The medal that never was

 

 

Tony Modra is one unlucky man. In 1997 he won the Coleman Medal. He was chosen in the All Australian side. Then, in sight of the Grand Final, he was struck down in the Preliminary Final with a season ending anterior cruciate ligament injury. He missed out on being part of Adelaide’s first AFL Grand Final win. It happens. There are many other examples of the missed opportunity. Sasha Lennon wrote an excellent piece for this site several years ago on players who, for one reason or another, missed out on winning a Flag.

 

It’s a big thing (like, really big) to miss out on playing on the last Saturday in September. It’s another thing altogether that the AFL does not formally recognise the substantial effort every player contributes to their team, to their club achieving the ultimate goal, the Premiership. As it stands, only the 22 players of the Grand Final winning team get the Premiership medal. That’s just daft. Seriously, what’s that about?

 

Milan Kundera’s wonderful novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting begins with a story about a hat. He recounts a famous 1948 photograph which depicts Bohemia Communist leader Klement Gottwald wearing a fur hat. The hat belonged to Clementis who lent Gottwald his hat on that day. Years later Clementis was hanged for treason and all records of his time with the Communist leadership were removed. He was even removed from this famous photograph. The only thing remaining of Clementis was his hat, perched atop Gottwald’s head.

 

History has a funny way of remembering things that official records might otherwise forget. Sure, but what does the political turmoil of post war Czechoslovakia have to do with an argument on the merits of awarding all players of the Premiership team with a Premiership medal, you might ask. An argument more commonly conducted in front bars and BBQs. Well, bear with me.

 

The Hawks 2014 Grand Final pre-game banner kind of included a similar ‘example’ to the hat cited in Kundera’s story. As you can see, the banner has the Hawks team, linked arm in arm. The banner’s message pivots on a moment, just before the first siren and the final battle. The battle will determine the Premiership side for 2014. The banner is saying we are one and this is our moment. Trouble is, the banner includes a player who wasn’t actually in the Hawks final squad. The banner includes No. 18, Jonathan Ceglar. He was replaced in the side by Ben McEvoy, the St Kilda recruit.

 

McEvoy was a strategic pick-up for the Hawks, who were intent on building their ruck capability. However, as fate would have it, the Hawks found in its development squad a young emerging ruckman. The Hawks, heeding Latin poet, Virgil’s advice (in only slightly more humble circumstances than when the original advice was given), to follow the fates wherever they lead, nurtured Ceglar and he became the Hawks ruck success story of 2014. With Ceglar playing so well and improving week by week, the player recruited from St Kilda found himself playing irregularly for the Hawks this year.

 

The Ceglar/McEvoy case is exhibit A in the compelling argument that all players of the Premiership side should receive a Premiership medal. McEvoy has been a handy pick up for the Hawks. Ceglar has been a surprise development. Both have contributed to the Hawks 2014 success. Both deserve the ultimate recognition. Yet only one has a Premiership medal.

 

In fact an argument could be mounted for Ceglar, Schoenmakers, Simpkin and Sewell. Especially Sewell! Between them they played 58 games and polled 6 Brownlow votes for the Hawks in 2014. Four players in the Hawks Grand Final winning team (McEvoy, Lake, Spangher and Rioli) only played 51 games and polled 2 Brownlow votes between them.

 

Three other players, who watched from the sidelines, could also make a claim for their contribution to the Hawks Premiership. They are journeyman Kyle Cheney, who played in 9 games (two less than Lake) and up-coming players, Billy Hartung (7 games) and Mitch Hallahan (6 games). All played their role and made their presence known. Cheney was strong in defence, even in Hawks’ losses to Geelong and Sydney. Hallahan averaged 18 disposals per game and Hartung was still getting a game up to the last round of the season. These players were some part of Hawthorn’s 2014 grand narrative.

 

Don’t you reckon the current ruling is just a little too officious, too bureaucratic? It feels like it’s from a long lost Monty Python sketch, sending up middle management decision making. It seems to come from an MBA textbook rather than from the heart of a game which is, in turn, the heart of our nation. The fair go. The spirit of the law is as important as the letter of the law. This rule does not accord with the spirit of the game.

 

All it will take to correct this appalling anomaly is common sense, empathy to more fully recognise reward for effort and a pen. C’mon, they played in the Premiership team, give ‘em a Premiership medal. Rewrite the rule and allow all members of the Premiership team to proudly wear what is rightfully theirs. In this regard other sports are already well ahead of us. The EPL allows the League Champions to distribute commemorative medals to its Manager, Players and Officials “as it thinks fit”.

 

If the AFL does reconsider this rule (and it must) then it should be a retrospective ruling as well. Let us well remember every player who was part of their team’s Premiership (Peter Knights, 1971) but whose efforts may have been smudged in history’s faltering memory. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting Modra’s outstanding 1997 season to be finally, formally recognised for what it indisputably was, a core reason for Adelaide’s first Premiership.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. G’day Rick,

    Your article is interesting and I enjoyed reading.

    It is a great and wonderful call! I didn’t know about Premiership medals until now and indeed I agree with you. Why can’t players who were unlucky to get injured and missed just the final September match get medals? It’s strange.

    I think all potential players for the Grand Final should be included in the GF banner because no one knows who will play until the game day.

    Cheers.

    Yoshi

  2. Ahhh, Trucker Slim, no way Jose.
    Like invitations to a wedding – no matter where you draw the line, someone is going to miss out. The present ruling is fine. You play on the day, you get a medal (whoopee.). Couldn’t be clearer.

    Of course the whole notion of medals is fraught anyway – only interesting to someone seeking external validation. Those who contributed know who they are. Surely that’s enough. It has to be enough. Why bother otherwise?

  3. Hey Rick, nice piece.

    I was prompted by what happened with Leon Davis in 2010 to write a similar article (which referenced other pro team sports). Leon did receive a medal for playing the drawn GF yet could not even bring himself to attend the replay until the game was almost over, whereupon he was kind of awkwardly part of some of the celebrations.

    I guess that’s the problem with medals for everyone – it perpetuates the no man’s land for those on glory’s periphery.

    http://jeffdowsing.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/pseudo-medallists/

  4. Dave Brown says:

    I would be careful in devaluing the currency so to speak. Sure its disappointing for the people who miss out (particularly if it’s through injury or they are the 23rd picked) but it does add to the theatre of the game and the life experiences that football can relate. The regret of missing a premiership medal can drive a player harder to make the next opportunity. Mark Ricciuto case in point in that Crows period.

  5. RK – Bill Howard (dual Stawell Gift winner) was once asked why ne never turned amateur. His answer was “you can’t eat gold medals”. I’m sure the well paid footballers who miss out on a medal would be way more disappointed to miss the game itself. The medal is just the bling.

    This is not the school yard. Those who are good/lucky enough to play on the day get the chocolates. I reckon that’s true of most sports.

  6. Grant Fraser says:

    Ah Rick you never disappoint. I noticed Cigs on the banner but did not have the words to share it. But not convinced about the medals – I tend to agree with Dips, and where do you draw the line? Include Jedi? Whitecross? …they would have been a part, and in truth probably could have played this year but the Club was looking to the future.

  7. Enjoyed this Rick. I tend to think that medals should only go to those who make the final team.

    Otherwise, the attendant devaluing would remind me of Paul Collingwood’s MBE after the 2005 Ashes for contributing 17 runs in a solitary Test. I don’t support these honours, but does a player who pulls a hammy in the opening minutes of his only appearance for the season get a gong too?

    But, yes, I felt sympathy for Tony Modra in 1997.

  8. Steve Hodder says:

    Buckenara always seemed a bit sheepish about his role in the 1983 GF. Not sure Ceglar would want one. Would you?

    onya

  9. daniel flesch says:

    Unlike all the above , Trucker Slim , i agree with you. Sort of . Maybe not a Premiership medal exactly like the 22 who play on the day get, but some sort of bauble recognising their contribution. It seems teams that win Flags aren’t forced to field too many players throughout the year ; the resulting stability a factor in their success. So there wouldn’t be a lot of recipients of “also ran” rewards. Just what form the rewards take is the question….And to Steve Hodder : 2008 G.F. – Trent Croad – one kick (a free ) in less than half the game . Not the least bit embarrassed as he took the medal whooping with delight.

  10. Hi

    Thanks for your responses and varying perspectives on this subject. The responses leaned heavily in favour of the status quo which suggests there’s still a lot of lobbying to do.

    Two things seem to determine the line in the sand. First, a confusion between winning the Grand Final and the Premiership. The Grand Final (as I see it) is the game played on the last Saturday in September. The Premiership is the title that acknowledges the best team of the season (and to claim the Premiership the team must win the Grand Final). However, only GF winning players win a Premiership medal and I think it should be awarded to all players who contributed to the Premiership. I don’t think that is devaluing the prize. In fact I think it is more truly acknowledging the achievement. Just because currently we limit our imagination to only those who play the last game doesn’t mean we can’t change. For the better.

    The second argument that draws the line in the sand concerns the meaning of a medal. Short of buying each player their own castle and or island (and the Hawks do deserve such reward) a medal is the symbolic appreciation the game extends to the champions. It represents you and me and the history of the game and the light that shines on like a crazy diamond attempting to illuminate a future richer than even the best we have seen. It is the holy grail. That is why only the champions are awarded one. In that regard, as I have stated, I reckon the Premiership team (the champions) is every player that contributed to the Premiership, not just to those who contributed to wining the Grand Final.

    Finally, I really like Yoshi’s idea that all players be included on the GF banner. I really like that.

    Cheers

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