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by Troy Thompson, reporting for AFANA from Melbourne

AFLX Round 2 kicked off this evening in Melbourne. The live testing and tweaking of the 7-a-side format continues with the AFL announcing today the will drop the novelty silver footballs used in all but the last three matches of Thursday night's Round 1 at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide.  The remaining AFLX matches will use the more traditional yellow ball used for AFL matches played under lights.

Adelaide were crowned Round 1 premiers at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide on Thursday night.

 Hindmarsh Stadium is a rectangular pitch and so the game was played on the ground the game was formatted to fit into.  For this match at Etihad Stadium, the rarely used format was in play with the seating at the Southern end, and both sides of the ground brought in closer to the action around the rectangle.  Evidently it is a difficult process to put the ground in this configuration and it is encouraging the AFL have committed to the format.

The roof was open when things got underway for the first match of the night.  Pump up music from the 90's played around the stadium with a crowd of about 17,000 in the gates for the kick-off of the first match between Carlton and Melbourne at 6.40 PM local time.  During the ground the match is called live over the loudspeaker, a big change up from regular AFL matches.  Watching the telecast from Adelaide Thursday night on Foxtel, the at the ground coverage clashed with the Foxtel commentators on the broadcast as it droned in the background and sounded like a cattle auction or country fair.  Tonight, at Etihad they seemed to have the sound balance under control so the field commentator could barely be heard in the effects microphones.

Of course, those that have attended the USAFL’ National Championships will be very familiar with live commentary at the ground by the likes of Rod Grljusich and Brian Barrish among others. Perhaps Grant Williams the man with the bulk of the credit for developing the AFLX format has co-opted this initiative from his visits to the US in his former position as the Head of Game Development (now the AFL'’s Head of Umpiring)?  

At half time in the first quarter the score was Carlton 30 to Melbourne 53.  That is how the scores were posted on the scoreboard at the ground, not broken down to “Zooper goals” (Zooper Dooper are one of the game’s sponsors) worth 10 points, goals as traditionally is the case are worth 6 points and behinds, being one point. At the Lockett (northern end) of the ground, 10 meters behind the goals an area was setup for fans to sit on the grass on beanbags on what normally would be part of the oval playing surface.  

For spectators coming to see AFLX the crowd is clearly mixed.  A certain amount keen to check out the format, some here just to see footy being played for the first time this year (as played by the men at least), some here to see their team as they do at every possible chance and some to see their new recruits get a chance to play on the big stage with their new club for the first time.  Paddy Dow for Carlton was one of those tonight.  Taken at pick 3 for Carlton in this year’s draft, Dow had 6 kicks, one handball, three marks and one goal. But his side went down to Melbourne, who kicked the highest AFLX score so far finishing 7.1.6 (82) to Carlton’s 5.0.3 (53).

The Irishman Conor McKenna started Essendon’s game off against Hawthorn with a long Zooper goal from near the middle of the field, perhaps feeling quite at home on the rectangular field.  Hawthorn supporters would have been very happy to see veteran recruit David Mirra making the step up from a Box Hill jumper to a Hawthorn jumper in a match for the first time. At half time the Hawks held a 32 to 18 lead and went on to defeat the Bombers by 19 points at the final siren. 

In matches where the scoring is so high in such a short period, it was really difficult to pick out particular highlights as there are plenty of long goals and few moments where a pack can form under the ball for a pack mark.  One man though who can probably stand out in any format is Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and he kicked three goals for the match, but it was not enough to get his team over the line as at the final siren the Hawks 3.6.7 (73) defeated the Bombers 3.3.6 (54).

Some new tactics come along with the new game and Jarrad Waite marking inside the 40m arc and firing a long ball back outside the arc to Sean Higgins so he could kick a Zooper goal from 50m out was an early example of this in the North Melbourne vs. Carlton match. At half time it was a 6-point lead over North Melbourne in a high scoring first half. 

The high scoring continued in the second half in a very open match and while the possibility of two late super goals meant that Carlton were not’ out of the match even with a minute to go, they lost possession and North Melbourne were able to eat up enough time and hold the Blues off by 15 points.  Final scores were North Melbourne 5.4.9 (83)   to Carlton 5.2.6 (68).

Essendon bowed out of the night’s action going down to St Kilda 2.5.2 (52) to the Bombers 2.2.5 (37).  Kiwi Shane Savage kicked two super goals for the Saints and Sean McKernan topping the possession count with 16 (14 kicks, 2 handballs) in the match for the Bombers. Melbourne won their way through to the night’s Grand Final with Fritsch kicking 3 goals for the Demons in their efficient 24 point win over North Melbourne.

This left Hawthorn and St Kilda to play off for the other grand final place.  At half time the Saints had convincing 24 point lead.  Burton launched a large super goal for the Hawks from the first center clearance though and showed the potential of the game for quick turnarounds.  This was quickly followed by another from Hardwick and the game was back to 4 points the difference with just under 9 minutes to play.

Hawthorn regained the lead, held it, and extended it. The final margin was 22 points with the Hawks kicking 4.5.7 (77) to St Kilda 2.5.5 (55) to go into the Grand Final of the Melbourne leg of the AFLX competition. By now the crowd had grown and the official attendance for the night was 22,585. The tempo seemed to lift for the night’s grand final and with the increase in intensity came more errors.  In a format where possession is king, both teams made bad turnovers at a rate not seen earlier in the night.  Bugg looked dangerous up forward for the Dees and Harm’s 10-point goal was handy, giving them a 12 point buffer at half time.  

Hawthorn had just shown in the earlier match against St Kilda that getting out of this sort of trouble in this format is achievable.  Still the turnovers came but Melbourne looked like they would hold off the Hawks.  With a couple of minutes to go Hawthorn had reduced the margin back to within a couple of kicks and were pushing hard to turn it around, but their shots were inaccurate and Melbourne hung on for the win by 10 points. The second night's Grand Final score was Melbourne 3.3.8 (56) defeating Hawthorn 1.5.6 (46).

While the game may never catch on with the traditionalists the target audience of kids and those between the kids and Gen Ys might be enough to get the game beyond this initial trial and get the game touring and played outside Australia.  That is where the AFL hopes AFLX utilizing rectangular stadiums around the world, can tour the game and find new audiences.  The series concludes today with the six remaining teams playing in Sydney.

Article last changed on Friday, February 16, 2018 - 8:35 PM EST

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