Cancelled NAB Cup game raises plenty of questions
St Kilda play an intra-club after their NAB Cup game with Essendon in Wangaratta was cancelled (Slattery Images)
The AFL need to give fans a “please explain” after last night’s NAB Cup game between St Kilda and Essendon was called off.
The match, which was to be played in Wangaratta, couldn’t go ahead because Essendon were stuck in Melbourne.
While the Saints wisely chose to take the bus the day before, the Bombers intended to fly up on the day. This plan hit a hurdle when the two planes carrying the team were unable to land due to bad weather.
The game was initially declared a draw, however late last night the AFL revealed they had used laws from the premiership season to determine that result and different rules applied during the NAB Cup.
Instead, a coin toss will determine a winner – unless it can be proven that Essendon’s non-arrival wasn’t beyond the club’s control.
Given the original result relied on this not being the case, a coin toss at this stage appears like a very real possibility. What’s concerning about that is a loss would mean the Saints would be out of contention to win the NAB Cup, which would be quite farcical considering they were the team that actually made it to the ground.
The whole saga has been unbelievably amateur, on so many levels, and begs a number of questions.
First of all, why were Essendon allowed to fly up on the day of the game? This practice isn’t allowed in the home and away season to avoid situations such as these. Yet the club’s travel arrangements were approved by the league.
Why did Essendon decide to fly instead of take the bus? Sure, officials were concerned about the small turnaround before their game next Friday night. But Wangaratta is a mere 2 hours 46 minutes from Windy Hill.
The decision to take a plane came across as unnecessary extravagance.
Why wasn’t a bus used after it was obvious a plane would be problematic? At the end of the day, if the Bombers want to fly that is their prerogative. The initial plan, though, was to arrive in Wangaratta in the morning. This was reported in yesterday’s Herald Sun.
Surely, if attempts to get there in the morning weren’t successful, alternative arrangements should have been put in place straight away.
Again, it’s a 2 hour 46 minute trip. The team could’ve easily made it up by the scheduled 7.00pm start by leaving at any point before 4.00pm. Instead, though, word of Essendon being “stuck” in Melbourne didn’t emerge until about 5.00pm.
Figure that out.
Why wasn’t the game declared a forfeit instead of a draw or, worse, the subject of a coin toss? The Saints have a right to at the very least ask this question. They were at the ground and the other team wasn’t. In junior footy, as coach Scott Watters pointed out last night, that’s a forfeit.
What muddies the waters here is that the AFL approved Essendon’s plans, so the dodgy travel arrangements aren’t solely the Bombers’ fault. The league couldn’t really take two points away from the Bombers when they were part of the process too.
Nonetheless, if you were St Kilda, you’d feel a bit hard done by.
Will the AFL admit to their mistakes and make any changes? Allowing a team to fly up on the day of a game, without a back-up plan in case of any problems, can’t be allowed to happen again. Especially when the final destination is the subject of flood warnings and heavy rain in the lead-up to the match.
Admitting that yesterday’s events were unprofessional would also demonstrate to fans that the league knows they deserve better.
Finally, an explanation as to why an alternative travel arrangement wasn’t made yesterday morning, or even before then, from either Essendon or the AFL, would be handy. At what point the Bombers informed the AFL yesterday there were troubles is another useful piece of information.
If it can be shown the Bombers could have done more to get to the game, after the point where the AFL ticked off their plans, then the four points should go to St Kilda.
The sad part of this story is what it means for the people of Wangaratta. The town was genuinely excited to be hosting AFL football. The game sold out last week.
Hopefully the league can compensate them by ensuring there will be a NAB Cup game next year – only then, with both teams actually at the game.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio