Eight clubs will begin play-offs this week as the Australian Football League enters its 2013 Finals Series. Meanwhile Essendon admit their guilt and declare that they were not prepared to take a risk in court.
There have been countless great wins, narrow losses and feel-good stories throughout the year for the 18-teams, competing across 23 rounds, for a spot in the top eight in Australia’s most-watched national football code.
But overshadowing the highs and lows, the AFL has been dogged all season by an off-field saga involving the Essendon Bombers and their “illegal” 2012 supplement program, which they failed to monitor properly.
In what is probably the biggest controversy in the AFL/VFL’s 116 year long history, Essendon have been disqualified from this year’s finals series, their head coach James Hird suspended for 12 months, the club was fined AU$2 million (HK$14 million) and lost picks at each of the next two national drafts.
The saga began publicly well before the first game of the season and climaxed on Tuesday Aug 27 when Essendon admitted guilt and agreed to accept the sanctions rather than take the matter to court.
Basically, with charges based on the grounds of conduct unbecoming and bringing the game into disrepute, Essendon were not willing to test this in court according to their president Paul Little.
“When the AFL released their charges they targeted a breach of rule 1.6 which is based on essentially conduct unbecoming and a very difficult defence was needed for that particular charge,” said Little during a pre-match function on Saturday (Aug 31), prior to their final round match of the season against Richmond.
“Our legal experts concluded that it would be a risky legal fight and had we fought and lost the consequences could have been to virtually wipe out the Essendon Football Club for next year.
“This was a risk that I wasn’t prepared to take,” he admitted.
However, the question remains: Did Essendon dope their players with banned substances?
ASADA (Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority) says that it was “reasonably likely”. Essendon’s poor governance, record keeping and monitoring meant that they were unable to prove otherwise.
After more than six months of investigation ASADA presented the AFL with an interim report. The AFL is still able to lay further charges following ASADA’s further investigations and report.
Further to the aforementioned punishments, assistant coach Mark Thompson was fined AU$30,000 (HK$210,000) and will likely coach the club in Hird’s 1-year absence. Football manager Danny Corcoran has four months to serve of a six month suspension. Doctor Bruce Reid is fighting the charges and has launched Supreme Court action.
Essendon fell away towards the end of the season as the off-field pressures impacted on-field. Earlier in the season they appeared to draw on the controversy for inspiration. They would have finished seventh and played in the finals had they not been disqualified.
2013 Finals—Week 1
The Hawthorn Hawks claimed minor premiership bragging rights for finishing on top of the standings ladder. The Hawks will meet the fourth-placed Sydney Swans in the First Qualifying Final on Friday night (Sept 6) at the MCG. The pair played off in the 2012 Grand Final with Sydney 10-point victors. Hawthorn has won their two encounters this year by 37 and 10 points in their respective Round 7 and Round 23 matches and should win again.
The Geelong Cats, the second-placed team will meet the third-placed Fremantle Dockers in the Second Qualifying Final on Saturday afternoon (Sept 6) at Simonds Stadium in Geelong. Fremantle eliminated Geelong in the first week of last year’s finals series at the MCG. But, home ground advantage will favour the Cats heavily this year.
None of the four teams competing in the Qualifying Finals will be eliminated from the series by virtue of their ladder ranking. The winner of their respective match will have a valuable week’s rest, while the loser will play the winners of the respective First Elimination Final and Second Elimination Final.
The First Elimination Final will be between the Richmond Tigers and Carlton Blues on Sunday afternoon Sept 8. This will be the Tigers first appearance in the finals since they lost in Week-2 of the 2001 Finals Series when (coincidently) they lost to Carlton in the Semi-finals. The Blues snuck into the finals this year due to Essendon’s disqualification. Hard to split, both will be out to prove their worthiness and right to compete against the loser of the Hawthorn and Sydney final.
The Second Elimination Final will be between the Collingwood Magpies and the Port Adelaide Power at the MCG on Saturday night Sept 7. Port have risen from fifth bottom in 2012 to seventh and deserve their berth in this year’s finals series. They’ve shown that they have had the biggest improvement of all clubs and have a chance to go further. The ’Pies have slipped from fourth last year to sixth, but have found good form at the right time having won four of their last five matches this season. They should progress.
The season will be over for the two losers of their respective Elimination Final.
While all clubs understandably have injury concerns, a case could be put forward for any of the eight teams in the finals series reaching the last Saturday in September. However, considering Hawthorn’s and Geelong’s form throughout the year they are the most-likely 2013 premiership contenders.
The Cats are the Hawks hoodoo team. The Hawks won the 2008 Grand Final against the Cats. Since then Geelong has won all 11 of their encounters. I predict that “Kennet’s Curse” will continue and Geelong will make it 12 straight in the big one, the 2013 Grand Final on Saturday afternoon Sept 28.