Having been involved in footy in some form for 30 years out of 36 years of existence, it is only natural that I understand the game from all levels.
I played eight years of junior footy, one year at senior level as a 16-year-old, graduated to the TAC Cup as an 18-year-old, played 11 years at St Kilda, coached regional teams for five years. broken by one year coaching Gippsland again in the TAC.
I appreciate the game in its purest from, but also understand the demands of an AFL coach to find a way to not only understand, but to manipulate the rules.
Since the Western Bulldogs beat the seemingly undefeatable Essendon side in 2000, we have seen all types of interesting game styles – floods, presses, zones and clusters.
To be honest, I am not sure if Terry Wallace acted alone as coach of the Bulldogs in 2000 or if Al Clarkson invented the cluster, but it has changed the shape of our game.
The rule makers of our game have tried to stay ahead of the coaches, but regardless of the AFL’s strong media department and rules committee, it is the coaches that dictate the direction of the game.
Let’s look at it.
The draft in 1997-2000 was focused on young players that were 6’1’ to 6’3, who were extreme athletes without necessarily an elite skill level and game sense to warrant such a high draft prick.
There were players that went on to have great careers, but there were obvious misses with clubs hoping rather than knowing.
I coached many players at Gippsland Power in the TAC Cup season in 2008, but nobody stood out overall as much as Jarryd Blair as a natural footballer.
Jarryd was elite in all areas, he was super fit, had speed, serious courage, damaging skills and quality decision-making and, above anything, extraordinary leadership skills and determination to succeed at the highest level.
His height was an issue to many, but not him, me or the regional manager, Peter Francis – we knew he would succeed.
The reason I mention Jarryd is his ability to fit in to a supreme outfit and adapt his game as is required.
Clubs now want players who can run and jump, have a professional mindset, but maybe just more than ever, players who not only understand the game, but can dictate it with an elite skill level.
I hope the trend continues, simply because the players I love to watch are footballers, not athletes.
Franklin (yes he is a freak of an athlete, but still a better footballer), Pendlebury, Hodge, Goddard, Pavlich, Jude Bolton, Cyril Rioli and Lenny Hayes.
Lenny Hayes is a perfect example of our game – he might not win a 20m sprint or three-kilometre time trial – he’s not St Kilda’s most skilled, but he is an animal.
An animal that drives himself into the ground and outruns any player who stands next to him, time and time again.
Some may say he is average in most areas, if he is, long live the ‘average footballer’.
In 2013, the Bendigo Football Club is running an initiative – The Bendigo Flight Centre Summer Cup.
The Bendigo Flight Centre will reward the young man who commits to our pre-season in outstanding fashion, on and off the field. The winner will receive a holiday package to Queensland, including flights and accommodation.