AFL round one: the least important round of the season or a vital launching pad?
My partner and I recently became parents for the first time and all three of us have been familiarising ourselves with the philosophies of Dr Seuss. “Sometimes,” the good doctor writes, “the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Do we overcomplicate football? Do we read too much into round one in particular? Is it, as Malcolm Blight always insisted, the least important round of the season? Or it is a vital launching pad?
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It wasn’t even the weekend, and footy was already tying itself in knots with its complicated questions. Should we play extra time? (No). Is there any particular reason why the AFL review centre footage sourced from an NEC Fido? Is Ed Sheeran, who wrote a song about breaking his leg, responsible for Tom Stewart’s injury? Can we concede that maybe, just maybe, Chris Scott had a point about the MCG’s shifting surface? Is he not allowed to offer an opinion without being labelled a whiner and an excuse maker? Is he supposed to sit there, like the old horse trainer Jack Denham, and simply refuse to speak whenever he’s asked a question?
Were we too quick to write off Collingwood’s 2022 as a fluke? Does any team give its supporters more bang for buck? Could Scott Pendlebury play 400, maybe 500 games? Does Collingwood’s high-performance manager, who they poached from the South Sydney Rabbitohs, get enough credit for the team’s astonishing ability to run out games? Did Channel Seven, in opting not to zero in on Jeremy Howe’s horrific injury, show a rare moment of class?
Would anyone involved with Port Adelaide countenance the idea that round one was just a warm-up, just a barrier trial? Were we, and Brisbane for that matter, thrown off by Port’s sluggish pre-season form? Was it, as David King contended, the most important home and away game in Adelaide in years? How long into that game were you convinced that Jason Horne Francis is a star? Fifteen seconds? Half a minute? If that’s what he’s capable of, how big was the boulder on his shoulder last year?
How does a code that is staring down billion-dollar concussion class actions deal with a hit like Kozzy Pickett’s? Is a two-week suspension a serious response? Was it intentional or careless? Do we punish the action or the injury? How the hell did Bailey Smith bounce up so quickly? Should Shane McAdam cop an even greater whack for his savage charge the following day? And while we’re talking about simplicity, complexity and head knocks, how does one make sense of Gary Ablett Snr’s claims of “significant structural and functional brain damage” as a result of concussions?
What do we make of the AFL’s crackdown on its staff joining tipping competitions, and even shouting a friend a coffee over a match result? Is this the same organisation that gives it broadcast partners carte blanche to shove as many gambling ads as modern manners permit into each ad-break? The same broadcast partners that have Shaquille O’Neal dropping his towel for Pointsbet and Nathan Brown’s gurning mug encouraging us to gamble responsibly thrice hourly? And given that they coughed up billions to secure the rights, could they throw a few bob at someone with actual medical expertise to diagnose serious injuries, rather than a boundary rider or Tom Browne?
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These questions aren’t all suffused with cynicism, I promise. Has a debutant, with apologies to C Judd and J Georgiades, ever looked so completely at home as Harry Sheezel? Has Ross Lyon morphed into the most affable man in Australia? Leaving aside his guided missile act, how good was Pickett’s game? Is Craig McRae the best thing to happen to football in years? And how tantalising does Saturday’s Collingwood-Port Adelaide game at the MCG now look?
Overreaction comes with the territory in round one. We declare some teams, and write off others. It was just one of 24. It threw up more questions than it answered. It was exhilarating at times, savage and gruesome at others. It brought wins for all four new coaches. “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” Dr Seuss wrote that. Or maybe it was Ross Lyon. Whatever the case, it was a great round of football, and hopefully a harbinger of things to come.