-born lads. For Paddy, just featuring in a grand final is a victory.

The No.1 pick at the 2014 draft, taken by St Kilda, quit at the end of 2019 because of repeated concussions.

Last year, he joined Sydney’s VFL team. This year, the Swans AFL rookie-listed him – and he’s played all but one AFL game this season.

McCartin’s among a gaggle of Swans who began at other clubs.

Franklin headlines a list complemented otherwise by speculative picks: the elder McCartin, Tom Hickey – the only AFL footballer to play for four different clubs in four states – and ex-Kangaroo Ryan Clarke.

Geelong’s recruits from elsewhere are mostly higher profile: Dangerfield, Jeremy Cameron, Smith, Rohan, Zach Tuohy, Rhys Stanley and Tyson Stengle.

Stengle, with McCartin, is the feel-good sub-plot to the final chapter.

Axed by Adelaide last year after being caught drink-driving and busted with cocaine in separate incidents, he was thrown a footy lifeline by Geelong.

Now, Stengle is the first delisted free agent to become an All Australian.


AAP (C) 2022

Image: The 2022 decider will be a record 40th AFL final for evergreen Cat Joel Selwood. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)