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A to Z of AFLX: A look back …

Matt Burgan  February 18, 2018 4:03 PM

MATT Burgan looks back on Melbourne’s AFLX Grand Final win …

A is for Alex Neal-Bullen, whose fine pre-season was rewarded, when he captained the second game against North Melbourne. ‘Nibbler’, as he is affectionately known, has been one of the club’s most impressive performers over summer and after good progress last year, expect him to step-up again in 2018.

B is for beanbags – yes, beanbags at the footy! Situated behind the goals for fans to lounge into – the rumpus room essential looked pretty comfy way to watch the footy! The ‘beanbag end’ had a bit of an outdoor cinema/Twenty20 feel to it. It was one of several things introduced on the night, which included DJs, roaming ground interviewers, commentary over the PA, food trucks, pools, waterslides, slip ‘n’ slides … ok, maybe not the latter three! But hey, it was summer – maybe that could be the norm down the track?

C is for Christian Petracca, who not surprisingly, adapted beautifully to the game. He even went up in the ruck in the ‘tip-off-like’ centre bounces, where his basketball skills came to the fore. A silky-skilled player who could probably adapt to most games or variations of it!

D is for defence. An underrated aspect of AFLX was Melbourne’s defence. Although most thought it was ‘offense on overload’, Melbourne finished with 11 tackles to Hawthorn’s four in the Grand Final. It was noticeable in the red and blue’s style of play, as the Demons tackled with genuine ferocity. The Dees also had 27 contested possessions to Hawthorn’s 11.

E is for Etihad Stadium, which felt like there was a concert brewing pre-match, when rocking up to the venue. There was plenty of music being played – in fact, Hall and Oates’ ‘Out of Touch’ was going when I arrived. How apt for the cynics? There was a genuine concert vibe – and to be honest, it was a great atmosphere. Given there were Taylor Swift posters splashed around the place, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking you were there to see Tay Tay! With the stands ratcheted closer in towards the playing arena, it genuinely felt like one of Acca Dacca, Adele or U2 might be on show. 

F is for (Bayley) Fritsch, who made an impressive second-game debut. The 2017 draftee, who was the only Melbourne recruit to play on the night, booted three majors, including a classy soccer goal from his one appearance. The youngster showed plenty to like about his game and it would not surprise if he was in the mix for round one. Watch this space.

G is for Grand Final, which is what Melbourne ended up playing in – and winning. It was a fine effort, knocking off Carlton, North Melbourne and then Hawthorn. And although it was far from the ‘real thing’, it was a nice appetiser to taste, seeing what some of the red and blue boys can offer in 2018.

H is for (James) Harmes, who is another who appears to have taken his game to another level. And ‘Nut’, as he is affectionately known, relished the opportunity. “It was quick. It was good fun. I had an absolute ball playing it and I hope it takes off, because it was really fun to play,” he said.

I is for international. Could AFLX really take off overseas? Who knows. The AFL seems bullish on the concept, with places like Hong Kong already being floated as potential places to showcase the game. Within five years, could AFLX matches be played in countries such as China, India, New Zealand, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and United States of America? Don’t count against it.

J is for (Craig) Jennings, the Melbourne strategy and education coordinator turned senior coach for the night. Simon Goodwin handed him the reins and Jennings guided the Demons to three from three, giving them the AFLX Melbourne-based trophy. His post-match media conference also impressed the journos. “I don't care if the AFL organises a backgammon tournament. If you go out there, you go out there to win and I thought you probably saw that a little bit,” he said. He looked right at home in the coach’s chair and is an important member of Goodwin’s coaching staff.

K is for Kiss. Surely there was a kiss cam on the big screen? It’s just that there was so much happening on the night that I must’ve missed it! Still, I definitely heard two kisses on the night – one of the Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons variety, the 1979 Kiss classic ‘I Was Made for Loving You’ and The Art of Noise/Tom Jones’ version of the Prince and the Revolution gem song ‘Kiss’, released in 1988.

L is for lift. It was an unusual way for the players and coaches to get onto the ground, but given the ‘changerooms’ were not the norm, all 10 players and three coaches had to use a ‘goods’ lift to get onto the Etihad Stadium surface. Packed in like sardines, it was rather different than just running up the race and onto the ground. At one stage, when Jake Melksham had conducted post-match interviews on the ground, after game one, he then hopped into the lift, heading back to the makeshift changerooms. In came a caterer, who took up most of the lift, with his trolley full of chicken parmas! It was a case of winner, winner, chicken dinner! True story!

M is for (Tom) McDonald, who will go down in trivia folklore as the first Melbourne captain of an AFLX team. He skippered the Demons in the first match against the Blues.

N is for Neville Jetta, the much-loved Melbourne defender. After sitting out of the first match, Jetta played the final two games and captained the Grand Final. He said the players “were rapt to play” AFLX. And it’s not a stretch to say he’s now becoming one of the most respected and universally admired players in the game, on the back of his form from recent seasons.

O is for organisation. Although there was a fun aspect to the night, there still needed to be plenty of thorough planning on the night. Interestingly, the players were on hand for seven hours, arriving at 4.30pm and finishing their warm-down by 11.30pm, with three games played in between.

P is for Pnau. The Australian electronic dance group played a pivotal part in the tunes being pumped throughout Etihad Stadium. Not surprisingly, ‘Chameleon’ and ‘Go Bang’ were central to the DJ set.

Q is for quick! Take your eyes off the game for a second and you’re potentially missing a goal.

R is for Return of Tom Bugg. The utility made his first appearance in the red and blue since being suspended for six matches in round 15 last year – and it was a good one. He has done everything possible over the pre-season to bounce back and it won’t surprise if he is right in the mix for round one.

S is for (Billy) Stretch, who like his good mate Alex Neal-Bullen, has been another standout performer on the track this pre-season. Although he didn’t play in the Grand Final, he had 10 touches in each of the first two games, which was a strong effort. He looks a different person, with his body really maturing over the summer.

T is for tackle. Angus Brayshaw laid a beauty on Irish Hawk Conor Nash to feature in one of the plays of the night, and certainly of the Grand Final.

U is for unique, which is what former NBL player Corey Maynard, who made the switch back to football, after around 10 years out of the game in late 2016, has achieved so far. The former Cairns Taipans and Townsville Crocodiles player has now played two official AFL games – one AFL game, where he made his debut against GWS Giants in Canberra last year and now AFLX.

V is for Victory Room, located on level one at Etihad Stadium, which was where Melbourne’s changerooms were. The function room was transformed into a space, which consisted of warm-ups, massages, pre-match meetings and kicks of footys. Oh, and just watch the Sherrins on the sprinkers, said one official!

W is for (Josh) Wagner, who remains an underrated player, but highly valued internally. Cool, calm and collected, he showed he could be thereabouts come round one, after injuries interrupted the start of his 2017 season. Craig Jennings said of Wagner post-match: “He was in pretty good form and then he got injured. When he came back his form tapered a little bit. He’s a really good footballer and his training over summer has been first class.”

X is for AFL(X) of course! It was no doubt intriguing and interesting, and I reckon it was worthwhile. Where it goes from here, who knows? But it was a fun night and Melbourne won! That can’t be bad, eh? It mightn’t have been like the 1987 or 1989 night Grand Finals, but it was still pretty good!

Y is for youngsters, Oskar Baker, Charlie Spargo and Dion Johnstone, who were all named in the 15-man squad, but were emergencies on the night. Baker and Spargo were drafted last November in the NAB AFL Draft, while Johnstone, who tasted a JLT Community Series match last year, is entering his second season. The trio are exciting prospects and although they didn’t play on the night, it was good to see them around the group.  

Z is for Zooper goal, which became a feature of Jake Melksham’s game. He booted five Zoopers, including three in the opening match, one in the second and one in the third. It was a Zooper Dooper night from Melksham, who looks ready to keep on keeping on from his underrated second half of last season, where he shone in attack. Post-match Craig Jennings said about Melksham: “He’s a phenomenal mark and he’s got a lot of skill. Based on what we saw with his marking, he can be a pretty powerful forward for us. There are six forward spots, but there are about 10 guys who could rightfully say they’ve earned a spot in the team.” Very true that.