AFL players need to know resting isn’t soft
With 18 teams the AFL season is not getting any shorter. Four preseason, 22 home and away and four weeks of finals matches can take a physical and mental toll on players. All told, some players will be involved in 25-30 games.
AFL players know how privileged they are with an average wage of $250,000, nine weeks annual leave and summers spent running around getting fit with their mates.
However if they are not 100 per cent committed to run hard and put their heads over the ball every game, they should ask the coach for a spell. In two games I watched on Saturday, a number of Hawthorn and Essendon players were down on their best.
Hawthorn (349 possessions) had 81 less than Richmond (430) in an insipid 62 point loss. In three previous consecutive wins, Hawthorn owned the ball against Fremantle (399 to 338), Melbourne (424 to 259) and St Kilda (391 to 326).
On Saturday a number of high profile Hawthorn players were down on their season averages for possession and efficiency including Franklin (18 at 50%), Suckling (20 at 55%), Lewis (20 at 55%, although he did a good job tagging Deledio in the first half), Sewell (21 at 67%) and Mitchell (22 at 64%).
Essendon (420 possessions) won its game against GWS (340) comfortably in the end, but the tally was about even at half time with GWS hitting the scoreboard eleven times (two goals, nine behinds) to nine (8.1). Viewers were given the impression that the Essendon players thought they could just turn up and get the four points.
The Essendon coaching panel must have asserted to the players at half time that they need to work as hard as ever to win the game. This comes just six weeks after an emphatic five goal victory against one time premiership favourite Carlton.
Mathew Lloyd had controversially said on the Footy Show Essendon should rest its stars for the ANZAC Day clash against a depleted Collingwood side four days later, “instead of losing two [matches].” He was insinuating Essendon’s best available team was not good enough to win both games. Their intensity and pressure was outstanding in both matches, but was missing in the first half against GWS.
Players avoid resting voluntarily in case their replacements are not dropped, however if they are not physically or mentally prepared to play, they should step aside. Two prime examples of this are Collingwood’s Simon Prestigiacomo and Dayne Beams, who stood themselves down from the 2010 and 2011 grand final teams respectively due to fitness.
In their endeavours to finish in the top four this season, Essendon and Hawthorn must field 22 players prepared to give 100 per cent every week. Anything less is motivation for the opposition, and any AFL team that gets a run-on is hard to stop.
Even though their win-loss record at 4-5 does not suggest it, setting the example this year is Richmond. In seven matches against the current top six sides and last year’s premiers Geelong, Richmond have only lost the possession count once to Carlton (375 to 320) and only conceded over 100 points three times (Carlton 125, West Coast Eagles 107 and Essendon 128).
Saturday’s win over a fancied top four side in Hawthorn is vindication for their performances. With a healthy percentage of 110.57, finals are still within Richmond’s reach.
All AFL players should remember the words of the late great John Kennedy Snr. “At least do something. Do! Don’t think. Don’t hope. Do! At least you can come off and say I did this, or I shepherded, or I played on. At least I did something.”