How can we stamp out 'ugly' footy?
Senior AFL writer Rohan Connolly believes the AFL should consider awarding bonus points to teams that pass 100 points in a game to encourage more attacking and high-scoring football.PT3M16S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-37rng 620 349 May 5, 2014
New AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan plans to speak to AFL coaches about encouraging exciting football. As things stand, it’s hard to imagine it being anything more than a brief conversation.
Coaches have too much at stake personally to champion an altruistic attitude to how their teams play. A win is everything. No matter how ugly, or low scoring. Which is fair enough.
Jarryd Roughead and Ryan Schoenmakers. Photo: Getty Images
But ugly and low scoring is becoming the AFL status quo. In nine games at the weekend, no fewer than six teams managed no more than three goals to half-time. They weren’t all smashed, either. Essendon still managed a win, and Adelaide lost by less than a kick.
Yes, we’re still getting our Hawthorn-Geelong classics. And the first half of Sunday’s North Melbourne-Gold Coast clash yielded 17 goals and was a treat to watch. But to view just one open, flowing game of AFL as the answer in itself to four or five turgid slogs is burying our heads in the sand.
A few statistics quoted at the weekend were particularly alarming. One was that 2014 is now shaping as the lowest-scoring season since 1968. Another is that at this stage last year, after 63 games, the 100-point mark had been reached 54 times. In 2014, that number is just 30. Indeed, not once this year have both teams in a match been able to reach the ton.
I’ve always been a big believer in football evolution and the capacity of the game to take care of itself. But there seems little doubt now, to me anyway, that the culture of defence, and the tactics, mechanisms and fitness levels that conspire against scoring, are firmly entrenched.
Several potential rule changes have been canvassed by even the likes of AFL legend Leigh Matthews. All seem either too fundamental a shift in how the game is played, or too difficult to police. But do we need to alter the laws of the game as such?
This is obviously a radical idea. But perhaps instead we could focus on our match points system, and consider rewarding in a different manner teams which are prepared to attack.
There are many ways this could be approached. But one that seems feasible to me is while continuing to award four points for a win and two for a draw, also awarding one point to sides, even those that lose, for reaching the 100-point mark.
That would still leave the bottom line of victory the most fundamental objective. But a bonus point for a three-figure score would surely offer far more incentive for teams and coaches to attack and open the game up.
With a bonus point only a quarter the value of a win, coaches to whom offence is a lower priority could still pursue the priorities they wish. And, importantly, those down the ladder whose priority more and more seems to be damage minimisation, could still aspire to some tangible reward for at least continuing to have a crack.
Rugby union has implemented a bonus point system for teams that score four or more tries with success. And who would argue that soccer has not become a far more attractive game for the introduction of three points rather than two for a win, which in England happened more than 30 years ago.
The most obvious argument against such an idea is the difference of playing more games under a roof at Etihad Stadium to, say, a sodden and blowy Simonds Stadium.
But the fixture already sees some teams guaranteed of playing more dry-weather games than others. It’s not like sides good enough can’t score in the wet (witness Hawthorn’s 27 goals on Saturday).
And if you need evidence that even pristine conditions aren’t doing enough to encourage scoring, consider this: So far this season there’s been 16 games at Etihad. That’s 32 teams who’ve played under the roof. Just six of them have reached 100 points.
It’s easy, and I’ve been guilty of it myself, to chant “leave the game alone”. But legislative changes that encourage positivity have helped, not hindered the game.
Like the introduction of out-of-bounds-on-the-full in 1969, which prevented defenders from merely belting the ball over the boundary fence to clear the decks. Or even the deliberate rushed behind rule introduced five years ago, which I believe should be policed more stringently than it has of late.
This proposal doesn’t even go that far. It doesn’t mean Ross Lyon, for instance, has to place any less premium on pressuring the opposition and preventing it scoring. It does, however, increase the benefits of choosing to attack rather than merely hold on to the ball and play keepings off.
Four points for any sort of win is a decent reward. But I don’t think awarding five to a side that can not only achieve victory but manage 15 or so goals in doing so is in reality that big a leap. Certainly not one that threatens the look of the game as we’ve come to know it.
And if we really want to see more entertaining football on a regular basis, it’s going to have a damn sight more impact than the new boss of the AFL politely asking the coaches if they would mind trying to kick a few more goals.
And while I'm at it ...
SUNS ARE SHINING
They were fast, they were slick, and they were very, very good. Gold Coast is a great team to watch, and as North Melbourne will now testify, pretty damn effective, too.
The Suns’ seven-goal first term on Sunday was one of the best quarters played this season. Their starting midfield combination has to be close to the silkiest in the competition. And in Charlie Dixon, Tom Lynch and Sam Day they have forwards capable of capitalising on that class.
While Gold Coast’s win over Collingwood last year was the biggest in the club’s history thus far, the victory against the Roos has to be its equal. This one was on the road, against a side desperate to prove it could back up a big win, and at a venue at which it had never won previously.
There’s still a long way to go, but right now the Suns are not just pushing for a finals spot, but perhaps more. Some will argue four seasons is too quick for a fledgling club to be this good. But those of us who love entertaining football are just lapping it up.
HOLDING OFF ON HOLDING BALL
Earlier this season, plenty of us were singing the praises of the men in … well, whatever colour the umpires are wearing. But there’s now some clear signs that the more relaxed interpretation of the rules may have gone a little too far.
It’s not panic stations yet, but there were too many examples in round seven, and a few previous weeks for that matter, of far too much lenience being afforded players who are tackled and don’t release the pill.
Tackling is a defensive skill, but an attractive and fundamental part of the game nonetheless, and good tackles should be rewarded. At the moment, not enough are - those in possession sometimes being swung around several full circles or dropping the ball red-hot without paying the price.
It’s a fine balance between letting things go and open slather. Perhaps this is one area that has tipped too far in the latter direction.
Dustin Fletcher will turn 39 on Wednesday. After his effort on Saturday night against the Western Bulldogs, there’ll be even more footy fans hoping he’s going to hang on past 40.
The veteran played anything like one, his spoiling as superb as usual and his capacity to create and rebound for Essendon as good as it’s ever been, so good he ended up the Bombers’ joint leading possession winner.
There have been times of late when it looked like age was starting to get the better of the champion defender. But this was one of Fletcher’s best games in years, compelling evidence that there’s plenty of life left in the old man of football yet.