Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Extra Time in the Grand Final? No thanks.

After watching the Australian Football League Grand Final on Saturday morning (Montreal time), you must say that two fantastic football teams played themselves to a standstill. Post game, Nick Maxwell's suggestion they'd been “robbed of a result” was a painful statement for the neutral to hear because though he may have felt denied, were extra time to be played on Australian Sports' Day Of All Days the whole AFL fanbase wouldn't bear witness to what shapes as an extraordinary second half.

On Saturday, we witnessed one of the great Grand Finals, right up there with Hawthorn and Geelong in 1989, Brisbane and Collingwood in 2002 and last year's Geelong/St. Kilda epic. In fact, the match had many similarities to last year's decider – one team dominating the first half only to be pegged back by a more battle-tested finals team. Players like Lenny Hayes or Darren Jolly deserve a second chance to show their wares while players “down” on the day (Harry O'Brien, I'm looking at you) deserve the chance to make amends. The reaction of both sides was a sight I will never forget and the baying of the crowd at the Sports Bar at the Pepsi Forum was incredible, simply because everyone became so invested in the match even if they weren't actively supporting Collingwood or St Kilda.

The last-gasp deeds of guys like Goddard and Davis demand a replay. Season 2010 demands a replay. An outstanding umpiring display demands a replay. The drama that Saturday's last quarter produced could no doubt be sustained for the ten-minute extra time period, but were the Grand Final to finish that way I think everyone would admit to feeling robbed. These teams deserve to go at it again, and for each to give the other their best shot. The greatest load this week will be on the trainers, sports scientists and the physiotherapists whose job it will be to get sore bodies ready again after such an intense encounter.

After such a battle between teams who simply couldn't best each other – take Nick Maxwell's goal-saving dive in the last quarter, Brendon Goddard's last half or Lenny Hayes' last quarter goal for example – for fans to say that five minutes of extra time each half would be for the best is a nonsense. Pending a draw next week, the AFL has gone on record as saying Extra Time will occur. The sporting calendar can't take a third Grand Final so the idea of a second replay becomes an instant non-starter. There needs to be a time where the AFL Commission says Enough is Enough and they've done so appropriately here.

History says that the team plagued with inaccuracy struggles in the Grand Final. Two years ago Geelong wasted their chances to put Hawthorn away in the second quarter. Last year, St. Kilda had every opportunity to seal the game against the Cats but were unable to convert; only for the Cats to claw their way back into the match. Collingwood will have the biggest mental hurdle to cover this week as they look at how players like Travis Cloke and Jarryd Blair muffed their opportunities to bury St. Kilda. A great point raised by Maxwell in his Sunday press conference was that the Collingwood youngsters who hadn't previously played in a Grand Final now have experience on the grandest stage of all. This could be crucial as both sides suggested that they had several players “down” and as a result they may be better equipped to deal with the crowd and pressure.

One must applaud the AFL in changing the law allowing only next week's victors to receive a Premiership medal. Until Tuesday it appeared that only those who take the field next weekend would take home a prize, leaving those who miss out – perhaps Michael Gardiner and Sean Dempster due to injury – without a medal. On Tuesday they announced changes to this, meaning any player who steps onto the field during the course of the two Deciders will be presented with his trophy.

Congratulations to the AFL, the coaches and the players involved in Saturday's triumph. Everyone involved in the first instalment of the Grand Final have surpassed themselves – except the pre-game entertainment – and we can only hope the decider, as needed as it is can provide a fitting conclusion to a wonderful year.

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