Published by Ton Norris, 20 August 2018 on foxsports.com.au
THE AFL and Melbourne Cricket Club are preparing for the possibility of four finals at the MCG in weeks one of finals, which could see an elimination clash played on a Sunday for the first time since 2015.
If West Coast loses to Brisbane and Collingwood pumps Fremantle, the Magpies would jump to second on the ladder and earn an MCG qualifying final berth alongside minor premiers Richmond.
If Hawthorn loses to Sydney and Melbourne defeats GWS, then the Hawks and Demons will finish fifth and sixth (in either order) to confirm their respective places in home elimination finals.
One potential option would see Etihad Stadium host a home final for either Hawthorn or Melbourne, although that would lock as many as 40,000 fans out of the game and surely irritate the Hawks and Dees.
There have been six finals played at Docklands, the last of which was in 2011.
Ironically, Melbourne’s MCG form has been patchy this year, winning just four of 10 games at the venue.
But for Travis Auld, Darren Birch, Gillon McLachlan and Steve Hocking, the prospect of four Melbourne-based finals is both exciting and delicate, especially as Geelong cannot finish high enough to warrant a match at GMHBA Stadium.
Melbourne Cricket Club spokesman Shane Brown said the prospect of hosting four finals at the iconic venue was “tantalising.”
“While it is ultimately up to the AFL to schedule finals matches, the prospect of so many MCG finals in the first week is a tantalising one,” Brown told foxfooty.com.au.
“Almost 2.4 million people have attended the MCG this season, and the average per game of nearly 54,000 is our best result in seven years.
The AFL has not fixtured a Sunday final since North Melbourne defeated Richmond in 2015. In 2016, the league introduced a week off between the home and away season and finals, which allowed September action to kick off on a Thursday night.
But this year could present exceptional circumstances and a possible return to a Sunday 3.20pm do-or-die clash is very much in the frame, depending on Round 23 results.
The league will also consider travel components ahead of the second week of finals, while the fact Etihad Stadium is now owned by the AFL and will therefore provide greater financial incentive is low down on the priorities.
Last year, Geelong (2nd on the ladder at season’s end) hosted Sydney (6th) in a Friday night semi-final, with the Swans coming off a six-day break after beating Essendon, whereas Geelong had seven days between finals. This demonstrates the AFL is far more willing to schedule six-day breaks now than it was prior to 2016.
If a Sunday elimination final is fixtured in three weeks time, the winner would automatically have a six-day break and play in a semi-final on the following Saturday night.