IT HAS been three years since Patrick Dangerfield hung the 2017 Brownlow Medal around Dustin Martin's neck as the Richmond superstar took the title as the AFL's best player from the explosive Geelong midfielder.
Brisbane star Lachie Neale was undoubtedly this season's outstanding player, Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe is the choice for some when debating who is the AFL's biggest star, and Western Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli is looming.
But there is a strong case that the 2016 and 2017 Brownlow medallists remain the best players in the game. It is a rare gift that they will square off in the 2020 Toyota AFL Grand Final.
The closest we have come to a similar scenario this century was during the great West Coast-Sydney rivalry when dual Brownlow medallists Adam Goodes and Chris Judd crossed paths in the 2005 and 2006 Grand Finals.
Goodes won the Brownlow Medal and tied with Simon Goodwin for the AFL Coaches Association Award in 2006, with Judd finishing third in the Brownlow Medal.
Goodes and Judd were recognised by revered football journalist Mike Sheahan as being the two best players in the competition at the completion of the 2006 season.
Fast forward 10 years and Dangerfield entered the 2016 Brownlow Medal count as an overwhelming favourite, with Martin among his main challengers.
FIRST BOUNCE What time does the Toyota AFL Grand Final start?
It was the start of a five-season period with the pair at the top of the tree, with Dangerfield's 127 Brownlow Medal votes ranking No.1 in that period ahead of Martin's 118 in second place.
Their AFL Player Ratings average across those five seasons are just 1.2 points apart, with Dangerfield (17.7) ranked No.1 in that period, and Martin (16.5) ranked No.3.
The pair had 15 votes each in the Brownlow Medal this season, well behind the dominant Neale, who finished with an incredible 31 from 17 games.
But while they slipped in the votes, they are playing destructive football coming into Saturday's decider.
The comparisons are many. Both are brutal in their attack on the ball, both are clean in traffic, and each uses his explosive pace and deep kicks to set up his team's territory game when needed.
One is a cleanskin and the other a tattooed renegade, but both make their teammates better, inseparable for score assists with 170 each across the past five seasons.
They are the central figures in their club's chances on Saturday night and hold the top two slots in Norm Smith Medal betting.
The differences are obvious. Martin has been here before and has a perfect record on Grand Final day – two appearances, two flags and two Norm Smith medals. A third would lift him into a new stratosphere as the game's only triple Norm Smith medallist.
Dangerfield is here for the first time, but his hunger for the big stage is obvious.
Intrigue will surround the role each plays on Saturday night.
Martin had a 54-46 split playing midfield and forward during the home and away season, while Dangerfield split his time 70-30, according to statistics supplied by Champion Data.
Both have been moved forward aggressively through the finals series, with Martin's split moving to 37-63 in finals, and Dangerfield's to 28-72.
Martin spent 75 per cent of his time forward in the preliminary final win against Port Adelaide, while Dangerfield was camped forward for 91.5 per cent of his game time against Brisbane.
While the numbers suggest these superstars will largely operate at opposite ends of the ground, it seems inevitable they will at least cross paths when moved into important centre bounces.
In the eight matches they have played against each other in the past five seasons, they have been in the centre bounce together 101 times.
Martin has won the clearance 15 times to Dangerfield's 12, but Geelong has an edge of 48-38 in those stoppages (with the other 15 centre bounces resulting in a secondary stoppage).
They have spent 109 minutes total opposed to each other, but not for any meaningful amount of time, with the Tigers winning five of those matches to Geelong's three.
Similar in so many ways, there is another significant difference in how they have arrived at this point.
Dangerfield was lured away from his first club, Adelaide, joining Geelong and returning to his Moggs Creek home and family.
Martin, meanwhile, spurned the riches offered by North Melbourne in 2017 to stay at the club that had become his football home.
Different decisions, but both have led to this moment, when they finally meet on the grandest stage.