Grand final the real prize

First up, congratulations to Western Sydney Wanderers for winning the second biggest prize in the Hyundai A-League.

First up, congratulations to Western Sydney Wanderers for winning the second-biggest prize in the Hyundai A-League. The superlatives have been long, loud, and thoroughly deserved.

But don't be fooled. There's still work to do if they intend to truly write their name into the history books. That requires them to win the grand final, for only then can they receive the title which really counts. Champions.

I'm not here to inflame the debate about which is the more meritorious - first-past-the-post, or winning the grand final. My views have been consistent for many years. I love the finals system. I love the sense of occasion which comes with the title-decider.

History supports my view. As far as I can tell the major competitions in our country - and that includes the era when state league football was predominant - have been almost exclusively decided by grand finals since the 1960s. Perhaps even longer in some states. The first six seasons of the NSL (1977-83) were decided by first-past-the-post, and then the system was re-introduced for a single season (1987).

That apart, grand finals have been deciding championships across Australia for most of the past 50 years. Why? Because they work. Any doubts? Just look how the paying public continue to vote with their feet.

Grand final day is the one day when the football spectacle compares favourably with all the other sports. And despite the seemingly rude health of the Hyundai A-League at the moment, we can't afford to look that gift horse in the mouth.

What I do find curious is why people still refuse to accept the fact. And a fact it is. Damien de Bohun has only recently found it necessary to remind everyone of the rules on this website. The rules that every player, every coach, and every fan, knows are in place at the start of every season. The rules which will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

It's why the term 'minor premiership' still has currency, and always will. Some people still seem to get incredibly uptight when it's mentioned. Their assumption being there is nothing minor about what's been achieved. Which, of course, completely misses the point.

Nobody is intending to insult the best team at the end of the home-and-away season by calling them minor premiers. But the fact is this is not the major achievement of the season, hence the distinction. It can only be one or the other.

In other sports, in other spheres, there is no debate. Didn't I see NRMA Insurance, the major sponsors of Western Sydney Wanderers, celebrate the achievement of the 'minor premiership' with a quarter-page advertisement at the weekend? Perhaps the fact the Asian Football Confederation has now restored an automatic place in the ACL for the grand final winners might help settle things down.

Either way, it would be nice if we could all move on - and that includes some of the coaches - and accept the situation for what it is. Tony Popovic - whatever his personal opinion - seems to understand. He's keeping the champagne on ice until the Wanderers are undisputed champions. And that won't be happening for another three weeks, if at all.

There is one way, perhaps, to end the argument once and for all. Make winning the grand final worth it. Seriously worth it. The grand final winners in the NRL get about $500,000 in prizemoney. The grand final winners of the AFL get about twice that.

I'm not sure what winning the Hyundai A-League grand final is worth in terms of prizemoney, but you never hear the participants talking about it. Make it a motivation. Give the game real value. Get the owners excited about it. Money talks, let's face it. And, in this instance, it can quieten everyone down.