The AFL finals kicked off last week, and AFL fans were treated to a blockbuster clash on Friday night when Geelong took on the reborn Richmond in the qualifying final.
However, controversy surrounded the huge clash because it took place at the MCG, depriving the Cats of a deserved home final at Simonds Stadium, and it’s not the way it should be considering the Cats have earned the right to host a final in Geelong.
The AFL have contractual obligations as to the number of finals that are to be played on the MCG in a final series, and there have been calls for the AFL to rethink this rule.
While Geelong has only played one final at home, which was ironically a loss in 2013 to Fremantle, the Cats still have a massive advantage playing at Kardinia Park, as said by former star Cameron Mooney: “Not only from a home-crowd point of view, but the ground’s unique dimensions make it so easy for the Cats to defend.” And Richmond coach Damian Hardwick acknowledged the advantage after Geelong’s round 21 win over the Tigers, saying: “They’re an outstanding side, but they’re outstanding side plus when they play down here”.
I am not alone on this view that Friday night’s clash should have been played in Geelong. Channel 9 journalist Tony Jones said: “If Geelong have earned the right to host a home final, then they should get it.” Fellow journalist Damian Barrett shared a somewhat similar view. “They have to play it at the MCG (for Richmond supporters) but that’s actually unfair … Geelong’s invested a lot of time and resources in getting that stadium up to absolute quality and it happens in every other stadium around the country. If you’ve earned the right to a home final, you get it.”
It is understandable why the AFL has chosen the MCG as the venue, it’s Australia’s most famous sporting ground and the home of the AFL and there are no other finals that could be played at the G this weekend. Also, the AFL is a company game, the clash is sold out and the AFL is expecting a whopping 90,000+ to attend, compared to the 34,000 they would get in Geelong. And Friday night football in Australia, especially during September, is an amazing spectacle, so it’s easy to see why the AFL chose the MCG as the venue.
Whilst it is easy to UNDERSTAND all these reasons to support having the final in Melbourne, it still does not make it the RIGHT decision as Geelong is the team that rightly deserves the home ground advantage as they are the side that finished higher on the ladder during the home and away season. Also, the AFL has proved in the past that the obligations required for the MCG has proven costly for other sides in the finals who haven’t got their home ground advantage. Finally, it may surprise many but the choice of venue should NOT be put down to which teams play or the capacity of the crowd.
Firstly, this year’s AFL ladder finished with Adelaide and Geelong in the top two positions, so it stands to reason that these two sides will get to host a final in the respective arenas. The Crows hosted the Giants on the home deck in Adelaide and it proved to be a massive advantage, an advantage that was deserved because the Crows finished at the top of the table. Former Cats president Frank Costa said it himself on the issue: “Personally I think that in fairness because of the fact that we finished second, the second team should have the call over the third team as to where the final is played.”
Secondly, moving home-ground advantage in the finals series has been an issue in teh past. The 2015 elimination final between Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs took place at the MCG. The Doggies had the home ground advantage due to their higher finish. The Dogs home ground is Etihad Stadium, a stadium perfectly fit for hosting finals and a ground the 2016 premiers have turned into a fortress due to the fast pace of the ground. However, having the game at the MCG due to the AFL’s obligations certainly had its effect, with the Dogs falling by 7 points. Take nothing away from the Crows, who were fantastic on the night, but how can you defend not playing the HOME team on their HOME ground? Same thing happened to the Cats in 2016, but the stakes were much bigger. Last year’s preliminary final against the Sydney Swans was held at the MCG, rather than Simonds. Geelong does not play home and away games against interstate teams in Melbourne, so why change that for finals? (For the record, Geelong looked a second rate team in that prelim final loss)
Finally, the size of the crowd should have no effect on where the venue is played, and the AFL proved that by rewarding the Giants a home final at Spotless stadium in last year’s preliminary final and this year’s finals series (if necessary). Spotless has a small capacity of 24,000 people and, if the AFL is going to deprive the Cats an opportunity to play at Simonds due to crowd numbers, why didn’t they do the same to GWS considering they have ANZ stadium (80,000+ capacity) at their disposal? It might be an unpopular view of playing at a ground with a smaller capacity, especially in this case because Richmond supporters haven’t seen a lot of September action recently, but (sorry Richmond fans!) why were the Cats be put at a disadvantage because Richmond hadn’t experience success in 40 years?
Something needs to be done about this, and the AFL will have a tough decision to make in the future, but it becomes much easier once Simonds Stadium’s stage 5 redevelopment is complete, which will push the capacity out to 40,000. Sport minister John Eren said it best: “What’s clear is that our $75 million investment has made Simonds Stadium a credible option for the big blockbuster games that once went to Melbourne — and that’s exactly what we wanted.”
The answer is right there, do the right thing AFL.