If AFL grand final experience wins titles, the Western Bulldogs may need to look to next year.
Rarely would there have been a bigger disparity in experience of the code’s biggest game than in the 2016 showpiece as the Western Bulldogs attempt to secure a fairytale premiership against Sydney on Saturday.
The Bulldogs side that vanquished GWS Giants in Saturday’s epic preliminary final in Sydney didn’t contain a single player with first-hand AFL grand final knowledge.
Indeed, the only Bulldog with experience of a season decider is former dual Hawthorn premiership player Matt Suckling, who missed Saturday’s match and could be in doubt for the grand final.
For all the talk about Sydney’s host of first-year players and how the team has changed enormously since the 2014 grand final loss to Hawthorn, the Swans have no shortage of men who haver attended the big dance.
The side that took the field for Friday’s preliminary final against Geelong included 12 players with grand final experience, with seven of them having played more than one.
Lance Franklin will play his fifth grand final, having appeared in three for Hawthorn and one for Sydney against his former club.
The Swans could potentially name 14 to 15 players with AFL grand final know how, depending on potential team changes for next weekend.
Sydney’s most experienced player and co-captain Jarrad McVeigh, who played in the 2006, 2012 and 2014 season deciders, will come back in if he overcomes the calf issue which kept him out of last Friday’s game.
Veteran and 2012 premiership player Ted Richards could have some chance of a fairytale final game in Swans colours, if fellow key defender Aliir Aliir doesn’t recover from a knee injury.
The popular 33-year-old back, the club’s oldest player, hasn’t had a chance to add to his tally of 261 games since the round 17 loss to Hawthorn.
If he doesn’t make the cut against a Bulldogs side not exactly stacked with tall forwards, then younger brother Xavier could carry the grand final torch for the Richards family, after breaking in to the side as a forward in the latter part of the season.
Sydney’s emergencies for last Friday’s game included Harry Cunningham, yet another player with experience of an MCG end of season showdown.
One Swan without grand experience who coach John Longmire hopes to have the option of playing next week is brilliant first-year defender and Rising Star winner Callum Mills, who has missed their last two finals with a hamstring injury.
GRAND FINAL EXPERIENCE DISPARITY
*Players with grand final experience likely to be considered for the 2016 game: Sydney – between 12 and 14, Western Bulldogs – one
*Players with multiple grand final experience likely to be considered: Sydney – six to nine, Bulldogs – one.
*Players with most grand final experience: 4 – Lance Franklin (three with Hawthorn, one with Sydney), 3 – Matt Suckling (all with Hawthorn), Jarrad McVeigh, (all with Sydney), Ted Richards (all with Sydney)
*Players with most grand final wins: 2 – Franklin (both with Hawthorn), Suckling (both with Hawthorn ).