In soccer, the big prize is the league and after that a few cups are considered a bonus. Make no mistake, there are few sets of fans in soccer who wouldn't trade any cup win for a league win. They're the big prize, a true test of skill and ability fused with consistency and durability.
But not in AFL.
In AFL, 16 teams play so that the number 1 team wins nothing of much consequence and, along with the other teams that make up the top 8, go into a kind of cup tournament sort of deal. At the end of that is the grand final where you get to win a flag. Stop laughing. I'm sure it's a very nice flag.
Except being AFL it's not that simple. Never fekking is with this sport.
If you come top 4 you kind of get two bites at getting the cherry that is the grand final, sort of. If you come top 2, you get to play at your home ground. This means that if you actually top the league after a playing a season of this insane sport, running around the ground looking for your missing tooth/finger/eye/arm etc, then you get, as a reward, something nobody really cares about; a minor premiership. Really, that's it.
The real prize is the flag (which is apparently very large, which is something, I suppose) and to win that you have to win the finals series. And whoever invented that madness really needs a good shoeing.
Off we go.
In the first week the top four of the top 8 placed teams in the league play qualifying finals. This is kind of like quarter finals in other, saner, cup competitions. In AFL, presumably just to be awkward, it's 1st vs 4th and 2nd vs 3rd. The winners go through to (bear with me) the preliminary finals. These are kind of like semi-finals in the kind of cup competition that doesn't try and eat soup with a fork. The losers, though, haven't actually been eliminated yet. Yeah, I know. It gets worse. Be prepared for the word 'finals' to start cropping up all over the bloody place from here on.
Now also in the first week, the bottom 4 teams of the top 8 play in what is known as elimination finals, 5th vs 8th and 6th vs 7th. The losers go out, bottom lips trembling, and the winners go through to the semi-finals, except they're not actually semi-finals because the winners don't go through to the actual final final, as would happen in other cup competitions who haven't bred with their sister. Instead, in these semi-finals, the winners from the elimination finals meet the losers from the qualifying finals.
Let's recap that. The winners of 5th vs 8th and 6th vs 7th meet the losers of 1st vs 4th and 2nd vs 3rd in a semi-final that isn't actually a semi-final.
And the winners of those matches go through to what should be called semi-finals (because after this stage it's finals time). But they're not called semi-finals because that would make some sort of sense, and sense has no place, whatsoever, in any way, shape or form, in AFL. These finals are called preliminary finals.
And, just for a change, the match called preliminary final1 will actually be played before preliminary final 2.
Didn't I mention that? Sorry. Yeah, you see apparently because the guy who invented this whole shebang was a bit of a nutbag (or a time-traveller?), it's almost a given there's another layer of confusion. This year, for example, qualifying round 2 was played before qualifying round 1 and semi-final 2 was played before semi-final 1. No, I don't know why either. Why someone doesn't just call the first semi played semi-final 1 is a mystery to me but there you go.
And, finally, the winners of the preliminary finals matches go through to the grand final and play for a flag.
And after all that, it better be a really, really, really nice flag.