The calendar’s clicked over into September, the sun’s out, the smell of freshly mown grass fills the air and footy finals are about to begin around the country.
But in what has become a depressingly familiar trend in the AFL, it is not the wondrous deeds of the eight finalists making the news but a succession of dreary political stories that have nowt, nada, niente and nothing to do with the next four weekends.
Take today’s newspapers in Victoria: boardroom turmoil at St Kilda, disgruntled Essendon fans planning a coup at Windy Hill, the re-introduction of state-of-origin football in 2008, AFL players still miffed at Channel Seven, and the latest instalment from chief executive Andrew Demetriou about draft picks, drug taking and whatever else.
In short, they’re the sort of stories that sports reporters think are awfully important, but the average footy fan couldn’t give a rat’s a-se about. Not at this time of year, anyway.
The finals have increasingly become almost a sideshow to myriad political issues that seem to dominate the sports pages. The real action on the field is being clouded and overshadowed by the goings-on in club boardrooms where self-important besuited mediocrities, sorry, directors, get their rocks off strutting around like bantam roosters through the changerooms and sniffing the waft of liniment.
Club presidents have a public profile now; some of them are even minor celebrities. Certainly, Demetriou has become one of the most recognisable people in Australia and it would not be stretching the imagination to say he quite enjoys his new-found fame.
When Chas Brownlow was Geelong’s club secretary between 1885 and 1923, quietly pushing away at a pen in a back office, he was recognised as an outstanding administrator but would have been almost completely anonymous to the game’s supporters. But the players were the game then, not the politicians. And the sports media has been complicit in this unhappy state of affairs.
So this is a tale of our times, a modern fable if you like.
Victorian fans have been bleating for years about the dominance of non-Victorian teams, as Brisbane, Port Adelaide, Sydney and West Coast, have lined up since 2000 to pilfer the silverware. With Geelong on the top of the ladder, and three other Victorian teams in the finals, this September represents a great chance for the game’s heartland to scratch that seven-year itch.
What about an in-depth analysis of Geelong’s game plan from a recently retired coach, and how it is the Cats are able to run in numbers from half-back, often unopposed, and launch their forays forward?
What about a detailed recreation of the conversation between Dean Laidley and Donald McDonald last year that provided the genesis of the Kangaroos’ astonishing renaissance?
How will Hawthorn regroup after their thrashing at the weekend – Alastair Clarkson must have some cunning ploy up his sleeve to help galvanise his players; what is it?
So, to Rod Butterss and Nathan Burke, the irrelevant Save Essendon Group, Brendon Gale, the AFL Players Association and even Andrew Demetriou. Please, do us a favour.
Step to one side – go on holidays, even – and let the real stars do their stuff.