Hear me out.
I was born thousands of kilometres below the Barassi Line. My blood bleeds Sherrin red. I would rather be caught dead than encourage people to watch an Australian football code whose jerseys register as anything other than “full sleeves, to the wrist” or “absolutely no sleeves at all.” But looking at this Saturday’s AFL Grand Final I… am finding things quite difficult.
A matchup between Richmond and Geelong for the 2020 AFL Premiership has absolutely nothing in it for the neutral fan.
On the Richmond front, there’s no feel-good hook like last year’s Marlion Pickett story to get stuck into. One year on, Pickett remains in the side, and is now mounting a charge to be a 2x Premiership player.
On the Geelong side of things, we’re looking at a side that has not only missed finals just once in the past 13 years, but is poised to march out of the Grand Final and add Jeremy Cameron and Shaun Higgins to its already bulging playing list, while carrying a stacked hand of first-round draft picks. The rich only set to get much, much richer.
The drought-breaking romance of Richmond’s breakthrough 2017 Premiership has long worn-off. In its place, a dynastic juggernaut that shows little signs of stopping.
Geelong’s nine-year gap since its last Grand Final appearance in 2011 is statistical underperformance, not the heartwarming rise back up the ranks that some may have you believe.
The problem is that neither team can believably sell themselves as an underdog.
With 100,000+ members and a string of recent dominance – were it not for one momentary blip in a 2018 preliminary final, it’s entirely conceivable that 2020 could be their fourth flag in succession – Richmond is an all-encompassing behemoth on and off the field. The plucky young flash of 2017 is now broad-shouldered dominance. They are the gatekeepers defending their mantle from 17 other AFL clubs.
Conversely for Geelong, nothing about this side is fresh, fun, or new, because the key tentpoles of it have been there the whole time. Joel Selwood, Harry Taylor, and Mitch Duncan were all part of the Cats’ 2011 Premiership side. Taylor was also there in 2009. Selwood in both 2009 and 2007. The same goes for Gary Ablett, who was a focal point of the ’07 and ’09 sides. And while Ablett sailing off into the sunset at the end of the game is the store-bought definition of a fairy tale exit, getting wistful about much of anything to do with that particular surname is, oh let’s say, somewhat problematic.
Additionally, Swan St is a foot of a road, Punt Road Oval is a bog, and if Mother were to ever cease production Greater Geelong’s retail economy would collapse overnight.
So what’s the solution for neutral footy fans looking for something to get fired up about this weekend?
Mates, it’s the bloody Penrith Panthers.
Contesting this year’s NRL Grand Final on Sunday night against the Melbourne Storm, the Panthers are the only true sympathetic footy side competing for a flag this weekend.
A plucky, up-from-their-bootstraps squad from footy heartland gunning for their first NRL Premiership since 2003.
A gang of hard nuts trying to steal a flag off the omnipotent charge of the out-of-state juggernaut that barely anyone in their rival code-dominated home state cares about.
A raw and promising blue collar team with choccy milk slapped across their chests who roared up the ladder in 2020 and are now agonisingly close to reaching the promised land; rarefied air for a long-suffering supporter base starved of success.
The AFL Grand Final has nothing in it for the neutral fan, realistically. But its Sydney rival? Big time.
Fuck Richmond, fuck Geelong, and fuck the Storm.
Get around the Panthers. I hope they win both flags somehow.Image: Getty Images / Mark Kolbe