Three wishes: The AFL gets the things it wants for the grand final

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk celebrates the AFL grand final coming to the Gabba.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk celebrates the AFL grand final coming to the Gabba. Photo: AAP

So, it’s an AFL grand final at the Gabba … of course it is.

There’s been little doubt that Queensland, and not the traditional football states of South Australia and Western Australia, was in prime position to host the 2020 showpiece in this most unusual of seasons.

By opting for a night match in Brisbane on October 24, the AFL gets to tick off a long-held wish list that includes evangelising the game in a growth state and finally getting a chance of fireworks and LED lighting.

Given the league honchos have spent years salivating over US sport, they’ll be keen on a rocking halftime show too, so there’ll be no excuses for an Angry Anderson aqua Batmobile-type travesty as VFL Park endured in 1991.

Meatloaf need not apply.

There are calls for local rock legends Powderfinger to be part of the excitement and we can no doubt expect a cavalcade of Queensland sports stars to share in the moment.

With the Brisbane Lions in the top four, the home side will also finally get to drop the pretence of representing Fitzroy and just retire to Springfield.

Unlike the three-peat Brisbane champions of the early 2000s, there’d be no hanging around glumly at Brunswick Street Oval after the match to wait for the bus to take the cup to the airport and ‘home’.

The expected Gabba crowd of 30,000 will be respectable and on a par with what the bigger interstate venues pitched, and the AFL can also say it kept faith with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the state that made the 2020 season possible.

League chief Gillon McLachlan is keen to make the most of the first non-Victorian grand final and there’ll be a tour of the Premiership Cup throughout regional Queensland – no doubt with suitable coronavirus protocols.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our code,” said McLachlan, noting that bringing in new fans and Queensland’s financial support had been integral to the decision.

The comedians of AFL social media have already had a field day, with football’s quirky and erratic history in the sunshine state set to be a running joke for the next month.

But for Victorians stuck in lockdown, the loss of the grand final is just one more blow in a year of living, well, vicariously.

Football fans have been left to see their beloved game through the eyes of other states.

And despite the canned crowd noise and the topsy turvy fixture, the season has been the distraction many needed to get through the pandemic.

The Victorian government did not fight the grand final’s move but did extract concessions, including extra MCG games in 2022 and 2023 and an extra year on the playing contract to take it to 2058.

Perth, it appears, had one shot in a half-century to snare the big one and missed the target, coming third in the race.

Instead, Adelaide Oval is the back-up venue should Queensland suffer a COVID outbreak of Victorian proportions, although now that border closures even include Victorian rich listers and their yachts, it’s unlikely there will be a need for a plan B.

For the AFL, it’s hard not to think this was the likely outcome all along after the West Australian Premier Mark McGowan played hard to get and Queensland just ensured the game played on.

The Eagles may have wanted to pay to get an extra home game, but with a little more support and foresight they could have snared the only game that really matters.

Instead Victoria, SA and WA join perennial footy state outsiders Tasmania in being left on the bench, while the AFL makes hay with its shiny new friends.

In a year when the hurdles just kept getting higher, it’s hard not to think league HQ has made the absolute best out of the absolute worst.

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