Put on your tin foil hat and choose your conspiracy theory.
Either by Saturday night the AFL will have its dream grand final between Collingwood and Richmond, or by Saturday night the AFL will have its dream grand final between the Greater Western Sydney Giants and Richmond.
The conflicting narratives about the AFL’s supposed grand final choice of opponents for the heavily favoured Tigers (apologies Geelong) are abundant on fan web sites and streams kick-started by anonymous Twitter trolls.
One conspiracy theory is that the AFL wants Collingwood to win because it would mean a blockbuster encounter between the two biggest clubs in the competition. This is why facial masseur Toby Greene was suspended by a panel of ex-Collingwood players and an AFL medical official was seen clutching a bottle containing star winger’s Lachie Whitfield’s recently removed appendix.
Another conspiracy theory is that the AFL wants GWS to win because of it owns the Sydney franchise and has a $500 million investment in the future of its “love child”.
That’s why facial masseur Toby Greene was not suspended last week after a similar offence against the Western Bulldogs, a blatant throw that led to the winning goal against Brisbane not being penalised and the AFL paying to have Donald Trump’s face painted in GWS club colours.
Unless you believe the “moon landing” was secretly staged on the site where they were building VFL Park or JFK was really killed by a disgruntled Essendon supporter, you will scoff at these farfetched notions.
As the old saying goes, if the choice is between a conspiracy and a stuff-up assume it’s a stuff-up every time — especially when the conspiracy involves the AFL Tribunal, which has a proven ability to deliver fair and reasonable verdicts roughly equivalent to the British Parliament’s ability to deliver Brexit.
But in the spirit of the irrational bluster and self-righteous posturing that occupies AFL fans at this time of the year, this ludicrous paranoia has added a combative element to what might have seemed a hopelessly one-sided propaganda war.
At the start of the season the narrative for a Collingwood v GWS preliminary final would have been universally loathed Victorian powerhouse against mostly ignored Western Sydney start-up business.
The first part of the storyline still mostly holds true.
Upon his ascension to the Collingwood presidency in 1998 Eddie McGuire took control of an (almost) pitiable club about to “win” just its second wooden spoon in a season that ended with a 42-point thumping by Brisbane in the final game at their once impregnable Victoria Park fortress.
Accordingly, one of McGuire’s KPI’s was to ensure that people “hated Collingwood again” — a task to which he has committed himself with unstinting personal devotion.
More recently the more warm and engaging coach Nathan Buckley 2.0, a mostly likeable bunch of players and even a recent fly-on-the-wall documentary detailing the Magpies’ heartbreaking defeat in last year’s grand final has made Collingwood slightly more respectable — although only the way Ugg boots are slightly more respectable dining wear than thongs.
The real change in the story of Saturday’s preliminary final involves the Giants who have self-consciously thrown aside their image as earnest young ambassadors for the game in hostile territory and become the Nasty Boys.
Largely this is due to their style of play which, as demonstrated in a 47-point thrashing of Collingwood in round 18, is physical, unapologetic and in Greene’s case “on the edge”.
Whether you think Greene has tipped over that edge depends on your interpretation of grainy close-ups from the past two games showing his fingers in the general proximity of opponent’s eyes.
Regardless, such has been the change in the Giants’ general persona it is as if Boyz II Men are being fronted by Sid Vicious and Keith Richards.
If you are to commit fully to such a change of image you must embrace your bad boy persona. Or to put it in the terms used by the reviled fans of English football club Millwall: “No one likes us, we don’t care”.
This is where the Giants have hit a slight road bump during this grand final because they have simultaneously earned the ire of opposition fans while attempting to maintain their reputation as likeable pioneers.
The Giants remain particularly sensitive about the now cliched jokes relating to their relatively small supporter base (guilty here!). Even to the point senior officials have spent time responding curtly to even the most anodyne cracks.
Yet while defending the admirable work they have done building their support base in hostile territory the Giants are simultaneously enlisting the support of comedians and TV hosts to pretend to barrack for them — or, let’s be honest, against Collingwood — in Saturday’s big game.
Despite the mixed message this creates — do the Giants have their own fans or not? — their finals campaign has the hallmarks of a now combative clubs willing to emerge from its inoffensive orange cocoon and take it up to the competition’s literal giants.
This give the distinct impression GWS has stopped craving mere acceptance and is now crying out for respect.
Naturally that can only be earned on the field and not by producing amusing memes mocking the Magpies or by convincing comedians to put on a GWS scarf.
But beat Collingwood — vile, hated Collingwood — without several star players on foreign soil before a mostly hostile MCG crowd of 85,000 and the Giants will surely have earned the respect of even the arch conspiracy theories who believe they are the AFL’s darlings.