“Commentators say it’s unsafe, that’s their opinion, they’re entitled to it, but no one who’s actually experienced in this space and makes these decisions on a regular basis said it was unsafe or unplayable because if they had, we wouldn’t have played,” O’Rourke told the Herald.
“We accept that everyone wants to be super critical so we’ll review our processes and if we think that they have fallen down, we’ll improve upon them. But the FFA, clubs, the venue, the referees … all the parties that do this for a living deemed it safe and playable.”
Antonis was sent for scans on Sunday and did not travel with the rest of the Victory squad, who are headed to China for an AFC Champions League match. Fears the 25-year-old suffered an ACL injury have been quelled, although nothing is certain until the scan results come back.
“If you look very closely at the footage, the knee that gets injured is in the air,” Sydney FC chief executive Danny Townsend said.
“It’s just so convenient, easy hysteria for everyone to blame the pitch for the injury, but we’ve had three ACLs this year – two were at our training ground, which is like Wembley, and one was at Leichhardt, which is held out as one of the best pitches in the country.”
A spokesperson for the SCG said Antonis fell to the ground two metres away from the wicket square on “mature turf” which had been replaced in February. “As is normal practice, the field has been inspected by independent experts in the past two weeks, with satisfactory results recorded for all codes,” the spokesperson said.
The AFL is confident the surface will hold up for Thursday night’s clash between the Sydney Swans and Melbourne. There appear to be no alarm bells ringing either for the AFL Players Association, who inspected the turf before the Swans’ season opener two weeks ago and gave it the all clear. The AFLPA intends to keep a closer eye on it this week given the events in the A-League.
The demolition of Allianz Stadium has placed an unprecedented strain on the SCG, which now has to accommodate all four football codes as well as cricket. It is a problem that won’t go away until at least 2022, when the rebuilt Allianz is completed.
Swans CEO Tom Harley said the club was supportive of a drop-in wicket, like at the MCG or Adelaide Oval – but the SCG has previously resisted calls to install one, with the current wicket block having been in place since 1888.
PFA chief executive John Didulica said the union would recommend a motion this week to its membership that A-League players should no longer play on surfaces “unacceptably compromised” by cricket pitches. Townsend said Sydney defender Alex Wilkinson, who is also the PFA president, had told him the pitch had “actually played pretty well”. The Herald asked the PFA for comment from Wilkinson but was directed to Didulica.
Football is often an unhappy bedfellow at multi-code venues because of the sport’s specific requirements around the surface. O’Rourke said if the SCG could not provide the requisite quality assurances, A-League matches would not be played there.
The Herald reported last month that FFA had made a tentative booking at the SCG to host the A-League grand final in the event the Sky Blues were to win hosting rights. That no longer appears to be the case, with O’Rourke confirming ANZ Stadium was now their preference.
As for next season, the SCG will be in cricket mode until late April, meaning Sydney FC are unlikely to play at Moore Park until the 2020-21 campaign at the earliest – if at all.
“I said to the Trust this morning, I’d love to be talking to journalists about what a fantastic job my players and coach did to win a very, very important football game,” Townsend said. “But I’m talking about grass – which tells me the grass wasn’t good enough.”
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.