The Jolly folly: Louie was right – big blokes just don’t get it

By Stephen Alomes

Yes, little Lou Richards, the twinkle-toed rover was right when he stirred Jack Dyer about big blokes being a little slow – not getting it. He might have said that ruckmen faced the wrong way. You can almost hear a later rover remark on the  ‘Jolly Folly’.

Darren Jolly says the game has gone to pot because of rule changes. Rule changes, which, we might note, help spring-heeled ruckman and younger ruckmen more than big, strong, old boys like Darren. (Age 29 May 2013 – click here).

The problem with this ruckman looking the wrong way is that he confuses cause and result (not a big subject in ruck school, less important than that self-protective knee).

He assumes that the changes in the game come from Leigh, Kevin and the rules committee.

In fact, he needs to look over his shoulder, and just a little over the boundary line.

They actually come from Mick, Ross, Nathan, and before them Roosy and Rodney.

The coaches remade the game through the forward press, the Roman box, gut running and a rugby league approach to heavier tackling.

They ensured that there were over 34 players in one half of the ground (and all but two of them inside the forward 50 line, and most in the Jolimont pocket) at one moment in the third quarter of the second Collingwood v St Kilda grand final.

The coaches’ strategies and tactics meant stacks on the mill tackles, players running across each other’s knees, as well as other results including the decline of the contested mark. As they had taken out the drop kick (with rare exceptions such as Barry Cable back in ancient history) and the torp (with Malcolm Blight an exception), they have created the current pressured game.

Bigger bodies, hitting harder, at more angles does not make for a softer game, although video and three umpires have taken out the behind the play cheap shots.

As I wrote in Australian Football The People’s Game 1958-2058 nearly all sports have been changed by an emphasis on power and by borrowed strategies and tactics. In unwittingly prophetic words, I remarked ‘Sports science rules and GPS statistics and blood tests shape player utilisation’. ( p. 141)

It wasn’t Kevin or Andrew or Razor Ray who withdrew Heath Shaw from the Collingwood team because of his skinfolds!

At times, the result of the congested play and the possession game (as David Parkin said once we did a possession game at training and played a contested game – now we do the reverse) is a less physical game. Perhaps the rule changes and interpretations which seek to protect players heads and legs haven’t quite got it right. But they are there for good reason. Even the shirtfront, done legally, has a role – that means a bump hitting the shirt-front, not the head. A bump off the ground and into the head has been illegal since Adam was a boy, although rarely policed.

The AFL might be criticised for some aspects of speeding up the game. It can lead to more fumbling, more messy play. It can also lead to more ACL injuries as players fall across each other or dodge at higher speeds – a reverse interpretation to the too easy ‘fatigue causes ACLs’, which is medically unproven.

Footy is still, despite Darren Jolly’s fears, ‘a hard, physical intense contact sport’ even if it now gives a new role to speed and aerobic fitness, to runners, from Lewis Jetta to Steven Motlop.

On one matter, Jolly is half-right. The umpires appear to be making more mistakes with some of those in-close decisions (not that holding the ball- holding the man was ever clear). Why?  Because the game is too fast, and too congested. (Blame Mick, blame Andrew both.) Their decisions have to be more rapid-fire and like players who make rapid-fire decisions to kick, handball or tap on a ball, they make more mistakes.

Some coaches have played the chess game to perfection and broken out of the ‘brutal’ Ross Lyon- type straitjacket of a game – the Sydney slingshot and the Geelong running, ball-moving game. The big forwards are back taking pack marks. However, chess master coaches are not a complete solution. Their aim is to win at all costs, not what’s best for the game.

It is the ex-poachers, such as Leigh Matthews, who make the best gamekeepers. They try to think of ways to reduce the congestion which is a blight on the game, even as it remains exciting in other ways.

If Darren Jolly could face in the right direction, if he could look beyond the world seen from the centre square, he would see that the real challenges facing the game come from today’s poachers – the coaches – not the rule-makers.

Stephen Alomes’ history and futurology of footy,  Australian Football The People’s Game, is available from    


  1. Stephen – the last thing we should do is tinker and change rules because of the latest coaching fads. This is a recipe for disaster. Have you ever watched a dog chasing its tale? Sadly it is what seems to be going on.

    I hope the Rules Committee has a Special General Meeting with one item on the agenda; to vote themselves out of existence.

  2. David Wilson says

    Thanks for that piece, Stephen. Good conversation to have. But I’m with the big fella on this. Little fellas have their place, and they evidentally even have thoughts.
    But as you say Dips, isn’t the main issue the annual tinkering of rules?
    In any rules-based community, people will inhabit the margins, looking for their own advantage. Rules encourage people to find ways around them. A lot of time & effort is always spent policing the boundaries. New rules are written. And on it goes.
    Of course in top level football, with clubs funding entire football departments now, people in these departments find ways to jutify their salaries.
    In contrast, principles-based communities don’t have these problems.
    Looking at the history of sports with more stability in their rules, such as English football or even basketball, we can see waves of tactical evolution and revolution occurring. Of course they do. And they always will, because people are thoughtful.
    I wonder what we’d see if we left the rules alone.
    As for D.Jolly’s piece – like the rest of his work, I love it for his frank & fearless approach. In taking this approach of course, he opens himself up for a whack. But by putting his thoughts out there (vulnerability again), I reckon he is advancing the cause for everyone. Well played, him.

  3. Sorry Stephen but I’m with Jolly on this one as well.

    Footy in the AFL is just not the same. Faster with more emphasis on running does not mean better. It is over umpired, over sanitised and over hyped and no doubt the physicality of the game is slowing being eroded.

    Where is the current-day Jacko? Or Krackers Keenan? Or Percy Jones? Or Doug Hawkins? There are few characters left in the game today and they are whacked relentlessly by Caro & Patrick for being different.

    Watching Paul Seedsman cough up a 50m penalty (and goal) when he ran onto the ground past Hannaberry who was still back-pedalling after taking a mark was exactly what Jolly is talking about. Not even one Swan supporter was baying for a 50m penalty at the time either. It is so trivial, costly and plain wrong.

    In contrast, this week an Almanacker wrote about the Northern Blues v Collingwood VFL game last Saturday which was a joy to watch.

    I hope Jolly keeps speaking up.

  4. Sal Ciardulli says

    The piece is on the money and whether Jolly is right or wrong is largely immaterial. The rules have been tinkered with forever. There were no reserves, no centre square, no interchange, no out of bounds on the full. The core changes to the rules around reduction of congestion are a positive – but I am with Bakes on some of the more frivolous and inconsequential officiating that takes place.

    It is all to make the game better to watch – we yearn for Flower vs Greig, Hudson vs Southby, Knights vs Van Der Haar instead we have to see Wrestlemania with 20 in the cage at a time.

  5. Steve Alomes says

    Einstein knew! Coachogenic problems – cause>result.
    Apparently, according to an ad for jeans, Einstein said – even though he wasn’t French – j’ai trouve le formule – I found the formula.
    Now, I’ve found the word – coachogenic = caused by coaches.
    The changes in the game come from the coaches, not the rules committee.
    Perhaps the rules committee, the gamekeepers, have found the wrong solutions to the congested mess the poachers have created.
    But why does everyone confuse cause and result? As Albert would have said, the cause needs to be dealt with, not just the result – so footy has a new word – coachogenic.
    As I say in the book, after Barassi and others, a simple rule which prevents over 30 players crowding into less than one third of the ground would get rid of most of the problems,the scrums and mauls, and even many knee injuries (where one player falls on another’s knee in a tackle) and the accidental head clashes (eg the friendly fire today at Skoda).
    Steve Alomes

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