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Who will take it all home?


And then there were two.

After 198 regular season matches, 1,188 Brownlow Medal votes, 4,781 regular season goals (and a further 194 goals in the finals series) and a season mostly without restrictions for the first time since 2019, we have finally, very nearly, reached the end of the road.

Only one match is left to be played in this season and it’ll be to decide the AFL premiers for season 2022.

100,000 fans are expected to pack the MCG for the grand final between the Geelong Cats and Sydney Swans, with the showpiece match returning to Victoria for the first time since 2019, after COVID-19 lockdowns forced it out of the state for two years running.

It seems only fitting that the two clubs most lauded for their culture and consistent on-field performance will face off in the final match of the season, with both clubs proving over the years that they can successfully rebuild on the run.

In one corner you have the Geelong Cats, who since its last premiership win in 2011 have steadily built, potentially, its next premiership team, bringing the likes of Patrick Dangerfield and Jeremy Cameron home from the Adelaide Crows and GWS Giants, respectively.

Patrick Dangerfield of the Cats makes a break

Patrick Dangerfield (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

After finishing the season as minor premiers, Chris Scott’s side qualified for the Grand Final after thrashing the Brisbane Lions by 71 points in the preliminary final, which followed a narrow qualifying final win against Collingwood at the MCG.

It has been a remarkable achievement by the Cats to qualify for the summit match after many wrote them off at the start of the year following their humiliating 83-point loss to Melbourne in last year’s preliminary final.

The club topped the ladder for the fourth time this century; doing so after winning their final thirteen games of the regular season following a 10-point loss to St Kilda at Marvel Stadium in round nine, at which point of the season they held a 5-4 win-loss record.

Having recently passed 300 AFL games, this shapes as Dangerfield’s best and final chance to win an AFL premiership medallion, he and the majority of this Geelong side being denied glory by the Richmond Football Club and Dustin Martin in the 2020 decider at the Gabba.

Cameron will be hoping that his second Grand Final ends in a much better outcome, after he was part of the Greater Western Sydney side that were humiliated by the Tigers the previous year, in which he kicked one of only three goals for the Giants on that day.

Captain Joel Selwood will be playing in his sixth decider, and a win in what could be his final game (as captain, at least) would complete the perfect graduation from premiership rookie (2007) to captain (2022).

Of all the premiership players in this game, Selwood is the oldest active of them all, being part of the Cats’ side that defeated Port Adelaide by a record 119 points in the 2007 Grand Final.

Selwood, Tom Hawkins and Mitch Duncan are the only remaining players from the Cats’ 2011 premiership side, which Chris Scott coached after taking over from Mark Thompson at the end of the previous season.

The next oldest active premiership player after Selwood still playing today is Lance “Buddy” Franklin, who is the only remaining player from Hawthorn’s 2008 premiership winning side and who transferred to the Sydney Swans following the Hawks’ 2013 premiership.

Which brings us to the Swans side of things, where after consecutive bottom-four finishes in 2019 and 2020, and the second half of a 2021 season spent on the road due to COVID-19 lockdowns in Sydney, the red-and-whites are back on the big stage for the first time since 2016.

John Longmire has done extremely well to regenerate his side’s playing list without the club ever losing its competitiveness, as evidenced when they defeated reigning premiers the West Coast Eagles by 45 points at the SCG in 2019, a year in which they finished 15th.

The younger players the club has blooded in these past two years comes as veterans such as Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Sam Reid and Buddy draw closer to the end of their illustrious playing careers.

Sadly, Kennedy has officially retired after tweaking his hamstring last week, the injury all but shattering any hopes he had of a miracle comeback, while Reid is also a long shot to play after suffering an adductor injury in the one-point preliminary final win over Collingwood.

Lance Franklin of the Swans is congratulated

(Photo by Steve Bell/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Parker is expected to be the only remnant from the 2012 premiership side named to play for the Swans in the Grand Final.

It was a case of deja vu in what was the club’s first preliminary final at the SCG since 1996, in which Tony Lockett kicked the winning point after the final siren to guide the club into its first Grand Final since 1945 with a one-point victory over Essendon.

It was the first preliminary final to be decided by the barest of margins since the famous 1999 preliminary final between Essendon and Carlton, and the first time the Pies had lost a final by that much since the 1966 Grand Final loss to St Kilda.

Before that, the Swans suffocated Melbourne out of the qualifying final, coming from as much as 18 points down in the third quarter to beat the reigning premiers for the second time this year after pulling off a 12-point win in round twelve.

Many wrote off the Bloods after a nine-point loss to Essendon at the MCG in round sixteen, at which point they sat eighth on the ladder with nine wins and six losses.

However, they would win their final seven games of the regular season to finish third on the ladder, and with their two finals wins have qualified for their sixth Grand Final since 2005.

For a club which is often overshadowed in its home city by rugby league, it is a remarkable achievement for a club whose culture is the envy of not just the AFL, but also all Australian sport.

Such is the commercial appeal the club has generated from names such as Lockett, Roos, Hall and Buddy (who, by the way, has just signed a one-year contract extension to ensure he finishes his career in Sydney), they have often outdrawn two NRL matches played in town on a single Friday night.

One of these came back in round two, when over 36,500 fans packed the SCG to watch Buddy make history becoming just the sixth man in VFL/AFL history to kick over 1,000 career goals.

That was the only meeting between the Swans and Cats this regular season, which the home side won by five goals, with that match drawing 11,000 fans more than what two NRL matches (one of which was between the Rabbitohs and Roosters) attracted on the night of March 25.

It was the Cats, though, that won their most recent finals meeting with a convincing 59-point triumph in the second semi-final at the MCG in 2017.

But nobody will ever forget that famous semi-final in 2005 – when Nick Davis kicked four final quarter goals to get his Swans out of trouble – including the match-winner at the death – to give his side a miraculous three-point win.

Fittingly, the Swans’ appearance in their first grand final since 2016 will come exactly seventeen years since they smashed a 72-year premiership drought – the longest in AFL history – with a four-point triumph over the West Coast Eagles at the MCG.

Regardless of who wins, a premiership drought of at either ten or eleven years is set to be broken this Saturday afternoon as the AFL Grand Final returns to its rightful home for the first time since 2019, following two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

Now that you’ve got the background info, it’s time to crunch all the important stats and numbers below.

Geelong Cats vs Sydney Swans
Saturday, September 24, 2:30pm
Melbourne Cricket Ground

Geelong Cats season summary

Finished first (18 wins, 4 losses, 72 premiership points, 144.2%
Qualifying final: defeated Collingwood 11.12 (78) to 10.12 (72) at the MCG
Preliminary final: defeated Brisbane Lions 18.12 (120) to 7.7 (49) at the MCG

Sydney Swans season summary

Finished third (16 wins, 6 losses, 64 premiership points, 127.9%)
Qualifying final: defeated Melbourne 14.7 (91) to 10.9 (69) at the MCG
Preliminary final: defeated Collingwood 14.11 (95) to 14.10 (94) at the MCG

This season: Sydney Swans 17.5 (107) defeated Geelong Cats 10.17 (77) at the SCG in round two.

Last meeting in a final: Geelong Cats 15.8 (98) defeated Sydney Swans 5.9 (39) at the MCG in the 2017 second semi-final.

The stats that matter

* This is the Geelong Cats’ 19th Grand Final, and first since 2020. From 18 previous Grand Finals, they are even at 9-9.
* This is the Sydney Swans’ 18th Grand Final, and first since 2016. From 17 previous Grand Finals, they are 5-12.
* This is the first time the two sides meet in a Grand Final, and the sixth time they face each other in finals. From five previous finals meetings, the Swans are 4-1, though did lose the second semi-final in 2017.
* This is the first Grand Final since 2007 not to feature a Melbourne-based team, when Geelong defeated Port Adelaide by 119 points.
* Joel Selwood will be playing in his sixth Grand Final and has the chance to enter rarified territory with a fourth premiership medallion, fifteen years after his first in 2007. Tom Hawkins and Mitch Duncan are the Cats’ only other two premiership players.
* From the Swans’ preliminary final side, Lance Franklin, Luke Parker and Sam Reid are their only players with premiership experience. Buddy won his two premierships with Hawthorn in 2008 and 2013, and Reid is unlikely to play due to injury, leaving Parker as the only remaining survivor from the 2012 premiership side.
* Both Chris Scott and John Longmire will be aiming for their second premiership as coaches, at least ten years since their previous ones in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

The verdict

While both the Geelong Cats and Sydney Swans have not had any premiership joy over the past decade, both clubs have been commended for the way they have remained in flag contention over the years, while the likes of Hawthorn and Richmond have dominated.

Both have been ultra-consistent sides for such prolonged periods of time, with the Cats missing the finals just once since 2006 (in 2015), while the Swans have sat out September just five times since 1995.

There will be so many subplots ahead of the Grand Final, with the Cats eager as ever to win it while Selwood, Hawkins, Dangerfield and Cameron are still playing together, while the Swans have been the form team over the past two-and-a-half months.

A Cats premiership win would be, potentially, a fitting retirement present for Selwood and Dangerfield, who are 34 and 32 respectively, while Cameron has his best chance yet to land a premiership medal after being on the wrong end of such humiliation against Richmond in 2019.

For the Swans, Buddy will be hoping it is third time lucky after being part of the sides that were beaten by his old side Hawthorn and the Western Bulldogs in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

While he has signed a one-year contract extension putting to bed any doubts over his future, a premiership win would vindicate the Swans’ investment in him, for which they copped plenty of criticism at the end of the 2013 season.

Given both sides will carry long winning streaks into the decider (the Cats have won their past fifteen, the Swans their past nine), it will be extremely difficult to pick a winner with any real confidence.

Predictions

Match: Geelong Cats by eight points.
First goal: Jeremy Cameron (Geelong Cats), Tom Papley (Sydney Swans)
Most possessions: Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong Cats), Chad Warner (Sydney Swans)
Norm Smith Medal: Dangerfield (if the Cats win), Callum Mills (if the Swans win)

Big call: One or both of Selwood and Dangerfield to retire after the Cats’ premiership win.





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