AFL always wanted Waverley grand final

For the first time since 1991 the AFL premiership cup will be presented away from the MCG.
For the first time since 1991 the AFL premiership cup will be presented away from the MCG.

The AFL never envisaged a grand final at the Gabba, but the last decider played away from the MCG was 25 years in the making.

History will be made in Brisbane on Saturday night when Geelong plays Richmond in the first AFL grand final held outside Victoria.

It will be just the second time since the end of World War II that the MCG hasn't hosted the last game of the season.

While a once-in-a-century pandemic forced the AFL into a shift north in 2020, the reasons for Melbourne's most iconic sporting venue missing out on the decider last time around were not as compelling.

Waverley Park (originally VFL Park) was a stadium which the league initially had giant hopes for.

But by the 1990s, dreams of boosting capacity to the desired 157,000 and building adequate public transport out to the ground 30km southeast of Melbourne's CBD were over.

Even though the public were less than enamoured with Waverley, league hierarchy still viewed the ground favourably - simply because it was theirs.

Plans for a marquee stadium to call the league's own go back to the 1960s.

"We wanted to have a grand final at Waverley. That's why it was built originally," former AFL boss Ross Oakley told The Greatest Season That Was podcast.

"Let's not kid ourselves, we were keen to have a grand final at Waverley - just for history's sake."

Just two years into the VFL going truly national, major redevelopments at the MCG gave the AFL a good enough reason to shift the 1991 showpiece game out to the suburbs.

Twenty-one years after opening, Waverley Park would finally get its crowning moment.

"We weren't going to get more than 50 (thousand) into the MCG because there were all sorts of building works going on around the place," Oakley said.

"70, 75 (thousand people at Waverley) was a far better solution."

The one-off Waverley decider would coincide with West Coast becoming the first non-Victorian team to qualify for a VFL/AFL grand final.

The Eagles were far and away the dominant team of the home-and-away season, never relinquishing their hold on top spot on the ladder.

Only two teams - Essendon in 2000 and Port Adelaide this year - have achieved that feat since.

But West Coast were facing a legendary Hawthorn team that had already won four premierships from seven grand finals since 1983.

Hawks names like Dermott Brereton, Gary Ayres, Jason Dunstall and Michael Tuck were already multiple premiership heroes, while Eagles stars Glen Jakovich, Dean Kemp and Peter Matera were only getting their first taste of a stage they would go on to dominate in 1992 and 1994.

Close until the third quarter, the Hawks would run away with the flag after kicking eight goals to one in the final term to win by 53 points.

Michael Malthouse coached in eight grand finals - including three with the Eagles - but says the 1991 decider was like nothing else.

"It was bizarre. Desolate. Personally, it didn't feel like a grand final," Malthouse told The Final Story documentary in 2011.

Hawks fullback Chris Langford said it "wasn't quite MCG in the atmosphere, but it was still a grand final".

There will be halftime entertainment at the Gabba on Saturday, but it's unlikely to rival the bizarre show of 1991.

Riding into the stadium on a baby blue Batmobile, Australian rock icon Angry Anderson blasted his hit 'Bound for Glory' to bemused sporting heroes watching on, including marathon great Rob de Castella, who sat awkwardly beside the singer.

"It's still the biggest crowd I've ever spoken to and it was an amazing experience," de Castella said in 2015.

"From the inside of the Batmobile looking out it probably wasn't as unusual as it was from the outside looking in."

Australian Associated Press