Footy: Mum’s the word on these dream-team tips

So it’s that time of the year again. Well not quite, but you can now register for all sorts of AFL fantasy footy teams. Those fantastic games where you pick 18 players, they score points when they get a kick and then you get to beat other people. It’s your own little team! I usually have an argument with myself.

Hmm, do I go  through the antagonising battle of competitiveness just to have a little fun? I love the idea of it, but in practice it was, well, stressful. This year, I am signing up with no hesitations because I have figured out the magic formula.

So how can you have a little fun without letting fantasy footy ‘ruin footy’? Well I’m glad you asked. Here is one Almanacker’s guide to having fun, but also winning you a few games, because as we all know (and if we don’t, ask a Melbourne supporter) losing all the time isn’t fun. Mainly, it’s all about making sure you keep it positive.

Choose players that you like – You have to mix up your players as there is a limit to how many players from one team you can have. But it’s going to be no good having a player rack up the points if you detest him. For instance, this is why I never have Collingwood players in my team. It just goes against my gut feeling. And if you don’t like Dane Swan on the field, don’t put him in your team, even if he will earn thousands of points. Because there is bound to be a player out there that you like that does OK too. It’s also handy when filling your bench. Can’t decide which stupidly cheap rookie who you have never heard of to add? Well I’ll be adding the Bulldogs’ Jason Tutt, because he’s the first player from Canberra in over 10 years to be drafted; as an AFL reporter in Canberra, that was a big deal. He’s also a really nice kid. Even if he doesn’t play a game, it will make me happy to know I have Tutty in my team.

Find unique or first-year players who no one knows about – This is where any afternoons you may have spent at TAC Cup, VFL, SANFL or WAFL can help, because after all you have a salary cap to fit under. If players haven’t played many games, or any, they will be dirt-cheap, allowing you to stack the rest of your team with Brownlow medallists. Think you have an eye for some random who was picked up? Take a particularly hard look at recycled players this year, like James Podsiadly. Who for the record, I love. Back in my Bendigo Bombers days, I watched him carve up the VFL and wonder like the thousands of other fans who have wondered the same question: why isn’t he in the AFL? This year, he’s on the Cats list at the ripe old age of 28. He should be cheap, but could quite often get a game, if there are any injuries in the Geelong forward-line. Make your sneaky inside knowledge count and feel good when it does.

Don’t make too many early trades – OK, this one is taken straight from the fantasy sports rulebook. But it makes sense. Even if your marquee player gets just 20 in the first-week, hold out. It’s better having trades in hand if you have injured players. And you will feel very superior at the end of the season when all your friends are moaning about having no trades. Just have strength. DON’T TRADE.

Take an interest in statistics – but don’t go overboard – I still have on my resume that I have been a statistician. I started out at the Ainslie footy club in the Canberra league, where I was the match caller, blinking through binoculars at the other end of the field to then yell out at various intervals ‘mark number nine, kick number nine, behind’. I then also did this for the Sydney Swans reserves after I was ‘poached’ from Ainslie. Of which my best memories are watching David Spriggs and Josh Willoughby run around together. But back to statistics, they can help, but not always. There are basically two types of fantasy AFL, those that award for positive things and those that award and then take away for a bad thing (like a kick that goes out on the full etc), you earn points for all the normal things like kicks, handballs, marks. But you also earn six-points for a goal, so big-producing full-forwards are a good get. So are tacklers, which generally earn about four or five points, so while Brett Kirk doesn’t get that many touches, his tackles are gold. Defenders can be the trickiest spots to fill, so do just think about them for a little bit as even if you just love Harry Taylor, he isn’t going to get points by spoiling.

Do not get involved in the chat-box in your league – This will only lead to pain if you start to get involved in all the banter with that guy down in accounting over the little chat-box. If you engage in banter, at least make it face to face. Because it can make it difficult if you bring out your aggressive nature on the internet – ‘Oh yeah, well I think B Cousins will flog G Ablett on the weekend you idiot’ – but can’t bring it out in person when you find out that CatsFan is actually the part-time cage-fighter who does office deliveries.

And the No.1 ultimate tip to make it fun, invite your mum to play – I did this last year because my Mum is the one who I owe my footy fanaticism too. On a whim, I thought she might like it. She LOVED it. She was always emailing me about who she should put in, who she was going to trade, and more. At the end of the season the league  is split into two groups, the actual premiership – ie the top 8. And then the bottom eight also get something to play for to keep it interesting. Mum missed out on the top pool by two points while my season was sluggish at fifth or sixth or somewhere around there, I wasn’t really paying attention. But Mum said we should aim for both premierships, she would take the bottom one and me the top one. Buoyed by mum’s enthusiasm I made a few trades, I still had plenty left due to my period of only mildly playing attention, and sailed through the finals. Round 22 was almost like grand final week for Mum and I played along too but at the crucial moment, forgot to make last minute trades. But come the end of the weekend, Mum and I had both won. A mother-daughter premiership year, and what could be more fun that that? So it doesn’t have to be your mum, but invite someone that you know loves footy but hasn’t got into this whole dream team or even internet thing yet, then watch them get caught up in the fun. It’s totally catching.

*Merryn Sherwood takes no responsibility if you do end up entering a team, fail to adhere to the guidelines and find yourself on the dark side. You will know you have reached the dark side if you don’t care if your team loses to St Kilda as long as Nick Riewoldt gets 100 points. If you have a tendency for obsessive compulsive behaviour at the best of times, she recommends only entering if you have also entered your Mum, as this helps enormously. If you actually want to win, then she does not recommend following these rules.

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