AFL Round 5 – GWS v Gold Coast: Gary plays park footy

Greater Western Sydney versus Gold Coast

1:40pm, Saturday, 27 April

Manuka Oval

Cliff Bingham


Round 5 of the AFL season was a (long) weekend of contrasts. At one end of the scale, we saw 93,373 at the MCG for the ANZAC Day blockbuster between Essendon and Collingwood. At the other end, Canberra failed to crack the 7,000 attendance mark for the Giants-Suns battle.

Admittedly, it is difficult to get enthused about a match between two teams who have split honours at one win apiece when going head to head, but won only eight of 72 matches in which they faced a third party.

Moreover, by 2013 AFL standards at least, Manuka Oval is the ground that time forgot.

Enter via the eastern side of the ground and you won’t find any automated turnstiles – instead, an understaffed squadron of two manually scan each ticket, while a third person checks the bags. It is not a process which lends itself to swift entry of fans.

Step inside the ground and the remaining amenities are pushed to breaking point by the small crowd in attendance; my mail from those who attended the Australia v West Indies one-day international in January was that a five-figure crowd was far beyond what the Manuka Oval infrastructure was able to handle. With the wide expanses of the playing surface itself and the small and sparsely populated grandstands, it felt like park footy with an AFL badge arbitrarily stamped on it.

But then there was Gary Ablett Junior. He is everything that park footy is not. Maybe it was because he has cultivated the best career to date of any player on the ground by some margin, or maybe it was because we share the same hairstyle – one way or another, eyes kept gravitating back to his role in the match.

Tom Scully was ‘awarded’ the role of tagging him in the first quarter and did a noble job – most of Ablett’s possessions were in the back half, and scores were level at the first change. The second term saw Ablett’s influence on the outcome grow. As Zac Smith started to win the ruck duel, Ablett became the chief feeder of Charlie Dixon, who had a breakout game with six goals. The AFL cream was rising to the top as the Suns skipped 38 points clear midway through the term.

In an era of maintaining possession and “lowering your eyes” (copyright: Danny Frawley), park footy tactics would have their moment in the sun before halftime though. Devon Smith launched a running torpedo from 80 metres out which bounced through for a goal. From my vantage point it was impossible to confirm, but I’m sure that the Suns’ director of coaching Malcolm Blight nodded his approval at the homage to his famous 1976 goal at Princes Park. Jeremy Cameron and Dylan Shiel also slotted six-pointers from outside the arc, and the Giants were showing signs of life.

They maintained the momentum for the first half of the third quarter and closed to within seven points, before the older heads of Gold Coast steadied and stretched the margin – albeit that they did this in multiples of one more often than of six, posting a score of 3.7 for the quarter. Early in the final term the Giants loomed once again, but as was the case last week at the MCG, their endurance betrayed them in the final 20 minutes of the match and they were blown out of the water.

While Dixon was the revelation of the match, to my eye Ablett was the difference. In a team of burgeoning young players, the degree of difficulty for an established star and leader is high. Natural instinct dictates that the leader imposes his will on as many contests as possible, yet this would be contrary to facilitating the development of his younger teammates. A delicate balance between involving others and asserting individual influence at the critical moments must be struck. In a match that looked and felt like a park footy contest on a number of levels, one man’s outstanding example of striking such a balance left a small crowd in no doubt – this was AFL-calibre football.

Gold Coast 3.3 10.11 13.18 21.22 (148)

Greater Western Sydney 3.3 7.4 12.6 16.8 (104)


Gold Coast: Dixon 6, Ablett 3, Smith 3, O’Meara 2, Lynch 2, Matera, Prestia, Stanley, Brennan, May

Greater Western Sydney: Smith 3, Cameron 3, O’hAilpin 3, Palmer 2, Tomlinson, Shiel, Coniglio, Bugg, Scully


Gold Coast: Ablett, Dixon, Smith, Swallow, O’Meara

Greater Western Sydney: Smith, Shiel, Ward, Cameron

Umpires: Schmitt, Armstrong, Mitchell

Official crowd: 6,832

Our Votes: 3 Ablett (GC) 2 Dixon (GC) 1 Smith (GC)

About Cliff Bingham

Co-author of The Punters Guide to the 2013 AFL Season & writer for the 2012 Rugby League Almanac.


  1. PeterSchumacher says

    I watched this game and quite enjoyed it to be honest.

  2. Agreed – it was an enjoyable romp to watch, as most games which crack the 250-point mark are. It was just a case where very little of the ‘occasion’ felt like it belonged to an AFL match. By virtue of the small crowd and the inexperience of a significant number of players, it felt more like a very high quality game of footy in a country league (minus the car horns being tooted just beyond the boundary line upon each goal that was kicked).

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