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Kevin Sheedy and Garry Lyon concerned about standard of play

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Congestion a growing concern for AFL

Ideas have been raised by AFL operations chief Mark Evans to combat the increase in congestion during the game, sports writer Jon Pierik reports.

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Kevin Sheedy has urged the game’s decision-makers to consider restricting players to certain parts of the ground, as the style and standard of the game emerges as a serious issue.

AFL operations chief Mark Evans has said feedback from clubs will be sought this year on forcing players into zones in a bid to counter what the league believes is an increase in congestion.

This comes as Melbourne great Garry Lyon described the standard of football this season as "shocking" and expressed concerns it could even impact on the value of the next television rights deal. He said Sunday's clash between the Demons and Gold Coast Suns had been "horrendous".

Kevin Sheedy says he has long called for players to be in zones at stoppages.

Kevin Sheedy says he has long called for players to be in zones at stoppages. Photo: Wesley Lonergan

Lyon bemoaned the lack of flair and creativity in football in general, with teams too often going into lock-down due, in part, to the proliferation of assistant coaches.

"I am not an alarmist at all - I have got concerns for the game. It is not anywhere near enjoyable as it has been. More and more than ever at any time, I am just walking away, I am just flipping the telly over," he said.

Lyon's comments were endorsed by North Melbourne president James Brayshaw, his Triple M colleague, who said it would "kill him" if the game deteriorated into a defensive grind.

Evans has floated two ideas: having two players from each team forced into each of the 50-metre arcs at stoppages; or having four players positioned behind the back of the square from kick-ins to help free up play.

AFL great Leigh Matthews, who is on the laws of the game committee, spoke about the radical idea early this year.

Sheedy, the legendary former Essendon and Greater Western Sydney coach, said he had long called for players to be in zones at stoppages.

‘‘I totally agree,’’ he said on Monday.

‘‘It will take the rugby out of the AFL. That’s all. It’s quite simple. Do you want to be AFL or do you want to be NRL? Think about it."

‘‘You don’t want less than three (inside 50) and you could have five at the most maybe - let the other one (fifth) be at the coach’s discretion. But you can’t have a loose player in the back half at a stoppage.’’

Richmond great and prominent commentator Kevin Bartlett, who recently stepped down from the laws of the game committee, has expressed major concerns about how the modern game looks, with a mass of players regularly following the ball around and few, if any, forwards inside 50 when players break from half-back.

Bartlett has even said he has no faith in the AFL Commission to end the rolling mauls, chip kicks and high-possession style of play.

‘‘I think Bartlett is pretty much on the ball with that,’’ Sheedy said.

‘‘The game is always adjusting. Often we are adjusting against the stupid things the coaches bring in.’’

One issue against forcing players into restricted zones is the time it would require for players to dash, for instance, from a stoppage at centre wing into each 50-metre zone. This could frustrate spectators and viewers, and add to the duration of a match at a time when the league has been trying to speed the game up.

Sheedy, now on the Giants’ board of directors, said that would not be an issue.

‘‘That’s OK. I don’t mind slowing the game down. The game is only quick when you have got the ball,’’ he said.

The restricted zone idea has been loosely trialled in the TAC Cup but there are no set guidelines or penalties if not followed. It’s been left to coaches to embrace the idea of having two players inside 50 and another two forward of centre.

Leigh Brown, the former Collingwood premiership player and now coach of TAC Cup side Gippsland Power, said the trial had increased space at stoppages.

‘‘The rules are to have two players inside forward 50 and another two forward of centre. It’s not a hard and fast rule - they’re still allowed to chase out and things like that but the intent to push back and create that space ... I’m seeing more run and carry than I’m used to,’’ Brown told SEN on Monday.

‘‘There is still lots of numbers around the stoppage, I guess, when you have your three midfielders and your couple of wingers floating around there but you don’t see the high half-forwards pushing up as much at our level.’’

The laws committee consists of Evans (chairman), Matthews, John Worsfold, Michael Christian, Wayne Campbell, Hayden Kennedy, Joel Bowden, Brett Burton, Rodney Eade, Tom Harley, Michael Sexton and Beau Waters.


  • How about the AFL at least trial fewer players first rather than change an integral part of the game? I was watching the game on Monday and there's simply too many players on the field. 18 players made sense in a time when players smoked at half time. I don't understand why the AFL are so resistant to the idea of fewer players, is it because they didn't think of it?

    Date and time
    April 22, 2014, 10:45AM
    • I think you are right its the old VFA VFL rivalry so the AFL find it very hard to copy anything the VFA did that was a success like 16 men a side..

      Proud Victorian
      Date and time
      April 22, 2014, 12:00PM
    • The game looks like feeding time at the zoo for much of the time, all swarming after the fish. Too many players. It's simple. Fifteen a side is plenty. Have five interchange, but only fifteen a side on the field. Problem solved, but of course that will never happen. More fun to change the rules every 20 minutes so in the long run no-one knows what's going on, especially the fans in the stands. Still, since when did anybody care about them.

      Date and time
      April 22, 2014, 12:37PM
    • Exactly. That would be the simplest solution. Go from 18 to 16. Also, as the gene pool has been severely depleted with the expansion clubs (and there was virtually zero players recruited from NSW and Qld last year to compensate) then we could get back to having only players who deserve to get a game at AFL level.

      Date and time
      April 22, 2014, 12:38PM
    • Agree, the AFL must trial less players on the field as a first option - preferably in the pre season games to see how it goes. Whether it's 14/16 a side doesn't matter, the point is, players are so hyper fit these days, they can run games out covering the entire field in constant rolling packs - but less players on the field means less congestion. With 18 teams in the comp now, we'll get better quality teams on the park each week too. More one on one spectacle please!

      Date and time
      April 22, 2014, 1:13PM
    • A few rule changes for mine:

      1. ban the interchange bench during the course of play and only allow it when a goal is kicked. Think about it; it makes some sense.

      2. 50 metre penalty is too bitter sweet. For minor indiscretions eg, over stepping the mark, apply a 25 metre penalty. The reasons for increasing from 15 to 50 no longer apply in the game.

      3. Fantasy wish - apply some soccer rulings. If the ball hits the post and goes back into the field of play, play on applies. Likewise, if the ball hits the goal post, but still goes through, award the goal. Same applies for points and out of bounds.

      Date and time
      April 22, 2014, 2:24PM
    • Totally agree. As the sport has become totally professional, players fitter and massive increases in interchanges the park is no longer big enough. Same should apply to both rugby codes where it too has turned into a mess of massive men smashing themselves against brick walls for 80 minutes.

      What did they do with golf when clubs became more powerful, balls flying further and players hitting harder? They changed the courses, made them longer and more difficult. We can't do that with football so reducing the numbers playing is the only way. Creating zones will only lead to ridiculous free kicks being awarded off the ball resulting in more stoppages and reducing the spectacle.

      Date and time
      April 22, 2014, 5:45PM
  • I hate to admit it, but the game isn't in great shape. The cats and hawks game was an enthralling contest, and one of the better games of the year. But in near perfect conditions between two top teams, certainly not one 'goal of the week' or 'mark of the week' contender'. I think it's time we started 'tackle of the week' because that's about the extent of the highlights.

    Date and time
    April 22, 2014, 10:54AM
    • the game is cyclical. remember the rubbish of 2004-2006? it is not that bad anymore, and wont be the same shortly. just be patient, don't encourage rule changes which will end up needing more rule changes to fix the damage done ie:

      speed game up? - kick in after point instantly. Uh-oh, too many injuries, slow it down - limit interchange rotations.

      Date and time
      April 22, 2014, 12:21PM
    • Really Bill? Hawthorn v Geelong was a fantastic watch. The Bulldogs v Carlton game was a great spectacle from a goal scoring, end to end running game perspective. Essendon v St Kilda was great where the underdog played great footy and won. Not every game will be a ripper, but three this long weekend provided everything people have been whinging is missing.

      Windy Hill
      Date and time
      April 22, 2014, 12:34PM

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