On the week before the AFL finals six teams must travel interstate for their clashes. Facing a potential elimination match the following week against an opponent who may have had a much more restful preparation, it is an unfair situation that must be rectified.
The solution is simple: local derbies!
Eagles vs Dockers
Crows vs Power
Saints vs Bulldogs
Swans vs Giants
Lions vs Suns
Bombers vs Tigers
Cats vs Hawks
Pies vs Blues
Roos vs Demons
These fixtures would be the same every season, with home-ground advantage alternating. The interstate matches would be played first to alleviate travel time lost for a potential finals game.
Victorian clubs may feel aggrieved if they face a short turnaround from their games, but compared to the week-to-week travel of the interstate teams, they have little to complain about.
And if, say, West Coast and Fremantle were to host Round 1 finals against teams who played on the Sunday, those matches wouldn’t get the Friday night timeslot.
The quality of these derby games would be so much greater than the current set-up, providing a better tune-up for the top-eight teams, and meaningful clashes for those out of the finals race.
In this year’s draw, Sydney, who could finish anywhere from second to sixth, host a Gold Coast side with little motivation to even turn up. Imagine if Sydney instead were to play their ‘little brother’, who would be keen to play havoc with the Swans’ finals charge.
The Suns would instead play a Brisbane side wanting to restore a bit of pride after a failed season. The spectre of tanking would be potentially reduced in such a scenario, given that supporters would not want to see their side ‘lay down’ against a bitter rival.
Assuming Brisbane won, Carlton would be facing the prospect of coming last, and Collingwood would delight in thumping them to achieve this end.
Games with teams out of the running would still draw bumper crowds, and a finals atmosphere would be generated a week early.
The competition deserves scheduling that is fair on all teams, and maintains the interest of fans all the way to the end.