A mid-season lifeline for injury hit clubs?
There are a lot of factors that come into winning a premiership. Firstly, you need to have a strong squad of players; a list of 25 regular first-teamers with seven or so young rookies to replace fatigued or injured players.
Secondly, you need to have a talented team; a mixture of creative and industrious players that can win a game even when the odds are against them. And finally, you need luck.
Without luck we wouldn’t have seen Geelong become such a powerhouse over the past five years, challenging for the premiership every year. Geelong always seem to have around 25 regular uninjured first team players.
Geelong have been very lucky with injuries over the years, but not all teams have fared as well. Take Fremantle for example, who whenever they seem to be building momentum and perhaps challenging for top honours, are stricken with injuries to key players.
Last year Aaron Sandilands, arguably the best ruckman in the competition, was out due to a foot injury for most of the year. As a result, despite a really promising start to the season, Fremantle’s position dropped each week until they found themselves outside of the top four. To make matters worse, high possession players Nathan Fyfe and Michael Barlow also found themselves on the sidelines, ruining Fremantle’s season causing them to finish a lowly 11th.
Another unlucky team this year has been St. Kilda, especially in the ruck department with both Ben McEvoy and Rhys Stanley out for a quarter of the season. Having lost their first two preferences are now forced to field two inexperienced rookies hoping they will do well.
However, St Kilda coach Scott Watters has brought up an interesting topic of the old mid-season draft. This proposal, if adopted, would allow teams to replenish their lists with another forward, defender or ruckman. The mid-season draft which hasn’t appeared in the AFL since 1993, could allow teams to replenish their injury hit lists and have a real shot at the flag.
The original mid-season draft had several successes such as the St Kilda stalwart, Daryn Cresswell, who was involved in the mid-season draft in 1992 and ended up playing 244 games for Sydney including a grand final loss in 1996.
Why shouldn’t the mid-season draft return? Logistically there’s certainly a place for it during the season when the teams have the mid-season break or ‘bye week’. Why can’t the administrators or team recruiters select players, just like the AFL draft, according to their current team positions.
Watter’s proposal has been backed by several AFL coaches. Richmond coach Damian Hardwick agreed with Watters, stating they employ list managers for a reason and not just to do job for a few months until the next AFL draft.
Hardwick is part of a coaches association working committee, which also includes Brett Ratten, Ross Lyon and James Hird. They are expected to meet and discuss, in detail, the mid-season draft proposal, next month at the coaches association meeting, before presenting it before the Player’s Football Association and AFL boards.
With the way the game has changed over the past decade, most noticeably the speed of the game, the AFL has introduced several new rules that should have decreased the amount of injuries over a season. The AFL reduced the number of interchange players to three but allowed a team one substitution that can be used whenever they choose.
The AFL had also trialled rules in the NAB cup such as increasing the number of substitutions but also decreasing the number of players available on the interchange, seeing if it helped players with fatigue or more importantly injuries.
However, these rules have not helped with the number of injuries so far this season. If anything they have made things worse by reducing the number of players available for rotation, giving players such a brief stint on the bench they barely have enough time to get some water and stretch any niggling tweaks they may be experiencing.
How would the mid-season draft work if it did come to fruition? Would each team have a maximum number of picks for the draft? Or would a team be able to choose as many players as they require if they hadn’t used all their draft picks for the national and rookie drafts earlier in the year?
Other options the AFL could trial is short-term contracts of six months to a year and if their club decide to discontinue the players contract, the player could then be entered into the national or rookie drafts for the next season.
The AFL is one of the only sports in the world that doesn’t have a trade period or something similar throughout the season. Perhaps the AFL could take a look at other competitions such as the English Premier League that have two seasonal transfer periods that allow clubs to beef up or fix problem areas that could improve their squads.
One thing is for sure, it would improve the competitiveness on the field for all clubs.
The need for an AFL mid-season draft seems to have support from more and more coaches each round as the injuries mount up, but AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou says that any talk of a mid-season draft would have to wait.
Demetriou has outlined that a mid-season draft is unlikely to appear this year and may be discussed only after the 2012 season.
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