Harms on Round 1

Thursday evening. I am thankful for football. Football takes Anna and me to the North Fitzroy Arms where we join the footy tipping comp, and catch up with the grey-haired wits who gather there. Anna has a lemonade-Coke (as we call it on our household).

We head home. An hour off the opening bounce. Fish and chips are hard to get past The Handicapper as a meal of choice, on health grounds (a combination of grease, mercury and salt) but Theo and I work the first-night-of-the-footy-season schtick. And it is (surprisingly) successful. The clincher is when we go for the family-ritual argument.

The chips soften nicely in the steam of the wrapping paper and we watch the first quarter of Carlton-Richmond. The Blues butcher the footy and kick poorly. Somehow the Tiges remain in touch, and then, after the kids are de-greased, stories read, and put to bed, I watch as the game opens up and Richmond run Carlton around the park.

Jack Riewoldt can play footy.

Sadly the Tiges run out of legs, but Chris Judd doesn’t. He descends on the game, lifts those around him, and the Blues get away with an inconsistent performance which poses more questions than it answers.

Friday night. I am at the MCG, standing in the pocket with Dips O’Donnell.  I am watching a game that I can hardly recognise as football. In fact I don’t recognise it. And I don’t like it. I don’t like that I need a Level Twenty-six football interpreter to explain what the coaches are asking their players to do, and what the players are trying to do, and how they are implementing the mission statement of the Board and its associated community and executing the coaches’ plans in a way that satisfies the KPIs.

Ross Lyon (I call him Winston) calls the tune, and it’s the same, tired, monotonous tune he’s been playing for a few seasons. A 70-metre-deep grid forms on the field and it moves up and down. There is no room, and even less room when skill errors compound matters.  A clogfest ensues.

New Geelong coach, Chris Scott, is in a terrible position. This is not his way. But as the junior in this situation he has to respond (although what would M. Blight have done?). Imagine if he takes the game on and loses by seven goals. The attack he’d suffer from the Big Footy Minds.

So Geelong play on St Kilda’s terms and some players are bamboozled. Tom Hawkins, who wants to kick footies over siloes, and jump heavenward in goal-squares in pub-and-bowser towns in the western Riverina, is wondering where to stand, and why he wasn’t born in 1955. Because then he could do all that at the 1975 MCG.

But it’s 2011, and he can’t, and he may never.

We suffer for longer. It’s still 2011 but I feel like it’s 1884 and the players are knee-deep in mud playing a scrimmage game not unlike rugby.

Or it’s 1984 and we are in the grip of some Orwellian nightmare that serves the interests of a mere few, most of them earning coaches’ salaries.

It doesn’t go unnoticed. The crowd don’t like it. I’m sure the players aren’t enjoying it.

How could they. I know I keep banging on about this but how could the St Kilda players be enjoying their careers. Lenny Hayes and Brendon Goddard? They must be going nuts. It’s like inviting Black Caviar to Flemington and then saddling her up to pull the keg-cart. (She won later on at Moonee Valley).

For a while during the third quarter the game follows the same pattern (or un-pattern, as I don’t want to offend patterns generally) as the first half. Players forming square-dancing formations; defending space rather than opponents, waiting for a fumble or an error of judgment before the opportunity emerged and the fast break ensued. It is a lottery. And Geelong wins the lottery in the third quarter pouncing on a couple to open the game up – if just for a few minutes – to level the scores.

Just before their handful of goals a friend of mine was walking across the footbridge to the MCG, from the rectangular stadium where (remarkably) the Rebels had won. The final score in the rugby was 42-25. At that point at the MCG it was 34-15.

What the final quarter has going for it was that it is close. Geelong – playing with no Chappy, no skipper, and their favourite son up at the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary, and then losing Joel Selwood to crazy courage in the first quarter – sneak ahead. Only for Lenny Hayes to score a superb goal, en-knotting Josh Hunt with a swivel of the hips and a step off the left before driving the Sherrin home.

With seconds to go the footy is scrambled forward and somehow Moon crashes a pack, the ball bounces kindly for someone far too far away for me to see, and Dasher belts one into the third tier, choosing the torp as his kick of preference.

You beauty.

In the Percy Beames Bar afterwards the drinkers are awash with disdain for the Saints. One bloke will only refer to them as the Sinners from now on.

“A blight on football,” another suggests.

“Very unfair to Malcolm,” I say.

Cats fans are pumped. “Good win. Goooood win,” we say.

And, “Good win.”

And, “Good win. Very good win. Very, very good win.”

A truly shocking game of footy, all agree. The essence of the game has been ignored.

On the train going home I consider Lenny Hayes. Lenny is a beautiful footballer. Fair. Skilful. Creative. Desperate. Determined. A leader. And one of the best on the ground on the night. If I am Lenny Hayes I am going straight to my management and saying, “Start looking around.” (Which makes Luke Ball the brightest bloke in footy.)

Saturday night’s match between Adelaide and Hawthorn is at the other end of the spectrum: exciting end-to-end stuff where, during the last quarter, the players are under such physical pressure a zone is out of the question. And it becomes a series of contests, where running for the team is rewarded, both in attack and defence; where players have to react, show intuition and initiative, and show their skill, all with victory and loss on the line.

Footy is a wonderful game when played like this, or in the way that Brisbane and Freo battled it out (that is a story for someone else to tell), or in the way that Melbourne and the Swans played such an entertaining second half.

I know it is only Round 1 but I think the intent of the interchange rule, and the way it has been implemented, have been good for footy. Hats off to the AFL here, for their tweaking of the interchange system. They have listened to fans, and to those who love the game, and have shaped the game through playing and coaching over the years. I believe they have established that footy people feel Winston-Lyon-football does not serve the essence of the game. The AFL know that the essence is one-on-one contests in the context of a team approach. Open footy where players can show the wonderful skills they have, again in a team context.

It doesn’t even have to be lightning fast footy; as long as it is continuous footy. And it’s footy footy.

Well we got plenty of that in what was a mighty fine opening round.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo12, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. JTH – really enjoyed this. Encapsulates my thoughts. The game following an “unpattern” – magnificent.

    I saw my mother-in-law on Saturday (mad Saints fan). She’s as mad at hell at Lyon. At least it keeps me out of the bad books for a while.

  2. Good win.

    Gooood win.

    Gooooooooood win.

    Gooooooooooooooooooood win.

    Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood win

  3. johnharms says

    I’m laughing, Phantom.

    It was the way that any gap in conversation, however small, on Friday night, was filled with “Goooood win.”

  4. What has Simon Goodwin got to do with the Cats?

  5. Good one Gus.

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Harmsy,

    watching Patrick Dangerfield and Taylor Walker swing the game for the Crows was invigorating. They could be the smokies this year if Craig lets them play with more freedom.

  7. Tim Ivins says

    Your mother-in-law is not the only one upset Dips. My housemate is a diehard Saints fan and three days later he is still adamant that he is boycotting the game against the Tigers as his form of ‘silent protest’ against the negative, ugly football played under Lyon.

    I guess it’s not a silent protest anymore and I wonder how many feel the same way.

  8. Stainless says

    JTH

    Great summary and concur with all the sentiments re. St Kilda.

    I’ll be optimistic here and say that what we saw on Friday night is already a redundant game plan and the best thing that happen is that we see more wins in the manner of Geelong’s. It’ll be short term pain but long term gain as far as the spectacle of our game is concerned.

    It all comes down to numbers really. One rule that (mercifully) hasn’t changed is that a goal is still worth 6 points and multiples of 6, combined quickly, can add up to quite a lot. You don’t need to be Einstein to work out that for Geelong to win with just 6 goals on the board, something is very wrong with the St Kilda tactics.

    If you dominate a game for an hour and only convert your dominance into a 20 point lead, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to a five minute slump in which that lead can be erased entirely. Exhibit A – late 3rd quarter Friday night.

    Conversely, if you back your talent against your opponent’s and manage to dominate the same period, but in a more attacking manner, chances are you may concede more goals but you may also emerge with, say, a 40 point lead. The five minute lapse may still occur, but you’ve still got a 4 goal cushion, which with a quick counter, can be easily restored to 5-6 goals. It’s a comfortable lead no matter how high the overall scores.

    I can understand coaches of ordinary teams going the defensive option in order to avoid a thrashing (Exhibit B Terry Wallace’s Richmond in the infamous basketball game of 2006 against Adelaide). But when you’ve got St Kilda’s array of talent, why on earth wouldn’t you back it against pretty much any other lineup going around. Unfortunately, their talent, even as restricted as it is under this current gamplan, has been pretty successful for two years, so there’s been no need to change it.

    I don’t confess to understanding defensive floods, rolling zones, offensive presses or any of the other jargon-ridden strategies being devised by the mental giants running football departments these days. But from what I gather, Collingwood’s forward press has now replaced St Kilda’s defensive approach as flavour of the month. It works exactly the same way as St Kilda’s but 100 metres closer to their goal. This seems to have the advantage of giving the team applying the press a scoring opportunity every time their opposition stuffs up and minimal chance of them scoring if you happen to stuff up.

    And so to Exhibit C – the Collingwood- Port Adelaide game. The Pies, like St Kilda, dominated the first half but went to the break 45 points up. Like St Kilda they had a 3rd quarter lapse – quite a bad one in fact – and at one stage were less than 3 goals clear. However, they regrouped and finished with a lazy 24 goals and a 75 point win. That looks a much more compelling set of numbers than those that St Kilda was playing with on Friday.

  9. Like the analysis John. I watched the game and even considered changing channels momentarily to check the rugby scores. Sense prevailed and I persisted. Very happy that the Cats snuck through. I’m yet to see much written about the influence of Bomber Thompson at Windy Hill. Hirdy is all the talk, I can’t help but watch the flow of the Bombers game plan and see round 6 2007 running through my mind. He may not be the master but he certainly has some hands on the puppet strings there.

  10. Well done Scooter.

    I am waiting for the cartoon with puppeteer Bomber and puppet James. It can’t be far away.

  11. Neil Belford says

    ‘pub-and-bowser towns’ – that is just elegant. To this point I have been getting by with ‘park out the front kind of town’ when I wanted to say the same thing.

  12. I watched the port/collingwood game, and then the adelaide/hawthorn game and all in between. be afraid be very afraid of collingwood they are THAT good. they kicked a couple of goals out of their arses, but by the end of the game they had kicked 10 or more goals out of their arses, ie, they are THAT good.
    St Kilda and Geelong and all the others looked like a country football game compared to the speed and intensity of Collingwood. Port will probably not make the 8 but they played some bloody good football on saturday, you don’t go from being 57 points down and then get within 16 if you havn’t, at this stage all the rest of the teams, with the possible exception of bomber thompsons dons are playing with themselves. Wait till your side plays Collingwood and see how you stack up.

  13. snowy from lonny says

    turned the game off at half time,first time i have not watched a game to the finish.
    i am 57 and have watched tons of footy !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Very well said John. Can’t begrudge Lyon doing the job he’s paid to do – win games – but hope they don’t expect to either praise them for it or even attend. I was at the game and thought 42,000 was extremely generous. There was space everywhere in the Southern Stand at ground level, which is normally never the case.

    Stainless, your comments go very well with John’s. Agree entirely.

    Good things for Geelong:

    1. We found a way to win, despite missing Chappy, Ling, Pods, Byrnes and effectively Selwood.

    2. We’ve found a very good footballer in Mitch Duncan. He and Taylor Hunt must play every game in 2011.

  15. Stephen Cooke says

    I was about to say, imagine if Blight got hold of the Saints. And then I remembered, he did and they sacked him after 15 rounds!

  16. I coached against Tom Hawkins when he was at the other Grammar. I have been saying to all and sundry, watch out, this guy will dominate footy and be the next Lockett. I am now thinking along the same lines as you JTH, he is 15 years too late. A talent going to waste.

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