Why this AFL season may not live long in the memory
This season’s AFL season has been branded as the most competitive in recent memory, and rightfully so. Currently only four wins separate the Swans in first place from Fremantle in twelfth.
No gulf so narrow has been seen at this point in the season during this millennium, although there have been a few instances where as few as six wins separated teams in the same ladder positions.
Having such an even spread of competition has certainly provided no shortage of drama or unpredictability to this point in the season, and many have praised the fact that the premiership currently seems to have many suitors.
But just as a field this tight has provided the AFL with a season packed full of unpredictability, it has deprived it of elements that can elevate contests to another level.
The perfect counterpoint to the season we have seen this year was 2009, which consisted of a two horse race throughout. From the NAB Cup (won by Geelong) to the conclusion of the regular season (with St Kilda as Minor Premiers) it was clear to see that the league consisted of two powerhouse teams and a collection of pretenders.
Whereas this year has provided intrigue and speculation as to who could win, 2009 consisted of six months of anticipation as the two sides were slowly drawn towards the 26th of September. Such a clear demarcation in the ladder as we saw in 2009 affords both the journalist and the spectator alike plenty of time to make their minds up on teams well before Spring.
When teams play as consistently as St Kilda and Geelong did in 2009, it only serves to reinforce whatever we believe about them. With every consecutive victory the Cats and Saints amplified the emotions surrounding each team, until, by grand final day you could barely hear yourself think amid the cacophony of tall poppy syndrome and desperate dreams.
The presence of such clear-cut league leaders is an essential ingredient in two archetypal matches: the blockbuster, and the boilover. By the time St Kilda and Geelong collided in round 14, the sides had already separated themselves from the pack with a perfect 13 wins from 13 rounds.
The match, which drew a record crowd of 54,444 to Etihad Stadium, failed to disappoint, with the end result being a match between two super teams that was hard to equal. Each team went on to power through to the grand final, providing the match that had been most anticipated for the majority of the season.
It is certainly true that some great teams seem to lose their grasp on destiny, and falter in September when they seemed certain to succeed. But upset matches are only improved by the oversized Goliath provided by a clear favourite in the regular season.
Which leaves us where we started, where we are now: the 2012 season. Every Sunday night provides a radically different ladder, and the outcomes of each contest are largely opaque until the ball is bounced. It has provided supporters from a variety of clubs with legitimate hopes of a flag, but at what cost?
Is it possible to have a blockbuster match, or an upset when you genuinely don’t know who to call the favourite week to week?
Will the grand final seem as epic when the participants can’t even be guessed at with eight rounds remaining the season?
It’s a breath of fresh air to see a season this wide-open, but this may not be a season that lives long in the memory.