Gary Ablett’s Gold Coast offer, Barry Hall, Brendan Fevola and the nine-point super goal dominated discussion as a panel of experts dissected the big issues in the game at today’s MCG Footy Season Launch Luncheon in the Members Dining Room.
The gathering of MCC members and guests heard from recently retired Tiger star Matthew Richardson, who reminisced about his distinguished career with MC Tim Lane, before joining Brownlow medallist Gerard Healy and legendary player and coach Leigh Matthews in an entertaining chat on the eve of the season opener between Richmond and Carlton tomorrow night.
Healy and Matthews, a member of the Laws of the Game Committee, surprised the audience with their enthusiasm for the regular season introduction of the nine-point “Super Goal” for goals scored outside the 50m arc, as used in the NAB Cup pre-season competition.
“While the game might not necessarily need it, it could make the game better,” said Healy. “I’d love to see the torpedo back. The way the game is heading, wtih so many players in defence, we just don’t see long kicks anymore.”
While “Richo” maintained he was a traditionalist who liked the game the way it is, Matthews agreed with Healy’s proposal.
“It’s been five or six years now in the NAB Cup, and there is always a buzz when it happens,” he said.
“Really, the amount of changes that have happened since I’ve been in the game, you wouldn’t know the game from the one played in 1969. There’s that many rules and interpretations that have changed, all of them for the better, and I quite like the surge of excitement it creates.”
But the big talking point, as it seems it is right across the footy community, is the huge monetary offer on the table for Geelong’s Gary Ablett to play for Gold Coast FC next season.
"In this full time era, kids from 14 or 15 years of age want to be professional players, so they’re thinking that the amount they can get out of it in a short career is a critical factor,” said Matthews.
“You have to decide as a player what your emotional needs are. You grow up wanting to win premierships. But from a pure professional livelihood point of view, there’s just a massive difference in dollars, if what you read in the paper is true. So that’s a decision Garry has to make.”
“It’s really unfortunate that it’s out there in March though, with the whole season in front of us. We went through something similar with Jonathan Brown a couple of years ago, and one thing Garry will definitely be doing is making sure he gets the absolute best offer out of Geelong. And I suspect he’ll get more in August than he’ll get in March.”
Healy, himself a player who moved north after several years with Melbourne, could see both sides of the coin.
“I can accept the perspective that it would be sad for the game if Ablett went to Gold Coast,” Healy said. “Most players change clubs to fulfil emotional needs. Back in the 80s, when four clubs dominated the competiton, there were a lot of us that were never going to win premierships, which is why most of us moved clubs back then. Garry’s in a different position. He’s already won his premierships, so I can accept it will be sad if he goes.
“But it will even sadder if he doesn’t go. Because, as a game, we’ve taken on two massive challenges – probably the biggest challenge the game will ever face, and that’s to build a club in Sydney. Out in the boon docks in real terms. We’ve also taken on the Gold Coast."
And having watched and been a part of Sydney, where they didn’t have the infrastructure and systems in place in the 1982-85 period before I got there, I think the AFL has learnt that if they’re going to take on rugby league and soccer in particular, to be successful you’re going to need to do it right from the start. And we all need to accept that there has to be some give and take.
The give is that some of the clubs are going to have give up good players in order to take from the pool of players that is going to be expanded to accommodate 18 teams. Good players have to go, otherwise we’re in for a decade or more of rubbish results from two clubs that will be so embarrassing it won’t even get off the ground. I hope Garry goes in one way, but stays in another. But the competition needs players to go to both Gold Coast and Western Sydney to make it work.”
Meanwhile, “Richo” felt Western Bulldogs recruit Barry Hall could well be the key to the Bulldogs’ flag aspirations and even play on for another few years.
“He’s going to enjoy playing at the Bulldogs,” he said. “They play a highly-skilled brand of football, they play on and get the ball in quickly, which is what you want. He didn’t have that at Sydney, who had a different game style."
"If he keeps his body right, he could play for three or four years I reckon. But it does change quickly – I thought I was going to play until I was 36, but it dried up for me in the space of a month!”
Matthews was in no doubt as to the value of the big power forward, regardless of behavioural issues.
“It’s amazing when you think of it that Sydney pushed Hall out, Carlton pushed Fevola out, and they both might help other clubs to win the premiership,” Matthews said. “In this day of image and culture, ability is very much underestimated. It does help you win games of footy if you have got players who play.”
The panel felt that Brendan Fevola will be good for Brisbane, that the top four were the main contenders for the flag, with everyone in agreement that Adelaide and Brisbane are the main teams outside the top four that could come into contention.
The Demons were deemed fairly unanimous to hold up the other end of the ladder, given their pre-season injuries, although perhaps the panellists were being polite, given the presence of Richmond CEO Berendan Gale and president Gary March in the audience!
“Melbourne have done everything right,” said Healy. “They’ve got a five-year plan, although I was part of Barassi’s five-year plan so I’ve lost a little faith in those. I think they have a good group behind the scenes now, all the bricks have been put in place and they are starting to get some good young kids."
"But they’re in a man’s competition and it’s going to take them another one or two years. The big questions is whether Dean Bailey is going to be there to see the fruits of his labour.”