It’s a case of two down, one to go as the AFL’s bye rounds continue. Here’s my five talking points from this weekend’s action.
If ‘Joffa’ is true to his word, he may never see another footy match
During the week Jeff ‘Joffa’ Corfe, famous primarily for being a rusted-on Collingwood cheer squad nuffie (to the point where they made a movie about it), said he won’t attend another AFL game until Gillon McLachlan makes an apology for the treatment of fans.
That came after three notable incidents in two weeks – two of which saw fans ejected from the stadium for umpire abuse, and another where a Collingwood fan claimed he was threatened with ejection by six police for ‘barracking too loud’.
It’s worth noting the first ejection didn’t happen in this timeframe, it was about two months ago during the ‘Anzac Eve’ match, but the decision to give the cheer squad member a three-game ban from taking part in cheer squad activities only became news recently.
Where many have put forward strong opinions on this matter, I’ve remained sceptical. Two weeks ago I wrote that “I don’t understand how anyone can feel like they should have a protected right to abuse without consequence a complete stranger for doing their job” – and I stand by that.
However further developments this weekend would suggest that whatever agenda is at player here does seem to beyond the scope of trying to curtail direct and excessive abuse of umpires.
On Friday night AFL.com.au journalist Nat Edwards wrote of her experience at the MCG, “I was on level 3 and it was very awkward. Security was staring down anyone who became animated and several fans were warned for just barracking. It was like we were being spied on.”
Social media users also shared images from Marvel Stadium on Saturday night of ‘Behavioural Awareness Officers’ patrolling the stadium.
Gillon McLachlan says the AFL hasn’t directed any increased security, a claim backed up my Marvel Stadium CEO Michael Green who said that increasing the “visual presence” of security at the venue over past weeks had been a “stadium decision”.
However Green offered no explanation of what had prompted Marvel Stadium to make that decision, and as yet there’s been no attempt to explain why this happened at the same time that the MCG appears to be enacting similar policies. The odds that this is all a series of bizarre coincidences seems to be shrinking as time goes on.
Make no mistake, I do feel there’s a need for action to be taken to make live sport a more inclusive and accommodating experience to people from all walks of life.
There’s no denying that our football culture, and sporting culture more generally, has some toxic elements that can make attending a live event uncomfortable to attend, especially for those who don’t fit the ‘traditional’ picture idea of what a footy fan is (this Twitter thread by MJ Leaver offers some good insight).
Many fans are crying out for a change to that status quo – but it has to be one that’s underpinned by real leadership. Whether it’s the AFL or the stadiums, someone needs to own the situation and tell us the who, what, why, when, where and how of this increased security.
Until that happens the AFL is leaving space open for fans and media to let their paranoia run wild. Even if, as they claim, they’re not responsible for the initiative, they must surely be in the loop enough to help the public understand what’s happening and why.
And yet, I have learned not to expect that kind of quality leadership from the AFL. If that’s what Joffa’s waiting for, it might take a while.
Walters, Curnow breathe life into bye rounds
When the number of footy games in a week drops to six over the bye rounds, there’s always a little bit of concern that we might not see much in the way of memorable performances over the course of the weekend. Not so in Round 13.
In the space of six hours on Saturday both Michael Walters and Charlie Curnow kicked match-winning bags of six and seven goals respectively… except, of course, that Curnow’s haul was not actually a match-winner.
Walters has simply been sublime over the last month. Fremantle are on a three-game winning streak, and he’s been the deciding player in each of those matches.
In recent seasons Walters has struggled to marry time in the midfield with still delivering the prolific goal output Freo rely on him for. Not so 2019, where he has career-high disposal, tackle and clearance numbers, while also contributing a near-career-best 2.1 goals per game. An All Australian lock.
As for Charlie Curnow, he has hit form over the last four weeks after following up 2018’s breakout season with a relatively poor start to 2019.
Curnow kicked just two goals in his first four games this year – of course, it took him until Round 7 to notch that many games, as he struggled with injury.
After kicking seven this week, he’s now kicked 14 from the month, bringing his season average to 1.8 per match – a slight improvement on last year, and a number which looks likely to rise in the remaining nine games of the year.
The big question – to which we’ll never really know the answer – is this: was he held back by Bolton’s coaching, or just by injury? And if it’s latter – could he have saved Bolton’s job if he wasn’t?
Don’t forget that this week’s loss is Carlton’s third by under a goal in 2019. If the Blues had been able to field peak-form Curnow in earlier matches against the Suns and the Hawks, well, who knows how differently their season might be playing out.
Hawks skipper set to feel the pinch
It’s an interesting feature of the AFL’s relatively recent decision to release tribunal findings for Friday night games early in the weekend that, on Sunday evening we find ourselves already knowing – sort of – how Ben Stratton will be punished for his indiscretions against Essendon.
The Hawthorn captain has been sent directly to the tribunal for not one but two incidents on Friday night – ‘serious misconduct’ of repeatedly pinching his opponent Orazio Fantasia, caught on camera and with enough force to leave Fantasia with multiple noticeable bruise marks, and stopping on Shaun McKernan’s foot, in footage only uncovered after the game.
He was also fined $1000 for raising his middle finger at the crowd during the match. Yeah, it wasn’t his best night.
I’d wager Stratton is about to have the book thrown at him pretty hard. Six years ago Ryan Crowley was only fined $1200 for allegedly pinching Brent Harvey – but that case lacked the hard evidence this one has, and the footy world seems to unanimously agree that a line has been crossed.
My tip would be Stratton is looking at 2-3 weeks for the pinching and perhaps another week or two on top for the foot stop, so could be looking at anywhere between 3-5 weeks on the sidelines.
That is an obscenely long amount of time for the captain of a club to be getting himself suspended for and, given that Stratton is only a few months into the job, will bring up questions over whether he was in fact the right choice.
That could mean that come next week against the Swans, Hawthorn’s last three captains are: sitting in the stands because of a pinching ban, playing in the VFL, and playing for the Brisbane Lions (or, more accurately, enjoying a bye for the Brisbane Lions).
Is the club starting to scrape the barrel a bit when it comes to leadership? And what direction will they go in when 2019 ends if they remain unable to become anything more than a self-described ‘medicore’ team?
Stack and Betts give us a great footy moment
On Thursday night I was taking an evening stroll around the neighbourhood and of course while doing so listening to the final quarter of the match that was playing out between Adelaide and Richmond.
The game was balanced on a tight rope at the final change but, perhaps a bit predictably, the undermanned Tigers ran out of steam in the last quarter, and past a certain point it almost became a bit of a snooze.
That was until I heard a noticeable rise in the excitement level of the commentary team as Eddie Betts kicked what, in their words, was one of the goals of the year.
I got home a few minutes later and watch the footage online – and I was not disappointed. Not only was the goal yet another bit of Betts brilliance, it was made all the better by his wholesome interraction with Sydney Stack afterwards.
“We were going at it the whole game,” said Betts afterwards.
“Sydney Stack is a great young player – he’s aggressive and he doesn’t give you a chance and keeps pushing you.
“All game he kept saying – ‘no special goals tonight, brother’.
“I had the ball in that pocket, early in that quarter and tried for a left-foot snap and Sydney smothered it and he came back up to me and said ‘no special goals, brother’.
“I said mate, trust me trust me I’m gonna get one.”
“I said – told ya, brother.”
Cheeky stuff! One can only imagine what a surreal feeling it must be for Stack, a young indigenous player at the very beginning of his AFL career, to play on one of the league’s all-time greats.
“Always give sportsmanship to the opposition. You’ve gotta respect them, and I respect Eddie a lot,” Stack said.
“The game was pretty much already over. Eddie’s one of my favourites – I’d shake his hand any day. I’m still in disbelief that I’m playing among legends like Eddie.
“He’s one of my favourite players. It was just a special moment to play on him, I guess, and when he kicked that goal I was just amazed.”
A genuinely wholesome and pure moment. To me, this is exactly what footy’s all about. Shame on anyone who tried to drum up disunity in search of media traffic.
St Kilda escape a shock from the Suns… again
This Saturday’s match in Townsville saw the Saints get off to a slow start against Gold Coast, trailing by 31 points at one time, to narrowly scrape over the line for a win by less than a goal.
Ordinarily perhaps not all that interesting of a result, but what gets me thinking is the fact that it has happened three times in the last twelve months.
In Round 1 this year the Saints narrowly got their season off to a winning start, knocking over Gold Coast by a single point at Marvel Stadium.
But in Round 13 last year – and yes, this one was in Round 13 too – we saw St Kilda travel North and look like they were about to cop a beating from the struggling Suns only to rally and sneak home by a small margin.
This week it was St Kilda getting over the line 80-76. In Round 13 last year it was the much the same: 80-78.
Probably the biggest difference is that last year it was only St Kilda’s second win of the season, while this time around it is their sixth, and after twelve matches that gives them an even split of wins and losses this year.
I suspect if you took a street poll of footy fans and asked them to tell you how many wins the Saints had, many would guess it’s a bit less. Six wins from their last ten to make finals is a totally achievable number, but I’ve yet to see anyone suggest they could actually do it.
That brings us to the crux of the matter: is St Kilda’s ladder position this year an indicator of genuine improvement, or is it just papering over cracks?
Four of their six wins have come against the bottom three clubs on the ladder – Carlton, Gold Coast and Melbourne – and if you wanted to be a harsh marker you could make the argument that they were lucky to play Essendon and Hawthorn at the times they did.
Of course the other side of the coin is that they’ve missed Jack Steven, Jake Carlisle, Dan Hannebery and Jarryn Geary for most if not all of the year, and still have No.4 draft pick Max King to unveil.
If you consider those circumstances, they’re doing outstandingly well to have already beaten last year’s win total by half.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what position this club would be in were the rolls of the dice a little less kind, and the Saints had copped three close losses to the Suns in 12 months rather than the other way around. Would Alan Richardson be scrambling to keep his job? Should he be doing so anyway?
Everbody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (8-5) – The Crows played a decimated Richmond side on the weekend and it took them until the last quarter to shake them off in any kind of decisive way. Should’ve won by ten goals, minimum.
Carlton Blues (2-11) – If you tipped Saturday night’s match to be the second of the season where both teams would score at least 100 points, then my hat goes off to you.
Essendon Bombers (6-6) – Baffling that there was ever any talk of potentially dropping Dylan Clarke after he showed up Patrick Cripps in his last match. Played the role again this week too. Keep him in the team.
Fremantle Dockers (7-5) – Won’t get much press after the incredible Walters display, but this was Griffin Logue’s chance to grab a spot in the side and he made a real impact with 24 touches and eight marks.
Gold Coast Suns (3-10) – Nine losses in a row, two of them by less than a goal, and counting.
GWS Giants (9-4) – Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio, Tim Taranto. Three GWS midfielders who are surely all getting into the All Australian team this year.
Hawthorn Hawks (5-7) – Will no doubt have more thoughts on their future planning soon enough, but the biggest one right now is that they need a forward target. Tim O’Brien and Mitch Lewis types just aren’t cutting it. Is Jonathon Patton that guy?
North Melbourne Kangaroos (5-8) – Not the way Ben Cunnington wanted to celebrate his 200th game, copping a hard tag from Matt De Boer and generally struggling to impact the game. Deserves a nod for the great season he’s putting together all the same.
Port Adelaide Power (6-6) Lost a classic ‘eight-point’ game, but have some really good players to come back over the next few weeks, including possibly Charlie Dixon for the first time all year.
Richmond Tigers (7-6) – I was probably a little surprised to see the Tigers pick Dustin Martin to captain the club this week, but watching the match you can’t argue that both the team itself and Dusty more specifically didn’t play to the best of their abilities.
St Kilda Saints (6-6) – Another world-beating game from Jack Billings this week to drag the Saints across the line. He’s going to break the club’s four-year streak without an All Australian, dating back to when Nick Riewoldt was vice-captain in 2014.
Western Bulldogs (5-7) – Do you know why the Dogs won this game? It’s because they tagged Patrick Cripps. Take note, Chris Fagan.