Winners, losers, and what the 2024 AFL fixture means for footy fans
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If you’re struggling to wrap your head around “opening round” and what the new-look fixture for the 2024 men’s season means for your club, don’t worry. We’ve done the work.
Next season is set to become the biggest endurance test in the competition’s history. Early season byes for the eight teams who play in “Opening Round” will likely give those teams with byes in rounds five and six an advantage over the rest of the competition.
Collingwood celebrates its win over Brisbane in this year’s grand final.Credit: Paul Rovere
Clubs not playing in Opening Round will be envious of Collingwood and Sydney when they enjoy byes after Gather Round in round four, and then again midway through the season, while Richmond and Melbourne have byes in round six ahead of a mid-season bye.
The other four Opening Round teams – Carlton, the Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast and the Giants – have their byes in either round two or three.
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The Tigers and Melbourne also have two five-day breaks in the first half of the season, while the Swans have none as they look to maintain their brilliant record of making finals.
Most of the old rules won’t apply, however, in 2024 as the season stretches across 25 rounds of football with each team playing 23 matches, in a season that starts with a round played before round one.
If you can make sense of that you will probably be one of the few people able to make sense of the ladder, which will be difficult to read as the byes will mean many teams will have played a different number of matches to each other for about half the season.
The biggest loser
It appears the AFL don’t expect Richmond to contend; the club has no Friday night matches and only one Thursday night clash, other than their round one game against Carlton.
The Tigers play at Norwood Oval in Gather Round and have to venture to GMHBA Stadium to play Geelong. They have also been handed an away game against Collingwood at the MCG and play at Marvel Stadium in rounds 21 and 22. They play outside Victoria seven times.
What the fixture means for fans
The AFL have made a minor concession towards a family-friendly Sunday timeslot for a few Victorian games in 2024. That’s reasonable news for fans, and the AFL brought the start time for Friday night matches forward 10 minutes to 7.40pm.
Thursday night football for the first 14 Thursday nights of the season is great news for couch potatoes wanting a footy fix near the end of a working week. There are six Thursday night matches in Victoria, four in Adelaide and two each in NSW and Queensland.
Melbourne fans are passionate about their teamCredit: Getty
The AFL has also attempted to start some Sunday afternoon matches at Marvel Stadium at 4pm, rather that the previous 4.40pm timeslot, which will allow families to get home earlier to prepare for their school and working week.
There are also travel options aplenty, particularly for fans of Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond and Melbourne. They can head north for Opening Round or take a road trip to South Australia’s vineyards during Gather Round, the feast of football making the effort worthwhile if they can afford the trips.
Adelaide fans might have felt annoyed at the goal umpiring decision that probably cost them a vital four points against Sydney last season, but the Crows’ efforts to win some concessions from the AFL via the fixture has been fulfilled.
The Crows play six of their first 14 games on Thursday or Friday nights, five of them at Adelaide Oval, while Collingwood supporters can make a habit of heading to the MCG in seven of the final eight rounds. Magpie fans will also be the home team against Richmond under a revised MCG agreement that was finally struck earlier this year.
Cats fans can watch 10 of their first 14 matches on free-to-air TV, while the Hawks, by contrast, will only have three of their first 14 matches on Channel 7. One of those matches is their traditional Easter Monday clash at the MCG against the Cats.
Hawthorn, Richmond, North Melbourne, Western Bulldogs and St Kilda supporters will have to hit the highway to play the Cats at GMHBA Stadium, which will have a bigger capacity with the new grandstand completed. The Saints will play the Cats on the night the stand is officially opened.
St Kilda fans will only see their team in Victoria twice between rounds four and nine, but they have a great end to the season with six consecutive matches at Marvel Stadium to finish the year.
Double-ups and road trips
Collingwood appear big winners from the fixture, with byes in round five and 15, seven of their final eight matches at the MCG (albeit the final four are against 2023 finalists), and they have only one trip to Western Australia.
However, with two matches against Carlton, the Brisbane Lions and Melbourne in their double-ups, they will need to be at their best to snag a third consecutive top-four finish.
Port Adelaide play six of their first eight matches at Adelaide Oval. Their other two games will be at the MCG as Ken Hinkley attempts to get off to a good start again, having re-signed last season.
Geelong have also been given a reasonable fixture from a footballing perspective, with return bouts against St Kilda, Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn, Carlton and North Melbourne. However, the Cats’ start is relatively tough as they play twice in Adelaide and once in Brisbane in their first six rounds, and are one of two clubs playing Gold Coast in Darwin.
Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley with his players after a win.Credit: Getty Images
Melbourne have not been given any favours. They have double-up games against Collingwood and the Brisbane Lions.
The Giants always have to be tough to succeed, and this season they travel to 12 venues, with two games at the MCG.
North Melbourne are the only Victorian team to play just one game at the MCG, while Gold Coast and West Coast have also been kept clear of the venue for all but one round each.
Teammates become foes
The opening bounce of the opening game of Opening Round will see Sydney recruit Brodie Grundy square off against Melbourne skipper Max Gawn for the first time after Grundy’s one-year affair with the Demons ended amicably.
Triple Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick will then coach Gold Coast for the first time against his former team in Opening Round. Tiger fans will greet him at the MCG in the final round of the season.
Former Collingwood vice-captain Taylor Adams will have to watch his former teammates celebrate their premiership one more time when they unfurl the flag in round one, which will actually be both teams’ second match for the season.
New Magpie recruit Lachie Schultz can expect a loud welcome when he lines up for the Magpies at Optus Stadium on a Friday night in round 11, just five days after North Melbourne fans make their feelings known about club veteran Todd Goldstein’s decision to finish his career at Essendon and Ben McKay’s form in defence for the Bombers.
Hopefully, McKay gets through that game unscathed so he can finally line up three weeks later against his brother Harry when Essendon play Carlton on the eve of the King’s Birthday public holiday.
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