Sport AFL Nathan Burke: There’s no such thing as an ‘untaggable’ player

Nathan Burke: There’s no such thing as an ‘untaggable’ player

Tagging Giant: Mark De Boer making life difficult for Tiger Dustin Martin. Photo: Getty
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Greater Western Sydney last week lost its most important player. It wasn’t a Jeremy Cameron or Toby Greene … it was tagger Matt DeBoer.

The reason is simple: He stops the opposition’s best player.

It staggers me how so few coaches fail to see value in doing this.

Every week midfielders around the league are allowed to amass 40-plus possessions with no time or effort put into stopping them.

It does my head in and if I ever hear the words ‘untaggable’ again, I will lose it completely.

Today’s footballers are great, however there are no players in the game better than the men I am about to mention.

Each of them were absolute champions that I had the privilege of being on the same field with. I say privilege now, but at the time it was more like a nightmare.

Take for an example the brutish genius that was Sydney and Carlton’s Greg Williams.

Whenever I see Greg my stomach muscles involuntarily clench into a ball. I have flashbacks of standing beside Diesel, stomach constantly clenched waiting for the fist or elbow to shoot backwards into my gut.

Greg Williams (R) getting on David Schwarz’s nerves in 1998. Photo: Getty

But this alone didn’t make him hard to play on.

It was his ability to get the ball in and out of his hands before you even thought about tackling him that made him so tough.

This ability won him two Brownlow Medals – and it should have been three – yet he was never given the moniker ‘unstoppable’.

In many ways Williams was similar to Tigers champ Dale Weightman.

The Flea was never averse to giving you a regular backhander during the play. And like Diesel, he was very sporting and would often let you know the type of action that would precipitate such a blow.

His lightning hands never gave you a chance to tackle him and he could win an inside or outside ball as well as anyone.

And yet Weightman was never considered untaggable.

As the midfield dynamo during the Hawks power years of the late 1980s and early ’90s John Platten was an absolute gun.

The Rat didn’t have the ability to whack you like the previous two, but he was tough in other ways. A day lined up against Platten meant that you would be covering more ground than Steve Moneghetti in a marathon.

This ability earned him a Brownlow in ’87 and a legion of Hawthorn and South Australian fans as he tore apart the Vics in State of Origin contests.

The Rat and his SA mate Craig Bradley were both magnificent champions but none were never considered ‘untaggable’.

The above three big names also reminds me of what we have lost in modern-day football, the player nickname. I’ve mentioned Diesel, The Flea and The Rat and the next guy on my list had a beauty – Buddha, Geelong’s Gary Hocking.

Hockey was a tough-as-nails midfielder that should have won a Brownlow.

In a team that was studded with stars like Gary Ablett Sr, Andrew Bews and Paul Couch, it was Hocking who most regularly took home the best-and-fairest trophies.

He could do it all as a midfielder and like many of the greats he could go forward and kick a goal when needed. Very much like Anthony Koutoufides could in his heyday.

Yet despite this, neither Buddha or Kouta were considered ‘untaggable’.

Now consider latter modern greats such as Michael Voss, Nathan Buckley, James Hird, Mark Ricciuto, Scott West, Brad Johnson and the guy who I saw closer than anyone, the great Robert Harvey.

All of them champions of the game that at various times were deserving of the mantle of best player in the league. Yet again, none of these guys were completely immune to the tagger.

They all had days when opponents would get the better of them. Even Wayne Carey had a nemesis in Glen Jakovich.

For some reason coaches constantly make excuses as to why tagging won’t work. Excuses like the need to play 18-man defences. It is a load of rot.

Without De Boer the much-vaunted Giants midfield failed in the first week he was absent.

Their entire season and finals chances may hinge on getting De Boer back on the field.

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.