Sport AFL Drawn out debate starts again after weekend of AFL reversals

Drawn out debate starts again after weekend of AFL reversals

AFL round 5 wrap
Stop. The football public understand that sometimes in sport there doesn’t need to be a definitive winner and loser. Photo: Getty
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You can set your clock by it. Any time these days an AFL game ends in a draw, it takes fully 30 seconds for someone in the football media, or with a large social media following, or both, to start agitating for change.

And thus barely had the St Kilda and Greater Western Sydney players finished walking off Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon with scores locked at 73 points apiece, than it was on again.

“Just play extra time”. “Why do we have draws in the home and away season when we don’t in finals?” “No-one’s satisfied with a draw, just get rid of them”. Etc. etc.

Judging by the weight of negative response to those suggestions, there’s still a hankering for at least some of football’s traditions. Or perhaps, more simply, the bulk of the football public understand that sometimes in sport there doesn’t need to be a definitive winner and loser.

But for those media types who keep flying this kite, let’s attempt to explain it again. Unlike finals, which do need a winner and loser for an elimination system to work, each home and away game is merely one of 22 qualifying stages, the four match points for a win and two for a draw counting towards a longer-term goal. In that sense, there is a result.

As for the “no-one’s satisfied” theory, really? Ask the 94,000 people who witnessed one of the best handful of games of the entire AFL era on Anzac Day 1995, when Collingwood and Essendon played themselves to a standstill, unable to be separated, their splitting of the points actually the perfect result.

Is this is a recurring issue? No. Over the past 10 seasons (including this one) there’s been just 17 draws. That’s an average of less than two per year. From just on 200 games each time. That’s a tiny percentage of results of which we can’t speak in absolutes. I think we’ll survive.

Indeed, the absence of absolutes from that Saints-Giants clash might well be an appropriate metaphor for the 2018 season to date. Because it seems there’s a healthy share of teams making alleged definitive statements one week only for them to appear hollow the next.

Port Adelaide was the only remaining undefeated team just three rounds in. Now the Power are 3-2 after consecutive defeats to Essendon and Geelong, and just got out of jail the week before that against lowly Brisbane.

AFL round 5 wrap
Dejected Port Adelaide players walk off the ground after consecutive defeats. Photo: Getty

The Western Bulldogs appeared to have recovered much of their A-game over a fortnight with a good win over the Bombers and a narrow and perhaps unlucky loss to Sydney. Gains which were surrendered with a limp 54-point loss to Fremantle in Perth on Saturday night.

Hawthorn made a big statement a week ago in its 67-point pummelling of Melbourne. What to make then of the Hawks’ 28-point loss to North Melbourne, a game in which it trailed by as much as 57 points?

One conclusion easily drawn is that those injuries to small forward pair Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo, both potentially out of action for another five or six weeks, could prove costly indeed.

If statistics like an efficiency rate inside 50 of just 31 per cent against North, or nine marks in the forward half compared to the Roos’ 16, didn’t say so effectively enough, the opening to the final term, with the Hawks still a sneaky chance, spoke volumes.

Hawthorn attacked relentlessly for much of that time. Without its two best exponents for forward pressure, however, it simply couldn’t lock the ball in for long enough, North riding out the storm and steadying.

And what of the Roos, arguably the most popular tip among pundits this pre-season to take out the 2018 wooden spoon? Or, for that matter, Gold Coast with whom they were a popular quinella for bottom two?

North Melbourne, at least until Richmond’s Tuesday night clash with Melbourne, is currently in third spot. The Suns, in terms of match points if not percentage, are equal with the Roos. What were the odds on that double only six weeks ago?

The Roos have defied the forecast gloom and doom in style to date. Their opening round loss in that “underwater” clash in Cairns against the Suns doesn’t look that bad now. They pushed Melbourne until deep into the final term, smashed St Kilda and Carlton by 52 and 86 points respectively, and saved their best for Sunday afternoon against a team which had been looking decidedly ominous.

AFL round 5
Ben Brown, Jarrod Waite and Jack Ziebell kicked nine goals in North’s win. Photo: Getty

North’s best and most senior hands are in great nick, Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite combining for seven goals on Sunday, Jack Ziebell dangerous forward, midfield mainstay Ben Cunnington solid as ever, Robbie Tarrant outstanding in defence, and master tagger Ben Jacobs pulling down the shutters on Hawk possession machine Tom Mitchell.

That was a statement. But arguably two of the more emphatic made in round five thus far have come from two sides who didn’t even win. Not on the scoreboard, anyway.

Given the critical blowtorch to which both clubs had been subjected during the past week, St Kilda’s draw with the Giants and Carlton’s 10-point loss against West Coast were laudable efforts. The Saints’ midfield finally clicked into gear after some grim weeks, the Blues pushed the Eagles all the way even without skipper Marc Murphy, ruckman Matthew Kreuzer, Caleb Marchbank or Jacob Weitering.

What’s to come? Well, Melbourne badly needs to make a statement on Anzac Day eve against the Tigers after an insipid fade-out last week. And a win to either Collingwood or Essendon the following afternoon, given their most recent performances, will be even more of a statement than victory on the biggest of stages each April 25th is already.

Perhaps we may be fortunate enough to get a repeat of 1995. It’s been 23 years since the last Anzac Day draw, after all. Which, yes, would also be a powerful statement, an appropriately stinging rebuttal to those continued silly suggestions about draws.

Read more from Rohan Connolly, formerly a senior football writer for Fairfax, at Footyology, or watch Footyology TV.