As Victorian clubs play their last games in the state for the foreseeable future, Dogs coach Luke Beveridge wants to the AFL to open hubs to players’ families.
I barely remember the days when the preseason cup was a highly anticipated event on the AFL fixture.
Founded in 1988, the preseason competition really peaked in its first 15 or so years. In 2001, when Australian airline and preseason naming rights sponsor Ansett collapsed, it appears the interest in the competition did too.
On a slow decline for its next 12 or so years, the AFL made the call in 2013 to scrap the competition format and simply roll out practice matches ahead of the home-and-away season.
That reflects many attitudes towards what the preseason fixture has become and how far it appears to have fallen since its glory days in the ’90s.
It’s never really been the same since the glory days of the ’90s, which leaves many wondering why we still have a formal preseason fixture.
Our attitudes have clearly shifted away from a competition that once excited the football community.
What was once a form guide for the upcoming home-and-away season is now a platform for clubs to test a new game plan, roll the dice on a few new recruits and rookies, and hopefully make it through the entire four quarters without an abundance of injuries and suspensions.
The hunger has disappeared for many clubs and supporters and it left the building long before the competition structure was scrapped.
The main reason for this is that over the last 15 to 20 years, the game has evolved from a part-time job – I use that term loosely, but we have watched the AFL evolve from a sport competition to a business – to a 365-day lifestyle with professional athletes working around the clock to improve from year to year.
We transition from the previous season to the preseason faster than lightning. There’s barely a chance to breathe, let alone prepare for a serious competition before the real competition.
But it can’t be as simple as that. There are definitely other factors involved.
A big part of this is pile-on culture – particularly in recent years as social media becomes a bigger player in the game. In society today, it’s cool to bag something out if everyone else is doing so.
As someone who dreads the off-season, I’m happy to admit that I quite enjoy tuning into the matches during the preseason competition. I don’t watch every minute of every game. I sometimes don’t even watch entire matches featuring my own team.
But I enjoy football. For majority of the year it’s the centre of my universe! So to have access to it a few weeks early is a gift for me – even if it’s just a bit of fun.
How seriously (or not) you want to take the game and the results, that’s totally up to you. Often we promise ourselves not to read into it too much, but can’t help to get sucked in.
And with all games televised on Fox Footy over the past few weeks, it was great to have the option to watch a few games and get a preview of the 2020 season. And credit to Fox, whose coverage allowed football fans who were interested to tune into watch their sides, even if it was a little bit tedious at times.
Garry Lyon summarised it beautifully during AFL360 on Monday night.
“You get out of it what you need to get out of it,” he said.
“I watched it all, we did it because Fox do such a magnificent job… but it was hard work.”
While I enjoyed the coverage overall, I do agree with Lyon that at times it looked as if commentators were struggling.
Listening to Dwayne Russell try and hype up the Gold Coast Suns after “showing up” a lacklustre Adelaide side by seven points was a bit much for me. Then again, maybe it’s self-inflicted punishment by choosing to watch that particular game in the first place!
One game – or should I say quarter – I genuinely enjoyed was the Western Derby on Saturday.
What was a slog for most of the day, and what appeared to be an easy West Coast victory in Perth, completely transformed in the final quarter, when an undermanned Fremantle put the foot down on the accelerator and surged to a one-point victory against its great rivals.
I’m not overly worried about West Coast, but they were encouraging signs from Fremantle.
My main takeaway was that it was an entertaining final quarter of footy. That’s about all.
The game on Saturday, along with majority of the Marsh Community Series games, were played at suburban and country football grounds across the country, which is probably the series highlight.
It’s fantastic to bring footy to grounds where the AFL rarely ventures to.
And for those who don’t enjoy the preseason games, here is a revelation for you: you don’t actually have to watch them. It sounds crazy, I know. But it’s not compulsory viewing!
Watch as much as you want or don’t. Overanalyse it or don’t. There are no rules. Ultimately, it’s a bit of fun and an opportunity to get some footy into your veins ahead of the season.
And I cannot wait to get stuck into the real thing… at least, I hope. I am standing by very anxiously for home-and-away season updates.