Will someone puh-lease tell the AFL to pull its head in and get a sense of perspective?

Will someone tell them that no two-bit, common or garden NAB Cup match, even one that may or may not involve Ben Cousins, could possibly be more important to Australian sports fans than an A-League soccer grand final featuring Melbourne Victory and either Queensland Roar or Adelaide United.

At issue is which code wins the right to use Melbourne’s Telstra Dome on Saturday week. The AFL claims it locked in that date, 28 February, when it released its NAB Cup fixture in October. It is adamant the Richmond-Collingwood game should be played under lights, and under the roof, on that night.

The Football Federation of Australia, meanwhile, claims it has received assurances from Telstra Dome management that it can use the ground on that date for its showpiece event.

On a day when Melbourne’s Herald Sun page three lead in sport was headlined “Buddy (Franklin) Jars Thumb”, it is clear that the AFL season is well and truly upon us. And that means every tid-bit of the most arcane footy “news” will be reported, dissected and analysed over the next eight months by various panels of experts and pundits on myriad TV and radio shows, and Internet and newspaper columns.

It also means the AFL Commission, headed by Andrew Demetriou, will puff its chest out and strut around like bantam roosters, thinking they’re the cock of the walk.

In defending the AFL’s refusal to budge, Demetriou was quoted in the Herald Sun today as saying: “It could be Ben Cousins’ first game back (after a drug-related ban), so there could be a dilemma there for all concerned.”

Well, frankly, Andrew, and speaking on behalf of most non-Richmond supporters (and those with a casual interest in A-League affairs): Care factor — zero.

What really is at stake here — and why Demetriou is digging its heels in over a seemingly trivial issue — is that the AFL has identified in soccer a growing threat to its mantle as the most popular football code in the country. And they will do all they can to obstruct its growth and hinder its progress in order to retain the AFL’s position at the top of the pile.

Melbourne Victory, save for one or two underperforming seasons, has become an A-League powerhouse. If it can win a second A-League premiership in AFL heartland — at Telstra Dome on Saturday week — in front of a sell-out crowd, while at the same time bumping two of the AFL’s biggest and best-supported teams to another time or another date, it will prove one of the round-ball code’s greatest symbolic victories in this country.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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