All-Vic AFL grand finals buck recent trend

·4-min read

You can take the AFL grand final out of Victoria during a coronavirus crisis, but you won't keep the most prominent football state out of the game's showpiece event.

That much has been true against the odds for two successive seasons, with COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions forcing the league to shift the season decider away from its traditional home.

On both occasions, with Melbourne in the midst of a city-wide lockdown and the MCG lying dormant, two Victorian sides have reached the season decider despite facing greater obstacles than most of their premiership rivals.

Sydney and GWS were the exceptions this year, spending months on the road during New South Wales' battle with the virus.

But while fortunate situations in their home states meant top-four sides Brisbane and Port Adelaide were able to play genuine home finals in 2020 and 2021, it is clubs that have endured more difficult circumstances that have won through.

Last year, it was Richmond and Geelong that faced off after almost four months in hubs, and this time it's Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, who have been shifted around the country at the business end of the season.

The all-Victorian affairs at Brisbane's Gabba and Perth's Optus Stadium - the latter still to come on September 25 - have ended a run of eight consecutive MCG deciders that featured one team from interstate.

The Bulldogs have done it particularly tough from fifth this year, having let a top-four chance slip with three straight losses to finish the home-and-away season.

Luke Beveridge's side were forced to flee Melbourne in August and have since rattled off three wins in three different states, beating Essendon on neutral turf in Launceston, Brisbane at the Gabba and Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval.

Winning in a fourth state in as many weeks to claim the premiership would be unprecedented.

The Bulldogs didn't even face obstacles quite so formidable when they rose from seventh spot to snare the 2016 fairytale flag.

But for this year's breed, the hard road has offered master motivator Beveridge a perfect platform from which to inspire his players.

"Bevo's always been a motivational type of person," Dogs speedster Jason Johannisen said on the Nine Network on Sunday.

"The fact that we've been away from our family and friends, we want to make this journey worthwhile.

"We didn't want to go home (after playing against Port Adelaide on Saturday night), so that was the motivation and we executed our plans and got the job done.

"It's been crazy, but we haven't dwelled on it.

"We've just looked at the opportunity to spend some more time together and gel as a unit.

"All we have is each other and that's going to take us as far as we want to go."

After winning in Launceston and Brisbane, the Bulldogs' travelling party flew from Queensland to Perth to begin a mandatory quarantine period enforced by the strict Western Australian government, before flying to Adelaide and back for the preliminary final.

Melbourne, too, have faced battles since claiming the minor premiership with Max Gawn's after-the-siren goal away to Geelong in round 23.

The Demons have set up camp in Joondalup, in Perth's northern suburbs, leaving their family and friends back home in lockdown.

"We've worked incredibly hard to be involved in these significant games," Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said.

"I sit here and I think of our all supporters back home and all the hard times they've been through.

"We get an opportunity now to do something really special and I think we've earnt that right.

"There's a level of excitement ... but there's still a job to do."

Diehard Melbourne and Bulldogs supporters from Victoria will miss out on seeing the grand final because of WA's tight borders.

Up to 12,000 tickets will be made available to members of both clubs this week, however, they appear unlikely to be able to take up their full allocations.

The situation is especially difficult for Demons fans, who have not seen their side in a grand final for 21 years.

Most were not alive for the Dees' most recent premiership, with the drought dating back to 1964.

"We would love for them to be here, we'd love to be doing it in front of our home supporters," Goodwin said.

"But they should be proud of their team. We are doing this for them.

"We want to make them so proud of their footy club that they can sit and enjoy a drink together and understand they have a strong footy club."

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