The 2018 Australian Football League ( AFL ) season is here and the fans couldn't be happier! 18 Teams from 5 states around the country play-off in a 23-game season with the top 8 seeded teams at the end of the 23 rounds, continuing on into a finals series that lasts 4 weeks.'Aussie Rules Footy', as it is affectionately known, initially started back in the mid-1850's when bored and motivated Cricket players wanted to stay active and do something constructive over the cold off-season. So it's no surprise that even to this day, suburban grounds and ovals around Australia host footy matches in the Winter and cricket matches in the Summer.
The rules were first formed by the Melbourne Football Club, chaired by Tom Wills in 1859. The laws significantly pre-date the advent of a governing body for the sport. The first national and international body, the Australasian Football Council (AFC) , was formed in 1905 to govern Australian Football. Initially Victoria-based 'Victorian Football League (VFL)', the game grew in stature and popularity, and inevitably spread around Australia with the AFC/VFL being reformed and restructured to what it is today, the AFL.
Australian Rules Football - Carlton v Melbourne at The Oval
Although the other states & territories of Australia, which include Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, do not have teams in the national competition, they do however host games in their respective capital cities, as the AFL board continue to grow the sport in non-traditional areas.
The game consists of 2 teams versus each other with 18 onfield players + 4 substitutes sitting on the bench, who can be interchanged throughout the whole game. The game is approx 4x20 minute quarters, with a few minutes spare for stoppage/injury time should the umpires deem it necessary. The players use a ball that is shaped slightly like a Rugby ball, and it takes some good practice to get used to its quirky bounces!
It is a high contact sport where legal tackles are allowed and can be brutal! Passing the ball to a team-mate can be done by foot (minimum 15 metre kick in the air) or by 'handpassing'. Handpassing is done by having the ball in one hand, and, with a clenched fist, punching the ball out of the hand to another player. Any ball that is on the ground is fair game and fortune favours the brave.
Port Adelaide v Western Bulldogs at The KIA Oval
There are 'goals' at each end of the ground, about 6 metres apart, and kicking through them without the ball being touched by the opposition gains you 6 points. Either side of the 6-metre goal posts are a further 6 meters of what is called 'points'. If your ball goes through there, you are awarded 1 point. 'Goals' and 'Points' are tallied up as the game is played, and the highest total score wins the match!
A win will gain you 4 points, a tied game will gain you 2. No overtime is played until the finals series has taken place. This is a new addition to the game, as previously, tied finals would mean the match would be replayed a week later. This occurrence has happened a couple times in the past for the Grand Final.
Receiving the Premiership Cup
The finals series comprises of the highest ranked 8 teams from the preliminary round. The top 4 clubs receive a 2nd chance, while teams 5-8 have a tough road ahead. The Winner of the Grand Final is presented a Premiership Cup and each of the participating players receives a Premiership medallion. It's the ultimate accolade for a season-long campaign, and the difference between the AFL and most Football/Soccer leagues is that the best team of the year might not necessarily be crowned the champions!
The 'Premiership Era' is said to have begun in 1897 and has had a total of 16 different clubs sharing the spoils. Clubs from all 5 individual states have tasted the glory in what is now a Australia-wide competition. Victorian teams dominate the big numbers, with Essendon and Carlton winning 16 cups each, followed by Collingwood 15, Hawthorn 13, Melbourne 12, Richmond 11 and Geelong with 9 being the main holders of the holy grail.
AFL's Buddy Franklin
This beloved game of footy is a lot more multi-cultural than most people give it credit for. Approximately 25 players this season will have been born overseas, and a total of over 100 players out of the registered 800 AFL listed players have one or both parents born overseas. Indigenous Australians (aborigines) in fact make up 10% of the AFL playing list, despite bring only 3.1% of the population of Australia.
Don't have a clue about AFL? You're not alone...
The main award outside of the premiership cup is called the Brownlow Medal. The medal is named after Essendon great, Chas Brownlow (nicknamed Charlie) and presented to the player who the umpires believe was the best and fairest player of the season. After the final siren of the regular season match, the umpires award votes on who they thought was best and fairest player of that game. Votes (3-2-1 system) are submitted to the AFL and kept confidential until the week before the Grand Final.
The Brownlow Medal
If, during the year a player is suspended for foul play, that player is then ineligible to collect the medal at the end of the year, even if he has still accrued enough points to win. This has been the case 3 times in the history of the Brownlow medal, and this meant those in 2nd place were awarded the Brownlow.
There have been several multiple winners of the Brownlow, but only 4 players have won it 3 times; Haydn Bunton Snr, Dick Reynolds, Bob Skilton and Ian Stewert. Current Brownlow medalist Dusty Martin had a stellar year in 2017, and it didn't stop there! His team, Richmond, is also reigning Premiership Cupholder.
AFL's Dustin Martin
The race for the Brownlow will be as hotly contested as ever. As well as Dusty Martin going for a rare back-to-back Brownlow, players such as Dangerfield, Fyfe, Natanui, Rockcliff, Shiel and big Buddy Franklin will be hot on Martin's heels. Let's not forget previous winner, and one of the biggest stories of the off-season to hit the AFL, veteran Gary Ablett Jnr returns, back to where his AFL journey first began at the Geelong Cats; he will be vying for one last shot of wearing the famous 'Charlie'
The offseason has finished and it's time to play ball. Richmond is the hunted, but Geelong, Adelaide, Essendon and Sydney are heading the pack of chasers.
Words: Stuart Hook - Real-life Aussie
Images: PA / Getty