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Fairer finals clause comes back to bite AFL

Geelong's Kent Kingsley handballs away from Jonathan Brown during the preliminary final at the MCG in 2004.

Geelong's Kent Kingsley handballs away from Jonathan Brown during the preliminary final at the MCG in 2004. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

The MCG's move to host four of international soccer's most glamorous clubs in a three-game competition in the middle of a traditional AFL Melbourne winter comes one decade, almost to the day, that the stadium negotiated a clause to host major events in winter in return for handing over its historic right to host a preliminary final every year.

Many of the faces have changed since the backroom battle between the AFL and its traditional home ground was waged with some ferocity during the early years of the millennium but not all of them. Andrew Demetriou has gone but Stephen Gough remains at the helm of the MCC as does Eddie McGuire at Collingwood, whose club played a key role in the negotiations.

Australian Sports Commission chairman John Wylie, whom Mike Fitzpatrick sought as an intermediary during the messy and heated Essendon negotiation last August, was chairman at the time of the MCG Trust and has been credited with putting the major event clause in the new AFL contract.

The AFL and the MCG have endured more than half-a-century of political feuds but the preliminary final dispute came to a boiling point as the 2004 finals series approached. It was the then – and still – AFL communications boss Patrick Keane who said: ''We've tried to offer the MCC compensation for the final but they are adamant one preliminary final must be played there.''

This was despite a letter directed to the Victorian government in 2002 and signed by the four rival state premiers from New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. Earlier, in 2001, the non-Victorian clubs formed a reinvigorated bloc and pushed the AFL to renegotiate the MCG deal  that had been written in 1989 with the building of the Great Southern Stand. The MCC stood firm and the AFL under Wayne Jackson backed down.

In 2002, Adelaide chief Steven Trigg – who only left the job this week – said: ''Regardless of where we've been sitting [on the ladder] we've seen it as a major issue for a number of years. We've brought it up at every commission meeting we've attended and we've brought it up at every meeting with the AFL.''

As is so often with the AFL and its complex thicket of relationships, it was a deal within a deal that eventually challenged the credibility of the finals system to the point of no return and empowered the non-Victorian bloc as a result. Not only was Brisbane in 2004 forced to ''host'' a preliminary final against Geelong at the MCG but the Lions were fixtured at night on a Saturday which put them at a 36-hour disadvantage behind the eventual premier Port Adelaide.

The new AFL chief, Demetriou, had done a deal with broadcaster Channel Ten to host prime-time games into Brisbane every Saturday night the following year and Ten received two night preliminary finals as a result. To further underline the AFL's poor form, Demetriou, his chairman Ron Evans and at least one other commissioner failed to attend the contentious preliminary final but headed to an opera performance instead.

Brisbane's narrow win over Geelong took place on a wet, miserable night in Melbourne and one which proved a black day for the credibility of the finals system. Brisbane coach Leigh Matthews would later state that the AFL had ''sabotaged'' the Lions' bid for a fourth straight flag.

Early in 2005, with the northern stand rebuild well underway for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, negotiations moved ahead to finally remove the preliminary final clause from the AFL-MCG agreement which also guaranteed the hosting of every grand final until 2032. Adelaide and West Coast were dominating from early in the season and the stadium was forced to concede that removing the contentious preliminary final clause was a move towards sporting credibility along with a precious bargaining tool.

Collingwood's McGuire was a key player from the start of that season by thrusting the Magpies into the debate in what proved a win for his club and the MCG. In return for giving up the right to host one preliminary final each season the stadium was guaranteed 14 Collingwood games – although not even the forward-thinking McGuire could have predicted the AFL would nine years later fixture one of those on a bleak wintry Sunday night.

Talks reportedly stalled when MCG Trust chairman Wylie lost patience with an AFL ambit claim for a share of ticketing and advertising revenues but the deal was finally struck in July that year. The MCG also received a guaranteed 10 of the best 12 home-and-away games each season, a minimum of 45 non-finals games.

But Wylie did push through clause 3.6 A (a) which The Age reported at the time as ''the capacity to host blockbusters from other football codes such as the Bledisloe Cup''. What was not revealed at the time was the fact that the MCG could remove AFL football from the stadium for an entire winter weekend if it so chose and that such a move was not restricted to just one weekend.

It is understood that now the clause has been invoked Gough has told the AFL it will not eliminate the prospect of football for an entire weekend. Sunday, July 26, will be available for an AFL game, as will both the Saturday and Sunday of the following weekend.

Still the AFL will be forced off the MCG for consecutive Friday nights and made to play second fiddle to international soccer at the instruction of the Victorian government over two key winter weekends in a year that cricket's World Cup has forced a delayed start to the season given the league's preference to launch 2015 at its biggest ground.

And the fact the MCG holds the whip hand and could – although it would seem a dangerous and ill-advised move – remove its major client from the ground for more than one entire weekend remains a disturbing if unlikely potential. No wonder AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick remains so disenchanted with the venue and frustrated with the game's position.

The AFL remains privately disappointed at the government and the MCG while trying to rebuild its relationship with the stadium into a partnership. Further complicating the highly sensitive scenario is the fact that Channel Nine's partner company is packaging the event and Nine will televise the games in prime time in competition with AFL games. 

Only once in the past decade – in 2006 – has Melbourne been football-free in preliminary final weekend. That year the penultimate finals took place in Sydney and Adelaide. In 2005, the year the deal was struck, St Kilda was the only Victorian top-four side but hosted and lost to Sydney that year. Between 2008 and 2011 all preliminary finals were played at the MCG.

League chief Gillon McLachlan must be unwilling to jeopardise his relationship with the Nine Network with the start of a new set of broadcast rights negotiations just months away. Still, neither the stadium or the AFL is prepared to comment on this highly sensitive political situation as the AFL puts its mind towards just how it will fixture against Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Not to mention how it plans to insure against further moves to invoke the clause it gave away in exchange for a fairer finals series.

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 19:20MCG
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 13:40MCG
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 16:35ANZ
BRI 74 vs COL 86 19:20G
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 19:20ES
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 13:10ES
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 18:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 13:45MCG
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 14:10SO
COL 63 vs ADE 90 16:35ES
GCF 76 vs STK 104 19:20MS
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 13:10SS
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 15:20MCG
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 19:50MCG
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 13:45MCG
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 14:10Adelaide Oval
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 16:35SCG
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 19:20ES
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 19:20G
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 13:10AS
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 15:20SS
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 11:10NZ
ESS 49 vs COL 69 14:40MCG
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 17:40SO
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 19:40Adelaide Oval
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 20:45Domain Stadium
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 13:10G
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 15:20SS
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45 vs COL 120 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76 vs GEE 85 13:45MCG
SYD 73 vs WBU 77 14:10SCG
GCF 118 vs BRI 54 16:35MS
NTH 70 vs HAW 130 19:20ES
WCE 120 vs GWS 33 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50 vs FRE 118 13:10MCG
STK 80 vs ESS 82 15:20ES
ADE 91 vs PTA 115 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 19:50MCG
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 13:45BA
WBU vs STK 14:10ES
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ADE 17:10MS
MEL vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs BRI 15:20ES
PTA vs WCE 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs STK 13:45Adelaide Oval
HAW vs MEL 14:10MCG
CAR vs GWS 16:35ES
SYD vs GEE 19:20ANZ
WCE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
RIC vs COL 15:20MCG
BRI vs PTA 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE vs CAR 19:50ES
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs WCE 13:45ES
GWS vs ADE 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs COL 16:35MS
HAW vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs NTH 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
PTA vs RIC 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
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Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 5 5 0 0 151.10 20
Collingwood 5 4 1 0 147.53 16
Western Bulldogs 5 4 1 0 104.75 16
Hawthorn 5 3 2 0 149.86 12
West Coast Eagles 5 3 2 0 145.92 12
Sydney Swans 5 3 2 0 118.26 12
Adelaide Crows 5 3 2 0 111.40 12
GWS Giants 5 3 2 0 102.87 12
View all
 
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