Nick Malceski of the Swans is congratulated by team-mates after kicking the final goal of the 2012 AFL Grand Final. Photo: Getty Images
After six months, 207 matches and all the attendant incident and controversy, the most memorable moment of the 2012 AFL season came in its final 40 seconds.
A grand final goalmouth scramble with Sydney and Hawthorn separated by just four points. A quick handball from the Swans' Dan Hannebery to teammate Nick Malceski, and a floating, curling left-foot snap that seemed to hang in the air forever until it fell gently over the goal line, sealing the underdog a famous premiership win.
Lance Franklin kicked 13 goals for Hawthorn against North Melbourne on June 2. Photo: Getty Images
It had already been a terrific grand final, a pulsating contest marked by acts of individual heroics and in which fortunes swung this way and that until it was Sydney making the final lunge for the finish line. With this final moment of drama, its status as a classic was sealed.
Not that there wasn't enough nail-biting drama this year. Such as Tom Hawkins' efforts in the closing minutes of an amazing Friday night game between Geelong and Hawthorn in round 19, with the vastly improved key forward booting two goals at the death to drag the Cats over the line against the Hawks yet again.
The first, a hurried right-foot snap, gave his team one last sniff of victory. The second, a booming drop punt from 55 metres, the final siren sounding as he ran in to kick, delivered it.
Brock McLean made an impact on and off the field in 2012. Photo: Getty Images
Or for sheer romance you could take Gold Coast's post-siren win over Richmond in Cairns in round 16, the Suns somehow snatching two late goals in the final 30 seconds, with the match-winner coming from much-debated rugby league convert Karmichael Hunt.
The Melbourne tanking controversy, having lain dormant for some time, was immediately revived after a Fox Footy interview with former Demon Brock McLean, now a Carlton player.
A previously sceptical AFL moved to interview, or re-interview, an army of former and present Melbourne players and officials as it trawled for proof the club had been up to no good in its bid to secure priority draft picks.
It was a controversy that would not be resolved by year's end. The Demons remain determined to fight the claims legally if need be and are yet to respond to the detailed allegations now in front of them before the AFL commission determines whether to lay charges.
Adelaide's Kurt Tippett eventually became a Swan, but not before enormous trouble for him, his management and certainly his old club, the Crows, who were pinged for draft tampering and unaccounted third-party deals engineered to retain his services.
The Crows were fined $300,000 and excluded from the first two rounds of next year's national draft. Chief executive Steven Trigg was fined $50,000 and suspended from his position for six months, with football manager Phil Harper given a two-month ban.
Tippett eventually found his way to Sydney via the pre-season draft but was $50,000 lighter in the pocket for it. With an 11-game suspension hanging over him, he will have an extended pre-season before he becomes eligible to play for the Swans in June.
The on-field judiciary struggled in 2012, match review panel decisions frequently at odds with those made by umpires at the time, then on occasion with those overturned by the tribunal. The biggest controversies were caused by penalties dealt to North Melbourne's Jack Ziebell and Geelong captain Joel Selwood, with disquiet about the weightings for good and poor records leading to an end-of-season revamp.
The Israel Folau experiment was rudely ended when the former NRL star left Greater Western Sydney after just two seasons, preferring a 12-month rugby contract with the Waratahs. His return to the fledgling Giants in marketing terms was hard to calculate; his on-field contribution was minimal indeed.
But the biggest lowlight of football 2012 by some margin was a human tragedy: the accidental death of Port Adelaide player John McCarthy on an end-of-season trip to Las Vegas with his Power teammates.
The outpouring of grief and tribute was profound. The reminder that AFL footballers remain, for all their prowess and physical strength, vulnerable young men, was stark.
You couldn't go past Hawthorn superstar Lance Franklin's amazing haul of 13.4 against North Melbourne at Launceston in round 10, Buddy's pyrotechnics driving nail after nail into what seemed a very large Kangaroo coffin.
Essendon skipper Jobe Watson delivered one of the more popular Brownlow Medal wins, with the hard-working midfielder incredibly consistent and prolific in the clinches even as his side crumbled around him under the weight of continual soft-tissue injuries.
Richmond's Trent Cotchin took his mix of class and courage around the contest to a new level, the poise of a veteran encased in a 22-year-old frame. It was a season rewarded at its conclusion with his club's captaincy for 2013.
Collingwood's Dayne Beams, meanwhile, might have made the season's biggest leap in status, from talented but still inconsistent Magpie midfielder to genuine AFL elite, marked by both All-Australian selection and the winning of his club's best and fairest ahead of some very highly credentialed teammates.
Season 2013 is already shaping as one of the most competitive we have seen, with precious little gap between the top few teams and a bigger than usual cluster of outsiders attempting to break into the top eight.
Hawthorn has been stung by its failure to win a premiership that seemed there for the taking, and will hit back hard. Sydney won't be going anywhere, while Collingwood and Geelong remain determined to prove their eras of success are an ongoing concern, not history.
The Western Australian bloc of West Coast and Fremantle will continue to push hard, and there will be even greater expectations than usual on an improving Richmond, with the Tiger army as impatient as ever for long-promised returns.
The Tigers won't have it easy squeezing into the eight, though. Carlton, under the guidance of Mick Malthouse, will be watched closely. On talent, the Blues are good enough to mix it with the top few.
There will be plenty of eyes on James Hird's Essendon, too. Last season the Bombers crashed spectacularly to injury and lapsed confidence, but their best is still imposing.
At the bottom, the quest for competitiveness from new boys Gold Coast and GWS goes on. Both had their moments, but also took more than their share of thumpings, the quantity of which may be reduced substantially as lists chock full of precocious young talent mature into seasoned outfits.
While the AFL in 2012 had big stories left, right and centre, the prospect of what is to come in 2013 is a big enough story in its own right.
"I think you would have to be blind Freddy to not figure that one out." The response from Carlton midfield Brock McLean, when asked in August on Fox Footy's On the Couch whether his old side Melbourne had conspired to lose matches in 2009.
"How many of us hope our kids grow up to be a bit like #JimStynes. As brave as Jim, as kind as Jim, as tough, as decent, as inspiring, as human." — Brian Walsh