- from afl.com.au
FORCING defenders to play the ball instead of the man would bring back the high marking and goalscoring that many have bemoaned having gone from the game, four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson says.
The Hawthorn mentor said Sydney's defenders got away with "blue murder" in the aftermath of his side's eight-point Friday night loss at the MCG, and while he admitted those comments were emotionally charged, Clarkson said backmen were getting away with too much around the competition and it was forcing key forwards out of the game.
"I watched a game last week where Dane Rampe's playing on Ben Brown. A guy who's 6'1 or 6'2 playing on a guy who's 6'8 or 6'9. There's only one way that he can actually defend in that manner. He's not actually defending the ball, he's defending the body," Clarkson told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Saturday.
"It's very sophisticated defence, it's very disciplined, it's very well-coached and it's very well adhered to by the Sydney defenders, but in my view their defenders aren't actually defending the ball. They're defending the body.
"That's why young kids like (Paddy) McCartin and (Josh) Schache and (Tom) Boyd and (Eric) Hipwood, they wonder why they play such great footy at under-18 level and then can't get a kick at senior level. Well, in under-18 level, they don't defend the body, they defend the ball.
"If we got back to actually defending the ball in a manner that it should be, then we'd get back to getting some contested marks."
He pointed to spring-heeled Adelaide forward Mitch McGovern's high-flying mark in round seven that stood out because of its rarity, rather than its brilliance.
"Mitch McGovern took a mark at the top of the goalsqure in the Carlton game last week … and it was just like 'Oh wow'. It wasn't actually that spectacular a mark, but we see it so infrequently now because teams are just so adept at being able to defend the body in any ball that goes into the pointy end of the ground," Clarkson said.
"So what are teams doing? What's the point of having a key forward anymore? Let's just play little fellas down there. Let's compete, try to bring it to ground. There's more marks taken by the defenders at one end of the ground.
"It used to be that you spoilt down the back end and you marked it in the front end. Now you mark it in the back end and you spoil in the front end.
"It just means there's a charter of the game that we're talking about, in terms of high marking, lots of goalscoring. You get a game like the Kangaroos and Sydney last week, pretty good conditions, 23 degrees in Sydney that day and it's nine goals each. For mine, that's not AFL footy."
Clarkson pointed to Melbourne forward Jesse Hogan as an example of a young key forward who is using his aerobic running to burn backmen instead of focusing on patrolling the area inside-50.
"When players are just, in a very, very sophisticated manner, just taking out the body, then we miss out on the high marking, we miss out on the full-forwards," Clarkson said.
"You get guys like Jesse Hogan, who is a terrific forward, but he has to go up to the wing now and hope that he can just outrun his player back to the goalsquare, because that is his most significant advantage he's got over his opponent, when really, it should be that his great advantage is what he was drafted for, and that's to be a star key forward of our game."