Ex-player commentators maintain the rage
A prominent football columnist derided the influx of retired players into the commentary ranks. “Most of them talk through their jockstraps and the quality of football journalism suffers with it”, he commented.
He may be right on the first point, ignoring the reference to jockstraps which, as far as I’m aware have never been worn in the modern era, if ever. Perhaps there he has inadvertently provided an argument for the superiority of ex players as commentators and journalists.
But we know what he’s referring to.
Commentary boxes and television programmes filled with multiple premiership winners and if not, then out-and-out champions, and plenty of “characters”.
Blokey blokes whose smart but ill fitting suits – not designed for thick necks and enlarged lats – can’t hide the warrior underneath… or stop the laughing. Whether it’s the pain killers for permanent injuries sustained from long-playing careers, or the realisation that they don’t have to hold down a normal job, some of these ex champs – Dermott Brereton and Tony Shaw come to mind – just can’t seem to stop giggling.
The recently retired players who have become commentators like Matthew Richardson, Brett Kirk and Cameron Ling are usually interviewing ex teammates and opponents so express an annoying over-familiarity, using nicknames and engaging in chit-chat.
However, I find the vast majority of these retirees excellent commentators – assured in the calling of the games, and insightful.
They provide an important counterbalance to the nerdy non players such as Bruce McAvaney, Anthony Hudson and Gerard Whateley who have an excellent grasp of the game but lack the knowledge that comes with the brutal business of playing.
And many of the ex player commentators (and coaches) provide excellent theatre by still retaining the aggressive, if slightly unnerving, mindset of the era in which they played.
Danny Frawley can be a genuinely funny man and he and his bull-necked co-commentator Jason Dunstall make an entertaining couple but some of their joking physical tussles sometimes seem to take on a more serious tone.
And then there is that intimidating stare – the dilated pupils and eyes seemingly aglow with unspent adrenaline – common to these entertaining madmen. Dunstall and Frawley can have it. So can Dermott Brereton, and even David King, Alastair Lynch, and Gerard Healy.
Healy wasn’t a hitman as a player but he certainly is a commentating provocateur.
Throughout Monday’s On The Couch programme, he made several pointed remarks to his “special guest”, Geelong coach Chris Scott.
With his trademark aggression and disconcerting grin (is he serious or having fun?) Healy took Scott to task for his negative comments about the abusive Perth crowd (“they have rightly taken offence at that because that element is in every crowd”) and his decision to play the badly concussed Tom Hawkins this week (“Despite the fact he was KO’ed he’s recovered OK?!”).
Scott had begun to shift uncomfortably in his comfy armchair but it wasn’t until discussion turned towards his captain Joel Selwood’s reprimand for an incident involving his brother Adam that the Fox Footy’s homely set, with its trophied mantelpiece and cozy fire, became a little too warm for him.
Embarrassed by his co host’s directness, Mike Sheahan tried to find some common ground with the Geelong coach by asking: “Talking of mistakes, please tell me that you’re going to appeal the Joel Selwood decision”.
The camaraderie generated from having guest and host on the same page was torched immediately, however, by Healy who was quick to point out: “But just on the principle though, he [Joel Selwood] has gone up and principally attacked a bloke”.
Then, when the two hosts get into a mild disagreement over the severity of Selwood’s actions (Sheahan: “‘Attacked’?”), Healy decides to not only bring up Scott’s infamous role in the establishment of the rule that a player is not allowed to make deliberate contact with an injured player but also to force Sheahan to admit that Scott’s hit on the seriously injured Nick Riewoldt in 2005 was a dog act, while the perpetrator – and the man he was trying to put at ease – was sitting across from him.
Then Paul Roos, hilariously playing the diplomat, abruptly turns to Scott and changes the topic: “Can I ask you about Stevie J?.”
Healy’s comment: “When Chris and his brother [Brad] attacked Nick Riewoldt up on the Gold Coast” wasn’t entirely correct. The game wasn’t on the Gold Coast but rather at the Gabba. The second player was Mal Michael, not Brad Scott, and, to be fair, Scott’s hit on Riewoldt was more incidental as his real target was his direct opponent Aaron Hamill who shortly afterwards removed two of Scott’s teeth with his elbow.
But the jewel in the crown of this incident – as mesmerising as any on-field tiff – were Scott’s words to Healy at the end of the segment. Scott is an articulate man but you sense he’d rather let his fists do the talking. Unaware the show was still on air and with those fists pressed firmly into the arms of his chair, he suddenly turfed the polite high-pitched interviewee voice for a more threatening baritone as he called out Healy: “Are you going to apologise to Brad?”
The segment ended with the image of a leering Scott, an open-mouthed Sheahan, an embarrassed looking Roos, and a still smiling Healy. Priceless
Aggression on the ground it seems is being slowly snuffed out. Let’s hope these old boys keep it alive on the television.