Stop the AFL season, I want to get off
Tempting as it is to bang on about the perennially inept Melbourne Demons, the real story is at the pointy end of the AFL ladder.
Jim Stynes, the admirable Melbourne Demons president, did a good job of being stoic but not stubborn at an emergency press conference today, hot on the heels of his team’s record 186 point weekend thrashing, and the subsequent sacking of coach Dean Bailey.
Amazingly, the woeful Demons are still just a game-and-a-half out of the eight. That says less about them than it does about Collingwood and Geelong. And it leads to one conclusion. The grand final should be played tomorrow.
Seriously, no other team can make the 2011 decider and no other team deserves to.
Look again at this weekend. Geelong beat the Demons by an average of almost eight goals per quarter. Meanwhile Collingwood, who coach Mick Malthouse described as the “flattest he’d ever seen before a match”, beat top eight contenders Esssendon by a whopping 74 points. That, after being behind at halftime.
The other 15 clubs must get stiff necks when they stare at the ladder each week. Collingwood and Geelong are so far ahead, they’re above the clouds. While everyone else plays on a rainy day, the Cats and the Magpies are bathed in sunshine.
Sure, three other teams are having reasonable seasons. Hawthorn and Carlton show touches of class, while West Coast have improved so much that they pipped the Cats on their Perth home patch the other week.
But really, the bookies’ odds say it all. Collingwood are $1.80 to win the flag. Geelong are $4.00. Write your own ticket the rest.
For the AFL, these are interesting days indeed. Andrew Demetriou can rightly point at the first 11 seasons of the new millennium as a period in which there were eight different premiers from six different cities. That, on the surface at least, is evidence of a healthy competition.
But there is another set of indicators which paint a darker picture. Look at the wrong end of the ladder. Richmond haven’t made the finals since 2001, while the Demons were thrashed in the 2000 decider, and have won just two low key finals matches since.
The Adelaide clubs are in disarray, the Brisbane Lions show no sign of returning to their glory days, the Dockers are the team that simply refuse to become a force, while the Saints and the Bulldogs’ premiership windows have been firmly slammed shut.
Clearly, football is cyclical. But some teams seem to find it considerably more difficult to climb onto that Ferris wheel. As George Orwell said, all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.
Not to start a code war, but by way of comparison, the fortunes of teams in other major Australian codes seems to be much more fluid.
The NRL’s Sydney Roosters were wooden spooners in 2009, grand finalists in 2010 and will finish close enough to the spoon again this year.
It’s a similar story in the A-League, where Sydney FC fell from premiers to ninth in 2010/11, while Brisbane Roar rose from ninth spot to champions in 2010/11.
That kind of turnaround just doesn’t happen in the AFL. Or when it does, it is more gradual. The best recent example was Hawthorn, who rose from 15th in 2004, 14th in 2005, 11th in 2006 and 5th in 2007, to premiers in 2008.
Jim Stynes said this afternoon that “you don’t develop resilience unless you go through some really tough challenges”. That’s all very well, but resilience is one thing, success another. And the Demons have been busy accruing resilience for several years now.
Meanwhile, Geelong and Collingwood sit pretty as the AFL season meanders along to its inevitable conclusion on that “one day in September”, which this year will actually happen on that “one day in October” – October 1st, to be precise.
Notwithstanding, the remote, remote possibility of a preliminary final upset a la Carlton over Essendon in 1999, they should probably just play this year’s GF on that “one day in August”.
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