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Ground and crowd were no excuses for Crows’ crumble

Where did we go wrong? Shattered Adelaide players ponder grand final defeat against Richmond at the MCG last Saturday. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Ground and crowd were no excuses for Crows’ crumble

Rohan Connolly    

Adelaide was the best-performed team of the 2017 AFL season heading into the grand final. Unfortunately for the Crows, when it mattered most, they fired barely a shot.

That’s the nature of finals football. A season of solid work and a faultless preparation can all be brought undone by a poor couple of hours. It happens.

Adelaide had no excuses, and to the credit of coach Don Pyke, his players and the entire club, none were offered. “I think if you ask our players individually, they’d be some who say they produced one of their poorer performances on what is a big day,” Pyke said after the loss.

Football, however, is an emotional game, and football fans not always as level-headed. And thus has begun another narrative out of defeat for some disappointed Crows fans. That in the grand final being played at the MCG, the dice were stacked against their team.

The grand final should have been played at Adelaide Oval, goes the argument, as the Crows qualified higher. That they effectively played away against a team on its own home ground shows that this is really still the VFL, they claim.

Frankly, it’s all rubbish. But it’s worth at least explaining why. And why the AFL grand final and the MCG are inseparable.

Let’s start with the logistics. The MCG is a venue which holds more than 100,000. Adelaide Oval holds under 54,000. Behind the “G”, the next biggest capacity stadium in the country is Sydney’s Stadium Australia, which holds 83,500, and is also universally loathed by anyone with anything to do with AFL football. The soon-to-be-opened Perth Stadium will hold 60,000. The Gabba holds just 42,000.

What self-respecting sporting organisation would deny itself up to 50 per cent of its potential live audience on the showpiece day of the season? It’s a no-brainer.

Now let’s tackle the integrity issue. The “world against us” types reason that as the fifth non-Victorian team in a row to fall victim to a local side on grand final day, Adelaide is more proof that on unfamiliar turf before a hostile audience, the odds against the team from outside Melbourne are simply too great.

But the grand final venue is hardly the only compromise made on integrity. There’s the fixture, for one. A 34-game season in which every team plays every other twice is logistically impossible. A 17-game season in which it’s just once leaves an enormous hole in AFL revenue streams. Some teams end up with a better fixture than others. It’s the luck of the draw.

Teams from outside Victoria have to make up to a dozen road trips a season, those from Melbourne no more than half-a-dozen. But on their own turf they also get the benefit of playing teams who will never play more than two games a season there.

Besides Geelong’s Simonds Stadium, Victoria has just two venues, the MCG and Etihad Stadium. The local teams have no home ground advantage against a local rival, and teams from beyond are hardly unfamiliar with those two venues, either.

So why do the sides from other states keep falling at the grand final hurdle? Well, harsh as it may sound, perhaps they simply haven’t been made of stern enough stuff when it counted.

Are the venue and crowd really credible reasons for a shocker in the most important game of the year? And do we just accept that they are disadvantages anyway?

A hostile crowd? I sat at ground level of the MCG on Saturday. Had it been the Crows piling on the goals and not Richmond, trust me, the roars wouldn’t have been a lot less substantial, because Adelaide had a heap of support in the stands, and you certainly heard it when Rory Sloane then Eddie Betts kicked the first two goals of the game.

The nature of grand final ticketing means that the crowd is more evenly split in terms of support than in other games. Indeed, Richmond had a lot fewer fans watching its grand final triumph live than watched its preliminary final win over Greater Western Sydney.

Familiarity? Sure, the Tigers go pretty well on their own MCG, where they won 12 out of 14 games this season. But leading into the grand final, Adelaide hadn’t lost in three trips to the ground this year, and had lost just twice in 10 games on the MCG since 2014.

If the dice are so loaded against teams from outside Victoria, how did West Coast twice beat a local team to win premierships in 1992 and 1994? How did Adelaide itself knock over St Kilda and North Melbourne in 1997-98? How did Brisbane do it three years in a row between 2001-03 against two “heavyweight” clubs in Essendon and Collingwood? And how did Sydney do it against Hawthorn five years ago?

Losing a grand final sucks. Particularly when you’ve finished a season on top of the ladder. That’s the Crows’ lot now, and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. But sometimes you just have to cop your medicine.

Adelaide is a strong, resilient and professional club. It will deal with the fall-out, move on and no doubt bounce back. Hopefully, some of its less rational supporters can dispense with the conspiracy theories and do the same.

  1. Richmond were the better team, and the GF should be played on the G. However to say its not an advantage is rubbish. The home ground is an advantage in every single sport in the world. Just because away teams have won, that doesn’t mean there’s no advantage. You also neglected the effect of travel on players.

  2. This is a good article, but i dont fully agree. Maybe the MCG is the best place to play the AFL Grand Final, but your total lack of recognition of the other side of the debate weakens your argument. Everyone knows that there is such a thing as home ground advantage. So why not acknowledge that? That is why there is an advantage is given to the team that finished further up the ladder in the other finals, but does not apply in the grand final. Richmond probably would have won in Adelaide. Good on em.

  3. Richmond deserved to win the Premiership. No doubt. No excuses.

    To say it is a no brainer that all grand finals should be played at the MCG does not pay much regard to fair, equitable and logical processes.

    Can you imagine the outcry in Melbourne if a top ranked Collingwood side played a grand final against Fifth ranked GWS at Spotless or third ranked Adelaide in Adelaide.

    Can you envisage the response from someone overseas if you explained there was a national league but no matter if a club outside Victoria finished top they would have to play an away game at the MCG again a Melbourne team finishing lower.

    The no brainer is that playing at home provides an advantage and that advantage should go to the highest ranked team. Anything else is demonstrably unfair.

    Throughout history, hegemonic groups have seen their unfair advantages as reasonable and it has taken time and concerted activism to ensure hegemonic groups provided a level playing field for others.

    I genuinely love your writing but I’m afraid you have a slightly biased pro-Victorian mind set, admittedly not as bad as many of your colleagues.

    This bias plays out in many ways – clubs outside Victoria are ‘interstate clubs’, the MCG is the home of football, premierships won in another competition – the VFL – are counted in the tally of Victorian club premierships, and it is seen as a no brainer that ‘interstate clubs’ are required to experience a clear disadvantage on grand final day even when they finish top.

    How can this possible be fair or reasonable.

  4. Excellent as always “Don’t Mess with the” Rohan. Wouldn’t TV ratings be the AFL’s main concern, not gate takings? Don’t think the home ground advantage is all rubbish though. Do think Richmond playing 14 games at MCG to Adelaide’s 3 is a huge advantage. Didn’t Lee Matthews say he thought interstate teams had to be 20 percent better to win a Grand Final? Cheers

  5. The point re ground size I don’t think is broken down enough attention. Given the outcry that memebers don’t enough tickets. 17k per club out of 100k this year is way too low and the complaints are fair enough but imagine the game was played at Adelaide Oval. Memebers would in theory get half that allocation given the smaller ground size.
    Until their is another stadium that can hold at least 90k no way it moves from MCG. Pretty sure the GF is locked away at MCG for next 20 years anyway so the argument is a waste of time. Teams just need to find a way to win there when it matters.

  6. Good financial reason’s why the GF will never be anywhere other than the MCG. I have to agree with Trevor and Crow Fan though. Home Ground Advantage is a valid excuse. Statistically. Allowing more Non-Victorian teams to play matches on the MCG during the season is a question of revenue from attendances…but revenue is not a concern for the 4 Non-Victorian sides who have met defeat in the last 5 years playing Victorian sides on their actual home ground or at the most 20 minutes down the road.

  7. It’s clearly nonsense to suggest that Richmond did not have the home ground advantage and the majority of the crowd on their side. Nevertheless I have not heard any Crows fan suggest that these were the reasons for our loss. Congratulations on setting up a straw man and then knocking it down.

  8. One Victorian mans opinion. Glad I read this!

  9. Rohan… the premiership winning coach himself was complaining about the home ground advantage of the Cats just a few weeks ago. So if he thinks even a trip down the highway is a noticeable home ground advantage, then I’m listening to him.

    I notice though he had no complaints when Tiges got a freebie home final against the Cats.

    I don’t begrudge the Tiges winning. But as you said, the whole integrity of the competition is flawed at multiple points.

    Thus, can any team truly be considered the premier unless they’ve overcome the odds of those flaws or other significant challenges (as the Hawks did in 2015)?

  10. No doubt the G is an advantage to Vic teams and in particular Richmond. However GFs must be played there, but to overcome advantage issues, I believe all prelims should be played at the G. Too many interstate teams have come to the big dance in recent time hopelessly unprepared after “soft” prelims on their own turf. A solid hit out in a prelim at the G would help overcome the problem and prepare them for what to expect. We may then get a few more decent GFs.

  11. Hi Rohan

    Not acknowledging home ground advantage flies in the face of all footy intel in all sports.

    As an “interstate” fan I have no problem with the argument that the G hosts the GF.

    I am sure that on reflection you would agree that it is a factor favouring Victorian teams.

    Kind Regards

  12. It also does not help with broke Victorian clubs sell their Melbourne games to other cities. So the ‘interstate’ teams get VERY little exposure to the MCG. The Crows played Melbourne in Darwin instead of the MCG this year.

  13. Melbourne Storm didn’t seem to have a problem playing away from home. If Adelaide won we would hear none of this.

  14. Ok, genius stuff this, so all clubs are equally good away as they are at home, no advantage for the home team. Back that up with some stats Rohan.

  15. To say it is a no brainer that all grand finals should be played at the MCG does not pay much regard to fair, equitable and logical processes. AFL not fair no logical no reasonable other than MONEY making business.
    Can you envisage the response from someone overseas if you explained there was a national league with a contrived bias draw?

    If a 34-game season in which every team plays every other twice is logistically impossible. Then Fix it.
    Forget about revenue streams and fix it.Easy to say the luck of the draw. No luck in this draw as it is contrived and decided upon at a table of 4 -5 AFL workers. Its a scam and we all fall for it every year.
    Not fair no integrity no luck involved not logical.

  16. I remember hearing these arguments about home ground advantage in the late 60s and early 70s when Richmond was riding high in the VFL. My dad told me that the same was said in the 50s when Melbourne was winning flag after flag. Of course there is a home ground/state advantage. Supporters of all clubs should accept it and move on.

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