Richmond. Winning the grand final when South Australian, Queensland and Western Australian teams had an enormous advantage this year is extraordinary enough, but three flags in four years might just take the cake.
Queensland. The AFL season would have been impossible to complete if not for Queensland, and the state’s reward was a feast of footy and plenty of good coverage on Victorian television screens. The state’s help should secure it a lasting legacy and relationship with the AFL and fans from across Australia.
Western Bulldogs. With Next Generation Academy rules set to change for next year’s draft, the Bulldogs cashed in just before the reform and secured the No.1 draft pick and generational talent Jamarra Ugle-Hagan for a host of later picks. They then used their first pick in a trade for Adam Treloar. Quite the haul.
Women’s footy. While women’s football department soft caps were not cut, plenty of figures dedicated solely to their club’s women’s programs were, and replaced by people working across both men’s and women’s programs. There was also the minor detail of the pandemic bringing the finals series to a halt before a premier should be awarded.
AFL and club staffers. Many industry veterans, dedicated professionals and simply good people lost their jobs this year because of the financial restrictions brought about by the pandemic.
Victorian footy fans. Nobody in Victoria got to go and watch their team play at a stadium in 2020. A complete disaster. Victorians still tuned into broadcasts from empty Victorian stadiums and interstate grounds religiously, but it wasn’t the same as being in the stands.
Collingwood’s trade period. The Pies had a fire sale, letting Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson, Tom Phillips and Atu Bosenavalugi leave the club to alleviate salary cap pressure, bring in more selections at the draft and potentially target trade period wins next season. The only problem was they did not communicate this well, nor did they do themselves any favours when effectively blaming Treloar’s offloading on his partner Kim Ravaillion’s move to Queensland for netball.
Night grand final. It’s the move that made a grand final like no other the crowning moment of a season like no other. While it looked good and rated strongly, the footy world remains divided on whether the AFL should do away with the traditional afternoon slot for good. The league is undertaking a review of the 2020 grand final and will announce a decision by April 2021.
Sydney Stack and Callum Coleman-Jones. There were plenty of hub breaches in Queensland and Perth (Nathan Buckley’s tennis match with Alicia Molik) and breaches of coronavirus protocols during lockdown in Melbourne (Steele Sidebottom and Lachie Hunter), but Stack and Coleman-Jones’ Gold Coast nightclub and kebab shop indiscretion felt like the biggest. One, because Richmond had endured so many controversial moments this season and this looked like it might break their reputation (and on-field resolve) and two, because the Queensland government was under pressure at the time by those who felt footballers had more freedoms in the state than Queenslanders trying to get home.
MAN OF THE YEAR
Gillon McLachlan. The AFL chief executive hasn’t always been top of the popularity polls, with the look of the game, rule changes and over-policing of fans making punters unhappy. But this year he and his team negotiated an extremely complex situation to get the season finished and kept players, broadcasters, clubs and governments relatively happy, and 18 clubs in existence.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Peta Searle. On field, she had St Kilda play some impressive footy in their first season in the AFLW, but given she remains the only female coach in the women’s competition, Searle is a vitally important figure in inspiring women to coach, and AFL clubs to hire them.
VIRAL MOMENTS OF THE YEAR
Reilly O’Brien’s Twitter slip-up, and Nic Nat’s gift. O’Brien’s broken phone led him to accidentally tweet pre-match notes on Nic Naitanui that weren’t exactly complimentary of the West Coast ruckman. Naitanui responded by giving O’Brien a new phone after their match that weekend.
Jack Newnes from the carpark, after the siren. For a team starved of success, and a supporter base largely locked down in Melbourne, this after-the-siren epic shot from right on the fence was a rare moment of unbridled jubilation this season.
Dreamtime in Darwin. A blessing in disguise gifted by the pandemic, the celebration of Australia’s Indigenous culture and its role in Australian Rules footy went to Darwin, and it felt very right. The Welcome to Country was one of the best you’ll see.
QUOTE OF THE YEAR
Eddie McGuire’s explanation for Sidebottom’s lockdown breach was mind-boggling: “The old-fashioned ‘was asleep on the couch and got up to go to the bathroom and walked out the wrong door.'”
CRYSTAL BALL FOR 2021
There will be fixture changes because of coronavirus, and the AFL and its clubs will again have to be nimble. One or all of Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson or Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin will come under pressure because of results. More people will talk about their negative experiences in the AFL, particularly about race (as Heritier Lumumba and Robert Muir did in 2020), and the score review system will continue to confound.
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.