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Saving the season

Date

Two great finals have helped rescue Andrew Demetriou's annus horribilis.

Travis Varcoe is tackled by Brad Sewell during Friday night's epic sudden-death final.

Travis Varcoe is tackled by Brad Sewell during Friday night's epic sudden-death final. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

The football year started with the unprecedented punishment of a club for striving to lose games, and was nearly concluded by the time another club was punished for taking extreme measures to win.

Melbourne's tanking wounded the game, then Essendon's exotic supplements turned those wounds into gangrenous sores. Meanwhile, not to be outdone on the scandal score, the St Kilda Football Club's playing group contributed a rape charge and the burning of a dwarf on a Monday that wasn't so much ''mad' as completely brain dead.

I cannot remember a game in which there was more riding on the outcome for the Hawks, who were destined to be cast as footy's Greg Norman had they lost. 

As the season progressed, it was sadly soon apparent that a flat-out Melbourne still wasn't good enough to win, or even to get within eight goals of most teams. That club was so weak that it was placed under AFL supervision, as if it was a child in custodial care. As the finals began, the Demons had found their saviour, but the question remained: Would the finals be the saviour of Andrew Demetriou's annus horribilis?

If Essendon had been taken out of the finals, would the finals - spring time for a battered game - ''take out'' the Essendon story? Could the finals produce contests, subplots and excitement sufficient to salve the wounds that Essendon, plus other catastrophes, had created.

The answer is a qualified ''yes.'' Two games, in particular, have provided a measure of redemption for the AFL.

On the Sunday of the first finals weekend, the long-dormant Richmond Football Club confronted its most hated rival, the Blues, who had come to this game with an asterix affixed to their name, having finished as the lucky ''ninth'' and thus qualified as the substitute.

Nearly 95,000 people flocked to the MCG for this heavily tribal contest. In many ways, this mass rally was really a throwback to the old VFL of the '70s and '80s when the brutal Tigers terrorised the competition and the ruthless Blues had the kind of winning aura and self-confidence that exists at Geelong today.

Richmond, true to type, jumped out and was overrun. Carlton's hold on Richmond - a second-tier version of the Kennett curse - was evident in the third quarter, when its champion Chris Judd, despite a sore knee and depleted athleticism, led the charge.

Carlton's so-so season - 11 home-and-away wins and clearly beneath expectations - was seemingly redeemed in one half.

Criticism of the club for the replacement of Brett Ratten by Mick Malthouse and calls for shake-ups abruptly ceased.

Collingwood had suffered the reverse the night before against the season's Cinderella, Port Adelaide. The Pies' season had been on course for par - the top six, despite injuries and eight debutants - but ended in dissatisfaction and disquiet, with a clamour for cultural change. A couple of goals here and there could change an entire club's outlook, it seemed.

Carlton folk didn't care about where their club stood in relation to Malthouse's premiership clock on that sunny Sunday. They were able to revel in the intoxicating moment. Richmond v Carlton, really, was a celebration of footy's tribalism. The highlight wasn't a mark, goal or even the comeback. It was the roaring goose-bump atmosphere - all the more celebrated for the fact that it cannot be replicated at the AFL's shamefully corporatised and neutralised grand final.

If Carlton v Richmond was a great occasion, Friday evening's preliminary final was just a great game. Alastair Clarkson struck the right note in comparing Hawthorn and Geelong to Federer v Nadal. There was recognition from both clubs that they have elevated one another's station. Without Hawthorn to conquer, Geelong would be the lesser and vice versa.

I cannot remember a game in which there was more riding on the outcome for the Hawks, who were destined to be cast as footy's Greg Norman had they lost. Who knows what scars and consequences might have ensued? Clarkson, not known for his appreciation of the Divinyls, astutely remarked on the ''fine line between pleasure and pain''. For Hawthorn, this was a great and glorious escape. To win a grand final berth from 20 points behind at three-quarter time, while fighting collective anxiety and a formidable adversary, takes some character. Sam Mitchell and Shaun Burgoyne were the steady hands that steered the ship to safety.

Geelong had entered the game without great form or Corey Enright, yet with that Olympian self-belief - especially in relation to Hawthorn - intact. The Cats' advantage was in their greater composure and speed, but they tired in the final quarter, as Hawthorn took complete ownership of the ball. The extra game for Geelong (and the week's break for the Hawks) surely was decisive. The Cats will need to sort out their rucks, which cost them the Fremantle final and thus, in all probability, a grand final berth.

That the Hawks were clearly jittery - missing targets by foot and relatively easy shots - added to the drama and the sense that this was a match that would define their legacy. A defeat would have completed the journey from ''kill the shark'' (Clarkson's famed pre-game address in the 2008 grand final) to becoming football's Shark (as in Norman). Still, if they lose next week, though, it will be for naught. The Hawks are the only club for which a premiership is the pass mark in 2013.

This was not the case for the Cats, whose astonishing, rapid rebuild continues while they compete for the premiership. The Cats will lose more veterans. Josh Hunt, unfortunately, played one game too many. His replacement by Josh Caddy was timely and nearly won the night. The performances of Caddy, Jordan Murdoch and the electric Steven Motlop underscored that the Cats need to shove a couple of veterans in order to make room for the next batch, in what is a very tricky balancing act.

Hawthorn's victory gives it an opportunity for a day of atonement on Saturday. For the AFL, Friday night's curse-killer - and the Richmond-Carlton classic - have already atoned a little for a season lost.

12 comments so far

  • "If Essendon had been taken out of the finals, would the finals - spring time for a battered game - ''take out'' the Essendon story? Could the finals produce contests, subplots and excitement sufficient to salve the wounds that Essendon, plus other catastrophes, had created."

    Not if your star reporter CW has anything to do with it. Like a bitter dog with a bone she'll continue bring the game into disrepute long after the issue is closed.
    Too bad she is not as keen to find out why the AFL don't want the issue to go to court.

    Commenter
    CCC
    Location
    CCC
    Date and time
    September 22, 2013, 6:15PM
    • CCC she is in fact very keen to find that out. The AFL won't leak it to her though.

      Commenter
      Laki
      Location
      Windy Hill
      Date and time
      September 22, 2013, 8:52PM
    • CCC like a dog with a bone the jaded folk continue to bemoan CW. Move on.

      Jake pleased to see the Tigers back in the finals no matter how short it was.

      Commenter
      ljb
      Date and time
      September 22, 2013, 9:38PM
  • Well may you say "God save the Queen", because nothing will save the AFL Commission!!!

    Commenter
    Gordie
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    September 22, 2013, 8:08PM
    • LOL, you took the words out of my mouth you rotten so and so :)

      Commenter
      Gough
      Date and time
      September 22, 2013, 9:37PM
  • Jake - I think you have the allocation of your asterisk's all mixed up.

    Carlton is not the football club with the asterisk, that honour belongs solely and fairly and squarely with Essendon.

    Commenter
    Michael
    Location
    Sunbury
    Date and time
    September 22, 2013, 8:22PM
    • Cats v Collingwood 2007 prelim was the grand final.

      Commenter
      gauge501
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      September 22, 2013, 8:24PM
      • on the money gauge501, it was Geelong's GF and the following week was their parade!

        Commenter
        Vic Mick
        Date and time
        September 22, 2013, 8:33PM
    • My lingering memory of the season is how the media who seemed particularly well informed about the progress of an ostensibly confidential enquiry, and the 17 other clubs bullied Essendon and three of its four officials into accepting a settlement which defied the concepts of natural justice. The AFL capitulation when Dr Reid pursued his court action was breathtaking, and sufficient to cast doubt on the severity of the sentences imposed upon the other parties involved.

      Commenter
      TF Siaf
      Location
      Cheltenham 3192
      Date and time
      September 22, 2013, 9:12PM
      • CCC, calling CW a 'bitter dog' reflects very poorly on you. I think you will find that every person who is not a moronic Essendon fan can't really believe that they still trying to destroy themselves. Employing someone who has just ruined the club for th next 5 years-genius!

        Commenter
        SimonERickson
        Location
        WA
        Date and time
        September 22, 2013, 10:20PM

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        GEE 89 vs ESS 80 Report Stats
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        ADE 99 vs PTA 76 Report Stats
        COL 91 vs CAR 76 Report Stats
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        GWS 72 vs ADE 140 Report Stats
        GCF 80 vs COL 75 Report Stats
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        GEE 69 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
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        Round 17
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        ADE 92 vs HAW 104 Report Stats
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        MEL 36 vs GEE 102 Report Stats
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        WBU 94 vs GCF 66 Report Stats
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        ESS 103 vs COL 39 Report Stats
        FRE 136 vs GWS 60 Report Stats
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        Round 18
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        CAR 109 vs NTH 86 Report Stats
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        GWS 87 vs GEE 94 Report Stats
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        Round 19
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        FRE 83 vs CAR 78 Report Stats
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        ADE 105 vs WCE 136 Report Stats
        RIC 89 vs GWS 62 Report Stats
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        NTH 79 vs GEE 111 Report Stats
        Sun, 03 AugTimes shown AEST
        MEL 51 vs BRI 74 Stats
        HAW 107 vs WBU 45 Report Stats
        COL 76 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
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        Round 20
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        RIC 95 vs ESS 77 Report Stats
        Sat, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
        GWS 51 vs NTH 126 Report Stats
        CAR 97 vs GCF 58 Report Stats
        HAW 115 vs MEL 65 Report Stats
        PTA 58 vs SYD 84 Report Stats
        GEE 81 vs FRE 79 Report Stats
        Sun, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
        BRI 63 vs ADE 168 Report Stats
        STK 99 vs WBU 122 Report Stats
        WCE 126 vs COL 66 Report Stats
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        Round 21
        Fri, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
        CAR 76 vs GEE 82 Report Stats
        Sat, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
        SYD 127 vs STK 56 Stats
        GCF 47 vs PTA 56 Report Stats
        ESS 77 vs WCE 74 Report Stats
        COL 56 vs BRI 123 Report Stats
        ADE 69 vs RIC 79 Report Stats
        Sun, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
        NTH 111 vs WBU 61 Report Stats
        MEL 34 vs GWS 98 Report Stats
        FRE 110 vs HAW 91 Report Stats
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        Round 22
        Fri, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
        PTA 140 vs CAR 37 Report Stats
        Sat, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
        NTH 101 vs ADE 94 Report Stats
        ESS 108 vs GCF 89 Report Stats
        GWS 67 vs COL 75 Report Stats
        WCE 119 vs MEL 53 Report Stats
        HAW 94 vs GEE 71 Report Stats
        Sun, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
        BRI 48 vs FRE 106 Report Stats
        WBU 67 vs SYD 130 Report Stats
        RIC 98 vs STK 72 Report Stats
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        Round 23
        Fri, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
        COL 56 vs HAW 121 Stats
        Sat, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
        CAR 90 vs ESS 90 Stats
        FRE 105 vs PTA 97 Stats
        SYD 65 vs RIC 68 Stats
        NTH 123 vs MEL 93 Stats
        GEE 143 vs BRI 81 Stats
        Sun, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
        GCF 99 vs WCE 151 Stats
        ADE 141 vs STK 62 Stats
        WBU 109 vs GWS 115 Stats
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        Fri, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
        HAW 104 vs GEE 68 Report Stats
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        SYD 93 vs FRE 69 Stats
        NTH 93 vs ESS 81 Report Stats
        Sun, 07 SepTimes shown AEST
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        AFL Finals Round 2
        Fri, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
        GEE 92 vs NTH 98 Stats
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        FRE 83 vs PTA 105 Stats
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        AFL Finals Round 3
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        SYD 136 vs NTH 65 Report Stats
        Sat, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
        HAW 97 vs PTA 94 Report Stats
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        AFL Finals Round 4
        Sat, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
        SYD 74 vs HAW 137 Report Stats
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        AFL Home and Away
        Overall standings
        Team P W L D % Pts
        Sydney Swans 22 17 5 0 142.88 68
        Hawthorn 22 17 5 0 140.78 68
        Geelong Cats 22 17 5 0 113.77 68
        Fremantle 22 16 6 0 130.40 64
        Port Adelaide 22 14 8 0 129.92 56
        North Melbourne 22 14 8 0 117.04 56
        Essendon 22 12 9 1 106.34 50
        Richmond 22 12 10 0 105.77 48
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