Isn’t the beauty in the contest?
I’ve heard far too many grumbles this year about the state of the AFL.
“The games are boring.”
“The rules are too open to interpretation.”
“The MRP is confusing.”
“The coaches are ruining the game.”
I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it.
Pre-supplements and lawyers, Essendon circa 2000 were a Chris Grant snap away from being unbeatable. They used to smash teams, and on the fast Docklands track they were even more exhilarating. It was breathtaking footy, despite the lopsided score lines. I see the same comparison with Geelong of a few years ago and the Hawks today.
In the mid-2000’s I, along with millions of others watched a Grand Final end 58-54, with Leo Barry putting an exclamation point on one of the more exciting Grand Finals of the modern era. Last year we whinged when the Swans barely got out of first gear in their flogging by Hawthorn.
Now we have a couple of extra teams and therefore an extra game a round. Instead of there being 12-15 teams and 2 or 3 one-sided games out of six, we have nine games and possibly 4 or 5 less than attractive matches. But is the game a poorer spectacle overall? Pretty sure the Doggies fans who have had a couple lean years didn’t think so on Sunday after defeating Melbourne by 98 points!
By 2000, stay at home full-forwards were being phased out. Sure, a few still remained, but like the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, their time was coming to an end. In 2005, full forwards would often pinch hit in the ruck or be swung to the backline. Midfielders had to rotate several times a quarter as their work rate demands could not be sustained for 120 minutes over four gruelling quarters. The speed of the game was similar but the emphasis on ‘contested possessions’ and tackling was at an all-time high. Interesting too, that some of the so-called “dinosaur” ruckmen like Sam Jacobs and Todd Goldstein are having stellar years for the Crows and Kangas respectively.
Now, ten years later, the tackling is not all that important – Richmond defeated Gold Coast by 83 points despite registering only 30 effective tackles. Their next lowest tackle count was 40 against Sydney on the embarrassingly small SCG, a game they won by 18 points. More important to coaches (all 9 of them in the box…) is the contested possession stat.
But hasn’t that always been where the game has been won and lost, at the coalface? The hardness at the contest, and notwithstanding the excellent new rules protecting the head, footy has never been as hard at the contest as it is now. The Greg Williams’ and Robert Harvey’s are now Sam Mitchell’s and Paddy Dangerfield’s. Are we worse off for that?
What is boring about seeing players having to fight and scrap and block and maul the ball away from an opposition equally as hungry and desperate. Do we only watch the footy for hangers and boundary line snaps?
Because if we do, we still have plenty of them every game, every week. I defy anyone to watch a non-Collingwood game from 1990 and find anyone kicking goals like Chad Wingard, Cyril Rioli and Stevie J on a regular basis! What Peter Daicos did was unheard of, and still magically special today, but it happens nearly every single game, by a myriad of players.
Young stars and veterans alike can checkside the ball, leap from three deep, kick snaps from the boundary and back back into packs. If I use the three games of free to air footy I watched last weekend and a few highlights, I saw Heeney, Parker, Betts, Dangerfield, Rioli, Johnson, Bruest, Stringer, Boyd, Dalhaus, Hogan, Vickery, Martin and Deledio all do ‘mundane’ things we now take for granted. But they would have stood out 25 years ago, albeit with some scoffing from the Macedonian Marvel.
So don’t give me this tripe that the coaches have ruined footy with the rolling mauls and stoppage after stoppage, because the beauty is in the contest and if you can’t see Michael Long (‘93 GF goal) in today’s footy, then seriously, you are not looking hard enough.
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