The very concept of a grand final came from the Victorian Football League, and in the late 19th century the idea of the team on top of the ladder being declared the premier’s winner was adopted.
The Beginning of the Finals in AFL and Introducing the ‘Right of Challenge’
In 1897 the VFL decided that having four top teams playing finals at the end of the season would be of more interest to people and, with that, more profitable. That is why, the same year, the VFL organized a match where 4 top teams played each other, and the team that won the most games won the title in the end.
It wasn’t long until the flaws of this method were noticed and experimenting with the form of the finals was continued. The VFL came up with ‘section matches’ played after the regular season. This led to four winning teams meeting in the semi-finals where the first team played the third, and the second played the fourth. Winners of the semi-finals then played each other to win the premiership.
The first finals match to be played this way was the1898 march between Essendon and Fitzroy, ensuring these teams a mention in the history of grand AFL finals. Fitzroy beat Essendon with 5.8 (38) to 3.5 (23).
The 1900 finals mark the ending of this method of winning the premiership. In 1900, Melbourne won the title being sixth on the home-and-away ladder which led to dissatisfaction and change of ways.
Next year’s finals weren’t without issues either. Geelong finished on the top, but then defeated in the semi-finals and immediately eliminated. This event marked the introduction of the ‘right of challenge’ that lets the team that was on top after the regular season the right to challenge after losing the semi-finals or finals. This came to be known as the grand finals.