SO MUCH of all of this is cyclical. And so naturally, the hunters become the hunted.
It’s a truism that quickly becomes a reality, an inescapable part of the experience at the summit. Already this season we’ve witnessed it in an immediate, condensed form: the whole competition going at the Tigers; Richmond going back at the League-leading Western Bulldogs in round seven; the Dogs getting the same dose from the Demons a few weeks later; Melbourne suddenly experiencing the phenomenon now.
If that serves to teach us anything, it’s that there’s a lot of looking over your shoulder at the top. And yet it’s on a longer timeline where this primal dynamic is even more intriguing in the context of the coming weekend.
It’s odd to think that Sunday’s clash between the Bulldogs and Sydney is a re-match that’s perhaps five years in the making. Of course, the teams have played a bunch of times since they met in the 2016 Grand Final, but not like this – not with these stakes, not with this edge.
In 2017, the year after their unforgettable finale, both teams were in the middle of falling away even if it was to differing degrees. The Swans dropped the bottom half of the eight and the Dogs dropped out altogether. In the years to follow they would essentially trade those places, but it’s not until now, five years after that day, that both teams are again legitimate finals outfits concurrently.
What’s more, they’ve traded places on their 2016 dynamic, too.
That year, it was the Swans who led the League and who were littered with the stars. They had five All-Australians, two in the upper echelon of the Brownlow and a perennial Coleman Medal contender. If that sounds familiar in relation to the Dogs now it’s because it is: Purely on talent it wasn’t close at all, and yet none of it mattered.
Fast forward to now and it’s striking to see elements of the 2016 Dogs in the 2021 Swans. There’s the youthful core that feels ahead of its own timeline, the dare and dash to their footy in big moments and that same sense of being capable of doing damage from further back on the grid than what’s normally expected.
It’s taken five years to reach the re-match that day has deserved. And the hunters are now the hunted.
‘Into The Fury: The Tale of the 2016 Flag’ is part of Season Final Story, a series of films on AFL On Demand for which AFL Media have been granted exclusive access to uncover the exciting and brutal nature of each season’s Grand Final.