Sport AFL Nathan Burke: What happens when 1990s footballers meet a 2019 team?

Nathan Burke: What happens when 1990s footballers meet a 2019 team?

Best in show: David Parkin and Stephen Kernahan with the 1995 Premiership Cup. Photo: Getty
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One of the best barbecue discussions for sports fans is ‘Which era of Australian Rules footy was the best?’ For me it was undoubtedly the 1990s.

The style of football, the legendary players and the simplicity of the rules combined to make it the best sporting spectacle in the land.

The most dominant single-year team of the ’90s was the great Carlton team of 1995.

With a mixture of youth and experience led by the brilliant coach David Parkin, the Blues lost only two games for the home-and-away season before going on to win the Grand Final by 61 points over Geelong.

It was as comprehensive a season that any modern team could hope to put together.

While Blues supporters would love to discover some sort of time warp and see this team take the field again, for now they can only stand by and wait for the current Carlton crop to start getting some runs on the board.

Still, it is an interesting mind game to ponder what would happen if the 1995 Blues could be miraculously transported into the the modern era to play the 2019 team.

And it would not just be the scoreboard that would tell the tale.

For me, the aspect of most interest would be listening to the half-time discussions in the changerooms as the 1995 boys try to work out what the hell is going on.

I can imagine Parko asking the midfielders who they are playing on, only to be met with bewildering stares.

Only Brett Ratten would likely be bold enough to answer: “We don’t know who we are playing on as nobody is picking us up. They all just go and stand around, guarding grass. When we do think we have it figured out, they run off the ground and somebody else runs on. It’s impossible to tell”.

Even the forwards and defenders who generally do have an opponent these days would find it difficult to answer the question.

The current Blues have a different game to play. Photo: Getty

A frustrated Stephen Kernahan would be asking why every time he goes for a mark there is a third or fourth defender also going up against him. Why are there a line of blokes standing in all of his leading space?

Down back Stephen Silvagni will be wondering where all the forwards have gone and why do they keep shooting up into defence every chance they get?

The ‘95 team was famous for being able to coach itself, however I doubt any of them would have an answer when Craig Bradley asks: “Why are there so many people around the ball?”

“Every time we pick it up there are dozens of ‘em pouncing on us. It’s impossible to get away,” I can hear him say.

“When we do whack it on our foot, it goes to about four of them who have set up down the line.”

Anthony Koutoufides would be asking why the opposition don’t seem interested in scoring.

“All they want to do is maintain possession and kick the ball backwards and sideways,” he’d say.

“It’s almost like they think whoever has the most possessions wins the game.”

One thing the old crew would need to find answers for is the free kick count that would most likely sit at 52 to four in favour of the 2019 team.

You can bet there’d be a few reports – well MRO referrals – for crunches that were once legal.

As to who would win the game? First, you would have to deduct the 11 goals kicked courtesy of the 50m and 100m penalties given away by the 1995 guys.

After that it would come down to which team had the better players and I think everyone would agree that the old team wins this argument hands down.

Regardless of how the tactics of the game have evolved and been changed to make it more defensive, congested and reliant on turnovers to kick goals, there’s one thing that never changes – great players are great players.

No matter what era you plug talented young men into, they would find a way to compete. And in the case of the modern Blues, eventually win.

Still, in a battle between the old and new Blues, I’d be tipping a stirring come-from-behind win by the old boys of 1995.

Nathan Burke is a former St Kilda captain who played 323 AFL games for the Saints, winning three Trevor Barker Awards as best-and-fairest player.