General footy writing: It’s time mulligans were introduced to footy

By Darren Smith
No one can accuse this forum of not covering the big issues …
I recently used the term “mulligan” in a description of the Round 7 game between St Kilda and Essendon, suggesting that, if Essendon could have taken a mulligan for their first quarter, they would have.
This claim was met with extreme confusion by half of the ‘Nac editing team — ie, “never heard of it”.
Traditionally a golfing term, its exact origins are unclear, yet many theories exist.
The one that tends to attract the most credence is that involving a Canadian golfer, David Mulligan, one-time manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, who played at The Country Club of Montreal golf course, near Montreal during the 1920s. The story has it that one day, after hitting a poor tee shot, Mulligan re-teed and shot again. He called it a “correction shot”, but his friends thought it more fitting to name the practice after him.
It must have been a semi-regular practice with Mulligan for the name to stick.
I have some sympathy for Mulligan and I’ve been thankful for his innovation on more than one occasion. Perhaps the most memorable was due to an early start, after a heavy “team bonding” session for work the previous night at Murray Downs Golf Club near Swan Hill.
Through the fog in my head I impressed myself by at least making contact with the ball, which in turn made contact with a rubbish bin, buggy and garden bed. I let sleeping dogs lie and took a Mulligan.
The laughter of my playing partners subsided as I proceeded to make birdie.
The commonly accepted practice is that such an opportunity arises once per round: that of the initial tee shot for each player at the start of a game.
It is strictly forbidden in the official rules, but it has crept more and more into friendly games and, in particular, charity events, where individuals or teams donate money to buy multiple mulligans.
Given that Essendon outscored the Saints in the final three quarters, a mulligan may have produced a vastly different result. Imagine how good Richo would be with the opportunity to purchase a few mulligans.
Will never happen?
Mulligans are already a part of the modern game:
*    Exhibit A – Ben Cousins
*    Exhibit B – Umpires recalling bounces
*    Exhibit C – The advantage rule
*    Exhibit D – An umpire paying a free from 50 metres away, after the umpire in control of play has not spotted it
*    Exhibit E – Tribunal appeals
The game has become faster, with fewer breaks in general play. That means fewer ads on the box. That means fewer bucks to the networks. That means fewer AFL bucks. Simple.
Perhaps the term mulligan may become more familiar in the years ahead.


  1. The Bulldogs are big fans of the mulligan, to the extent that they have one on their rookie list – James Mulligan (No. 31). I’m looking forward to him getting a game one day and missing an easy shot at goal.

  2. pauldaffey says

    Gigs, We were waiting for young Mulligan from the Bulldogs to be mentioned. You don’t disappoint, do you?

  3. I guess it helps that I’m a Doggies fan! I actually brought it up with Geoff McClure last year when the Dogs were having accuracy troubles but he never ran with it. We could have used his rule a few times in recent weeks but I suppose that’s true formost clubs.

  4. From memory, Bill Clinton was a dedicated Mulligan.

  5. Pamela Sherpa says

    I happened to drive past a Mulligan Drive this morning in a new under construction suburb in Canberra.

  6. Hey Pamela. Did you drive around the block and go past it for a second time?

  7. Pamela Sherpa says

    No Gigs, it lead to Mulligan’s Flat Nature Reserve but I didn’t have time to explore if there were actually any Mulligans living there.

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