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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 78vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs WCE 131 Report Stats
GWS 108vs ADE 84 Report Stats
GCF 63vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103vs WBU 64 Report Stats
PTA 43vs RIC 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 122vs CAR 62 Report Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW 93vs GCF 40 Report Stats
MEL 54vs PTA 115 Report Stats
WBU 113vs GWS 68 Report Stats
RIC 72vs ESS 59 Report Stats
ADE 57vs FRE 68 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 86vs STK 108 Report Stats
COL 112vs NTH 95 Report Stats
WCE 120vs GEE 64 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 70vs RIC 97 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 90vs ADE 99 Report Stats
GCF 41vs SYD 93 Report Stats
ESS 53vs GEE 122 Report Stats
PTA 100vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS 97vs BRI 67 Report Stats
NTH 85vs WCE 75 Report Stats
STK 69vs HAW 132 Report Stats
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 85vs COL 110 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA 69vs GEE 92 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF 46vs FRE 53 Report Stats
WCE 96vs ESS 46 Report Stats
NTH 75vs SYD 91 Report Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL 119vs GWS 77 Report Stats
STK 85vs MEL 83 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE 85vs HAW 114 Report Stats
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC 70vs WCE 90 Report Stats
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 110vs PTA 106 Report Stats
GWS 61vs NTH 117 Report Stats
WBU 146vs BRI 74 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89vs MEL 113 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 80vs COL 73 Report Stats
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 77vs RIC 95 Report Stats
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW 114vs ESS 76 Report Stats
BRI 69vs ADE 82 Report Stats
STK 56vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 103vs GCF 69 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 94vs PTA 84 Report Stats
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL 91vs HAW 101 Report Stats
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 78vs GWS 69 Report Stats
GCF 125vs NTH 70 Report Stats
WBU 64vs CAR 53 Report Stats
MEL 60vs WCE 114 Report Stats
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 52vs STK 162 Stats
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 84vs BRI 48 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA 66vs COL 63 Report Stats
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 71vs CAR 41 Report Stats
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 69vs MEL 60 Report Stats
WBU 95vs GCF 73 Report Stats
NTH 120vs GEE 79 Report Stats
WCE 147vs ADE 91 Report Stats
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 84vs STK 49 Report Stats
HAW 115vs FRE 43 Report Stats
BRI 49vs SYD 70 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 93vs ESS 68 Report Stats
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE 72vs WBU 64 Report Stats
GCF 79vs GWS 94 Report Stats
COL 56vs WCE 87 Report Stats
SYD 57vs HAW 146 Report Stats
FRE 95vs CAR 53 Report Stats
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL 60vs BRI 36 Report Stats
PTA 113vs ADE 116 Report Stats
STK 73vs RIC 89 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 35vs HAW 173 Report Stats
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 42vs GEE 69 Stats
ADE 125vs GCF 80 Stats
RIC 78vs FRE 82 Stats
ESS 116vs PTA 129 Stats
BRI 38vs NTH 110 Report Stats
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU 104vs COL 86 Report Stats
MEL 46vs STK 83 Report Stats
WCE 103vs SYD 51 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW 53vs RIC 71 Report Stats
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 113vs BRI 57 Stats
COL 54vs MEL 91 Report Stats
SYD 117vs ADE 65 Report Stats
CAR 54vs NTH 118 Report Stats
GCF 83vs WCE 83 Report Stats
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA 112vs STK 49 Report Stats
ESS 40vs WBU 127 Report Stats
FRE 84vs GWS 63 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE ($2.15)vs RIC ($1.70) 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL ($1.22)vs CAR ($4.35) 13:45MCG
WBU ($1.73)vs PTA ($2.10) 14:10ES
BRI ($2.45)vs GCF ($1.55) 16:35G
GEE ($2.15)vs SYD ($1.70) 19:20SS
WCE ($2.20)vs HAW ($1.67) 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL ($3.80)vs NTH ($1.27) 13:10MCG
GWS ($1.33)vs ESS ($3.35) 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK ($3.70)vs FRE ($1.28) 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD ($1.25)vs COL ($3.70) 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS ($2.50)vs ADE ($1.50) 13:45ES
NTH ($1.28)vs STK ($3.50) 14:10BA
PTA ($1.25)vs GWS ($3.70) 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE ($4.30)vs HAW ($1.20) 19:20MCG
BRI ($1.70)vs CAR ($2.10) 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC ($1.15)vs GCF ($5.00) 13:10MCG
WBU ($1.33)vs MEL ($3.15) 15:20ES
FRE ($1.87)vs WCE ($1.87) 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW ($1.18)vs PTA ($4.60) 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL ($2.35)vs RIC ($1.55) 13:45MCG
GWS ($3.50)vs SYD ($1.28) 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF ($1.40)vs ESS ($2.95) 16:35MS
STK ($2.80)vs GEE ($1.40) 19:20ES
ADE ($1.08)vs BRI ($6.75) 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH ($2.00)vs FRE ($1.75) 13:10ES
CAR ($2.25)vs MEL ($1.60) 15:20MCG
WCE ($1.18)vs WBU ($4.60) 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE ($1.50)vs COL ($2.50) 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS ($1.22)vs CAR ($3.70) 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW ($1.01)vs BRI ($13.00) 14:10AS
NTH ($1.70)vs WBU ($2.10) 16:35ES
ESS ($5.00)vs RIC ($1.15) 19:20MCG
GCF ($2.50)vs PTA ($1.50) 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE ($2.95)vs WCE ($1.38) 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK ($3.80)vs SYD ($1.25) 15:20ES
FRE ($1.07)vs MEL ($7.50) 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL ($1.50)vs ESS ($2.50) 00:00MCG
RIC ($1.70)vs NTH ($2.10) 00:00ES
HAW ($1.01)vs CAR ($13.00) 00:00MCG
GEE ($1.50)vs ADE ($2.50) 00:00SS
SYD ($1.05)vs GCF ($8.00) 00:00SCG
MEL ($1.87)vs GWS ($1.87) 00:00ES
BRI ($3.05)vs WBU ($1.35) 00:00G
PTA ($2.15)vs FRE ($1.65) 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE ($1.06)vs STK ($8.00) 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 17 15 2 0 127.06 60
West Coast Eagles 17 13 3 1 154.43 54
Hawthorn 17 12 5 0 164.23 48
Sydney Swans 17 12 5 0 115.86 48
Western Bulldogs 17 11 6 0 113.12 44
Richmond 17 11 6 0 112.43 44
North Melbourne 17 10 7 0 107.19 40
Geelong Cats 16 9 7 0 102.42 38
View all
 

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