The ‘blight on the game’ debate reared its head again, with John Worsfold’s comments about a line across the middle of the field that three players from each team dare not pass. Coaches are lining up to shoot it down. Roos, Lyon, Buckley, surely more to come.
In fairness, Woosha didn’t approve of the idea, he simply threw it out there. And it’s not as if the game is one continuous rugby maul. Anyone watching Sydney last week, and especially that fantastic moment when Franklin burst through the centre and kicked a perfect pass to Tippett leading toward goal, would know that. There’s a lot of beauty in the game unmatched by any other football code.
Allasame… I watched a bit of a Vic-SA game on the weekend. It wasn’t that great a match, but it was good to see space on the field. None of this locking it in the forward line, where everyone swarms about the ball, handpasses go nowhere, kicks are smothered, goes on for a minute or more until thirteen players pile up atop each other, then there’s a ball up and it all starts again.
It almost always happens in the forward line. Obvious, really, one team’s keen to kick a goal and the other desperate to stop it. You rarely see such crowding at a throw-in on the wing or in general play between the Arcs Of The Fifty, though more players are much closer to the contest than fifteen years ago.
Back then I wrote, in a rare moment of sagacity, that increasing professionalism would lead to increasing fitness and that coaches would thus have more latitude to use players in different ways. I didn’t go on to predict today’s state of affairs, but perhaps I should have. I was a Swans fan, after all.
Remember the hoo-ha about Rodney Eade’s ‘flood’? He said he was just playing an extra man in defence, though it may have been two. Terry Wallace took it up a notch (what is Stump up to these days? And where is Allen Jakovich?). Then Paul Roos came along and got ‘Ugly Football’, as Zeus put it, up and running, or up and stopping, and won a flag and since then it’s been clusters and forward pressure and all the rest of it and even Mad Sheeds has spoken in favour of what Paul Roos has dubbed Zoneball, which is basically an offside rule.
Nothing more inimical to the nature of our local football code can be imagined than any kind of offside rule.
Would you class the restricted numbers in the square at centre bounces an offside rule? A similar concept has been trialled in the U/18s this year. Two players in the forward 50, another two forward of centre but they’re allowed to chase out, etc.
In the end, though, it’s the fitness of players that makes today’s game what it is. Ergo, if you want to reduce congestion, that’s where you’d change the rules. Unlimited interchange allowed players a brief respite, to recover from the euphoria of kicking a goal, chat to the coach, get a leg massage, then get out and run to more contests. The i/c cap doesn’t make much difference. How about we get back to the Nineteenth Man?
The traditionalist in me loves that, but I also want to see the Brownlow Medallist and Club Captains run a lap at hafltime of the Grand Final and I’m thinking of running for the Senate on a ‘Bring back Imperial Measurements’ platform. That’ll get the kiddie’s maths scores back on track.
How about the four bench players become replacements, who are allowed to leave the field once and return? Call it an interchange cap of eight per game. Shines a light on the Starting Eighteen, requires players to conserve their energy, so cover less ground, and coaches to redefine defensive strategies.
How about we leave it alone? The game evolves and there’s been a few more key forwards staying closer to goal this season. Coaches seem to have decided that when winning the ball at half-back works better when there’s someone to kick it to.
Those forward line lock-ins really bug me, but otherwise, the game looks great. And not just ‘cos I live in Sydney and watch the Swans every week. John Longmire, successor to Eade and Roos, one of three leading goalkickers since ’55 to coach a flag team, has the blankest demeanour of any coach in the AFL. But surely, somewhere deep inside, he’s looking at his forward line and thinking “Wow, I get to coach these guys! Have I got an awesome job or what!”
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