Geelong are premiers again, their dominant grand final victory over Sydney an anti-climactic but emotionally fitting end to a season that has captivated footy fans.
Welcome to the AFL Round-Up, where we will digest the 2022 AFL grand final.
Geelong, the greatest team of all
It’s easy to see in retrospect that this was always going to be a Geelong day.
The Swans merited consideration due to their strong season and excellent showing in finals, but any analysis of the grand final teams generally concluded that if the Cats turned up at somewhere near their best, they would win the game.
But it was more than that for Geelong. The whole occasion had the feeling of coronation, one that has been many weeks and months and years in the making. The Cats, to their credit, leaned into it without ever becoming disrespectful of their opposition.
If the game itself was a fizzer, the day was anything but.
Joel Selwood was at the heart of so much of it, providing us the enduring image of the day in Levi Ablett’s mesmerised smile. His moments dele with the Auskick kids or with Sammy Moorfoot will live longer in the memory than anything that happened on the field.
Between the sirens, the Cats played the hits. Tom Hawkins’s goal out of the ruck! Tyson Stengle snapping them from everywhere! Isaac Smith on the run from 50! Sam from Koning intercept mark! It was Best Of: Geelong, handily coming on the biggest stage of all.
And then there was Patrick Dangerfield, whose laser-focus throughout this finals series has been a little bit terrifying.
There’s been a calmness about Dangerfield this month which has stood in direct contrast to his devastating play. Man, he was good in this grand finale.
It was perhaps unsurprising that after a game that was dead and buried five minutes into the third quarter, the Cats weren’t really sure how to celebrate.
The youngens engaged party mode immediately, while the team’s many veterans — I’m sure you heard this was the oldest team in AFL history — mulled around the MCG with their families and a sense of wonder.
The thing about footy is that the best team all year doesn’t always win. Geelong know that as well as anybody.
But sometimes they do, and all the blood, sweat and tears come together on one perfect day for a moment of complete and total vindication.
This was always going to be Geelong’s day, but it turned out even sweeter than they ever could have imagined.
Where to now for Sydney?
Was it just stage fright? A year too early? Or just catching the wrong opposition at the wrong time?
It was probably a little of all three for Sydney, who carried with them the sort of shell-shocked face of resignation we’ve seen all too often on grand final day recently.
Recent history suggests a grand final hammering is always more likely than a classic, and you could quite tangibly see the Swans have the same realization in the first quarter of this one.
It all happened so quickly. How many Sydney players would have sat in the rooms on Saturday night, rubbing their eyes in disbelief that it all could be over already, just like that.
Will it be of comfort or even more disappointment to the Swans that the team that turned up on grand final day was not the team we had been watching all season. Gone was the bravery with ball in hand, the complete physical commitment and the unwavering confidence in their own methods and abilities.
Every disposal was second guessed. Fear of making a mistake only led to more being made. By the end a shell of a side less than a month ago had they torn the reigning champion to shreds on very same ground.
Some will tell you a team has to lose one to win one, but it doesn’t always work that way. Nothing in football is guaranteed, even for a side as young and talented as this.
But what Sydney does have going for it is character and leadership. Dane Rampe stood on that stage after the match and spoke with such dignity and class, the kind that must trickle its way through the rest of the side. It’s cold comfort right now, but those things will count for something once the battles begin again.
These young Swans will wear the scars of this missed opportunity forever, but no club is better placed to respond in the future than this one.
around the ground
Isaac Smith, where did that come from? Three goals, 14 score involvements, 771 meters gained from 32 disposals. It was going to take some special to keep the medal away from Dangerfield’s neck, and Smith sure as hell provided it.
The list of Swans who left the MCG with their enhanced reputations is a small one, but Chad Warner is certainly on it. Just about the only Swan who didn’t play like a diminished replica of himself on the day. The sky is the limit for Warner.
As good as Tyson Stengle was — and he was tremendous — Brad Close was probably Geelong’s best small forward on the day. Eight score involvements, nine contested possessions, two goals and the overhead handball of the century.
Penny for Logan McDonald’s thoughts. On one hand, thank god he didn’t have to play through that disaster. On the other, being dropped for the comically unfit Sam Reid was ridiculous. It obviously didn’t cost the Swans the game, but in contrast to Geelong’s Max Holmes decision, it felt a bad message.
How’s the cheek of Sam de Koning casually taking himself forward in the last quarter of a grand final and bagging his first ever AFL goal? The sort of thing you can get away with you’re the starboy of the best team in the country.
A potentially turbulent off-season looms for the AFL. Investigations will commence at Hawthorn, the impacts of which will be felt across the country. A new AFL chief executive will be named. Not to mention the vagaries of trade period and the unknowns of the draft. We should savor the grand final glow while we still can.