ESSENDON champion Michael Long started his brilliant VFL/AFL career at Perth's WACA Ground in 1989.
More than 32 years on, the Norm Smith medallist will launch this year's Long Walk from the same venue, overawed by the support the Western Australian public has shown the relocated Dreamtime match.
A crowd of between 15 and 20 thousand people normally join Long on his iconic walk in Melbourne, but he's not ruling out even more taking part on Saturday morning. The way Perth has responded to hosting this year's Dreamtime game, why would he?
Unable to secure the Grand Final last year at the 60,000-seat venue, Western Australians have used the opportunity this week to highlight their willingness to rally around major events.
The Dreamtime game and its celebration of the extraordinary contribution Indigenous Australians have made to the game, was something WA wanted to be part of.
The tearaway crowd result was not tipped early in the week and expectations were initially managed, with Optus Stadium declaring anything above a crowd of 40,000 would be a good result.
On Tuesday evening, however, staff watched a live tracker of sales on a big screen in disbelief, with more than 40,000 secured in the early hours after sales opened.
The rate of sales was compared only to a final at the venue, or the visit of English Premier League giant Manchester United in 2019, and a sell-out was declared 17 hours after tickets went on sale.
The record crowd for an AFL game – currently 59,608, for the 2018 preliminary final between West Coast and Melbourne – is now in sight.
Optus Stadium chief executive Mike McKenna views the match as both an opportunity for Perth and Optus Stadium to shine on a national stage, but also a great responsibility.
He believes the venue can set a new benchmark for the presentation of an iconic game, drawing on its full capabilities for the pre-game and half-time festivities.
"We've had a number of major events here … this is another one, but it's a really important one for us," McKenna told AFL.com.au this week.
"It talks about the respect we have, and the State has, and the city of Perth has for Indigenous culture, particularly the Noongar, who have made a great contribution not just to football but to society here in WA.
"Fans can expect to see us turn on all of the effects, so everything from our lighting to our sound system will be utilised to make sure the event itself – pre-match, half time and during the game – will be as good as it possibly can be.
"I think it will set a new benchmark."
COVID-19 forced last year's Dreamtime match to be moved from the MCG to Darwin, and this year's change came with less than a week's notice.
The ability to relocate the game successfully, and the support he had witnessed this week, had Long considering the merits of sharing the match around the country in the future.
"People have come up and said they're coming to the game. I've been overawed by it all and Western Australians responded beautifully. We can't thank them enough," he said.
SIR DOUG NICHOLLS ROUND Celebrating our First Nations heroes
"Who knows, we might put the idea to Gill (McLachlan) that we do it in every state and recognise all our champions.
"Because it's not only the work they do on the football field, it's some of the great work they do off the field.
"I think we've learnt a lot here and the next discussion could happen."
A host of WA-based past Indigenous players will attend on Saturday night, including Fremantle favourite Roger Hayden, former West Coast star David Wirrpanda, and Brisbane premiership player and former Docker Des Headland.
They'll join Long and thousands of others on the Long Walk, which was about "using football to embrace the community".
"To be successful we've got to bring people together, it doesn't matter who it is, and football has taught me that," the two-time premiership Bomber said.
"It doesn't matter which team you barrack for. Football brings people together."