all on the same page
Change always comes with challenges. The implementation of stricter rules around high contact and the hip and shoulder are the right thing, but I do feel a bit for the players, who’ve had to work their way through it.
When I was playing, you could hip and shoulder someone or make contact with the head and it was perfectly fair. Now, if you do that, you’ll be suspended.
We’ve seen plenty of cases where players have had to make a split-second decision about how they go into a contest and possibly made the wrong one. You bring it back to slow motion and people will yell and scream, ‘Oh, that’s high contact!’ and the offender should pay the price.
But, in the heat of the moment, you’re running in at full pace and you’ve got an instant to decide whether to bump or go down for the football or try and turn and protect yourself. It’s inevitable there is going to be some accidental high contact.
On the north-west coast of Tassie there’s a stretch from Devonport to Wynyard in which there’s maybe 100,000 people. So many champions of the game have come out of that area.
It’s the same for the hip and shoulder. If you’re a tall player and you go to hip and shoulder a short player, you’ve got to take into account there’s more likelihood you might get them high, even if it’s not you’re intent.
I think there is a little bit of uncertainty among players, but over the past couple of years they’ve become more aware of what’s acceptable or not.
It might have taken some players a bit of time to get these changes worked out. But I think if you ask anyone in the game today, they’re all on the same page about wanting to eliminate head contact because we all know now the side-effects of concussion later in life.
There are going to be misjudgements and accidents – we want players to continue to compete hard for the ball – but the goal of getting rid of head-high impact that causes concussion can only be a good thing.
It’s tasmania’s time
I don’t think doing away with the thuggish parts of the game diminishes at all the proud history of our code. I grew up in an area that’s as proud about footy as they come and I know the passion for the game burns there now as brightly as it ever has.
On the rocky north-west coast of Tassie there’s a stretch of about 60 or 70 kilometres, from Devonport to Wynyard, in which there’s four or five towns and maybe 100,000 people. It’s an absolute footy heartland. So many champions of the game have come out of that area.
I remember in the mid-90s, our team had five guys from that stretch. It’s pretty extraordinary. Five guys in one AFL team from a small area like that.
Our family ended up there because my dad, who’d grown up in country Victoria, near the South Australian border, went to coach in Tassie and loved the lifestyle. He went for two years and stayed 25. All us kids were born there.
I’m glad I grew up in Devonport because it helped put footy front and centre for me. Dad played for Richmond and there was never really a doubt in my mind that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. But to have had a childhood in such a football-orientated environment was a real advantage.
Just about all those 100,000 locals has a team they support and most young boys, when I was growing up, played cricket in summer and footy in winter. It’s just what you did.
For an area that’s so passionate about the game, that’s produced so many players – for a state that’s got such a love of AFL football – it seems only right that the next big progressive move in the game should be to establish a team there in the national competition.
It’s a long argument to get into, about why it hasn’t happened yet, but at the heart of it it’s always been based around numbers and money. With the AFL’s expansion in recent years, they’ve wanted to expand into areas that weren’t grassroots heartlands and you can understand that.
But I think you also have to remember your foundation areas, like Tasmania. And, if it really is about money, you’ve got the Tasmanian government sponsoring Hawthorn, so why couldn’t they sponsor their own team?
One thing I can guarantee is that a team out of Tasmania would be as tough as they come. When I was playing state under-19s, I remember you’d get on the bus at Devonport at 5 o’clock in the morning, drive four hours to Hobart and kick the dew off the ground at 10am at KGV Oval at Glenorchy.
You’re at the foot of Mount Wellington, a howling wind coming down off the snow. That’s the definition of cold. And you’ve got to be pretty single-minded to push through that.
It makes 5am at Elwood Beach in mid-July seem balmy.