Collingwood are one win away from equalling premiership history, a feat that underscores how tough it is to win an AFL flag.
If the Magpies beat West Coast in Saturday’s grand final, they will join Carlton and Essendon on 16 premierships.
Apart from it being a select club full of mutual loathing, having three teams in the lead reflects the league’s even spread of success.
Hawthorn are nipping at the trio’s heels with 13 and are the only team to have won a premiership in every decade since the 1960s.
Melbourne have 12 – but also have the longest flag drought of 54 years and counting – while Richmond are on 11.
Kevin Sheedy won four premierships in his legendary 27-year tenure at Essendon – that’s less than one every six seasons.
As Sheedy once noted, an AFL coach has to be very good at selling hope.
The Collingwood-Carlton-Essendon joint lead was unthinkable two decades ago.
Between 1998-99, the Magpies had their record losing streak of 13 losses and would claim the ’99 wooden spoon.
Carlton beat Essendon in the 1999 preliminary final, one of the greatest games in AFL history, and the Bombers gained revenge the following year when they lost just once on the way to their 16th premiership.
But since the Blues’ most recent flag in 1995, the only other flag among the three leaders is when Collingwood won the 2010 grand final replay.
Carlton have had repeated rebuilds since 2002’s hefty salary cap penalties, while Essendon slid from great to mediocre to bad to their supplements debacle.
The only teams without premierships since 1995 are Fremantle, expansion teams GWS and Gold Coast, Melbourne and St Kilda.
While ’99 was one of the lowest points in Collingwood history, it also was the year that Eddie McGuire took over as president.
Should the Pies win their 16th flag, no-one will be happier.
This is very much the regime that Ed has built – Mick Malthouse’s successful reign, the move from Victoria Park to the Holden Centre, the controversial Malthouse-Nathan Buckley coaching succession plan and last year’s high-risk decision to stick with Buckley.
After four seasons outside the finals, history beckons.