Glory be and hallelujah.
The AFL is preparing to crack down on one of the serious blights on the game – runners.
Runners were never a justifiable feature of Australian football, just a silly anachronism. Now that the players spend so much time on the bench, their existence is even harder to defend.
They are unnecessary, unsightly and – too often – used unfairly. They fill holes, barrack, needle, get in the way and wear silly clothes.
Their proper job – delivering message from coaches to players – is even more insidious. If you were to identify any of the myriad problems with football, the under-coaching of players would not be one of them.
Standby for an outcry from the coaches. AFL chief Andrew Demetriou has long been suspected of being a runner-sceptic. More strength to his arm if he wants to take on the collective might of the coaches. Do not listen to them, Andrew.
If the coaches had their way, there would be 10 on the interchange bench and a whole squad of runners. Perhaps the team psychologist could pop out for a chat with Jack Riewoldt when he starts losing it? How about the nutritionist, or even player agents, or parents?
Mick Malthouse told us that the sky would fall in when the number on the interchange bench was reduced from four to three and a substitute. It did not. In fact, the game was marginally improved because good players spend more time on the field instead of running on and off four-at-a-time to some plan pre-arranged with the fitness staff.
This column would love to see the interchange bench brought back to two (with, say, two substitutes in case of injury). That would mean more time on the ground for the players that we love to watch.
Take away the runners, and the players might even have to think for themselves. We want footballers, not automatons.
No serious sport allows non-participants to run around willy-nilly on the field of play during play. Can you imagine it in tennis, or boxing, or swimming?
Cricket is becoming a mockery because of the massive number of non-players who invade the field at every possible interval. On Saturday, Peter Siddle was treated for an injury. The delay was bad enough, but the batsmen were not ready to face up even after his finger was taped because they were being attended to by so many fluoro-clad hand maidens.
But at least the cricket intruders are not on the ground during play.
AFL coaches have ample time to communicate with their charges, not least the three official breaks in play and when they are ‘rotating’ on the bench.
While he is at it, Demetriou should also ban the water boys. There is plenty of time for rehydration, either during official breaks or while ‘rotating’ on the pine.
Now there’s a novel idea: leave the playing field for the players and umpires. There are enough of them.