All roads result in the MCG this week. In Melbourne, that’s each a geographical and philosophical certainty. This yr, it’s all roads and a river as, for the primary time, Friday’s grand ultimate parade will start on the famously beige waters of the Yarra earlier than processing alongside Birrarung Marr and over the William Barak Bridge to the MCG. Nothing may say Melbourne greater than that.
Really, it’s all roads and watercourses main again to the MCG. It’s the seat of Australian guidelines soccer however has lain vacant for the previous two Septembers, an inanimate sufferer of the pandemic, as all AFL finals have been performed elsewhere within the nation. This can appear patronising, however have to be mentioned: as effectively hosted as they have been, it wasn’t the identical.
In 2022, it wasn’t merely that footy resumed its previous rhymes and rhythms. All through the season, there was a festive, virtually wondrous high quality to the sport. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that it’s been demob blissful, however it was and is a restorative. Main broadcaster Gerard Whateley thinks it’s been one of the best season of footy this century. For the primary time in a very long time, one of the best footy story of the yr has been the footy.
After which got here Wednesday. Sadly, probably the most confronting footy story of the yr broke this week and can forged a pall over the grand ultimate. An ABC report alleging extreme maltreatment of Indigenous gamers at Hawthorn was distressing to learn. An unbiased inquiry will study the claims, however whether or not or not they’re confirmed, they’ve turn into a part of an ever-deepening physique of proof that claims there’s nonetheless one thing terribly awry in AFL tradition on the subject of Indigenous gamers. Whereas attending to the underside of it, the safety of individuals should override model safety.
The unlikely crew that caught everybody’s creativeness this season was Collingwood, which below a brand new coach, Craig McRae, performed a quick and daring model of soccer, had a collection of breathlessly shut wins and vaulted from seventeenth to fourth on the ladder. In an much more unlikely growth, this feat gained Collingwood admirers all around the competitors. It have to be a aspect impact of lengthy COVID.
Arch-rivals Carlton missed what would have been their first finals collection in almost 10 years after they misplaced to Collingwood by a degree within the final minute of the home-and-away season. Agonising as that was for the Blues, it additionally shaped a part of the wealthy tapestry of the season.
After all of the twists and turns, the 2 greatest groups are within the grand ultimate. Geelong have gained their previous 15 video games, Sydney their previous 9. They’re data of sustained excellence that brook no argument and promise a fantastic finale.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan tied a bow on his soon-to-be full tenure by signing off on the richest broadcast deal in Australian sports activities historical past. Although considerations linger in regards to the additional leakage of footy from free-to-air TV to much less accessible platforms, the sheer scale of the deal represents a triumph for McLachlan. It can cement his legacy. However as he winds down, he nonetheless has not shepherded golf equipment to a typical place on a standalone Tasmanian crew, maybe the sport’s most vexatious concern.