Is resting players a subtle form of tanking?
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon (Slattery Images)
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon is very much his own man. He doesn’t care who criticises him, especially the media.
Who could forget his performance almost two years to the day at his first press conference as the Dockers new coach, just a day after Fremantle pulled off footy’s great heist sacking Mark Harvey and then only a couple of hours later announcing Lyon had replaced him.
This move took everyone involved in the game by surprise, particularly the team he was coaching at the time, St Kilda, who thought he was going to sign a new contract that day.
Lyon had to contend with an unimpressed group of Western Australian journalists, all miffed with the way Harvey had been replaced by him.
But he didn’t bat an eyelid – he stood by his convictions and took the attiude ‘if people don’t like it, bad luck!’
This again was exactly how he handled his controversial decision to rest half his team for last Saturday’s last home-and-away match against the Saints at the Docklands, knowing that they were going to have to travel to Victoria again next week for the qualifying final with Geelong.
The Dockers had six players who had played five games or less and ten who had played less than 20 and were thrashed by the 16th placed Saints, who were farewelling three retiring stars in Stephen Milne, Jason Blake and Justin Koschitzke.
Lyon had before this match already conceded Geelong would beat Brisbane at Kardinia Park and finish second, consigning his side to third, so he thought this game was basically a dead rubber and it would be ideal to give many of his regulars a change to recharge their batteries.
However, it almost backfired, with the Cats pushed all the way by the Lions and eventually hanging on by just one point.
As Lyon said in his press conference after the match once the Geelong result came through, it was a calculated risk that came off.
But what if Brisbane did win?
By deciding not to take their game seriously, the Dockers would have blown a golden opportunity to finish second and host a home final in the first week.
Although it’s in the rules, what Lyon did – and he has done it before, when in charge of the saints in 2009, when they dominated the home-and-away season – it’s certainly not in the spirit of the game and he’s actually showing disrespect to the competition and Brisbane.
You hope the Lions players have long memories when the two clubs meet in 2014 and try and prove to Lyon and Fremantle they deserve their respect.
Could the Dockers’ tactics be seen as bringing the game into disrepute under rule 1.6?
That was what the Bombers were charged with regarding their supplements scandal and they received some significant penalties including not being allowed to play in the finals.
Essendon have been punished for poor governance more than anything else, but who’s to say Fremantle didn’t tank?
They didn’t bring their best side across and the reason for not selecting many of their best players was they were being rested.
At the moment there’s no rule not allowing clubs to do that and you have seen the teams who sealed their spot in the eight weeks ago managing their list and giving players break, but not half a team.
While there isn’t a rule in place stopping this practice, teams will continue to do it near the end of the season if they are in finals, especially if, like Fremantle are, they are travelling in consecutive weeks.
League CEO Andrew Demetriou, in a radio interview on the ABC on Friday, said they were not impressed with Fremantle’s actions and they are monitoring it.
They need to discourage it by bringing in a rule ensuring all teams pick the strongest side they can every week.
The way the Dockers approached this match, they could be accused of tanking, which Melbourne were investigated for.
The AFL has always stated tanking doesn’t exist, but the Demons were still penalised for bringing the game into disrepute, because written documentation showed there had been discussions about compromising the game plan and even team selection in 2009.
Two officials, then coach Dean Bailey and football manager Chris Connolly, were suspended.
The Dockers had no intention of beating the Saints, even though Lyon’s old team had won just four games for the season, so what’s the difference between that and what Melbourne were accused of doing in 2009 to ensure they got the first two picks in that draft (which they ultimately did in Jack Tremgove and Tom Scully)?
I would say nothing, but because clubs can choose any team they like, the AFL can’t prosecute them.
But they wouldn’t want a repeat of it and could be looking to make changes.
This controversy, as usual, is water off Ross Lyon’s back and he doesn’t care what people think.
He will just concentrate on his manic preperation for the clash against the Cats and, although it will be almost impossible to beat Geelong at the cattery, where they have tasted defeat just once since 2007, Lyon will do everything in his power to make the Dockers tough to play and score against next Saturday.
If they cause a boilover, his decision to rest half a team, which remains in the rules, will allow Lyon to have the last laugh yet again.
Hang on! Have you ever seen Ross laugh?
Dan Lonergan is one Australia's most respected and versatile commentators. In more than 16 years on ABC Grandstand he has covered AFL footy (including four Grand Finals), cricket, tennis, and three Olympic Games, including London 2012 where he commentated 16 sports.