The start of an AFL season is a time of great excitement, we can’t wait for the first ball to be bounced. But I didn’t get that last Friday at the Docklands, even though one of the league’s biggest drawcards, Collingwood, was playing the opening match.
The Docklands stadium is a good AFL venue but its miles behind the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which is one of the best sporting grounds in the world.
In recent years, the season has commenced on the last Thursday in March, with famous arch-rivals Carlton and Richmond doing battle in front of more than 80,000 and the atmosphere is electric.
There’s a buzz in the air similar to grand final morning. Unfortunately it didn’t exist last Friday.
The season kicked off two weeks earlier than usual to cater for two byes each for every team, and even though there’s been saturation coverage on the AFL over the off season, the public in some cases didn’t quite seem ready for the on-field action.
It also doesn’t help that the MCG and Cricket Victoria are locked in a deal, which doesn’t end until 2018, where the G is in cricket’s control from the start of October until that last week in March – after the Sheffield Shield final.
Lsat week we had the farcical situation of Collingwood hosting Fremantle at Docklands, while five kilometres away, Victoria was ending a disappointing Shield season with a tame draw in front of a paltry crowd at the G.
Obviously a deal is a deal, but why not modify it? Victoria’s last two home and away Shield fixtures were at the MCG in the first two weeks of March. They should have only held one at that time and then moved the final forward a week to ensure the ground was ready for the traditional blockbuster in the last week of March.
There’s also the situation, outlined earlier, of the league accommodating the Players’ Association by holding two byes, with the first one in the opening round.
If that is to continue, why not have the first split round later in the the season?
That might extend the season and see the grand final played on the first Saturday of October instead of the last Saturday in September, which has been tradition.
It would also involve adjusting the cricket contract and encouraging Cricket Victoria to take over the ground a week later, but surely that’s not a big issue?Victoria never hosts their first Sheffield Shield match until the end of October at the earliest anyway, so it’s not likely to have an impact on the Shield draw.
It could also be argued that domestic cricket, despite being a wonderful part of the game in this country, is not big or popular enough for the MCG.
Cricket Victoria and the previous State Labor Government had been working hard to redevelop the Junction Oval in St Kilda and turn it into a fully-fledged cricket centre and the home of the Bushrangers, but the Coalition Government doesn’t seem to have the redevelopment on its list of priorities.
Another alternative is to shorten the season and not have as many rounds, but that won’t happen with the current lucrative broadcasting arrangement in place.
Next year, if the AFL wants to start the season at the same time, the MCG won’t be available as the Cricket World Cup final is set to be staged at that time.
Unless you are a Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond or Sydney fan, the footy on the ground last weekend was terrific, full of highlights. But the highest-profile elite sport in the land needs its biggest stadium for the season launch.
Hopefully common sense will prevail, because there’s nothing better than Carlton and Richmond in front of a heaving MCG crowd telling the world the footy is back!