Crows and Tigers fans may be in seventh heaven as their sides reached the AFL Grand Final next weekend – the Crows’ first decider since 1998, the Tigers’ first since 1982 – but they may have to wake up the rest of the Australian sporting public to tell them.
After one of the most thrilling AFL seasons in history, with three draws and no less than 28 games decided by a single kick or less, everyone was looking forward to a gasp-inducing run to the decider.
Unfortunately, the only response the finals series has induced is yawns.
Yes, there was the controversial elimination final in Adelaide where the Eagles knocked out Port by two points – but apart from that the score differences have been 36, 65, 51, 67, 59, 61 and 42. That’s an average of 54 points between the winners and losers of the other sevens finals matches – hardly showpieces stacked with excitement.
Certainly, the AFL can’t be blamed for these lopsided results and CEO Gillon McLachlan and the boys down at Docklands must be scratching their heads as much as the rest of us due to the huge gap between teams – and also the stunning turnarounds from week to week.
Sydney beat Essendon in week one of the finals by 65 points, then lost the following weekend to Geelong by 59 – a swing of 124.
Geelong, after their thrashing of Sydney, were themselves put to the sword 136-75 by Adelaide the following weekend – this after losing to Richmond by 51 points in the first week of the finals. So Geelong’s route through the finals was: lost by 51, won by 59, lost by 61, which gives you an idea of how haphazard and uncontested results have been. GWS had a similar finals journey: lost by 36 to Adelaide, defeated the Eagles by 67 and then lost to the Tigers by 42.
The crowds have suffered due to the one-sided scorelines and TV audiences have been switching off in their droves. One leading pundit likened crowds to those of World War I, where so many would-be spectators were overseas fighting for their country.
“The AFL has been embarrassed by a disgracefully-low crowd at the GWS-West Coast semifinal at Spotless Stadium,” wrote leading AFL pundit Tyson Otto on news.com.au.
“Just 14,865 fans watched on as the Giants blasted the Eagles by 67 points — the lowest since crowds were sparse because of World War I.”
Indeed the crowd was the lowest for a final since 1916, when just 9,960 watched the Fitzroy v Collingwood semi-final at a near empty MCG.
“The fifth lopsided result from six games in this year’s finals series only added to the underwhelming affair,” continued Otto.
“After only one close game in the first week of finals, fans endured two semi-final thumpings this weekend to continue the September snoozefest.”
A similar turn-off factor has been seen in TV audiences with both AFL finals last weekend out-rated by the NRL equivalent. This again had a lot to do with the competitive nature of the matches themselves.
Both NRL Finals hung in the balance until near the very end unlike the AFL games which were decided well before half-time.
So people may have started off watching GWS v West Coast but as the score ballooned they would have quickly switched to the much closer Broncos and Panthers encounter.
This result is all the more damning for the AFL as the NRL finals match was shown live in just two major cities – Sydney and Brisbane, whereas the AFL match went to all five – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
The AFL does have a blockbuster on their hands this week with the come-back Crows up against the home town favourites, Richmond.
But they will desperately be hoping that one side isn’t leading by 50 points at half-time resulting in another massive switch off.
Luckily for the AFL, this time they are not directly up against the NRL Grand Final, which is a day later on Sunday.
With the AFL finals series about to begin, we look over all 18 clubs to assess their chances.
2016: 5th (SF); 2017: 1st (+4)
Anything but the title will be a huge disappointment, but their form has slipped with just two wins from last five.
2016: 17th; 2017: 18th (-1)
The titles of 2001-03 are a distant memory and the AFL must be increasingly worried about the game up north.
2016: 14th; 2017: 16th (-2)
The once proud Blues look no closer to their first GF since 1999. Culture of failure is home to stay at Princes Park.
2016: 12th; 2017: 13th (-1)
Another bad season for the Pies making the decision to re-appoint Nathan Buckley even stranger. Painful for fans.
2016: 18th; 2017: 7th (+11)
Superb performance from the resurgent Bombers going from wooden spoon to finals in one season. WADA who?
2016: 16th; 2017: 14th (+2)
Another depressing season for Ross Lyon’s team who seem a long way away from the glory years of 2012-15.
2016: 4th (PF); 2017: 4th (-)
One kick away from the GF last year, GWS will be rueing two draws that could see them miss out again this year.
2016: 2nd (PF); 2017: 2nd (-)
So long the bench mark of the competition, the Cats will again go close. In impressive form coming in to the finals.
2016: 15th; 2017: 17th (-2)
Another poor year from the expansion club, who have the lowest supporter base in the AFL — Ablett or no Ablett.
2016: 3rd (SF); 2017: 12th (-9)
The mighty Hawks came down to earth with a thud in 2017 and will be interesting to see if they can bounce back.
2016: 11th; 2017: 9th (+2)
All set for finals footy for the first time since 2006 before a shock loss to the Pies in final round. Will hurt all summer.
2016: 8th (EF); 2017: 15th (-7)
The over-achieveing Kangas had one to forget in 2017. The playing list isn’t great and may not be back for awhile.
2016: 10th; 2017: 5th (+5)
A good year for SA with both teams in the eight for first time since 2007. What price Showdown 44 in the GF?
2016: 13th; 2017: 3rd (+10)
One of the biggest improvers of the year and a strong chance to go all the way, No1 backline in the competition.
2016: 9th; 2017: 11th (-2)
Hopeful of playing finals footy for the first time since 2011 but faded badly. Recriminations go on at Moorabbin.
2016: 1st (RU); 2017: 6th (-5)
Felt they should have won last year and sulked for the first six games of 2017. Will back themselves to do a Dogs.
2016: 6th (EF); 2017: 8th (-2)
A morale boosting win over the Crows in the last round saw them sneak into the finals, but still flag outsiders.
2016: 7th (P); 2017: 10th (-3)
Surprise premiers last year the Doggies will be disappointed they did not do a better job defending the title.
When it comes to being among the best BMX riders in the region, Mansour Al Safran is certainly on that list.
For more than a decade, he has been showcasing his extraordinary tricks, flicks and skills in various competitions, while also judging the upcoming talent in the Middle East.
His own talent saw him become not only Kuwait’s first professional BMX rider, but also a full-time Red Bull athlete.
Not bad for multi-talented Al Safran, who competed for the Kuwait kayaking national team for four years before finding his new passion of BMX in 2006.
Ahead of his visit to Abu Dhabi Sports Festival this weekend, the 26-year-old spoke to Sport360° about his career and how he’s trying to influence the kids to get on their bikes.
HOW DID YOUR INTEREST IN BMX BEGIN?
It was way back in 2006 when I started watching my friend do the various different tricks. I was 14 at the time and intrigued so I watched videos on Youtube to gain more information as I wanted to try.
Since then, I’ve practiced regularly and now practise up to four hours whether it’s at home or in a park.
After I felt comfortable and at a stage where I was doing a lot of new tricks, I wanted to see how I would fare against other people so that’s when I decided to enter the 2006 Red Bull Street Style competition in Kuwait.
I didn’t get a good place but that only made me more determined to do well in sport.
WHEN YOU FIRST TRIED EXPERIMENTING WITH NEW BMX MOVES, WEREN’T YOU WORRIED?
I wasn’t scared at all. I was determined to do this. In Kuwait, there are no skateboard parks which there is nothing I can do about, but that didn’t stop me.
I’m always happy when I’m riding my bike and to have won many competitions such as the 2009 Lord of the Streets in Dubai, proves that you can follow your dreams.
ONE OF THE BIG HIGHLIGHTS FOR YOU WAS WINNING BRONZE AT THE 2013 ASIAN FREESTYLE TOURNAMENT IN MALAYSIA. CAN YOU RECALL YOUR MEMORIES OF THAT?
It was a long time ago but I remember it clearly. Considering it was the best of the best in Asia, I knew it would be difficult to win any kind of medal.
I began my preparations very early and as well as all the tricks I possessed, I wanted to learn new ones to boost my chances of claiming a medal.
It was very tough but I impressed the judges and got through to the latter stages. To have heard my name as the bronze medalist was unbelievable because I didn’t set myself a target of where I wanted to finish.
WHEN NOT ON THE BIKE, YOU’RE ALWAYS CREATING AWARENESS OF THE ACTIVITY BY PLANNING BMX JAM EVENTS IN KUWAIT AND SAUDI ARABIA. TELL US ABOUT THOSE?
Yes, I’ve organised five events in Saudi Arabia and eight in Kuwait because I noticed at the time, BMX was not quite big in Kuwait, let alone the region.
I thought the BMX Jam Events was a great way of making BMX popular and also for a chance for other people to showcase their skills and also learn how to do new tricks.
Now in Kuwait, I’ve noticed that the BMX is growing and a lot of youngsters are taking it up which is very encouraging. When I’m not practising or in competitions, I give tips to people so that they can learn and succeed in what they want to do because I feel that’s very important for me.
YOU HAVE ALSO JUDGED BMX COMPETITIONS NOT JUST IN YOUR NATIVE COUNTRY BUT IN DUBAI ALSO. HOW IMPRESSED ARE YOU WITH WHAT YOU SEE FROM THE ENTRIES?
I enjoy it all because, obviously, there’s a lot of pressure on the entries but I’m intrigued how they fare in a competition.
As a judge, I look for those who do the tricks as well as the style of their routine. I also look at other things like how many tricks they would try in a certain time.
Every time I’m very impressed with what I see because each competition attracts different types of riders, and sometimes it gives you ideas on how to improve as a competitor yourself.
BEFORE YOU HAD A PASSION FOR BMX, YOU ALSO REPRESENTED YOUR COUNTRY IN KAYAKING?
Apart from BMX, I’ve always liked kayaking. Although it’s something that requires a lot of work in your upper-body, it’s something that is refreshing and a lot different.
It allows me to get out on the sea and the best thing I enjoy is when you are representing your country in competitions because it’s something special.
That only pushes you because if you want to gain success, you have to train every day in any sport you want to do.