Sport AFL Why there will be no real losers in this year’s AFL grand final

Why there will be no real losers in this year’s AFL grand final

Collingwood West Coast
Collingwood faced West Coast in a final earlier this month. Photo: Getty
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According to Buddha, the root of suffering is desire.

No, we’re not talking about Garry Hocking – but to put it in terms footy fans understand: it’s the expectation that kills you.

When you are attached to an outcome, when success is expected, heartache is inevitable.

As a supporter, the most disappointing days come when your team is expected to do well – and doesn’t.

But if you expect little, everything is a gift.

With that in mind, this weekend’s AFL decider between the West Coast Eagles and Collingwood may be the first ever Buddhist grand final.

If you had polled the supporter base of either club before the start of the season and asked them if they’d be happy to see their team finish second, few would have said no.

Collingwood finished 2017 in 13th place, its fourth year in succession outside the top eight.

Magpies coach Nathan Buckley needed a big year just to keep his job and has delivered in spades.

But a premiership? No one outside the most optimistic (read: insane) Pies supporters thought that was realistic.

The West Coast Eagles finished eighth last year, beating Port Adelaide in a thriller before rolling over against GWS.

One Melbourne football pundit, in a startling bit of commentary based on watching them get thumped in a couple of pre-season games, declared them wooden spooners.

So with all that in mind, both clubs are winners right? Win or lose on Saturday, the Eagles and Pies have had great years, haven’t they?

Well, not quite. Ask a supporter of either club this week if they would be happy with second place.

Expectation and desire evolve week to week, moment to moment.

Richmond defender Alex Rance, one of the more thoughtful full-backs running around, noticed the difference this year, once his Tigers became the hunted instead of hunter.

Last year, the Tigers tackled September relatively carefree – no one really thought they could win a premiership until Jack Riewoldt was belting out Mr Brightside, and even then you half felt security would haul him off the stage and tell us it was all a joke.

Alex Rance
Alex Rance struggled with the expectation on Richmond in 2018. Photo: Getty

This year, though, as good as the Tigers were, the expectation hung like an albatross around their necks.

“It has been an emotional management year for a lot of guys,” Rance told Fairfax Media before Richmond’s loss to Collingwood.

“Like, why aren’t I feeling fulfilled we just beat Brisbane by whatever, how is this not a good feeling? Should I be feeling better?”

Rance, one can presume, was wrestling with the weight of attachment – a more difficult opponent than the key forwards he routinely stitches up.

It makes you respect the universal soldiers of Hawthorn all the more.

Winning one premiership is hard enough – how the hell did they maintain the rage long enough to win three in a row?

Maybe there are just no Buddhists at Hawthorn.

For Collingwood and West Coast, Saturday’s game is the chance to claim the unlikeliest of flags, especially when you consider the adversity each club has had to overcome.

At one stage Collingwood’s injury list was so long and littered with big names you wondered how Buckley would scrounge 22 players together, yet still the wins kept coming.

The Eagles spent large chunks of the season without Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling, lost Nic Naitanui (misfortune) and Andrew Gaff (misdemeanour), yet still the wins kept coming.

Now there is only one game left to win.

Of course, one club will be heartbroken and the other overjoyed, but supporters would do well to remember another Buddhist maxim: it’s better to travel well than arrive.

And both sets of fans should be grateful for this wild, unexpected ride.

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