Magic of an afternoon grand final is impossible to beat

Is it too soon to think back to being locked in our homes, safe from the scourge of COVID, with only a footy match for entertainment or dragging your dog on the fourth walk of the day?

It felt like months of darkness in 2020 before the AFL worked out a way to keep the games coming — a salve for Victorians who were enduring the beginning of the longest lockdown in the world.

For Melburnians, one of the strangest things about the pandemic lockdowns was watching AFL only played in far-flung parts of Australia, never being able to attend a game in person.

No MCG, no Marvel Stadium and no Cattery in Geelong.

But we had what seemed like an endless stream of AFL — a boon for TV stations, streaming services and advertisers no doubt.

We would read and hear about our AFL clubs temporarily moving to Queensland, WA and South Australia, and living in exotic-sounding hotel quarantine bubbles with their teammates and sometimes their families.

We guffawed and booed when people got caught breaking the COVID rules at dodgy nightclubs on the Gold Coast, all while we sat glued to our televisions in our tracky pants, resplendent with uncut, boofy “COVID hair”.

Let’s not kid around, they were desperate times but footy helped.

Thank goodness footy is almost back. It’s been a long summer break.

The season kicks off with Carlton playing Richmond at the MCG on Thursday night. My beloved Pies will take on our old rivals Geelong on Friday.

And for WA fans, while there are no games being played in the west, the Eagles are up against North Melbourne on Saturday and Freo tackle St Kilda on Sunday.

Then we are in for six months of pure footy bliss.

In the lead up to this season, the AFL Fans Association released a survey showing a whopping 73 per cent of fans wanted the grand final to stay in its traditional Saturday afternoon timeslot.

Despite the AFL being keen on a twilight GF and broadcaster Seven wanting a night final, fans said no way.

Only 21 per cent said they liked the idea of a twilight final and a puny 6 per cent were fans of the iconic game being played at night.

During the pandemic the AFL held the Grand Final at night at the Gabba in Queensland in 2020.

In 2021, as WA fans would be well aware, it was held in the afternoon in Perth — night for the Eastern States.

I am a dead set fan of the afternoon granny. The 2.30pm start means you can have the morning to get to the Bunnings sausage sizzle (please note, only ever eat from end to end, not sideways, if you want to avoid ridicule). And you still have time to prepare a beautiful lunch with your nearest and dearest before you settle in for the sporting extravaganza.

Fans said a night final would be no good for kids, getting around on public transport, or the obligatory partying afterwards.

While I am certainly much more about a good shindig at home, I concur for the above reasons.

Most importantly, it’s Aussie rules tradition. Much has changed about our beloved game, especially since it became the AFL in 1990. But somehow we have managed to keep the big dance at the same time on the last Saturday of September.

More often than not, there is an interstate side in town as a contender, many a time from the west. Getting up on grand final day morning and seeing footy scarves, guernseys, beanies and all manner of paraphernalia on people everywhere is what makes the Saturday afternoon final so exciting.

Given we have only recently endured two years of our great nation being separated by necessary COVID rules and regulations, it’s wonderful we can all be together again. The grand final, in its traditional slot, is a bit like a comfortable, old slipper. And after the upheaval of the pandemic, the value of the familiar cannot be underestimated.

And of course, if your team is lucky enough to make the grand final and win, there is simply nothing better the replay straight after.

You can’t do that with the kids if the final siren has sung late into the night.

You’d be disappointed if I didn’t say “c’arn the Pies” so … c’arn the Pies!