Put aside the Western Bulldogs fairytale for a moment and envisage where the Doggies and the Swans were 20 years ago.
Of course, in 1996 it was Sydney who broke its own 51-year drought in reaching the grand final.
Unfortunately for the Swans, after an epic preliminary final win, they were comfortably beaten by North Melbourne by 43 points.
But now the Swans are in their fifth Grand Final in 11 years, and their supporters are enjoying arguably the greatest era in the club’s history.
The Bulldogs, 20 years ago, were known as Footscray.
In order to encapsulate support of the wider western suburbs in Victoria, it was about to undergo a rebrand.
Preliminary final heartbreak was to become a regular feeling for Dogs fans, too; they lost in the penultimate match of the season in 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The neutrals are with the Bulldogs this Saturday; and rightly so.
But the real fairytale is embedded in how these two proud, yet long-suffering clubs defied droughts across generations to emerge stronger.
The Swans had to move to Sydney in order to survive.
The Bulldogs staved off a merger proposal in 1989 and its own fight against extinction was co-incidentally led by current president Peter Gordon.
There’s a certain beauty in dour struggles, and this grand final will certainly embody both clubs’ battles on and off the field.
The Bulldogs have reached only two grand finals in their history, while after 1945, the Swans didn’t play a final until 1970.
The reality of both clubs playing in a grand final is simply incredible.
And while Sydney are currently immersed in their golden era, maybe it’s these young Bulldogs who will reward its long-suffering fans with one of their own.
I’ve got Sydney on top, just, winning by 14 points, with Luke Parker taking home the Norm Smith Medal.
The Weekend Preview
The midfield battle. The two best contested ball sides meet in the grand final, which augers well for an engrossing encounter. With wet weather predicted, this contest is critical.
Most at stake
Sydney’s recruiting staff. They spent big to get Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett. Another grand final failure will look badly on them.
There will be 200+ total tackles. Sydney tallied 102 tackles against Geelong in the preliminary final, and that set the tone for the entire game. Expect the Bulldogs to match that ferocity.
This will not be a blowout. The Bulldogs have won the past two games by four points each, and it will be tight in all facets.
One to watch
Tom Papley has been a revelation this finals series, and he could be the livewire that sparks a Sydney victory.
The Swans have not beaten the Bulldogs in a final since 1942, and have never won against the Dogs in any game at the MCG. Can the Swans break a drought of their own?
Feeling the heat
Sting. The pressure is on to perform or the critics will be out in force.
Norm Goss Medallist Lin Jong was outstanding in the VFL Grand Final, and he has the stature to match it with the Swans in the midfield. But, for now at least, he’s an emergency. He’s done everything he can to play.
Tom Mitchell may be playing his last game for Sydney, but which powerhouse club is competing with Hawthorn for his services?
Don’t set the IQ
The endless hours and hours of pre-game build-up isn’t that great. Enjoy grand final day with your mates and go for a kick of the footy instead.
Alex Paull also writes for www.footyprophet.com – football and fantasy analysis unravelled.