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Let’s not lose perspective on a magnificent premiership win

West Coast’s Dom Sheed about to mark as Willie Rioli holds off Collingwood’s Brayden Maynard in the final stages of the grand final. Picture: CHANNEL 7

Let’s not lose perspective on a magnificent premiership win

Rohan Connolly    

A couple of days after one of the greatest AFL grand finals of all time, emotions are still running high, and the forensic analysis still in full swing.

Grand finals are deconstructed like no other game, even more so when they’ve been decided by less than a kick, a moment here or there potentially making all the difference to the result.

There’s literally dozens of such moments through the course of a game lasting two hours. Inevitably, though, the most intense focus will always be on those in the final frantic stages, and particularly those involving umpiring decisions.

And so, as a result, we’ve actually heard less about Dom Sheed’s match-winning goal for West Coast from the tightest of angles and with just one minute 45 seconds left on the clock than we have the jostle between teammate Willie Rioli and Collingwood’s Brayden Maynard which allowed Sheed to take the mark leading to that shot.

Was it a free kick for an illegal shepherd? I didn’t think so at the time, and after viewing the replay countless times since, I still don’t. There’s an argument Rioli and Maynard were jostling for position in a marking contest they’d thought would end up being between them before Sheed slipped in front of them.

It’s the sort of wrestle we see in countless other contests throughout a game. Sometimes a free kick is paid, sometimes it isn’t. And in a game in which only 30 free kicks were paid and plenty of others that might have been paid were let go, to me that seemed fair enough.

Plenty of commentators and fans disagree, which is fine, for the rules of our game are more open to interpretation than perhaps any other football code. And they need to be.

Were they applied to the letter of the law 100 per cent of the time we’d end up with about 100 free kicks per game. And one of the reasons this was a great grand final was that it flowed, that you had to really earn every touch.

Sure, the non-decision was a big moment. But in a game this close, there were several decisions and non-decisions even in the 105 seconds of play which remained after Sheed’s goal which could reasonably be said to have had as big an impact. Not just from the umpires, but players, too.

The very next centre bounce, wasn’t straight, and gave Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy a free tap which opponent Nathan Vardy couldn’t contest. It wasn’t recalled. From the resultant clearance, Josh Kennedy kicked out wide where Sheed took the ball and was tackled by Maynard, who took him high. No free kick was paid.

Sheed still got the ball out to Luke Shuey, who centred the ball to an unattended Jack Darling. That should have been game, set and match, but Darling dropped an absolute sitter. In the chaos which ensued, Magpie Jeremy Howe tried to burst out of the goal square and was nailed by Rioli. Holding the ball? It wasn’t paid, but it could have been.

From the ball-up, Steele Sidebottom rushed a behind. With 58 seconds left by now, Maynard took the kick-in. Understandably, he elected to go with a barrel. But he didn’t connect properly, it fell short, and into the arms of Shuey, who soaked up the next 25 seconds. Perhaps a more regulation drop punt might have found a teammate.

That’s all in less than two minutes. How many such instances from 44 players and three umpires were there in 120?

What I hope most, though, is that as the narrative builds around what will become one of the most talked-about grand finals of all time, the free kick or not debate around Maynard and Rioli is put in proper perspective, as these sorts of discussions have a tendency to grow legs that didn’t seem there at the time.

An example? Well, there’s a lot of similarities between the scoreline, result and unfolding of the game between last Saturday and the famous 1979 grand final between Collingwood and Carlton.

That classic is known instantly for the “Wayne Harmes incident”, the Carlton player having chased his own kick and fisted the ball from the boundary line across goal for teammate Ken Sheldon to kick the sealer.

Had the ball gone out of play before Harmes got his first to it? It’s become one of football’s most famous debates, and part of the folklore of the game, the subject of many jokes, even a scientific study of the footage in an attempt to make a definitive call.

Interestingly, though, when the game was actually played, in the immediate aftermath, it raised few, if any eyebrows. So much so that in six pages of grand final coverage in the following Monday’s copy of “The Age”, Harmes’ effort is referred to glowingly without a single suggestion of any controversy.

Nearly 40 years later in an age of saturation coverage, no moment will be left unscrutinised, but perspective is also a lot harder to find. As is time for reflection. The caravan rolls on quicker than ever, and the fervour around trade period is already building, new controversies and “hot takes” to be pursued.

Me? I’m going to try to sit back and savour the moment a little more this week.

We complain a lot about everything associated with the AFL, none the least this season the standard of the game. But this one was an absolute epic. And as a lover of in my view still the greatest game in the world, I want to leave the arguing be for a bit, and just enjoy that.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS.

  1. Well said RoCo. Plenty happened. Was one of the all time great grand finals.

  2. Thankyou Rohan. Finally balance trumps bias. I get the feeling that the Melbourne media is using one non call in an attempt to invalidate the win by a win by a side that they have both despised and underrated.

  3. Rohan
    If Maynard wasn’t a free kick then I suggest you look at the 2 minute mark of the first Quarter and you will see a block paid against Collingwood exactly the same decision that wasn’t played in the last quarter
    Here lies the issue
    The non decision was completely different from what was paid for 26 rounds and 3 quarters and not in the last
    So all umpiring for the year changed completely because it was the last quarter of a Grand Final

  4. Being a Victorian and a supporter of the Tiges, I can say West Coast thoroughly deserved their GF win. Throughout the year they proved their credentials beating Richmond, Collingwood, (three times, twice at the G), and Melbourne in a lop-sided Preliminary Final. Sure they have an advantage playing in Perth, but they came to Melbourne and proved their worth away from home on the biggest stage. As for the so-called free kick against Maynard that wasn’t paid, well, Howe was nailed by Rioli holding the ball in the goal square a minute later, and that free wasn’t paid either. From the look on Howe’s face when he was tackled, he even expected a free kick to be paid.
    Sour grapes are moot. no-one can say Collingwood were robbed. In fact most Collingwood supporters I know were unusually gracious in defeat this time. They gave it their best, (which was bloody good), but West Coast were a little more composed when it mattered, and, for the last 3 quarters of the game were by far the better team.
    Bask in your victory Eagles, we say well done. But be warned, you’ve got something of ours. It took us 37 years to get it, and, we want it back!

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