The power balance between two teams, the large-scale fan-fare and the great players doing great things. So are these games better than Grand Finals? We explore what makes preliminary final weekend ever so special.
The balance of power
Typically in preliminary finals, there will be the 'Champion' playing the 'Contender.' We only need to go back as far as last year. Usually, the champs (or favourites) are those who win the first qualifying final and await the contenders (challengers), who have advanced from either losing a qualifying final and making their way back, or they've steam-rolled from the elimination final.
Last year was a perfect example.
It was the quintessential heavy-weight fight -- There was Richmond, who were the reigning premiers of 2017, the outright favourite to win not only that game but the 2018 premiership and they had no glaring weaknesses. They seemed invincible on the back of their scintillating form at the MCG.
Then you had Collingwood, the challengers, the contenders. They were a clear top-four seed, but was unable to curtail the might of the Tigers throughout the home and away season. They had their obvious injury woes as well, with key defender Darcy Moore not being out there leaving a vulnerable and gaping hole in their backline. The tragic death of veteran Magpie Travis Varcoe's sister, Maggie was also a part of Collingwood's narrative. They appeared as the battlers, but with a fighting chance.
It was a Friday night under the lights of the MCG, 95,000 in attendance and a roaring crowd, the Richmond fans were chanting to block out the "Collingggwwoood" chant. The stage was finally set.
What happened next was utterly unexpected, and to the delight of Magpies fans - Collingwood kicked five first-quarter goals, rattling the Tigers after only kicking their one major. Richmond was unable to recover, and Collingwood advanced to the grand final with a 39-point win.
That night was where the ultimate upset occurred, the heavyweight champs going down to the contenders.
The preliminary finals are the game for the fans. Some might say the truest of fans attend these games, compared to the grand final.
Preliminary finals provide corporate sponsorship packages the same way other finals do - overall not taking too many seats from the paying supporters; MCC, AFL and Club Members. So it is fair to say most of the supporters are there to see their team play, not because their boss has a box and it needs to be filled.
In the 2017 AFL Toyota Grand Final, Richmond beat Adelaide by 48 points. Only 17,000 Adelaide members were allowed to buy tickets. That year the Crows had over 56,000 paying members. It is fair to say the corporate (who in fairness fund the event) get the seating priority.
So that means more actual followers of the two footy teams get tickets. What is the by-product of this?
All finals are loud, really loud. But in a prelim there is still this head-splitting noise when your team kicks a goal, the crowd jumps up and down and the stadium sometimes shakes.
It is always a good indicator of how loud it is when you are watching the game on the television. If the camera cage is rattling (as if someone is shaking your TV) then it must be deafening.
It sounds like every goal is bringing a team closer to a grand final and that noise eventually carries through to the next week.
There is always a lot at stake during a prelim final; sudden death, grand final spot up for grabs, performing in front of 60-90,000 fans - you wouldn't want to screw up.
And there are a group of players who claim their fame in the game on the big stage.
The mark of a champion is one who does well on big occasions, and prelim finals always unearth these special players.
There are some players who jump to mind who embraced the prelim occasion. A name that jumps out immediately is Gary Ablett Snr - taking that spectacular mark in the '94 prelim.
Tony Lockett's point after the siren, and who can forget the Hawthorn champs in Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Jarryd Roughead and Luke Hodge constantly pulling their team over the line in prelims throughout their famous three-peat.
And I know this particular player is not a bona fide superstar, but Mason Cox shocked everyone with his goal-kicking and marking efforts in last year's prelim. The unlikeliest of heroes.
So what does that all mean for this year's final four? Geelong, Richmond, Collingwood and GWS will feature.
They all have stories heading into the weekend. Who will step up in Tom Hawkins' absence? Could Esava Ratugolea do a Mason Cox? Could a depleted Giants outfit without Lachie Whitfield and Toby Greene (potentially) cause an upset win over the Pies?
I guess we will find out.
And if none of that happens, then gear-up for a dream encounter. A Collingwood and Richmond grand final... we'll wait and see.