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Biggest event on the calendar caps best week of season

John Townsend

What a week it has been.

In the space of seven days, there has been a preliminary final boilover, a gripping Sandover Medal count, the elevation of an official footy legend whose spectacular feats had already made him a legendary figure and the prospect of the tightest grand final since the last nail-biter.

If nothing else, the playing side of the WAFL is in outstanding order.

And a week or two of warm weather, allied with the turf replacement program, will ensure the Leederville Oval playing surface is in good order for the ground’s inaugural grand final on Saturday.

Only 14,000 spectators will be able to attend the decider between the minor premiers and the team that has already beaten them twice this season but the sell-out crowd and amphitheatre setting should guarantee a pulsating environment.

It is likely that plenty of fans won’t be able to get in – though fewer than if South Fremantle or Swan Districts had qualified – but a successful outcome will strengthen the prospect of the grand final staying at a club ground rather than returning to Optus Stadium.

The biggest game of the season deserves to be played at the biggest ground but the case starts to decline depending on the slide in crowd numbers. The focus on Perth’s second-tier grounds has dropped off the radar in the past month or so but should be revived once the grand final has been played and a fair assessment of the ground’s performance has been made.

Leederville has the most compelling case for redevelopment to a capacity of 20,000 or so to enable it to host grand finals and other significant matches.

As Wednesday WAFL argued last month, sport minister David Templeman should convene a summit meeting of all interested parties with the goal of developing a second-tier football ground.

It could be his legacy.

Templeman appeared to relish his speaking gig at the Sandover Medal this week; why not add a practical element to his apparent enthusiasm for the sport.

There was a great irony at Crown on Tuesday night.

In a football landscape where the WAFL is often an afterthought and gets barely a small portion of the attention and resources given to the AFL and its two WA clubs, the biggest function on the WA football calendar is a WAFL event.

West Coast and Fremantle have their fairest and best counts and season launches and reunions, but none of those club affairs has the gravity of the combined Sandover Medal and Hall of Fame function. The Sandover, won in style by Blaine Boekhorst, and the Hall of Fame inductions with John Gerovich’s elevation to legend status, ran together for the second time.

Combining the two functions is understandable for logistical and cost reasons but there needs to be more work done to finesse the balance between recognising the best players of the past and the best of the season.

And there were so many awkward moments that the review of the event could take longer than the grand final evaluation.

Boekhorst was an excellent winner who had to hang on to a dwindling lead in the final four rounds but forgetting to present him with the medal once he got on stage produced one of the season’s most cringeworthy moments. And Tim Gossage’s splendid QnA with Gerovich was diminished by frustrating audio issues. Those quibbles do not detract from the feats of the other four Hall of Fame inductees and all the other winners.

The most significant accolade was the elevation of South Fremantle forward Gerovich as WA football’s the 19th official legend.

Whether the honour was overdue or not, the fact that a life-size Gerovich statue sits outside Fremantle Oval underwrites the selection criteria that “legends should have the most significant, influential, and outstanding impact on Australian football in WA”.

Gerovich is now the only WA Legend who is not a member of the Australian football Hall of Fame; the national selection panel should rectify that matter at next year’s induction.

Wednesday hero: Blaine Boekhorst overcame the anguish of a ruptured ACL to cap his best season by becoming East Fremantle’s 12th Sandover Medal winner. Boekhorst’s humble and revealing words in the moments after his victory contrasted with his persona as a flashy and perhaps misunderstood footballer. He is a substantial player who had a big say in East Fremantle’s rise up the ladder this season.

IMAGE: WA Football


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