AFL 2 years ago

Can The Bye Week Become A Mainstay In The AFL Fixture?

This might sound a little bit asinine to some, but after what had transpired this weekend, I've finally warmed to the idea of the AFL having a bye week before the annual AFL finals series kicks off this Thursday night with the West Coast Eagles and the Western Bulldogs at Domain Stadium

When AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan revealed that this years AFL fixture would have a week off between round 23 and week one of the finals series in an attempt to stop sides like Fremantle and North Melbourne – who had rested several of their top-tier players last year in an attempt to freshen up their list for their respective finals campaigns – many thought the idea was a foolish, knee-jerk reaction to what was in a way – a brilliant strategy. 

North Melbourne rested nearly half of their best players in the final round of last season, and despite the fact that they finished eighth, they went all the way to the preliminary finals before they went down swinging to the Eagles.

Not many AFL fans approved of McLachlan's idea from the moment he introduced it, but after the successes of both the E.J. Whitten Legends game and the women's AFL all-star match between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, I believe that Gillon should build this bye week into something bigger next year.

This year's legends game was perhaps one of the most entertaining games I can recall in recent memory. It was a rejuvenation of sorts, with an all-star cast that featured the likes of Barry Hall, Brad Johnson, Jonathan Brown, Wayne Carey and Matthew Richardson pulled the boots back on for what was a high-scoring, entertaining affair between Victoria and the All-Stars. 

Even with former Saint/Swan/Bulldog Hall dominating up forward, former Brisbane premiership player Martin Pike gifting comedian Sam Pang a goal and former AFL player, turned goal-umpire David Rodan doing the worm after a goal, I heard complaints from numerous that this game was purely a scripted affair when Brendan Fevola, who had been in the commentary box all night, got his footy gear on and eventually played a hand in the Victorian's shootout victory, but when it's a charity game, with all proceeds going towards prostate cancer awareness, it's not even worth arguing about how rigged the game was, Friday night's game was entertaining from start to finish, and I personally, wouldn't have it any other way

 And then of course was the women's game on Saturday night, played between the two founding AFL women's clubs: Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, played underneath the lights of the Whitten Oval. This was merely a showcase of the best female talent that the AFL had to offer and it delivered in spades, and the numbers back it up. 6,365 people turned up to the Western Bulldogs' training ground, but it was the TV numbers that caused headlines for the right reasons. With the game broadcasted live on Channel Seven, the viewing numbers peaked at 1.05 million viewers, with an average of 746,000 viewers nationwide.

It was expected to be hard-fought and hotly-contested as all AFL women's matches have been this year, and it didn't disappoint, with the Bulldogs on top the Demons in the second half after an tight opening half, the Dogs kicked nine goals to four to get on top, with the final margin at 39 points. Moana Hope provided as the star of the show with six goals for the Doggies in a stunning display. Her skill, her tattoos and her ability to find the goals consistently puts to mind of a Lance Franklin, who's one of the best forwards of the AFL today, Hope is easily the best female forward in the game right now.

 It is disappointing that she won't be in Bulldogs colours next year when the inaugural AFL women's season kicks off – having signed on with Collingwood as a marquee player, but the Doggies' marquee signings played big parts in the win on Saturday night. Ellie Blackburn was at her prolific best through the midfield and had plenty of possessions, as was Katie Brennan, who played in various roles. Both ladies are in their early 20s and are going to be amongst the many young ladies that will take women's AFL forward going into the next decade.

But with no footy happening on Sunday, I thought what could the AFL possibly do for an event on a Sunday? I'm sure Mr. McLachlan would be thinking about some sort of AFL-related event on the Sunday if we were to do this all over again next year, which may very well be the case.

I thought about it a fair bit yesterday, I'd love to see another 'Hall of Fame Tribute Match' scenario, but with the top eight teams playing finals the week after, the players on both Victoria and Dream Team sides consist of players of teams who DO NOT make the finals. Despite not making to the next step of the season, there are still numerous talented players who miss out and it would make a great final hurrah for their season.

So I quickly did a rough version of the teams that could've played off this year in the inaugural 'Also-Rans' Cup, and even with no superstar names such as Dangerfield, Hodge and Bontempelli, there are still some serious talent in both line-ups.

The 2016 'Also-Rans' Cup: Victoria vs The Dream Team


B: Sean Dempster (STK), Ben Reid (COLL), Jasper Pittard (PORT)
HB: Sam Docherty (CARL), Tom McDonald (MELB), Kade Simpson (CARL)
C: Dustin Martin (RICH), Nathan Jones (MELB), Scott Pendlebury (COLL)
HF: Robbie Gray (PORT), Tom Lynch (GC), Christian Petracca (MELB)
F: Tim Membrey (STK), Joe Daniher (ESS), Gary Ablett (GC)
FOL: Max Gawn (MELB), Tom Rockliff (BL), Jack Steven (STK)
INT: Travis Boak (PORT), Zach Merrett (ESS), Adam Treloar (COLL), Ollie Wines (PORT), Jack Viney (MELB), Brett Deledio (RICH)

Dream Team

B: Jeremy Howe (COLL), Alex Rance (RICH), Sam Fisher (STK)
HB: Kade Kolodjashnij (GC), Steven May (GC), Lee Spurr (FREM)
C: Stephen Hill (FREM), Lachie Neale (FREM), Dayne Beams (BL)
HF: Michael Walters (FREM), Jack Riewoldt (RICH), Dayne Zorko (BL)
F: Chad Wingard (PORT), Jesse Hogan (MELB), Josh Bruce (STK)
FOL: Brodie Grundy (COLL),  Nathan Fyfe (FREM), Patrick Cripps (CARL)
INT: Nick Riewoldt (STK), Hayden Ballantyne (FREM), David Armitage (STK), Aaron Hall (GC), Bernie Vince (MELB), Daniel Rich (BL)

For this, I didn't take injuries into account, but not a lot of players from either team would miss anyway. The Victorian side is stacked with midfield talent, led by newly-crowned All-Australian ruckman Max Gawn, the midfield boasts the likes of Pendlebury, Martin, Steven, Rockliff, Boak, Wines and many others, whilst the forward line of the dream team looks among one of the more elite, young forward lines in recent memory.

This game can probably be taken in the same vein as the NBA's All-Star game. Not many of their players take that particular game really seriously, and is more of a showcase of the talent on display and strangely enough, that's also on the Sunday of their 'All-Star Weekend'. The likes of Chad Wingard and Jeremy Howe take unbelievable hangers, see the likes of Gary Ablett, Dustin Martin and Michael Walters slot through impossible goals from on the boundary line, Tom Lynch and Jesse Hogan huge chances to kick bags of 10 goals and guys like Lachie Neale, Nathan Fyfe, Nathan Jones and Scott Pendlebury have the ball on a string and get 35-40 disposals.

 It's almost certain that the game can draw a big crowd, especially with very little AFL action on the weekend.

Pictures courtesy of Getty Images

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