The AFL has seen some enigmatic players over the journey. With hard work and perseverance, many of them turn their inconsistent performances into long, prosperous careers. But not all go down that path.
Darren Jarman was brilliant but inconsistent early in his career. Both Gary Ablett Snr and Jnr, as well as Stevie Johnson and even Dustin Martin were known to flash in and out of games, going missing for long stretches. Cyril Rioli is another who has endured that criticism.
But for every Ablett, Jarman and Rioli who worked hard to improve, there are the others who fell by the wayside. This is where we now find one Jake Stringer.
Stringer’s 2015 was a blinder. Averaging over 14 touches a game in the Bulldog forward line, he slotted 56 goals and cemented his place in the side. A year later, he led the team in goalkicking again, and maintained a similar statline as his team won their first premiership in over 60 years. 2017, though, was a disaster for Stringer, culminating with him being placed on the trading block at season’s end.
Success can be fleeting in the AFL, with pats on the back turning to kicks in the pants very quickly. There have been a lot of boot marks on Jake Stringer’s backside in the last few weeks – some completely justified. It is said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps a trip into relatively recent history would do Jake some good. It would be a shame to see his talent end up on the footy scrap heap.
Allen Jakovich burst onto the scene in the 1991 season. He was a goalkicking sensation, eventually displacing Darren Bennett as spearhead to become Melbourne’s leading scorer for three consecutive years. He captured the back page of the Herald Sun as much as any Melbourne player in recent history, and relished the limelight.
Jakovich spent the majority of the first half of ’91 in the reserves after playing in the seniors in Round 1. He seemingly came from the heavens in the second half of the season, including a string of games from Round 15-21 where he kicked 51 goals. That’s an average of 7.28 per game. He was close to unstoppable.
His 71 goals in 1991 came in only 14 games, at an average of over 5 goals per game. It propelled him into stardom. Finally, the Demons had a marquee forward that looked capable of winning a game off his own boot. He executed what could’ve been the first scissor kick in footy history at the MCG as part of an 11-goal haul against the Kangaroos, and made headlines for planting a kiss on his brother Glenn’s cheek after slotting a goal against the West Coast Eagles.
In his time at the Demons, Jakovich averaged an impressive 4.27 goals per game. To put it in perspective, Lance Franklin currently averages 3.17.
Yes, the game has changed, and Buddy plays a very different role than a traditional full forward, but the numbers indicate just how brilliant Jakovich was in that period. A better comparison would be to his contemporaries; Jason Dunstall finished with a career average of 4.66, whilst Lockett finished with an average of 4.83. Jacko wasn’t far away in his time at Melbourne.
Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu made famous the saying “the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long” and that fits Allen Jakovich to a tee. By 1994, he was no longer part of the Melbourne Football Club. Official reasons for his departure were hamstring issues. He burned brightly, but briefly. He played 7 games for the Bulldogs in 1996, but the magic was well and truly gone, and he only managed a goal per game.
If Jakovich was a flash in the pan, we must come up with a completely different description for Adrian McAdam.
No one has ever debuted as impressively as McAdam did in 1993. Supremely skilled and with incredible balance, McAdam took the competition both by surprise and storm. He kicked 23 goals in his first three games – a record that still stands to this day. It must be remembered that this was in a forward line already boasting the skills of John Longmire and Wayne Carey. You could argue that this may make things easier on a new player, but it could also make it extremely difficult. Players would not instinctively look for McAdam when Carey and Longmire were in the vicinity. Carey was busy establishing himself as 'The King’, and Longmire already had a Coleman medal to his name. He was in illustrious company.
Whichever way the ball bounced in those first three games, McAdam seemed to be on the end of it. He took marks, snapped goals and seemingly could not do a thing wrong. Even after a couple of lesser performances, in which he managed meagre returns of 3 goals in each game, he silenced doubters by snagging another bag of nine goals against Collingwood in just his 6th game. North fans can be forgiven for thinking that they had unearthed a superstar that would sit alongside the Carey-Longmire combination in the Kangaroos’ forward half for years to come.
McAdam did sit in that forward half, but after that first season, that’s about all he did. He played 36 games in total for North Melbourne. After 60 goals from his first 12 games in the league, traveling at the incredible average of 5 per game, McAdam would add only another 32 goals, at an average of 1.3 per game for the remainder of his career.
He found himself at Collingwood for the beginning of the 1996 season, but he was delisted without making an appearance in black and white.
What happened to Adrian McAdam? How can a man go from such a blistering start with the football world at his feet, to such a grinding halt without a club to call home?
“I wasn’t dedicated enough,” said McAdam in a 2015 interview. “Maybe because of the success I’d had, I was a bit lazy.”
That’s all it took – a little laziness. Clubs started to put a little more effort into curtailing McAdam’s influence, and the effort paid off. Opposition coaches knew that whoever was charged with limiting him could also be incredibly effective as a rebounder. Teams used his laziness against him.
Talent, when combined with hard work, will win. But when there is only one without the other, success is hard to sustain. McAdam had talent to burn. He just refused to work hard.
You could not blame clubs for using McAdam, and to a lesser extent, Jakovich, as cautionary tales for current players. If a coach or an assistant notices someone slacking off a little on the training track, perhaps a bit of a history lesson could be in order.
Players like Jake Stringer should take heed. Having all the talent in the world does not mean you’re guaranteed a ten-year career in the AFL. The personal highs of both McAdam and Jakovich exceeded those of Stringer, yet their careers were over and done with by the time they reached year four.
Jake still has a bright future in football, but unless he is willing to put the work in and dedicate himself to improving his game, we may not be seeing him at his 2015 level ever again.
Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard.
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