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Spoiler alert: top full-backs kicking on

One of the best fullbacks in the business... Hawthorn recruit Brian Lake.

One of the best fullbacks in the business... Hawthorn recruit Brian Lake. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Plenty say that centre half-forward is the toughest position to play. Forget that. Full-back is.

It's also the loneliest spot on the ground. You are totally exposed. One mistake and the immediate consequence can be a goal to the opposition. There's nowhere to hide. After kicking a goal, the forward struts around high-fiving all within reach, and waits in keen anticipation for the next centre bounce. All his opponent can do is follow him about, head bowed, hoping there's not going to be a fast centre break coming their way.

No one wants to play full-back. Even those who are good at it don't enjoy it and crave to be played up field. In my playing days at Carlton and Fitzroy, I played with two of the very best, Geoff Southby and Harvey Merrigan. Both fancied themselves as forwards.

Lake, 31, could have several more years in the game.

Lake, 31, could have several more years in the game. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Thankfully, I only played a few games at full-back. It was late 1967 and I was 17, scared and skinny. Scared, because in successive weeks I faced Collingwood's Peter McKenna at Victoria Park and Hawthorn's Peter Hudson on the Glenferrie Oval glue pot. They each kicked four goals, which was less than their career averages (4.58 and 5.64, respectively). So it could have been a lot worse. Nevertheless it was a role I never wanted to experience again. From the start of each quarter you just wanted to hear the siren to end it, so that goals couldn't be scored against you.

As a coach, the first player selected at match committee was the full-back. If you had a good one, it gave confidence and a solid base to the team. If you didn't, the whole team looked fragile. I was fortunate. At Fitzroy, Laurie Serafini played with dash and authority, and a young Gary Pert quickly became an All-Australian full-back. At Carlton, Stephen Silvagni was to become "full-back of the century", so say no more. In the early days at the Brisbane Bears, Mark Zanotti filled the role until he hurt his neck. He said it got cricked as he watched ball after ball sail over his head. Richard Champion then did the job for a decade, even though he would have much preferred to have been elsewhere.

Most of the full-backs who played in the '90s are scarred by the experience. Week-in, week-out, they came up against the likes of Tony Lockett, Gary Ablett, Jason Dunstall, Tony Modra, Stephen Kernahan, Wayne Carey, Sav Rocca, Peter Sumich, Matthew Lloyd and Matthew Richardson.

There was no respite. It was a nightmare for the likes of Silvagni, Mick Martyn, Ben Graham, Ben Hart and Andrew Dunkley.

On Friday night, two of the best full-backs of the past decade will be at opposite ends of Etihad Stadium. Brian Lake will be playing just his seventh game for the Hawks, while Eagles skipper Darren Glass will run out for his club for the 253rd time.

It's unusual for a 31-year-old to be chased by a top club, but the Hawks knew that after last year's grand final loss, they had to add height and experience to the back line to help the undersized Josh Gibson and the young Ryan Schoenmakers. So Lake was lured from the Western Bulldogs after being in the kennel for 11 years.

Last week against Carlton Lake played his best game for his new club. He took the most contested marks for the match (five) and several times in a tight last quarter stood firm to mark and halt the Blues' attack.

Leading the play, knowing the angles of where to run to intercept marks, having the confidence and courage to fly for and hold pack marks are the assets that have made Lake one of the best full-backs in the business. Being at a new and successful club will get the best out of the two-time All-Australian defender. In his 11 years at Whitten Oval, injuries and attitude made some think he too often switched to "cruise control". Now the spotlight will be on him every week as he works to earn the respect of Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell and co. He looks fitter than in past seasons. Despite having missed five games, he is second in the league for intercept marks and his average of six spoils a game is a career high.

The highly-respected Glass is now into his 14th season at the highest level, and his sixth as captain. Four times an All-Australian, three times the club's best-and-fairest winner, and a premiership medal in 2006 means that the 32-year-old has done it all.

His coach for most of his career, John Worsfold, knows the value of having a cool head on the last line of defence and that is where Glass is played. Rarely does he come up field and, with his speed and height, is able to play on opponents of all sizes.

Like Lake, he has the confidence to back himself in marking contests, has quick closing speed when he has to spoil an opponent on the lead and is a sure kick when a switch of play is on.

Because quality full-backs are hard to come by, their coaches do all they can to extend their careers. Because they play at the pointy end of the field, they do less running than others. That helps. Keeping the mind fresh for the pressures of match day means the best full-backs are not pushed too hard at training. They say Essendon's Dustin Fletcher hasn't raised a sweat at training in the past decade; at 38, he is still going. Glass is 32. Lake and Luke McPharlin are 31. Ted Richards and Ben Rutten are 30. Matthew Scarlett was 33 when he retired last year, Silvagni was 34. As the saying goes, when you are on a good thing, stick to it.

40 comments so far

  • Who says "Plenty say that centre half-forward is the toughest position to play"?

    Starting an article with an unsourced, unlikely premise is not a good look.

    Commenter
    HiLo
    Date and time
    June 20, 2013, 6:48PM
    • To be fair to him, he did have a lot of experience in that position.

      Commenter
      mal duxworthy
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 8:06PM
    • At least he finished this article. Onya Rob!

      Commenter
      JD
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 8:24PM
    • Plenty of people say center half forward is the hardest position. All the time. It's one of the most common football statements regarding hard positions to play.

      This was a good and interesting article, I don't know why some people feel the need to be so negative...

      It just makes you come across like just another Internet troll.

      Commenter
      Kam i Am
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 8:44PM
    • Well Australia Post does for a start. http://auspost.com.au/education/afl/media/pdfs/player-positions-glossary.pdf

      Commenter
      AB
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 8:46PM
    • Where have u been hiding HiLo? More than plenty of people have long said that centre half forward is the toughest possy to play. I totally agree with Wallsy though; particularly with the free ride that forwards get with free kicks nowadays.

      Commenter
      bigmac73
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 9:42PM
    • If you have been involved in football in some way, shape, or form you would have heard this saying.

      Commenter
      kaboos
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 9:56PM
    • I've heard the view that centre half-forward is the toughest position to play many times. It is said so often it is now something of a cliche. So I have no problem with that phrase, unsourced or not.
      But as a full back in the magoos at a country football club, I read the first part of the story nodding my head in furious agreement. And that was despite never thinking about it in those terms.
      I enjoyed reading the article, and as a Richmond supporter with a serious prejudice against anything navy blue, that might say something.

      Commenter
      GavMac
      Location
      Wendouree
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 9:56PM
    • I guess you'd know as opposed to Robert Walls (259 VFL gamesplayed, coaching experience etc)

      I honestly believe that people commenting in any capacity on the internet, should have an I.Q above 115. Anyone sub 115 should be disallowed internet access.

      Commenter
      Ra's al Ghul
      Location
      OP
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 10:51PM
    • Good grief HiLo, pick just about any commentator and you can bet at one time or another they have trotted out the line that CHF is the hardest position to play on the ground, especially those that either didn't play footy or played all of their footy in the forward line. I know I heard someone say that Sam Reid plays in the hardest position on the ground in the past couple of months when commenting on his age and a drop off in form. Anyone that has paid any attention over the years will know that saying "plenty say that centre half-forward is the toughest position to play" is completely valid. Have an issue with Wallsy much? Having said that, I couldn't agree more with you Robert. It has irked me for years when people have said that. How often have we seen players at CHF make a mistake and then watch the world go by. There is no joy at full back and the fact that any mistake you make can cost your team a goal easily makes it the toughest place to be. Good article - about time someone said it.

      Commenter
      Stewart
      Date and time
      June 20, 2013, 10:51PM

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AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 19:20MCG
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 13:40MCG
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 16:35ANZ
BRI 74 vs COL 86 19:20G
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 19:20ES
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 13:10ES
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 18:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 13:45MCG
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 14:10SO
COL 63 vs ADE 90 16:35ES
GCF 76 vs STK 104 19:20MS
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 13:10SS
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 15:20MCG
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 19:50MCG
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 13:45MCG
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 14:10Adelaide Oval
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 16:35SCG
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 19:20ES
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 19:20G
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 13:10AS
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 15:20SS
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 11:10NZ
ESS 49 vs COL 69 14:40MCG
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 17:40SO
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 19:40Adelaide Oval
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 20:45Domain Stadium
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 13:10G
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 15:20SS
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GEE 13:45MCG
SYD vs WBU 14:10SCG
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
NTH vs HAW 19:20ES
WCE vs GWS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs FRE 13:10MCG
STK vs ESS 15:20ES
ADE vs PTA 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 19:50MCG
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 13:45BA
WBU vs STK 14:10ES
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ADE 17:10MS
MEL vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs BRI 15:20ES
PTA vs WCE 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs STK 13:45Adelaide Oval
HAW vs MEL 14:10MCG
CAR vs GWS 16:35ES
SYD vs GEE 19:20ANZ
WCE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
RIC vs COL 15:20MCG
BRI vs PTA 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE vs CAR 19:50ES
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs WCE 13:45ES
GWS vs ADE 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs COL 16:35MS
HAW vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs NTH 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
PTA vs RIC 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
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Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 4 4 0 0 135.32 16
GWS Giants 4 3 1 0 133.22 12
Collingwood 4 3 1 0 128.32 12
Sydney Swans 4 3 1 0 125.00 12
Adelaide Crows 4 3 1 0 123.53 12
Western Bulldogs 4 3 1 0 104.60 12
Hawthorn 4 2 2 0 141.36 8
West Coast Eagles 4 2 2 0 124.48 8
View all
 
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