In the modern growth of the evolution of Australian Rules Football, one of the more startling trends that have come out of the AFL is the role of the tagger.
Back in the days of the VFL, one would quell the influence of a star opposition player by drafting or buying top quality players to match them. The trend lapsed in 2001-2004 during the era of the rampant Brisbane Lions, who got Brownlow Medal-winning midfielders in Michael Voss and Jason Akermanis.
The latest true lapses have been in the modern day all-conquering Hawthorn team, who rely on hard nuts like Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Bard Sewell in the midfield, and the vaunted Collingwood outfit during the years of 2010 and 2011.
The Pies trusted that their midfield in Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Luke Ball would win the clearances and contested possessions. Collingwood are in the middle of the tagging debate at the moment though, with forward-cum-tagger Brent Macaffer’s tagging job on Trent Cotchin last Friday night bringing back the debate.
Ryan Crowley was shunned last year but now his actions are feasible, even though they are symmetrical to his actions of the previous year when he was chastised.
I believe that mostly the lower-placed teams pursue in using a tagger. Collingwood only switched Macaffer to tagger after Gary Ablett ran amok twice against them and the Pies fell out of the top four.
Look at the top teams though: Hawthorn – no tagger. Geelong – no tagger. Essendon – no tagger. Port Adelaide – no tagger.
Only Fremantle use a tagger. Geelong used to during their premiership winning era, but that was the dynamic Cameron Ling, who didn’t tag week in, week out.
The top teams should lead by example and ditch tagging. All teams copy what the best do. If the worst teams need to stop an Ablett, Pendlebury or Steve Johnson, then they should put effort into recruiting the next Ablett, Pendlebury or Johnson.
Tagging is a negative defect of the game, which could jeopardise the competition if the negative attitudes continue. Many people who love football love to see the footage where Ablett roves through a pack and kicks a team-lifting goal, or where Stevie Johnson snaps an impossible ball. The same can be said when Cyril takes a screamer then bends through the goal or when Pendlebury finds time in traffic to kick an amazing goal.
With all of the negative tactics that tagging brings, none of those highlights would be recreated. Suddenly getting twenty touches would be seen as a good game for a midfielder, or two goals would be a haul. The standards would be lower and everyone would be worse off for it.
Taggers have no highlights, just a smug satisfaction of knowing that they have wrecked the game fractionally. I am a Collingwood supporter and I respect Macaffer, but I don’t believe that he should play that role. The role he plays should give him the nickname of ‘Decaf’.
Do the hard yards like Geelong and Hawthorn did and recruit future superstars who will create everlasting memories for anyone who sees them play. Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney did it, and look how they are developing.
To quote Coldplay, ‘Nobody said it was easy,’ but the game will be better off if we do dig deep.