Sport AFL Nathan Burke: Key to AFL success is talent, heart and smarts
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Nathan Burke: Key to AFL success is talent, heart and smarts

The top 10 picks pose at the 2018 AFL Draft. Photo: AAP
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I can recall exactly the moment I started to hold grave fears for the game of Australian Rules Football.

It was 2005 and the St Kilda List Management team were outlining their plans for the upcoming draft.

On the whiteboard was drawn a football oval, with each of the 18 traditional playing positions clearly marked.

Instead of names being placed alongside each position there was only a set of numbers.

Back Pocket (small) – 180cm, 82kg; Full Back – 195cm, 95kg; Back Pocket (tall) –188cm, 87kg.

Centre – 190cm, 90kg Wing – 185cm, 82kg.

Forward pocket (small) –180cm, 80kg; Full forward – 200cm, 100kg; Forward Pocket (tall) – 196cm, 95kg

I was dumbfounded and concerned. Is this what the game had been reduced to, matching potential draftees with specific physical characteristics? Choosing prototype athletes over footballers?

The issue came up again this week when I read a story about a young man who is tipped to be picked up in the mid-season draft.

The highlight of the article was the fact he twice beat Stephen Hills’ agility record at the draft camp.

I’m assured there is more to the young man in question, however I hope the fact he is “agile” sits low on the list of reasons why he is drafted.

For me, in the battle between the athlete and the footballer, the footballer wins every time.

Sure, the athlete will have his day and occasionally look impressive, but if you want a long career, consistency is all that matters.

Make no mistake, it is football nous that leads to consistency, not how quickly you can navigate your way through a set of cones.

Your GPS score doesn’t get you a game each week, it’s how often you get the footy.

There are three main qualities required to be good at this game.

  1. You need to be able to execute the skills, especially good foot skills.
  2. You need excellent decision-making abilities.
  3. You need the right physical abilities.

For me the most important is the decision-making abilities.

This game requires you to make decisions virtually every second you are on the field, when you have the ball and even when you don’t have the ball.

If you make the right ones it will drastically increase your chances of winning. Make the wrong ones and you will lose more often than not.

This is especially true in the modern game, where teams prey on the turnover or a lapse in concentration in order to score.

Then there are basic skills. If you can’t kick the football with accuracy, not necessarily with penetration, but reliable accuracy, you won’t get a game. Note, however, that being a straight shot for goal doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite these days.

Last, I would choose athletic ability, which includes height and weight as well as how fast and how far you can run.

Unfortunately developing tests to assess physical characteristics is easier than testing a football brain.

Two-metre jumps and a 17-score beep test are great, but can the player  get the footy? And more importantly can they effectively and regularly give the football to a teammate in a better position than they are?

Thankfully the troubles I anticipated 15 years ago have not fully eventuated. This game has still found room for the Caleb Daniels, Lewis Taylor and Jack Loney-type players.

These guys don’t fit any athletic prototype but more than make up for it with talent, decision-making and heart.

While we have that, the game is safe.