One of the most important things that I learned at the summit was in a conversation on the Saturday night dinner. I was in the ‘productivity’ stream but snuck off to the economics dinner where I encountered a businessman who had barracked for the West Coast Eagles. Collingwood was busily losing against the Kangaroos at the time and someone had the game narrowcast to their mobile phone by their hubby (I think it was) who was at the game. Everyone admired his calling from the stands. Sounded like a pro, as he was beamed out to a crowd of about five on his wife’s mobile phone’s speaker settings.
Anyway as I got talking to the businessman he commented that Mick Malthouse didn’t seem to know what to do with a forward line – that he didn’t at West Coast, and he didn’t at Collingwood. This is precisely what I’ve been saying to my kids as we go and watch Collingwood play each week. They work hard, have a good defence and midfield, but boy do they find it hard scoring goals. They often get more of the play, but find themselves hard pressed to win.
Yet the actual talent they have on the forward line is excellent. (Yes, folks, you’re not going to get anything better than football in this post, so you will be spared more, unless you want to click your way over the fold). Travis Cloke is already one of the best players in the league at playing in the most difficult and important position on the ground – centre half forward. Anthony Rocca (we call him ‘Homer’) manages the art of the spectacular brain fade at least once a game. He also runs underneath the flight of the ball which is strange. But he has his strong points – he’s big, strong, pretty indestructible and can take a mark, either in a pack or in an arm wrestle with his opponent. And then there are oodles of quick little guys with an amazing ability to snap goals – Dale Thomas (who we call ‘big man’ for his fantacist yearning to take big speckies when he should be down on the ground picking up the crumbs) Leon Davis, Paul Medhurst and Alan “I’m going to be the first AFL player to goal with a bicycle kick” Didak. These guys are all a bit temperamental, a bit unreliable, but classy just the same and match-winners on their day.
So Collingwood has two quite viable choices in the forward line. It could lead – like most clubs do. Trouble is, when Rocca tries to do it, he’s slow, so it’s not really his thing. So that discloses the other plan (or as the Piranha brothers would have called it, the ‘other, other operation’). Rocca could spend most of his time just being a dangerous potential mark in a pack with the little guys running past to pick up crumbs. They could also open up the forward line by leading themselves. But we don’t really seem to follow either formula. Sometimes the players lead, but to no obvious plan, and they’re often leading into the pockets, which is pretty useless and sometimes worse than useless.
Of course there are leads and there is the odd kick to the goal square, but most of the teams in the league are pretty good at converting a situation in which they get the ball with a good run down the centre, and the forwards get a chance to lead to the approaching midfielder. Not us. We seem to have to work harder than that.
So here I am rugging up to go see this arvo’s game against Hawthorn. We’ll see how things go. Collingwood played pretty well against the Dons last week (or the Dons played very badly, I’m not quite sure which), but our forward line and it’s usual strategy was disrupted by the absence of Anthony ‘Brain Fade Central’ Rocca (we have two nicknames for Rocca). And in his absence little Paul Medhurst started leading. And he starred, kicking as many goals as Rocca has kicked in a game for about a year – six. (Which leads me to a separate question, which is why do full forwards, who are usually big, lead so much? Why don’t they stay back in the goal square for a big mark, and let a smaller, faster player or two do the main leading?)
In any event, if we can keep up the style we managed to arrive at last week, we’ve got a reasonable chance against Hawthorn. If not, we’ll labour mightily, get a lot of the ball, and lose by three or four goals at least.
* Goes off to the MCG muttering to himself “how come there’s two ‘rugby’ categories on Troppo and no AFL category, leaving only ‘sport – general’.