Bill Hutchinson is one of Essendon’s all-time greats, but in 2019 he’s likely to lose his spot on the list of the AFL’s top 100 game players.
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Whichever way you analyse it, football games are won by teams who best maximise their opportunities. Game plans, zones, floods and forward presses are all thrown out the window if players, and particularly forwards, fail to execute their shots at goal.
And, as it stands, AFL goalkicking is in crisis.
The likes of Tony Lockett, Jason Dunstall and Matthew Lloyd – all superb kicks for goal in their own right – must have looked on in horror in Round 3.
Some of the opportunities frittered away were, almost, unforgivable. It is the sort stuff that can cost you a premiership – and the last two Grand Finals have proved it.
Goal accuracy was below 50 per cent last weekend – and it would be fair enough to opine that what was on display was sub-standard.
Across the season so far, the conversion rate is 55 per cent – the lowest known since we were able to access data of each shot for goal in 1999. It is a disturbing trend.
But there are compelling reasons for the drop in accuracy.
Commentator Brian Taylor, who is a former goalkicking coach and player at Collingwood, believes conditioning staff at clubs get in the way of any meaningful goalkicking practice for players after training.
Former St.Kilda coach Grant Thomas has backed Taylor’s view.
The load is simply too much, the fitness gurus say. There is too much strain on the quadriceps and, therefore, the risk of injury in future weeks is increased.
Essendon’s Lloyd is one player who made it a habit to spend an hour after most training sessions having set shots for goal.
During his 15-year career, Lloyd converted at a rate of just under 69 per cent. Now you know how high a standard he set. His hard labour produced results.
For comparative purposes, Dunstall converted his shots at a rate of 68 per cent, while Lockett was ultra impressive, as you would expect, at a tick under 74 per cent.
There have been other great goalkickers, of course, but I am using these three as an example.
Today, it’s difficult to think of anyone in their league. Nick Riewoldt (career rate of 61 per cent) is a star, but still a wonky set shot. Ditto Lance Franklin (58 per cent).
Brendan Fevola (60 per cent) gets plenty of shots, but misses plenty. Jonathon Brown (64 per cent) is one who seems to have, well and truly, discovered his radar. This season he has booted 17 goals from 21 shots – a rate of 81 per cent. Superb.
So, we have to ask, is it more important for these forwards to do 100 push ups or a 5km run, or work on their goal-kicking for half-an-hour?
Arguably, the last two premierships, as mentioned, have been decided by inaccuracy in front of goal.
But don’t blame the players, the skill, and devotion it requires, is being neglected for fear of asking too much of the players during the training week.
And if conversion rates continue to fall, something must change. Otherwise there will be a few more games thrown away by teams this season due to wobbly boots.
Practice still makes perfect. History tells us so.