Shortening the game is not the answer

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St Kilda coach Ross Lyon suggested the standard length of an AFL game may have to be shortened after his team’s win over Fremantle on Sunday, but does this provide the answer to this season’s injury woes? Lyon said two 45-minute halves, like football, may be the answer. This debate has one objective: to slow the game down.

In the past fortnight, Saints captain Nick Riewoldt, Hawk Josh Gibson and Eagle Daniel Kerr have fallen victim to serious hamstring injuries. All will miss at least three months.

Riewoldt could miss the season.

It has left supporters wondering if this is just a coincidence or if the game is played at a pace that is just too quick. Year after year, the game is getting faster.

But there has to be a breaking point. The human body can only take so much.

Is the strain on the precious hamstrings of our AFL stars too great at present?

If you compare AFL matches to other sports, two hours is a long time (including time-on). But shortening is the game is, simply, not the answer.

Besides the outcry from fans over less bang for their buck, it will simply increase the speed of the game. Do we want that if there is, indeed, a link between the game’s speed and injuries? Many think there is.

Brisbane Lions coach Michael Voss believes the shorter the game is, the faster it will become, meaning Lyon’s idea could, in fact, prove to be counter-productive towards addressing the injury toll across the league.

The answer, really, lies in rotations. Teams can make as many as they like in 2010, they are not capped and players can go as hard as they can for five minutes before a two minute rest.

Players such as Robert Harvey, who could run all day and outlast an opponent, are rarely seen in today’s game. It is all about a quick burst.

If the AFL, next season, limited the rotations to between 15 and 20 a quarter, or 60 to 80 a match, players will, naturally, be forced to slow down.

Most teams currently make in excess of 100 rotations per match.

Geelong coach Mark Thompson, perhaps in-jest, floated the idea of watering the grounds. But a bit of water is unlikely to deter a player’s enthusiasm for the contest.

If the AFL limits rotations, teams will be forced to use them wisely. And keep the interchange to four players.

If the league introduce substitutes, the rule can be exploited. Players can feign injury (and who is going to question a club doctor?) and clubs who take an under-done player into a game can take him off in the first term when they realise their error.

Why should clubs be allowed to cover their pre-game selection mistakes with substitutes?

I won’t have it. But I will have a cap on rotations – with four on the bench.

The sooner it is introduced by the AFL, the better.

The game will, without doubt, slow down, and it will allow all of us to identify if there is a clear link between the latest spate of injuries and the speed of the contest.

It will be a win-win for all.

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