This time of year the AFL season is usually done and dusted. There are a few hangovers and annoying fans persisting, but for the rest of us we’re looking towards what comes next – and hoping for a better go next season.
It comes as no surprise to learn that this season has been like no other. At this point, the season has been running for 7 months, with a big gap between the first and second rounds and a few weeks still to go. Normally finals are the province of September – this year it’s October, and the first game played last night.
I can get fired up at finals time. It’s a great contest to start with, and the game itself goes to another level. Then there’s the hype and expectation, not to mention the vibe that infects the streets of Melbourne.
Sadly, there’s another infection now which means that Melbourne – the beating heart of AFL football – has been sidelined. No surprises, no complaints, we’ve known for a while that we’d be watching from afar, but it makes a material difference to the entire feel of the competition. I just hope the good folks in Queensland are experiencing it.
The bottom line is that I’m not as fired up as I would be normally. Some of it’s because it’s been removed from us. I guess another part of it is the abbreviated nature of the game with shorter quarters and much lower scoring. It’s not nearly the spectacle that it used to be, but not all of that can be blamed on the pandemic. And, I would argue, the standard is yet to match previous years, because of interrupted pre-seasons and modified training.
I’ll be watching, however, as I was last night. My team isn’t in it so my interest is to some degree academic but, as any Victorian will tell you, that doesn’t stop me from having distinct views on who I’d like to win it – or, more accurately, who I don’t want to win it.
There are naive and inexperienced followers of football who think that in a national competition we’ll always support the local team. You couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, you end up barracking for the least offensive option. If you can manage to find a local team that fits that criteria then well and good, but often tribal rivalries will nix that. We’d rather see an interstate team win it than the hated cross-town rival.
The best combo is a local team that’s had little or no success and is due for a win. Bonus points if they possess humility, or have ‘character’, regardless of past success.
For that reason, I’m hoping St Kilda will win it this year. Like a lot of Melbournians I’ve had a soft spot for them for ages. They’re a bit of a larrikin club with a semi-tragic history. Their one and only premiership is famous for the wobbly kick that scored a behind in the dying moments, winning them the flag in 1966. More recently, they’ve played in four grand finals for three losses and a draw. With a bit of luck, they should have beaten Geelong in 2009, and they would’ve won the draw in 2010 but for a dodgy bounce.
On top of that, they’ve had a mix of great players – more than many clubs – and great characters. And the stories about the culture are pretty legendary. Plus Saints fans tend to be a bit different.
I hope they win it, but they’re a longshot.
Who do I definitely don’t want to win it? Well, the favourites, definitely – Richmond, who are as annoying as hell, and Geelong. And Collingwood obviously, goes without saying, but reckon they’re a bit of a longshot too.
After St Kilda, I’ll be backing Brisbane, who are a roughy. Then maybe West Coast Eagles and the Bulldogs (who I find annoying).
I actually think Port Adelaide are a lock for the Grand Final and a good chance in this compromised season. If I were to tip it, I’d say they’ll play off against the Tigers – unless the Lions can sneak in.
We’ll know on October 24. No grand final barbie this year I think, but I’ll be watching.