Malthouse: The biggest myths in footy
WHEN you're in the game long enough, you start to notice trends, both on and off the field.
One trend that has always irked me, is when a throwaway line or an off-the-cuff remark is repeated so often it becomes like a catchphrase and the myth is perpetuated.
MICK MALTHOUSE looks at a few from this season.
A CLEAN IMAGE
We need our game to be an invitation for young people to want to play football.
It's obviously not a good look when the back, and front pages, of the newspapers show the aftermath of the Andrew Gaff-Andrew Brayshaw incident.
Gaff will wear his suspension because he knows that he made a terrible split-second decision, against the grain of his usual conduct.
When my grandson plays in the under-10s on a Saturday morning, I watch with interest to see the imitation of the week.
When kids watch the Friday night game and witness something that resonates with them for any particular reason, they'll immediately copy it.
Which is why I don't understand why we are allowing teams to go unpunished when they are clearly pushing, forearm jolting and elbowing their opponents at the start of every quarter and whenever time is dead.
It is a tactic currently being used by some of the lower clubs, but if they think that "going the man" is a sign of being tough, they're wrong.
Its ugly and unprofessional, and most definitely a bad image for the game.
We can stop this rubbish immediately by paying a free kick and telling the culprit to win the ball instead.
IT'S AN EVEN COMPETITION
The competition is even when 11 or 12 wins gets you into the top eight, because the wins have been distributed among the 18 teams.
That is not the case this year.
In fact it may well take 14 wins to earn a finals berth. That is unprecedented.
13th-placed Fremantle takes on the 18th-placed Blues on Sunday, and these teams have just nine wins between them.
The top four teams will finish the season on around 15 wins, or more. That's a massive discrepancy.
And the likelihood of any club between 13 and 18 upsetting a top club is remote.
How did this happen? Are all clubs in a different cycle of development and recruitment?
I hardly suspect so.
The Western Bulldogs are one of the bottom clubs and yet they won a premiership two years ago.
Carlton is spruiking a rebuild. Gold Coast hasn't ever finished above 12th. St Kilda tease but go no further. Brisbane's last hurrah was in 2003.
And Fremantle has capitulated since its one fling at a flag.
In the foreseeable future, I can't see any of these clubs challenging for a premiership.
So, no, the competition is not even.
We don't have enough elite players coming through the system to fill the ranks of 18 clubs, so when a top player chooses to move to a top club it flies in the face of Robin Hood's age-old philosophy.
Tom Lynch is the latest player to request a move from a struggling team (Gold Coast) to a top club (Richmond, Collingwood or Hawthorn).
The Suns may also lose Steven May next year, despite one year still to run on his contract.
It will kill Gold Coast if it happens, and prove that no matter how many early picks you get, it's tough to hang onto players if your club isn't performing.
So lower clubs start looking to bring in a "big get."
Unfortunately, the big-name player turns out to be ageing, injured, or on his way out. It's hardly a way to advance up the ladder.
But with public pressure on their club to recruit an experienced "star", a short-term fix is instant gratification - when it works.
It has been suggested that St Kilda is chasing contracted Sydney midfielder Dan Hannebery.
The 27-year-old is an admired player, but his body has been through a lot.
He has slowed down considerably, had problems with injury, and has lost his ability to always find a target. I believe his best is well and truly behind him.
The Swans, too, would know he is on the cusp of becoming a player with a use-by date.
As with any player, the Saints must ensure all aspects on and off field are investigated and considered before committing to a trade.
And with the touted "draft of the decade" to come, St Kilda would be foolish to give up any of its first three round picks.
TOO YOUNG/TOO INJURED
When you pick your 22 players each week, you are announcing to all that they are your best 22 available players.
It means that every player is expected to do his best. He won't be let off the hook because of his age.
He won't feel inferior because of where he was picked in the squad.
This is your team to win a game with.
There's no doubt injuries play a significant part in the outcome of a club's season, but there's no point in anyone dwelling on them.
We've already seen the improvement in GWS since the return of some of their injured stars.
But I think it's the resilience they've built to overcome those injuries that is the reason for their form turnaround.
Leon Cameron has never used excuses. Instead he has used the injuries as a catalyst for his younger players to prove themselves.
The common call during Carlton games this year has been "the young Blues" or "youthful Carlton".
They are young, but in many cases this season their opposition has been younger.
Last weekend GWS was collectively eight years older than Carlton. Against the Western Bulldogs in Round 6, the Dogs were 40-years younger overall on the day.
It's easy to do the sums before making the call.
Luke Beveridge is another no-excuse coach and has not once complained about injuries or the youth of his team.
A CAREER PATHWAY FOR WOMEN
So while I'm on my soapbox, I must dispute a claim by the AFL that they have created a career pathway for female athletes with the introduction of the AFLW competition.
What, is the Australian Women's cricket team not No.1 in world team rankings?
Weren't the Diamonds the first team to qualify for next year's netball world cup?
Aren't the Opals, Hockeyroos and Matildas in the top echelon of world sport?
I could throw in our women's Rugby 7s and all the recent Olympic gold medal winners, but I think you get my point.
There have been several career pathways for female athletes for a long time.
But AFLW is not one.
There are eight rounds of games to a season - with a proposed reduction to six.
And revenue comes from the government and sponsors, with nothing from gate receipts.
Gillon McLachlan says there's "no bigger priority" for the AFL than the AFLW.
That's a lot importance to place on promoting a competition that has to poach quality athletes from other sports to make up team numbers; especially when country leagues are being dissolved and clubs are being forced to fold, and junior football is in dire need of development funds and resources.
To work, AFLW needs to have its own identity, similar to the two entities of Basketball Australia: NBL and WNBL.
STATE OF THE GAME
Last week's Round 20 was a clear indication of what our game looks like: five games were determined by less than a goal, one game had a margin of 35 points, and there were three blowouts.
People came away by Saturday night saying how exciting the game is, and by the end of Sunday they judged the competition as being boring and broken.
This is the competition as it is though.
When top teams play bottom teams, an uneven result is inevitable.
When clubs of similar standing clash, the outcome is usually thrilling.
That's not going to change no matter what rules you bring in.
So a warning to the naysayers suggesting zoning is the answer to "improving" the state of the game: those horrific scorelines will only get worse.
Teams have to be able to protect themselves defensively and stop sides at the source of the destruction - the stoppages. So let them.
Take a deep breath and enjoy our game in all its glory.
My rant is over.
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