Round 13 – Richmond v Sydney: Multi-sport athletes

Richmond ruckman Ivan Maric kicked a goal to seal a remarkable comeback win for the Tigers against the Swans in Sydney last Friday night. With around two and a half minutes to go the Tigers were six points up. To cap a remarkable second half Tiger captain Trent Cotchin gathered the ball at half forward and bombed it long in search of the Tigers’ other star of the night, Jack Riewoldt. But neither Riewoldt, nor the two Sydney defenders marking him could gather the ball. They tumbled over, leaving it on the newly imagined penalty spot. Maric’s own field of dreams then materialized before his eyes. With his mullet looking resplendent in the Sydney night, Ivan drove the ball past the goalie into the back of the net. When asked after the game if had had considered picking it up he simply replied ‘Na’. Earlier in the week when interviewed on Roar Vision he nominated the Melbourne Knights were the team that he followed as a kid. He’s currently the president of his local footy club, St. Albans Saints Dinamo Soccer Club. In showing himself to be a multi-sport athlete, Ivan capped a good night for himself and the Tigers. After his previous two outings had been against Sandilands and Naitanui, Ivan must have been happy when Sydney’s own code hopper Mike Pyke was left out of the Swans team leaving ex-Tiger Tom Derickx to do the ruck work.

Both of Ivan’s sports were formally organized at about the same time. Both of them know themselves as football. Independently yet simultaneously, rules were drawn up and clubs were formed in both sports during the 1850s. American football had its organizational birth at pretty much the same time. Sheffield FC formed in 1857, the Melbourne FC in 1859 and the Oneida FC, players of the Boston Game, formed in 1862. I spoke with Brendan Murphy, author of From Sheffield with Love. The Story of the world’s oldest football team, on his thoughts as to why the genesis of all sports had pretty much occurred at once. While not completely sure, Brendan suggested that the brand of muscular Christianity that was prevalent during the Victorian Era led societies to move away from a mob mentality of game-playing to something more refined. Tom Wills is said to have started Aussie Rules as a means of keeping cricketers fit throughout the winter. Whatever the reasons for the codes developing and rules forming, they have been trying to differentiate themselves from one another ever since. It seems to matter not to the administrators that they are basically the same. Young people, mostly, chasing a ball and each other around a field trying to score points. Sport is there for us to test ourselves against others, and against ourselves. Sport is there for fun.

While the Tigers look like they are generally having fun as they improve and grow together, there are worrying signs around the league that the game is no longer fun. The evidence given by code hopper Karmichael Hunt to the Crime and Corruption Commission, coupled with publication of some photos of Harley Bennell have everyone in football talking drugs. This comes on the back of the continuing “supplements saga” at Essendon (although this is quite a different situation to the Gold Coast one) and some other charges against individual players in the game.

I’ve worked as a nurse across many settings but the majority of my career has been in the fields of psychiatry and addictions. I know the reasons for substance misuse are as individual as the people that experience them. Some of the reasons are complex, like childhood sexual abuse and others more simple, too much money and too much time. Our society’s response to addiction also depends on the substance or the behaviour. We tolerate our experience of sport being bombarded with advertisements for alcohol, yet speak to anyone who’s worked a Saturday night in emergency and you’ll know it’s the biggest substance abuse problem we’ve got. We tolerate gambling advertisements being hurled at us at unprecedented rates. Yet young men addicted to the gambling apps on their phones now for the biggest cohort of people seeking help for gambling addiction.

When the Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants were formed their purpose wasn’t to keep young men fit, or to provide a sense of community, it was to expand the game into northern “markets”. When Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau were recruited their success or otherwise was measured in marketing and newspaper column inches. These players were a pure commodity. Similarly at Essendon their own review of their supplements regime found a “disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented”. Player welfare put second to winning, young men as commodity. I think it would be fair to assume that health and wellbeing weren’t the reasons News Corps. splashed the photos of Harley Bennell across their tabloids’ front pages.

The time has come in football to put the health of the players and of the broader community front and centre. I know that many people will say “How many times do they have to be told?” and just “Kick ’em out of the game.” But believe me if telling and prohibition worked I’d be out of a job. It is worth remembering that the founder of our game, Tom Wills, committed suicide, ending his own battle with addiction.

Please talk to your GP or call Lifeline: 13 11 14 if you need help with these issues.

About Chris Daley

Tiger fan Chris Daley works in Community Nursing, which has taken him to Perth, Broome and now Dandenong. Being tall, he used to get a game in the ruck playing bush footy outside of Warrnambool.


  1. Earl O'Neill says

    The formation of codified football also resulted from the industrial revolution. More people in cities, formalised days off, improved transport and communication, all led to the need for a standardised set of rules.

  2. Jen Costello says

    A particularly timely article Chris…People are indeed complex and behave the way they do for a multitude of reasons. What helps one person make a positive change may not help another.

  3. Correct. Players are a commodity.
    So was I for ANZ…ultimately superfluous.

    Perhaps coincidentally you’ve broached the topic of mental illness – today’s story is, as you’d know, not a sports one.

  4. As a fellow health worker i say, well written Chris. i’m not surprised by the ill informed drivel in the Murdoch papers re the behaviour of some Gold Coat players. Sadly we are incapable of having any sort of informed debate re drug use amongst AFL footballers. I was watching the footy channel the other night, and Brad Johnson, who i regard as the best Bulldogs player i”ve seen was literally rabid talking about DRUGS in football. It reminded me of Micky Malthouse talking about marijuana being a performance enhancing drug. If you allow these views oxygen you seriously can not get an informed discussion on the topic.

    One of the best articles i”ve seen of late was from a recently retired Chris Judd. He spoke about the far bigger damage being caused by gambling, also drawing in the factor corporate sponsors are afraid their brands ill be blemished if a footballer uses iillicit drugs. Who is the drug policy for, what is it about ? I there is an illicit drug policy the primary thing should be the players health and well being, however you start to doubt f that is the case.


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