By Ross Stapleton

Channel Nine special effects microphones missed Nick Riewoldt’s collarbone cracking last Thursday night, but the St Kilda captain’s injury and the question of whether it was exacerbated by the unwanted attentions of two marauding Lions, quickly became a national debate on the “spirit of the game”.

Channel Nine couldn’t have wished for a more controversial and headline grabbing kick-start to its coverage. Even the Rugby League media didn’t miss the opportunity to comment on the incident, while also delighting in the “wuss” value of a young AFL warrior having a small cry while looking on injured from the bench in the final quarter.

The debate finally led Leigh Matthews to yesterday fire more shots across the bows of Eddie McGuire and Nine over what he termed the “stupidity” of on-air comments made by McGuire on Thursday night, when he claimed Lions players targeted Riewoldt’s injured shoulder five times. “Where that came from I have got no idea,” said Matthews. “How could Eddie McGuire say the Brisbane Lions targeted his shoulder five times? I mean, how stupid is that?”

But McGuire stuck to his guns and countered that the TV footage backed up his claims. Certainty McGuire and Nine set a scorching pace for self-promotion of the network’s AFL coverage with its Thursday night piper opener at the Gabba, even Matthews was impressed. He called the Nine coverage a calculated effort to be “as controversial and sensational, and good a viewing as possible”.

“It was really emotive television – fantastic television. You saw the tears, the anguish, the depression of the athlete. It was really emotional television, but unfortunately there’s so many people out there in the community who get led by the nose,” Matthews said. So folks welcome to yet another AFL season of “the incredibles” where the AFL can also take huge comfort in the 322,540 opening round attendance – the second best ever behind only the 1997 season aggregate of 329,369, and massively up on last year’s figure of 263,705.

If the opening round is any indication of the season ahead we should all fasten our seat belts.

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Peter Fray
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