In two very different matches, minor premiers Sydney Swans thrashed the Geelong Cats, while sentimental favourites Western Bulldogs edged out the Greater Western Sydney Giants to eliminate any hopes of an all-Sydney Grand Final.
The Swans Fly Into Top Gear
The Swans sliced their way past Geelong to win through to their third Grand Final in five years with a formidable 37-point win at the MCG on Friday night.
Sydney's fast-starting credentials have shaped their run to the finals, with those credentials again on show against Geelong with Sydney kicking seven unanswered goals in the first quarter to silence the Cats.
Off the back of a brutally one-sided first half, with Sydney leading by 49 points at the major break, the Swans eventually sealed a dominant victory, winning 15.7 (97) to 8.12 (60).
Geelong were never in the fight, succumbing to the Swans in every facet of the match. It took 16 minutes for Geelong to get onto the scoreboard, albeit with a rushed behind. Further missed set shots from captain Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins meant the Cats entered quarter-time goalless and trailing the Swans by 39 points.
The Swans were brilliant, giving the Cats no margin for error. Whenever Geelong had the ball, it was nearly immediately lost with missed handballs and kicks compounded by aggressive tackling from Sydney meaning that the Cats couldn't make use of possession.
It will be an anxious wait for the Swans, however, with key defender Aliir Aliir being helped off the field after quarter-time with a knee injury. Aliir is facing a race against time to play in Saturday's premiership decider after falling awkwardly in a contest, appearing to hyperextend his right knee.
Aliir had tape applied around his knee at quarter-time. The 22-year-old grimaced as he undertook a fitness test, doing some run-throughs along the boundary line before ending his night after applying an ice pack to his knee just minutes later, consigning himself to the bench as his teammate swept aside Geelong.
The injury signalled a turbulent end to an emotional week for Aliir, after being singled out in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's speech to the UN General Assembly. In an effort to praise Australia's migrant policy, Turnbull cited how Aliir grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya from the age of three after his family fled the bloody civil war in Sudan. Born to Sudanese parents, Aliir spent the early years of his life in a refugee camp before his family moved to Australia when he was seven years old.
Western Bulldogs Continue Their Magical Run
The Western Bulldogs continued their magical run in the finals, qualifying for their first Grand Final in over half a century following a pulsating six-point win over Greater Western Sydney at Spotless Stadium.
In a see-sawing preliminary final, the Bulldogs kicked a goal within the last four minutes to break the deadlock, before holding on to seal a 13.11 (89) to 12.11 (83) win against the AFL's youngest club.
The Bulldogs, led by inspirational coach Luke Beveridge, are now within one victory of their first premiership since 1954. The Bulldogs, who had lost nine of their last 10 Grand Final qualifiers, were the obvious underdogs, particularly with GWS having the home advantage and fresh legs after a week off.
Both teams were locked in a titanic struggle from the opening bounce. One of the best attacking sides in the AFL this season, the Giants were pegged back in their attacking half by some persistent defensive pressure from the Dogs, who had kicked the first two goals of the match. A humdinger of a mark by Dogs captain Easton Wood typified the desperation of the Dogs' defence. However, led by former No. 1 draft pick Jonathon Patton, the Giants returned serve to set up a match-long arm-wrestle.
Both sides suffered injuries, with Bulldog Jordan Roughead partially losing his vision after copping a ball to the face before Giants co-captain Callan Ward was knocked out after an accidental knee to the head.
GWS kicked away to a 14-point-lead early in the final term, but the Bulldogs hauled themselves back into the match with a goal to young star Marcus Bontempelli taking the Dogs to the lead, which they held until the final siren.
The Grand Final could mark the incredible return of Bulldogs midfielder Lin Jong. Lin was left in tears after breaking his right collarbone in the Dogs' elimination final against West Coast. Remarkably, only 16 days after surgery, Lin returned to lead Footscray to the VFL title, collecting 29 disposals on the way to being awarded the Norm Goss Medal for being best-on-ground.
Lin's father, an East Timorese of Chinese background, fled in the civil war in 1978 as an 18-year-old. Lin's father worked and studied in Japan, Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, where he met his wife Faye. After marrying they emigrated to Australia in 1985, before Lin was born in 1993.