Jake Lever’s off-season switch from Adelaide to Melbourne four years ago is considered one of the most acrimonious trades in recent AFL memory.
- Jake Lever is the only Demons player to have reached an AFL grand final
- He says he has no regrets over his switch from Adelaide in 2017
- Bulldog Mitch Hannan says facing his old side in the decider will be surreal
Only 21 years old at the time, Lever had just played in the Crows grand final loss to Richmond and was seen as one of the best young key defenders in the league.
His trade request followed months of speculation about a return to Victoria and raised the hackles of Crows fans, players and the club’s hierarchy.
But now, as he prepares to play in his second grand final, he maintains it was the right move for both football and family.
“I think that when I left I left, I was pretty content with my decision,” he said.
“The opportunity to go back home. I’ve got two kids and a wife now.
“I didn’t have that at the time. But I knew that that’s what I wanted, and to be able to have family support, there has been fantastic.”
Different game with a different build-up
Lever is the only member of the Demons squad to have played in a grand final.
He said he was approaching this game in a different manner to 2017, and the unusual circumstances caused by the pandemic had helped.
“I’ve really tried to stay in the moment this time,” he said.
“It’s obviously super hard to sort of stay focused, but this time, with the circumstances that we have right now, it’s been quite unique.
“It’s been pretty nice to be able to just relax and really stay focused.”
The 25-year-old also revealed he has had plenty of support from former Crows teammates ahead of Saturday’s clash with the Western Bulldogs in Perth.
“I’ve still got very close friends at Adelaide. So it’s been great for them to reach out and say they’re wishing me the best,” he said.
No divided loyalties for Demon-turned-Dog
Well-wishes from ex-teammates have been few and far between for Bulldogs forward Mitch Hannan, as he also prepares to face his old team.
Hannan was traded to the Dogs from Melbourne last year, after four seasons with the Demons.
He said he never dreamed he would be facing his old side in the season decider, but there would be no friends come Saturday at Perth Stadium.
“It’s a surreal experience for me to be playing against them because obviously, I am still close mates with a lot of them,” he said.
“It’ll be all sort of dropped for that two hours on Saturday and I’ll be doing my best for the Bulldogs.
“At the end of the day, it’s a game of footy that I really want to win.”
Nerves shared by premiership cup presenters
For legends of the game Garry Lyon and Chris Grant, Saturday’s clash is likely to leave a bittersweet taste.
Pre-game, the duo will present the premiership cup to the Perth Stadium crowd.
And, depending on who wins, one of them will then present the cup to the winning coach and captain.
Grant, the current director of football for the Bulldogs, said it was a significant honour.
“They might have trouble prising both of our hands off it,” he said.
“But post-game, the reality is only one of us is going to get that opportunity. Either way, just a great privilege to do it on behalf of the club, but also with Garry.”
For Lyon, a member of Melbourne’s losing 1988 grand final side and now a high-profile member of the football media, the role brings with it a new sensation — pre-game nerves.
“I don’t get animated at footy. I don’t watch much anyway. Obviously, we work. [The] times I just go to watch, I’m surprisingly calm,” he said.
“But I think this has got a whole different feel about it. Yeah, the guts will be going.”
Mix of experience among umpiring group
The AFL has revealed umpires Matt Stevic and Brett Rosebury will each officiate their ninth grand final on Saturday.
The veteran duo will be joined by Victorian Jacob Mollison, who will umpire his first decider after 14 years in the AFL.
Simon Meredith has been named as the emergency umpire.