It was one of the most compelling finals weekends in decades. It began, naturally, with a leaked video from 2015. “It was a poor look,” the league boss said. It was released, Caroline Wilson wrote, by “some twisted whistle blower.” It was hard to know who overreacted the most – those who defended Dustin Martin, or those who condemned him.

It saw 17 lead changes at the Gabba, and a game decided by a score review. It was probably the correct decision, but entire seasons should not boil down to the word ‘probably’ and to some faceless, bunkered-down boffin. It prompted talk of lasers, triangulation, taller goalposts, and ‘decision by body language’. It was amateur hour.

It saw finals football back at the MCG for the first time in 1,070 days. It was a very different game to the previous night’s, and arguably an even better one. It saw a masterclass in defending from Steven May. It was Sydney’s 22nd finals appearance in 27 years. It highlighted the value of Tom Papley, and his unique blend of antagonism and opportunism. It rendered Lance Franklin goalless for just the sixth time in his career. It reinforced Sydney’s dominance over Melbourne. It was, Mark Robinson wrote in the Herald Sun, “the night Melbourne lost its aura.” It notched up 3.5 million mentions of “Bloods culture”. It secured the first SCG preliminary final in more than a quarter of a century.

It left Saturday’s games with a lot to live up to. It threw up one of those Melbourne spring days when you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It was 15 months since Collingwood and Geelong had played, to empty stands, one of the worst games in the history of football. It was, in every facet, the complete opposite of that. It was, in the first term, Groundhog Day for Geelong. It felt like a facsimile of their four previous qualifying final losses. It reminded us that finals expose the jittery and the flaky. It should have been a bigger lead for the Pies.

Fremantle’s Rory Lobb contests for a mark.
Fremantle’s Rory Lobb contests for a mark. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty Images

It was the largest MCG crowd since “an outbreak of pneumonia of unknown aetiology” had upended our lives. It felt a lot like the 2007 preliminary final between these two clubs. It showcased the best of Collingwood – with their mix of interceptors, human blankets, bulls, thoroughbreds and bespectacled Texans. It was a career best game for Zach Guthrie, and vindication for a coach who has always believed in him. It was a match winning final term by Tom Atkins. It proved that Jeremy Cameron was very much worth the farm.

It was a last quarter with everything. It felt, when Jordan De Goey kicked his second, as though the stadium actually shifted. It was, according to my partner at home three postcodes away, the only time the MCG roar has penetrated our living room. It saw Taylor Adams tear his groin off the bone – which is excruciating to even type. It delivered redemption for Gary Rohan, one of the most maligned footballers of his generation. It had him launching at a pack like he was leaping off a pier. It ended, to the displeasure of the Collingwood coach, with his players slumped on the turf, with photographers crouched around them as if collecting evidence at a crime scene.

It was surely time for a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down. It had one more act to play out, however, over in the wild west. It was, for the first 45 minutes, an old-school Luke Beveridge ambush. It had him prowling the boundary line, his ‘tache bristling, like he’d just stumbled off the set of Deadwood. It was the biggest Fremantle home crowd in its history. It opened with the home side listless, and seemingly cast. It sprung to life with four quick goals just before the main break. It threw up some unlikely heroes. It had Rory Lobb, looking like a hybrid of J.Peterman and Ivan Drago, kicking two clutch goals. It introduced us to Jye Amiss, whose kidney was lacerated earlier in the year, and who stood up in just his second game of league football. It was the biggest turnaround in a final since the Essendon-Adelaide classic in 1993.

It was an extraordinary round of finals football. It was a study in the magic and the madness of football, in what John Updike called “the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill”. It will be one hell of a tough act to follow.