OPINION

Night try, but afternoon AFL grand final is still the best

A third Norm Smith Medal makes Richmond's Dustin Martin the greatest finals player this century. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

A third Norm Smith Medal makes Richmond's Dustin Martin the greatest finals player this century. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

The AFL's experiment with a night grand final should be a one-off trial and the match must return to its traditional afternoon timeslot.

Predictably, the league pointed to the increase in national TV ratings and the entertainment package under lights before the game and at an extended half-time, but the game is the primary consideration in the minds of most people.

While last Saturday night's encounter was unquestionably a high-pressure, fierce contest befitting a grand final, it is undeniable the skills are much better during the day.

Fans surveyed on social media overwhelmingly voted for a 2.30pm start next year and players such as Richmond's triple premiership captain Trent Cotchin agree.

The AFL's obsession with mimicking everything in US sport knows no bounds and just because something works at the Super Bowl does not necessarily mean it is suitable for Australian audiences with our unique attitudes and cultural values.

Last Saturday night there was loud music playing over the speakers after every goal - it was cheap and embarrassing.

The build-up was excruciatingly long and had hotels, bars and restaurants in Victoria been permitted to open, and the weather not been so inclement in Melbourne and Geelong, the potential for alcohol-related incidents would have been far greater.

As the world deals with an uncertain future, it is reassuring that some traditions remain - the sun shining down on a packed MCG for the grand final is one of those precious moments worth keeping.

The AFL did a marvellous job to complete the season under extraordinary circumstances and adjustments such as shorter quarters and a more flexible fixture were necessary components. But that should not give the AFL the imprimatur to turn the competition into something akin to cricket's Big Bash League.

Shorter quarters, even 18 minutes as has been mooted, and games every day of the week compromise the AFL's integrity. Let's return to 20-minute terms and a regular 22-round format that has served the AFL so well.

Danger out in the cold

The careers of Patrick Dangerfield and Nathan Buckley appear destined on a parallel course.

Time is running out for Geelong midfielder, Patrick Dangerfield (right), to realise his premiership dream. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Time is running out for Geelong midfielder, Patrick Dangerfield (right), to realise his premiership dream. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Buckley, who won a record six best and fairest awards at Collingwood, Brownlow and Norm Smith medals, has yet to win an AFL premiership as a player or senior coach.

Dangerfield, who has also won many individual honours during his career including a Brownlow and eight All-Australian blazers, had minimal impact in his first grand final appearance against Richmond.

Dangerfield's cause, as well as that of the Cats, was not helped by coach Chris Scott's bizarre decision to leave him in attack as Richmond seized the momentum in the third quarter. When Dangerfield was belatedly given a run in the midfield during the final term, the damage had been done.

Time is rapidly running out for the dynamic midfielder, 30, to realise his premiership dream.

One of the greats

As the first triple Norm Smith medallist, Dustin Martin becomes an all-time great and earns the accolade of the greatest finals player this century.

Without his wonderful four-goal contribution, Richmond does not win its third premiership in four years.

Martin is in a select group whose performances elevate to another level in finals. In my lifetime, there are two who readily spring to mind - Leigh Matthews and Wayne Johnston - and I would put the Richmond champion on a par with that duo.

While Martin is the best finals player this century, debate rages about the best team of the past 20 years. The three-peats achieved by Brisbane (2001-03) and Hawthorn (2013-15) are hard to top and Geelong's performance of three flags in five years, including a grand final loss (2008) and preliminary final defeat (2010), is most worthy of consideration.

In winning this premiership, Richmond conquered several obstacles - some within its control and others such as being on the road for more than 100 days.

Apart from Martin and a few others such as Shane Edwards, Dylan Grimes and Cotchin, the Tigers lack the star power of those teams earlier this century, but their superior system, frenetic game style and flexibility have enabled them to overcome adversity and realise chief executive Brendon Gale's prophetic prediction a decade ago of three flags and 100,000 members by 2020.

Question of the week

Michael Davies, of Ormond, Victoria, asks: Who is the better player, Gary Ablett senior or his son Gary junior?

Gary Ablett junior achieved so much over a wonderful career with Geelong and Gold Coast - dual premiership player, two Brownlow medals, eight-time All-Australian and a six-time best and fairest winner. Yet while the elder Ablett didn't enjoy the ultimate team success as a player, I believe as a power forward/midfielder Gary senior was such a potent force that he is marginally better than his champion son. Undoubtedly, they are the best father-son combination to play the game and the respect shown to Gary junior by players and officials of both clubs after his final game last Saturday night reflected his exalted status.

  • Supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas