Thriller: Cyril Rioli (left) and Shaun Burgoyne celebrate breaking the curse in the preliminary final last year.

Thriller: Cyril Rioli (left) and Shaun Burgoyne celebrate breaking the curse in the preliminary final last year. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Nothing in football is certain, but if empirical evidence is any guide, Monday’s Geelong-Hawthorn clash will be a belter. Let’s hope so. Because the AFL has seldom needed one more.

The game’s best present-day rivalry produces consistently good games and close finishes. Nine of the past 12 meetings between the Cats and Hawks have been decided by single figures, the average winning margin just 8.4 points.

If you want entertaining and tight, this is your match. And let’s be honest, after 45-odd games already in 2014, we’re more than overdue.

The wrap.

The wrap.

How many games from that roll call could realistically be classed as memorable? Maybe I’m a harsh judge, but I reckon just one, the Hawthorn-Essendon thriller on Friday night of round two.

That and the Western Bulldogs-Richmond clash in round three are the only matches so far decided by less than a kick. Last weekend, across nine games, the average winning margin was a whopping 62 points.

But this is as much about the quality of football as its closeness. And while I’ve always been one to put faith in the game finding its own solutions, I’m beginning to wonder whether coaches have enough courage to take the necessary action.

While there’s a lot of talk about congestion, interchange numbers and rolling mauls, risk-free football is as much at the heart of the problem, the Easter weekend providing plenty more examples.

On Thursday night, Richmond and Brisbane, two sides palpably down on confidence, were so obsessed with playing safe that at times they appeared to be barely playing at all. Not that their determination to maintain possession and avoid contests worked, inevitably inducing mistakes anyway.

Even two far-better credentialled teams in Fremantle and Sydney at times in Saturday’s first half looked too scared to try anything with a degree of risk, hence the Dockers, who have vowed to score more in 2014, headed to half-time with just two goals.

Once Freo found itself more than five goals in arrears and was left with no choice but to throw caution to the winds, voila, it began to actually make the scoreboard tick over enough to give Sydney a late scare.

At the MCG earlier the same day, Collingwood was able to string some good play and scores together in the first half. Once the Roos tightened up, however, the result was a putrid third term that, in perfect conditions, produced just one goal.

St Kilda’s upset over Essendon on Saturday night, meanwhile, was a testament to work ethic and discipline.

Saints’ skipper Nick Riewoldt continues to amaze. But what was almost as startling was watching the experience of the likes of Essendon’s Dustin Fletcher and Paul Chapman at times apparently baffled by the lack of options further afield, resorting to chipping sideways and backwards and even themselves succumbing to uncharacteristic error.

It’s no surprise that players are hanging on to the football and playing keepings-off for longer, however, when coaches continue to send armies behind the ball, leaving virtually no attacking options once possession is won.

Which AFL coach has sufficient courage to tell his players to shirk the safety-first option, back his instincts and go forward, or to ignore the teammate 30 metres to his right or left to back one in an aerial contest 50 metres in the direction of his goals?

The chip-chip possession game has been going on a while, but it’s an aesthetic poison that continues to increase.

At this stage of 2011, Adelaide had the AFL’s highest percentage of uncontested possession at 64.2 per cent. This time in 2012, Richmond led the way on 64.9. Last year, it was Port Adelaide on 66.1, and currently it’s Essendon with 68.1. If that trend continues, will there be any contests left in the game come 2024?

Controlling the controllables is one of AFL coaching’s favourite phrases. And the tendency for over-analysis in concepts such as  Fox Footy’s War Room would have you believe everything that happens on an AFL field is the product of meticulous planning and drilling.

Here’s the thing, though. The game continues to be played with a ball that can bounce any which way. Players are still prone to error. The element of chance can never be eliminated. Wouldn’t it be great to see coaches and players embrace it more for the rewards it can deliver rather than fear taking the gamble.

Hopefully, the Geelong-Hawthorn game can at least show us a welcome glimpse of football not played like a robotic metronome, by two sides who choose to back their own talents and their stars’ brilliant natural instincts every bit as much as attempting to eliminate risk.

At the moment, the Hawks and Cats shape as an uninspiring year of football’s saviours. And given that they’re also first and second on the AFL ladder, you’d hope their examples might even start catching on, too.

And while I'm at it ...

THE NAME GAME

Well, that little experiment worked well, didn’t it? You knew the names on jumpers idea was sunk after just one game of round five, for what seemed a fairly obvious reason. Their size, or lack of it.

Was it for crowds at the games or the TV audience? Either way, no one emerged satisfied with the results.

Even on the box, the result was a swirl of letters illegible on any shot except the close-up at a stoppage, more than a slight problem given ours is game that doesn’t stop that frequently and has a large playing field conducive only to the medium or long shot.

As for those actually at the grounds, numbers on some club jumpers are hard enough to recognise from the stands, let alone a name crammed on top of them several dozen point sizes smaller.

So who wins? Not for the first time when it comes to a marketing idea, the satirists.

GOOD FRIDAY? GOOD GRIEF!

At the risk of keeping what is already one of this season’s more tiresome debates alive, what exactly is the big deal about a game on the public holiday?

Any outrage on religious grounds is at best confected given the hardly overwhelming influence religion plays in today’s secular society. And any outrage about continuing not to play is a little rich given how many different days and timeslots the season now occupies.

As for just who plays who, do the vast bulk of people getting their knickers in a twist about this or that club’s claims to the date even have any idea how big a difference in terms of revenue a Good Friday game would make? Or whether the same fixture on a Saturday or Sunday might actually draw more people or viewers?

As a snorefest, this one’s up there with the debate about who kicks off the new season. News flash. It’s one game. There’ll be 206 others played in 2015.

RIGHT ON, RICHO

Ken Hinkley was the AFL Coaches Association's coach of the year for 2013. This season’s winner is obviously still a wide-open field, but if a snap poll were taken now, Alan Richardson would surely have to figure prominently.

Starting in some cases a couple of months behind his peers, the St Kilda coach had some challenges ahead of him when he was appointed.

But a fractured club appears to have united behind the new man very quickly, and the way veterans such as Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes and Leigh Montagna, and kids such as Luke Dunstan, Jack Billings, Jack Newnes, Josh Saunders and Jimmy Webster have responded is instructive.

Richardson’s reputation as a teacher is borne out in the latter group’s continued development. And his appeal to the older hands who could be forgiven for feeling jaded about their football at this stage is self-evident. Oh, the Saints’ 3-2 win-loss ledger isn’t bad, either.