Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson’s withering slam on the AFL has had the desired effect, sparking a discussion over what the league needs to do to correct the game’s trajectory.
While the 2020 season has been up in the air for the AFL after Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak, the game has been reeling after a weekend of games that were widely panned.
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Geelong and Melbourne shared two goals each in the first half in a dour and lacklustre game at the MCG, before Clarkson let rip in a withering attack on the league.
The Hawks coach had a series of quotes that took aim at the game, calling his side’s thrilling win over the Kangaroos “a dreadful game” and pleading for the umpires to call holding the ball free kicks.
While saying it wasn’t the umpires’ fault, he said “What a shame we’re not encouraging our players to play the game properly”, called it a “terrible spectacle” and that “the game is in a dreadful space”.
AFL boss Gillon McLachlan even said that the holding the ball interpretations need fixing but disagreed with Clarkson’s assessment of the state of the game.
The Herald Sun’s Mark Robinson even wrote that the Geelong-Melbourne game showed “why football is in danger of strangling itself” as the AFL world took aim.
With suggestions from Clarkson to pay the holding the ball free kicks and Geelong’s Chris Scott calling for “16 v 16” games, it was just the start of the changes.
On SEN, Garry Lyon said sides could be forced to keep two players inside the 50m arc, Fox Sports commentator Brenton Speed wanted only forward kicks to be ruled as marks and cricket legend and former St Kilda prospect Shane Warne put in his two cents.
But on Fox Footy’s On the Couch, the panel of footy legends slammed the footy on display.
“I haven‘t enjoyed the footy,” Lyon said. ”I don’t want to talk the game down. It’s been pretty uninspiring footy but that’s where we’re at.”
Former Saints skipper Nick Riewoldt said there were moments of exciting footy but added that the players were rusty having never had to deal with this before.
However, three-time Brisbane Lions premiership winner Jonathan Brown said the game had been “on a slippery slope for probably the past 15 years” but needs ”cosmetic surgery” rather than the nuclear option.
The biggest issue is that coaches are coaching their players to take advantage because free kicks aren‘t being paid.
The panel all agreed that the coaches don‘t have the responsibility to make the game attractive either.
But 1988 Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy put a three-year plan to make the game more attractive together because he believes the AFL is in a “critical period”.
In year one, he would:
– Reduce rotations to 32
– Kick length from 15m to 25-30m
– Team prior opportunity with time for the ball winner and no time for the receiver
The aim of the suggestion is to “add fatigue” while he believes the ”short kick is killing football, it drives me to insanity”.
Lyon stopped Healy at the point of the longer kick, saying “too much 25-30 Gerard”.
Healy said “I‘m happy to negotiate”.
In year two:
– Reduce rotations to zero, no rotations, the ball is still going to go quicker,“ Healy said.
“Get fatigue back in
In year three if needed:
– Zone four players each inside forward 50 at each stoppage, including one in the goalsquare.
Lyon said he liked the suggestions but added one of his own – “throw the damn ball up at a stoppage”.
“Don‘t sit there and wait for seven, eight, nine seconds for two blokes to nominate each other for a ball up,” Lyon said.
“One from each side goes up, get the game going and get it moving.”
Riewoldt said there were several areas the game could pull on to make the game more attractive and force the players to take risks without ruining the integrity of the game.
Brown turned to the NRL for a lesson, pointing to Peter V‘landys’ decision to bring in the six again rule for ruck infringements, which has sped up the game with less stoppages and added fatigue with changes to the number of interchanges in previous seasons.
“At the end of this year, I would absolutely restrict rotation but you need to show leadership,” he said.
“Yes consult the coaches but you need to come up and make a decision and be strong with it. We know that a lot of the NRL were against the rule change but I think everyone would agree to a man that that has been a significant positive to the game and I think the same could happen.
“Why are we scared of change?”
On Channel 9’s Footy Classified, Matthew Lloyd said he would have backwards kicks as play on, extend the kick length to 20m and reduce umpire involvement with the ball ups, while Kane Cornes said he would limit the interchange to 60, scrap the nominated ruck rule and have the last possession out of bounds free kick.
Then again, Cornes has taken aim at Clarkson as “one of the great overreactions I’ve seen from a coach” with all the restrictions in place, arguing “all coaches care about is winning, they don‘t care about the state of the game”.
For the AFL, there are plenty of rules that have been thrown up and it will be interesting to see if the game will pull the trigger with any of them.