Bring on Round 2!: An opening round of (mostly) underwhelming and poorly scheduled matches

The AFL season starts in about 2 weeks.

What? Two weeks? In just over two weeks’ time, we are at it again?

Big build up, huge anticipation, thousands of speculative articles, inter-club jousting, brave predictions?

Sadly no. It may be just me but despite all the talk of Buddy to Sydney, Daisy’s return and North being everyone’s tip to smash into the top 4, I feel strangely underwhelmed.

After the year from hell the AFL had last year, ranging from the Essendon saga, Melbourne’s continued woes, St Kilda’s disasters and, for non-Hawks fans, a subdued Grand Final, I would have thought the hype would be deafening.

In looking at the draw, I think some of this lies in the opening round. The lack of availability of the premier grounds around the country, due to pre-booking in case of Sheffield Shield final hosting duties, has severely diluted the showcase round of the AFL.

With the MCG, Adelaide Oval, SCG and Gabba all set aside in case the respective home state hosts the final, the AFL has been robbed of the opportunity to start the year with the big (albeit usually Melbourne orientated) games.

How ironic then that the Victorian Shield team’s terrible season will mean the MCG will lie vacant on the two weeks of opening round, with games being packed into Etihad and elsewhere.

However, despite the ground situation meaning we cannot have big games at the G and elsewhere, I still believe that the opening round fixture has seemingly been dismissed by the AFL, with poor games put on in place of a default opening round extravaganza in Round 2.

Collingwood and Fremantle kick off the season on the Friday at Etihad. I realise that Collingwood will draw a TV audience and Freo gets the West watching. And, Etihad’s capacity coupled with Collingwood’s drawing power means that the Pies cannot usually play a Melbourne based side there.

However, I would have scheduled Collingwood to play Port, after last year’s dramatic upset final at the G. You’d also think Freo’s brilliant 2013 achievements were enough to deserve a home game to open the season instead of West Coast, who play at home in the final game of the round, 9 days later. As opening games go, despite the appearance of the League’s biggest side and last years runners up, it doesn’t get the juices flowing (but then, neither did the Dons and Crows last year, and that game wasn’t bad in the end).

I can see that the league would then want their two expansion teams to play at home on the Saturday, and having the creatively titled “Battle of the Bridge” on the Saturday has impact for the AFL in that market. But the 4.40pm time slot seems strange. Gold Coast again host at Metricon on a Saturday night stage, and instead of a Derby with the Lions, I can see the league wanting their first Saturday night to rate outside Queensland, so the Tigers make the trip.

On the Sunday, Carlton host Port. As I mentioned with the Pies, I suppose that Carlton can’t play a local side due to Etihad capacity, but I’d still argue that St Kilda would have been a better opponent. Port and Adelaide both have to play away due to the unavailability of the new Adelaide Oval, but to me, Pies vs. Port and Carlton vs. St Kilda would be better. Again, the game is set for TV, with a Sunday night start. I can’t see myself setting the evening around it.

Thursday of the following week sees the Cats under lights at home vs. the Crows. Ideally, I’d bring the Suns back to kick off the year, but the desire to have the Gold Coast start at home is understandably compelling. The Cats have to play someone, and it is usually an interstate lower-drawing side when at home. However, why couldn’t the League have tested the Dees by sending the Roos-led Melbourne down the road? More of that below.

North and Essendon looks game of the round, or at least this second half of the round, with the Pies and Dockers clash being the feature of the first lot. There’s genuine interest in this game, with both clubs having lots to gain but loads to lose. The wraps on the Kangas are, as covered by an Almanac colleague earlier this week, maybe generous, and the talk of “if they kicked a little better in 2013 they’d be in the top 4” reminding us of whiskers and aunts. The Dons though will be desperate to start the season well, and this game looks to have real attraction.

So, why didn’t it kick off the year? The League I imagine couldn’t be seen to reward to the Dons with the profile of the opening match, (although they get the Hawks in Round 2 and the Anzac Day not long after) although an alternative view Andy D could have had would be to chuck them in early under the spotlight against a tough opponent and hope they lose.

Then we come to the defending Premiers. Last year, the Hawks had the first 7 rounds from hell, and performed incredibly to set up their eventual winning season. This year, they get a free kick in Tassie against the hapless Lions. I admire Hawthorn for getting in early to play in Tassie, and the lack of MCG has played in their and the sponsor’s favour. But the Lions? Why they will play twice in a few weeks is beyond me, and I imagine the League was very nervous when the Hawks smashed them last week. Again, with the exception of the Kangaroos, the Hawks usually play a non-Victorian side in Tassie. But, why not give them the improving Crows or even Port rather than the Lions to smash around? It screams exhibition match to me. And again, a 4.40 game, which seems ridiculous.

St Kilda and Melbourne just looks like the League wanting to get one of the underperforming cellar dwellers off to a good start, both with new coaches. The AFL has invested heavily in the Dees, ironic seeing how they smashed them for the semi-tanking outcomes the previous year, and with the Saints having had such a shocking series of (mostly self-inflicted) events last year, you can’t help feeling this is the League’s few examples of charity (in addition to the Hawks match-up) with one of these sides being able to emerge victorious after round 1. Why couldn’t either of these sides be challenged in Round 1 with the Cats, Dons or Kangaroos, or the Saints to Gold Coast?

We finish with the Eagles at home, to the Dogs. Again, underwhelming, with you questioning why the Coasters get to kick off at home instead of the Dockers.

Round 2, with the return of the big grounds, seems to be the default opening round. The Swans host the Pies in Sydney, Richmond and the Blues renew hostilities at the G, the Hawks get their first blockbuster vs. the Dons at the G, and the Showdown starts on a new history in Adelaide.

Thank heavens for that, as Round 1 leaves me cold. Baring a major upset, I think we’ll get very little information or insight from the round as to the season, bar the North/Dons and (maybe) Saints/Demons games.

Who is this year’s version of Port? How will the Cats cope with the kids? Can Tippett and Buddy fit in the SCG forward line? How will the West Coast go if they are all fit? What will a new coach mean to the Dons, let alone the Saints, Dees and Giants?

There’s so much to look forward to. It’s just that we have a dress rehearsal and a disappointing kick- off before we get to find out.

Roll on Round 2.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.

Comments

  1. Well played Sean!

    A horrid opening round. Vlad and Golden Boy can blame it on the lack of availability of certain venues, but in their myopic desperation to divert attention from Super Rugby and the NRL premiership kicking off, we get this tripe served up instead of waiting patiently for the traditional start date and matches for which everyone can get enthused about.

  2. I hear you Brother Sean – but I just need a fix – and this low octane NAB stuff just ain’t doing it for me. Round 1 – second week – at home win over the improving Bulldogs.
    Perfect programming.
    (I corrected a ‘typo’ in your draft – “ALF” – or was that a clever acronym for Andrew’s Last Fling???)

  3. Kath Presdee says:

    The GWS v Sydney game will be scheduled with an eye to the NSW market first, second and probably only. It makes plenty of sense to have that as the Round 1 game, particularly as the Giants home ground is affected by being a co-tenant with the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

    The 4:40 pm time is a bit weird, but what the Giants appear to be wanting Saturday twilight games (and afternoon games) to attract families. It makes life so much easier to watch a game, have the kick to kick and then spend 45 min- 1 hour getting home if the game has started at 4:40 pm rather than 7:40 pm.

  4. Kath, With the SCG u/a with the MLB games, and the NRL starting, I can see and accept that the all-Sydney clash works well for the league.

    That’s the demographic they want (the AFL need the Giants players of the future to start as under 10s following the GIants now and loving the game ongoing) so it makes perfect sense. It is a bit Melbourne centric to see that Sat as a dull day, as it has national appeal, but overall, it just seems a bland season kick off of 9 games when compared to Round 2

    Agree 4.40 can beat 7.40 with the little uns. I am not a fan of 4.40 Sunday games though, neither day nor night games, in an effort to make thinsg easier, it seems to stuff up both yoru day and evening

    Best of luck to your Giants this year, but not too much

    Sean

    Sean

  5. Luke Reynolds says:

    Totally agree with everything in this Sean. It’s starting a week too early for mine. And split rounds are horrible, horrible things.

  6. This is the price you pay for encroaching further and further into the cricket season.

    Then again, would you rather a lukewarm but genuine Round 1 or a drawn-out NAB Cup where the greatest interest is whether your star players get through without injury?

  7. Stainless

    Agree

    If the AFL though had total faith in its product, and wasn’t worried about NRL getting a week ahead of them, they run the NAB challenge (which in effect, is a set of high level practice matches which clubs would play anyway) then have a week off, start the season on what is round 2 weekend, and have a 22 round season with every team playing 21 times.

    This is, as has been pointed out above, a grab to get footy started as early as they can. I accept the old days of 6 months each of cricket and footy have gone, but another week couldn’t have been too hard.

    Although, cricket is itself encroaching, with the big gap the Shield takes for the BBL contributing to the final being played later

    Sean

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