After a splutter or two, the draw for the 2019-20 A-League season finally saw the light of day on August 8.
After a minor delay due to some dissatisfaction around the scheduling, it appears the FFA, PFA, Fox Sports and clubs constructed a mutually acceptable draw, despite its quirks and complications.
While much has and will continue to be made of the compromised nature of the competition, as it moves away from the parity and purity of traditional home-and-away play and into the dark realms of match-ups based on metrics and popularity, the decision-makers have actually done a decent job.
The introduction of Western United provides Melbourne with nine derbies. The Wanderers and Sydney FC will stand toe-to-toe on three separate occasions and the Victory and Adelaide will, predictably, enjoy three incarnations of the original rivalry.
The Big Blue – Australian football’s most passionate and often spiteful match-up in recent history – will also play out three times and the Mariners will host the Jets twice in F3 derbies, with an away clash at McDonald Jones Stadium sandwiched in between.
All up, the draw designers had 21 derbies to work with. They are the matches around which a season can be anchored along with an effective spread and timely placement of games.
From what I can see, they have done a very good job.
Sadly, the A-League has generally started with a whimper as opposed to a bang in recent years, yet it hasn’t been for want of trying with scheduling. Once again, Round 1 will feature Melbourne’s City and Victory in a blockbuster at Marvel Stadium.
The F3 Derby takes centre stage the following week, whilst Round 3 will feature the Western Sydney Wanderers playing their second ever match at Bankwest Stadium when they host Sydney FC.
Even by that early stage, the venue will have become something of a cauldron. Opposition teams should steel themselves for what will be the noisiest and most claustrophobic venue they visit all season.
Just a day later, Western United will host City in their first ever Melbourne Derby at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong, with all eyes noting just how many people the match brings through the gates.
Continuing the clever spread of derby action, the Victory host Western United on November 2 during Round 4, and Round 6 features the always anticipated Big Blue, this time at Kogarah.
Just a week later, Adelaide United host the Victory on November 23 and Round 9 sees Western United up against their other Victorian rival Melbourne Victory in Geelong.
The effective spread of derby action is consistent across the remainder of the competition.
Rounds 11 and 13 feature Melbourne derbies, Round 15 an Adelaide-Melbourne clash, while the second Big Blue takes place in Round 16 at AAMI Park.
The pattern disappears over the weekend of February 7-9, where a monumental round will feature Melbourne, Sydney and F3 derbies on consecutive days. However, the more balanced spread of blockbuster encounters returns soon after with a Round 21 original rivalry match and a Round 22 Big Blue to whet the appetite.
March 21 brings the two Sydney teams together again at Bankwest and a week later in Round 25, F3 Derby action is on the agenda.
Even over the final weeks of the season, the attempt to thin out the biggest and more profitable A-League clashes remains obvious. Rounds 27 and 28 both feature Melbourne derbies with top six ramifications likely.
The draw features 18 rounds laced with derby action and cleverly, the other 11 have been planned to feature potential draw card matches or given added meaning via thematic labelling.
Round 5 contains no traditional rivalries yet does play the role of Remembrance Round. Victory and Glory have been specifically slotted into Rounds 8 and 17, while Sydney FC vs Melbourne City matches also feature twice in rounds without derbies.
Such thoughtful, strategic and pointed use of the league’s traditionally more attended and interesting matches must have taken some time to achieve and plenty of discussion. The creators should be applauded for their efforts.
The draw also features an attempt to increase fan engagement and attendance by bringing many matches’ starting times forward to dusk. It appears that the powers at be have been listening. Let’s hope the intended impact eventuates.
The effort to position matches so A-League fans are never more than a week away from a huge derby is obvious and meritorious, and made possible by the introduction of Western United.
If the new kids on the block do take the fight right up to their Victorian neighbours, a potential surge in interest seems likely.
It would also set the scene for Macarthur FC to hopefully do the same in 2020-21.