IF THERE'S anything season five has shown us, it’s that the honeymoon is well and truly over.
The A-League clearly held some excitement and novelty factor for football-starved Australians in seasons one to four. Fans and players alike held high hopes for brand new clubs promising a fresh, NSL faction-free slate and entertaining, homegrown football.
Sure, there were some hiccups along the way with Roar dismaying fans by not being able to win at home, Sydney ejecting coaches faster than you could say ‘Littbarski, Butcher, Culina, and Kosmina', marquees other than ‘All Night' Dwight providing performances inversely proportional to their pay packets, and Viddie catapulting ‘pissant' into modern vernacular.
For the most part, though, for the first four seasons everything about the A-League appeared all shiny, happy, and new.
It might be due to the addition of two new teams (particularly one that's irritatingly tough talking), the knock on effects of the Global Financial Crisis, or the fact that the finally-our-own-comp novelty has worn off, but what's clear about season five is that the honeymoon is over.
Case in point: crowd figures.
Much has been said about the reasons for season five's dismal attendances. They've been put down to competing football codes, ticket prices, tightened belts due to the current financial climate, and poor home performances. And while surely all of them play their part, it might be worth lobbing the no-more-novelty factor in there too. The football might be enjoyable, the games might go either way, but the A-League is now a known entity, with elements of predictability.
Melbourne's Merrick won't crack a smile all season despite the team again making it to the final. Sydney will sharpen the knives for their incumbent coach the moment things go awry. Adelaide will continue on their consistent, under-the-radar way while we all pray for another Viddie outburst. Roar will finish the season too-little-too-late strong, prompting questions about why they couldn't have performed like that for its entirety. And Bleiberg, Palmer, and Captain Culina (whose penchant for yelling at his team mates when the chips are down is not going un-noticed) will help consolidate the Gold Coast's ‘A-League team we most love to beat' status.
Which is perhaps where it's most apparent that the honeymoon is over. The rivalry is no longer contained to the pitch - it's gotten personal.
Matthew Kemp shaved his head when he moved from Adelaide to Melbourne in an apparent attempt to look different and thereby avoid defector heckling while Alex Brosque will forever be dead to (and reminded of it by) the Roar Rejects, having headed south to Sydney ever since season one.
But what those players have experienced is nothing on the sustained, targeted manhandling Robbie Kruse received from his former team mates on on the eve of his 21st birthday.
Sure, there's been a bit of niggle for certain players along the way and there have been a couple of training blow ups when the pressure's been on. But the Kruse incidents, for which Miller and Tiatto are now being punished, were perhaps the first time in the A-League that players have so openly and so deliberately displayed a dislike for each other.
They marked an until-then-unknown line in the sand for the A-League, where a little bit of the innocence and a little bit of the ‘we might not be friends, but we're excited to be paid to play football in our very own, shiny, new domestic league so we'll put on a united front' magic was lost. They signalled loud and clear that for the A-League, the honeymoon is well and truly over.