The first round of the 2020 AFL season started with no crowds and ended with chief executive Gillon McLachlan announcing the campaign was on hold. A break of nearly three months followed due to the outbreak of coronavirus, with shorter matches, a shorter season and shorter breaks between games required to get the season over the line.
At times, it seemed like would never happen, but the unique blend of hubs and easing coronavirus restrictions in some states has allowed the AFL season to draw to a conclusion, some 216 days after the traditional opener between Richmond and Carlton.
The Tigers will again feature in the Grand Final, taking on the Cats in a clash like never before, played outside of Victoria – and at night – for the first time.
Richmond and Geelong have both enjoyed terrific seasons, but perhaps the most impressive element has been the fact both clubs have been away from home – and living in hubs – for over 100 days.
Read on for our comprehensive 2020 AFL Grand Final preview!
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Richmond Tigers v Geelong Cats
Gabba | 7:30 PM (AEST)
Richmond Tigers – Richmond is hunting its third premiership in four years, having also triumphed in 2017 and 2019 at the MCG. Victory would see the Tigers join Brisbane, Geelong and Hawthorn as one of the truly great teams of the modern era and Damien Hardwick’s side have stars on every line. Richmond also has an abundance of experience, with 14 players entering the clash seeking their third premiership. In fact, defender Ivan Balta will be Richmond’s only player without a premiership to his name. Tigers star Dustin Martin was outstanding in Richmond’s narrow six-point preliminary final win at Port Adelaide, a terrific win on the road in tough conditions. A downpour made skills difficult but Richmond’s willingness to scrap – and that big-game experience – helped the Tigers taste victory. Martin booted two goals and won 21 disposals, winning a perfect 10 votes in the Gary Ayres Medal, the award given to the best player of the finals series. Kane Lambert booted two crucial goals in the last quarter of the low-scoring clash against the Power, while ruckman Toby Nankervis did a terrific job in the middle. The Tigers – not traditionally known as a clearance side – won them 28-9 in the second half. Balta also did a big job on Dixon, restricting him to one goal, and he can expect the crucial job on 2020 Coleman Medallist Tom Hawkins. Richmond is likely to go in unchanged, although you cannot rule out a surprise at the selection table given Damien Hardwick called up the untried Marlion Pickett in last year’s Grand Final win over Greater Western Sydney. Ex-Cat Josh Caddy seems the most likely player to win a late call-up, if a change is made. That would mean small forward Jake Aarts, who has played 14 games this season, and big man Mabior Chol (11) miss out. Richmond like to move the ball quickly and will seek to make Geelong’s excellent defence accountable, and it would not surprise to see Martin spend big chunks of the game in the forward line. Martin has won two Norm Smith Medals from as many Grand Finals and could go down as the game’s greatest finals player if he wins the honour again. It would not surprise. Shai Bolton and Jack Riewoldt were the stars the last time the sides met, as the Tigers won by 26 points at Metricon Stadium on September 11. Bolton took the three Brownlow Medal votes, for his 18-disposal performance, while Riewoldt kicked four goals – as many as Geelong – in a low-scoring game. Richmond has won five of its last six matches against Geelong, including a famous come-from-behind triumph in last year’s preliminary final. A warm night is on the cards in Brisbane, with rain a possibility. There is a chance of storms, too, which would slow the game down. The Tigers are good enough to win in any conditions.
Geelong Cats – The Cats finally broke an unwanted streak of preliminary final heartbreak last week, winning their way through to their first Grand Final since 2011. Under Chris Scott, the Cats had dropped four preliminary finals in a row (2013, 2016, 2017, 2019), and that failure last year still stings for Geelong fans. The Cats, missing the suspended Tom Hawkins and the injured Mitch Duncan, had the Tigers on toast at half time, leading by 21 points. Richmond entered that clash on the back of 10 consecutive wins, though, and kicked the first five goals of the third quarter, as Tom Lynch (five goals) led the fightback. The Tigers ended up winning by 25 points, booting eight goals to two in the second half, and they then thrashed the Giants to be crowned premiers. It was the one that got away for Geelong, and the Cats will be out to make amends at the Gabba, where it has a 5-0 record this season. The Cats were excellent in a 40-point preliminary final win at Brisbane last week, which followed a 68-point thumping of Collingwood. The damage was done after half time at the Gabba, Geelong kicking seven goals to two after the break to win comfortably. Duncan took all 10 votes in the Gary Ayres Medal, continuing his excellent finals series. The Cats midfielder leads the way with 19 votes. Gary Ablett – who will play the final game of his outstanding career this week – kicked two crucial third-quarter goals, while Gary Rohan chipped in with three of his own. Rhys Stanley and Mark Blicavs impressed in the ruck, too, allowing the Cats to win without huge contributions from Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood. Defender Jake Kolodjashnij kept Brisbane danger man Charlie Cameron quiet after quarter time, too, and is set for the key role on Dustin Martin when he drifts forward. It is sure to be one of the match-defining battles and if Kolodjashnij can restrict Martin’s influence, it will go a long way towards Geelong winning. Like Martin, Dangerfield will spend much of the game up forward, the star playing in the forward line for more than 90 per cent of the Lions clash. That followed a four-goal performance in the semi-final from Dangerfield. The ex-Crow has never played in a Grand Final at AFL level and could play a major role. Dangerfield spoke during the week, insistent that his side is very different to the one that played out the 2019 campaign. Geelong like to play in more of a methodical way than Richmond, controlling possession and chipping their way around the ground. Defender Tom Stewart plays a huge role for the Cats in this style, and often orchestrates attacks from the defensive 50. Like Richmond, Geelong also seems likely to go in unchanged, but Esava Ratugolea could be given a late reprieve. The big man has played in 12 matches this season and kicked two of Geelong’s four goals in that Round 17 defeat to Richmond. Experienced midfielder Jack Steven seems likely to miss out. Selwood will make history and become Geelong’s first ever four-time premiership player if the Cats are to be successful … but the Tigers should prove just a little too good.