He’s not the messiah…

The debut of 2011 Number 1 draft pick Jonathon Patton for the GWS on the weekend created more than just a vast number of footy sub-editors salivating over the prospect of calling him the General in future headlines.

In many ways, it was the greatest 7 possession and 4 mark game, let alone first game, the AFL has ever witnessed.

Already, the potential forward line of Jeremy Cameron and Patton is being hailed as the new Buddy and Roughead show, and watch out Lloyd and Lucas and Dunstall and Dermie, your mantle as famous two pronged forward lines is under threat.

In many ways, through no action of Patton himself, who does I admit look like a man mountain at just 19 and can play, having taken contested marks in poor conditions against what has been a reasonably impressive Tigers defence, this is footy prognostication gone mad.

It’s no surprise that players feel incredible pressure to perform and we are so critical of anything except week in and week out superlative efforts, if a one game player is being held up as The Man.

Patton looks good, but at this stage last year, Smith, McKenzie, Bennell etc were going to be the face of AFL footy for years to come for the Suns, and with Ablett and Bock, form the basis of a killer side fighting for finals ahead of schedule.

As is now clear, the Suns are suffering very much from the Difficult Second Album syndrome, and their strike rate of less than 10% and a long losing streak from last year is more an indication of what happens when kids get tired and opposition scouts work you out.

I believe that at this stage, there’s a lot more to like about the Giants than the Suns. The recruitment of Sheedy and Williams is a far more impressive combination than McKenna and his team, with their collective footy smarts, guile and the wisdom of having developed groups of similar kids into top sides over many years a much better combination than McKenna’s raw enthusiasm.

(In fact the reappointment of McKenna mid-year to a contract extension seems baffling).

The Giants also seem to have been clever in their recruitment of ageing players, with Power, McDonald and Cornes trumping Brown, Fraser, and the departed Ablett, N. The addition of (formal) coaching roles to these older Giants recruits seems also to have been a masterstroke.

Ward and Palmer seem better pick ups than Harbrow and Brennan, though Scully has done little to justify his number 1 tag. (How Watts must feel when he sees the comparative criticism he gets compared to Scully’s only reasonable returns so far.)

However, it is the adulation, beatification and general excitement over Patton that worries.

The kid may be great, have a long career and be a leader of this impressive looking side for years to come.

But the desire to instantly crown him as Carey’s successor places far too much pressure on his (large) shoulders and again raises the spectre of the footy media’s willingness to throw around terms like Champion all too easily.

Coniglio, Shiels and Cameron may be fine players eventually, and the large number of 2012 Rising Star nominations from the GWS side shows good signs (although the same occurred last year with the Suns).

But we need to be careful with Patton. For every Riewoldt there’s a Gumbleton, for every Hodge there’s a Tambling. Rushing to anoint Patton as the real thing places unnecessary and unfair pressure on a kid who, at 19 and the potential face of his expansion club, has enough on his plate.

Why do the media feel the need to write his future already? His start was good, and he looked as though he belonged. He may flicker, but it’s more likely he’ll burn bright.

But taking measurements for his statue outside the MCG or even Skoda Stadium already is just a tad premature, and the media needs to take a good hard look and slow the hell down.

He might be the messiah. He might be a very naughty boy. He may be a very valuable high draft pick ruckman like Kruezer, another in the small number of high draft pick key position players like Nic Nat, in a sea of Top 10 picks that are usually smaller body midfield types.

Here’s an idea. Let’s be patient, watch his progress, give him a chance to be double teamed, learn the game, show us what he’s got. Let’s see how the Giants run out the year, when they get tired, as kids do, after a long season where they have travelled a lot.

Let’s see where they are next year, just like the Suns.

Let’s cut the kid a break.

Cricket in Australia has been at pains to discover the next Warne, and in the 80s, duplicate Botham, running both times through many who were anointed too quickly and shed too fast.

Why don’t we hold off calling people who have played less than, say, 2 games or at least half a season of AFL, champions.

All we do is set them up for failure in the vast majority of cases when they don’t meet our impatient lofty heights.

Let the kid play. After all, he’s just a kid.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Ben Footner says

    Great article Sean, I whole heartily agree.

    Over the last couple of years I have watched the Adelaide youngsters slogging it out against bigger, stronger, more experienced opponents and couldn’t believe the savaging they regulary received from their own supporters.

    These boys are just that, boys. Even players of the calibre of Judd, Ablett etc took at least 2 or 3 seasons to hit their straps.

    Mind you, we must remember that these lads are also very well remunerated in compensation for the pressure they are put under.

  2. Ben

    Thanks. I recall a scathing Brereton article on the young Ablett a few seasons in, when he was all name and no substance, getting cheap kicks and generally being selfish. He took a while, proof = pudding. And let’s remember that it was his teammates who pulled him up on his training and commitment and saw that he could be great.

    So kids take a while, and we seem to forget what it is like to be 19.

    I agree on the coin, But I can only imagine what my 19 year old self woudl have been like with fame, looks, ability and money. I had few (none?) of those and was immature, god knows what I’d have been like living far from home and having my first game seen as a career defining momemt.


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