RICHMOND'S third premiership in four seasons was a remarkable feat that underlined the Tigers' dynasty under Damien Hardwick and Trent Cotchin.
Superstar Dustin Martin, who won a third Norm Smith Medal, was a memorable story in his own right in the final instalment of AFL.com.au's countdown of the year's biggest stories, from 5-1.
But could the champion midfielder and the Tigers edge out the chaos wreaked on the AFL by COVID-19, which had the League constantly relocating and rescheduling in this season like no other?
2020'S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook's 50-41 here
2020'S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook's 40-31 here
2020'S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook's 30-21 here
2020’S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook’s 20-11 here
2020’S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook’s 10-6 here
5. Collingwood's Trade Period fire sale
Forget the transactions themselves and the way they were handled for a moment; the departure of prolific midfielder Adam Treloar, who was a fan favourite at Collingwood, was a massive story in itself. Throw on top the departure of Grand Final wingman Tom Phillips and top-10 draft pick Jaidyn Stephenson – and the way all of those exits played out – and it became one of the stories of the season. The attempt to trade Treloar to one of the Queensland teams after his fiancé and ex-Australian netballer Kim Ravaillion signed with the Queensland Firebirds had messy inferences, and it soon became clear that the Magpies' salary cap was an issue. What was said between coach Nathan Buckley and Treloar became a point of conjecture, and the financial terms of the midfielder's move to the Western Bulldogs played out weeks after the NAB AFL Trade Period closed. Collingwood recovered some ground during a successful Draft, and off-field change followed with the departure of football manager Geoff Walsh and Eddie McGuire's announcement he would hand over the presidency at the end of 2021. A downward trend on-field was the key reason given for the Magpies' Trade Period moves. There will be an expectation to show that trend is on its way to reversing in 2021, justifying the fire sale.
4. Dusty's Grand Final greatness
Where Dustin Martin ranked among Australian football's greatest Grand Final performers was a popular debate in the lead-up to the 2020 decider. It was not up for debate following the Tigers' 31-point win against Geelong under lights at the Gabba. Martin elevated himself to an unmatched level of greatness, becoming the first player to win three Norm Smith Medals and spearheading his team's third premiership in four seasons. He is now undoubtedly the modern game's greatest finals performer and the stats speak for themselves. In 11 finals, Dusty has averaged 22.7 disposals and 2.3 goals. He had four goals and 21 disposals against Geelong, to go with a game-high nine score involvements and 457 metres gained (ranked No.2). None of Geelong's multiple plans to shut him down worked. It was fitting that two Legends in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, Leigh Matthews and Malcolm Blight, voted to award him a third Norm Smith Medal, with the 29-year-old a unanimous choice. His ability to lift and impose himself on the game, kicking goals and having an influence at critical moments was the defining quality of another thrilling Grand final performance.
3. Queensland to the rescue
The state of Queensland went from hosting 23 games in 2019 to 80 in 2020 – almost half of all AFL matches staged this year. Simply put, without the cooperation of the Queensland Government, led by premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, the AFL season would not have restarted when it did and would have been in peril. With the AFL granted special exemptions, Queensland became a temporary home to Victorian clubs, who used resorts in the Sunshine State as their base and then travelled into other hubs around the country when possible. Metricon Stadium hosted 42 matches and was a workhorse for the AFL all season, hosting four matches a round on three occasions. The Gabba, meanwhile, hosted 34, including a historic night Grand Final, held outside Melbourne for the first time and giving the League and fans a look at what the centrepiece event could look like under lights. The AFL's relocation to Queensland was a win for both parties, with the League spending more than $60m in the State to keep the competition running. The AFL will hope that investment pays itself off with increased interest from Queensland fans after having the game under their noses for such an extended period.
2. The Tiger dynasty
In 2017, Richmond orchestrated a remarkable year-on-year turnaround, and in 2019 the Tigers were utterly dominant. In 2020 they overcame constant hurdles to win what many involved said was the most satisfying of the club's three premierships in four seasons. Like all clubs, they had to find their rhythm once strict COVID-19 precautions were implemented, and they had their troubles. But they motored towards finals with six straight wins and, after losing to Brisbane in a qualifying final, drew on their big-game experience to overcome Port Adelaide in a thrilling preliminary final. A champion team, rather than a team of champions, the Tigers kept regenerating to win their 13th flag. Noah Balta won his first premiership, defender Jayden Short vied for Norm Smith honours to cap a best-and-fairest season, and Kamdyn McIntosh came in after the heartbreak of missing out in 2019. Whatever the obstacle, the resilient Tigers were able to adapt, delivering the third premiership in 10 years to which chief executive Brendon Gale had aspired when he released a blueprint for success back in 2010. With the 2020 premiership secured, this group joined the Brisbane, Geelong and Hawthorn teams of the past 20 years with a dynasty of its own.
1. The COVID-19 shutdown
Gillon McLachlan opened his press conference: "Today, after a meeting with the AFL Commission, the AFL has moved to immediately suspend the 2020 Toyota AFL Premiership Season at the conclusion of this weekend's matches". The words landed with a thud after the League had only days earlier launched round one. Following that announcement, West Coast and Melbourne played one of the strangest games imaginable, knowing their season would be paused indefinitely when they left the field that night. "To say this is the most serious threat to our game in 100 years is an understatement," McLachlan continued. "It is unprecedented in its impact." Those words would ring true. The spread of COVID-19 forced the economics of the AFL to be overhauled. Job losses and staff stand-downs were immediate as the AFL secured a $600m line of credit to guarantee the League's future. There were fears that all 18 clubs would not survive as financial modelling was done on the prospect of the season being called off altogether. The implications of a season being completed with no crowds was also considered. Meanwhile, social distancing, mask wearing and isolating became the norm for footballers, like the rest of the community, as clubs found new ways to stay connected. The shutdown was the biggest story of the season for all the implications it had for the industry – and will continue to have – despite the almighty triumph of returning after 81 days and completing an unforgettable season.