Whilst it’s great that we’re going to get an AFL Grand Final and manage to complete what has been another Covid-interrupted season, there’s still a sad reality that other leagues around both Victoria and New South Wales who love to play this great game won’t be able to enjoy the same thing.
On Friday morning, during an online class at university, I received a text message saying that the VFL women’s competition was not going to go ahead with its Grand Final and the thing that made me very despondent was that for all the players, coaching staff and others involved to get to that point, it didn’t even matter in the end.
The two teams had already been decided and had been decided since July 31st, which was when Geelong punched their ticket into the Grand Final, knocking off an Essendon side who were admirable in losing to Collingwood just three weeks earlier in their second semi-final.
The first week of finals came directly after lockdown five finished here in Victoria, but not even two weeks from our supposed ‘freedom’, the government went and sent us into another lockdown. This is the one that we’re still in.
Yet, the league, adamant that they could finish the year, continued to push it back and they pushed it back for over a month, believing that the end was still in sight. However, given the current situation in Victoria, they were left with very little choice.
They’re not the only state league that has pulled the pin. The VFL men’s competition officially called quits on the year on the first day of September and the boys in the NAB League had their season canned just days later, meaning recruiting for the top Victorian talent is going to have to be from limited experience, again.
But for the VFL Women’s league, they were just one game away from completion.
There’s been some discussion about whether Collingwood deserved the VFLW premiership after going through the season unbeaten – that’s 14 games of the regular season and an extra two finals on top of that. Those two finals wins were against Geelong and Essendon, who have shown during the finals campaign that they were right there with the Pies as the top three teams in the league.
I’m sure there’s a good contingent asking the question of that being enough to give them a premiership on merit, right?
Whilst I would love for the VFLW to give Collingwood the premiership based on their dominance all through the season – highest scoring team in the league, the stingiest defence in the competition, conceding only 237 points in 14 home and away matches – it would be incredibly hypocritical to do this when you consider what happened in the AFLW last year.
Fremantle had the best record in the competition last year, six games through the home and away season without a loss, and their final against the Gold Coast Suns was dominant to say the least. Yet, with Covid fast-emerging as this great unknown and almighty threat, the league had no choice but to stop the season and award no premier.
Understandably, there would’ve been people in the four walls of Fremantle annoyed or screaming bloody murder that they didn’t get awarded the premiership, but the reality of it is that Fremantle never got to take on Melbourne or Carlton or North Melbourne that year, sides that I’ll argue were also amongst the top four in the competition.
Ask yourself, did they really deserve to win it if they didn’t get the opportunity to take on the best?
Granted, this is a bit of a different case to answer with Collingwood in the VFLW this year. For the season, disruptions and all, they managed to go all the way through to the Grand Final, withstanding just about every Covid concern that was surrounding Victoria this year up to now – come to think of it, the fact that this season started in late February, when the AFLW was still running is just nuts.
Having said that, I am a firm believer that if you can’t complete a season, then no premier should just be named on a whim. Yes, they’ve beaten Geelong on three separate occasions this year, but as we all know on Grand Final day, it becomes an entirely different beast as opposed to any games that have come before us.
It’s a big jump in comparison, but you only need to look back towards the AFL to know that teams with the best home and away record are not a sure thing. That 2008 Geelong side only lost once all year round, before Hawthorn put them to sword in the Grand Final.
A few years after that, Collingwood went through the home and away season on top, having lost two matches, both of which came at the expense of Geelong, before losing to them again on Grand Final day.
Those are two of what I am sure are many examples of why it’s not a good idea to award team premierships in cancelled season. For all the changes in football over the years, the unpredictability of the result will forever be one of the more amazing constants in Australian football.
Besides, it’s not like Geelong were beaten down horrendously in any of these encounters either, the margins for these games were two points in round one, 19 points in round 14 and six points in the qualifying final in week one.
As unlikely as it sounds, the Cats could’ve knocked them off if we had gone ahead and played. Conversely, Collingwood could’ve flexed their strength and have completed their unbeaten season. For the fans of women’s football here in Victoria, we’ll never know. For me especially, it feels like we’ve been cheated out of what could’ve been a great Grand Final.
This hasn’t just been the case at the state level. At local level too, leagues across Victoria, especially the metropolitan area, were closing their doors on completing the season. Much like the VFLW, I know for a fact that many of the local leagues were still keen to have finals, have premiers awarded and teams promoted and relegated.
Having played in one of these metropolitan leagues this season, I can speak from experience that the season itself was difficult, and this is just from a bloke that was trying to balance football commitments with work and uni commitments too and with the added bonus of the uncertainty that is Covid,
But I’m just as certain that everyone else who’s played local footy this year has had their own respective battles along this journey.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great we managed to get some games in this year after being forced out of playing no games in 2020, but once that first lockdown hit and impacted the season by calling off a couple of weeks’ worth of games the first few weeks, it was starting to feel like a slippery slope.
I sensed that there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of local football and of course once that second lockdown happened, that was curtains. Quite a few would’ve been optimistic, but the fear of cancellation again was hovering around.
Much like the discussion of whether Collingwood should be awarded the VFLW premiership, questions have been asked about the teams leading their respective divisions in their local competition: Should they be awarded the premiership?
VAFA’s top division played only 11 games this year with Old Xaverians and St Kevins both on top of the ladder with nine wins apiece – how do you propose we name a premier from that?
Meanwhile, in the AFL Outer-East’s premier division, nine teams played across nine rounds of football from rounds one to 11. Some played all nine games, others had a week or two off with the bye. Beaconsfield were the only team who remained unbeaten all throughout, but is nine games is even close enough to be considered a premiership winner? You’re damn right it isn’t close enough.
This is why I found it interesting when I read an article online Monday that one City of Kingston councillor wanted to see two local teams down in the South-East be awarded premierships in their respective competitions for their efforts.
Carrum Patterson-Lakes, who are in Division four of Southern Football Netball League, won all 12 of their games this year and did so in a matter that, to say it would be convincing, would be an understatement. Whilst Bonbeach was just half a game ahead of its nearest rival in division one of the Mornington Peninsula league when the season was canned.
I get it, everyone would love to see a winner whatever the circumstances may be, but what this councillor says becomes more of an ignorant statement once you realise that Bonbeach never got the opportunity to take on Frankston YCW this year, who were second at the time of the season’s cancellation.
Award them the minor premiership? It sounds fair enough when you consider how many games they’ve played – let’s say nine, 10 or 11 games into a season, by then, I think it’s fair game as they have done enough to earn being top of the ladder. But handing sides a flag in a cancelled season starts to become bordering on the ridiculous.
Over at Essendon District, they announced last Thursday that they would take the measure on awarding premierships to the teams who finished on top of the ladder in all their divisions.
This means that in its premier division, in particular, Strathmore would be declared as the premiers ahead of Keilor, despite winning the same number of games, with a large percentage gap separating the two sides. I’d wager there’d be a few folks at Keilor that would probably be a little more than displeased with this, considering that Keilor did manage to beat them in their head-to-head clash this year.
Upon a quick glance of their post which outlined this decision on their Facebook page, I’m not the least amount surprised or shocked to see that it was met with such vicious backlash from those associated with the league in some capacity.
It’s not just EDFL’s premier division that’s met with such controversy, but in their second division, Moonee Valley was named as the premiers with 10 wins from 11 games, even though Oak Park had won the same number of games, with a percentage gap of 43 percent separating the two sides. The two sides had also met twice this year, with each side taking out a win over the other.
Admittedly, I’m not too familiar with the goings-on at Essendon District, but one can only assume that Oak Park have done most, if not everything right to get them into a position to contend for a premiership and a promotion to division one, just to have it taken away and handed to someone else after nonsensical deliberation. I do truly feel for teams like that.
To me at least, promotion and relegation is something entirely different in comparison to being named as premiers and maybe it should be considered as a case-by-case basis. but at the same time, I can see the argument by some that it is almost the same idea as awarding the team a premiership for a season that never came to its conclusion.
But there are several cases from several teams from different leagues and separate divisions who have been the clear-cut standout in their respective league and probably wouldn’t be out of place in the division above them. Conversely, there will also be teams that struggled all year to compete and should be given the chance to redeem themselves in a lower division.
All of that, however, is up to the powers-that-be in their respective leagues to make the call with promotion or relegation
Whether or not we find ourselves back in this situation 12 months down the track, no one really knows, and we won’t find out about the future of local footy until we get there next year.
But if this year has proven anything about football, no matter what level you’re in, it’s that if you can’t complete a season, then you’re better off naming no one as your premier and focusing on trying to limit the impact of Covid-19 on local football.
It can’t keep going on like this, that’s for sure.