With the world seemingly in turmoil, it was nice to have a slice of normality back with the reboot of the 2020 AFL season.
For what felt like the first time in a long time, fans everywhere got the privilege of planting themselves in front of the TV to enjoy the greatest sport on the planet. Despite the shortened quarters and crowdless stadiums, footy is back and providng some entertainment in a society that needs a distraction.
The need for a distraction was clearly evident on Thursday night, with the Richmond versus Collingwood blockbuster drawing enormous TV ratings despite an underwhelming spectacle from both clubs. Channel Seven said its ratings were up almost 60 per cent on last year’s Richmond-Collingwood match, also staged in Round 2 of the 2019 season. The game was played to an audience of well over a million people across Australia, with many viewers also tuning in from overseas.
It didn’t take long to remember why we love this game so much and how much we had missed it over the near 12-week lay-off.
It started with a tough, physical match between the league’s two powerhouse sides. The game was sloppy and clearly showed that it will take some time to blow out the cobwebs, but players on both sides were willing to put their bodies on the line to secure the first points of the season restart. Ironically, the exciting last few minutes resulted in a draw, which almost seemed fitting to reboot the race for the premiership.
As a Geelong resident, it was a refreshing sight to drive down the highway and see the towering lights switched on at GMHBA Stadium on Friday night, with two old rivals set to resume hostilities. The match overall was a better standard than Thursday night, but Geelong made light work of Hawthorn to secure their first points of the year. It was a great sight to watch the little baldheaded master put on a show, with some exciting youngsters like Brandan Parfitt and Gryan Miers putting on a forward-half clinic.
We witnessed some tight tussles through the other matches, with the standard of play gradually increasing as the weekend rolled on.
It started with an unexpectedly exciting game between Brisbane and Fremantle at the Gabba. Each side’s superstars, Nat Fyfe and Lachie Neale, went toe to toe through the midfield as the game went right down to the wire. Brisbane snuck home to record their first win of the season but gave a friendly reminder that anyone is beatable this season no matter the circumstances.
Another game came down to the wire when Carlton attempted to mount the unlikeliest of comebacks to beat Melbourne, who looked unstoppable up until half-time. The Dees on-ball trio of Max Gawn, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver looked like a champion line-up in the first half before Patrick Cripps rallied his troops after the long break to give the Demons an almighty scare.
Mixed with this were the two enormous upsets that saw two genuine premiership contenders get rolled by two highly unfancied teams. First was the Gold Coast Suns, who, led by second-gamer Matthew Rowell, easily disposed of 2018 premiers the West Coast Eagles. Then it was North Melbourne’s turn, taking down last season’s grand finalists GWS Giants in a great display of teamwork and excellent game planning. The win on the Giants home deck almost looked easy, as North comfortably held GWS at bay despite multiple challenges through the second half.
The close finishes, major upsets and superstar battles were all reasons why it was so good to have footy back on the TV again. After weeks without any form of sport to watch, many sports fanatics were ecstatic to know there was finally a positive with the easing of coronavirus restrictions.