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.