The AFL has bungled the finals series before a ball has even been bounced.
From the overreaction surrounding the finals bye, to the farcical nature of handing ANZ Stadium its first fixture of the season, the AFL has made perplexing decisions at every turn.
The bye was introduced to deal with potential integrity issues such as the late-season mass resting of players last year by North Melbourne and Fremantle.
For a competition so infatuated with momentum, the idea that the industry needs a break ahead of what looms as a pulsating finals series is ridiculous.
The AFL’s solution is the very definition of a “knee jerk”.
While it is the AFL’s prerogative to schedule the bye, the fact that key stakeholders weren’t consulted – including coaches – makes this decision more risk than reward.
There is no tangible return for the AFL from this.
CEO Gillon McLachlan stressed over the weekend that a “wait-and-see” approach must be taken, but it’s a nonsensical approach in the first place.
It gives the NRL a leg-up – especially in Melbourne, where the Melbourne Storm will play a standalone top-of-the-table clash at AAMI Park.
Sure, this week provides an opportunity to shine a greater light on awards like the Rising Star and the All Australian, as well the EJ Whitten Charity Legends Game and the AFL women’s league debut, but the finals break will sap momentum out of the most important part of the season.
It’s inconceivable that the AFL persevere with a bye that has been so vehemently rejected by the coaches.
“Even if you win the first final you’ve then got a very, very nervous wait. When you get into the prelim you’ve had one game in three weeks, which is really, really unique,” Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson said earlier this year.
The bye not only saps momentum but genuinely distorts the finals.
There is an aura of unknown, but surely a finals series cannot be undermined by a single, blanket fixture change?
ANZ Stadium an unwanted host
The AFL’s awkward lovechild ANZ Stadium, a venue widely derided in the industry, will host its first game of the season in a cutthroat qualifying final between Sydney Swans and Greater Western Sydney.
This is despite the Swans negotiating to move all home finals to the SCG last week.
The argument has always been about generating large attendances with the 83,000-capacity stadium.
But since 2008, only one final has attracted a crowd of over 50,000, and that was against Collingwood in 2012. In fact, the finals crowd at ANZ Stadium has exceeded that of SCG’s capacity of 46,000 only three times since 2002.
And ANZ hasn’t hosted a crowd remotely close to its capacity since 2003. Coupled with the substandard playing surface and dreary atmosphere, it’s a mind-boggling decision.
Not to mention ANZ Stadium is actually in the heart of western Sydney – a mere five-minute drive from GWS’ home base – meaning it is more of a home final for the Giants than the Swans.
Amidst all of this, McLachlan would have been well-advised to assess the uproar, and leave the shake-ups at that.
But whether the AFL really needs a Thursday night final is yet to be seen, but the loyal fans of the Western Bulldogs will now have to fork out big dollars just to make it to the game in Perth.
The AFL has been on the campaign trail promoting their various “shake-ups” for September. But a number of key decisions could shape the finals, and not in the positive nature they intended.
Will the AFL be as buoyant in the aftermath?
Alex Paull also writes for footyprophet.com – football and fantasy analysis unravelled.