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AFL: 1997 v Today – Rule Changes

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In my opinion the best thing about digital TV has been the addition of OneHD and 7Two, because both have made sport a core part of their programming. Well, for OneHD it’s 100% of their programming. For 7Two I like the “Footy Flashbacks” that they screen overnight: a selection of games from Channel 7’s archive. The games are a mix of old and not-so-old: for example there’s been a few 2009 games screened recently. Set the PVR and watch at your leisure.

Over the holidays I watched a replay of a 1997 game between my team, Richmond, and Collingwood.

There’s a few things that caught my eye:

  • The (lack of) quality players wearing the yellow and black
  • The hack coaches of the two sides => Walls and Geisch for Richmond; Shaw and Frawley for Collingwood … Walls being the only one who had coaching success (1987 Carlton premiership), but probably past his prime at Richmond and certainly took on the poisoned challice when he took over from Northey after Richmond fell one game short of the GF in 1995. Given that Geish took over when Walls was sacked after Round 17 of the 1997 season and some say that Geish white-anted Walls it was amusing to see them side-by-side in the coaches’ box.
  • The low number of interchanges: of course in 1997 there were only 2 players on the interchange bench, but hard to believe that one of Richmond’s interchange players did not come onto the ground until half way through the last quarter.
  • Richo … playing his 72nd game with the same zest he played with right through until 2009 … 5 goals plus a couple of misses from straight in front
  • Sandy Roberts was never a good commentator.

But the point of this post … the varying impact that the rule changes have had on the game since 2009.

Without doubt the best and most notable change is the rule penalising players who hold onto an opponent after that opponent has taken a mark. Undoubtedly a significant improvement. When watching this 1997 game I found myself mentally abusing the umpires for letting the post-mark scragging happen. It happened pretty much every time there was a mark.

The other notable improvement is the protection for the player with his head over the ball. In this game the Collingwood player, Shane Watson was stretchered off in the third quarter after taking a hit to the head from Richmond’s Ben Moore. It was not a malicious hit, but IMO it was a hit that would not have happened in 2009 … and if it did happen then Moore would have copped a few week’s suspension. In 1997 this hit did not result in a report, nor even a free kick. Not one of the commentators even suggested it was wrong.

But IMO none of the other rule changes have improved the game significantly since 1997.

  1. Hands in the back when contesting a mark: in this 1997 game I did not witness one contest where this new rule was needed. I’ve never understood the need for this rule and watching this “old” game has done nothing to change my mind. Players used their hands to hold their positions. They contested with hip and shoulder. It was all fine.
  2. Shot at goal if defenders rush a behind: after one season of operation I’m actually in favour of this 2009 rule, but it certainly wouldn’t have made any difference in this 1997 game … there were no deliberately rushed behinds!
  3. Kick-in after behind without waiting for the goal umpire to wave the flags: another rule that I don’t think adds much to the game. In this game in 1997 the problem with kicking out from goal was the lack of tactics used by the defenders. Collingwood were a bit smarter than Richmond and regularly found team-mates with short kicks. Richmond on the other hand consistently bombed long to the CHB/ruckman. If anything, this rule has made it easier for a “dumb” team to get the ball away after a behind.
  4. Set-shot from goal-square after mark in goal-square: a rule that tinkered with something that probably didn’t need to be changed. In this game there was only one occasion where such a rule would have operated. I don’t think the average is any higher in 2009. This rule change was a waste of effort.

The AFL has announced that there will be no rule changes for 2010 … familiarity is nice. I reckon the game is OK!


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