Desperation makes an AFL footballer
A friend asked me a question last week which, surprisingly, stumped me. The question was, “What is the difference between an AFL footballer and a section one footballer”?
The answer, it seems, should be obvious.
But in fact, with detailed thinking, the question is actually rather a difficult one. Although, thanks to a Friday night of discussion and banter, my friend James and I have worked it out.
We would have to say the key word is desperation. Desperation and height. Height helps too.
An AFL footballer cannot be differentiated from a section one footballer purely on skill alone. There have been many players in our AFL system, both past and present, who possess less than ordinary skill but have had other attributes helping them in their AFL drafting.
A few notables to this column would have to be Ben Reid. That’s right our All-Australian backman. For many years at Collingwood he struggled to get a game. His obvious height and athletic talent got him to the AFL level but his kicking was absolutely shocking. Many a Collingwood fan would cringe at the handful of games Reid got through the 2009-2010 season where his ball would travel like a helicopter and would float and drop to any of the 36 players on the field.
Here, it comes back to desperation. He is committed enough to put his body on the line for his team and his obvious height advantage. Fortunately for Reid, he has sorted out his kicking although occasionally the helicopter kick does make a comeback now and then.
Many AFL clubs have searched the Irish gaelic league in a chance to find the next big thing. Here they show no direct talent with kicking an AFL footy, however their game has many similar aspects to ours and desperation to win the ball is one of them. We have taken many a punt on an Irish player, some with great success.
But it comes back once again to desperation. Who is willing enough to win that footy, show absolutely no concern for their welfare and put their body on the line.
Izzy Folau also fits in well into this argument. An obvious athletic talent but from early footage looked no better to be playing in the thirds of an outer suburban football league. However his desperation and ability to throw his body into a pack proved he was a chance to punt on in our AFL system.
Height also plays an integral part. Perhaps my lack of watching suburban football might come out here but I don’t really see an over 6 foot 5 footballer running around the suburban oval on a Sunday afternoon. Most are pretty skilful, average height people playing football. Some who have just as good skills at kicking for goal as an AFL footballer but their physical and mental ability to get the football sets them apart.
Many stories I know support my theory that height equals a golden ticket into the AFL system. Recently the AFL let out that they are looking across Africa for talent, especially the Massai tribes with their amazing ability to leap high in the air.
Would any of these people have even seen a football, know the rules, show any talent what so ever to kick a football from 50 out? Of course not, but their height is an obvious trait AFL clubs are after.
Steven Alessio is another classic story. After wanting to get fit for basketball and trying to find some size 15 sneakers, he approached Essendon to help in locating shoes and tips for getting fit. Before he knew it, he was being taught the fundamentals of football and training as a professional AFL athlete.
All because this 205cm giant had the height!
One of my favourite ‘round the fire’ stories is something that happened in a local league in Balwyn. An acquaintance of mine was asked to fill in for the local side as they were short that week. His 6 foot 8 frame was rather athletic and he was an amazing basketballer. His football talents had never been explored but his big athletic frame in the ruck was what they were after.
By pure chance, a Western Bulldog recruit was watching the game. After amassing a heap of average possessions and showing his brute strength against a 20-year-old opponent, the Western Bulldog coach approached him asking him to come out and try his hand at Whitten Oval. After one football game, Ant was being recruited at AFL level on the back that he was tall, strong and had determination at the footy.
Ant laughed at the recruiter and said this was his first ever game of football. He politely declined him. On a side note, Ant didn’t enjoy his one match of football and never played again but still boasts that he made it to AFL level after one match.
So what have we learnt from all of this. Determination at the football is key! It is what makes or breaks a footballers dreams. From what we saw on the weekend with Richmond taking on Hawthorn, it was pure desperation that won out. Morris’ attack on the footy and multiple second efforts stood out for me. Those efforts won Richmond the game.
Their skill level had nothing to do with winning that game and shows that to win an AFL match doesn’t necessarily require the most skilful footballer but rather one who can win their own footy and help out their teammates.
We have also learnt that coaches in our AFL system are now being stretched more than ever. Not only do they have to coach and train teenagers who have played football for most of their lives but are now required to teach some of the basic fundamentals to people who have all the physical and mental attributes to be a great AFL footballer, potentially without never playing the game before!
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