The build-up couldn’t have been much better.
A sunny September day, a sellout crowd and two quality teams in Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs – perfect settings for the historic first AFL grand final to be held in Western Australia, a proud and parochial football state.
Two separate coronavirus scares had been overcome after the AFL rolled the dice on a pre-grand final bye.
All that was needed was a good contest.
And by the time the halftime siren sounded, the 60,000 fans packed into Optus Stadium couldn’t have asked for much more.
The Bulldogs had trailed by 21 points at the opening break. They had looked hesitant in the face of a talent-stacked and supremely well-drilled Demons outfit.
But they weren’t about to roll over.
Led by captain Marcus Bontempelli and Adam Treloar – each of whom booted two goals for the quarter – the Dogs fought back to hold an eight-point halftime lead.
The sizzling first half flew by but the wait for the 5.15pm opening bounce must have felt like an eternity for both the competing teams and locked-down fans back in Victoria.
Media personality and Perth lord mayor Basil Zempilas had encouraged those at Optus Stadium to stand and applaud at the 20-minute mark of the first quarter as a sign of solidarity with those stuck at home in the eastern states.
The idea, which had been panned by some in Victoria, was roundly ignored.
But the sizeable portion of the crowd who had adopted a team for the day still made plenty of noise, erupting when Demons star Christian Petracca booted the opening major.
Outside the stadium and across the Matagarup bridge into East Perth, bars were packed all day with hopeful Melbourne supporters and Bulldogs fans wearing Aaron Naughton-inspired astronaut costumes and Bailey Smith mullets.
Smith had forgotten his accreditation when he arrived at the ground but the attendant had no problems recognising and ushering through the supremely-talented youngster.
Maybe it was an omen.
Five years ago Bulldogs teammate Tom Liberatore had arrived at the MCG having forgotten his boots before helping his side to snap their premiership drought.
The Bulldogs had waited 62 years for that flag. For Melbourne fans, it’s been 57 years between drinks.
As night fell, Perth locals Birds of Tokyo performed at half time with the WA Symphony Orchestra, fans using their phones to light the stadium up.
Earlier, Indigenous rapper Baker Boy stole the pre-game show with a colourful and high-energy performance.
As the countdown began to the opening bounce, a fan dressed in neutral colours in the stadium’s upper reaches turned to his mates.
“How good is this,” he said.
Those lucky enough to have a ticket could only agree.Internet Explorer Channel Network