2016 marks the first time that the Swans and the Bulldogs have ever met in a grand final. This is unsurprising since only rarely have the two sides been up at the same time. Footscray, like other Victorian expansion teams (Hawthorn and North Melbourne) spent decades of their early VFL history near the foot of the VFL ladder. South Melbourne never made a grand final after the 1945 Bloodbath match until 1996, well after their relocation to Sydney.
Some other matchups have occurred much more frequently. Below is a table of grand final matchups by year. It includes premiers and runners up from years such as 1924 when there was no grand final.
The forgotten rivalry
The most frequent matchup has been the grand old rivalry of Melbourne and Collingwood, which occurred seven times (between 1926 and 1964). The combinations of Carlton/Colingwood, Melbourne/Essendon Essendon/Collingwood, Richmond/Collingwood and Geelong/Collingwood have all occured six times.
Completing the set
There are 108 matchups between active clubs that have so far not happened. Gold Coast and GWS of course contribute 17 of these, while Fremantle contribute 16. Despite Collingwood’s 41 times in the top 2 of the league, Essendon have played the most unique opponents in eleven, with Collingwood only having played ten – the Collingwood/Hawthorn matchup has somehow never occurred.
Could we eventually see every matchup occur? 108 unique and novel matchups, occurring against astronomical odds in succession, would mean that in 2124 the last pairing would face off. At that point, presumably, we’ll declare the sport complete, identify an all-time overall winner, and go home.
Collingwood have lost a lot of grand finals – their record of 37% (roughly two losses per win) is a source of mockery and pain for a club which could easily stand alone as the most historically successful in the VFL/AFL. The gory details of this are shown below in the win/loss tables:
Collingwood can only claim historical bragging rights over Richmond and the Swans. That seven-time Melbourne/Collingwood matchup has been won six times by the Demons, with only 1958’s Collingwood premiership breaking the duck. That one occurred within a stretch when Melbourne won five flags in six years – three against the Pies and two against Essendon.
The Crows stand alone as the only side to have won all (ie both) their grand finals, while Fremantle alone have made the big dance without claiming a flag.
Historical woes on the line this weekend
Sydney/South Melbourne will be looking this week to improve on a poor historical conversion rate. A win would give them a 6th premiership from 17 appearances, while Melbourne have won 12 from the same number.
It is, however, St Kilda with the worst long term grand final record – a 14% strike rate, one premiership from seven attempts. The Bulldogs’ historical woes have generally stopped short of grand final day pain – their two appearances so far have meant a 50% win rate which means a win would put them at 67% – almost on par with Hawthorn and Melbourne.