Season 2011 of the AFL has only played eight matches but has already made a huge impact on players, coaches, viewers, and supporters. In my opinion this season has been the most enjoyable to watch in almost 5 years; no longer are teams kicking backwards (typical of St.Kilda era under Ross Lyon), flooding the backline (Sydney under Paul Roos), or only kicking to a loose man. This season AFL has become free-flowing with contested possessions dominating the game, pack marks are back, kicking down the line is expected, and man-on-man is the preferred defensive strategy unless your team has mastered a zone or ‘press’ (Collingwood, Essendon, West Coast and Geelong). But the game play has come at a price, a significant price, and one that cannot continue at the rate at which it is. That price is player injuries.
Throughout the pre-season competition and AFL season in 2011, more than 30 players are listed on the Injury lists with knee injuries, and 80% of them are season ending injuries. The knee injury has become a weekly event, or if you were watching the Saints versus Hawks game on Sunday it was a double knee injury (Hale and Gilham) in a half of Football. I hate seeing knee injuries, they are the most gruesome footage to watch and they are becoming so much more common in Football, but how can we stop them? I feel like telling the AFL that instead of limiting interchanges and having three players on the bench put six on and allow for more interchanges and hopefully less injuries.
The AFL has become reckless. It has got the point that players have to commit their entire bodies and mind to the game of AFL, whether they like it or not, their bodies and mind are a discussing point, a bagging object and a worshipped item. If a player heroically backs into a pack, 50,000 people at the MCG applaud him, and if he is collected by that pack we can hear a groan go around the stadium followed by a polite applause. Just ask Alan Toovey (Collingwood). As you can hear on the YouTube footage, the commentators are saying Toovey unflinchingly and courageously backed into Tom Hawkins (Geelong) on Friday night, but I say it was downright stupid and reckless. There is an expectation to commit 110% to a contest no matter the cost to your body. When Toovey went back into the pack I was yelling at the TV, “Stay down you tool, crumb the footy”, you could see Ben Reid coming in for the spoil on Hawkins and Toovey was in prime position to crumb the ball from the spoil that was going to come. But he chose to do the ‘heroic’ or the ‘team-lifting’ act where you put your body on the line. Crunch goes Toovey and here comes the Hospital. One goes up in the contest (Hawkins opponent) and one stays down to rove the football (Toovey), next time Alan please rove the ball. For those that may not have seen this act by Toovey, here it is –
The expectation on AFL players in 2011 is summed up in that Toovey incident, but it is not the only example where players are recklessly throwing their bodies in the line of the opposition. Jonathon Brown’s head injury, where Fremantle Docker Luke McPharlin came across the pack and collected Brown who was diving for the football, was one of the most sickening incidents I have seen on a football field. Brown’s surgeon said of his surgery “it was like putting a jigsaw back together”. For those that haven’t seen the injury to Jonathan Brown, again, here it is –
The importance on hardball gets, courage, and never-give-up attitude in football has made the game reckless. It is drilled into players as soon as they enter the AFL system, even throughout Junior Football, that you must put your head over it, go back with the flight of the ball, or ‘crunch’ the football when it is in dispute. Our players and heroes are cheered if they win a contest, if they go 100% at the ball, even if they carelessly throw themselves in the firing line; but on the flipside of the coin they are booed if they take their eye off the Footy, booed if they duck or back out of a contest. The expectation and reliance on players to ‘throw’ themselves at the ball has reached a point where something needs to be done about it, for the safety of the players.
Have a look at Ex West Coast player Jaymie Graham who severely injured his knee in a sickening incident a few weeks ago in the WAFL.
Tell me that this type of incident won’t happen in the AFL next time? Of course it will with the way players throw themselves at loose balls and contested situations. The list of players injured will continue to grow and at the rate at which it is growing at the moment, it won’t be long until the AFL tries to do something about it. I just hope they can do something about it before something even more drastic happens. I want the AFL to put in place a rule that penalizes players from sliding into contests with the intent of moving opponents out the way, I want the players to be more aware of backing back into packs, and I want this done before the next big injury occurs not after and not as a result of another major injury like Jaymie Graham’s. I bet he feels the same way.