The AFL fixture has been released for 2024 – and like always, some things have changed while others have stayed the same.
Thursday nights are back – only this time, they’re more commonplace than ever, with the first 13 rounds (plus of course the new ‘Opening Round’) featuring one.
There’s the occasional Friday double-header, and an Anzac Day one too – Collingwood and Essendon being followed by GWS and Brisbane in Canberra – and, in a concerning return to the much-maligned 2014 draw, a whole lotta matches that look suspiciously like Sunday night games.
Weirdly, Sunday fixtures have also changed heavily – particularly to start the year, they’re far more spaced out with little overlap between them, which will most likely see the temporary halt to Sunday afternoon football on free to air TV in the eastern states.
And, of course… Carlton. The Blues are set to be kings of prime time again after returning to finals for the first time in a decade last year.
So what to make of it all? Here are five big winners and five major losers out of the 2024 AFL fixture.
Of the 16 rounds already locked in by the AFL, the Blues have Thursday or Friday night matches in eight of them – and they have byes in two of them. That’s an incredible run of exposure to prime time TV audiences, and if they can combine that with a continuation of their remarkable end to 2023 that saw them reach the preliminary final and enter premiership contention, they could well start to rival Collingwood as the biggest club in Victoria.
The draw, too, is about as good as can be expected considering their final position last year – fellow top-four teams Collingwood and GWS will need to be taken on twice, but they’ve also got North Melbourne and a Richmond outfit in the first year of the post-Damien Hardwick era to cancel that out.
Throw in just six trips outside Melbourne – and one is West Coast in Perth, the dream interstate fixture of recent years – and things are looking rosy for the Baggers already.
Only two teams in the AFL play none of last year’s preliminary finalists twice in 2024 – and it just so happens that they both hail from the same state.
Given where they finished last year, Fremantle and West Coast were always going to have relatively cushy fixtures, but the Dockers have some further boons: they don’t need to face Geelong in Geelong (though given their consecutive wins down there in 2022 and 2023, that may not be such a good thing!), while they won’t be visiting Queensland until September at least after avoiding both road trips to face Brisbane and Gold Coast.
If the new Gold Coast coach wanted an opportunity to get the Suns to hit the ground running in 2024, he’s certainly got it.
Opening Round sees Damien Hardwick face his old side Richmond for the first time – emotions always run high in such situations, and to have that match at home and starting a new season could prove a perfect storm for the Suns.
Just two of their first seven matches are against last year’s top eight – with one against the eighth-placed Sydney – so if the Suns are serious they could and should be 5-2 or better by that stage, the perfect platform to set up the rest of their campaign.
The only negative is the foreordained need to play state rivals and grand final runners-up Brisbane twice, but that was going to be inevitable anyway.
The Cats have been near the top for so long that the sight of a relative fixture, courtesy of missing the finals in 2023, might come as a surprise to them.
Geelong have just one of last year’s preliminary finalists standing in their way twice – Carlton – and with Hawthorn and North Melbourne also doubling up, their draw is well and truly in the green.
The Cats have long expressed a wish to play more powerhouse Victorian clubs at their GMHBA Stadium fortress, and they’ve got it at last: Richmond and Hawthorn are headed their way in 2024, the former for the first time since 2017 and the latter (excluding a one-off in 2020 only rescheduled for the Cattery due to the absence of crowds) for the first time since 2006.
The AFL’s best rivalry has long been shunted to the periphery of the non-South Australian footy bubble, with Showdowns regularly filling the twilight Saturday or Sunday slot, or becoming the second, Fox Footy-only Saturday night match. The last time one of them was on Channel 7 was back in 2015, after all.
But at last in 2023 the league has seen sense: to begin Round 8, on Thursday May 2, we have a Showdown in prime time, with an exclusive slot of its own. Huzzah!
To be fair, it’s not great for the people of South Australia, given first bounce is set for 7pm on a working evening – though that should at least make it possible for school-age children to attend or stay up to watch.
But I’m still happy – the Showdown always delivers, and it’s great to see it finally have the limelight to its own. Hopefully they make that slot permanent for at least one of them every year going forward.
Everyone who hates Sunday night
Like the horror movie villain thought dead but rising from the ground for one last scare, so too has a familiar foe returned to terrify footy fans everywhere: Sunday night.
Introduced, panned and quickly scrapped in 2014, the league looks to be trying again a decade on, with a reshuffled Sunday set of timeslots seeing four games in the first 15 rounds with first bounces taking place after 6:30pm AEST.
To be fair, three of them are games in the west – though I can’t imagine the good people of WA are thrilled with the dreaded 4:40pm timeslot, having by and large avoided it for years due to the two-hour time difference.
As for a Sunday night QClash in Round 8, well… not sure how that’s going to convince non-committed potential footy fans up north to jump on the Lions or especially the Suns’ bandwagon. What was wrong with Saturday night?
If the Swans don’t have 2024’s toughest draw, they’re on the podium.
For starters, they’ve got road trips against four of last year’s finalists, plus two clashes with crosstown rivals GWS and a return to the Adelaide Oval to face the Crows, which is sure to be a spicy affair after last year’s ‘Goal-Umpire-gate’ incident.
Melbourne and Collingwood to start the year also gives them a devilishly tough start to the year that could get them instantly behind the eight-ball if they’re not careful.
People who thought ‘Round 0’ was dumb
I’ve already written my piece about why ‘Opening Round’ is bad and dumb and stupid and dumb.
If you’re interested, check it out here: if you’re not, suffice to say it’s a random, momentum-killing way to begin a new season and somehow fails in its basic goal of giving footy in Queensland and NSW a chance to avoid having to compete with rugby league.
Never change, AFL.
People with plans in August… again
Sure, the floating fixture has its perks – no one wants to see a big Victorian team get lumped with a swathe of prime time slots only to crumble (see: Blues, Carlton, 2011-2022).
But as it stands, the final nine weeks of the home-and-away season are as yet unscheduled – and if 2023 is any guide, won’t be locked in until May at the earliest.
For people looking to travel interstate, or who work weekends, or are trying to book weddings around their team playing (I can’t confirm but see no reason why some people wouldn’t do this), then it just makes it that little bit harder and more annoying to attend the matches they want to see.
Ideally, we’d be able to get those last nine weeks locked in after six rounds – after all, that’s about the time when historically the ladder takes its resting shape.
I’ll withdraw this from the ‘losers’ column if the AFL does so, so consider this a dig in advance – because I strongly doubt the AFL values its supporter base enough to get it in as early as possible. Alas.