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Swingmen back in fashion

Players are lining up to swap ends and roles.

As positional switches go, they don't come a lot more effective than the key move made during Essendon's nail-biting win over Carlton last Friday night.

By half-time, Carlton spearhead Jarrad Waite had kicked five of his team's six goals, handing in-form Bomber key defender Jake Carlisle a rare hiding. At the other end, meanwhile, Essendon had managed just three in total, of which key forward Michael Hurley had only one.

When the sides re-emerged for the third quarter, Waite suddenly found himself opposed to Hurley. Carlisle took up a spot as a key forward. And the results spoke for themselves.

Waite would add only two more to his tally, and after having hauled in 10 marks in the first half, took just four more, Hurley closing down the Blues' only scoring avenue. Carlisle, meanwhile, took nine marks in the second half, kicked a critical goal, and after another big grab, set up Jake Melksham to give the Dons the lead.

Then, with that lead still a precarious five points with seconds left on the clock, Carlisle dashed back into defence to pull off a fair imitation of Leo Barry's 2005 grand final grab and clinch the deal.

"We're very lucky we can play both at either end of the ground, and having the luxury to switch them around when it's not going as well either way has been something we've wanted to do," Essendon coach James Hird said after the game. Only Hurley's spate of injuries had prevented them doing so earlier.


But there's been more evidence besides that pair this season that the concept of the "swingman" is very much back in football fashion.

Geelong has had success with a similar move involving All-Australian key defender Harry Taylor and regular spearhead James Podsiadly, the pair at times switching for periods of quarters, not only changing the mix, but occasionally losing their opponents in the process.

While Taylor had occasionally ventured forward previously, Podsiadly had been seen primarily as purely a goalkicker and one-position player.

Taylor has spent far more time in attack this year than last, as has Carlton's Lachie Henderson, who arrived at Visy Park from Brisbane as a key forward, but last year appeared to have settled down at centre half-back.

A fortnight ago in Brisbane, regular Collingwood key defender Ben Reid, a forward when he arrived at the club but since transformed into a premiership key defender, proved more than handy back on his old turf with three goals when Travis Cloke was a late withdrawal.

Football has always had its share of talls who could get the job done at either end, from the late, great Bulldog Ted Whitten, to North Melbourne Brownlow medallist Ross Glendinning, who would frequently spend entire games camped at one end of the oval.

More recently, it's been the likes of Melbourne's David Neitz and Fremantle's Matthew Pavlich who've raced from one end to the other. But recent years haven't seen as many since the retirement of West Coast's "Mr Fixit" Adam Hunter, a key in both its 2005-06 finals campaigns.

For Essendon, Hurley and Carlisle's success last Friday has once more stoked the fires of debate about the best spot for Hurley in particular, one argument that the injury-prone forward might suffer less of them running in straighter lines out of defence.

As a junior Hurley was predominantly a defender, wining 36 per cent of all his disposals in the defensive 50, and twice being named All-Australian full-back at the national under-18 championships. At junior level, Carlisle shared his time between both ends, winning 22 per cent inside the forward 50 and 21 per cent in the defensive 50, and frequently played forward in VFL ranks.

The discussions about the best spot for either are likely to last longer now than it seemed they would only a fortnight ago.

And while their coach might have called their flexibility a luxury after Friday night's heroics, the increasing use of adaptable talls not only at Windy Hill but across the AFL this season might mean that what is still being considered a bonus might soon become far more a necessity.


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