Game of our lives 43

Sunday Herald Sun - - OPINION -

THE fi­nal siren yes­ter­day brought down the cur­tain on one of the great­est sea­sons in the his­tory of the Aus­tralian Foot­ball League. The 2017 sea­son had it all — ela­tion, heart­break, nail­bit­ing fin­ishes and the dawn of a new era with the launch of the AFLW.

Today, of course, the coun­try salutes Rich­mond as the new AFL cham­pion.

This was truly a win for the ages. The re­sult so many of us had hoped for as a 37-year premier­ship drought was ended and the cup found a new home in the in­ner Mel­bourne sub­urb of Rich­mond, send­ing the Tiger army into a euphoric cel­e­bra­tion.

This sea­son re­minded us all again of the vi­tal role Aussie rules plays in our lives and the life of this mar­vel­lous state.

Footy is what con­nects us. It is our com­mon lan­guage.

It is the game that ig­nites our pas­sion, that gives flight to our hearts and takes us on the most won­der­ful roller­coaster of emo­tions.

In this city, our great game is the most uni­fy­ing of forces.

It brings us to­gether what­ever your back­ground, your re­li­gion or your pol­i­tics.

Our win­ters are set around when our team is on the park.

Our con­ver­sa­tions start with the lat­est we’ve heard about a team or a player.

Sure, there are bad things hap­pen­ing in the world, but when the game is on, the lat­est from North Korea or the ris­ing power prices are pushed from our minds.

When the first siren sounds, it is all about the now, about the dar­ing deeds on the field, about win­ning and los­ing, about don’t ar­gues and scream­ers, about for­ward pres­sure and game-chang­ing tack­les, about he­roes and vil­lains.

This is why we love footy and this has truly been a footy sea­son to re­mem­ber.

Who can for­get that the top eight was de­cided late on a Sun­day af­ter­noon in Perth, when every goal West Coast kicked in the last quar­ter helped the Ea­gles scrape in ahead of the Mel­bourne Demons.

Re­mem­ber how Colling­wood teased us with glimpses of form, and ended months of spec­u­la­tion when re-sign­ing coach Nathan Buck­ley. And didn’t that man show the great­est char­ac­ter and strength un­der the heav­i­est of bur­dens.

And then there is Tigers coach Damien Hard­wick, who was un­der siege this time last year — who had many bay­ing for his blood as a board coup plot­ted up-end­ing the club.

Thank­fully, that was re­pelled, Hard­wick changed his style and a team came to­gether as one.

This year also saw the in­spi­ra­tional sto­ries of two foot­ballers struck down with can­cer.

Jar­ryd Roug­head filled our hearts with ad­mi­ra­tion with his re­turn to the game as Hawks skip­per and can­cer sur­vivor.

And how won­der­ful it was to see Jesse Ho­gan come back from tes­tic­u­lar can­cer.

Then there were the Bull­dogs. Re­mem­ber the Cin­derella story of last sea­son — the Sons of the West, who won the flag only to be ban­ished this sea­son with­out even win­ning a place in the fi­nals and a chance to de­fend it.

This sea­son saw us wel­come back Essendon to the foot­ball fra­ter­nity and say good­bye to some of the great­est foot­ballers the game has seen, in­clud­ing Jobe Wat­son, who car­ried so much of the bur­den of that drug scan­dal. He came back for a year and left, on his terms.

Also gone from the game is Bob Mur­phy, the Bull­dogs’ un­lucky cap­tain who was forced to watch last year’s premier­ship from the side­lines.

The Cats said good­bye to Tom Lon­er­gan and An­drew Mackie. Ste­vie J ex­ited from Greater West­ern Syd­ney, St Kilda hero Nick Rei­woldt said farewell and Sam Mitchell hung up the boots.

Amid the many de­par­tures, though, this sea­son will be re­mem­bered also for the ar­rival on a Satur­day af­ter­noon in Fe­bru­ary of the new women’s footy league, the AFLW.

What a bril­liant day that was at Ikon Park when Carl­ton and Colling­wood kicked off the league.

Re­mem­ber how the gates were closed when 22,000 fans turned up, and AFL boss Gill McLach­lan des­per­ately tried to soothe the clam­our­ing crowd.

This women’s league means so much to this state and this coun­try.

It has given hope and a ca­reer path for hun­dreds of thou­sands of daugh­ters, sis­ters and moth­ers across the state, who will now join their broth­ers, fa­thers and sons play­ing footy for the first time.

AFLW is a game-changer, a long over­due game-changer in a sea­son that will live in his­tory as one of the great­est the code has ever seen.

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