AFL leads the way in country Australia
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Plenty was made of the now-infamous ‘Wangaratta-gate’. As we know, Essendon failed to make it to the ground to play St Kilda in the NAB Cup due to a mistake in planning combined with inclement weather.
The Bombers hierarchy wore the majority of the blame, even if the level of vitriol wasn’t quite in keeping with the offence.
The AFL was also targeted in some quarters, notably being unjustly accused of not caring about the fans in regional areas.
While it’s easy to tear down an organisation as large as the AFL, and I can assure you they’ve attracted my ire over the years, I think it’s time they took some credit for taking the game to the people in country Australia.
Victor Harbour has a population of just over 11,000 people and is one of the fastest growing areas in South Australia.
Do you think residents were disappointed in the AFL scheduling a pre-season match there on Saturday between Port Adelaide and Fremantle?
Do you think they were angry at the chance to see Matthew Pavlich, a superstar of the past ten years, and Nat Fyfe, who is going to be one for the next ten?
Were they upset about seeing the class of Travis Boak and Robbie Gray first hand? An estimated crowd of 5000 fans, or more than 40 percent of the Victor Harbour population, suggests otherwise.
Maroochydore is one hundred kilometres north of Brisbane, and seemed to be more than pleased to be hosting elite AFL football.
A recorded crowd of over 5000 people for a pre-season game in a rugby state is encouraging, and indicates that supporters of Brisbane, Carlton and the game of Australian Rules were more than happy to witness the great Chris Judd return to competitive football.
They would have been even more pleased to see another generational baton-change, from past champion to future as Simon Black and Tom Rockliff combined to lead the Lions to victory.
Perhaps the confidence gained from this victory will start Brisbane on the rise up the ladder after a wretched last two years. The people of Maroochydore can say that they were there the day the spark was lit.
Ballarat, in north-west Victoria, was another country town that played host to an AFL game this weekend, between North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
None of the 8000 people at Eureka Stadium were disappointed in the AFL’s scheduling, and why would they be after getting the chance to marvel at the explosiveness of Ryan Griffen, Brent Harvey and Daniel Wells and the next-generation hardness of Luke Dahlhaus, Jack Ziebell and Clay Smith?
Perhaps the residents of Albury were lamenting Andrew Demetriou and co for bringing the game to them in the form of the Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants?
Cursing them for seeing history made before their very eyes as former elite rugby league teammates Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau took to the same ground for the first time in an AFL match?
7000 sets of eyes made one think that the opposite was in fact true.
Other NAB Cup rounds saw matches take place in Mandura, Kellyville, and Launceston, while Canberra gets their first taste next week.
There should be a good crowd to see Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin and Brett Deledio in the flesh as Richmond and GWS put the final touches on their preparations.
Is the AFL addicted to frustrating rule changes and interpretations? Yes. Are they heavy-handed and possess all the subtlety of blunt-force trauma when issuing the latest in their long line of many decrees?
The language might be a bit strong, but the assessment is fair. And is their stubborn refusal to acknowledge widely-regarded mistakes in policy enough to sap the spirit? Yes. Many, many times over.
But the AFL is the country’s sporting leader when it comes to growing the game, and pushing the clubs into community and rural areas. So let’s not condemn them for one pre-season game that didn’t happen, and praise them for the many that did.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.