AFL grand final: What you need to know before the Lions and Magpies clash

Photo: AFL

Beyond Collingwood v Brisbane, it will be triple premiership teammates Craig McRae and Justin Leppitsch against the Lions before this weekend’s AFL grand final at the MCG.

McRae and Leppitsch are Brisbane greats, but as Collingwood coach and the Magpies’ head of strategy respectively, they’ll be in charge of plotting the downfall of their former club on the last Saturday in September.

Collingwood up against Brisbane Lions in the grand final will bring on a feeling of deja vu for some.

The AFL would be very quietly relieved it is not putting on a Greater Western Sydney versus Brisbane showpiece, which was very nearly the case.

It would have been good for the game in the northern states, but the mood in football-mad Victoria would have been flat.

Some media pundits even suggested they would not have filled the stadium as they contemplated their ultimate “doomsday scenario”.

The other alternative – Collingwood v Carlton – would have arguably been the biggest AFL grand final in the history of the game.

Instead, we’ll get the Magpies and Lions, which will do just fine.

It is exactly 20 years since these two clubs last met in the premiership decider, which was their second grand final contest after meeting the previous year.

In 2003, McRae and Leppitsch were key figures in a Brisbane team that dismantled a disjointed Collingwood side to win a third straight premiership.

Now McRae, in just his second season in charge, will look to deliver the biggest club in the land just its third premiership since 1958 at Brisbane’s expense.

Some Collingwood people will look at it as revenge for 2002 and 2003, but for McRae it will be strictly business.

Just this month McRae returned to Brisbane to be accepted into the Lions’ hall of fame, and in his speech he said he hoped the Lions would salute if his Magpies couldn’t.

He’ll get his wish either way.

Standing in his way of achieving football immortality at the massive Victorian juggernaut is a red-hot Brisbane side that put away Carlton at the Gabba on Saturday night after giving up the first five goals.

It will be led by coach Chris Fagan, who at 62 will become the oldest grand final coach in history.

He’d also join John Worrall (Carlton 1902-09, Essendon 1911-20) as the only grand final coach who never played at VFL-AFL level.

The Lions will go in as underdogs according to the bookmakers, but they’ll be quietly confident of winning yet another grand final at Collingwood’s expense.

Does the hoodoo exist?

Can the Lions win at the MCG? Recent history would suggest no.

They are 1-14 from their past 15 games at the home of football, and much will be made of their MCG hoodoo this week.

It may play on their minds, but anything can and does happen on grand final day.

If the game was being played at the Gabba, Brisbane would be an overwhelming favourite.

It may miss the comforts of Queensland, but one thing that may help the Lions feel at home is the early weather forecast for Saturday.
Sunny and a warm top of 27 degrees.

That is Queensland weather, and Collingwood hasn’t played in anything like that all year.

It will certainly play into Brisbane’s hands, and Fagan will no doubt be reminding his players of that.

Who will overcome injury and who’ll be the hard luck story?

It would not be grand final week without a player or two for each side ‘racing the clock’.

It is a time-honoured tradition and this year it will be Magpie Taylor Adams, who missed the preliminary final with a hamstring strain and will try to prove his fitness for the grand final.

Former Lion Dan McStay has sadly already been ruled out for Collingwood with a knee injury, which robbed the game of yet another juicy narrative.

For Brisbane, defender Jack Payne (ankle) will be doing his utmost to earn a recall after missing the preliminary final.

Brownlow Medal winner Lachie Neale (shoulder) will be sore but no chance he’ll miss.

Where the game will be won

It is the burning question that’ll decide the premiership cup – can Collingwood’s ruck-solid defence suffocate the potent scoring power of Fagan’s offensive machine?

Charlie Cameron has had a very quiet September but can explode at any minute, while twin towers Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood will present the Magpies with plenty of headaches.

The Magpies’ defensive unit have conceded just 53 and 57 points in the first two finals, but do they have a third big performance in them led by inspirational skipper Darcy Moore?

The Lions have won 10 of their past 12 games and one of those losses was by a single point.

They’ll be primed for this after four consecutive seasons of September failures, but can they do it on Collingwood’s home deck on the biggest day of the year?

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