By Andrew McGarry.
Hosting a grand final is serious business, and the choice of where to stage a sport’s biggest match of the season can prompt plenty of arguments.
The AFL Women’s competition has had almost nothing but good press for its inaugural season, with feel-good story after feel-good story as the league has got off to a spectacular start.
The biggest question mark remains, however, over the grand final venue. It does not seem on the face of it to be a difficult decision.
Unlike the AFL, which has a contract in place with the MCG Trust to play their decider at the MCG every year until 2037, the AFLW is a blank slate, with no such agreement in place.
The push and pull between the Victorian traditional home of football and the more national game that the AFL represents has led to some interesting battles over the years.
One of the big wins for interstate clubs has been the ability for top sides to host a preliminary final — but not a grand final — away from the MCG.
This has given an advantage to the likes of West Coast, Fremantle, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Port Adelaide, who have all hosted the match that decides who will play in the grand final.
Lions and Crows the AFLW stand-outs
In the AFLW it has been clear since early on in the inaugural season that there were two stand-out sides, Adelaide and Brisbane.
While not set in stone, it was strongly suggested that the team that finished with the minor premiership after seven rounds would be rewarded by getting to host the grand final on Saturday, March 25.
The only question if the Lions topped the table seemed to be whether Brisbane should host a standalone grand final at the Gabba, or whether it should be held prior to the round one AFL match – the Q-Clash – between the Lions and the Gold Coast Suns at Carrara.
“There will be Brisbane fans heading down to the Gold Coast, but with a one-o’clock grand final start we’d be hopeful they could do both,” AFL game development boss Simon Lethlean said in late February.
“The Gabba is the Lions’ preference and we’ll work on that basis to try and get a good result for everyone.”
This added spice to the round five clash at Norwood Oval in Adelaide, where the Crows and Lions put their unbeaten seasons on the line.
The Crows led early, but the Lions hit the front in the final term, and held on to win by three points.
The Lions were now 5-0, and they went on to finish the regular season on top of the ladder with six wins and one draw from seven games — the latter courtesy of a last-round draw with Carlton.
Adele concerts a grand final game-changer
Then, however, Adele happened.
The British singing superstar held two sold-out concerts at the Gabba, with a huge stage and thousands of people seated on the playing surface protected by a white plastic covering.
Queensland cricket were not happy with the results, and wrote to Stadiums Queensland asking for the AFLW grand final to be held elsewhere, and for the men’s Lions team to play away from the Gabba for the first few rounds to allow ground staff to deal with what they said was the impact of the concerts on the surface.
At stake, they said, was the ability to give the turf time to recover in order to have a proper surface for the first Ashes Test, scheduled to begin on November 23.
Whether or not you accept that argument, the principle remains clear.
The Lions were clearly the best side in the competition over the seven rounds, and given that there is no finals series, but a single grand final, they should have the benefit of hosting.
All of a sudden, however, the Adelaide Oval and the MCG are being suggested as possible venues ahead of today’s announcement.
For the Crows to end up with hosting rights given they finished second on the ladder would be problematic, and for both teams to have to travel to the MCG would be a poor example of old-school football thinking.
It is the Australian Football League Women’s comp, and as a national league that will surely grow in coming years, the onus should be on the AFL to get it right and give the competition the decider it deserves from the start.
The Gabba should be the venue. If not, then Carrara must be the next option. It would be disappointing for the AFLW to have to piggyback off the launch of the men’s season, but having a Queensland venue should be the priority.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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