The sun rises in the West.

The drought is over. The Western Bulldogs, the sons of the Scray, the Dishlickers, the Saltwater Lads have won a premiership for the first time since 1954 and football is better for the experience.

The vortex of tribalism is a wonderful thing, and when you combine 62 years of angst with living a stones throw from the Whitten Oval, that’s a recipe for some of the most hair-raising experiences you are ever going to have.

All week, the nerves and excitement had built to boiling point and as Tom Boyd bombed the sealer through from close to sixty metres, the longest premiership drought and the years of heartache that came with it were over.whitten-on-gf-day

The Grand Final party I was attending might as well have been a Bulldogs only event, despite the fact there was one Bulldog fan among the entire gathering. These scenes were undoubtedly replicated across the Western Suburbs, however I had the good fortune of being a few hundred metres from the spiritual home of football in the west.

The sound of the siren was barely audible about the shrieks of delight coming from those around me. My heart skipped a beat, not for my own team, but for my community and the loyal Doggies I know who often lamented the fact that they would never experience the joy of 1954 or the heartache of 1961 (something which they’d be better of not experiencing).

As the realisation sunk in there was only one thing left to do – make tracks for Whitten Oval. A chorus of out of tune “Sons of the West”, mixed with car horns blaring and screams of delight were all around, yet Whitten Oval itself appeared to grind to a halt, paused in a moment of glory that will live on for generations.

A photo in front of the statute of Ted Whitten was followed by a walk towards Barkly Street, where scenes of pandemonium were unfolding.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of staunch football fans, many dressed in red, white and blue, were cheering, singing and waving to every car who drove past as horns blared. In the moment, the spirit of sport was exposed for what it is – the greatest emotional roller coaster anybody could ever strap themselves in for.

Football for too long has been the tale of the big clubs, while the underdogs have been left to wonder what might have been. Yesterday, the Bulldogs broke the back of that myth and proved that any one of the eighteen clubs can go on to do the improbable.

It’s not about free agents or million dollar contracts – it is about finding players who are the walking embodiment of the organisation that they play for. A willingness to play for the jumper, the history  of their club and each other as they aim to write a new page, to go down as immortals.

No club is without its dark days, and without those dark days the sun couldn’t shine as brightly as it is in the west today.

Once, just once, I want to live the release of euphoria I witnessed yesterday.

Over to you, Melbourne Football Club.

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22 or bust

For twenty-two lucky footballers, Saturday afternoon will see them presented with a premiership medal. Those who don’t make the 22? Tough break, see you later.

The AFL have made a series of strange decisions throughout their history. Most of them worked out for the best and were widely accepted. One such thing that is widely accepted is that only the 22 men on the field for the winning sidepremiership-medal on Grand Final day deserve a premiership medal.

Yes, according to the AFL the only players who contribute to winning the Grand Final are the ones who run out on the day. They’re looking at you Bob Murphy and Aliir Aliir – you’ve done nothing for your club this season (or at least that’s what Gil and his buddies are trying to tell you).

The paragraph preceding this is ludicrous, and it was fully intended to read as such. If it wasn’t for Aliir and Murphy, neither of the sides who run out on Saturday would be in the position they are. The pair have played very different roles for the club, but they are both a vital cog in the machine.

What logic could there possibly be from the AFL for not awarding medals to a wider scope than the selected 22? Tradition is the main argument, in that because it’s the way it has always been done it is the way it should continue to be done.

In that case I’m looking forward to Fitzroy and South Melbourne opening the season at Lakeside Oval in 2017. Wait? That’s not the progress the AFL want? Of course, how silly of me for thinking they’d like to be at the forefront of something.

In a twitter poll which I ran yesterday (yes, that’s progress) the majority of respondents believed that medals should be awarded to more than the 22 named for the decider. The common consensus was that it takes more than 22 men to win a flag, even if they are the ones responsible on the day.

There’s always the “where to you draw the line” counter argument, although all that argument tells me is that some people aren’t willing to have a go at drawing up alternativeso. Here are a few off the top off my head:

 

  • Every player on the senior list gets a medal – Making an AFL senior list isn’t an easy task. There are guys who don’t play a game all year, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t put in the same amount of work on the track.
  • Everyone who plays a game throughout the season – Easy enough – if you run out with the seniors once throughout the year you get a medal.
  • Percentage of games played throughout the year – Only a handful from outside the 22 will play more than a third of the games all season. Under the current draw, players who play seven or more games should be eligible for a premiership medal. That would leave 30 players eligible for medals from the Dogs this season compared with 28 for the Swans.
  • Coach’s pick – Three extra medals given to the club with the senior coach deciding who receives the medals.
  • Long service – Any player who has played more than 75% of games for a club in the last five years and is still on the senior list receives a medal.

Not all of those options are perfect. I’m certain that a few of those would cause animosity for any player who was to just miss out.

Then there are the staff of any professional sporting organisation. Coaches, media, marketing, finance, fan engagement, customer service, the list goes on. Every employee of a football club deserves recognition for their effort throughout the season. A great way to set them apart would be to give non-players championship rings instead of medals.

The AFL often wax lyrical about how the sport is the ultimate team game. It’s time for them to face the fact that they need to reward entire organisations for Grand Final glory, not just the men who are lucky enough to be selected on the day..

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.

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.

Crystal ball – Five 2016 sporting predictions

It’s easy to look back at the end of the year and think about the predictions that should have been made in the world of sport. Here are five headlines you will see in 2016.

Foxes secure Champions League berth – Leicester City’s hot start to the season has shocked the most seasoned of football experts. What they have shown is that chemistry, not money is crucial to success. Jamie Vardy has 2016demonstrated why he might be the most important player in the league and his calmness under pressure will be crucial in the second half of the season. Leicester have never finished higher than eighth in the Premier League so the scene is set for them to rewrite history.

Warriors create history – Will they, won’t they? Will they, won’t they? They will. The 95-96 Bulls record will be no longer at the end of the season. The Warriors are 29-2 at the time of writing and the Bulls were 25-3 on the same date in 1996. When every player who is currently active in the NBA has retired Steph Curry is going to be the best of the lot and it is this dominance that is going to help lead the Warriors to single digit losses.

CUBS ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS – The last time the Cubs won the World Series the toaster hadn’t been invented, the Titanic was years from sinking and the Fitzroy Football Club were the powerhouse of the VFL. A lot has changed in 108 years (although I wouldn’t object to a return of the Roy Boys) but Cubs fans still wait. A better than expected 2015 saw the Cubs reach the NLCS before being swept by the Mets. The addition of John Lackey and Jason Heyward to a club who are a year more experienced makes them favourites for the N.L Central. The Royals showed in 2014 that playoff experience will help the second time around and for Cubs fans this means one thing – sweet sweet relief.

Awesome foursome – Saturday the first of October 2016 marks the day that the Hawthorn Football Club will become the greatest VFL/AFL team I’ve seen in my life. At the moment that is a mantle that belongs to Brisbane but a fourth straight flag to the men in Brown and Gold signifies a changing of the guard. Nobody has exploited Hawthorn and there isn’t an area of the game where they are noticeably lagging behind their opponents. They know when they need to win and they know how to force themselves into a winning position. No wonder they’re a happy team at Hawthorn.

Boomers win first Olympic medal –  It’s the same old story every four years for Australian basketball. The Boomers should win an Olympic medal, they lose a game they shouldn’t and fall into the wrong side of the draw. Three 4th place finishes (1988, 1996, 2000) later and it feels like the Boomers are ready. NBA champions, high draft picks and dominant domestic players will make up what is likely to be the most experienced team Australia have ever seen. The spotlight has shone on this playing group for the last decade in varying forms and they are going to use it to their advantage. A team that is likely to feature two number one draft picks is going to be in the conversation as the games enter their final weekend. More importantly one of the most frustrating streaks in Australian sport is about to be broken.

 

 

AFL flex their muscle with broadcast deal

Going by Australian standards, the new AFL broadcast deal is phenomenal, but where does it leave the game in this country as we move to the back-end of the 2010’s and into the early 2020’s?

However you split it $2.508 Billion is an amount of money that is incomprehensible to your everyday person.

That’s what the powers that be have decided that the broadcast rights for the AFL are worth from 2017 to 2022.

It’s a statement – not only from the league but from the broadcast partners – the dominate sport in Australia is MLB Advanced Media Operations in New YorkAustralian Football, with the new deal worth double that of the current deal which expires at the end of next year.

Every game will be broadcast in High Definition in the new deal, an aspect which has left many fans sour in years gone by. For fans with Foxtel, the only time the issues occurs is on Grand Final day, the one game that should not be in standard definition.

A week prior to the announcement the NRL signed a $1.025 Billion deal, a deal which League executives cited as a new dawn and a show of strength in the sport – little did they know that within a week they’d be blown out of the water.

What the AFL deal does is set them up for the future. Fans get unprecedented access thanks to the 24/7 Fox Footy channel, and the coverage on FTA television ensures that  a great range of magazine style and panel shows continue to give the game a range of exposure in addition to their current game day coverage.

The most interesting component of the deal is what is going to be involved in the next deal, which starts in 2023. There is an air of inevitability in the online market, and any future deal will have a primarily online focus.

Looking at the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB as prime examples (given the position of sports media in North America compared to the rest of the world) the key point of the broadcast deal is that while national deals are in place, teams sell their  packages to local broadcasters. While we don’t have the same setup in Australia, what that model offers is online packages such as MLB.tv.

What MLB TV does is enables any game to be watched / listened to live, with each team having a broadcast crew (not to the extent of press red for Ed) and both options being available in-game. In addition to that the video centre allows fans to watch a full replay, extended highlights, highlights, individual clips and press conferences and interviews post game. All in a central location.

The ease of access is what sells the package, and if the AFL put a similar price on a similar service I expect that the money they’d make from it would be astronomical.

The AFL are leading the way in giving fans what they want – on demand sport. A leap to the online package isn’t a fantasy or even a pipe dream. It’s what they’re going to need to do if they want to continue to be industry leaders in this country.

 

Five experimental rules I want in the AFL 2016 preseason

Preseason is the most interesting time of year in any sport. Some people take it seriously, others think it’s a joke. Most sports love taking the chance to obscure their own rules for entertainments sake.

With the rule twists the AFL have tried over the years (the Supergoal springs to mind) here’s five things I’d like to see the AFL try in the 2016 preseason

Hit the post? Play on – I’ve harped on about this for at least a decade. If the ball hits the post you shouldn’t be rewarded with a score / give away a free kick or a boundary throw in – you should just keep playing. If it goes throughAFL 2013 Rd 16 - West Coast v Fremantle for a behind or a goal the score stands, if it goes out for a stoppage, the stoppage occurs and if it rebounds into the field of play we play on. What’s so wrong with players being alert in every scenario?

Out of bounds? Opponent gets the ball – There aren’t many sports in the world where you can take the ball out of the field of play and not turn it over. All the out of bounds on the full rule does is punish inaccurate kicking. If you want to reduce the length of the game a simple way to do that is to keep the ball in play. Players aren’t going to want to take the ball out if they know they’re going to turn it over.

Shot clock – Not in the here’s 30 seconds after you mark sense. From the time the team come in to possession of the ball (regardless of their position on the field) they have two and a half minutes to take a shot. How often do fans complain about slowing the game to eat up the clock? The easiest way to stop that is to put a cap on the time each team has to do something with the ball.

To mark or not to mark? – If you can take a mark one-handed inside your forward fifty metre arc you’re given a free ten metre advance. What’s more important? possession or field placement? Fans love to question the decision making process of players at any opportunity they get. What will players do when they have the carrot of field possession intertwined with the risk of losing the ball?

Stop the repeat stoppage – If there are three repeat stoppages within a 60 second period  the team in possession of the ball at the last stoppage gives away a free kick. Fans are looking for incentives to rid the game of congestion and if teams are going to give away free kicks for causing stoppages they are going to want to dispose of the ball.

Note: Obviously some of these are never going to happen but it would could completely change the thought process during the game.

Note 2: A big shoutout to the suggestion that an interesting preseason rule would be the “”nobody gives Joel Selwood a free kick”rule.