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The AFL is a squad competition, so why do we only reward the team?

Was this your favourite sports moment of 2016? (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Guru
23rd September, 2017
12

The AFL grand final is only a few more sleeps away. As the culmination of months of matches and thousands of individual contests, it will be a fierce and hopefully even fight between two of this year’s best teams.

Each and every year there’s a number of issues raised about the concept itself: whether tradition should overrule fairness in hosting and whether too many tickets are given to corporate partners instead of members and fans, for example. This is another topic that has been receiving attention recently and I believe it deserves more discussion as it can be fixed in a straightforward way.

A modern AFL squad can have 40 players at any one time. Any of these people can be called up to play each week. Throughout the season, at least 30 will. However, when it comes to the premiers at the end of the season, only the 22 players who played that day receive a premiership medallion. A player who plays one match for a team might be a premiership player for that team while a 300-gamer could miss out.

In every premiership team, there is an example of, as I call them, ‘Unfortunates’. In Adelaide’s squad there is the Unfortunate Brodie Smith: he’s played 23 games this year, averaged 20 disposals a game and would be playing if not for his injury but should Adelaide win on the next Saturday, he won’t get a premiership medal.

Even though he has easily been a key contributor to the team’s success this season. Last year, Robert Murphy had to be given his coach’s medal instead of having one of his own. It was an admittedly touching moment but why did we need to have it?

To fix this, I am not suggesting the NFL approach where everyone who is one the squad at all throughout the season should get one.

Although there have been instances of a club giving the whole squad a medal at the end of the season, I don’t think that’s necessarily a good approach in the modern league where several players might not play a match all season. Instead, I think we should let the players decide who deserves one.

When there is a player that has missed out on playing in the grand final, the players who did play in the match could nominate them to the league and show why they were so important. For Brodie Smith and 2012 Unfortunate Ben McGlynn that could be that they played in more than 20 games throughout the season.

For Robert Murphy it could simply be that he was captain of the club and had been a leading player for so long. It couldn’t be done it for every player in the squad, maybe give it a limit of 3-5, but it would mean that the most important people don’t have to miss out.

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While this approach I think that the league can recognise that the squad matters as much as the team does. And this way important cogs in the machine that miss out due to injury or tactical decisions aren’t left wanting for the medal that so many miss out on.

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