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Why we should celebrate Dane Swan and the AFL's other characters

For every Dane Swan, there are dozens of more regular, less colourful personalities

For every Dane Swan, there are dozens of more regular, less colourful personalities Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

England’s sacking of star batsman Kevin Pietersen recently got me thinking about the AFL and how modern-day footy treats its characters.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when AFL clubs were full of rogues. In fact, if I look at the All-Australian teams of the late 1990s, they were overflowing with weird and wonderful personalities: Jason Akermanis, Ben Cousins, Tony Lockett, Peter ‘Spida’ Everitt and Daryn Cresswell among them.

Coaches who had been plying their trade for years, such as Kevin Sheedy, Mick Malthouse and Denis Pagan, understood how to communicate with these guys. They tolerated their slightly unusual behaviour, forgave them their occasional slip-ups and yet still found a way to bring out the best in them – and get them to function as part of a team. I played with a few beauties at North Melbourne in the 1990s, guys who really broke the mould, but that was a different era when players were given more latitude and allowed to express themselves more freely.

But obviously I understand that what might have been acceptable 20 years ago is not acceptable now. These days, the picture is quite different. For every Dane Swan, Dustin Martin or Jake King, there are dozens and dozens of more regular, less colourful personalities. Many supporters will say that’s no bad thing. Collingwood has chosen over the past year or two to dispense with several of its mavericks, players who helped win it the premiership in 2010, and replace them with younger, more ''coachable'' recruits.

Heath Shaw, Alan Didak, Ben Johnson, Dale Thomas and Andrew Krakouer have all been moved on to other clubs or moved out of the game altogether. Plenty of Magpie fans will have been sad to see them go. Coach Nathan Buckley has clearly put his stamp on his team, and indicated he would prefer to deal with younger players who don’t stray too far from the pack. I make no judgment about that - 'Bucks' might well have pulled the right rein - other than to say the next season or two will define the success of that philosophy.

But for me, it was always those left-of-centre players that not only made a football club but, through their unpredictability, their X factor, their madness if you like, often helped achieve team success.

Which brings us in a roundabout way to Swan. Swannie is one of a kind in today’s footy. Obviously he’s covered in tattoos but I don’t think it’s his artwork that makes him intriguing to fans. I think it’s more to do with his laidback attitude to football - as though he’s running out for a game of country footy on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It’s not that he doesn’t care about the game, or his performance - it’s just that football doesn’t consume his entire life. There’s a mystique about him because no one’s sure what makes him tick. So as footy becomes more analysed and scrutinised - where there’s less room for the game’s characters - Swannie is almost the Last of the Mohicans.

In spite of all that, I reckon he’s been - after Gary Ablett - probably the best player in the competition over the last eight or so years. In a move that was met with some criticism, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire and chief executive Gary Pert this week gave Bucks a great show of support by handing him a two-year contract extension. Being backed publicly in that way will give Buckley a lot of confidence.

My old coach Denis Pagan, who never sugar-coated the truth with his teams, used to say: ''I don’t care if I’m liked by the players, as long as I’m respected.'' And that, for me, is the big question about Collingwood this year: will the players play for their coach or not?

Which brings us to the season-opener at Etihad Stadium on Friday night. What a public test it will be for the Pies’ coach and his players because they’ll be coming up against a team, Fremantle, that I have tipped to win the premiership.

Collingwood is the great unknown of 2014. It has blooded a lot of young guys in the past season or two, got rid of some experienced and popular blokes, and will step out with a new captain and leadership group. Can Buckley get his new-look Pies to gel and play at the level they did in 2010 and 2011? In their premiership year, Collingwood hardly missed a tackle - or a smother or shepherd. It put pressure on opponents better than any other team.

Other sides strived to match the Magpies with that intensity.

The Dockers have taken over that mantle in the last 12 months: they’re the best defensive team now. The pressure they put on the opposition ball-carrier is second to none. I like Freo’s chances this year purely because of the hurt of last year’s grand final loss, which will sit with the players for the rest of their lives.

Having Matthew Pavlich fit for most of the year will be a huge bonus, ditto Aaron Sandilands who’s had an uninterrupted pre-season. I’m tipping even more improvement from their midfield group, Fyfe, Hill, Barlow and Mundy. And Michael Walters has the makings of a genuine star. The only thing that stands between the Dockers and a winning start to the season is Buckley’s remodelled team, and the bloke who wears the No.36 guernsey.

After a long summer, I can’t wait for it to start.

5 comments so far

  • Great article Wayne,
    I too miss the characters of the game, I think theres another reason why they are a dying breed.
    Obviously media plays a huge role in swaying public opion, i think some fans of the game need to sit back and see things for what they are sometimes. Lots of people are to quick judge one players actions differently from anothers. Take for emaple the way interstate champions/players are reported for misdemenours as compared to largely suppported Victorian sides. Perfect example is Ben Cousins, a champion, a trouble maker and in the end an addict. The way Ben was protrayed in vic media early into the peice was extremely different to the way victorian champions were reported a few years back when it was becoming more apparent there was a problem (illicit drugs). To such an extent that Cousins was sacked from the club due to AFL pressure, all this without one positive test and charges droppped by police for his last indescretion. Dont get me wrong maybe Ben deserved his fate, maybe he wouldnt be where he is now if he kept playing? The fact is some players are looked at in a less light than others when crimes are pretty much the same, look at the bombers. All players in the spotlight are still playing, whether you agree or not there is probably more evidence than Bens case to suggest they shouldnt be. But we the public get pretty tired of the 'oh but the players are so brave' maybe they are. But what about the players cruxified, when others with equal or worse crimes are almost revered. Im a little over the biased media these days, im sure you would have some thoughts on this Wayne with your experiences in football. Cheers

    Commenter
    Chris
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    March 14, 2014, 11:49AM
    • How can you compare Ben Cousins to what has happened at Essendon?! Where is the evidence to suggest that they shouldn't be playing?
      Not one single Esendon player has tested positive, granted Ben never returned a positive test either. But Ben was a repeat offender and was quite often in trouble off the the field, lets not forget the night he abandoned his car to avoid an RBT, and of course the infamous scenes where he was arrested for possesion.

      Ben Cousins and the saga at Essendon are completly different-

      Commenter
      Barney
      Location
      South of the border, down Mexico way
      Date and time
      March 14, 2014, 12:48PM
    • I agree Barney, Im an Eagles member & comparing Cousins with the Essendon thing is not accurate at all.

      If in fact the Essendon players get charged (big if), in my eyes they will be unlucky given they put faith in their employer. Not saying they are completely immune, but in reality I feel they are the one's who are totally blindsided. Ben on the other hand listened to nobody & ran his own agenda. Two different things. However he was welcomed over the Victorian border with open arms, which showed the big V hypocrisy at its best.

      I feel for the Essendon players, not the coaching staff. I hope the players get through this OK, they are young men who were perhaps naïve. Not a hangable offence in my eyes.

      As for Characters, we need them and we have plenty of them really.

      Commenter
      Coaster86
      Date and time
      March 14, 2014, 1:34PM
  • Cousins was sacked not because of the Vic papers or reporting. He was caught in situations that showed up what was rumours at the time. The Victorian Press would report with the same vigour any Victorian in the same situation. Living in WA I have heard but never repeated alleged and I emphasise alleged drug use of a few players around Cousins time. We will likely never know if there was a group abusing drugs at The Eagles at that time nor if The Eagles were trying to manage it on the quiet. What we do know is after Cousins sacking The Eagles set up systems to prevent and better deal with Drug use to the point they are likely to be the cleanest club in the comp and a good environment for players starting out.

    Commenter
    Go Blues
    Date and time
    March 14, 2014, 1:12PM
    • @ GoBlues
      Thats the whole point, there was obviously a problem at the eagles thats not the point, but people actually beleive that it was only an eagles problem which clearly it wasnt.
      Pretty sure your club would have had its bad eggs at the time, every club would have.
      It would be naive to think otherwise.

      Commenter
      Chris
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 14, 2014, 2:22PM

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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 88vs RIC 52 Report Stats
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 105vs CAR 87 Report Stats
WBU 128vs PTA 64 Report Stats
BRI 100vs GCF 114 Report Stats
GEE 95vs SYD 63 Report Stats
WCE 74vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 92vs NTH 127 Report Stats
GWS 93vs ESS 61 Report Stats
STK 59vs FRE 96 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 87vs COL 76 Report Stats
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS 59vs ADE 171 Report Stats
NTH 120vs STK 83 Report Stats
PTA 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
GEE 85vs HAW 121 Report Stats
BRI 131vs CAR 67 Report Stats
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 138vs GCF 55 Report Stats
WBU 153vs MEL 55 Report Stats
FRE 80vs WCE 104 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW 86vs PTA 108 Report Stats
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 56vs RIC 147 Report Stats
GWS 44vs SYD 133 Report Stats
GCF 97vs ESS 95 Report Stats
STK 97vs GEE 97 Report Stats
ADE 131vs BRI 44 Report Stats
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 94vs FRE 83 Report Stats
CAR 78vs MEL 55 Report Stats
WCE 162vs WBU 85 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 62vs COL 110 Report Stats
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS ($1.22)vs CAR ($4.50) 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW ($1.01)vs BRI ($17.00) 14:10AS
NTH ($1.67)vs WBU ($2.25) 16:35ES
ESS ($6.75)vs RIC ($1.12) 19:20MCG
GCF ($3.30)vs PTA ($1.35) 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE ($2.05)vs WCE ($1.80) 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK ($4.50)vs SYD ($1.22) 15:20ES
FRE ($1.08)vs MEL ($8.50) 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
RIC vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
GEE ($2.00)vs ADE ($1.75) 13:05SS
BRI ($3.50)vs WBU ($1.28) 13:45G
PTA ($1.75)vs FRE ($2.00) 15:50Adelaide Oval
HAW ($1.01)vs CAR ($15.00) 16:40MCG
SYD ($1.02)vs GCF ($12.00) 19:20SCG
WCE ($1.11)vs STK ($6.25) 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GWS 13:10ES
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 20 16 4 0 122.19 64
West Coast Eagles 20 15 4 1 150.85 62
Hawthorn 20 14 6 0 154.20 56
Sydney Swans 20 14 6 0 118.16 56
Richmond 20 13 7 0 120.22 52
Western Bulldogs 20 13 7 0 116.09 52
North Melbourne 20 13 7 0 110.91 52
Adelaide Crows 19 12 7 0 116.41 50
View all
 

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