We’ve almost had a full season of the new medical sub rule, and some players are really getting used to the invisible vest.
Plus why the flag race is down to three and the debate over the draw.
Catch up on the big stories out of the weekend in Foxfooty.com.au’s Round 18 Talking Points!
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THE SUB KINGS – WHO’S WEARING THE INVISIBLE VEST THE MOST?
We’re coming towards the end of the season and the ‘sub’ has quickly become part of the footy vernacular.
And some players have been copped the invisible vest a lot more than others this season.
According to Champion Data, three players have started seven games as the medical sub this season: Richmond’s Jack Ross, Fremantle’s Connor Blakely and Brisbane’s Tom Berry. Melbourne’s Tom Sparrow, who was an unused sub during Melbourne’s draw with Hawthorn, has started on the bench six times in 2021.
Ross started as the sub on Friday night for Richmond’s game against the Lions and was injected into the game in the second term after Kamdyn McIntosh hurt his hamstring. And he made an impact, racking up eight disposals in the third quarter as the Tigers kicked away from the Lions and finishing with 16 touches for the match.
Ross has played 12 games for the Tigers this season, seven as the starting sub – and four when he hasn’t been activated.
Blakely’s ratio is a little different. Of the nine games he’s played, he’s been the sub seven times but has been activated five times.
Berry, arguably, has been the stiffest. He’s played 10 games and seven as the sub, but five times he hasn’t been activated, including Friday night’s loss to the Tigers.
The last-minute introduction of the medical sub just days before Round 1 has left clubs with a delicate juggling act all season.
Some weeks, the club’s AFL team plays early in the round, so while a medical sub might be unused, they can still have a kick at state league level to retain form and touch.
Other weeks, the state league team plays first, meaning an unused medical sub mightn’t play any competitive minutes – or very little game time – for an entire weekend, consequently making it difficult for him to be selected at AFL level the next week.
It’s a headache for clubs – away from the field too, as there’s currently conjecture as to whether medical sub match payments will still be excluded from the salary cap beyond this season.
But it’s just as frustrating for players.
Asked if being the sub regularly has the potential to be disruptive to a player’s season – and career – four-time premiership Hawk Jordan Lewis told Fox Footy’s Saturday Stretch: “I think it does. Clubs monitor these things very closely and are always mindful who that sub is, how long they’ve spent in game time and what sort of training they’re doing elsewhere.
“I suppose if you’re a younger player, it doesn’t necessarily have the impact that being an older player and playing for your career would have. But I’m sure Tommy Sparrow and Jack Ross would be like to playing senior football a lot more, but a sub gets them that in and there’s a chance to play.”
The sub kings – players who’ve started as the medical sub the most in 2021
Thomas Berry (Brisbane Lions) – 7 (2 times activated)
Connor Blakely (Fremantle) – 7 (5)
Jack Ross (Richmond) – 7 (3)
Tom Sparrow (Melbourne) – 6 (2)
Rhys Mathieson (Brisbane Lions) – 4 (2)
Callum L. Brown (Collingwood) – 4 (3)
David Zaharakis (Essendon) – 4 (1)
Tom Cutler (Essendon) – 4 (2)
Max Holmes (Geelong Cats) – 4 (1)
Quinton Narkle (Geelong Cats) – 4 (1)
Kade Chandler (Melbourne) – 4 (0)
Martin Frederick (Port Adelaide) – 4 (4)
Sam Mayes (Port Adelaide) – 4 (3)
Jack Bytel (St Kilda) – 4 (4)
Ben Long (St Kilda) – 4 (3)
James Bell (Sydney Swans) – 4 (1)
Jamaine Jones (West Coast Eagles) – 4 (1)
PREMIERSHIP ‘A RACE IN THREE’ AFTER LIONS’ ILL-TIMED INJURIES
The AFL premiership race is down to three contenders, according to David King, with Brisbane’s injury-forced flaws exposed on Friday night by Richmond.
The dual losses of Eric Hipwood (ACL) up forward and Marcus Adams (stress reaction in foot), plus Darcy Gardiner’s continued absence, left Chris Fagan’s side underpowered against the premiers as Jack Riewoldt (six goals) dominated his match-up with Ryan Lester.
Hipwood won’t return this year while Adams, who has barely played as a Lion until this season following years of injury concerns, is a month away at best meaning he’ll be racing the clock to be ready for the end of the season and/or September.
On Fox Footy’s Saturday Countdown, King argued the timing of the injuries couldn’t have been much worse for last year’s preliminary finalists.
“They’ve been challenged to make structural alterations, at a time of the year when you can’t afford to. Anything from Round 16 onwards, where you lose a centre-half forward, full-forward type as well as a key post backman, you’re in real trouble,” King said.
“Hipwood’s not coming back but Adams is a chance to come back right on the eve of the finals; but they come back banged up, there’s more questions than answers when they come back.
“So I think it’s a race in three now. I don’t think the Lions are in it. There’s small margins, there’s little separating factors, I just don’t think their game is as threatening without Hipwood as it potentially could be.
“He’s their dominant forward 50 target, he has been all year.”
However Hawthorn champion Dermott Brereton questioned how important Hipwood is, given high-priced recruit Joe Daniher remains up forward.
“I see those stats, and I see how yeah, they go to him more and he’s taking contested marks, but to me he’s taking contested marks because Joe was there,” Brereton said on Fox Footy.
“To me it was because Joe was taking the number one backman. He’s a good player, he floats across, he was taking contested marks and they’re desperately hurt without him, but I don’t see him as the most important.
“I think Joe can still do some real damage if he’s able to get his game back together.”
But King disagreed.
“So how many inside 50s do you need to see Joe at his best? They had 53 or so last night. How many do you need, it’s not as if they didn’t get supply,” he said.
“The opportunities were there and we didn’t see it, so what confidence can you have? I think he’s had more impact as a second ruck than as a key forward.
“I don’t have the confidence as a standing centre-half forward, prime target to separate the game at the moment.”
Brereton’s concern was at the other end of the ground, where the Lions conceded their second-biggest score of the season.
He questioned whether they have the right personnel to stop either a fleet-footed forward line or quick ball movement.
“Their pace in the back half of the ground, when the ball comes in quick, you saw Harris Andrews give up on the lead, and I know (Jack) Payne guarded the dangerous spot,” Brereton said.
“You saw Payne give up on the lead, and then you have blokes who are playing on the smaller blokes who can’t chase them through traffic, either.
“Either they’re not quick enough – (Daniel) Rich, (Grant) Birchall – they’re not real quick down back if the ball comes in at express pace.”
DEATH OF THE DRAW?
What’s worse than a draw in the AFL? A draw with no crowd in the AFL.
Already a deflating result, Saturday night’s draw between Melbourne and Hawthorn was made even more so by the empty stands.
It brought up the age-old question once more – is it time to scrap the draw?
Each time the debate gets raised, it seems more and more people get on board the push for extra time, golden goal or the like.
Dees coach Simon Goodwin was unimpressed with the split points after the final siren.
“I like to see a result. We play the game to win. If you looked at the last centre bounce of the game, we were setting up to try and win the game,” he said.
“That’s the way I like our team to think and how we want them to operate and I think our supporters and fans would love that as well, to be able to see a result at the end of the day.
“However that may take place, I think as a competition we should look at it.”
This draw came hot on the heels of an engrossing Euros final between Italy and England, which was decided on penalties. Ironically enough, that climax sparked complaints about the penalty shootout format not being a suitable way to decide a match.
In AFL terms, however, the shootout is something some media commentators are asking for.
“I’m a massive advocate of the shootout … the human drama, the pressure and the emotion,” Craig Hutchison said on Footy Classified this week.
“This is how you finish a draw in an AFL game. There should never be ties in sport ever again. Five shots for each team would be a wonderful way to end.”
Western Bulldogs great Brad Johnson was another pushing for change at season’s end.
“I think draws should be a thing of the past. I think we do it in the finals, we do in the grand finals, I think it‘s something that the AFL should adjust as of next year,” he said on Fox Footy’s Saturday Stretch.
“No more draws – we need a winner. I need to walk away seeing a team with four points and singing the song for their fans.”
Co-panellist Jordan Lewis, however, offered a counterview, saying the draw is not a ‘nothing’ result and could prove crucial to the hierarchy at the end of a home-and-away season.
“If you’re not good enough to win at the end of the game, you shouldn’t deserve an extra five minutes to give yourself a chance to win the game,” he said.
“I understand the finals conversation because you actually need a winner, but if you are not good in the home and away season to win the game at the end of the fourth quarter and the siren goes, bad luck.”
HAWKS HANDOVER QUESTIONED AFTER DRAW WITH LADDER LEADERS
Western Bulldogs legend Brad Johnson has raised fresh concerns with Hawthorn’s coaching handover after its shock draw with the ladder-leading Demons on Saturday night.
A late Luke Breust goal saw an undermanned Hawks outfit missing most of their backline draw even with Melbourne at the MCG 12.7 (79) to 11.13 (79) in one of the season’s biggest surprises.
It comes a fortnight after Hawthorn announced that assistant and club legend Sam Mitchell will take over from four-time premiership boss Alastair Clarkson from 2023 as part of a succession plan.
Speaking on Fox Footy’s Saturday Stretch after the Hawks-Demons draw, Johnson said he believes the result reflects that Clarkson is still “at the top of game” despite the Hawks sitting 17th on the ladder.
“You’re getting rid of a coach that can manufacture and motivate still and that’s critical,” Johnson said.
“What we saw again tonight was an Alastair Clarkson that is completely in on Hawthorn and where their direction needs to go.
“He’s not going to drop away from that, he’s a proud performer anyway in terms of coaching. He manufactured tonight something that I don’t think too many other coaches would’ve been able to achieve.
“You‘re getting rid of a guy that’s at the top of his game when he’s doing this with the squad that he had tonight.”
Former Hawthorn champion Jordan Lewis – who won four flags under Clarkson and alongside Mitchell as a player – said he thinks onus should also fall on the players and assistant coaches.
“No doubt Alastair Clarkson’s had a say in the game but all the coaches would’ve and the players as well. It’s a collective, it always is,” he said.
But Johnson said he believes credit needs to be given to Clarkson for keeping the playing group motivated amid a disappointing season.
“You‘ve got to sell the story at the start of the week and I think that’s what the coach does, he creates the story about how we’re going to do this,” he said.
“Terry Wallace used to do it all the time, big games like that, mission impossible. How are we going to do it? How are we going to do things differently to make the opposition second-guess?
“It is up to the players to execute, no question, and then they build confidence throughout that.”
CAN THE TIGERS EVEN DO ANY DAMAGE IF THEY MAKE IT?
Richmond finally did the Richmond thing we’ve been waiting for.
Friday night’s upset win over Brisbane kept the premiers in the race for the eight, and losses by Fremantle, St Kilda and GWS helped them finish the round in ninth.
But with nine losses already, the Tigers must go at least 3-2 in their last five rounds – and possibly 4-1 – if they’re to feature in September.
And so their margin for error will be slashed dramatically if they can’t get the job done this coming week against Geelong; a job that was made much harder when Dustin Martin was ruled out for the season with a kidney injury.
Dusty was famously the difference in the second half of last year’s Grand Final; the Cats have never really had an answer for him (though few do). But remember, the Tigers lost to the Cats by 63 points just three months ago; can they really close that gap, especially without the triple Norm Smith medallist?
“They’ve got a tough run in … and they can’t beat Geelong without Dusty, can they? Geelong are flying,” David King said on Fox Footy’s Saturday Countdown.
“Do you realistically think, even if they finish eighth, that they can win their flag?”
Hawthorn great Dermott Brereton replied: “He’s their wildcard in those tight games.
“They can (make the eight), but it’s highly unlikely they can do much damage if they get in.”
The only qualifier Brereton wanted to put on that statement was the improvement they showed in the win over Brisbane.
“They know their game better than everyone else. I know they haven’t been able to adhere to it and play it as much, but personnel is so important, and (Toby) Nankervis coming back; I was staggered at what he meant to that team,” he said.
“We’ve always seen them come out of the front side of stoppage, but it was just blue collar, shoulder to the grindstone and just push it forward under any cost. And they did, convincingly I thought, win the centre bounce clearances after halftime which was huge.
“The reality is, if you’re going to be the best team, if you’re going to win the premiership, you’ve got to play (at least) 25 games.
“Most of these teams have played 16, so we’re 60 per cent of the way through the season; a lot can happen in the last 40 per cent of your season.”