Footy Christmas (Delayed)

So, finally, we’ve made it into the lead up to the Grand Final, although obviously through far different circumstances than anyone could anticipated last time.

My previous post back in April was entitled “The Year of the Asterisk”, and I wrote that at time when the first wave was starting to ramp up in Australia, although fortunately in most states aside from Victoria the curve was kept to manageable level.

Even in the Garden State, where the worst outbreak occurred, finally after several months of some pretty hard restrictions, it has gotten back to a manageable level, although perhaps not quickly enough for some actual grand final night gatherings. Obviously a lot of noise about coulda/woulda/shouldas about how it was handled in Victoria, but I am not going to get into that here, since this is not really talking about footy. Just to acknowledge the general impact.

So the AFL managed to arrange 17 “home” and away rounds which allowed each team to play each other twice, albeit under very unique conditions to do with venues and scheduling, then the usual finals system, and finally on Saturday night, the grand final at the ‘Gabba, all done and dusted by the end of October. I have to say, a pretty impressive effort considering the competition was on hold for nearly two months.

I ended up doing more work keeping tabs on the fixtures and results for GRAFT, so some of the previous features had been cut back a bit, such as the regular projections, which I only started in the last few weeks. Especially as I was already winging it on working out the scaling of the ratings with the reduction to 80% of the usual match length.

At this stage it’s looking like 18 minute quarters for next year, although at that point I just think it’d be better to go back to the usual 20 minutes – it was during the finals that I particularly felt the missing 20% with most of the matches seemed to finish too soon.

So, on the asterisk question – should it be applied? As I said, a full round-robin was achieved, the finals series played out in the usual format, the one really compromising factor was the venues but really there was little choice in that. I don’t think either Geelong or Richmond will insisting on having an asterisk engraved on the premiership trophy and will happily take it back home to sit with their others. In fact, for whoever wins, it might count as one of their fondest given that both clubs were basically exiled for most of the season.

We can refer back to the wartime VFL seasons, in particular 1916 when only four clubs competed and Fitzroy landed the premiership despite coming last on the ladder with only two victories from their 12 home-and-away games. It still counts.

At this stage Season 2021 looks like having its share of challenges, as the virus will continue to enter into considerations, but that is at least a few months away. The list size cut, and decreased revenue for a lot of the clubs will add to those challenges for a long while after the immediate threat is eased. Not to mention the Draft being held at a time when unders footy was suspended for the year in Victoria, at least.

On the upside, having matches through the week was pretty fun but I really see its place only for the “bye” weeks, plus with crowds hopefully returning to the G to some degree, I think running games during weekday nights would probably only work during the winter school holidays.

Speaking of byes, my opinion is that the pre-finals bye needs to go – it really was only brought in as a reaction to players being rested in the last home-and-away round in a couple of instances but instead, winning a qualifying final has proved to be a mixed blessing since with full match in three weeks, those clubs go into the preliminary final cold and out of tune. (I swear it isn’t sour grapes on behalf of the Hawks, since they went out in straight sets in both of their finals campaigns since the bye)

So, yeah, get rid of it, and along with it the Thursday night final (I don’t particularly mind that but it’s not practical in this case). The floating last round fixture gives enough flexibility for the league to get finals-bound teams time to prepare, plus it doesn’t stop the competition dead for a week. It’s ironic that only the betting agencies are concerned about the “integrity” of the results of dead rubbers. (I don’t care how it affects my ratings, it was only ever affecting one or two games a season and I’m not doing this for money after all!)

Since I’m doing wishlists, basically I think the heavy-handed addition of rules to try and make the game more attacking, like 6-6-6 🤘 or limited interchanges, might be counter-productive as clubs put more of their limited resources into defending. And, I don’t know, more consistent umpiring? But everyone says that every year, for good reason…

Better to trust that we will see strategies and tactics evolve as clubs seek to gain some new unique advantage, rather than having the league intervening whenever Kevin Bartlett has a whinge because players aren’t playing in the 5 rows of 3 formation any more (they never really did – stacks on the mill is not a new phenomenon) – or more likely because there aren’t enough goals for ad breaks where I have to look at Curtis Stone’s smug visage.

Anyway, back to the last game of this weird, weird season, I hope it’s a good one; I’m not super enthused about the clubs contesting it but as was the case with Collingwood vs West Coast a couple of years back, if we get a nice close match with some big moments, I reckon I’ll be satisfied.

Once we put the season into the almanac – and AFL Tables – I’ll do up another post that gets more into the numbers of the season and how I might incorporate that into GRAFT Ratings in the new year.