MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 14: Christian Petracca of the Demons and Aaron Naughton of the Bulldogs compete for the ball during the 2018 AFL round 17 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 14, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Though some may be unwilling to admit it, this weekend's match up is strong reminder that the league is in a good place.

For over half a century, Melbourne and the Bulldogs were considered unsuccessful football clubs. Dwarfed by bigger sides like Hawthorn, Collingwood and Essendon, the two Grand Finalists held a relatively insignificant status within the league.

Since their last premiership in 1964, only twice (in 1988 and 2000) have Melbourne reached the last Saturday in September, and on both of those occasions, the game was over by half time.

Decades have been marked by poor leadership, mind boggling list management decisions and instability, with all keeping the club from seriously competing. Before 2021, Melbourne was a club that had simply forgotten how to be win.

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The Western Bulldogs have travelled a similar road.

Before their drought-breaking premiership in 2016, the Dogs hadn't played in a decider for over 50 years. Like Melbourne, systemic failures and poor finances held them back from seriously challenging with the "big boys".

But we are now witnessing an AFL era in which history is meaningless. It's no longer about the size of a club but how well it is run.

Both Melbourne and the Bulldogs have enjoyed periods of stability off the field.

In recent years, the former Footscray side has steadied itself financially after battling to stay afloat for decades. Luke Beveridge has been at the helm since 2015 and is about to become their longest serving coach since Ted Whitten in late 50's, 60's and fledgling stages of the 70's.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 14: Luke Beveridge, Senior Coach of the Bulldogs addresses his players during the 2019 AFL round 17 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Melbourne Demons at Marvel Stadium on July 14, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

At Melbourne, the club is finally settled after a dark period in their history.

Simon Goodwin was appointed in 2017, becoming the eighth man in ten seasons to coach the Demons. Entering this season under enormous pressure, Goodwin went on to win the AFL Coach of the Year award and rewarding the club's faith for sticking the course.

SEE ALSO: 'I'm not even supposed to be here today': How the Dees and Dogs defied urges for mergers

It's no coincidence that the three most successful clubs of the last decade in Hawthorn, Richmond and Geelong are three of the league's best run clubs.

Strong standards and culture off the field really are the building blocks to success.

The contrast has been startling at Carlton and Collingwood. Unrest at board level and the lack of coaching stability has had them labelled a 'basketcase' by many in the league.

AFL Rd 6 - Carlton v Brisbane
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 24: Senior coach David Teague of the Blues looks on during the 2021 AFL Round 06 match between the Carlton Blues and the Brisbane Lions at Marvel Stadium on April 24, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Their struggles off the field have scared off some of the best personnel in the game. Earlier this week, Alastair Clarkson again confirmed he had declined offers to coach the Blues next year.

“When we were kids, Carlton and Collingwood were two of the most dominant clubs in the competition," Clarkson said on Monday.

"They’re just battling a little bit at the present time, but they’re going to grow and become great clubs again."

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It's a remarkable plummet for these two former powerhouses and it shows what happens when there's turbulence.

Off field distractions and a rotating coaches box make it impossible for clubs to succeed.

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 12: Fox Sports commentator Eddie McGuire looks on during the round two AFL match between the Geelong Cats and the Fremantle Dockers at Simonds Stadium on April 12, 2015 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

The introduction of the draft system in 1981 has largely nullified the advantage that big clubs once had.

Like Carlton, Essendon have also struggled to translate their successful history into the 21st century. Off-field disasters like the drug saga have contributed to their title of longest drought without winning a final.

The real advantages in the AFL now come from competent list management, skilled staff and strong culture.

The rest of the league should be taking note from Melbourne and the Bulldogs, as strong leadership can be all a club needs to turn its fortunes around.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MAY 11: Demons coach Simon Goodwin looks on during the round eight AFL match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Melbourne Demons at Metricon Stadium on May 11, 2019 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

St. Kilda supporters will be watching on Saturday with mixed feelings. Should Melbourne win, the Saints will inherit the longest premiership drought in the AFL.

But the flag drought shouldn't feel as daunting as it once did. In the last 20 years, Sydney (72 years), Geelong (44), Western Bulldogs (62) and Richmond (37) have all broken their premiership hoodoos.

In fact, St. Kilda and Melbourne are the only teams with droughts that last past 1995.

The AFL is as even as it has ever been and it is only heading further in that direction and Saturday's Grand Final match up confirms that this league is one of the healthiest in the world.