The Alex Docherty Column – The State Of The Game Is In Trouble

Is it safe to say that there are many things that are wrong with the AFL right now? Might actually be more of an understatement than anything else.

Bugger it, I don’t have much else going for me now, so I might as well call it out and say that this entire organisation is broken.

There’s been a bit of a story charging through this week about the attendances at the AFL being at a 26-year record low. I don’t know about you, but personally, I think you can mark it down to many reasons.

Covid has certainly played a part – a lot of us would be just comfortable sitting at home watching the football over the past two seasons – I know my father prefers watching it on TV as opposed to breaking out the wallet to get to a football game – he prefers the camera work to the view he’s often given.

But as well, the proposition of recontracting Covid would also have to be up there, and whilst I can say that my experience was nothing more than a bad head cold, others would’ve experienced worse and the thought of going through it all over again would be too much.

Looking past things in our control, let’s look at what the game is producing right now.

Consistent rule changes that haven’t worked, inconsistent umpiring decisions, the CBA debacle with the AFL women’s program, the play-by-play commentary and the excess advertisement of McDonald’s and Therabody – which I’m 95 percent sure no one would’ve heard of before the All-Australian awards this year.

But, if there’s one thing, I’m going to be super staunch on this year is media personalities and journalists cracking onto players with personality, I think you probably know.

It’s been stated by a number of people for years that those playing the game have become too robotic and lack the personality that adds another layer of enjoyment to the game of Australian Rules Football.

It’s a joke that we’re at that stage where if someone – like a Dustin Martin for example, gives a one-word dull answer, he’s criticised for not giving much, but if someone else says too much and speaks what’s on their mind, they get criticised for that too. I hate this world that we live in sometimes.

Admittedly, I didn’t watch much football this weekend – I listened in to the last quarter of Carlton vs Sydney whilst I was at work, I watched the Gold Coast/Bulldogs game on delay (Go Dogs!), reviewed the Adelaide/St Kilda game and watched the ending of Hawthorn’s big win over Brisbane.

I did also watch a bit of the Collingwood v Fremantle game – what a big win by the Pies, responding well after being on the losing end for the past few weeks. I couldn’t help but applaud Jack Ginnivan celebrating with a flex as he was running into the goal square, just to really rub it into the Fremantle faithful.

We need an appreciation society for players like Ginnivan; true larrikins of the game, because it won’t be too long before the larrikins are extinct and gone for good. They’ll shut it down in the footy factories, otherwise known as the NAB League clubs.

I won’t forget Kane Cornes having a crack at Ginnivan after the whole Go-Pro fiasco after Round One, trying to shoot down a kid that just possesses an abundance of energy everywhere he goes. Could he have worded things better? Probably, yes, but that’s a young man being himself in the moment – we’re truly gone as commentators if we decide to go down this route.

A few weeks ago, Ginnivan was in hot water for going to a local pub following his ANZAC Day performance against Essendon, which saw him kick five goals and win the medal as the best on ground.

Absolutely reeks of that time when Steven May was nabbed having a cheeky pot at the pub and the amount of uproar that came along with it. Since when do we get the right to ostracise players for their right to go out and have a casual beer on their day off?

Maybe the problem comes down to the game being micromanaged to the umpteenth degree. I hear a lot about diets and food programs and athletes looking for every advantage possible over the opposition, and I understand that, but Christ almighty, how about giving the players a bit of space?

Back to Ginnivan, I just simply love his personality. Some will probably have a differing opinion in terms of how he loves to rev up the crowd, but I’m a sap for the theatrics for the game. I often judge players on their ability over personality first and if they’ve got a personality like what he has then I’d consider it a bonus.

Take Zac Bailey for instance – I love his ability as a footballer and just think the world of him, but compare his personality to that of Ginnivan, then the differences are just chalk and cheese – judging from Zac’s Instagram profile, he seems mild-mannered and kept to those around him, which is cool too – that’s his prerogative.

Back on the conversation of personalities, I think about Jack Higgins after his ‘million seconds per minute’ quote at the Brownlow when he accepted his goal of the year a few years ago and him being openly mocked for it.

He does come across as a nitwit, and it was proven in a TikTok video he can’t pronounce the word gnocchi correctly, but who are we to care what his IQ level is? He’s just someone who was just being himself at the time, and I’d be more about him saying something that is factually incorrect than just a watered-down response.

I also think about Cody Weightman a lot. He gets a lot of press for the op shop-style Bulldogs caps he often wears, but that’s him to a tee – he’s unique, he’s his own man and doesn’t look like he wants a bar of what anyone tells him how to live.

As for his football, I can’t say I approve of his penchant to search for free kicks, but I absolutely love how he lets the opposition know if they give away one or if he kicks a goal and jumps around like he’s just kicked his first goal in league football.

To the clubs, I urge you to not lose these kind of players. Sure they’re liable to give fans of the game the shits, but I’d rather someone kick a goal and annoy me with their personality than someone kicking goals and rolling through the motions and saying ‘full credit to the boys’.

Speaking of watered down, Dyson Heppell’s comments on Fox Footy’s On The Couch were anything but. You can see the… I want to say anger, in his face after the constant criticism of the Bombers being ‘too nice’ of a football club.

I mean he even dropped the f-word on air – no not Finals, I assume the Bombers are allergic to that. But you know what? I love it. I love that he was fired up with the media and I love that the Bombers had some form of intensity and mongrel towards Richmond. We even had members of the media criticise them for having a crack at Richmond and flying the flag – they can’t win!

Were they going to win the game? Probably not, there are still major fundamental problems with the Bombers, but they just looked like they rolled over too easily in their games this year.

Last week on the A3 Footy Podcast, I mentioned it was time for them to have a line in the sand moment and I think they delivered on that. The next phase is to channel that aggression towards the ball and make sure they make them hurt on the scoreboard in the process.

Call me old school, but I miss the days where we get players playing the aggressor and seeing little jumper punches thrown around, but you’d be lucky to get away with throwing hands in the air and not give away 50 metres these days – such is the state of the game.

A lot of us said it the moment the dissent rule was introduced that it was good for the sport, because we don’t want players screaming at the umpires and delivering a few nouns and verbs not safe for work to scatter down into the junior ranks.

But as always, the AFL love to go that extra step further and hand out 50 metre penalties for raising the arms and asking what for. I saw Buku Khamis’ 50 metre penalty the week before against Collingwood – good thing it was a replay and I knew the result beforehand, otherwise, I can imagine I would have been going a bit spare – that was a stupid call by the umpires. It was followed by Jordan de Goey stopping himself from being demonstrative, and they pinged him anyway! Isn;t that what the rule is there for? So that players can check themselves?

Where do we go from here? It’s way beyond calling the game soft. Lachie Neale’s little pissy jab to the chest of Jai Newcombe happens 100 times per game, but because it’s right in front of the umpire’s nose it’s got to be a free-kick.

Remember when the league started the crackdown in 2019? Only for it to last three to four weeks and then be put in the bin? Yeah, me too.

We know that Gil McLachlan is set to stand down at the end of the season. Whoever comes in as the successor needs to give this league a cleanse, for better or worse. Maybe then will we see more people come back through the gates.

Start with these stupid rule changes; The stand rule hasn’t done a single thing to increase the scoreboard efficiency or the flow of how the game used to be. Umpire dissent needs a clear and precise interpretation and not the weak as piss arms up as an excuse to give 50 metres away.

Medical substitutes, whilst good in theory, have been nothing but another way to loophole players with knocks and niggles and allow another fresh set of legs into the game, to practically alter the game.

It’s all well and good to find an impartial medical official and have him or her judge who’s fit or unfit – but alternatively, have the medical substitute whittled down to either concussions only, or piss it off altogether ad have one more on the bench to use as teams see fit.

Which does remind me as well, the rule dangerous tackles needs to be altered as players are being penalised for tackles that look bad, but are actually quite safe, because their head doesn’t get slammed into the turf.

I understand the notion of looking after the players’ wellbeing and the discussion of concussions has been both important and ongoing, but the facts are that once you step out on the football field, you have every chance of injuring yourself one way or another.

We can limit the ways and methods to stop concussion all we like and penalise those that but I think we must accept that concussions are going to be a part of the game as long as the game continues to kick on.

We can also change the number of interchanges as much as we like, the coaches and the players will still find a way to make the game a scrap fest. Maybe do it like the old times and have a really small number of rotations per game. Maybe perhaps 10 or 15 – might reduce the kilometres that these players run and reduce the amount of congestion around stoppages.

We can look at a few external reasons as to why people aren’t attending games as often as they were a few years ago, but the proof is in the middle of the ground – the game itself just isn’t as attractive as it was 15-20 years ago.

Stop fart-arsing around with the rules every year and strip down the rules so the umpires can grasp some consistency with their decisions, and to you Kane Cornes-types that love a headline in the media, stop dictating players’ lives and allow the players like Jack Ginnivan, Cody Weightman and Jack Higgins to be themselves.

It won’t fix the attractiveness of the game all up, but by god, we’d be going a few steps in the right direction.


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