IT has been a season not quite like any other for Subiaco ruckman Lachlan Delahunty but what is now familiar is that he's preparing for a seventh Grand Final in eight years at the Lions and yet another battle with South Fremantle workhorse Brock Higgins.
Delahunty elected to make the move west to join Subiaco from Frankston in the VFL back in 2014 and it just happened to coincide that he arrived at the time the Lions were ready to take over and dominate the WAFL.
Now whether or not the same dominance would have happened if Delahunty wasn’t part of it we'll never know, but it has been quite the remarkable WAFL career he now has put together across 128 matches with the Lions since the start of 2014.
Incredibly the 2020 season when Subiaco missed finals altogether was the only season that Delahunty has spent at the Lions where he hasn’t played in a Grand Final – for premiership triumphs in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019.
There were the heartbreaking losses to the Fremantle-powered Peel Thunder in 2016 and 2017 but it's a period of dominance like Subiaco has never previously experienced and Delahunty has been at the forefront of it.
Along the way, he won the Sandover Medal in 2019, has represented the WAFL State Team five times and been named to the WAFL Team of the Year six times including as ruckman in the 2021 side.
The 30-year-old is now preparing to play in his seventh WAFL Grand Final this Saturday at Optus Stadium against South Fremantle, and is glad to have had a week off to prepare after a hard fought second semi-final win over the Bulldogs.
"It was a tough game and you never take finals matches for granted. We knew South Freo were going to test us and we definitely were challenged, but it's a good position for us to have the week off and I'll need every bit of it leading into the Grand Final," Delahunty said on 91.3 SportFM.
"I didn't pull up too bad, but going up against big Brocky Higgins, he doesn’t get any smaller so that's always a tough battle. My body is a bit sore straight after but we've got time to freshen up and be ready to rock and roll for the Grand Final."
It was a remarkable run that Subiaco had over his first six WAFL seasons where he played in a Grand Final every year for the four premierships along with building his reputation as one of the league's elite players whether playing in the ruck or at centre half-forward.
However, last year threw up challenges in terms of shortened and delayed season, and with a host of key injuries Subiaco never really got going and missed out on playing in the finals altogether.
That came as a bit of a shock to Delahunty and his teammates who were so accustomed to success, but upon reflection, he believes it might have been just the shot in the arm the group needed to refocus themselves and realise to achieve success, they had to get back working at the level they were in those triumphant years.
"We reflected a lot on last year and obviously it was a tough season for us. There's no excuses because of interruptions or anything like that, we just mentally probably weren’t ready to be honest," Delahunty said.
"We had come off a pretty successful time the years previously and we just sort of thought it would automatically happen again. One thing we've had implemented into us is that if we don’t do everything right and tick all the boxes we can be an average team.
"But when we fully buy into the program and have a big pre-season we can have some success and have a good year.
"It was just about getting back to basics and there's never a good loss to have or a down year to have, but last season was a wake up call for some of the older blokes that we have had success, but needed that reality check to get that fire in the belly and to show us that we still needed to put in the work to succeed.
"Watching South Freo and Claremont play off in last year's Grand Final was enough for us to say that it won't happen again without us being part of it this year."
Delahunty's 2021 season has been one like he's never quite experienced either. He did still end up playing for the WAFL State Team, ended up being featured in the WAFL Team of the Year and has played some dominant football split through the ruck and the wing.
However, he did miss a couple of games when stuck in quarantine after a trip back to Melbourne mid-season but overall, he's happy with the way his 2021 campaign as gone with the goal of now finishing it by claiming his fifth premiership medal.
"I think my season was relatively consistent although I had a bit of a hiatus when I headed back to Victoria, and found myself in isolation which put me behind the eight ball," he said.
"For the most part I think it's been a little bit different this year and I was thrown onto the wing for a little bit for the first time since I was 18 or 19.
"That was a lot of fun and Beau has been exploring with that because obviously rucking for an entire season can carry its toll on the body with the hits you take especially when you come up with bigger boys like Brocky Higgins and Strnadica.
"I might not have had the longevity to play the whole season in the ruck so it's been nice to be out on the wing at times where it's not quite as physical. It's been a different year for me but I've really enjoyed it."
Now that Subiaco knows it will be South Fremantle who will be their opponents in this Saturday's Grand Final at Optus Stadium, Delahunty and the Lions know that even if recent history is on the side, they aren’t guaranteed anything against the Bulldogs.
The Lions beat South Fremantle by 96 points at the same venue in the Grand Final two years and have in fact won all six finals battles between the two clubs dating back to 2016, but Delahunty has nothing but respect for the threat the Bulldogs pose.
"When we had the week off to start the finals we went and had a look at South Freo and Claremont going head to head the week before we played them, and the one thing you know about South Fremantle is that they never go away," Delahunty said.
"They gave away a pretty substantial lead in that first half but pegged it back and won that game. So we knew they would come at us and we set ourselves for a bit start, which we got and we were 30-odd points in front into the third quarter.
"But you just know they are not going to go away and they can build momentum quickly especially with Parker back in their side and guys like Strom, Suban and the list goes on. They have a lot of good players who can turn it on when they need to so we knew they'd come at us.
"Unfortunately we let them back in during that third quarter and we really needed to kick a couple against the tide, which we did. Brandon Matera stepped up to kick a really important goal in that third quarter and that allowed us to sort of control the game again.
"You can never give up ground against South Fremantle, though, and we got a bit lucky we were able to stop their momentum in that third quarter because they were coming strong and we were fortunate to hold on."
What a contest with South Fremantle means for Delahunty is yet another ruck contest with Bulldogs powerhouse and 162-game premiership winning veteran Brock Higgins.
Delahunty and the Lions are prepared to give away the ruck taps with the hope of gaining an advantage at ground level, but Delahunty knows what sort of a physical battle he's in store for again on Saturday afternoon.
"We've had some huge match ups over the years and in the aerial battle in the actual he's going to win the hit outs nine times out of 10," Delahunty said.
"We are well aware of that as a team and midfield group so my job in that situation is really to try and halve the ball to make it a 50-50 contest as much as possible. Then once it hits the deck that's where I try to take control where I can.
"But for a big fella, Brocky is very mobile as well and he probably doesn’t get enough credit for how well he gets across the ground.
"You can never take that for granted but that is where I'll try and expose him if I can, but that's easier said than done and a couple of weeks I thought he beat me in the air and we probably split it on the ground so it was a good contest all day."