The Adelaide Oval, too, was looking at a crowd of about 30,000, rather than the 40,000 plus that might have given the AFL pause to re-consider.
WA’s hard border was an even greater impediment to its prospects, since it would be difficult for teams to train and prepare properly at the requisite standard for a grand final under the quarantine restrictions in Perth.
Within AFL circles, there was unquestionably a view that McGowan had taken a sometimes hostile attitude to football and Victoria, a positioning that was viewed as domestic politics within WA.
Gold Coast chairman Tony Cochrane, who worked with the Queensland premier Annastacia Palazczuk and tourism minister Kate Jones to secure the grand final for his state, contrasted the Queensland premier’s accommodating stance and empathy for Victoria compared to that of her WA counterpart.
“They (the Queensland premier and minister Jones) had a real empathy for what you were going through (in Victoria),” said Cochrane. “He (McGowan) didn’t.”
It was apparent to the AFL that landing the grand final, in any case, was not a priority for the WA government.
The Victorian government was happy to handball the game to Queensland and the Gabba, while it also secured four extra games at the MCG in 2022 and 2023 (making it a minimum of 45 games in those two seasons) and a further year on the contract to host the grand final, extending it to 2058.
The Queensland bid – covered in a detailed 90-page document – addressed many of the questions and issues that surrounded not only the grand final, but events that surround it – including the Brownlow and pre-game entertainment at a game that will be played at night, in order to avoid a clash with the Cox Plate and to avoid the potential heat of the late October afternoon sun – and, yes, to satisfy the broadcasters by attracting a huge television audience.
A first night grand final would also paint the less shiny Gabba in a more attractive light, by applying the make-up of upgraded LED lighting that’s been used for Big Bash League games. Sources involved in the bid said the pre-game entertainment was expected to have a strong Queensland flavour.
The Queenslanders did not specify that their game should be at night; rather, in a reflection of their mindset, they indicated they were flexible, as they had been with all games, and would fit in with the AFL’s needs.
Queensland saved the AFL season, and in a mutual back-scratching, football had been spending millions per week in the sunshine state, where around 2000 AFL-connected souls are bunkered down in hotels or hubs preparing to end the season and then play finals – most of which will be played at the Gabba or Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium.
Whether the Queensland government derives much in the way of direct economic benefits, by hosting the game it will be showcasing the state as a place that can host a major event, amid a pandemic, and where people are leading less COVID-compromised lives.
In sporting terms, Queensland just wanted it more. Thus, in a season in which the sunshine state has filled the role of Victoria, the Gabba – and not the larger colosseums of Perth, Adelaide and Sydney – will be cast in the role of a sub-tropical, balmy MCG on October 24.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.