With the 2013 AFL season about to come to its conclusion this Saturday with the grand final between Hawthorn and Fremantle, here are some of my thoughts and ideas as to what should be featured in the upcoming 2014 season.
Every time the beginning of the season rolls around, it is always anticipated as “the biggest season ever”. Additionally, each of the last few seasons have impressed in terms of the quality of the games, and the fans.
To prove the point:
* 2013: The continued progress of the Gold Coast Suns in their third year, and Gary Ablett winning his second Brownlow Medal.
* 2012: The entry of the GWS Giants into the competition, and the handover of the Collingwood Football Club from Mick Malthouse to Nathan Buckley at the beginning of the season.
* 2011: The entry of the Gold Coast Suns into the competition, and the introduction of the ‘substitute’ rule.
* 2010: The first drawn grand final since 1977, which draws a record crowd of just over 100,000.
* 2009: St Kilda set the standard for defensive football, this contributing to a 19-match unbeaten start to the season but narrow failure to Geelong in the grand final.
* 2008: The Geelong versus Hawthorn grand final, and the one-off Victoria versus Dream Team match
* 2005-6: The two epic grand finals between Sydney and West Coast.
Now, here are my thoughts and ideas as to what should pan out in what is expected to be another cracker of an AFL season.
1. Round 1, 2014
What we now know is that the season will open with the first ever Showdown at Adelaide Oval between Adelaide and Port Adelaide.
The Power are coming off a strong year under first-year coach Ken Hinkley and will be keen to continue their progress, while Adelaide are coming off a tough season made possible by Kurt Tippett’s messy departure, and the 16-week suspension of Dean Bailey for his role in Melbourne’s tanking scandal.
Thus, this Showdown has the potential to be one of the most intriguing in recent memory.
The ‘Battle of the Bridge’ between the GWS Giants and the Sydney Swans will almost certainly be retained for the opening round, as well as the traditional Melbourne opener between Richmond and Carlton.
The Western Derby, which for the first time since 2002 was featured in the opening round, should remain as well.
In fact, this is how I think Round 1, 2014 should pan out
* Adelaide versus Port Adelaide
* GWS Giants versus Sydney Swans
* West Coast Eagles versus Fremantle
* Gold Coast Suns versus Brisbane Lions
* Hawthorn versus Geelong Cats
* Richmond versus Carlton
* Essendon versus Melbourne
* Collingwood versus St Kilda
* North Melbourne versus Western Bulldogs
Having all the local derbies, as well as pitting some traditional rivals against each other in the opening round, will make for an intriguing opening to the 2014 season.
Additionally, the final round of the season should see a reverse of these matches, as was the case in 2005 when Round 22 was a repeat of Round 1, but to bookend the season with local derbies and the like would be unappealing to fans.
2. Friday night football at Simonds Stadium
One of the highlights of the 2013 AFL season was the completion of the redevelopment of Geelong’s Simonds Stadium, allowing for night matches to be played at the venue for the first time.
This year, the Cats played the Gold Coast Suns, Fremantle and St Kilda at their home base on Saturday nights, and all three matches, while expectedly one-sided for the most part, were deemed a success.
The Geelong community had been screaming out for night matches to be played at Kardinia Park and this initiative has proven to be more of a success.
Now that the Saturday night experiment proved to be a success in 2013, the AFL should consider scheduling Friday night matches at the Cattery in 2014.
Potential opponents could be Fremantle (in a rematch of the 2013 qualifying final), the Gold Coast Suns (in a match which would pit the Cats up against Gary Ablett), and St Kilda, while matches against traditional rivals such as Essendon, Collingwood and Hawthorn would remain at the MCG, in anticipation of the big crowds that are expected.
3. Gold Coast Suns on the Friday night stage
In 2013, the Gold Coast Suns continued to make a lot of progress in the competition, as they more than doubled their overall match win tally from the previous two seasons to notch up eight this year.
This included a big boilover against Collingwood back in Round 17, in a match which proved pivotal to Gary Ablett winning his second Brownlow Medal.
Based on their performances this year, the Suns are worthy of showcasing their potential not just on free-to-air on a regular basis, but also on the demanding Friday night stage which the AFL has reserved for regularly top-performing teams.
In 2013, none of the bottom five teams from 2012 (the Suns included) featured in a Friday night match throughout the regular season, as the league wanted to make it clear that only the highest quality games would be played in the timeslot.
Such matches this year included, among many others, Geelong versus Essendon in Round 7 (where both teams were undefeated), Sydney’s impressive victory against Collingwood at the MCG in Round 9, and the grand final rematch in the final regular season round.
This came in response to Melbourne being thrashed by Hawthorn by 66 points in Round 7 last year.
However, with the Gold Coast Suns having made gradual progress this year, they more than deserve the Friday night stage, but maybe only one match will do next season.
But who should the Suns play, if given the Friday night stage? I would prefer Collingwood, given they are not just a high-drawing crowd, but it would also be a rematch of this year’s match which saw Ablett star in the Suns’ seven-point upset of the Pies in Round 17.
4. ANZAC Day triple-header
This might go down as being unprecedented in the history of the AFL, but with St Kilda and Fremantle both keen to continue their tradition of playing on ANZAC Day in the years to come, the potential is there for the first ever triple-header to be played on the most important day on the Australian calendar.
This year, St Kilda commenced a three-year contract to play up to five matches a year in Wellington, and this year’s match against Sydney on ANZAC Day was nothing short of impressive.
A crowd of just over 22,500 turned up to see the defending premiers defeat the Saints by 16 points, with Dan Hannebery producing a best-on-ground performance to win the first ANZAC Day Medal.
The match followed the traditional Essendon versus Collingwood match which has been contested exclusively on this day at the MCG since 1995.
The likelihood that a triple-header will occur next year will be very high, given ANZAC Day falls on a Friday in 2014.
If it goes ahead, then it would pan out like this:
* Collingwood versus Essendon (MCG, 2:30pm, Channel Seven)
* St Kilda versus yet-to-be-determined opponent (very likely the Brisbane Lions, at Wellington Regional Stadium, at 7:40pm New Zealand time)
* Fremantle versus yet-to-be-determined opponent (Patersons Stadium, 6:40pm AWST, Channel Seven)
The idea of a triple-header would be enticing to the fans, who would be treated to nine hours of AFL football straight.
In fact, the AFL should also consider spreading ANZAC Round across five days, with one match to be played on Thursday night, the aforementioned triple-header on Friday, two matches each on Saturday and Sunday, and one match on the Monday, to finish off the extravaganza.
This would also be an appealing thought for AFL fans country-wide.
5. Bring back the one-off Victoria versus Dream Team match
State of Origin football has not existed in the AFL since 1999, but it would be lovely to somehow revive the concept, albeit in a one-off, exhibition match, probably every five-to-six years.
In 2008, to celebrate 150 years of Australian rules football, the AFL staged a one-off Victoria versus Dream Team match at the MCG in mid-May, which proved to be a success with Brendan Fevola kicking six goals, being named best on ground and with a crowd of 69,294 in attendance.
The match was held on a weekend which was to be free of football, as a means of avoiding interrupting the season. This meant that each team virtually received two ‘byes’ during the season – the first being on the weekend that this match was played, and the second being around the traditional ‘split round’ in June.
While the Victorian team would be selected based purely on Origin (hence the name), the Dream team should be up to the players to select, with one player from each team making up the starting 18, with the bench and the substitute to be selected from four other clubs.
Gary Ablett, for one, should be automatic inclusion in the Dream Team side as the captain, given his big profile in the AFL (two Brownlow Medals and two premiership medallions, among many other achievements).
He was selected to play in 2008 but was forced out with injury, so it would be lovely to see him represent an All-Stars AFL side assembled by the fans before he retires.
The question would be in which part of the season would it be held. Would it be played in May, as it was in 2008, towards the end of the season, or perhaps as a permanent replacement for the pre-season competition in the future years?
For mine, I would schedule the match a month before the beginning of the AFL season; having it in the middle of the season or towards the end of it would be too much of a risk, given most players will come from teams that are expected to remain in finals contention in August.
6. Higher-quality Monday and Thursday night matches
This season, there were four Thursday night matches, all of which were of very high quality, and also two Monday night matches.
There was the traditional Melbourne season opener between Richmond and Carlton, which will certainly be retained for 2014, as well as the ANZAC Day double-header and the very close match between West Coast and Essendon, which went down to the wire.
The two Monday night matches this year featured the traditional post-Mothers Day match between St Kilda and Carlton, a tradition that should also be retained for next year, and the West Coast versus Richmond mismatch at the beginning of June.
As with the Friday night stage, the Monday and Thursday night timeslots should be reserved for top-drawing and performing teams.
The Brisbane Lions should regain their traditional pre-Easter Thursday night match, which used to be against one of St Kilda, Carlton or Collingwood in recent years. It’s very likely that, should the Lions be scheduled for this timeslot, their opponents would be one of those three teams.
Another Thursday night match should pit the 2013 grand finalists, Fremantle and Hawthorn, up against each other, in Perth, preferably before Round 10.
This early match would allow the two teams to test out their 2014 premiership credentials in front of what is expected to be a blockbuster crowd at Patersons Stadium.
St Kilda and Carlton should retain their post-Mothers Day match, but who else deserves to play on Monday night will be a question of great debate.
Scheduling an interstate team in this timeslot would give that team some national exposure, it could be suggested.
Another question would be, how many of these matches should be scheduled in 2014?
Those are my thoughts and ideas for the 2014 AFL season. What do you think? Do you have any other thoughts or ideas? List them below.