Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of the AFL grand final between Richmond and Geelong. The opening bounce at the Gabba is 6.30pm local time (7.30pm AEDT).
It is a landmark day in Australian sport. An AFL season like no other concludes a month later than scheduled, 1,500km further north than usual, and with an unfamiliar start time. Shaped by compromise it is a showpiece that reflects the weeks that have preceded it; an atypical decider to cap a unique year.
Despite all the uncertainty and upheaval the cream has risen. Richmond are here to make it three flags in four seasons, which consensus appears to dictate is the entry point for dynastic status. Geelong are four quarters from the premiership trophy for the first time since 2011, but they haven’t been far from the mark in the intervening period as they prolong a 15-year stretch of being there or thereabouts.
Few grand finals in recent history have presented such clear narratives, especially for Geelong.
Today marks the conclusion of the career of Gary Ablett, the standout footballer of his generation. Alongside him in the Cats’ forward line stands Patrick Dangerfield, hitherto the best player in the contemporary game never to reach a grand final, and now looking to add a premiership medallion to his extravagant haul of individual honours. Then there are the legacy players like Tom Hawkins, Harry Taylor and Mitch Duncan, who are back to take another look at the summit of their sport after first scaling it almost a decade ago. Chief amongst that number, captain Joel Selwood is on track to become the most decorated player in the history of the second-oldest football club in the world.
For Richmond tonight is the exclamation point at the end of one almighty ‘I told you so’. Back in 2010 CEO Brendon Gale made fans of rival clubs guffaw when he outlined a masterplan to make the Tigers the competition’s dominant force; those supporters are not laughing now. But after the euphoria of 2017 and the redemption of 2019, this iteration of Richmond has a sharper edge. Controversy has dogged them all year with the once cuddly Tiges now renowned for their unapologetic ruthlessness on-field and not infrequent missteps off it.
But the defending champions also have some individuals of their own with storylines worthy of grand final day. Not least Dustin Martin, the popular choice to collect his third Norm Smith medal, an accolade that would put him in a category of one and cement his status as one of the all-time great finals footballers.
Time to settle in, soak up the atmosphere of this grand final evening and steam into the opening bounce like Mark Yeates 31 years ago. Remember, this is more fun if you make yourselves heard, so get in touch via Twitter or email, and I’ll be keeping an eye on what’s happening below the line.