WHICH team will stand up best to the intense physical and psychological pressure that goes with an AFL grand final? And which individuals will find that little bit extra required. Which champion will move into an even higher gear, or which lesser light will play the game of his life?
They're questions that will be answered tomorrow, and have been answered annually on this weekend, in a game that consistently makes, breaks or enshrines reputations for performance on the biggest of stages.
If you had to pick a grand final team of the post-1989 AFL era to play for your life, who'd make the cut and who'd miss out? I've had a crack, the result in some cases obvious, in a few more out of left field, but the bottom line is that any opposition side would have a hell of a time finding any weak spots.
Let's start with some automatic choices. Like Andrew McLeod, winner of two consecutive Norm Smith Medals in 1997-98, with a 31-disposal midfield effort against St Kilda, backed up by 30 more in the upset of North Melbourne the following year, pivotal to both Adelaide flags. And his teammate, Darren Jarman. Quiet for Hawthorn in the 1991 grand final, he sure made up for it with his second club - six goals, five of them in the match-winning final-quarter burst in 1997, five more, a couple of them again clutch efforts, in '98.
Two more walk-up starts have to be Brisbane pair Michael Voss and Nigel Lappin. Lions' skipper Voss was named one of Brisbane's best three in each of its hat-trick of flag wins from 2001-03, and might well have won the 2002 Norm Smith Medal with an absolutely commanding final 15 minutes had not the votes already been collected, that anomaly forcing a change in the voting procedure. Wingman Lappin similarly was in Brisbane's three winning grand finals with prolific ball-winning and run, then again in the 2004 play-off the Lions finally lost.
There's a few more Eagles besides Dean Kemp, who won the 1994 best-on-ground and had also been in the best in 1992; and spearhead Peter Sumich, who kicked five goals in the grand final West Coast lost in 1991, six in their ice-breaking flag success the following year, and a couple in the 1994 win.
Perhaps the biggest eyebrow-raiser in this side is yet another Sandgroper, too. Remember Tony Evans? The West Coast rover finished an eight-season and at times injury-afflicted career with only 108 games, but two of the very best just happened to be winning grand finals.
In 1992, it was Evans' ball-winning and a couple of critical goals just on half-time that got his side back into the contest against Geelong. He'd finish with three goals, as he did again two years later, along with a stack more possessions in a far easier win over the Cats.
You could argue similarly with Shane Ellen, an Adelaide spare-parts man who played the game of his life in 1997, finishing with five goals for the Crows.
Starting up forward, Ellen booted two early. Moved to half-back, he would surge forward to kick another three as Adelaide ran all over a tiring St Kilda. To that point, he'd managed just two in his entire career.
There's plenty of Geelong representation, of course, Norm Smith winners Paul Chapman and Steve Johnson, along with full-back Matthew Scarlett, he of the famous 2009 toe-poke to Gary Ablett, and three more solid grand final performances besides.
Ruck honours go to ''Mr September'', Brisbane's big man Clark Keating, a part of all three Brisbane flags, and a supreme centre-square presence in the last two, when in either season he played just a dozen games, easily the best in both cases being the last. There's some big names not in this 22. Chris Judd was a Norm Smith winner in one grand final, and solid in the other, but ultimately was just shaded. Ditto Nathan Buckley, while James Hird only scrapes onto the bench in spite of a poor 2001 grand final. He was saved by a solid effort as a ''Baby Bomber'' in 1993 and a dominant, Norm Smith-winning performance in 2000 with 29 disposals and two goals.
Of course, they'd all be in a best-qualified grand final team. But this is a best-performed 22 of grand final greats. And Hawthorn and Sydney would love any of them, given what they did on the biggest of stages.