The bizarre scenes that led to Friday night’s draw at Marvel Stadium included one rule that got enforced to the letter and another rule that is treated as if it doesn’t exist.
Firstly to the 30-second shot clock. A figure of 34 seconds has been doing the rounds for how long Richmond’s Noah Balta was given for his set shot with scores level late in the game.
According to Channel 7’s on-screen countdown clock, it was actually a precise 30 seconds. He took the mark with exactly 2min. left and the play-on call came with 1min. 30sec. on the clock.
So that was red hot from umpire Chris Donlon, but he can’t be faulted for enforcing the rule hard and fast in that sort of situation. Balta was trying to waste as much time as possible assuming he would score to put the Tigers in front.
Now to the rule that doesn’t get policed at all. The medical sub rule is the biggest farce in football.
There was a tweet which summed it up: Ben Miller substituted out of the game with tallness.
Onto the field in his place for Richmond came Maurice Rioli Jr. Your least important tall getting injured with nine minutes on the clock and a fast, fresh tackling machine coming on in his place for the helter-skelter finale. All quite convenient really.
The rule, rushed in on the eve of last season, says for someone to be subbed out it must be “reasonably determined the player will be medically unfit to participate in any match for at least the next 12 days”.
Which is not to criticise the Tigers or coach Damien Hardwick, who said Miller was cramping and had a tight calf.
It’s Hardwick’s job to win and the AFL has shown zero interest in policing their own ridiculous rule. So why wouldn’t you make a tactical change with the game and your season on the line?
Players routinely play the following week after being subbed out, despite the 12-day rule. Either club doctors are making an awful lot of poor judgments or coaches are pulling a lot of swifties.
During every match teams would have more than half their players who have either copped a knock or cork or are dealing with some sort of cramping or tightness issue. So it’s just open slather, take your pick and get anyone off if you want some fresh legs.
Around the same time that Miller was dragged out of the game, Fremantle all-but subbed out one of their stars.
Because Andrew Brayshaw came to the bench for a breather and then couldn’t get back on for more than eight minutes.
This is the same Brayshaw who might be the most clutch last-quarter player in the competition. The same Brayshaw whose superhuman efforts and sheer strength of will in the dying stages between these teams last year dragged his side across the line by four points.
In a close game in a close season, the Dockers were left without their best player and Brayshaw was left to watch on helplessly from the sideline before eventually getting back on with 2min. 26sec. to go.
Coach Justin Longmuir’s response felt strangely flippant when he remarked: “It just happens sometimes. There’s nothing you can really do about it. We had probably a couple of important players stuck on the bench.”
The Dockers were dominating the last quarter, controlling territory and owning the ball, when a turnover resulted in a goal to Shai Bolton — Richmond’s only score of the final term.
Fremantle forward Michael Walters ran onto the ball along the 50m arc and rather than continuing into space and kicking on his right foot, he made the remarkable decision to stop and double back into trouble in an attempt to get onto his preferred left.
Richmond pair Nick Vlastuin and Dylan Grimes couldn’t believe their luck as they wrapped him up.
There has never been a more striking example of the modern day player’s unwillingness to use his non-preferred foot. Clubs do four months of training over summer, yet don’t seem to have the time to teach players to be confident kicking on both sides.
Fremantle go to the trouble of redrawing the lines on their training oval every week to match the exact dimensions of the ground they will play on in the next match, searching for even the most minute perceived advantage.
Yet when it came to the crunch with a top-four spot on the line, a senior player couldn’t kick on his right foot and their preferred players weren’t even on the ground.
AFL clubs spend millions of dollars and hundreds of hours attempting to find a 0.1 per cent edge on their rivals. They would be better served doing a better job of taking care of the basics.