Almanac Footy: Contrasting careers


150 years after Poorne Yarriworri, Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin played a single game for Geelong against Carlton in the first game of the 1872 season, another Indigenous player from Framlingham kicked the first goal of the match for Western Bulldogs against Geelong in the Australian Football League on Saturday. For Pompey his first game at top level was his last, while Jamarra Ugle-Hagen, the Number One draft pick in 2020, has a long career ahead of him thanks to the way his introduction has been handled by his coach, Luke Beveridge. Most people who have a passing interest in football might expect the top recruit to go straight to stardom at the senior game. The reality is very different. A young star might be the brightest at local or secondary level, but senior football is a different game entirely. Senior footballers are outstanding physical specimens and there is no place to hide for a youngster who has not yet developed his man-muscles and the capacity to ride the fierce bumps and avoid the front-on challenges that are part of the game. So Beveridge gave his tyro a taste and then sent him off to the VFL to learn to play smart and build up his strength. Only now, a full season later, and well into that, can he be released to test whether he can cope with the rigours of senior football.


So far the signs are good, but I don’t expect Ugle-Hagen to play every game from now on, and not necessarily to feature in the finals, if the Dogs make it. Apprenticeships are a matter of years not weeks and that is only partly because artisans wanted to protect the mysteries of the trade. Good masters and good coaches know that exposure in key positions can be the making of a player, but if a player is exposed too soon it can end a career prematurely, especially in a results-based occupation like professional football. Lots of young players are told by their senior colleagues, ‘My livelihood is at stake every time I take the field. I can’t afford for you to stuff it up, so shape up or else’. Or the youngster will find that the ball is not being kicked or passed to him, until he proves that he is worth his place by his efforts on and off the ball, and his persistence when things are not going well.


On the opposite side on Saturday a veteran captain was rocking up his 350th game, the most by any captain of the Geelong Football Club. Joel Selwood was an exception to the rule about newcomers that I just mentioned. When he walked into the club in 2007 a number of people seem to have realised straight away that they had someone very different on their hands. Mature and physically strong beyond his years, Joel Selwood quickly established himself in the senior team by his fearless approach to the game, though he says he got some tough love in the early days. Once he got his position he held on to it by a kamikaze approach to winning the ball. People soon complained he was winning too many free kicks for high tackles, but apart from his skill in allowing a tackle to slide upwards after the initial contact, it was his drive into the confrontation that won him most of them. Opponents knew that he had to be stopped one way or another, while he only had an intent to break through any such attempt. For a while it seemed he came off the field after every game with visible signs of contact to his head. I still fear for his long-term health, especially as we are now beginning to fully appreciate the consequences of repeated collisions.


His defensive work is often overlooked but he has always tackled like a human clamp. However, it is his strategic control of the game that is still his most important contribution. He does not panic when the team goes behind, as it very often has done in recent seasons. His experience leads him to find a way out of difficult situations and his confidence in ultimate success in each game lifts those around him to achieve that result. He and his colleagues seem to take a little time in each match to work out what they need to do to deal with this particular set of circumstances. How much of this is due to coaching and how much to on-field responses led by the captain may change from game to game and situation to situation, but Selwood is at the fulcrum of ensuring that the result is achieved. So it proved at Kardinia Park on Saturday, as the Cats recovered from being 27 points down in the first quarter to win by 28.



Details of  ‘Albert “Pompey” Austin: A man between two worlds’ can be found Here.


You can read more from Roy Hay Here.



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