The Essendon saga is pretty much concluded so finally the focus can get back to the football, the last round and the finals.
A raft of player retirements have been announced this week including Justin Kositchke who lines up for the first time in 10 weeks for the Saints for his 200th and final game. Kositchke will be joined by the retiring Stephen Milne as well as 22 year old Dylan Roberton who returns from being rested form the Saint’s last match. Rested from the penultimate game of the season with no finals to be played? It’s different that’s for sure.Talking of resting players StKilda’s opponent Fremantle have rested 7 players amongst 10 changes this week. Ross Lyon, ever the pragmatist, has pulled a familiar move for Freo fans they also sent a shadow side to Tasmania in Round 21, 2010.
Essendon will farewell two loyal servants on Saturday night with David Hille and Nathan Lovett-Murray calling time on their careers. One player who won’t be alongside them is Dustin Fletcher who hurt his hamstring during the week. Had he played Fletcher would have become Essendon’s games record holder. He is currently level with Simon Madden on 378 games but fair to say this has been overshadowed by other events at Essendon. Fletcher only managed 13 games this season but is keen to play on in 2014.
Ground invasions. Essendon just can’t seem to escape the headlines for all the wrong reasons. In their Round 20 game against West Coast at Docklands a spectator ran onto the playing surface not once but twice. The man ran on the field, tripped and was apprehended but somehow he wriggeld free from security as he was being escorted around an internal walkway and ran onto the ground for a second time. On Saturday night, what looked like a kid in a helmet ran onto the field in the second half of the game against Carlton at the MCG. But to top this a young girl was on the MCG before the Essendon v Carlton game having a kick to kick with her dad. Her Dad just so happens to be coach of the Essendon Football Club and she was on the ground because she had been listed as General Manager on the Bombers team sheet. Some people were annoyed Essendon didn’t adhere to the AFL rules that only accredited people could be listed on a team sheet that grants them access to the playing surface. Requiring a security clearance to take walk on an oval is a bit like needing a license to climb a ladder in my opinion, but the kick to kick on the ground and the hug between Hird and his daughter in the change rooms after the game struck me as carefully choreographed and planned events in the public relations campaign to create the image of James Hird as the perfect family man who can do no wrong. Sort of along the lines of Lance Armstrong could do no wrong because he was a cancer survivor who ran a charity, he had the squeaky clean public persona and cult like following. There are strong parallels between these Hird and Armstong: the denials, attacking people who speak against them, the unquestioning faith some people have invested in the duo blinding them to Hird’s/Armstrong’s faults. I’m just not sure who James Hird is going to sit down with Oprah style to tell all, Caroline Wilson? Probably not. Note that Hird’s wife drove him to and from the AFL commission hearing on Tuesday too.
Either the AFL have been trying to slip out press releases under the cover of controversy created by the Essendon verdict or trying to deflect from the scandal by putting out a phalanx of press releases of varying value.
First it was that the MCG could host all 4 games on the first weekend of finals which would include two games on the Saturday – the first double header at the MCG since 1986. That was Monday and Tuesday, and just as the seemingly unlikely double header gained some traction the AFL announced on Thursday that the MCG couldn’t host two games in one day and Geelong’s Kardinia Park was being considered to host a final. Another seemingly unlikely scenario to which Geelong’s likely opponent, Fremantle, lobbed a protest. What’s not being mentioned is something Rohan Connolly mooted in The Age on August 20th and the most likely outcome – one of the finals will be played at Docklands and the Victorian club who is fixtured to play there will probably be pretty pissed off. I’m not sure if the AFL are deliberately trying to make a story out of nothing but finals fixturing is hardly worthy of a mini series of melodramas across a week.
The 2014 fixture
The AFL announced the structure of the 2014 season. The NAB cup is gone replaced with two practice matches and an as yet to be determined representative game. The AFL home & away season will remain at 22 games but is extend from 24 to 25 weeks to include two byes for each club in Rounds 8-10 and Rounds 18-19. The season will feature a split round to start on March 14-16 ( 5 games) and March 21-23 (4 games). It will be interesting to see how the AFL handles Round 1 as, of the main AFL venues, only Docklands, Sydney Showgrounds, Cararra and Subiaco will be free from cricket commitments until Round 2.
The Indigenous All Stars team.
You know the AFL were trying hard to distract people when the International Rules series got some airtime during the week. The Indigenous squad of 34 players to take on the Irish in October was announced, wait for the player withdrawals to start soon.
Port Melbourne’s full forward Dean Galea returned from injury on Sunday, in the final round of the home & away season, to stake his claim for the VFL leading goalkicker award, The Frosty Miller medal. After Saturday’s matches Galea was 6 goals behind Frankston’s Michael Lourey and things weren’t looking great at half time when Galea only had 1 goal beside his name. Two goals from difficult set shot’s into the wind in the third quarter got Galea firing and when the game was up for grabs at the start of the last quarter with Port Melbourne leading by only 1 point, Galea stepped up with four final quarter goals. Galea was too strong for the Coburg defenders out muscling them to take a series of contested marks and convert the set shots.
A bit of an unusual and unfortunate side note for Michael Lourey is that he did actually kick the same number of goals as Galea across the season (55) except that one of those goals was scored in the first half of Frankston’s match against North Ballarat where a second half head count revealed Frankston had 19 men on the ground and their score to that point was wiped including Lourey’s goal.
A trip to Victoria Park. It’s hard to explain what was more unusual about this day: The 11:00am start time of a VFL match, the fact that Collingwood and Werribbee managed 6 goals between them in the first half but 20 in the second half, that Werribee could only manage 2 goals to half time and 5 goals to three quarter time but kicked 8 in the last to nearly pinch the game, Ben Hudson acting like a goose, the VFL match being a curtain raiser to a TAC Cup match not vice versa, the lurid yellow outfits of the Dandenong Stingrays (Think the Eagles inaugural ‘Yellow Peril’ design with a cartoon stingray replacing the eagle teamed with Hawthorn’s all yellow socks from the 80’s), Dandenong’s abysmal kicking – 0.10 at half time or the Collingwood after match function I attended in some bunker underneath the Sherrin Stand where I shared free party pies and sandwiches with Anthony Rocca.
Bendigo Gold surrendered to a final round massacre at the hands of Geelong losing by 201 points, their biggest loss of the year in a season where they lost all 18 games by an average of 96 points.
VFL finals finally make it to Kardinia Park this week when Geelong will host Casey Scorpions on Friday night in the first ever VFL final at the venue. Perhaps it is being used as a trial for AFL finals at the ground….
“James Hird is under the most pressure of anyone ever”
Luke Darcy dives into his kitbag of hyperbole during the Carlton v Essendon game on Chanel 7’s ‘Saturday Night Football.’ The only way to watch this BT hosted ‘entertainment’ (used in the loosest possible sense of the word) masquerading as football coverage is on mute.