Category: AFL


image (Updated following Round Round 7)

As I write this, it’s not so much anger as pain.

I was angry after the first couple of rounds of the AFL season, seeing my Tigers who were so competitive and gave us so much excitement and hope for the future just last season performing like a bottom-4 team.

I’m certain Dockers fans are feeling the same as we are. What the hell has happened? How could Richmond & Fremantle possibly go from genuine contenders (looking at the bulk of the 2015 season rather than one Finals match) to contenders for the wooden spoon in one off-season?

I think the answer lies not within the walls of Punt Road or Parry Street, but within the walls of at least eight other clubs (specifically: West Coast, Adelaide, Sydney, the Bulldogs, the Kangaroos, Geelong, Melbourne & the Giants). I name West Coast first in the list because they were the first club to implement what has become the new standard for team defence in the AFL. Gerrard Healy dubbed it the “Wagles Web” and in 2015 the technique earned them a Grand Final berth. By 2016 most other clubs had adapted their own version of Adam Simpson’s revolutionary team defence, but also developed offensive structures to compliment it for them and counter-act it against similarly structured opposition.

As a result of not advancing their technique enough, the Eagles are suffering from a bout of mediocrity, but let’s face it – they’re still better than the Tigers. The question is: why?

As I said above – the answer lies with these other clubs and their new defensive and offensive structures. The sides mentioned above have been drilled in the off-season in a new team-based defensive structure which is designed to put unprecedented pressure on opposition players whilst providing predictable team-based offensive support to themselves and their teammates. And it’s working. Just look at what the Giants did to last year’s Premiers.

You may well ask: hang on, you mentioned Melbourne in the same breath as the Kangaroos? And you’re right – there’s a big gap between the two, but that gap is more about player age, personnel and maturity. Mark my words: Melbourne’s structures could take on the best if they had a mature, high-quality list. They can thank Roos for embedding them & it looks like Goodwin is more than on-board.

Your next point may well be: but you still lost to Port. And I think that loss was a great deal to do with player development (or lack thereof) and the mindset of the team, which, after the first 4 rounds appears to be: lost.

So if all of these other teams have managed to take their defensive and offensive structures to the next level, why haven’t the Tigers? More to the point – why haven’t the Dockers? I think the answer lies in one simple thing: the coaches have made mistakes. Both Ross Lyon and Damien Hardwick have backed their 2015 game plan and relied on their players developing and stepping up to the next level to take them to the next step, but in 2016, it’s really not that simple anymore. The science of defence and offense in the AFL has never been more important. It’s why clubs like the Swans and the Crows have managed to debut unheralded rookies who come in and make a genuine impact. The Dockers and the Tigers are still stuck in an AFL style which lays out a game plan reliant on star power and up until this year, this was perfectly OK and still is to an extent if you look at the Hawks (speaking of star power).

This is where I point out that the Tigers were the most competitive we’ve seen them all year against the reigning Premiers. I think Clarkson has a bit of the same problem as Lyon & Hardwick, but he has a team with extraordinary talent & an unstoppable mindset. If only we could bottle that mindset…

Both Lyon & Hardwick have also failed to develop their young players. The Dockers because Ross Lyon is allergic to anyone under the age of 25 and Hardwick because whomever is in charge of player development at Punt Road should be updating their LinkedIn. Let me also say I’m not at all fond of the midfield coach’s work, but I digress and I think the massive gap between this year and last is less to do with development of individuals and more to do with the development of a mindset and a consistent structure.

Let’s take the Tigers example, I have seen in every single match the same thing: Tigers ball-winners come away from a stoppage with the pill & either dish a handball or scrub a kick forward. If the handball is given, the player receiving the ball is mobbed & quickly dispossessed by opposition players who then flick a series of what appear to be pre-planned handballs to get clear of the erratic Tiger defence, then the Tigers’ opposition is in the clear. If the Tiger kick is scrubbed forward, it’s either straight to a contested situation or straight to the opposition – no time for decision making good or bad.

At almost no time have our panicked kicks under pressure hit the right target. And the reason is right there: pressure.

At every contest we seem to be outnumbered, at every stoppage the Tigers’ opposition seems to be more settled, better able to make a good decision.

This team defensive structure we’re facing (but not using) is also setting an impossible task for our forward line and back line. Most of our forward 50 entries are made to a contest in which we’re already outnumbered. It’s a wonder we’re scoring at all. Every time the opposition get out on the run, what has become the trademark Hardwick defensive move of having players further down the field leave their opponent to pressure the ball carrier is being ripped apart by clubs who have a field structure which positively CRAVES this style of defence. Our back-six have been put under impossible pressure with opposition players able to lead for the ball uncontested because the Tiger who should have been marking them has sprinted upfield to put pressure on the ball carrier (who either kicks it over their head or flicks another pre-planned handball to a teammate who does).

Media commentators as well as the players themselves have placed blame on the Tigers players for not running hard enough, but honestly – if a team without effective structures wants to cover a team with them, they need to run twice as far. They lose anyway.

I don’t know if our existing coaching staff can make the changes which clearly need to be made to upgrade our on-field structures and game plan to adapt for the modern game, but if they can – they need to start now. I know a football team is like a cruise ship – turning it around takes time, but we need to start making the turn right now because we’re headed for the Wooden Spoon Straits.

— IEK

Like every other Tiger fan, I have been recovering since Sunday. Like many Tiger fans, in the week leading up to the Elimination Final, I downloaded the “All for the Finals” wallpaper and put it on every device I own.

Like every one of those fans, for the last week I’ve felt the sting every time I read the word “Finals”.

Now I like my Richmond Football Club wallpapers and I figured rather than take down the 2015 wallpaper for the off-season, I thought I’d make some modifications so that the Finals desktop wallpaper (which I thought was great) so that it was off-season friendly. I’ve hosted it on the site below for you to download.

These are not official wallpapers, but they are slightly modified official wallpapers (as in I did not create these, I just modified them). RichmondFC – please let me know if you need me to take them down or whatnot, but also feel free to host them on your site for everyone to download for the off-season.

 

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Geelong conducting tryouts for Season 2016...

Geelong conducting tryouts for Season 2016…

It has taken five long years, but the hard work put in by people in the football media and the footy-going public claiming the end was nigh for Geelong has finally paid off with the Cats certain to miss the 2015 finals (barring some sort of multi-club drugs scandal). Certainly these people* take the award for persistence.

The Geelong Cheer Squad will have to finally fold up and store their “Too old, Too Slow, Too good” banner after being able to proudly hold it aloft in each of the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. Even if Geelong win the Premiership in 2016, with an average age lower than the AFL Commission’s average golf handicap, the Cats’ list could hardly be referred to as “Too old”.

The cleanout of champion senior players is inevitable at the end of season 2015, so the rebuild process cannot begin quick enough and senior coach Chris Scott has been seen scouting polo fields, synchronised swimming tournaments and sepak takraw courts in the Bangkok ghetto searching for even more left-field project recruits. When asked by a semi-conscious drunk (me) about his presence at the Thai foot-volleyball court, Scott replied: “We have plenty of time to develop players now. No need to take ready-made players from steeplechase and gymnastics anymore.”

Wise words.

The real question for the coach, however, remains: how long can the Geelong Board put up with this lack of success? The last time Geelong failed to make the finals (2006), they held a sweeping internal audit which resulted in then-coach Mark “Bomber” Thompson being told that if the Cats didn’t win the Premiership in 2007, he’d be sacked. Only a run of three consecutive Grand Finals and two Premierships saved Thompson from the axe. An axe which finally fell in 2010 when the Cats did not make the Grand Final.

It has been this sort of robotic ruthlessness which has seen Geelong become the powerhouse it is today. Only Chris Scott’s promise to win the 2011 Premiership secured him the senior coach job at the end of 2010. Now that they have failed to make the finals – how long can Scott truly hang on as coach? Surely he must be almost as under-the-pump as Nathan Buckley who famously promised to win the Premiership, the Superbowl and the Olympics in order to secure the top job at Collingwood.

Still, with the number of Premiership players likely retiring at season’s end, Geelong is nothing if not spoiled for choice when it comes to coaching candidates.

The off-season should be one of the most interesting in recent memory with so many greats of the game retiring, so many clubs (not Geelong) actually in a position to win a flag and the sports journalist fraternity FINALLY caught up with the footy public in being sick of the Essendon drugs scandal.

— IEK

* I will call them “these people” to take the spotlight off the fact that I was one of them.

Not Like This

One of Goodes' many, many, many speccy marks

Now I will always love my Tigers above all other teams, but our local AFL team is the Sydney Swans and I’ll freely admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for the Red and White.

I watch more of their games live than any other team, so I suppose it’s hard not to like them just a bit and given 4yo has latched onto the Swans as his favourite team, I reckon that soft spot is there to stay. I never enforced any rule like Dad’s “everyone has a different team” and yet I ended up with a Tiger (7yo), a Giant (6yo), a Swan (4yo) and Co-Consul continues to deny that she’s a Bomber (like a lot of Bomber fans at the moment I suppose). I love the diversity of our footy family because it means I get to watch more football (reckon Dad was onto something).

Because I’ve been able to watch the Swans since I moved to Sydney, I watched as their 2005 Premiership unfolded, their 2006 campaign end in defeat and their 2012 Flag cement their spot as one of the power teams of the early new millennium. I’ve watched Adam Goodes develop from a gifted young rookie, to a Rising Star, to a gifted, yet injury-prone ruckman, get moved back out to the midfield to become a superstar, dual-Brownlow Medallist, dual-Premiership player and co-Captain, four-time All Australian, three-time Bob Skilton Medallist and Australian of the Year.

I respect the footy ability of every superstar the game has produced, but Adam Goodes is one of the few I feel is as deserving of respect for their work off the field as they are for their work on it.

I’ve never met the man personally, but from what I’ve seen on TV, live in games, live on the sidelines and heard about him – he’s a driven, passionate man with a quiet, considered demeanour. He seems a man who wants to set an example for young people of all backgrounds, but particularly for young Indigenous people whom he feels the deepest kinship. He is a man who can help make this country a better place to live and wants to make that difference with all his heart.

I have the utmost respect for Adam Goodes, for what he has done for the game of Australian football in New South Wales, for what he has done for young people and what he has done for the profile and respect Australians pay to Indigenous people. I respect him even more for the way in which he has gone about it – I have never heard Adam Goodes speak disrespectfully about anyone or anything, he has always maintained not only his calm, considered demeanour throughout his career, but has also dealt with the spotlight and the media with a class you don’t often see. Goodes has worked through the Sydney Swans in schools, raising money for charity, publicly spoken out against incidents of racism and with his 2005 Premiership teammate Michael O’Loughlin, has set up the Go Foundation which helps Indigenous kids complete their school educations and hopefully encourage them to bigger and brighter things than if they had dropped out. In our most recent generations of school-goers, 68% of Indigenous kids dropped out of school before they finished Year 12 compared to only 28% of non-Indigenous kids. Despite what the far-right paper the Daily Telegraph may have said (I won’t link to their “article”, but you can look it up) – this man deserved every bit of his Australian of the Year honours and then some.Adam Goodes with his Mum after he won the Rising Star in 1999

It saddened me to read this morning that Adam Goodes was considering hanging up the boots, not because his body could no longer take the rigours of football as many aging stars find, but because opposition crowds continue to boo him when he gets the football. It saddened me not because I think it’s true, I would think a competitive sports person like Adam Goodes would eat that sort of opposition heat and fire back with superb football (as he did) and perhaps the odd war dance (see – class), but rather it saddened me because people might actually believe that it’s true. That a man of this stature could be brought low by a bunch of half-pissed idiots in the opposition crowd.

Now for all that’s been written about the racist overtones of the booing of Adam Goodes, I don’t believe the phenomenon began as a racist thing. I personally think it began as a reaction to a couple of diving incidents. These incidents Goodes has said himself he’s not proud of, but many, many superstars have been caught diving – recent 400-game player Brent Harvey is a perfect example. Smart players, you see, will do almost anything to win and Boomer and Adam Goodes I think are cut from the same competitive cloth. Star players also seem to get an easier ride from umpires because they are star players and both Goodes and Harvey have certainly had their share of star treatment on-field. Some years ago, after a couple of questionable on-field incidents, opposition crowds started to boo Boomer Harvey, but the Kangaroos faithful quickly picked it up and decided to own it with the “BOOOOOOOOOOOMER!” cry every time he touched the ball. Now it’s a Kangaroos war cry.

The fact that the booing of Goodes has continued, I think indicates that it has now become about race, as the sadly inevitable racist elements of every crowd latch onto the booing and join in – thinking that they can suddenly get away with expressing the racism which our increasingly educated society has forced them to hide away in recent years.

Well I’m here to say that they can’t. We’re not going to accept people booing this man for any reason – particularly for the absurd reason of his cultural background!

Goodes as Co-Captain winning the 2012 PremiershipWhat I’d like to see is one of two things: either everyone who attends the next Swans match to call for any booers to shut up or for Sydney Swans fans to take a leaf out of the Kangaroos book and own it. Make it a war cry of your own “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODES!” You’re going to need to publicise the ownership so that everybody knows it’s you and not these other wankers, but why not? Own it! It worked for Boomer.

But whichever way, I’d like everyone with half a brain cell to stand up for one of the greatest players to ever play the game – one of only fourteen players to ever win two Brownlow Medals – stand up for a champion of not only the Sydney Swans but of the sport of Australian Football, stand up and show respect to an Australian who has done many things to make this country better, stand up for a man who, unlike many of these booing idiots who claim to be proud of an Australia they’ve had nothing to do with improving, should be able to walk away from the game proud of his achievements and the respect he has earned from them.

Goodes could well have been planning to hang up his boots at season’s end anyway, but this blight on the game should not be the closing chapter of Adam Goodes’ playing career. He should be respected as one of the great players ending his career in style as part of the Sydney Swans team which made their 6th successive Finals appearance and their 12th in 13 years.

— IEK

hawksAs the AFL community at large turns its attention toward the seemingly unstoppable Hawks and bookmakers continue to shorten their odds of the Flag heading to Glenferrie Oval for a third straight year, the early favourites in Fremantle, despite still sitting on top of the ladder, are looking a little tired after their 9-0 start to the season.

 

 

 

dockers_trainingFew could deny that the Dockers’ results since the bye in Round 12 – even the unconvincing wins over bottom-4 opponents – are proof that their stamina is flagging. But if history is anything to go by, then all is not what it seems when the Dockers cross the white line in mid-to-late season.

Whilst at the helm of St Kilda, Fremantle coach Ross Lyon was well known for punishing his Saints on the training track in the lead-up to the finals and July-August was when the pain began (for the players and the fans).

In Round 16, 2009 the Saints were a game clear on top of the ladder (sound familiar?). They comfortably beat top-8 sides Adelaide and the Bulldogs, then in Round 18 only just snuck past a Sydney team languishing in 11th spot, then went on to lose two of their final four matches against opposition either vying for 8th spot (Essendon) or out of the race entirely (North Melbourne). The Saints went on to finish on top of the ladder in the home-and-away, but lost to Geelong on the big day.

It was a different story in 2010 when the Saints under Lyon had just gone down to Collingwood in Round 16, they drew with Hawthorn in Round 17 and were sitting outside the top-4. With their position in the 8 anything but a certainty, Lyon said in an interview that the team weren’t in a position to “flatten out” in matches due to training overload. Interestingly, 2010 was the closest the Saints got Premiership glory, drawing with Collingwood in the first Grand Final before being soundly beaten the following week in the rematch.

By 2013 Ross Lyon had made the switch west and the Dockers, despite sitting in 5th, had the luxury of a soft draw leading into the finals. A review of the results and comments from Lyon would indicate that the 2nd-year Dockers coach brought forward the timeline for his punishing training burst in order to make a tilt for the top-4. Coming off what Lyon called a “really heavy training load”, the Dockers lost to Richmond at the MCG in Round 16, then proceeded to win every match until Round 23 when (the team’s position in 3rd assured) Lyon elected to leave most of his stars in Western Australia and team which more closely resembled the Dockers WAFL Reserves than the best-22 were handed a thrashing by the struggling Saints at Aurora Stadium. That the Dockers caused one of the upsets of the season the following week in Qualifying Final against the Cats vindicated Lyon’s decision to not only leave the stars at home the previous week, but also the heavy training load in June-July.

Perhaps their result in the Grand Final against the Hawks two weeks later suggests the heavy load went a little TOO early to pay the ultimate dividend.

This year, given the Dockers are a game clear on top of the ladder, two games clear of the 3rd-placed Hawks and have a run home which the coach could conservatively pencil in as at least 4-5 wins, one suspects Ross Lyon has his players’ pushing themselves harder than every before at every training session right now (several weeks later than 2013). The extra training load will likely be a factor in every match up until the last few when the whip will have been put away to allow the players’ bodies to build up strength ready for them to explode into the last couple of home-and-away rounds and the Qualifying Final.

With the exception of very few, the members of this Dockers team will still feel the pain of the 2013 Grand Final loss to the Hawks and with their position on top of the ladder, they will each know what it takes to not only get to the big day, but also how it feels to get there only to fall short. The Dockers are hungry.

dockers_huddleFeeling the training load most of all will likely be the Dockers youngest and oldest players. Possibly the reason for the drop-off in form of Captain Matthew Pavlich. Is this the mighty Docker’s last season? Will the thought of seeing the greatest player their club has ever seen go quietly into the night without having tasted Premiership glory drive them to take it now?

Only time will tell, but one thing’s for sure – we shouldn’t write off the Dockers just yet.

— IEK

shrinking_menThere has been a lot of confusion and debate recently around the AFL’s decision to adjust the rules around players in possession ducking their heads mid-season. I am personally not at all confused and I think the football public and commentators in particular need to stop screaming that the sky is falling and everyone (including the umpiring fraternity) need to just pay attention to the evolution of the game where it relates to head trauma and head-high contact.

Since the official push for stricter interpretation (Round 10, 2015) of the “ducking rule” (introduced Round 01 2014), I personally think the umpires ARE paying attention and they ARE adjudicating the new rule correctly in many contentious situations. Are they making mistakes? Yes. But they have been told to suddenly start paying attention to a rule in the middle of a season which runs contrary to the protection-of-the-head rule changes which have been in force since 2007. It’s going to take some time for the umpires to adjust their natural response to head-contact. One can only imagine (unless one is Director of Umpiring Wayne Campbell) that it was the contradictory nature of the ducking rule which lead to it being largely ignored in season 2014.

So what is the history of head-contact rules and why is it so natural for umpires to pay the free kick for high contact?

Punching players in the head has always been banned, though probably the biggest deterrent to players actually hitting each other in the head has been television. Only since the introduction of multiple field umpires as video evidence at the tribunal have off-the-ball incidents been all but stamped out.

So what of in-play incidents? When were these rules introduced which wound up with players getting free kicks for head-butting opponents’ stomachs?

It was 2007 when the strict head-high contact rule was introduced. The rule stated that:

  • An automatic free kick be awarded to a player with their head over the ball if head contact was made to them or if any high contact was made in any way. This also became an automatic reportable offence.

The laws of the game document also includes graphics to highlight the areas of the body protected by this rule.

In 2011, the concussion rule was introduced forcing teams to conduct concussion tests on player who had been knocked out during play and preventing them from returning to the field if they failed the test. The contentious bumping rule was also introduced to the effect of:

  • Players electing to bump instead of tackle will be reported should their bump strike the head

In 2013, the concussion rule was amended to allow teams to temporarily substitute a player who was undergoing a concussion test (nicely done, Geelong).

duck_free_kickThe head was now (theoretically) comprehensively protected from a rules point of view. Of course AFL players are professional athletes and will do what they need to do – within the rules of the game – to gain an advantage, so the first thing they did was start to lead with their head. They figured they could draw a free-kick by using their head like a battering-ram on an opponent or throwing their head down as they were about to be tackled. Of course it worked and a huge number of head-high free kicks were awarded in 2013 as marked by the football public and media alike (though comparing 2013’s tackle-head-high frees against previous seasons is impossible because the stat was first isolated in 2013).

So the rule introduced to protect players’ heads was actually having the opposite effect with players putting their heads into dangerous positions more often in order to draw free kicks. This lead the AFL to introduce the High Contact for Players Leading with the Head rule prior to the 2014 season. The rule stipulates that:

  • A player who drives his head into a stationary or near stationary player shall be regarded as having had prior opportunity.  If legally tackled following this he will be required to legally dispose of the ball or he will be penalised
  • Where a player ducks into a tackle and is the cause of high contact the umpire will call play on.

This is the rule which seems to be causing the current confusion, but if you read it in its strictest sense, the rule is clear: if a player in control of the ball intentionally uses their head to make contact with another player, a head-high free kick will not be awarded to them. That’s it. All other rules related to players in possession of the ball are age-old and apply here as anywhere else.

For reasons known only to Wayne Campbell and the umpires, the umpiring fraternity chose to all but ignore this new rule for the 2014 season. Back in May, Campbell himself claimed the interpretation they had applied to the ducking rule was “loose”. So in response to the increasing number of players dabbling in the duck-arts, as of Round 10, umpires are required to actually pay attention to the ducking rule. I think this stricter interpretation comes not a minute too soon for those of us driven mad by free kicks for players who are all but head-butting their opponents.

This year the concussion rule was also strengthened making the interpretation of a knock-out incident more specific and forcing clubs (with the threat of fines) to keep players off the field following a knock-out incident.

To date there is still no official rule relating to “sling tackles”, though one suspects that this will change in the near future.

— I.E. Kenner

 

With the Tigers entering their first finals campaign for 12 years and my 5-year-old a bit excited about his Tigers playing finals, it’s got me thinking about how I became a Tiger myself.

Now I’m just your average Tiger supporter, you know with a matchday guernsey for every situation, a string of club caps that have been worn grey and white, the kind of baseless pessimism that comes from sitting through the final siren of every heartbreaking loss since (only) 2003, a hole in my bank balance the size of (only) eleven years’ worth of membership fees and a VERY well loved Richmond jumper in size 2.

It was this jumper that began my Tiger journey.
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