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These five players just have to win the mind game

Date

Two-time AFL premiership captain

View more articles from Wayne Carey

Majak Daw ... his six-goal haul in one game is inflating his figures.

Majak Daw ... his six-goal haul in one game is inflating his figures. Photo: Wayne Taylor

"Making it" in the AFL is a tough gig. Ours is easily one of the most rigorous games in the world that demands strength, endurance and skill. While they're all physical traits, none is as important as what is above the shoulders.

My old coach Denis Pagan said on numerous occasions that football doesn't build character, it just eliminates the weak ones. Mental strength is the defining ingredient that separates footy's elite from the also-rans and, right now, has some footballers at the crossroads of their careers.

Every club will know the guys I'm talking about. They're the ones who "have it all", yet often fail to deliver. I'm not expecting any of these footballers to be superstars of the competition, but you can't sugarcoat their output over their careers.

Not meeting expectations ... Tyrone Vickery.

Not meeting expectations ... Tyrone Vickery. Photo: Pat Scala


Tyrone Vickery (Richmond): Drafted at No. 8 in 2008. 200cm. 98kg
After a couple of years of promise, Vickery's career statistics tell the story. He is averaging just 10 disposal a game, is taking fewer than four marks, isn't averaging a single score assist, while averaging just one goal per game and less than two tackles. He just isn't showing the desire or passion to play. That's not to say he doesn't show it at times, it's just that he doesn't show it consistently enough for a guy who's been on a list for more than five years. Just imagine if he was tearing into a contest like Joe Daniher at Essendon? A young player like Daniher might not boast better stats, but it's his attack on the footy that deserves credit.

Liam Jones (Western Bulldogs): Drafted at No. 32 in 2008 197cm. 98kg

Like Vickery, Jones' stats are far from great. He's averaging just nine disposals per game and also a solitary goal. There isn't another player who I hear about more from the Bulldogs supporters. He has a distinct lack of endeavour. There are times he attacks the ball with gusto, but not as often as he should. He'd likely improve in certain situations if he bulked up, but size alone doesn't account for his form. He's also averaging fewer than two tackles per game. That shows he has a long way to go.

Rhys Stanley (St Kilda): Drafted at No. 47 in 2008. 200cm. 96kg

Another one with the lot who isn't delivering regularly. Stanley is averaging 10 disposals per game, four marks, less than a goal per game and less than one score assist. He is a bit different to some of the other guys I've mentioned in that he's been used at both ends of the ground. The Saints now seem to be persisting with him up forward, and while I think he's still learning his craft, I again have to question his competitive instinct.

Shaun McKernan (Adelaide): Drafted at No. 28 in 2008. 196cm. 99kg

Like Vickery, Jones and Stanley, McKernan has shown real glimpses of talent. Just like his older brother who I spent years playing alongside, he is a great mark, kicks the ball a country mile, has big hands and is as agile as any, but he just hasn't shown the consistency needed at this level. He's averaging 9.5 disposals per game and less than one goal. Even Gerard Healy has suggested that this guy could be anything. With Jenkins and Walker back in the Crows' side, he now faces a real battle to get back into the team, and while he's possibly the most talented of them all, if he doesn't get his head right, he's in real danger.

Majak Daw (North Melbourne): Drafted at No. 9 in the 2010 rookie draft. 195cm. 97kg
We all know that Daw is a work in progress, but how long should you persist with a guy who is returning poor numbers? Daw has averaged just seven possessions per game over his career, close to zero score assists and has an average of just 1.5 goals per game, which is a figure that was inflated by a six-goal haul in a single game. The lack of score assists tells me he's really not doing enough out on the field. Physically, Daw is above nearly any player in the competition, but again, what is the cut-off point for someone who isn't producing? Having listed those guys, it's important to reiterate that I don't expect any of them to be a Jonathan Brown or a Nick Riewoldt. What their clubs and fans are desperate to see is a certain level of competitiveness, hardness and willingness to hit a contest that is predictable to their onballers and teammates on a consistent basis.

Chris Dawes is the perfect example. He'd be the first to admit that he's not blessed with the greatest skills in the competition, but it's his endeavour and workrate that has helped turn Melbourne's season around. Dawes' form this year is probably better than anything I ever saw of him at Collingwood. It just shows what you can do when you put your mind to it. Since returning to the field for the Demons, he just seems to have been saying "come on boys, this is how it's done". He had eight tackles last week. It's that competitiveness, and willingness to have a go that also saved Jobe Watson's career. He too was at the crossroads as he battled weight and the way he prepared for footy. All of a sudden he went from a guy who might not make it, to a Brownlow medallist.

Shane Mumford is another who should be praised for the way he has turned his career around. He struggled to get a game at Geelong, but went to Sydney and turned himself into such a competitive beast that he played in a premiership. GWS look a far poorer team without him on the field.

What I’m getting back to is that the game is played in your head. It's all about attitude. Where some players might have a defeatist attitude if they're outnumbered, good footballers become even more determined just to make a contest. That's what prolongs, or ends, careers.

Consider this. The average career in the AFL is just 38 games. All the guys I've mentioned have the potential to be better than the average footballer. They just have to win the mind game.

16 comments so far

  • Just wanting to post here that I really enjoy Wayne Carey's articles for The Age. They're always a lot more insightful, intelligent and spot on. Agree with the article above and simply enjoyed reading the analysis and purpose of the article.

    Commenter
    mattd
    Location
    melb
    Date and time
    May 22, 2014, 6:11PM
    • The simple fact is you can't have every single player winning the ball and scoring. You will get a mirror effect where for every player with poor stats there are players with competing good stats. They both cant have good stats or poor stats. Instead it's like a statistical complementary effect.

      As much as these players might not be great players, you really also need to compare their stats against their team members to see how they are playing the game, disposing the ball and the general strategy etc.... I suggest it's far more complex than what these simple statistics reveal, but yeah they might lack in some skills also, but perhaps gain in other areas.

      Commenter
      JB
      Date and time
      May 22, 2014, 6:18PM
      • McKernan cannot take a mark or get a kick in the SANFL these days. If he was going to be any good at AFL level, then he should be now dominating at CHF in the State League given his age and supreme fitness level. Even Lewis Johnston dominates at SANFL level when fit.

        I'll be very surprised if McKernen is not delisted at the end of the season. Maybe a Melbourne-based club will rookie list him with a late pick.

        Commenter
        Crow Boy
        Location
        Adelaide
        Date and time
        May 23, 2014, 9:58AM
    • I agree with the majority of this article. Most of those players haven't reached the standards required of them, and yes it does come down to sheer drive and determination. I think Carey is being quite harsh on Majak, however. He has played 9 games! 9.

      He has had to battle through injury, and is, as Wayne expressed, "a work in progress" coming from a non-AFL background. I think most people would agree that all he needs is for a couple of things to click and he could potentially be unbeatable.

      The Kangas have been cautious with him for good reason, and I definitely don't think he has been given enough chances at the top level as of yet.

      Commenter
      emid
      Date and time
      May 22, 2014, 7:14PM
      • and Majak brings another HUGE element to the table apparently. Size. you cant learn size, you are born with it.

        Commenter
        rooboy
        Location
        darwin
        Date and time
        May 23, 2014, 1:36PM
    • I would also be expecting more out of all of these players. But interesting to see their draft selection numbers. Apart from Vickery, who is a Richmond special, they are all pretty low picks. So I suppose if they were performing really well it would a story as well.

      Commenter
      TB
      Date and time
      May 22, 2014, 7:20PM
      • I agree. Carey has been articulate, honest, insightful and readable. Note though, that here he describes five talls. For some reason talls are often late bloomers. Maybe it takes longer to read the play, learn the craft, or for bodies to mature. Don't write any of these guys off yet.

        Commenter
        Scooby
        Date and time
        May 22, 2014, 8:03PM
        • I often like Carey's articles but blaming mental toughness is taking the classic easy way out here. Channelling Robert Walls there Wayne? These are all tall talls, not your classic 6'4" key position player like Wayne was. Very few guys their size dominate the forward line. What looks like lack of attack on the ball contest is usually due to uncertainty, something Wayne never suffered from, not lack of desire. There's another thing separating these five from Rietwold, Brown and Carey: those champions all have / had have huge tanks.

          Commenter
          Stephen
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          May 22, 2014, 8:32PM
          • Wayne Carey's views have to be listened to but I think he is a bit tough on Majak Daw who has played only 9 senior games
            I heard Bluey McKenna coach of the Suns interviewed on ABC last weekend and he said for most players it takes about 40 to 50 games to begin to understand the game and to hold a regular position-with only a few needing only 20 to 30 games ot catch on.
            I saw Majak's game against admittedly weak Lions Opposition last weekend
            Not only did he hold some very good marks against strong opposition but he followed well laying tackles and winning hit outs
            I thought then definitely worth persevering with
            After all Drew Petrie a very experienced footballer has not been exactly starring this year nor have many other forwards eg Travis Cloke- in a season of low scores so why should a 9 game player such as Daw be expected to kick a bag full?
            Roo Supporter of 70 years

            Commenter
            Thomho
            Location
            East melbourne
            Date and time
            May 22, 2014, 8:41PM
            • Consider this Wayne...Majak Daw has played a grand total of NINE games, after NINE games your average was 1.6 goals per game and your average disposals per game was a wopping 14 and you had a grand total of 6 tackles in your first NINE games, Majak has layed 21. Give him a break mate.

              Commenter
              Baz
              Date and time
              May 22, 2014, 8:42PM

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              AFL 2015

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