Daniel McStay, Joe Daniher, Craig McRae and Chris Fagan. Picture: AFL Photos

AFL GRAND Final 2023, Collingwood versus Brisbane, just like 2002 and 2003, and storylines are everywhere.

The coach of one club was a three-time premiership player with his weekend opponent, two of those flags coming in Grand Final wins against the one he now controls. The other coach, 12 months ago this week, was forced to stand himself down after having the most serious of allegations – of which he was rightly cleared under AFL rules – levelled against him.

Craig McRae and Chris Fagan. Two very different men who had the exact same approach to dealing with preliminary final losses in 2022 – go and get high-end talent to make their 2023 lists Grand Final-worthy.


One of those Collingwood additions was Daniel McStay, who, for nine seasons and 161 matches, had been a Lion. The Magpies wouldn't have won Friday's preliminary final against GWS without him kicking two of its eight goals, for a one-point win. That performance alone validated Collingwood's pursuit of him. Cruelly, he damaged a knee in that game, and won't play in the Grand Final. One can only imagine the emotions whirring inside him this week. Unable to fully celebrate his new teammates winning a flag, forever wondering 'what if', should his old ones get to do so.

Tom Mitchell and Bobby Hill joined McStay as new Pies this season, and both have been important in qualifying for the Grand Final. As have other Pies recruits before them. Jack Crisp, like McStay a former Lion; Darcy Cameron, Jeremy Howe, Oleg Markov, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Patrick Lipinski all started AFL careers elsewhere, all landed at Collingwood with varying states of fanfare and expectation, and all have played key roles in getting their team to Saturday's match.

Tom Mitchell, Jack Crisp and Patrick Lipinski celebrate a goal in Collingwood's clash with Melbourne in round 13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Brisbane, also, wouldn't have reached the '23 Grand Final had it not been aggressive in recent seasons with recruiting guns from other clubs. Josh Dunkley has been excellent all season, after seven with Western Bulldogs, and shut out the reigning Brownlow medallist, Carlton's Patrick Cripps, in Saturday night's preliminary final. Conor McKenna had his most impactful game as a Lion in the same match.

Joe Daniher was recruited after the 2020 season. It has taken three seasons, and Grand Finals are obviously difficult to reach, but making the 2023 flag decider with Daniher part of operations is full validation of the poaching.

Lachie Neale helped instantly transform the Lions when he arrived from Fremantle after the 2018 season. He came third in the Brownlow Medal in his first year as a Lion, and won it in year two. He had a moment of wanting to return to the Dockers at the end of 2021, but stayed under contract, and very nearly added a second Brownlow last season, finishing runner-up. Neale's first Grand Final was 2013, when the Dockers kicked themselves out of the contest against Hawthorn.

Collingwood is expected to have nine recycled players in its Grand Final line-up, and 10 if Taylor Adams comes in for McStay. The Lions are expected to have eight, and nine if Jack Gunston is recalled. Like Neale, this will be Charlie Cameron's second Grand Final, with his first being as a Crow in 2017. As Bulldog, Dunkley won a flag in 2016 and lost one in 2021. Other recycled Lions Lincoln McCarthy, Jarryd Lyons, Callum Ah Chee will all be part of the Lions' 23 next Saturday.

Charlie Cameron and Lincoln McCarthy after Brisbane's win over Carlton in the 2023 preliminary final. Picture: AFL Photos

The headline Collingwood players with previous Grand Final storylines are Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom. They have both played in four. A draw and a win against St Kilda in 2010, a loss to Geelong in 2011 and a loss to West Coast in 2018. Other 2018 Grand Final survivors are Adams, Mason Cox, Crisp, Jordan De Goey, Hoskin-Elliott, Howe and Brody Mihocek. Mitchell, then a Swan, lost the 2016 Grand Final against Dunkley's Dogs.

Mitchell and Neale will be the guaranteed Brownlow medallists on the MCG on Saturday. There may be a third, with Nick Daicos the pre-count favourite despite being badly injured in round 21 and missing the final three home-and-away season games.

Both clubs have grand, ageing former captains in Pendlebury and Dayne Zorko. There are big-name father-son components, too – Josh and Nick Daicos, Darcy Moore, Mitchell, Daniher, Jaspa Fletcher and Dunkley.

Then there's Greg Swann, CEO of the Lions since 2014. He was CEO of the Pies when they lost those two Grand Finals to the Lions in 2002 and 2003. Alongside Fagan, no one has been more crucial to turning Brisbane around after nine consecutive seasons of double-digit ladder finishes before 2019.

And then there's Craig Kelly, CEO of the Pies, a teammate of Peter Daicos in Collingwood's 1990 premiership.

Endless storylines leading into Saturday, with dozens more to emerge before and after. It is set up to be a classic. Just like 2002.