Carey was one of the greatest players I have ever seen, but MacAvaney had a particular adoration for Carey that was kind of ridiculous.
“You just get the feeling that the King will do something here.”
“If North are to get up, Carey will be the man to get them there.”
One game I remember seeing in which MacAvaney spruiked the amazing, game defining feats of Carey, the North star wasn’t even playing. It was a game featuring Bulldogs key position player Chris Grant, whom Bruce obviously considered to have some un-Carey-like big-moment characteristics. Grant, who would go on to play 341 games, kick 554 goals while playing considerable time at Centre Half Back, and poll the most votes in the 1997 Brownlow Medal but be ineligible to win due to a one-match suspension for striking Hawthorn’s Nick Holland, had MacAvaney commentating a shot for goal that I considered relatively difficult.
It is human nature to favour those you like over those you don’t, but commentators are paid to add to a sporting experience for the viewer. It is a delicate balance they must walk, that takes into account who is watching (followers of both participating teams as well as neutral observers), what is happening in the game, what could happen in the game, what has happened in the past (both in the game and in previous games), and any current issues. Far too often, in my view, they ignore the viewer’s need for objectivity, and rather indulge their own personal preferences for players or a result that is dramatic or desired.
In recent weeks we have seen some truly awful commentating displays. On the Saturday night of Round 8, Hawthorn was playing Sydney at the MCG, but for all a blind person listening to Luke Darcy, Brian Taylor and co calling the game would know it was Cyril Rioli versus some other bunch of blokes that couldn’t stop Cyril Rioli. Actually, they wouldn’t have heard the name Rioli, as he is universally known amongst the commentary ranks as Cyril.
We were told time and time again that Cyril (whom I make a point of calling Rioli) can do things that no other player can do, even when taking an uncontested mark. At one point he ran out of bounds and the commentators barracked for it to not be called out of bounds so that we could see what he would do, even though he had had a shot for goal anyway and kicked it out of bounds on the full! Immediately after that passage of play it was said that, “He does three or four things a game that you’ve never seen before”, a statement that is so untrue it defies belief.
The love of Rioli has been rampant for a number of years, led by the previously mentioned MacAvaney, who once nauseatingly referred to him as “delicious”. This, despite his comparatively minimal output. The commentators will have you believe that he is the sort of player that doesn’t have to have many possessions to have an impact on the game. That may be true, but he is also very capable of having not many touches and having no impact on the game. I believe that the few games a season where he does have an impact are used to colour his overall output, rather than be viewed in isolation.
Why is this? I’m not all that sure. Is it because he looks flashy? Probably. Is it because he comes from famous stock with a well-known though hardly used in relation to him surname? Maybe. Either way, he is hyped up beyond his output to the point that it is annoying, nauseating and frustrating. He is a good player, capable of brilliant things, but he’s a small forward who can go weeks without doing anything.
When he dropped a pud right in front of goal in the dying moments of the game mentioned above, when had he taken it and kicked a goal it would have put Hawthorn in front, it was conveniently ignored by the commentators. I whooped with delight, happy that the over-hyped player had stuffed up, cost his team the game and made the commentators look foolish. The hype of him actually makes me like him less than I should, and it’s not actually his fault. He’s not asking for the commentators to talk him up, he’s just out there trying to get a kick, but I can’t help to barrack against him, just to shut them up.
On Friday night of Round 10, the Channel 7 commentary team were at it again. This time they went absolutely ballistic over Fremantle and “Nat Fyfe” in preference of the entire Richmond team that actually seemed to be winning the game. I put that name in inverted commas because it seems that commentators are incapable of just calling him Fyfe. Why must they always call him Nat Fyfe? There aren’t any other Fyfes in the competition let alone playing for Fremantle, so there is no chance with us viewers confusing him for any other player. Also, his name is Nathan; are they mates with him and so free to call him Nat? Annoying.
Cameron Ling in particular was obsessed with him, saying it was a privilege to be at the ground watching him play and declaring him a champion in gushing, salivated tones that MacAvaney would have been proud of. And that was four minutes into the match. Truthfully, four minutes. As the game unfolded and a Freo victory was becoming less and less likely, the commentators seemed still certain that they would come from behind and win. With 40-odd seconds to go in the match, Ling seemed to realise that the Tigers would actually prevail by around five goals, and asked the question of whether they should be taken seriously. I muttered to myself that he should have asked himself that before the game, not at the end.
The next day, Fox Footy and Eddie McGuire covered the game between Carlton and Adelaide. Or should I say Carlton and some other guys that had in their ranks Eddie Betts? Did you know that Eddie Betts used to play for Carlton? It was kind of surprising to hear McGuire barrack so strongly for Carlton, as he’s the President of Collingwood. He should hate Carlton. However, he was very much guilty of wanting the result to match his chosen narrative. That being, that the down and out Carlton, who had recently sacked their coach and had their champion leave the field early with a serious knee injury, would have a character stamping win against a much more fancied opponent.
That seems to be the issue. The commentators have a predetermined plotline they want to see unfold and their commentary is coloured by it. Whether it be the team to win or the player to star, they can’t help but play favourites when they should simply be calling the game.
Other commentators’ pets of note are: Chad Wingard, Lance Franklin, Jesse Hogan, Eddie Betts, Chris Judd, Luke Hodge, Scott Pendlebury, Patrick Dangerfield, Adam Goodes, Robbie Gray, Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Pavlich amongst others. All are players ranging from very good to champion, but who have the good things they do talked up and their down performances or mistakes forgiven or ignored. Players from the previous era to fit into this category include Nathan Buckley, James Hird and Dean Cox.
Of course, there is always a counterpoint to this, the players that seem to be overlooked or have their performances marked more harshly than their contemporaries, like the aforementioned Chris Grant. Jarrad McVeigh, Nathan Jones, Josh Kennedy (the West Coast version), Brett Deledio, Harry Taylor and Todd Goldstein are all absolute guns that have had their contributions undersold to varying degrees. Historically, Simon Black and Robert Harvey are two that I think are always left out of conversations they should be in.
In the case of Harvey, a player that amassed two Brownlows, eight All-Australians and four Best and Fairests over his 383 games and 21 seasons, he was in my opinion the best of his era, but doesn’t get put into the question. Instead they ask, who was better, Hird, Voss or Buckley. My answer: Harvey. Some get talked up, some don’t.
As always, I view things from my perspective, that of the spectator. Actually, it is that of just one spectator – me. I understand that others won’t always agree with me, as opinions are never universally shared, but there are often common themes that more people agree with than don’t. While many may disagree that Harvey was better than his contemporaries, I think most would agree that commentators calling to a fixed agenda is a problem.
So please Bruce and Cameron and Brian and Eddie and Dennis and all you other professional callers of our great game, please call what is actually happening in the game, and not just what you want to happen in the game.