Bye week no issue

One of the biggest talking points of the 2016 AFL season was the decision to schedule a bye week between the home-and-away season and the finals. 

Two games and percentage was all that separated first and seventh on the AFL ladder after 23 rounds of football. The smallest gap between first and seventh outside of that this decade? Three games. With the numbers showing that this has been the tightest season in years, should it be any surprise that the Bulldogs have come from seventh to be within four quarters of ending a 55-year drought? No.afl1stpreliminaryfinalgwsvwesternbulldogsepte0p-vqsdl

That’s not the directive being taken by members of the AFL and some media personalities, however. According to Gil Mclachlan, without the bye the Bulldogs would not be where they are, with Mclachlan claiming that the bye enabled them to field a stronger squad throughout their finals campaign.

He may well be right, but every club was afforded that right with the week off, so it becomes irrelevant. Furthermore Mclachlan suggested that both the Giants and Cats were a victim of the bye week. To anyone who watched both games it was clear they were a victim of being outplayed on the day of their Preliminary Final.

The losses of the Giants and Cats on the weekend mark the only occasion since 2000 (when the current finals format started) where both Qualifying Final winners lost their Preliminary Final. Perhaps rather than looking at the results of two games, look at the unpredictability in the 23 rounds that preceded what has become one of the most talked about finals series in a decade. That’s why the Swans and Dogs are gracing the MCG on Saturday afternoon – because they got through every hurdle that was placed in their way.

A cynic (not me personally, but I’m sure we could find five or ten thousand) would suggest that Gil and others are upset because the Grand Final isn’t the marquee Greater Western Sydney V Sydney or Greater Western Sydney V Geelong game that many pundits had mentioned throughout the year.  On the balance of play across the weekend, the two teams who deserve to be there are.

There was talk on 1116 SEN  this morning that the AFL have broken something by implementing the bye week. There were many skeptics when it was announced (myself included), yet looking at the quality of football that has continued throughout the season I think it has been a great addition to the year.

Roll on Saturday.

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Upton Park – The last hurrah

Tomorrow morning, a morning like many others, I’ll wake up at ungodly o’clock to watch my beloved West Ham United. Tomorrow morning, unlike any other, the result isn’t the most important thing.

 For 90 (and a few additional) glorious minutes, the Boleyn Ground will be the centre of the football universe, and not just the centre of my football universe.

Sadly, when the final whistle blows, a reality that has been looming large for the last three years will hit home – West Ham United will no longer call Upton Park home.UPFarewell

The prospect of the Olympic Stadium being mere months away is exciting, it offers the club a world of potential, a fitting reward for a club who have offered me more despair than happiness.

I started writing this piece after the 3-3 draw with Arsenal. For years I have battled with the emotions of knowing I was never going to set foot inside Upton Park. The reality has been broken countless times by dreams of winning the lotto and making a mad dash across the ocean to have my dreams come true. Alas.

I’ve penned the story of becoming a West Ham fan on many an occasion and it doesn’t need to be repeated here. The sadness I feel is driven further by the sadness my dad, the man responsible for this character building experience, will also never get to grace the highlight of East London. Today we’re figured out that between the two of us we’ve supported the club for sixty-five years. The dream to see a West Ham game together is still alive, just with a new venue in mind, and getting to the Olympic Stadium has taken the lead on my bucket list.

This season has been a season of mixed emotions. On the field they’ve given me more than they ever have, off it, this day has drawn closer and closer. With every game that passes the knot in my stomach tightens.

I’ve always loved the emotions the club have made me feel. The lost sleep, the tears, the looking blankly into the world because other fans just don’t understand. The emotional connection to Upton Park is the same and I can’t wait to build that with the Olympic Stadium.

Over the last few weeks there are periods where I’ve stopped writing this in a desperate attempt to slow the time down, it hasn’t worked, so here I sit, less than ten hours from the final kick-off, hammering away.

The emotions seem more fitting for the loss of a Cup Final, Play-Off Final or one of our once in a generation players (all very real experiences I’ve had) rather than the loss of a big box of plastic seats. But that’s the thing about sport, it makes you feel things you can’t feel anywhere else.

I’ve choked up (and a little more) a few times already, and I expect a repeat tomorrow. I want a win tomorrow, but more than that I want every member of the capacity crowd singing their lungs out for 90 minutes for those of us who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

West Ham United are a family. Families grow. Let’s give our spiritual home the party it deserves tomorrow and embark on the next big task – Becoming the club we have always shown glimpses of being.

Dreams?

I’ve looked everywhere.

Come On You Irons.

Rio 2016 outfit suffers identity crisis

The Australian Olympic Committee launched the uniform that their athletes will wear in the Rio  2016 opening ceremony on Wednesday morning and they’ve managed to sneak under their own very low bar.

Since the turn of the century the Australian Olympic Team have a history of success. They’ve not finished lower than tenth on the medal tally (4th in 2000 and 2004, 6th in 2008 and 10th in 2012) with the seven Gold Medal’s from London a cause for concern in parts of Australia’s sporting fraternity.

The Australian team will sport this interesting combination at the Rio Opening Ceremony

The Australian team will sport this interesting combination at the Rio opening ceremony

In that same time span the choice of uniform for the opening ceremony has remained, at best, questionable. In keeping with said tradition the Australian team will march in to the Maracanã Stadium on August 5th looking as if they’ve suffered an identity crisis.

2000 had the outback theme, 2004 saw the return to prominence of the spray jacket, 2008 intrigued with the return of the nations traditional blue, while 2012 saw the return of the timeless bottle green look.

As an Australian it is your birthright to know that “It’s moments like these you need Minties”, yet I don’t think the opening ceremony was the moment they were referring to when they coined that slogan in 1926.

The mint and white stripped jackets that are to be donned in August are desperately out of place in a uniform that features white shorts or skirts and yellow tie or green wrap-around scarf. The balance between the individual elements of the uniform is lacking and while we are going to stand out when we make our grand entrance, it’s not going to be for the reason the AOC hoped when they approved the design.

If the AOC had have gone with an entirely mint jacket and a soft gold skirt / pants combo with a white shirt and no tie, the blow would be softened dramatically and a timeless classic may have emerged.

They are by no means the worst Australian opening ceremony uniform (see Barcelona 1992 for that) but they do raise the question of the look that the AOC were aiming for as they appear to have landed smack between honourng the tradition of Olympics past and landing in a candy-land future.

 

The AFL are missing the mar(quee)

Marquee games. There is nothing better in sport – apparently. 

Easter Monday is a great day for sport, the Stawell Gift is beamed to televisions around Australia, which gives me a chance to reminisce about the times spent growing up in not only such a great town, but the time I spent at Central Park watching the Redlegs train and play. The fact a close personal friend has won at Stawell has added to the love I have the place.

Marquee game? If you say so AFL.

Marquee game? If you say so AFL.

Forgive me, I’m getting off topic.

The AFL have also decided that Easter Monday means that fans need to have another Hawthorn and Geelong clash rammed down their throat every year, a decision based on the fact that the sides have had a few great Grand Final clashes across the years.

Monday was a great game, but let’s face facts. This game is only great while these two teams are and begs the question of what is going to happen when these teams fall off the radar?

Let’s take a look at the marquee games the AFL have thrust upon us (again) this year and see if they are worthy of the spots they are given:

  • Richmond V Carlton – Season opener. Two historically successful clubs who have both struggled to make an impact this millennium. Marquee rating – 2/5.
  • Hawthorn V Geelong – Easter Monday – Good while the going is good. Marquee rating – 3/5.
  • Melbourne V Richmond – ANZAC Day Eve – Dear AFL, when a team has only won 51 games in the last ten full seasons they don’t deserve a marquee game (let alone two), Friday night games or anything else. At least this game is a near-lock to be an upset every year. Marquee rating 0.5/5.
  • Essendon V Collingwood – ANZAC Day – Don’t let Essendon and Collingwood administrators fool you, the sport could survive without this game. Marquee rating 2.5/5.
  • Melbourne V Collingwood – Queen’s Birthday – It’s not the 1950’s and Melbourne are no longer broke and don’t need the help. See previous comments about both clubs and marquee games. Marquee rating – 1.5/5.

The AFL struggle with the concept of moving with the times. All of the equalisation measures that they have tried have failed desperately, and favouring clubs in the fixture list is intensifying the problem, not offering a reasonable solution.

If we must have a marquee game, have the two Grand Finalists (but do not call it a Grand Final replay, as that implies the winner gets the cup) on Easter Monday at the home ground of the winner of the previous season’s decider. Not only does that get fans excited for another year of football but it provides the opportunity to see the two best teams in the league have a shot at each other early in the season.

The game must continue to evolve if it wants to retain the status it has as the most popular league in Australia. Fixing the draw would be a great place to start.

Five far too early Superbowl 50 predictions

It all comes down to this. A fortnight from now a champion will be crowned. In what promises to be a scintillating outing fans will be treated to the first Superbowl between two #1 pick Quarterbacks and the first Superbowl where players drafted #1 and #2  in the same year have both taken the field. With the narratives forming, what better time is there to take a look at some far too early predictions?

Both Quarterbacks will throw an interception – Only once this decade have both teams thrown an interception in the Superbowl (last year). The good news is that the odds of it happening again seem to be low, the bad news for both fan bases is they have men susceptible to throwing an interception under centre. The bad news for Broncos fans is that Ted-Ginn-drops-wide-open-pass-from-Cam-Newton-e1442167857281Peyton Manning has thrown an interception in each of his Superbowl appearances (four in three games) and that is something that will be niggling at him over the next fortnight. Cam Newton has shown Panthers fans the excitement he demonstrated on his way to winning the Heisman. The further the Panthers have advanced, the more Newton has tried a little too hard. It’s not new information that Newton likes the deep ball, but his interception in the NFC Championship game is the perfect example of him putting a little too much on the ball, something the Broncos will try to goad him into in two weeks time.

The Broncos will run and run often – Throughout generations the best Manning teams have had the balance of a run/pass diet. For Peyton, who is going to be the oldest player to start in a Superbowl, it’s crucial that the weight of responsibility to move the chains is shared with Anderson and Hillman. The Broncos averaged 3.3 yards per carry in the AFC title game against the Patriots, out-rushing the defending champions by 55 yards on the day. The Panthers rushed for 152 yards, with Johnathan Stewart finishing with 83 yards, 16 less than the entire Broncos effort.

The Panthers are going to score and score often so it’s imperative the Broncos rush not only to gain traction but to keep the ball away from Newton and Co. for as long as possible.

The Broncos defensive efforts will falter – Breathtaking, dazzling, stunning, wondrous and splendid. They are just a few of the words that spring to mind when thinking about the defensive effort against the Patriots. Can they replicate that form two games in a row? Without a doubt. Will it be enough to get another ring for the Mile High City? The jury’s out. During the regular season Carolina ranked first in points per game, second in rushing yards per game, fourth in first downs and eleventh in total yards per game (averaging 15 yards more than the Broncos in the process).

There’s no arguing with the evidence – the Broncos have the means to stop a high-octane attack such as the Panthers. It might only consecutive series or a quarter but the Panthers will have their way with the Broncos. Stopping the attack and wrestling back momentum will decide who gets to life the Lombardi Trophy.

Ted Ginn Jr. is going to step up yet again – The Ohio State alumni is somewhat of an enigma. Now in his ninth year after being drafted by the Dolphins, Ginn Jr. has never lived up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him as a one-time High School and College All-American. In Carolina he has found his sort of person, with his career high rushing and receiving averages a testament to the player he has become under Ron Rivera.

There will be no shortage of players telling the media this is the game that they were born to play. Ginn Jr. has always thought of himself as an elite level footballer and when he’s given his stage he will demonstrate why.

The halftime show will be at best, mediocre –  Not really a “far too early” prediction given that Coldplay were announced with Beyoncé and Bruno Mars last year. The halftime show is about hype and for all the commercial success in the world, that’s not something Coldplay are known for.

The NL doesn’t need the Designated Hitter

Reports today suggest the National League are going to introduce the Designated Hitter rule from the beginning of the 2017 season . When it finally happens the National League will be worse off.

JonLesterHitting

Jon Lester’s quest for a hit captivated baseball fans.

It’s one of the most controversial rules in baseball. Should the pitcher hit, does it devalue the game, does the DH rule offer guys like David Ortiz a longer (and more successful) major league career than they would otherwise have?

There are many questions about the National League and their decision to have avoided the DH rule and it’s a decision that splits fans.

The pitcher hitting changes the game. Pitchers approach their starts differently, small ball is more important, managers are forced to manage the game on a deeper level and in extreme cases, Bartolo Colon does Bartolo Colon things.

At its core baseball is more a narrative than it is a game. Much like a good book, every chapter ebbs and flows and each small decision can lead to dire consequences or unbridled success.

To remove the designated hitter is to remove part of the theatre that makes baseball such a perfect metaphor for life – a series of decisions where the primary goal is to get ahead and stay there.

There’s the suggestion that allowing the pitcher to hit creates an easy out. If that’s the sole argument of someone who wants the DH they need to consider the following…

Clayton Kershaw’s Opening Day win in 2013 wouldn’t have been as good if he didn’t hit a solo Home Run to give his side the lead, the legend that is being built by Madison Bumgarner wouldn’t be the same if he was only as productive on one side of the ball. What about the 2007 World Series? Daisuke Matsuzaka got his first ever professional hit and drove in a run in a big spot. These moments are gone when the DH comes to the National League.

The above examples are blips on the radar, but that’s what makes them so special. If baseball had storybook endings every night the audience would be diminished. Fans love the unusual and baseball is the perfect laboratory for the insane.

On of the most underrated parts of the Designated Hitter rule comes into play years, if not decades before a pitcher ever sets foot inside the batters box as a professional. The possibility of being drafted by (or signing for) a National League organisation means that young pitchers are going to need to have their hitting somewhat honed in their formative years.

The lack of Designated Hitter shows the importance of balance, not only on the diamond but off it. You might not be able to be the greatest at everything but it’s vital to have a range of applicable skills.

It might seem peculiar but pitchers hitting adds purity to the game. To remove it changes not only the game, but the course of history.

2016 Williamstown Seagulls fixture analysis

The VFL draw has been released and the Williamstown Seagulls are looking for back-to-back premierships for the first time since 1958-59. What does the draw hold?

Round 1: RICHMOND (HOME) – The Seagulls have a relatively kind draw for the season opener, hosting the Tigers, a side they easily accounted for in 2015. A comfortable win should follow.index

Round 2: BOX HILL (HOME) – The premiership flag will unfurled against the side the Seagulls dominated to win their first flag in twelve years. Box Hill have the credentials of a top four side and this game will have some niggle.

Round 3: CASEY (AWAY) – A night game awaits the Seagulls on their first 2016 away trip. Casey will fancy themselves as a chance if they can regain the form that saw them sneak into the finals last season.

Round 4: PORT MELBOURNE (HOME) – The Mothers Day clash at Burbank will, as always, be a clash for the ages. Last Mothers Day the Seagulls fell a kick short and will be looking to turn the tables on their oldest rival.

Round 5: WERRIBEE (AWAY) – There’s a certain symmetry to the Seagulls traveling to Werribee the week after playing Port at home. The week after their stinging loss to Port, the Towners suffered the same result by the same margin against the Tigers. This result will be lingering in the memories of the visitors.

Round 6: NORTHERN BLUES (HOME) – The Blues gave the Seagulls a scare in the first week of 2015 but don’t expect to see that result repeated. The Seagulls will be far too strong for an undermanned Blues outfit.

Round 7: COLLINGWOOD (AWAY) – The most frustrating away fixture simply because it is being played at the Holden Centre rather than Victoria Park. The Pies will be as strong as ever in what could be a great contest.

Round 8:  STATE GAME – SANFL VS VFL – This would be a great afternoon at the Adelaide Oval. One thing is for sure, there will be Seagulls players pulling on the Big V.

Round 9: FOOTSCRAY (AWAY) – The Queen’s Birthday Eve clash will hopefully have better weather than the 2015 game. This game is also likely to be the only game featuring the Seagulls stunning yellow kit they wore as they won their second Foxtel Cup in 2014.

Round 10: FRANKSTON (HOME) – The Dolphins are going to be a better team in 2015. Are they going to be good enough to get a result against the Seagulls on the road? Probably not. A good percentage boosting opportunity heading into the bye.

Round 11: BYE

Round 12: GEELONG (HOME) – The Cats are the perfect opponent for the Seagulls to face coming out of the bye. A refreshed outfit should be too much for the Cats.

Round 13: NORTH BALLARAT (HOME) –This will be the first time North Ballarat have played at Burbank Oval since Round 14 2012. Burbank Oval is a difficult place to play at the best of times and the Roosters face a tough task to get the points.

Round 14: BOX HILL (AWAY) – This could be the toughest game of the season for the Seagulls. Box Hill are going to be a top four team and this game will go a long way to deciding the look of the ladder come finals.

Round 15: COBURG (HOME) – Coburg will be much improved from a 2015 campaign that saw them in the winners column on just seven occasion. A potential bogey game if approached with the wrong mindset.

Round 16: PORT MELBOURNE (AWAY) – The trip across the bridge generates a tense atmosphere at North Port Oval. The Borough will be in the mix for a finals place so this one could go either way.

Round 17: SANDRINGHAM (AWAY) – Seagulls fans and players alike will be hoping for less heart complications than were delivered in the 2015 Qualifying Final. It’s tough to see how the Zebras won’t be aiming for some payback from the above result.

Round 18: FOOTSCRAY (HOME) – In what shapes as their toughest month of the season the Seagulls are going to need to find a way past a very strong Footscray side. The Dogs got across the line last time these sides met at Burbank, with poor kicking plaguing the home side, who managed a limp 1.7 in the final term of that clash.

Round 19: ESSENDON (AWAY) – A trip to Windy Hill could be a threat. It’s likely that Essendon will be depleted all season, but much like the clash against Coburg, it’s all about mindset.

Round 20: NORTHERN BLUES (AWAY) – If everything goes to plan a top two spot will be wrapped up by the final game of the season for Williamstown, an honour that has eluded the side since the 2011 season. This is a must win game with their second bye of the season in round 21.

Round 21: BYE

 

Season prediction – There are no games for the Seagulls that are worse than 50-50 in 2015. Worst case scenario the Seagulls go 12-6, best case scenario 17-1. I think they’ll end up somewhere in the middle going 15-3 and securing the Minor Premiership.