Round 8 – St Kilda v West Coast: Don’t Try Taking Control Away from Control Freaks


Trying to make sense of why I am enjoying AFL less this season.  Age; other interests; spoiled by last year’s success?  All solid contributors, but my mind turns to the usual suspects – rules and coaches.


Footy coaches are like children – you love your own; excuse their excesses and bore friends with their petty triumphs.  Other people’s are frankly tiresome and need a good clip around the ears to teach them some manners.


At the end of a fortnight’s odyssey around eastern Australia catching up with footy, family and friends, the Avenging Eagle and I alight at “Mongrel” Stadium for the Saturday night game against the Saints.  (My match report on the Kardinia Park Incident can be summarised as #%**[email protected]#…….why are there no 3/4 time trains?).


Sensibly only 24,000 desperates  part with their hard-earned to brave the opening nights of Melbourne winter for what they can view for free in warm lounge rooms.  Any game lacks atmosphere where there are more plastic buckets than people in the stands.


My Eagles are less bad than in recent weeks and the Saints more persistent than in recent years.


Yawn.  Spoiled by the excitement of 2018’s flag, I sense that premiership hangovers are as much a fan as player reality.  


But it seems more than that.  Wanting the longer kicking, open footy I was raised on in the 70s/80s I tentatively welcomed the AFL’s 6-6-6 change and the banning of runners as 19th man on-field coaches.  Logic suggested they were marginal steps in the right direction.


But watching (again) the relentless cross-field chipping of both sides (particularly in the first half) made me think again about human responses and the law of unintended consequences.


When I worked in mental health the worst thing you could do for a compulsive hoarder was send in the cleaners to get rid of the mess.  Hoarders aren’t dirty by nature – it’s just that accumulating stuff provides emotional comfort and safety.  If it goes rotten over time and you can no longer find the cat under the pile of 1993 Womens Weeklys – well it’s just a matter of priorities.  Get another cat.


6-6-6 only has any effect in the brief time after a goal, and as we now have even less of them, it gives plenty of time for the coaches to stuff 2, 3 or even 4 cats back in defence.  Remember you can never have too many of them.  If one gets lost in transition or under newspapers you always have a couple of extras to block any scoring attempts.


As the great coach Isaac Newton observed “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – but control freaks double down on the reaction bit”.


While the real world counter-intuitive effect of 6-6-6 is now getting some media attention, there has been little attention paid to the effects of not allowing coaches access to players during quarters via runners.  Ultra defensive game plan not working?  No-one left forward of centre to do anything when you do regain possession?


Not much we can do about it until half time.  Any player taking initiative to digress from the game plan can join Roughy at Box Hill next week.  “Structures” are like banks – too big (and connected to the coach’s obvious genius) to be allowed to fail.


Dunno what the answer is but Gillon and Stephen Hocking increasingly look like the panicked exam participants in the old Michael Leunig cartoon.  The theory seemed so much easier.


Joint Meeting of the AFL Rules and Competition Committees


Back at “Mongrel” we shared the first half at ground level with Yvette Wroby, her Uncle Bob and a hardened band of Saints supporters clinging to the land like drought ravaged farmers.  Destocked by injury (Steven, Geary, McCartin, Roberton) and cursed by new stock (Carlisle, Hannebery) that the shiny arses from the Ag Department guaranteed would be drought resistant.


Some early wins at least meant there would be stubble as winter fodder, but I could hear their fans grumbling “outside the church ‘ere Mass began” about endless sideways kicking and round robin handballs.


More West Ham versus St Mirren than their antipodean namesakes. We decamp upstairs at half time for a better view and before my sarcasm destroys another friendship.


The game was decided in the third quarter when football broke out along the Eagles half back line.  Shannon and Shep hoofed it long for the bearded big fella to mark or create spills for the little blokes to crumb.  Hooda thunk it?


Eight successive points in the last quarter turned a likely six goal Eagles win into a three goal consolation for the Saints supporters who stayed to the bitter end.  The Phantom Jack Darling (Ghost who Marks) took one and goaled in the last minute to demonstrate that he was not a figment of the imagination.


Hurn and Sheppard are the only Eagles in 2018 flag form.  Gaff, Cripps and Vardy played their best games for the season.  The midfield was honest and Liam Ryan alternated highlights with brain fades.  McGovern continues to be Horatio at the bridge repelling all aerial incoming, but without his foil Barrass he knows he cannot wheel and deal for the moment.


While their current footy does not excite me, the Victorian reports of the Eagles demise are just wishful thinking.  5-3 having disposed of the wunderkinder from Collingwood and GWS is a handy position with a good fixture looming before the bye.  May is the end of the beginning not the beginning of the end for our September campaign.


Supply lines will be reinforced with Naitanui’s spark and physicality; Rioli’s brilliant occasions to balance Ryan’s occasional brilliance; and Barrass’ fortifications will release the McShepHurn cavalry.


Only the Cats look convincing to my eye among the Teams Du Jour on the Early Season Menu.  My hunch is that without their coaches/runners to tuck them into bed, the teams with strong, directive leaders front and back will have an edge in September.  Midfield leaders like Cotchin and Pendlebury will serve their teams well, but the frantic fog of midfield war leaves little time for strategy.


On-field coaches front and back like Hurn and Kennedy; Taylor and Hawkins will be invaluable in September.  Rance and Ward will be missed.  The Pies all speed no spine.  


There is a story of Jack Nicklaus five strokes off the pace after benign weather in the first 3 rounds of a British Open at St Andrews.  Going to the window in the middle of Saturday night and pulling back the curtains to feel the wind change direction and strengthen.  Then going back to bed to tell his wife he’d win tomorrow.


Experience and cunning will count more than speed and talent at season’s end.


Cats, Pies, Tigers and Eagles in the Prelims.  I’m booking our flights.


To read some of PB’s many other Almanac contributions, CLICK HERE:


Do you really enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE


  1. John Butler says

    Post premiership hangover?

    Oh to have such problems.

    PB, I tried to watch this game on the teev, but was also strangely disengaged. The result at the ‘G earlier in the day probably wasn’t helping.

    Neither was the Channel 7 commentary.

    I suppose we’ll see you in September then…

  2. PB – as you so beautifully put it, when football breaks out the games get interesting. That’s code for – when the player ignore the coaches and take the game on (with a view – shock, horror – to win) the game becomes a delight.

    Fast footy will prevail in September.

  3. george smith says

    Interesting that you are booking flights. Any chance of lobbying the WA government to put on a railway bus between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta (19 hours) or at the very least a sit up coach on the exorbitantly expensive Indian Pacific? I know nobody wants to travel this way but when the Weags and the Dockers are in the finals, and all flights are booked, then surely there should be an alternative transport to Melbourne and Adelaide.

    I know I sound like one of those very fast train bores, but this should be a national service – for battlers, backpackers and train buffs.

  4. Yvette Wroby says

    If Eagles get into GF again can I use that train to head west??? Except for catching up with PB and Avenging Angel at a lovely dinner, the night was a bummer with poor attendance and crappy confusing train services. Cranky Sainter.

  5. George – Do you live in Corangamite? Ring ScoMo and Billy the Kid. Super fast mega train from your front door to Perth via Brisbane and all other finals destinations.
    Dips – You were right and I was wrong. Self interest trumps logic every time.
    Yvette – Glad I went upstairs at half time. Insufferable grump became insufferable gloating.
    JB – Watched the second half of the MCG Incident in our hotel room. When you were 11 points up with 7 minutes to go and started going backwards and sideways I knew you were stuffed. Rabbits in the headlights. Much to look forward to. If you live long enough.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    One bloody kick away from having a fan premiership hangover in 2019….it still hurts

    See you in September Peter.

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I can’t afford a 4th cat, PB, so I’ll endure the footy about longer.
    Thankfully, I haven’t had a hangover in almost 4 years, although like Luke, wouldn’t mind having a Premiership hangover all through 2020 !
    Reckon your Eagles are pacing themselves. They controlled the game against the Saints and stepped up when needed. Cheers

Leave a Comment