A season unlike any other has come to a close. Perhaps the only thing that went to script in 2013 culminated in the best team of the year taking out our game’s most coveted prize.
Cast your mind back 12 months and in a sense, the football world was oblivious to what was to come. Kurt Tippett and Adelaide had not been found to have partaking in breaching the salary cap, Melbourne had not been fined $500,000 for tanking and, as part of an infamous off-field trifecta, Essendon had not yet been found conducting a “pharmacological experiment” that served as a constant narrative throughout the season.
Whatever your thoughts on our great game, AFL football has had better seasons than the one just passed. There was a degree of innocence that permeated the game when figures such as Stephen Dank, Steven Trigg and Chris Connolly were simply the sideshow and not the main act.
For every dazzling Jeremy Howe mark and Lance Franklin goal, the football world had to endure explosive allegations that for the most part out to be true; allegations that no one wanted to believe.
From that fateful day when Essendon were dramatically thrown out of the finals football began the healing process. The club which had dragged 17 others through the mud had been temporarily sent to the naughty corner while the others were alleviated from the principal’s office and allowed to play outside.
The AFL’s finals slogan was “Witness Greatness” and in a season like no other, boy did we need some of that. Week one burst into action with the Dockers dramatically upsetting Geelong on their own patch. In hindsight, that cold Saturday afternoon shaped the two finals sides. The Dockers went on to appear in their first ever Grand Final while Geelong seemingly never recovered, falling to a team which they had conquered 11 times prior.
Football had a tough year and it needed its Cinderella story. We only had to wait until that Saturday night to see the transformation of the Port Adelaide take centre stage against Collingwood. It was a David and Goliath battle – the biggest sporting entity in the land up against a club that it leaves for dust off the field. Through the key recruitment of Ken Hinkley, Darren Burgess and David Koch, the fairy tale was complete with the Power overcoming Collingwood on a historic Saturday night at the MCG.
And who could forget the Tiger army finals appearance a staggering 11 years after their previous one. While they fell short to Carlton – who ironically finished ninth yet in a season like no other were granted a finals spot – there was much to like about the Tigers. They took another step in their path and will no doubt be better for the finals experience come round one in 2014.
The finals were to deliver another classic – as Hawthorn and Geelong gave us another chapter in a rivalry that has grown organically since Jeff Kennett uttered those famous words. In a sense, those words still are true to this day. Hawthorn turn up when it counts and as it turned out that’s what gave them their elusive 11th premiership.
While there is no doubt that we have seen better Grand Finals, 2013’s instalment exemplified the gulf in class between the two sides. For all the gushing of Fremantle and Ross Lyon’s infamous defensive game plan, the football world seemingly forgot that Hawthorn possessed the same game style. From the opening bounce, Fremantle’s inexperience in big games was encapsulated through Nat Fyfe’s two first quarter misses. Even he, one of the game’s rising stars, seemed overawed by 100,007 spectators watching and the games consequences. To his credit he bounced back and was one of Fremantle’s best but in the end, those opening few minutes set the tone for an uncharacteristically wasteful Fremantle. The pain of 2012 for Hawthorn was still evident and they were able to bottle that and correct the wrongs of the previous season.
Both teams will still have questions to ask come season 2014. Ross Lyon still has not won a premiership from four attempts and he will be under as much pressure as any to deliver next season. The Dockers have built a rigid structure that should see them up in premiership contention. Much like Hawthorn, they will be judged on how they bounce back rather than on what happened this year. For the Hawks, they have delivered two premierships in six years and questions will be asked as to it if they can continue their ominous form with many of their stars etching a season closer to retirement. With Lance Franklin seemingly out the door, the likes of Jack Gunston and Jarryd Roughead will lead the line. The likes of Ryan Schoenmakers, Matt Suckling and Brendan Whitecross will return and they will no doubt bolster a premiership-winning Hawthorn side.
Season 2013 has come and gone and for the wrong reasons. Its events will be etched in the memory of football fans across the land. Pending any infraction notices, the game will have an opportunity to close this violent chapter and start afresh in the new year. There are many on-field questions that will only able to be answered when the ball is bounced in late March of next year.
Will North Melbourne take the added step? How will Essendon deal will the off-field drama? Can Adelaide and West Coast bounce back from largely underwhelming seasons?
There are many tales to be told and one can only hope that the code can move on from a torrid 18 months and march boldly into the future, sans the drama that dogged 2013.