Representative football in the AFL rolled into Melbourne as a high-tech circus on Saturday night at the MCG. Despite its apparent success, with close to 70,000 people turning up to watch a high-scoring, free-flowing game, the Big Top is unlikely to return any time soon.
For the record, Victoria beat the AFL’s equivalent of the ipod shuffle, The Dream Team, by 17 points. In a game that produced 39 goals in total and a goal scoring masterclass from Brendan Fevola and Lance Franklin, you would expect the AFL and its cheer squad in the daily papers to be shouting for an encore.
But anyone with an appreciation for how football is played nowadays watched little more than a high class session of circle-work, the ball being zipped around the vast expanses of the MCG with a speed and fluency not seen since the late 1980’s. If the Rugby League State of Origin games resembles the opening sequences of Saving Private Ryan then this was a blockbuster of a different kind; with an over-hyped cast of stars, perhaps it was a little bit Ishtar. Though it was played in such a serene manner, maybe it was more like Driving Miss Daisy in footy boots.
Channel Ten did its best to get the pulse racing by using slow motion replays to run, and then re-run the action, and then in case you missed it here it is again, and again. And again.
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It wired the goal and field umpires with new camera technology to give us an umpire’s view of the action, but this only made the whistle-blowers look like cherry flavoured Michelin Men and gave people all over Australia a dose of motion sickness.
It interrupted the coaches and spoke to them in the middle of the match while they were trying to do their job. It seems Ten wanted as many distractions as possible to help us through the evening without having to acknowledge how crushingly polite the football was.
This innovation did provide one moment worth waiting for. Dream Team coach and agent provocateur Mark Williams used one exchange to challenge Ten commentator and former champ Michael Voss to make his next move for him to prove his endlessly self-promoted coaching credentials. Voss declined, as it seems he does these days.
Another first was the sight of a Mexican wave rolling around the MCG late in the final quarter of a game that was still anyone’s to win. The wave is usually reserved for the relentlessly dull plod through the middle overs of a one day international cricket match. Here it was at the pointy end of the AFL showpiece, its best of the best game. People were voting with their hands and feet (now that’s democracy action!). They were bored.
And here’s the lesson.
The AFL spent the week spruiking its match as the greatest talent the game has assembled in the one place to do battle. There were lasers. They invoked history and minted another Legend of the Game in the run-in. Like all those failed rock supergroups, it looked good on paper. In the end though, it wasn’t a patch on the real deal.