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Distorted media coverage stole the hype away from blockbuster weekend of footy

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Not seeing the forest for the trees never used to be that much of a problem for football. But that seems so long ago now as to be scarcely comprehensible.

It was certainly a simpler time. The competition was smaller. Based in fewer cities. Games were played concurrently, across one afternoon. And they were the focus, anything else just a means to an end.

But if you needed any more convincing those days are long gone, this week would have provided it.

Through a happy accident of scheduling, Round 15 has produced a round full of potentially classic matches. According to noted football statistician "Swamp" (as seen on Twitter), it will be only the fifth home and away round of the final eight era in which all top eight teams have played each other.

It's also the first nine-game round in which all opponents will be within four spots of each other on the ladder, indeed seven of the nine games featuring opponents within two spots of each other.

You couldn't ask for more. And once upon a time the media build-up towards it all would have been enormous. Instead, we've heard hardly a squeak. Certainly not compared to the dramas surrounding a certain talented Collingwood footballer called Jordan De Goey.

Was there not room for both? Apparently not.

Of course, it's all a reflection of the priorities of the world in which we now live. The sheer size and imprint of the AFL not merely as a football competition, but an "industry", with tentacles spreading into seemingly all facets of our lives, not just sporting, but cultural.

And perhaps most significantly, a reflection of today's media, which thrives not only on drama, but quick turnarounds, "hot takes" and conflict, all of which have been a feature of the coverage of the De Goey saga.

Media incestuousness is also at an all-time high. Which is why by Thursday, one media outlet (the Herald-Sun) was running as its online lead story an on-air spat between two other media representatives (Eddie McGuire and Neil Mitchell) which had "flared" (note the use of inverted commas here) over their differing views on De Goey.

It's pretty cynical stuff. And it disrespects some important points raised over the past week about footballer entitlement and attitudes towards women generally raised by the likes of anti-violence campaigner Phil Cleary.

Mind you, such media navel-gazing and trivialising of important subject matter is hardly confined to sport. It was the subject of not a little angst when it came to the reporting of politics in the lead-up to last month's federal election, for example.

At least in that arena, however, the bottom line remains politics. When footballers become the subject of off-field scandal or controversy, their line of work becomes completely incidental to the drama in which they're involved.

Which means that the football media as a whole ends up (again) not writing about actual football, but the breathless detail of the latest off-field incident, about "wars of words" between various participants in the football world, and other associated dramas.

The media pursuing such stories will protest that they are only chasing them at the behest of their editors. Who will in turn insist they are acting at the behest of owners, and on the analytical data which increasingly drives once-respected outlets towards an ocean of clickbait.

The bottom line is that people well-versed in and qualified to be analysing things like why Melbourne's premiership defence could be in trouble, or why Collingwood has made such rapid progress in just half-a-season under new coach Craig McRae, end up devoting their time instead to pursuing the same inquiries as would a journalist at police rounds.

There was a time, and this isn't all that long ago, that when news concerning a footballer ceased to be about kicks and handballs and instead became the fodder of the pages at the front of the paper, those reporters who did that sort of reporting day-in, day-out, would take the reins.

That at least meant that whilst a story like the De Goey affair would still have been vigorously pursued, it wouldn't have been at the expense of coverage of the nuts and bolts football matters, which is, let's not forget, the only reason we know who De Goey even is in the first place.

The football media could have got on with writing or talking about what could be one of the great weekends of AFL action we've seen for years.

The problem now, though, is that those stories are always going to play second fiddle to De Goey-type dramas. That means less exposure for their authors. Which in the current climate, can have serious professional repercussions.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Don't get me started on the make-up of the football media "now and then", and the numbers of people involved these days who, unlike even 20 years ago, don't actually have any great passion for or even compelling interest in the game they're covering. That, sadly, is what these days also seems just a means to an end.

This round of football, meanwhile? Well, it's going to be terrific. Let's just hope we can hear or read something about it at least after it's happened, if not before.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY