It’s September and we all know what that means in these troubled times — constant speculation and vague announcements around where and when the grand final will be held.
While the mystery of the almost-certain-to-be-held-in-Perth grand final lingers, we have four finals openers to get through and they’re spread far and wide — but more specifically in Adelaide and Launceston.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the opening week of the finals.
Port Adelaide vs Geelong, QF, Friday 7.50pm AEST at Adelaide Oval
There is nothing that says footy finals in the COVID era more than only one club actually getting a chance to host a game on their home turf.
As one Sydney team hosts another Sydney team in Launceston, and a Melbourne team hosts a Brisbane team in Adelaide, and then two Melbourne teams face-off in Tasmania on Sunday, Port Adelaide has the relative luxury of getting to sleep in their own beds.
And they go into the match in stunning form, winning nine out their last 10 matches, including victories over fellow finalists Sydney and GWS.
For Geelong, the concept of a home final is foreign anyway given they have only played one final at Kardinia Park in the history of the club.
The Cats go into the match having downed Port at Adelaide Oval by 21 points in Round 13, but with a poor recent record in the first week of finals, losing seven out of eight qualifying and elimination finals since 2012.
And their only win came after new Cat and former Hawks Isaac Smith missed a shot after the siren in 2016.
Sydney vs GWS, EF, Saturday 3.20pm AEST at York Park
The Swans and the Giants swap out the Harbour Bridge for Launceston’s equally majestic King’s Bridge as they fight to keep their seasons alive in Tasmania.
While there’s plenty of questions around who can take home the Gourlay’s chocolates, the bigger question is whether Lance Franklin can notch goal 1,000 to become just the sixth player to do so — and will the Tasmanians storm the field if he does?
Granted, thousands of people mindlessly running onto a footy field to hug and kiss a bloke they don’t really know isn’t overly COVID safe, but it’s just sort of nice, you know? Like one of those traditions where everyone has a bit fun except the person that we’re meant to be celebrating.
For reference, the last time Franklin bagged eight in a game was Round 1, 2018, so while it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible.
Which, coincidently, has been the Giants’ approach to season 2021, after sitting outside on the eight for most of the year.
On form, GWS go in with three solid victories over Geelong, Richmond and Carlton, while the Swans have won seven of their last eight, including a 26-point victory over the Giants in Round 18.
Melbourne vs Brisbane, QF, Saturday 7.30pm AEST at Adelaide Oval
The battle of the Olympic cities sees the two teams who celebrated heartily last week after close shaves try to keep the party going in week one of the finals.
For Melbourne, Round 23 was a round of firsts and of droughts being broken.
Max Gawn’s kick to knock Geelong off was the first time the Demons had ever snagged a goal after the siren to win a game, and the resultant move to top spot was the first time since 1964 that Melbourne claimed the minor premiership.
In another first, this will be the first time Melbourne and Brisbane have met in the finals.
For the Lions, their victory over West Coast to sneak into the top four took them to 15 wins for the season, including a reasonably comfortable victory over the Dees in Round 12 by 22 points, as Zac Bailey ran rampant with 19 disposals and four goals.
On form, the Demons have won four in a row, belting the lowly Suns and Crows but just nudging in against West Coast and Geelong, while the Lions’ streak of three wins in a row came against Fremantle, Collingwood and West Coast.
The loser of this clash takes on the winner of the Bulldogs and Bombers game, so there’s plenty at stake.
Western Bulldogs vs Essendon, EF, Sunday 3.20pm AEST at York Park
The year is 2004.
A fresh-faced Anthony Callea has lost to teenager Casey Donovan in the Australian Idol final, shocking the nation, nay, the world.
Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton have pulled off one of the great defections in TV history, moving to the ABC and leaving a trail of distraught SBS fans in their wake.
And Essendon have defeated Melbourne by the skin of their teeth in an elimination final where an unusually inaccurate Matthew Lloyd has kicked four goals, five behinds, to set up a semi-final with a rising Geelong squad led by a 20-year-old kid called Gary Ablett Jr.
It is the last time the Bombers will taste success in finals footy.
So can Essendon break their their 17-year drought? Like an animated Pomeranz vs Stratton brouhaha, the answer is furiously debated.
Before this season, the Bulldogs had been on a six-game winning streak against the Dons stretching back to 2015, with the closest match a 21-point victory at Docklands in 2018.
Crucially, however, Essendon broke that streak in Round 21 of this season, knocking off the Dogs by 13 points as Peter Wright kicked seven goals straight and used his rarely talked about height to tear the Bulldogs apart.
Josh Bruce kicked three for the Dogs at the other end, but will miss this time around after suffering a knee injury.
As for finals form against each other, you have to go all the way back to the semi-final of 1953 to get any sort of gauge, when the the Bulldogs held on in a thriller by eight points after Roy Harper bagged two goals.
And you know what they say — no Roy Harper, no Bulldogs.