An ill-informed comment, Mike Sheahan and an ivory tower

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By , Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    As I continue to bask in the glow of the Socceroos’ wonderful achievement last week, there is a two-fold sense of enjoyment.

    Firstly, after number crunching over the last two years and finding every logical reason why and why not, in regards to the qualification campaign, the national team have made the big dance.

    Secondly, the qualifying games held so much drama and intrigue that they distracted me from nonsense in the media after the first leg, which displayed an infantile understanding of the game.

    That was fuelled by veteran AFL journalist Mike Sheahan. His vitriol garnered a response.

    There isn’t a more eloquent or convivial commentator on Australian football than Fox Sports anchor Simon Hill. His work is lucid, poignant and often brilliant.

    His candid response to Sheahan’s comments pulled on many a heartstring, enraged some south of the border, and enunciated further the fear around and subsequent aggressiveness towards football.

    Hill’s response was in direct reference to the comments made by Sheahan and his appraisal of the first leg between Honduras and Australia as “rubbish”.

    The comment was not only the thoughts of one spectator expressing his disappointment at a goalless draw, but also the agenda-driven opinion of an individual with little or no understanding of the game.

    It was an inaccurate and ironic appraisal, considering some of the football dished out by the Brisbane Lions and the Carlton Blues throughout the course of 2017.

    I’m sure Sheahan would agree these teams produced rubbish on a regular basis. However, the difference between Mr Sheahan and I – even considering the fact that many would like to box us into corners and see us come out fighting for our codes – is that my love and passion for football doesn’t motivate me to deride other sporting endeavours.

    My multi-sport contributions on The Roar are born through pure interest and engagement with the different codes.

    Hill concurred in his response, stating his simple strategy when it came to the plight of other codes of which he is no expert, saying, “I don’t comment on them.”

    Sheahan seems a cookie cut from another mould.

    The motivation behind his comments is baffling. Much like Eddie McGuire’s cheap shots at A-League crowds and football as a whole, Sheahan’s comments reflect the fears and concerns of individuals still embedded in Australia’s more traditional and colonial games; those wary and suspicious of football’s growth.

    I blogged numerous AFL games this season. The Adelaide versus Collingwood draw was a highlight, while some finals matches were outstanding, yet there were duds along the way too, during which I nearly dozed off. (Don’t tell weekend editor Josh Elliot or I might be out of favour for season 2018.)

    Despite the variations in terms of game quality and interest level, unlike Sheahan, I never once felt the need to question the integrity of and methodology behind the entire code.

    I may have called the match lamentable, disappointing or bland, yet the report that followed was always filled with perspective and a level-headed understanding that the game wasn’t to blame, merely the particular eventualities of the day.

    Dayne Beams Brisbane Lions AFL 2017

    Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images

    The reason is simple, I enjoy the game immensely, and hope to watch it for years to come. Additionally, through my membership of an AFL team, keen viewing of every match through the season, and my love of blogging, my opinions or comments might even have some value or relevance.

    Can the same be said of Sheahan’s football jibe? I think not. Moreover, Hill’s comments were reactionary and well deserved.

    Hearing Hill speak on Sydney radio 12 months back, I was proud when I heard him respond to Talkin’ Sport host Graeme Hughes, who had referred to football as ‘your game’.

    Hill suggested it was ‘our’ game and not a divisive endeavour played by the proverbial shielas, wogs and poofters. To his credit, Hughes concurred and this is what Hill does best.

    He picks up on those who comment, pontificate and pass judgement on a game that he loves and they themselves know little about.

    Hill reacts to the negativity and bias and never seeks to stir the pot through inflammatory comments from an ill-informed perspective.

    My favourite Eurosnob, neighbour Dave, brought me a freshly clipped article from a ‘well respected’ Sydney newspaper earlier this week, just to make sure I was well aware that the A-League ratings were down since the start of the Rugby League World Cup.

    This was all in an attempt to ensure that us ‘soccer folk’ kept in our box and realised that the A-League is rubbish.

    Two days later, he followed it up with Greg Baum’s article from the Age, Decoding the football wars between soccer and Australian rules, that clearly addressed the issues raised by Hill.

    It appeared Sheehan had found a supporter, as Baum reflected on the conspiracy theorist football fans who unfairly label the ‘yokels’ (his word not mine) as being at the helm of a masterplan to keep football in its rightful place.

    In a specific reference to the AFL, he sarcastically attempted to suggest that the football community may be a little paranoid in thinking that the AFL have a specific plan to damage the game and keep it in its deserved minority position in Australian sport.

    Strangely, he then suggested it was highly likely that the AFL had plans to impart the same “influence” on all the major codes in the country.

    Was it only me who read this as the reasoning behind Sheahan’s comments?

    In the triad of commentary on the game, it was clear that – as usual – a negative comment from a footballing novice like Sheahan had caused a reaction from a well-respected football commentator and provided a vehicle for others to climb aboard the gravy train of ‘football negativity’.

    Maybe Hill wears the chip proudly on his shoulder, as many of us do – Baum’s piece certainly seems to infer that suggestion.

    However, it is hard not to think that the instigator in this nonsense was given liberal scope to, once again, portray football and its most astute minds in a negative light.

    I, for one, will defend Hill to the hilt. He didn’t start it, ask for it, or contribute to it. He just reacted to and questioned the involvement of someone who dislikes the game he loves.

    A game which an increasing number of people are becoming ever more fearful.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.