It’s hard to believe the AFL could stuff up the schedule for the first week finals so badly. Except, it’s the AFL, so of course they did.
The biggest losers are Collingwood, young families, and the people of Geelong.
First, let’s re-cap what is happening.
Thursday 6th September sees Richmond host Hawthorn at the MCG, in the biggest match of the round. It is almost unfathomable that they have never met in a finals match after almost a hundred years in the competition together.
On Friday 7th September, Melbourne and Geelong will clash, also at the MCG, in a game that has popcorn written all over it given both games between the two this year were decided with the last kick of the day.
The double-header on Saturday 8th September gives us Sydney versus GWS at the SCG in a twilight fixture, and Collingwood in Perth to take on West Coast at night.
Bear in mind, the loser of Richmond versus Hawthorn plays the winner of Melbourne versus Geelong. The loser of West Coast versus Collingwood plays the winner of Sydney versus GWS.
The Magpies are the only club travelling outside their home state in week one of the finals, finished higher on the ladder than 15 other teams, yet are playing last. If they lose, they’ll be off the back of significant travel, playing a lower ranked team that has had a greater rest.
The AFL’s want for a prime-time weeknight final is understandable. For footy fans it brings the finals forward a day after an interminable break thanks to the enforced bye.
West Coast versus Collingwood should have been scheduled as the Thursday night game. In regards to ground capacity, this is one that would sell out if it was played at 3am on a Tuesday, so there will be no difference holding this on Thursday as opposed to Saturday from that perspective.
Given the time difference between Perth and Melbourne, this game would be at a more family friendly time for attendance too.
Scheduling the Eagles and Pies on Thursday would also give the losing team a two-day break over their upcoming rival, an advantage they have earned for finishing in the top four. This would have been invaluable for the Pies, if in fact they were the losing side.
Even if West Coast are the loser, they would surely also welcome a longer break after what is sure to be a torrid encounter. The AFL has made a mockery of the importance of finishing top four.
Richmond versus Hawthorn would easily have fitted in on Friday at the MCG, the pinnacle game of the week in the most popular timeslot, followed by Melbourne versus Geelong on Saturday afternoon at the same venue.
The people of Geelong have been shafted by their team being forced to play on Friday night when it could so easily have been on Saturday afternoon. It’s a long train ride or drive up and back for any night game in Melbourne, let alone on a Friday in the rush after work and school.
Then, it’s a matter of getting home again afterwards, when the game has finished at almost 10.30pm, getting home after midnight.
Ultimately, these are first world problems. But there was a simple way for the AFL to schedule a week of finals that was more rewarding for the teams that finished higher, and to make things easier for the one group of regional supporters that it was known would be travelling en masse for their game.
Does the AFL want to be about the fans, or does it just say it wants to be about the fans, and hopes that no-one notices it’s not?
You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but in this instance, they could have gotten a lot closer than they did.