Disclaimer: I’m a West Coast Eagles fan, so figure that into your assessments when considering my objectivity. However, for the purposes of this prediction, I’m calling that the Eagles will be the best performed of all the expansion teams.
Imagine this. On the eve of Andrew Demetriou’s retirement, the same AFL insider who leaked ASADA information to Caroline Wilson last year has leaked again.
This time, Andrew Demetriou is the target. In his televised interview with Caroline, revelation follows revelation but he appears strangely relaxed in an old green t-shirt and blue 1980s shorts. I did it all for the betterment of the game, he sighs, as the awful truth is laid bare.
In 2010, Demetriou had made the breakthrough that would finally take the game international. India and China, the two biggest non-soccer markets in the world, were ripe for the taking. Both countries had signed up for a live telecast of the 2010 grand final. But they had inserted a get out clause – only if no Ross Lyon-coached team reached the grand final. The deal collapsed.
In an act of vengeance, Demetriou conspired to slow down Lyon’s contract extension with the Saints and send Lyon to a team that couldn’t possibly make a grand final. Statistically, Richmond was Demetriou’s biggest hope, but it was dangerous to keep Lyon in the AFL heartland. At the end of the season, Lyon was banished across the Nullabor to peripheral Australia.
In 2012, Eddie McGuire was planning a hostile Collingwood takeover of the Carlton football club. Eddie McGuire already had the compromise pitch – complete disappearance of the navy blue guernsey but all players to wear Eddie Betts shorts. Mick Malthouse already had the game plan. He would use Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs as decoys in the middle while the ball continued to be kicked around the boundary line.
When Demetriou caught wind of the impending disappearance of Carlton, he quickly moved to counter. “Carlton’s performances this century have brought happiness to so many footy fans around Australia”, he explained.
That night, Jeff Kennett received a late night phone call from somebody sounding suspiciously like Demetriou, suggesting a Kennett-led revival of Carlton. The glint in Jeff’s eye was enough to make Eddie McGuire back off.
But Mick, who had been running a secret training session for Carlton’s prospective decoys, found out too late. “Eddie please, I love your hairy, tattooed pirates. Don’t leave me here with these Carlton choir boys!”
The door to Collingwood slammed shut in Mick’s face, but he never forgot Demetriou’s role in his downfall.
In February 2013, while scouting for another batch of testosterone tablets for his new team, Mick stumbled upon a certain sports scientist. He could do testosterone tablets and much, much more. Just ask Essendon. Mick smelled a rat, and an opportunity.
That night, Essendon CEO David Evans received a phone call from somebody sounding suspiciously like Mick impersonating Demetriou. The phone call was enough to trigger full public disclosure from Essendon, well partial disclosure, well some minor disclosures and some major denials – and a lot of non-public burning of records.
When Essendon counter-punched, they may not have had right on their side, but they had David Galbally QC. He had ear-witnesses like Tania Hird ready to testify that Demetriou had illegally tipped off Essendon. Demetriou was silenced, and he never found out who gave that late night tip-off to David Evans.
But Demetriou’s silence during the 2013 season was partly because he had bigger fish to fry. Applauding the Swans’ recruitment of Kurt Tippett, Demetriou put in a late night phone call to Swans CEO Richard Colless. ‘Another premiership for the Swans would be good for the national code, but what would ensure your long-term sustainability is real rivalry. Sydney are currently everybody’s second favourite team. That’s not going to boost ratings. We didn’t give you that COLA to please Sydney landlords. We gave it to you to generate jealousy and anger down south. Spend it on something that would stir up some real Sydney-bashing. ‘
Richard Colless paused. “You don’t mean poach Jack Trengove from Melbourne? That didn’t work for GWS.“
“No Richard”, Demetriou explained coldly. “If you really want anger, you gotta think big. You gotta think Buddy big.”
But the biggest conspiracy was a long-running one – ‘Mothergate!’
The leak revealed an ongoing battle between Demetriou and the little league mothers’ club. In 2005, the mums had outmanoeuvred Demetriou to place their proxy, Demetriou’s former captain Wayne Schimmelbusch, on the AFL tribunal. The tribunal immediately instigated a crackdown against on-field violence.
Demetriou, foreseeing plummeting ratings as the game went soft, worked feverishly behind the scenes. When Barry Hall whacked Matt Maguire in the guts in the 2005 finals series, the tribunal’s axe was hovering. Demetriou sent Barry over to the house of the tribunal chairman and a compromise was reached.
In 2007, Demetriou outwitted the little league mothers’ club. Under his guidance, AFL umpires began to pay voluminous frees against head high contact. As the baffled mothers cheered, Demetriou was scouting for some mentally challenged midfielders who could take advantage of the new strictness. He settled on James Kelly and Joel Selwood. Charging into packs with their heads first instead of their hips or shoulders, Selwood and Kelly head-butted their way to the 2007 premiership and Demetriou was rewarded with stable levels of violence and TV ratings.
Since 2010, there has been an uneasy truce between Demetriou and the little league mothers club. Demetriou tolerated the tribunal’s crackdown on head high contact, as long as special leniency was shown to expansion club stars. Since there were no stars at GWS and Brisbane, that effectively meant the Sydney Swans and Gary.
Demetriou’s phone calls to tribunal members were shown to have peaked ahead of the Scott Thompson versus Barry Hall hearing of 2010, the Gary Ablett, Nick Malceski and Daniel Hannebery hearings of May 2014 (it was actually the second time Malceski had knocked over an umpire), and the Buddy Franklin hearing of June 2014. And TV ratings peaked the weekend after.
Mothergate has yet to be fully revealed, as we await Demetriou’s response to new mothers club proxy John Worsfold’s attempts to introduce netball rules into AFL football.
More time is spent speculating about AFL footy than actually spent playing it. Perhaps it’s this level of analysis, more than any head contact or performance-enhancing drugs, that separates our great game from netball.