Let’s give the split round the boot

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Nick Haynes tackles Lance Franklin during the GWS Giants' famous victory over the Sydney Swans. Can they do it again this weekend? (Photo: Anthony Pearse/AFL Media)

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Deep breath… there, finally it’s done. It took some time, and seemed more drawn out than an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, but eventually Round 1 is complete.

After six long months of waiting, I’m so relieved the footy is back, but Round 1 left me feeling a bit flat.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the footy, for early in the season, some of it has been exceptional, but it does have to do with the quantity.

What is it with having a split round to open the season? Sorry, but I’m just not a fan.

In 2012, I understood. The arrival of the Giants was a perfect opportunity to put the spotlight on Sydney, and have a showcase, standalone game.

To most footy fans outside Sydney it was like another week of pre-season, then a full round of eight games followed.

But last year we had two games – Adelaide versus Essendon and the Western Derby – then we had to wait a week for the rest of the round. Now this year, more drip-feeding of games. Four matches in week one, then five in week two.

Why the rationing? It has been a famine for so long over summer, we needed a feast, not a couple of snacks. What happens next year? Five then four? Six, then three?

Stop it. Nine games, one round. That’s what I want, and I don’t think I’m alone. Yesterday afternoon, a relaxing Sunday, but no footy on the box to watch! Not a game on TV until 7.40pm.

Have a Thursday game, even a Monday match if you like, Mr Demetriou, but I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I want saturation of footy on my weekend.

Four on Saturday, three on Sunday – or vice versa – or four on each. I don’t care, and thankfully I will have that from this week on.

But from now on, stop it. No more split rounds to open the season.

By all means have one mid-year when the players need to freshen up. They don’t need freshening from the NAB Cup. Like the fans, the players are raring to go. I know having spoken with a few fans that I’m not alone.

GWS and Gold Coast fans for instance. They were on the highest of highs, but have to wait a fortnight to see their team go around again. Swans and Collingwood fans have to wait two long and painful weeks before their boys get a shot at redemption.

So, apart from split rounds not being the way to open a season, what did we learn over Round 1?

Some we kind of knew already. Having come so close last year, Fremantle may be ready to take that step required to win one.

We know no Buddy, no worry for the Hawks. And that yet again, Geelong will be a premiership threat, and incredibly hard to beat at home.

As a result, we saw that Adelaide, Brisbane and Collingwood all ran into good sides in Round 1. For the Crows and Lions, we’ll learn more when they play teams with whom they will battle for spots in the eight.

The alarming thing for Pies supporters though was the magnitude of their loss to that good side, and whether that means they are now below that top level.

As for the other teams touted as potential top-four sides – well Sydney are hopeful their stunning loss to the Giants was just an aberration, and the same goes for the Tiger faithful after their loss to the relative newcomers.

North disappointed their fans yet again, Essendon surprised many by winning despite the off-field drama, Carlton showed they will give poor Mick a stressful 2014, while the West Coast – albeit only beating the Dogs – showed they are likely to be thereabouts this season, with a slick midfield and potent forward line.

The Giants showed they might be ready to arrive a little earlier than anticipated. They probably won’t be playing finals in 2014, but judging purely on their Round 1 performance, they will win a few more games this season than they did in 2012 and 2013 combined.

They will also scare the life out of plenty of other teams, while the Suns may be able to push a little closer, and knock on the door of the top eight in 2014.

The Dogs are a work in progress yet again in 2014, but certainly a work with a lot of upside. Finally we have Melbourne and St Kilda, both expected to be contenders in 2014, but for a wooden trophy rather than a shiny cup.

What did their result tell us? Well, the Demons will continue to get better under Paul Roos. They didn’t win, but there was substantial improvement. They did also lose to a team not expected to win many games this season, that performed better than most anticipated.

While it will be another long year for both clubs, there should still be some highlights, and a flicker of light at the end of a long tunnel.

And now onto next week when there will be nine games, and the one I’m looking forward to the most, GWS v St Kilda. Could the orange army be celebrating again?

Michael Cowley spent more than 20 years covering sport for the Sydney Morning Herald, including 12 seasons as the paper's AFL writer. During that time he reported on the awful Swans of the 1990s, and then the successful teams of the past decade, including covering their premiership seasons of 2005 and 2012. You can find him on Twitter: @mick_cowley
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