Daring, Bravery Trumps All

Roger Federer said “Be free in your head, be free in your shots, the brave will be rewarded here.”, and “play the ball, not the opponent”.

What he meant is; he was not afraid to lose and was prepared for that outcome in an attempt to win.

He had many more unforced errors but also many more winners than Nadal, who is renowned as a defensive brick wall, keeping the ball in play. This seduces opponents to play the same – just keeping the ball in play and getting it back in. The problem is Nadal is the best in the business at this.

In a similar seduction the Swans and Eagles went through a bore fest during 2005 and 2006. Both teams exerting maximum negative, defensive tactics on each other and willing them into low score defeats.

When you are afraid to lose you provide manic support behind the ball, congestion at stoppages, control the ball movement patterns and maintain possession by passing the ball backwards and sideways.

There is a lot of sport these days that engages in an Indian arm wrestle of conservative counter punching – too afraid to deliver winning shots, knock out blows, 3 pointers, length of ground tries, dangerous passes, daring touchdowns and magnificent goals.

Basketball is a classic example. Whilst its a tad unfair (nevertheless the point is made), that its only worth watching the last 3 minutes of a basketball game because only then are they interested in actually winning the game.

I am of the view that if the Patriots were a bit closer to the Falcons in SuperBowl ’17 they would not have succeeded!

It was the enormous gap that provided the coaches with the daring and the players with the freedom of spirit to concoct the unbelievable cocktail we all witnessed in Super Bowl ’17. If it was closer, the entire mental dynamic over the game would’ve been different. Falcons are still driving the nail in the coffin and Patriots are still under the pump trying to release themselves and get into the game.

When sportspeople do not stay in the exact current moment and they start to think about the outcome (predict) or delve back into the past by either salivating over good performance or stressing over poor performance, incredibly bizarre things can happen. It happens in a nanosecond, may not even be a conscious thought you remember – but nevertheless the effects are catastrophic.

Without doubt the Falcon’s quarterback Matt Ryan was already on the dais accepting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. He will not acknowledge that fact but take it to the bank – its fact. 

Both teams thought the game was over, however one team reduced their intensity to coast to the line whilst the other team rolled the dice and said “we have nothing to lose”, “lets make the score a bit more respectable through daring”, “who cares what happens now, lets just flick it and chance some things”.

It’s with the aforementioned in mind that I ask with bewilderment why is Suns coach Rodney Eade asking AFL to implement zones to counter congestion?

I was of the understanding that coaches dictated game strategy? Why doesn’t Eade just keep 3 keys forwards in his F50 zone and 3 key defenders in his D50 zone?

What is stopping him?

The answer is that unless other clubs do the same, coaches are concerned the negative, defensive tactics applied by opposition coaches will not allow their team to score as effectively or efficiently. So why bother?

The AFL are in charge of most things and are far too controlling of the game but to suggest they are now in charge of playing patterns, strategy, tactics, ball movement and structures is a bit much for me to comprehend.

What Rodney Eade is staying is this; 

Us coaches are petrified of the media, our board and executive and public criticism of performance. We want to keep our coaching role for a very long time so self preservation is our primary aim. There is no way I’m going to be the fall guy, test the market or try to break the defensive, congested nexus that envelopes the game at the moment. Why should I do it if all the others are just going to counterpunch, strangle and congest?

The easy way is to get the AFL to change rules so coaches have no option other than to play the game like Federer or the Patriots or any other great sports person or team that possesses the bravery, courage and verve to look defeat in the eye and suffer the consequences of trying to win – with honour.

Thank heavens for Bevo and Clarko!

Rules on the Run

Here’s the problem; “Gill McLachlan is the man charged with keeping the game great…”

WRONG!

It’s definitely not his role, nor the Commission’s role – thankfully – it’s also not necessarily the Football Departments role.

The game should not be manipulated, moulded, exploited, engineered or finessed to appease a “moment-in-time” anomaly. 

LEAVE IT ALONE!

There should be no contemplation to reduce teams to 16 a side. This is an absurd suggestion attempting to open space and reduce congestion created by manic coaches too fearful to allow their players the freedom to express their ample talents and instinct. Just because we are on the back end of an unfortunate phase where coaches had a misguided balance between attack and defence we should not knee-jerk into rule changes. It will pass – primarily on the back of the courage and verve shown by premiership winning coach Luke Beveridge along with Hawthorn, Geelong and the Crows to a lesser extent. Make no mistake, coaches are forever meddling with strategy and tactics to reduce player instinct and intuitiveness and control the ball movement and playing patterns.

The introduction of zones will signal the final death knell in an already, maniacally, over-controlled environment. 

One must ask this simple question; “What are the AFL trying to achieve?” 

Is it aesthetics?

Is it safety?

Is it participation?

Is it competing for sport dominance?

Sydney Swans coach, John Longmire has been vocal about full time umpires. His reasoning is awkward at best, reflective “sooky lala” more likely. Seems he blames a few umpire decisions for not winning the premiership. Crying over spilt milk doesn’t appeal and surely is a poor basis for an agenda to change how much time umpires are employed. I’d suggest “Horse” spends more time getting his ample list of coaches to educate, train and motivate his team to perfecting their skills or better still releasing their negative shackles which may assist the outcome of major games.

Imagine $150K a year umpires becoming full time? One can only spitball a salary of around $300K? 

We absolutely need to provide a stronger pathway career for former players to enter umpiring. To me that should be a vital component for the career in the future.

Calls for “reward the tackler” are on the back of a decade of “protect the ball player”. You can’t have it both ways. Now Gillon wants umpires to reward the tackler!

I have a novel suggestion. DEFINE THE RULE AND IMPLEMENT IT!

Rules that can have diametrically opposed interpretations are not rules. As fans we should be incensed that the AFL has the jusrisdiction to emotionally meddle with interpretation as they see fit, changing it back and forth depending on water cooler discussions and intimidation from perceived industry heavyweights.

“If in doubt, play free kicks”, says Gill the Guru. I think he means “pay” but the real point here is who the hell does he think he is giving that direction? The rules should be so clearly defined that they are not debated – they are merely enforced. The CEO has zero jurisdiction in my opinion to provide advice to umpires on how to interpret rules. Butt out. By all means direct a group of people to assess the current rules and provide findings. 

The rule book needs a massive overhaul by way of a summit with qualified people empowered to deliver a succinct, simple, definable and enforceable set of rules for the 21st century.

Gill’s next clanger is the scheduling. He wants to break into conferences. Can you imagine the impact this will have with history and the future? Why do people think they have to change things? I agree the current schedule warrants some attention but unless you can provide a scenario where every team plays each other once with an extended finals series, I have no confidence in other more extravagant options.

Next are his views on James Hird and the endless Essendon saga………..

Staggering. 

I’ll save my more detailed response for another article. 

AFL Rule Meddling Dangerous

Our game as a spectacle is compromised by the strategic and tactical overlay applied by coaching staff.

If the AFL think they can meddle with the rules, apply specified zones or “no-go areas” ala netball and achieve a better outcome they are both gravely mistaken and confirm the naivety they regularly display.

Irrespective of what the AFL “serve” up to the game the over supply of coaching staff will work tirelessly to think of ways to wrest it back under their control.

It seems incredible that this glaringly obvious point has been missed over the past decade or so. 

To find a solution to a problem one must first understand the problem – the root cause. It’s not congestion, its not interchange, its not player fitness and it certainly isn’t sports science. The way we see the game today is a direct reflection of how the coaches want the game to be played. Controlling the flow, slow considered risk averse ball movement patterns and starting from a defensive mindset are all set plans to minimise the risk and retain possession. It is considered abhorrent to put the ball into a contested situation. 

There is no doubt that the current poor interpretation of the prior opportunity rule is contributing significantly to the situation. Cries of “why reward the tackler” and “protect the ball player” ring loud and clear on the paranoid ears of the AFL Football Department, who seem to have a never-ending desire to please society rather than improve the game. If the rule was applied as it is written most players these days would need to rid themselves of the footy in split second time (which by the way is ample prior opportunity – the rule doesn’t cater for the best available team mate option!)

Irrespective of what the AFL do, the coaches will always be one step ahead in trying to break the game down to what they consider is a controlling and manageable level. Unfortunately this is a furphy that does little more than create perceived comfort for the coaches and allows them to have a better hard luck story to tell in defeat. On top of all that it provides a very poor spectacle for the fans and shows a distinct lack of fibre from the people managing the players in my opinion.

The age old adage of “luck fortunes the brave” does prevail thankfully. Most coaches over the last couple of years are starting to identify the real keys to team success and are utilising their list strengths and talents as the cornerstone to their plans rather than a robotic approach which massively dilutes the true potential of AFL players.

Let’s hope the AFL shy away from their ridiculous aspirations to manage and control the game from the sidelines and put pressure on the coaches, clubs and media to adopt more aggressive tactics and take more responsibility for the direction the game is heading. Any way you want to cut it, the game is only 70% as good as it should be as we have negative, defensive tactics and strategies invading a game that is at its best when one dares to win.

Umpiring Outstanding – Well Done

A loose ground ball lays on the MCG. Easton Wood on one side and Dan Hannebery on the other. In a desperate attempt to win possession in the manner we have been raised for decades Wood launches himself headlong at the inevitably disputed ball. Hannebery is a split second later – perhaps wondering “do I dive in for it or do I keep my feet and follow the recent rule change?” In the end Wood wins the ball conclusively and Hannebery is taken from the ground with a potential ACL injury.

Why is this single contest so significant?

Firstly it shows the desperation and commitment from Wood irrespective of rules and regulations – THAT BALL IS MINE!

Secondly it shows the confusing implications of AFL interference under the banner of “brand”. Coaches knew, fans knew, players knew and thankfully the umpires also knew that you couldn’t penalise a player for trying to win a loose ball in a manic contest on the most important day of the year. This should vindicate the umpires to have the rule changed back to how it has been for 100 years.

The only more significant incident than the one highlighted would have been if the scores were level and the contest was in the goal square and Wood wins it to break the deadlock as the siren sounds. This scenario has been talked about ad-nauseum since the imbeciles in the looney house decided to change the interpretation post Adam Goodes diving in to contests and Gary Rohan severely injuring his left knee.

Owner or two isolated incidents do not warrant rule changes. Players adapt. Coaches drill. 

We all knew the AFL would not pay those types of free kicks on Grand Final day – or a cut-throat final for that matter. The decision was made simply to appease the general public and impress the passing parade of “doomsdayers” looking for a perfect outcome to a brutal contest.

We probably counted 10 similar incidents during the game and none of them were paid. Were the umpires intimidated? Did they truly believe in the rule?

The facts are umpires let most insignificant, borderline incidents go during the finals series. Speak to any person at the AFL Umpire division and they’ll say that’s because the best umpires are officiating. Absolute Rubbish. 

It’s all about attitude not ability. The attitude of umpires in big games is totally different. They do not want to influence or impact a game whereas during the season they can strut, impose, be technical, over officiate and think the games about them.

The umpires were brilliant on the weekend and for most of the finals series it might be said. Let’s hope they can continue on in the same vein from Round 1 next year.

Manic Defence Focus Flawed in GF’s

Grand Finals throw up all sorts of questions. Like the correlation between risk and safety, daring and security, scoring and minimising, attack and defence.

Look at the famous Sydney Swans model, which from a culture and leadership perspective is unmistakably elite.

However I’m not certain they have chosen the correct strategy or tactical method.

Let’s look at the facts.

Paul Roos, Ross Lyon and John Longmire have all come from the same system. They have all coached together in their formative years at the Sydney Swans.

Since 2005, Paul Roos, John Longmire and Ross Lyon have coached their respective teams into 8 of the last 12 Grand Finals. That’s a mighty impressive statistic.

They have competed in 9 Grand Finals including the drawn GF in 2010 with the Ross Lyon Saints and Pies.

Collectively the three have won 2 premierships over those 9 Grand Finals. Not a great return by any standards.

One can’t help but focus on the fundamental game plan adopted by the three very closely connected coaches. Perhaps if Paul Roos didn’t win in 2005, the magnetic influence over Longmire and Lyon would not have been so dominant or overpowering. This was at a time that Roos adopted the ‘lock down” on attack and drained the instinct and initiative out of players into a dogged team defence, systemised with strategic and tactical warfare. It was very successful at ensuring the team was competitive however somewhat unsustainable from a premiership perspective as the results show. 

History will also determine that Ross Lyon took the manic defence to a whole new level during his reign at the Saints which when considered against the significant talent pool was somewhat of an anchor in their quest for a premiership.

Let’s look at the goals scored in those 9 Grand Finals:

Paul Roos

2005: 8 Goals & Premiership

2006: 12 Goals

Ross Lyon

2009: 9 Goals

2010: 10 Goals

2010: 7 Goals (Replay)

2013: 8 Goals

John Longmire

2012: 14 Goals & Premiership

2014: 11 Goals

2016: 10 Goals

Those 9 Grand Finals amount to a total of 2 Premierships (2005 & 2012) and 89 goals for an average of 9.9 goals per Grand Final whilst their opponents have scored 112 goals or 12.5 goals per GF.

The facts are that EVERY team has 5 minutes of glory Grand Final day and in that time 3 or 4 goals is usually enough to hit the lead and demoralise the defensive mindset of the opponent.

The Eagles did in ’06, those blasted Cats did in ’09 as did the Pies in ’10 along with the Hawks and Western Bulldogs in more recent years.

Those precious few minutes of goal-scoring glory breaks the back of the team focussing too much on defence.

Luke Beveridge instilled a dare to be different approach into his team. He asked them to look defeat in the eye. You have to be prepared to lose to win. You must pull the trigger. Risks need to be taken. Daring is a by product of competition. It is a totally different mindset but one that will prevail over the manic defence based strategy – thank heavens for Bevo!

Don’t Blink or Look Away – Doggies 

Grand Final first quarters – and more specifically first 15 minutes – are captivating and enthralling. Don’t look away today. Get your drinks, food, finalise toilet stops because the entire match is going to be out of control amazing. 

Now and then we witness a mismatch, a bullying, a massacre, however even in these cases the opening is electrictrifying. Today’s grand final will be entrancing from start to finish. 

The Western Bulldogs led by the best coach in the competition, Luke Beveridge, will win in the end. The margin will be 7 points. 

I am expecting a cliffhanger, a game where at some stage both sides will be able to lay claim to victory. John Longmire is an experienced finals and premiership coach, working in the most highly regarded system in the AFL – the famous Bloods culture. They have the flattest leadership model in the competition and it will serve them well today – but not well enough. 

General consensus is the Swans win and win somewhat comfortably. I beg to differ. 

I actually think at a point in time after 1/2 time they’ll freeze up a tad, tighten, choose the safety option and try to secure a win without cost. 

The Doggies have one secret up their sleeve. 

They are prepared to lose to win. They look defeat in the eye and make a decision. They are not intimidated by losing. They are driven by deeds not outcomes. Actions not thoughts. Causes not effects. 

Their model is simple. Don’t die wondering. Leave everything out there. Losing is ok if you exhaust all options. They subscribe to the driving force of; you have to be prepared to lose to win. 

They have speed, unconditional support and options around contest and are incredibly well drilled. 

They rely on no individual. Their star player is the team. Every star stud is exactly the same. No exaggerated light, no bigger points, no extra glitz or glamour for a few. Just the same boring 22 star studs – no differentiation. No individuals to focus on especially or tag – do that at your peril. 

Sure Bontempelli has extraordinary skills but he is up against Parker, Hannebery, Kennedy, Jack & co so why would you bother. You can run Mitchell on him but he’ll just take him to the forward line & out mark  him. 

Johannisen is a launching pad out of D50 & you could look to align him with a McGlynn to keep him accountable but happy days as Swans require McGlynn to be a goal kicking factor & it’s difficult doing both. 

The Swans have the “best” players but they also have the “worst” players in my opinion and Grand Finals are won by your “worst” 6 players not your best 6!

The Doggies are all grouped together. After all they personify what a team is. Reliable, dependable, unconditional, selfless and consistent. 

This is no discredit to the Swans who are a mighty unit. 

At a particular point in the game the Swans will tighten, go for safety first, whilst the Doggies will take even more risks, gutrun more, pull the trigger and defy all odds to deliver their 2nd premiership and first for 62 years.

It’s Swans & Doggies For Me!

Swans win because they are more consistent, play more instinctively as a team and their effort is unconditional. I still have questions over Mackie’s desperation at times. Enright’s selectivity this year and their dependence on Hawkins to fire. On the other hand the Swans are relentless, hard and tough around the contest, perhaps lack the flair and instinct of the Cats but more than make up for it with raw courage and conviction. 

Aliir is an absolute beauty who belies his experience and seems to have the composure of a 150 game veteran. His decision-making in traffic is sublime as is his skill execution. He reads the play like he wrote the book and has the uncanny ability to leave his opponent on the death knock to go third man up and assist contested marking situations. I’m an Aliir believer.

Heeney doesn’t worry about the pressure in games and just lights it up when he is needed. Love watching this young guy. His attack on the footy and elite ability to win one on one contests give his team mates the confidence to just kick long to him one out. Game-breaker.

Similarly Mr Reliable, Dane Rampe is one tough unit. He’s an animal. Tough, relentless, never beaten. 

The only concern I have with the Swans is their selection and potential for unfit players not being able to contribute to the required standard. Kurt Tippett with his jaw problems and Gary Rohan with his bruised knee.

If Rohan is near his best look out. I speculated some time ago he is a massive finals factor. He is the type of player that is unmatchable on MCG during the pressure of a final. Speed, leap, agility, competitiveness are all X-factor attributes that make him an opposition coaches nightmare.

Aliir, Heeney and Rohan are the players I love to watch most and feel they will be the decider of the result. All that great talent and we haven’t even mentioned Hannebery, Kennedy, Parker, Jack or Buddy (who incidentally I think will be well held tonight).

The mighty Western Bulldogs will throttle the Giants tomorrow in a David and Goliath tussle that will be very close. The Giants are clearly the Goliath with their vast array of first round draft talent (23 to be precise) – plus another 3 coming this year. It is inconceivable (frankly obscene) that in a COMPETITION, the governing or administering body can provide such a “leg-up” to a newly formed team. It defies the logic of the whole competition concept and meaning and in my mind utterly devalues the principles of a competition and by extension the premiership. But that’s another story.

Luke Beveridge is an absolute master coach. The best I’ve seen since Denis Pagan in my view. His ability to manage, interact, motivate, direct and lead is ultra impressive. He has the uncanny ability to say the right thing at the right time, he has deep affection for his players and he knows what is required to prepare a team for a highly contested and pressurised event. 

I picked the Bulldogs for the premiership in June and I’m not backing off one bit. This is the game they must win of course to participate and if they do – look out!

Bontempelli – enough said……………

The guy is an absolute gun with a very controlled and mature head on his shoulders (more of the Beveridge influence). Johannisen will be the star tomorrow night against the Giants. Boyd and Morris will hold the defence adequately together and we are all hoping Stringer lets himself “slip” and throws caution to the wind with his attack on the contest. Dahlhaus is the most underrated inside, competitor in AFL ranks and won’t die wondering about the result.

One must have great respect for the Giants as the talent in their team is off the charts. They have an arrogance that is nurtured and advocated in the remote AFL domiciled district of Greater West Sydney but we are talking Preliminary finals now and the Bulldogs don’t get intimidated.

They hit the contest very hard, they pull the trigger with disposal – especially handball – and have the valued commodity of being prepared to lose to win. Don’t underestimate that factor. Many sides are not prepared to risk failure for success or a mistake for an opportunity. This is the fundamental that finals are built on,  especially the most difficult one to win – The Preliminary Final.