Sport AFL Why we can’t trust the AFL to preserve the daytime grand final
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Why we can’t trust the AFL to preserve the daytime grand final

Gillon McLachlan AFL
Gillon McLachlan is increasingly confident the 2020 premiership season can be completed by the end of October. Photo: AAP
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So the football traditionalists have dodged a bullet again. Well, temporarily, at least.

But even those of us who have held the fort on the question of the start time of the AFL grand final for so long have tempered our reactions to the announcement on Friday night that the game will remain a 2.30pm start this year.

Because this has been a war in which the TV broadcasters have battered everybody into submission, and the staunchest opponents of a twilight or night grand final are either no longer in positions of influence, or after so many rounds of debate are easier to portray as football Don Quixotes tilting at windmills.

Is the public relations on the issue that calculated? Well, virtually every utterance on the question from AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, including Friday, has included a line about the inevitability of the shift.

“When inevitable is I’m not sure, someone will change it one day, whether it’s next year [or] in 10 years, I’m sure at some point there’ll be a change,” he said.

richmond tigers afl grand final
An afternoon game guarantees the best playing conditions. Photo: AAP

If this were a game of Russian roulette, Friday’s non-announcement was probably the fifth empty chamber. Look out next time.

But as far as the Don Quixote analogy goes, at my age I’m quite comfortable with analogies about great literary works. So allow me for perhaps a final time to restate why moving the grand final start time is a mistake, hopefully rounding up a few more Sancho Panzas to accompany me along the way.

And no, tradition isn’t the main thrust of the argument. It’s actually about the integrity of the playing conditions for the most important of 207 games in an AFL season.

Every time both players and fans have been polled on this question, the response has been an emphatic “no” to a shift.

We know that the AFL doesn’t necessarily listen to its fan base, which only the other week in a survey conducted by the AFL Fans’ Association returned a “no” vote of close to 90 per cent, and yesterday on 1116 SEN in a survey of close to 1500 returned a 69 per cent vote for a day grand final.

It does, however need to be careful not to get the players off-side. And their reluctance goes far more to conditions than any particular emotional state about the biggest game of the football year.

Yes, there’s plenty of great night games. Yes, plenty of them have been finals. The fact remains, however, that the likelihood of lower quality playing conditions (ie. more slippery turf and a greasier ball) is greater in a game played at night in fine weather, because of dew and moisture in the air, than were the same game played in the afternoon.

In some ways, a twilight game would be worse than a night game, as the conditions would change midway through the grand final in accordance with the change of atmosphere.

Either way, though, doesn’t the single most important game of the season deserve every possible chance of being played in the best possible conditions?

That, of course, isn’t the only way in which the playing conditions would be altered, with the much-trumpeted “more spectacular half-time show” requiring longer to set up, stage and take down, and consequently, a longer half-time break.

Yes, that gives the players more recovery time from the first half. It also quite likely gives them a greater chance of seizing up and getting injured when they return. And I’m tipping given a choice between a longer break and the match day routine they follow every other game of their careers, not too many wouldn’t opt for the latter.

So they’re the more tangible, logistical arguments against the change. Not that I don’t think the other points aren’t significant.

Like the young children, the fans of today, potentially players of tomorrow, for whom a night grand final would finish too late to be able to watch. Like the array of grand final breakfasts and lunches and backyard barbecues that are already an ingrained part of the grand final ritual.

The grand final is almost, without fail, a sell-out, and in terms of TV audiences close enough to the highest-rating sports broadcast of the year. Does the possibility of a few extra thousand viewers constitute a good enough reason?

And frankly, if you’re not interested enough to watch a grand final in the afternoon but would in a later timeslot, and because the entertainment or fireworks would look better, you’re not really a footy fan. Why should the rest of us be bending over backwards to appease you?

As for the entertainment, who actually gives a toss after the event? Are the storied grand finals of 1966 and 1970 remembered any less fondly because pre-game entertainment then consisted of a small armed services band piping out a few marching tunes? Of course not.

Incidentally, was “The Killers” post-game show after Richmond’s grand final win last year not good enough on the entertainment front?

It was universally well-received. And it rocked. But it’s also remembered for one image. Yep, that of Jack Riewoldt up on stage belting out “Mr Brightside”. A footballer taking centre stage on grand final day? Hmm, might be something in that, Gill.

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