Truly fascinating – to me, it doesn’t matter which code or even which sport – the strategies and machinations made it quite amazing today, the last day of the home and away series.
The way it stood was this – no one wants to travel as it apparently, by all reports, takes it out of players and if at the end of it, there’s a game in a fanatically parochial, provincial city, then it’s doubly bad.
The advantage for the provincial cities such as Perth and Adelaide is that with Melbourne being the football mecca, in the way England Premier League is taken more seriously than, say, Scottish Premier League – then when they go to Melbourne, it’s just another game but when Melbourne teams go to the provinces, it’s like Bonnie Prince Charlie every time.
With finals starting next week, the jockeying for position was cut throat today. 1 and 2 are guaranteed a home final and in terms of the previous paragraph, that is critical to their chances of success. 3 and 4 do not get that home final and if it is interstate teams, then they must travel.
It was like this before today:
1. Hawthorn – pedigree team, should win the flag, over everyone this year except Geelong
2. Geelong – beating top teams but losing to lower teams – have won three flags in five years but are now rebuilding after mass retirements and not expected to do well this year
3. Fremantle – the new boys on the block and first time ever in the four – they play a mean, tight game
4. Sydney – the reigning champ but they’ve lost many players to injury and had a horror run home against all the top teams.
# OK, Hawthorn played Sydney on Friday evening and if they lost, Geelong might go top. They were being beaten but then won.
# Geelong played Brisbane today, which is the Geelong coach’s former team he played for and today, the Brisbane Lions were playing for a spot in the finals up for grabs. They brought their best game, they meant business. Their coach, after the club sacked the incumbent a few week’s back, is now the coach Fremantle sacked a couple of years back.
# At the same time, Fremantle played St Kilda at their home fortress and the piquancy of this today cannot be overstated. Their coach is the one who left St Kilda in the lurch some years back and went to Fremantle. So there was great stick in this match, particularly as St Kilda was farewelling some champions today.
That opportunist coach of Fremantle decided to rest 12 from 18 players today, putting out a B side out of disrespect for his former team St Kilda, ostensibly so that a fresh Freo team took on Geelong next week.
The AFL and Australia didn’t like this cynicism. St Kilda ended up killing them 16th smashing 3rd.
Which was a weird move in a way because if Geelong had lost and Freo had won, Freo would be 2nd, not Geelong and 2nd gives a home final and their home is a fortress over in Fremantle – it’s almost a gimme win.
And Geelong were actually being killed today so Freo had everything to play for, to grab that vital home final but by resting 12 players, the B side could never beat St Kilda and so the advantage of a home final was always out of their grasp.
What was worse, while Geelong were on the field today, all the players could see on the scoreboard that Freo was being killed and therefore it wasn’t important if Geelong won or not any more. They dropped their game and started cruising. But with Brisbane fanatical to get a finals spot, you know the result – the papers called us the “sloppy” cats.
Actually, Geelong did fall across the line, at the death apparently, by one solitary point. Silly b***ers. My team drives me batty sometimes.
So, the upshot was that Hawthorn  plays Sydney  next week but all eyes are on Geelong  v Freo , because of developments this week.
Just to repeat – if Freo had won today and Geelong had lost, then Geelong would be travelling to Western Australia, something no one likes to do. And they hate Geelong – everyone is sick of Geelong winning.
But it didn’t work that way and Geelong has the “home” final by some sort of miracle.
Since 1897, that has meant the MCG or some ground in Melbourne.
Geelong is a provincial team in a provincial town, same as Freo but whereas, to the other 17 clubs, “home” means … er … home, for Geelong, it can never mean home. This is the AFL’s historical prejudice since 1897.
Reason is simple – look at the past 43 games at Geelong’s real home ground and they’ve won 42, the last loss was in 2011 to Sydney. No other team wants that.
Now the amusing part, if you’re a Geelong supporter.
Freo were banking on the final being at the MCG or Etihad stadiums in Melbourne – that the AFL would refuse Geelong a home final as usual – which Freo didn’t mind and hence the gamble to rest all those players. If they make the Grand Final, then they’d have to play at the MCG anyway. You can see the coach’s thinking.
However, the PTB, the AFL, also saw all this happening and didn’t like the Freo tactics one bit so they did an about turn and said today that, for the first time since 1897, Geelong could have its true home final at its home ground.
LOL. This is an enormous advantage to Geelong. It’s like taking the FA Cup, with Man U in it and playing it at Man U’s home.
However, there is another twist. Geelong go into this next week with very tired players, as Brisbane gave them a hard time today, whereas Freo visit with 12 fresh players, which evens up the contest considerably.
Intriguing. Half of Australia wants Geelong to win it next week, p***ed off by Freo’s gamesmanship but the other half always want Geelong to lose at home on a matter of principle and were rejoicing today when it almost happened.
Just to add to the mix, Fremantle is one of about three teams Geelong are never comfortable with on the field – the cats have lost to them a few times.
Therefore, next week is right down to the wire. Geelong actually changed its game plan some weeks back to the same mean, niggly style as Freo and beat them at it. Therefore this is going to be a bitter, spiteful match with no quarter.
Huge week next week. Hope the cats have the energy left to do it.