OPINION

AFL finals agony for Demons fans watching from afar

The absence of AFL finals in Melbourne will be particularly hard on long-suffering Demon fans. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images
The absence of AFL finals in Melbourne will be particularly hard on long-suffering Demon fans. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

It appears certain there will be no AFL finals in Melbourne for the second successive season, and for long-suffering Demons supporters this is particularly cruel as their team is favoured to break a 57-year premiership drought.

Finals deserve to be played in front of capacity crowds and the MCG is set to lay dormant during the finals campaign starting in Adelaide and Launceston this weekend.

If Melbourne brings home the flag, the red and blue faithful almost certainly will have to be content with watching from afar.

The joy of winning might be confined to a few quiet drinks at home.

AFL games are always better with crowds and it was a shame many supporters had to be content watching at home in lockdown as the home and away season came to a dramatic, at times emotional, conclusion.

The final eight was not decided until the third-last game when St Kilda thrashed a disappointing Fremantle, but there were plenty of highlights before that.

The round started with a bang when Port Adelaide secured a home final and consigned the Western Bulldogs to an elimination final against Essendon after the Dogs' third consecutive defeat.

Then there was a historic first draw between Richmond and Hawthorn, in a match which marked the farewell of Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson, veteran Shaun Burgoyne and three-time Tigers premiership defender David Astbury.

Later that day, Carlton duo Eddie Betts and Levi Casboult graced an AFL field for the last time before a classic finish at Geelong - sadly, all of these games were played in front of no spectators.

Skipper Max Gawn's goal after the siren to secure Melbourne's first minor premiership since 1964 might turn out to be the most important kick of the season.

It was reminiscent of a similar scenario 34 years ago under the final five system when Carlton captain Stephen Kernahan goaled after the siren against North Melbourne to secure top spot for the Blues, who went on to win the flag that season.

Unfortunately, there were no Demons supporters at GMHBA Stadium last Saturday night.

Players feed off the crowd's energy and excitement, creating a better spectacle. Without the fans, regardless of players' commitment and the hype of TV commentators, there is a soulless, dispassionate feeling about the contest.

Importantly, there was a crowd between Brisbane and West Coast in the Saturday twilight game and the Lions fed off the frenzied atmosphere at the Gabba to win by just enough to sneak into fourth spot.

The AFL has done an incredible job to complete the season in these difficult times and the removal of the pre-finals bye is a positive by-product of the pandemic.

The player-driven break not only created a vacuum filled by various awards presentations, but more importantly diluted the advantage of finishing in the top four and winning the first final.

Last year was a perfect example - the winners of the qualifying finals, Port Adelaide and Brisbane, bowed out in the preliminary finals after having played only once in about a month.

Justin Langer is a man under pressure. Photo: Chris Hyde-Cricket Australia via Getty

Justin Langer is a man under pressure. Photo: Chris Hyde-Cricket Australia via Getty

LINGERING DOUBTS ON COACH LANGER

Despite Cricket Australia's assurance that Justin Langer is the right man to coach the national team, there remains doubts that his confrontational style of leadership can elicit the best from the squad under his control.

Renowned for his fierce determination and uncompromising attitude as a batsman, Langer can rub people up the wrong way as a micro-manager who is too often distracted from his main responsibilities with minor matters.

Langer, who is contracted until the middle of next year, took over from Darren Lehmann in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa more than three years ago.

Early in his tenure the results were promising, highlighted by Australia's retention of the Ashes in England two years ago.

Even then it appeared there were simmering tensions over his intense attitude and demeanour towards certain players.

More recently the rumblings of dissent within the dressing room have intensified since last year's Test series loss to India and underwhelming performances at one-day and T20 level against the West Indies and Bangladesh.

But Langer should not be the only person under pressure - he does not bat, bowl or field.

The players need to be held accountable for their inept performances, as do the selectors who picked the teams. In some ways, the loss to India was a blessing in disguise as problems and weaknesses could not be ignored.

Last week Test captain Tim Paine, Langer's former Test opening batting partner Matthew Hayden and Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley came out strongly in support of the coach.

But clearly there are issues that need to be sorted out to avoid threatening the Ashes campaign which starts in just over three months.

Apart from in-form captain Joe Root, England's batting frailties have been revealed in the home series against India. On that form, the Englishmen will struggle under Australian conditions against our top-class attack.

Their bowling attack is under strength against the Indians and all-rounder Ben Stokes, who missed the last Ashes series in Australia in 2017-18, will be a welcome addition if he returns after dealing with mental health issues.

But England's bid of regaining the urn will be greatly enhanced if Australia can't get its act together.

Has Howard got it right? Email: howardkotton11@gmail.com; Twitter: @hpkotton59.

This story AFL finals agony for Demons fans watching from afar | Howard Kotton first appeared on The Canberra Times.