It’s not the umpies’ fault

Only one game into round six and the wider football community was served a reminder of something we already know but rarely remember, umpires do not win or lose games for your team.

With reports earlier in the week highlighting the 40 more free kicks West Coast have received when playing at home compared to the opposition, paralleled with the Eagles success, it has come to question whether umpires influence wins and losses.  Whilst umpires have increasingly insisted on putting their mark on a game of football, we as a whole have been plagued with short memory. Who can remember a time when the umpires particularly in the professional era did not get on supporters’ nerves with inconsistencies and frighteningly disputable calls? It happens every week, it impacts the flow of the match, the momentum but never the end result of the game.

Last Friday night a gallant Western Bulldogs team took to Etihad Stadium with an unwavering attitude to the contest and with a strong commitment to the team. They knew they were coming up against a higher fancied team (Collingwood were $1.10 favourites) but unsurprisingly under the stewardship of Brendan McCartney took the underdog status and played with ferocity and looked very much like the better team in the first half.

In the first quarter free kicks were 8 to 0 in favour of the Dogs but without registering a single stat in the “frees for” column Collingwood trailed by only 11 points despite having six less scoring shots. Proof umpires help cannot cure poor goal kicking. By half time however Collingwood who still had less than a fifth the amount of free kicks the Bulldogs had managed to sneak into the rooms with a three point lead. Then there were three quick Collingwood goals to end the half firstly from Sidebottom off one step, then Swan out of the pack and finally Ben Reid scored an unlikely goal from a ball spilled from the contest. All three goals seemingly opportunistic, seemingly against the flow of the game and certainly defying the resilient effort from McCartney’s team.

Therein rests my argument. Matthew Lloyd said a few years ago that whilst umpiring is never perfect and does have a habit of holding up a team’s performance; it does not win you or lose you a game. When the free kick count was 17-7 against Collingwood, they still were holding on to a ten point lead, holding off everything the opposition could throw at them with Maxwell, Shaw and co rebounding constantly in the last three quarters.

No one can exactly argue whether the score changes with an even free kick count, but it is fair to say that whilst Griffen was providing outside run and inside hard ball to get the Dogs over the line he lacked the support crew and class around him to take home the four points. Where Collingwood’s younger midfield brigade in Sidebottom and Beams stepped up once more in the absence of Dale Thomas and Luke Ball, Higgins went cold for too long, Sherman lacked composure at the death and the usually reliable Bob Murphy turned it over to gift Cloke a goal in the last quarter.

Despite a horrendous free kick tally, Collingwood’s class, execution and staunch defence outlasted an impressive workmanlike display from the Bulldogs. Once again this has reminded us that despite the frustration of never hearing that whistle blow in your favour or having the umpires give you the frees it will not, at the end of the two hours win or lose you the match. Sure, if the Dogs won possibly their effort and will would have been forgotten amongst the stats sheets but it would have been them not the umpires that got them the four points.

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