Pass a beer, snooze fest lacks X-factor

February 20, 2018

Melbourne won the AFLX competition at Etihad Stadium on Friday night, but many fans would have struggled to sit through the entire tournament

If you did not get the chance to see any AFLX action at the weekend, let me paint a picture for you.

It is 7.15pm on a Tuesday night in the middle of winter at any football club across the country.

The senior coach has decided that his group had too much fun at the weekend after a big win and has not yet done enough running to satisfy his need for punishment.

But he knows that Saturday’s game was tough, and does not want his charges over-extending themselves or hurting each other during match-simulation.

The solution is quite simple — split the group in half, spread them from goal square to goal square and task them with moving the footy from full-back to full-forward in the quickest time possible.

That training drill is exactly what greeted just more than 22000 fans at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.

Unable to catch any of Thursday night’s matches, I travelled down the Hume Hwy with an open mind — looking forward to seeing a young Essendon outfit test the waters of the new format.

Within five minutes of the first tap I was looking for the nearest bar.

If I wanted to watch a training drill I would venture down to any of the Goulburn Valley clubs during the week and not have to drive a five-hour round trip.

Barring Braydon Pruess monstering Tom McDonald, the lack of intensity was highly disappointing.

I struggled to find any meaning in the contests, and apart from your standard one-eyed supporter behind me ripping into Jake Melksham (until he started bombing ‘‘Zooper’’ goals for fun) it seemed like the rest of the crowd agreed with me.

If this is the product the AFL wants to use to spearhead its overseas expansion, then it still requires a ton of work.

But it was not all doom and gloom.

While the circus performers certainly made me cringe, the other entertainment aspects seemed to work well.

The children’s area at the Lockett End was the stuff of my childhood dreams.

Standing on the turf of the main oval, a swarming mass of primary school-aged children jostled for position to mark the footballs kicked through the goals, basically enjoying the night like they were at their local club on a Saturday.

It seemed to work too, with smiles beaming all around the area.

I enjoyed the in-ground commentator as well.

It was hard enough to keep track of the play, let alone decide which fresh draft pick had the ball, so having a running commentary over the loud speaker was helpful.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the night though was the player engagement with fans.

With most of the stars of the game on the sidelines it allowed them to mingle throughout the stadium.

At one stage a young boy ran up to Michael Hibberd, who was trailing behind a group of fellow Demons, and asked for a photo.

Instead of just posing with him and moving on, Hibberd yelled out to his teammates to stop and get in the picture as well.

It was only a small gesture, but one that would normally never happen at Etihad with all players out on the field.

The family day or open training session atmosphere was, in all honesty, perfect for the pre-season.

Fans were able to see new players to the club, while meeting their favourites on the sidelines.

I wrote in this column last year that for the AFLX to work it would need to have some sort of meaning, like an FFA Cup-style tournament.

With franchising the format one of the ideas thrown up this weekend, that could still remain the perfect opportunity to make AFLX work.

But until it does find some sort of intensity or relevant action, it should remain consigned to the pre-season, and not thrust overseas in a premature attempt to grow our great game.

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