‘There are very strong formulas’: Footy songwriters offer their advice on what the Tasmanian theme should sound like

As the countdown continues towards the Tasmanian Devils joining the AFL in 2028, answers to the questions surrounding this much-anticipated new team are gradually trickling in.

We now know where the team will play, what colours it will wear, and who its CEO will be

But one question that remains could be one of the more challenging to answer.

What will they sing?

Crafting a club theme song is a minefield of creative decision-making for whoever chooses to accept it, not least because you have 18 other songs, which a hyper-partisan fanbase is waiting with baited breath to compare it to.

ABC Sport asked two artists who recently took on the challenge what they thought a Tasmanian club theme song should have.

‘What the hell is this?’

The AFL’s most recent club theme song is also among its most recognisable.

Greater Western Sydney’s tune is the first in a minor key, which creator Harry Angus said is what gives it that Eastern European feel.

But he said in other ways, the Giants song sticks closely to tradition.

“Because my background is in old-time Jazz and brass instruments, I have a real interest in that early era of recorded music, and I knew how to arrange it and record it in a way that slotted in with some of the classic team songs,” Angus told ABC Sport.

“All the old VFL club songs come from ragtime hits, so that’s what I brought to it.

“That would be my advice to the Tassie (club song) songwriter — there are very strong formulas, so as long as it fits that formula it kind of feels right.”

Collingwood and Carlton’s songs were written by players in the early 20th century, while Fitzroy player Bill Stephen used the French national anthem as the basis for his club’s song in 1952.

AFL club song census:

– Six are in the key of G major

– Nine are based off early-20th century tunes

– Four have brass hooks before the words begin

– Two have banjo in them

– Three are power ballads

– One has a key change mid-song

Input from the Giants’ first playing group was also crucial to the success of Angus’ song, and he said their advice was informed by the experience of fellow expansion side Gold Coast.

“When the Suns finally won a game, they didn’t know the song very well, and they kind of weren’t prepared to give it that rousing post-game chorus down in the rooms,” he said.

“I met with the players and the coaching staff and they were pretty keen that when they won a game, they’d be able to belt it out.”

Harry James Angus wrote the GWS club theme song drawing on player feedback and his expertise in early 20th century Jazz and ragtime.

Angus said the Giants requested words in the song that they could shout. This is how the syncopated “we will never surrender” line near the end came to be, a line he famously plucked from Winston Churchill.

“I think it was (then-Giants assistant coach) Mark Williams who said we needed a ‘yellow and black’ moment, like in the Richmond song when the whole crowd yells it,” Angus said.

“Kevin Sheedy also had a number of interesting things to say about it. He wanted the song to be based on Road to Gundagai, which is the most common football song that hasn’t been used in the AFL. But we ran out of time.

“To their credit when they did win a game, (GWS players) absolutely smashed it out of the park. You’d think they’d been singing the song for a hundred years.

“A lot of people when it first came out thought ‘what the hell is this?’, but after a while everyone got what I was trying to do.” 

The creative process

It is also common for alterations to be made to existing club songs or unofficial club songs to sit alongside the offical ones. 

The “premiership’s a cakewalk” briefly disappeared from Collingwood’s song in the 80s, while Geelong introduced “the Cat Attack” in the 90s to sit alongside We Are Geelong.

In 2011, Fremantle cast off the last vestiges of the Russian folk tune its song is built on, and St Kilda has flirted with “I do like to be beside the seaside”, and a Mike Brady original.

The Lions did away entirely with the lyrics and tune of the Brisbane Bears’ “Dare to be the Bear” after the merger with Fitzroy.

Most recently, West Coast reworked its team song, enlisting local songwriter and lifelong fan Ian Berney to create some verses around the “We’re Flying High” chorus.

Berney remembers fondly the Eagles’ first premiership when he was five, and the feeling of excitement that he might meet Chris Mainwaring every time he went to his local takeaway.

The song was just as much a part of his childhood.

A man with dark blonde hair and a moustache smiles into a webcam. He has a yellow and black shirt.

Perth songwriter and bassist Ian Berney added female voices and an Indigenous pneumonic when he reworked the West Coast Eagles song in 2020.(ABC Sport: Alexander Darling)

“The original version of the West Coast theme song had the theme of ‘you’ve taken all our players for years’. It was a big ‘stick it’ to the east coast clubs saying, ‘now we’ve got our own club and we’re gonna show you how it’s done’,” he said.

“It’s really fun, and (I was) trying to reconnect that feeling.”

The Eagles also asked Berney to include the recently built stadium and the distances the team has to travel to play its east coast matches.

“When we say we’re proud of our isolation, that is kind of West Coast winning their four premierships in a relatively short span of time, and we’ve had to cross the nation every time to do it,” he said.

Berney was also inspired by a different sport in what he came up with — specifically the Australian cricket teams’ renditions of Under the Southern Cross I Stand by Banjo Patterson.

“I really liked that visceral sound that the players had, so we built a chant out of the verses which the club kicks off with now if they win,” he said.

A fan’s touch

In recent months, Tasmanians have been making the case that one of their own should write the Devils’ song.

It’s a call that makes sense to Angus, who hopes the finished product sounds like it’s been around for 100 years.

“I think it would be awesome to see an Indigenous Tasmanian musician write the song,” he said.

“It would be super cool for the song to pay tribute to the cultural history that already exists in Tasmanian football, and maybe it will be drawn from an older club song.”

Berney said the fact he’s an Eagles supporter made all the difference to the lyrics he’s proud of.

“The line about ‘the colours that we share are the West Coast sky’. I didn’t think about that growing up, that blue and yellow as a reflection of the sun going down over the seas, which is a very different experience (compared to) the east coast of Australia,” he said.

“So I wanted to put that into the lyrics, because they had the foresight to make those the colours of the Eagles.”

[Tasmanian Devils photo]

What is a club song meant to achieve?

Whoever writes Tasmania’s song will also use history to draw on as Berney did for the Eagles. The state has been playing Australian rules since the 1860s, with unique native animals, landmarks and a list of football alumni that speaks for itself.

Berney expects that whatever the Tasmanian Devils are given to sing when they win, it will have a “love and hate” element.

“If you do a masterpiece that’s great, but it’s all just fun and about trying to bring people together,” he said.

While Berney’s song references the club’s history, Angus’ song is itself part of GWS history.

The song had its moment in the sun leading up to the Giants playing the 2019 Grand Final, popping up in memes and internet remixes.

“I wish I could talk to as many journalists as I do when the Giants get into a final as when I release new music,” Angus said.

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But the most special feedback has come from the club itself.

“I’ve had people from the club come back to me and talk about how much the whole idea of ‘Never Surrender’ — which they requested — has become part of the club’s architecture and their psychological approach to the game,” he said.

“I don’t really know how I got there, I just did it, but it made sense in the end.”

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AFL News: Pies’ radical plan to move home game to the Gold Coast, Dogs optimistic on Naughton’s knee injury

Collingwood is reportedly discussing with the AFL the possibility of moving a home game to the Gold Coast in 2025.

One of the AFL’s richest and most powerful clubs, the Magpies currently host nine home games at the MCG, with the AFL mandating they play their other two home games at Marvel Stadium.

According to Nine’s Tom Morris, the Pies are planning to shift one of those two Marvel Stadium matches against a Victorian team, likely St Kilda, North Melbourne or the Western Bulldogs, to People First Stadium on the Gold Coast, as part of a two-week ‘mini-hub’ across the June/July school holiday period in which they would also play the Suns in an away game.

Other Victorian clubs have regularly sold home games interstate in recent years, with North Melbourne playing several matches at Blundstone Arena in Hobart, while Richmond and the Western Bulldogs have both played home games at Cairns’ Cazalys Stadium.

However, it would be a first for the Magpies.

“Unlike examples like Melbourne, who’ve moved interstate for financial reasons, my understanding is this is seen as a way to grow the supporter base across the country,” Morris reported on 9 News Melbourne.

“Under this plan they would spend two weeks on the Gold Coast, play against the Suns and host another Victorian team.

“The Pies have told me tonight conversations are very preliminary and they would look after Victorian members if this happened – how they’d do that, I’m not too sure.”

‘Need to pull their heads in’: Cornes blasts umpires over crucial 50m penalty in Dogs’ loss

Kane Cornes has slammed the performance of the umpires during the Western Bulldogs’ loss to Sydney on Thursday night, taking aim in particular at a controversial late 50m penalty that gifted the Swans the game-sealing goal.

Bulldog Laitham Vandermeer was penalised after arriving milliseconds late to attempt to spoil Hayden McLean’s mark on the edge of 50, with the ball jarring free from his hands.

The penalty turned a long-range shot into a certain goal, with McLean taken to the goal line and extending the Swans’ lead to 14 points with just minutes remaining, effectively sealing the win.

Former Hawk Campbell Brown claimed the call was ‘the worst umpiring decision of the year’, while speaking on SEN Breakfast, Cornes was equally scathing of the overly harsh penalty.

He also took umbrage with Swans gun Chad Warner conceding a 50m penalty of his own to Vandermeer in the second quarter for umpiring dissent after pointing to the big screen to dispute a high contact free kick.

“What are we doing?” Cornes asked.

“The 50-metre penalty is such a harsh penalty that it should be reserved for the most undisciplined acts on the field or for a deliberate breaking of the rules. The one that we saw late last night for Hayden McLean, that is not a 50-metre penalty.

“Don’t insert yourselves into the game and pay a 50-metre penalty for that.

“The free kick against Chad Warner where he points at the scoreboard… players are instructed if you point at the scoreboard, it’s a 50-metre penalty, but it shouldn’t be. He’s having a laugh, it’s a shocking free kick that’s been paid, it wasn’t demonstrative at all.

“How we can allow that to be a 50-metre penalty is a joke. Umpire with some common sense, surely.

“No one is sitting here saying if you didn’t pay any of those three 50-metre penalties that you’d made the wrong call. It should not be having an influence on the result, like it did last night. It’s a real frustration for me.

“The umpires need to pull their heads in a little bit.”

Dogs optimistic Naughton has avoided ACL injury

The Western Bulldogs may have dodged an ACL bullet after key forward Aaron Naughton was hurt in their AFL loss to Sydney.

While Naughton will miss at least a few weeks, the Bulldogs hope scans on Friday will show he hasn’t suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament rupture in his right knee.

The Bulldogs were brave against the top side on Thursday night at Marvel Stadium, rallying from five goals down early in the last quarter to only lose 102-88.

That was despite losing Anthony Scott and Ed Richards to concussion, as well as Naughton’s knee injury.

Scott and Richards will definitely miss next Friday night’s game against Collingwood under the 12-day concussion protocol.

Coach Luke Beveridge was cautiously optimistic about Naughton.

“The indications are that hopefully it’s not as extreme as an (ACL), but you never can tell … fingers crossed,” he said.

Scott’s first AFL game this season lasted just three minutes before he was forced off because of a head clash.

Richards was the Bulldogs’ best player in the first half and his concussion early in the third term was a big blow.

Like teammate Tom Liberatore, who could return in the next couple of weeks from his latest concussion, Scott and Richards have a history of head knocks.

Beveridge praised his team for their fight against the ladder-leading Swans, while lamenting their inability to nail more chances.

The Bulldogs kicked an inaccurate 12.16 to Sydney’s 16.6 after spraying 8.22 in last week’s win over GWS.

“There was great integrity in what the boys did, obviously against the top side. It’s just a shame we had a bit of bad luck.

“You never lose and feel like a winner, but in my books, our players are winners tonight.

“System and game style looked pretty good. We just made some monumental blues and missed some monumental chances to give ourselves any real chance to win.

“So what do you take out of that? We’ll be encouraged by that, but we need to do something with it as well.”

Beveridge did not bite when asked about the critical and contentious 50m penalty paid against Latham Vandermeer.

It gifted the goal to Hayden McLean late in the last term that sealed the Sydney win.

“What can you say? I will always make sure I don’t comment on the umpiring,” a frustrated Beveridge said post-match.

“Whether it’s there or not, I don’t really know. Ultimately the decision was made and we have to live with it.”

Beveridge praised young players Rhylee West, Riley Garcia and Ryley Sanders, who were dynamic in the midfield when the Bulldogs needed a final-term lift.

The Bulldogs coach referred to Melbourne independent broadcasting to describe the trio.

“It was like a Triple R radio station in there …(plus) the experienced one in Adam Treloar, holding his end up.

“They did an enormous job.”

(AAP)



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Footy Fix: The eight key mistakes at the death that saw Crows cop Magpie heartbreak… again

5Adelaide aren’t the first team to get their hearts ripped out by Craig McRae’s Collingwood. It’s not even the first time it’s happened to them. They’re certainly not going to be the last, either.

But even though the pain is a familiar feeling now for the Crows, this one will surely sting keener than all the rest. Not just for the controversial, technically correct but rarely seen free kick paid against Izak Rankine for running too far in the final 20 seconds, which may or may not have cost them the game but certainly snuffed out their last hope; but for the fact it came after a last quarter in which they did nearly everything right against the kings of the tight finish.

The Pies have had all manner of close wins in the last two and a half years. They’ve stormed over the top of a flagging opposition like, in Gerard Whateley’s immortal words, the Grim Reaper; they’ve held on for grim death against an opponent trying to give them a taste of their own medicine. They’ve found a way through clutch set shots, or via their rivals flubbing theirs.

But aside from the famous game against Essendon in 2022 when Jamie Elliott goalled after the siren, this was about the only time in this golden tight-match run that I’ve felt like the Pies have genuinely pinched one, so comprehensively were they outplayed in the final quarter.

The stats are remarkable: the Crows, neck in neck all day, had 35 more disposals in the fourth term, while they won the inside-50 count a whopping 16-9. Having been battered all day at the stoppages by Scott Pendlebury and Nick Daicos, they even claimed the clearance count 10-8, with Rankine shifting to permanent on-baller and grabbing the match by the scruff of the throat. Three of the last four centre clearances went their way, too, having been unable to buy one in the early stages at the MCG.

The Pies, so often able to find the calming goal, the steadying passage of play, in such situations, were struggling to even lay hands on the ball. And the man they turn to so often in these situations, Scott Pendlebury, was paying the price for his own outrageously good first quarter, a comprehensive clamp from Ben Keays forcing McRae to shift him permanently into defence in the last term in a bid to add another cool head in a vulnerable spot.

For all intents and purposes, the Crows were doing to Collingwood what the Magpies have done to everyone else: fast-paced, ultra-aggressive footy, playing on at nearly every opportunity with overlap-running half-backs and targeting the corridor wherever possible. And in the role of Nick Daicos, step up Mitch Hinge, who with 13 disposals and a superb goal, plus two other score involvements, was the most crucial player on the ground.

They even had the Daicos-esque moment of magic that so often stymies other teams from ‘doing a Collingwood’.

Rankine’s incredible go-ahead major deep into the last quarter, perfectly timing his run past a boundary throw-in in the forward pocket to shark Reilly O’Brien’s tap, burn off Josh Daicos and run past Nick, and dribble it through from the tight angle on his opposite foot, was a moment of skill outrageous enough that you can watch it ten times and still be in awe.

A worthier match-winner you could not find – and when a few minutes later, Jordan De Goey sent a set shot wide he’d normally swallow, precisely the sort of late-game inaccuracy the Pies have avoided while watching it swallow up many an opponent, it felt symbolic.

But all Adelaide’s dominance, all the possession, all the territory, all the effort, had brought them was seven minutes with which to hang on, against an opposition you know won’t go quietly into the night.

And with 3 minutes and 40 seconds left, things started to go wrong; slowly at first, then all at once.

The first sign of the horrors to come came, as they often do, with a ruckman.

Reilly O’Brien is a fascinating case study, both as a footballer and as an experience for his supporters: Crows fans will deride his reckless kicking forward from clearances without stopping to think, or his hitouts that seem to benefit the opposition as much as his own teammates; but at a critical flashpoint, as Brodie Smith bombs long down the wing, he shows why Nicks has only ever briefly toyed with Kieran Strachan as an alternative: in a forming pack, he reads the drop better than Darcy Cameron, gets his sizeable mitts up, and plucks a telling, powerful contested mark.

It’s not like it’s a game-winner, with more than 200 seconds remaining: but it is an opportunity for O’Brien to calm things down, go back, soak up a few seconds and gain as much territory with his kick forwards as possible, and trust his teammates to lock it in and force the ball-ups and stoppages that really start to get that timer ticking down.

So what does O’Brien do? Why, he handballs to the running Josh Rachele within milliseconds of bringing down the mark, without even a look to see whether he’s selling his teammate into trouble. As you do.

Rachele has had a more than solid day, impressing with his ferocious tackling pressure and repeat defensive efforts especially: with two goals, he’s also satisfied his innate desire to impact the scoreboard.

O’Brien’s handball finds him racing by, 65 metres from goal, at full tilt, with only John Noble in his way. His first instinct, as the Pie approaches, is to try and send a pass inboard; he makes to kick, but at the last moment reconsiders, perhaps trying to make Noble overcommit with an attempted smother, while jinking towards the boundary.

The Pies, chasing the game, don’t have a spare behind the ball: the only players ahead of Rachele are Isaac Quaynor and Lachie Murphy, both racing hell for leather back towards the goals, and wingers Chayce Jones and Josh Daicos, some 10 metres further back but in a prime central location.

There’s a perfect option here, one we see the Pies and even Carlton these days take and hit more often than not: pass the ball inboard, trying to hit up Jones. If Rachele chooses to pass, the open 50 means he can basically kick the ball wherever he likes and get Jones to run onto it: with Daicos a good five metres forward of him, he’ll be flat-footed.

Instead, Rachele not only takes the low-percentage option of going for home, from 50 metres out, hemmed in on the boundary line; he barely even considers any other option. Never mind that giving the ball back to Collingwood is the very last thing Adelaide want to do, or that at this stage even an extra point to lead by two is hardly a game-saving extra edge.

The Crows have had two chances to slow the game down, control their entry inside 50, and make the right decision. Instead, they’ve continued to play as they have done for the three and three-quarter terms beforehand: hell for leather.

Rachele’s kick drifts across the face for a behind. The Pies have back possession.

Still, the Crows seem to have all the cards: a superb contested mark is snaffled at half-back from the kickout by the developing Luke Nankervis, whose composure and sureness with ball in hand are eye-catching even this early in his young career. He, unlike O’Brien, chooses to go back and take his kick.

A ball-up ensues right on the Crows’ 50, as Nankervis’ kick long is spoiled back inboard in desperation by Billy Frampton, before numbers converge to force the stoppage.

Collingwood’s strategy in such situations is simple: lock it in, don’t let it out, pack more and more numbers over the footy and soak up the clock in 10-second intervals.

But the Crows have a fatal flaw with their structure, that become clear in the nine seconds between the umpire’s whistle and the ball being thrown in the air.

There is no one within 20 metres of the goals, for starters: someone on whose head a quick kick from this ball-up can be sat on. Closest to goal is Darcy Fogarty, with two Pies, including Darcy Moore, on him, ready to pounce on that kick: Elliott Himmelberg, meanwhile, is stuck in no-man’s land, too close to the stoppage to claim a mark from it yet too far away (and facing the wrong way) to impact on the contest.

It’s not a structure for which O’Brien can safely do what he does: grab the ball at ground level after jostling with Cameron, lumber a few steps forward, and bang it on the boot, slipping over as he does.

Once again, it’s just not the percentage play from the big ruckman: he’s done the first part right, tapping it right at his feet, but his best move if he were to gather the ball was either to cannon straight into a tackle then pretend to try and force it out, or give it to a teammate in a similar spot. Hell, in a few minutes when it’s Collingwood’s turn to hold onto a lead, Moore genuinely tackles Isaac Quaynor himself in such a loose-ball scenario.

O’Brien’s kick wobbles forward, staying in, and the Pies, with the extra behind the ball, are the first back. Moore gathers, but it looks like the Crows will again avoid catastrophe through sheer desperation: Ben Keays has busted a gut to sprint back, arrives just moments after the Magpie captain, and lays the tackle. Moore gets his hands free, but his handpass is off the despairing variety, to no one in particular and with Adelaide jumpers converging fast.

It’s here where the biggest, and costliest, mistake of them all comes: Ned McHenry gathers the ball at ground level and dishes to Keays, who… wheels around and has a ping at the goals.

There are two reasons this is such a baffling, scrambled decision from a player who had a rush of blood. One, the Crows don’t need to score, and a behind here, the likeliest outcome given the difficulty of the shot, lets the Pies have the ball back. And two, within metres of Keays are two Crows in a paddock of space, Rory Laird and Jake Soligo. Give it to Laird, for example, and Rachele, in space 30 metres out in the pocket, is a legitimate passing option.

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Keays’ kick is smothered by the onrushing Quaynor, and the ball is flung into dispute again: and this time, luck is on Collingwood’s side. A ball that could have ricocheted anywhere lands with Harvey Harrison, who dishes to Quaynor, who has continued to run towards the ball and left his man, Rachele, free. The Pies are, suddenly, away, and up the middle.

It might seem harsh to criticise Keays, or Rachele, or O’Brien, for such split-second decisions at the end of an exhausting match. But on the other side of the coin, you only need look at what Jack Crisp does next to see how such minute details can decide games of football.

Receiving from Quaynor, Crisp dashes straight down the middle as fast as his tired legs can carry him, taking a bounce in the centre circle. He’s fully aware that Jordan Dawson, in the midst of a slashing final quarter, is hot on his heels, willing himself on to make one last decisive captain’s play.

Ahead of him are four Magpies and four Crows: Lachie Schultz and Bobby Hill are going full pelt towards the goals, Max Michalanney and Hinge matching them stride for stride, while Mason Cox lumbers down the wing some 10 metres behind Jordon Butts. And inside 50, isolated with Mark Keane but still more than a full kick away, is Jordan De Goey.

Under such heat, Crisp could have, and many players would have, blazed: tried to gain as much territory as possible, and hoped to force a stoppage somewhere further afield. But it would have required a De Goey miracle, with no chance of him marking the ball and Hinge closer to the play than Schultz to try and mop up, with Butts as the outlet option should either he or Keane gather.

You can actually see the wheels turn in Crisp’s head, and he realises that he can’t bang the ball on the boot, nor will Dawson allow him to run the extra metres so his kick will reach De Goey. His solution is to stop in his tracks and wait for the overlap runners to arrive: his method of execution is to decelerate, jink slightly to the right, and go to ground, avoiding Dawson’s despairing lunge.

It’s a brilliant bit of quick thinking, if bizarre to look at: but it is a decision borne of trust as much as anything. Crisp will look a goose if he turns around and sees only Crows coming. But fortunately, the Pies are ready.

First in line is Nick Daicos, who – another Crows mistake – has run in Crisp and Dawson’s slipstream without an opponent. It’s him who Crisp sees, on hands and knees, and him who receives the handpass.

And you’d want nobody else delivering the ball inside 50.

Calmly, still at full pace, Daicos runs on, with Dawson – and here’s another error – choosing to follow Harrison back towards goal and prevent the over-the-top handball rather than press up on the No.35. With Butts the extra man ahead of the ball, having run on ahead of Cox, that’s a risk that had to be taken, if the smallest and least egregious error of the whole flock.

It means when Daicos does head inside 50, he does so in clear air, able to weight his kick to perfection: out in front of the leading De Goey.

McRae has forecast before the game that his star on-baller will be redeployed into more of a forward role, in response to the flood of injuries that have sent most of Collingwood’s goalkickers to the casualty ward.

It’s a luxury he has because of the names he can replace him with: because Pendlebury has wound back the clock so spectacularly in a first quarter featuring two goals and two more goal assists in the four the Pies managed, because Crisp, on the midfield periphery all year, can slot seamlessly back on-ball and provided the contested grunt of the injured Tom Mitchell with more leg speed, because Nick Daicos has taken up the mantle of stoppage master, the man once derided for only winning cheap outside ball racking up 22 contested possessions and 14 clearances for the afternoon.

Were it not for them, maybe it would have been someone else Daicos was kicking to in this final, match-deciding play. Someone smaller, or slower, or just plain not as good: someone Keane, who remember, took down the monstrous Charlie Dixon in the Showdown a fortnight ago, won’t be outmatched by.

Someone who wouldn’t have made Keane panic, scrabble for contact, and lose his feet entirely in the process, to mark 30 metres out.

Someone who, having missed a similar shot a few minutes before, with the game on the line and a stadium of people holding their breath, might not have held his nerve and kicked the winning goal.

Having held this game by the throat, just minutes away from a famous, season-defining win, Adelaide left the door ajar. And of course, Collingwood barged their way through it.

The focus will, of course, be on the free against Rankine, the intricacies of that rule, and yet another case of the umpiring leaving the Crows jilted late in a thriller.

But none of that would have happened had Adelaide not already sacrificed the lead they’d worked so hard to take from Collingwood. And no doubt it’s that which will keep Nicks up a night this week.



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‘His life got quite small’: WA footy great’s CTE diagnosis confirmed as family details struggle with disease

The daughter of late WA footy great Austin Robertson Jr has revealed how her father’s life “got quite small” as he battled the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Last year, just three months before his death, Robertson told the ABC he suspected he suffered from the condition, and how he planned to donate his brain to science when he died so the disease could be better understood. 

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‘Incredibly challenging’: Grieving Dockers band together as they remember former teammate McCarthy

Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir has revealed some Dockers players were in doubt to feature in Friday night’s 48-point loss to Sydney following the sudden death of former Docker Cam McCarthy.

McCarthy died at the age of 29 on Thursday night, with Fremantle players left rocked when the news broke on Friday.

A tribute to McCarthy was held before Friday night’s match, with veterans such as Nat Fyfe, Luke Ryan and Alex Pearce fighting back tears as they remembered their former teammate.

Both Sydney and Fremantle players wore black armbands in memory of McCarthy, who played 49 matches for the Dockers between 2017-2020 after starting his career at GWS.

After the match, Fyfe and Pearce laid down flowers in the goal square in memory of McCarthy.

In the hours leading up to the match, Fremantle made a change to its emergencies list by adding key defender Hugh Davies as defensive cover.

Davies was not required in the end, but Longmuir revealed the move to add him to the emergency list was made due to the prospect of players pulling out of the match in the wake of McCarthy’s death.

“We had players that were very close not playing, so I’m proud of the way they went out and competed in difficult circumstances,” Longmuir said after the 13.9 (87) to 4.15 (39) loss.

“Some of our players have known Cam for a long period of time and continued those relationships post him playing for us.

“(Football boss) Joe Brierty did a great job getting around those who we knew were close to Cam, visiting those guys and making sure that they felt safe to make a call whether they wanted to play or not.

“I’m really proud of the way the club came together, put our arms around those who are hurting and I was really proud of those players for going out there and competing the way they did.”

Longmuir said it was important for the player group to remain united and connected while they mourn McCarthy’s passing.

“We need to make sure we do things together,” Longmuir said.

“Make sure we keep checking in on each other, make sure that the players that are affected have got the multiple avenues that they feel comfortable with and can go to.

“This is why you play team sports … so you can go through the tough times together and you’ve got people to lean on, and that’s what trademark and connection is all about.

“So we need to stand true in these difficult moments.”

Former Fremantle captain Matthew Pavlich said McCarthy’s death would’ve been “incredibly challenging” for his former teammates to deal with.

“I think it would’ve been incredibly challenging, particularly for those close to Cam. For those players it would’ve been particularly hard,” he said on Fox Footy’s coverage.

“When your leaders of the club have that toll on them, that can permeate through the group.

“But in terms of effort, their effort was strong all night.”

Seemingly buoyed by the stirring pre-match scenes, Fremantle came out of the gates hard, but were made to pay for some woeful kicking in front of goal throughout the contest. 

Fremantle’s goalkicking issues were made worse by Sydney being ruthless at the other end of the ground.

The Swans booted 10 straight goals to start the match before registering their first behind in the third quarter. At one stage in the second half, Sydney’s score of 10.1 was mirrored by Fremantle’s 1.10.

Brownlow Medal favourite Isaac Heeney continued his strong start to the season with 28 disposals and eight clearances, while Will Hayward kicked four goals for the Swans.

Sydney’s win over Fremantle allowed it to move four points clear at the top of the ladder after Geelong was upset at Kardinia Park by Port Adelaide earlier on Friday night.

The Cats fell behind by as many as 49 points before mounting a furious second-half comeback, but Port was able to hold on for a six-point win.

It was Port Adelaide’s first win in Geelong since Round 21, 2007, the year the two teams faced off in the grand final.

In the absence of injured skipper Connor Rozee, Port’s midfield trio of Ollie Wines (33 disposals, nine clearances), Zak Butters (34 disposals, seven clearances), and Jason Horne-Francis (26 disposals, seven clearances) stood tall.

Playing in a record-equalling 355th career match for the Cats, Tom Hawkins was held to a goal in another quiet outing for the veteran forward.

AAP/ABC

Look back on how all the action from Friday’s AFL double-header unfolded in our live blog.

Key events

AFL Friday scoreboard

Another night in the books!

That’s going to be it from us for tonight folks!

Hope you enjoyed the coverage of the double-header once again. Make sure you join us tomorrow afternoon as we bring you all the action from the AFL’s Super Saturday.

Sydney 13.9 (87) def Fremantle 4.15 (39)

A wayward Fremantle have produced a Friday night flop, ending an emotion-filled day with a 48-point AFL loss to Sydney at Optus Stadium.

Will Hayward kicked four goals and Isaac Heeney tallied 28 disposals and eight clearances as Sydney soared a game clear on top of the ladder with the 13.9 (87) to 4.15 (39) win.

Fremantle players were left devastated when news of Cam McCarthy’s death at the age of 29 broke on Friday morning.

A total of 11 Dockers players who took to the field on Friday night were former teammates of McCarthy, who played 49 games for the Dockers between 2017-2020.

Fremantle veterans Nat Fyfe and Alex Pearce had tears in their eyes as both teams paid tribute to McCarthy in an emotional moment before the match in front of 46,198 fans.

When play got underway, Fremantle were their own worst enemies with fluffed shots on goal and horror turnovers.

The halftime scoreboard told the story of the contest – Sydney kicking 9.0 (54) to Fremantle’s 1.8 (14).

Seven of Sydney’s nine first-half goals came from Fremantle turnovers, including five in a horror second term for the Dockers.

Fremantle’s goalkicking was simply horrible.

Patrick Voss missed the opening two shots of the game, while Jye Amiss sprayed a set shot and kicked another snap out of bounds.

Fyfe’s shot on the run faded, while Luke Jackson and Andrew Brayshaw were also off target.

In contrast, Sydney made the most of their opportunities, with Chad Warner, Will Hayward and Joel Amartey kicking two goals each in the first half to give the visitors a 40-point lead at the major break.

Sydney’s tackling was a feature, with Fyfe caught holding the ball three times in the first quarter alone.

The Swans’ first miss of the match didn’t arrive until the four-minute mark of the third quarter, when Hayward’s 50m set shot faded.

But the damage had already been well and truly done by that stage, with Fremantle’s 1.5 in the third quarter further hampering their cause.

Amiss had been in the headlines all week after Dockers coach Justin Longmuir expressed his disgust at the illegal treatment the spearhead had been receiving this season.

The 20-year-old barely got a sniff all night against the Swans, finishing with 0.1 from six disposals.

Sydney also unlocked a tactic that other teams will no doubt follow – tagging defender Jordan Clark.

James Jordon did an excellent shutdown role on the rebounding defender, limiting Clark to 16 disposals.

Clark’s turnover in the second quarter also led to a Sydney goal.

Sydney’s Nick Blakey could be in doubt for next week’s blockbuster clash with Carlton after an accidental clash of heads with a teammate in the final term.

Dockers midfielder Caleb Serong racked up 25 disposals in the first half before finishing with 34 possessions and three clearances.

Sydney midfielder Chad Warner kicked two goals from 23 disposals.

More from Pavlich on a heavy night for Fremantle

Fremantle great Matthew Pavlich with some more commentary on the loss of Cam McCarthy.

“I think it would’ve been incredibly challenging, particularly for those close to Cam. For those players it would’ve been particularly hard,” he says.

“When your leaders of the club have that toll on them, that can permeate through the group.

“But in terms of effort, their effort was strong all night.”

Lovely post-game gesture from heartbroken Dockers

Alex Pearce and Nat Fyfe were overcome with emotion before the game, and they look absolutely devastated at the final siren.

The pair lays some flowers in the goal square in memory of Cam McCarthy, as Pearce touches his black armband and looks to the heavens.

Emotional stuff here in Perth.

FT: Swans wrap up massive win over wasteful Dockers

Sydney continued on its merry way in 2024 with a commanding win over the Dockers!

It was an emotional night for Fremantle, whose players tried their absolute guts out, but in the end they couldn’t overcome a night of woeful kicking.

Both teams looked absolutely spent in that final quarter.

The Swans now sit a game clear at the top of the ladder after Geelong’s loss earlier tonight.

Blakey headed for concussion test

Nick Blakey remained on the field for a few minutes after that head-clash but now he’s off.

Swans erring on the side of caution. Highly doubt we see Blakey back on the ground, even if he passes that concussion test, given there’s just over six minutes remaining.

Impact of McCarthy tragedy on Freo players

Former Fremantle skipper Matthew Pavlich has discussed whether Cam McCarthy’s passing impacted this result.

“They actually handled the emotion of it well, they just haven’t been able to execute,” he says.

“Maybe they were too amped up. Sometimes you can’t execute because you’re trying too hard.”

Two in two minutes for Sharp as friendly fire rocks Blakey

Jeremy Sharp with another one!

This one is from a similar distance, but a tighter angle and he’s up and about.

Surely there’s not enough time for a Freo comeback, right?

Meanwhile, Nick Blakey had a bit of a head clash with his own teammate Matt Roberts and was briefly shaken up, but he remains on the ground.

Sharp with a consolation goal for Freo

Where has this kicking been all night?

Jeremy Sharp unleashes a bomb from just inside the 50m arc off one step and drills it!

That goal came after Will Hayward had kicked his fourth to put the Swans 57 points ahead.

Margin getting ‘ugly’ as Swans add another one

A 50m penalty against Hayden Young in the middle of the ground draws Ollie Florent within scoring distance, and he makes no mistake on the set shot.

Swans out to a 51-point lead and the body language doesn’t look great out there from Freo.

“It could get ugly because you can feel the gas has just gone out of Freo,” says Pavlich on commentary for Fox Footy.

Rampe off as Swans activate sub

Sydney has taken Dane Rampe off, with Robbie Fox activated as the tactical sub.

No injury for Rampe, just some load management.

The yips impacting Swans as well now

After being so accurate, the Swans have missed a few of their own opportunities.

Will Hayward missing a very gettable set shot, while James Jordon missed one from close in a little while earlier.

Meanwhile, Tom Papley kicks an attempted snap from close in out on the full.

This match is just petering out now, to be totally honest.

13 minutes left.

3QT: Swans in firm control as Dockers continue to spray shots

Sydney holding a 43-point lead at the final change.

The Dockers have misfired in front of goal all night, and it’s cost them dearly.

Sydney’s pressure has been brilliant around the ground and they’ve been clinical in front of goal, and that’s been the game.

Fremantle has had its chances, but hasn’t capitalised.

Michael Frederick has been subbed off by the Dockers, with Michael Walters coming on.

Port Adelaide 15.11. (101) def Geelong 14.11 (95)

Port Adelaide has withstood a crazy second-half fightback to hang on for a thrilling six-point away win over Geelong, spoiling Tom Hawkins’ record-equalling 355th appearance for the Cats.

The Power shocked their hosts with eight first-quarter goals in a stunning early blitz to lay the platform for their 15.11 (101) to 14.11 (95) triumph on Friday night at Kardinia Park.

They led by as much as 49 points during the second quarter before Geelong mounted a serious response, cutting the margin back to one straight kick late in the final term.

There was last-gasp drama as Jeremy Cameron was denied a goal on the line when play was called back for a free kick to Ollie Henry, who snapped a behind from the pocket.

It was the final score of the game as undermanned Port – missing skipper Connor Rozee among four injury-enforced changes – held on for their first win at Kardinia Park since 2007.

The result gave the Power a 6-3 record ahead of a home clash with Hawthorn next week, while Geelong (7-2) have lost successive games after opening the campaign with seven straight wins.

Willie Rioli equalled his career-best haul with four goals for Port as Ollie Wines (33 disposals, nine clearances) and acting captain Zak Butters (34, seven) stood up in Rozee’s absence.

Jason Horne-Francis (26 touches, seven clearances) was best afield in the first half before Geelong substitute Oisin Mullin quelled his influence after the main break.

Former Geelong defender Esava Ratugolea held ex-teammate Hawkins to just seven touches as the veteran forward matched Joel Selwood’s games record for the Cats.

Hawkins ended his unprecedented four-match goal drought with a second-quarter major but put another set shot out on the full.

Defender Zach Guthrie (24 disposals), Tyson Stengle (four goals) and roaming forward Cameron (18 touches, one goal) were among the Cats’ best.

Geelong gave up a 25-point head-start in the opening nine minutes and conceded the highest first-quarter score to a visiting team at Kardinia Park since 1983, trailing 8.2 to 3.3 at the first break.

The Power added the first three goals of the second term before desperate Cats coach Chris Scott replaced ruckman Rhys Stanley with Mullin.

Hawkins and Gryan Miers booted successive goals to temporarily stem the tide but Butters’ superb snap helped Port to a 41-point lead at the main break.

The Cats kicked six goals to two in the third term, with defender Guthrie taking advantage of twin 50m penalties against Rioli to kick a rare major.

Gary Rohan pulled down a spectacular grab with a ride on Ratugolea’s back in the final term and Stengle’s fourth major cut the deficit to seven points before Henry missed with the last shot of the game.

Dockers baffled by goalpost again

That right hand goal post at one end of the ground is causing havoc for Fremantle.

Like Josh Treacy earlier in the quarter, Patrick Voss thinks he’s drilled a set shot, and even rips out a big celebration, only for the goal umpire to call a behind.

Interestingly, because it’s a behind, it’s not automatically reviewed like the goals are.

Meanwhile, Michael Frederick hits the post from directly in front and the Dockers are now 2.13 in front of goal. That’s not going to win you many matches.

A thrilling last two minutes in Geelong

If you missed the action live, here’s how the final two minutes wound up at Kardinia Park.

Cohuna breaks Fremantle’s drought

Fremantle finally has its second goal of the night!

Josh Treacy, aka the Big Cohuna, thought he’d goaled a few minutes earlier, but this time he slots it through the middle.

Can the Dockers get a run on now? Sydney are excellent frontrunners, so it won’t be easy by any means.

Hayward blots Sydney’s copybook

Bronx cheers go up around Perth Stadium as Will Hayward kicks Sydney’s first behind of the evening.

The miss comes after an early Tom Papley goal in the third quarter made it 10 straight majors for the Swans.

Meanwhile, at the other end, Fremantle has kicked 1.10.

Sydney’s lead 45 points now.

FT: Port holds off Geelong in thrilling finish

 Port Adelaide has done it! Wow, what a contest that was!

Ken Hinkley holds his arms aloft like he’s won the premiership at his old home.

Port Adelaide winds up six-point winners after almost blowing a 49-point lead.

The Power have their first win at Kardinia Park since Round 21, 2007. These two sides met in the grand final that year, will history repeat itself?

Sports content to make you think… or allow you not to. A newsletter delivered each Saturday.

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AFL News: Police investigate new Thomas allegations, Fagan lauds ‘clear direction’ on homophobic slur bans



Disgraced former North Melbourne player Tarryn Thomas is once again at the centre of a police investigation, after being accused of harassing an ex-partner.

According to the Herald Sun, Thomas has repeatedly called the woman, whom he allegedly sent a threatening message to earlier this year in an accusation that was one of the key triggers for the AFL handing down an 18-match suspension, at all times of the day and night in recent weeks.

No charges have been laid, with a Victoria Police spokesperson telling the Herald Sun the investigation is ongoing.

The latest allegations come amid heavy debate over whether the AFL should permit a club to hand Thomas a second chance, with the 24-year old eligible to play at lower levels once his ban expires on July 22 provided the league are satisfied with his progress in a behavioural change program.

An email to other club CEOs from Kangaroos CEO Jen Watt warned that the club were ‘not able to meaningfully change his behaviour’ despite entering him into a number of support programs.

Former North Melbourne and now Essendon coach Brad Scott has been one of the loudest voices in his favour, controversially describing Thomas as ‘a good person’ and that it is incumbent on the industry to ‘help him’ turn his life around.

However, speaking after the latest allegations were made, Kangaroos great David King urged the AFL to step in and prevent Thomas from being drafted.

“The AFL needs to take a stand there, don’t they?” King said on SEN Breakfast.

“They’ve got to take him off the table from a draftable perspective.”

Tarryn Thomas. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

Fagan lauds ‘clear direction’ on homophobic slur bans

Brisbane coach Chris Fagan has thrown his support behind the AFL’s call to suspend Gold Coast defender Wil Powell for five matches for a homophobic slur directed at a Lions player.

Powell apologised to the player during and after the Suns’ loss in Round 8, and again expressed remorse after his ban was revealed.

It comes after Port Adelaide forward Jeremy Finlayson was suspended for three matches for his own homophobic slur in April, with the league saying Powell’s greater suspension is as a result of escalating consequences for abuse.

Speaking on Friday, Fagan applauded the messaging from the AFL that such slurs won’t be tolerated.

“It’s a clear direction from the AFL, which I agree with, that you can’t make those sort of comments out on the field,” he said.

However, Fagan stopped short of weighing in on the length of the suspension, which has caused some controversy in comparison to shorter bans for both Finlayson and for Collingwood forward Lachie Schultz, who was only suspended for one week for a punch to the back of Carlton’s Blake Acres’ head.

“That’s for the AFL to talk about,” Fagan said.

‘Fine the fakes’: Cornes urges crackdown after controversial ‘dangerous tackle’ free

Kane Cornes has urged the AFL to take a stand against players deliberately placing themselves in harm’s way to win dangerous tackle free kicks, after a controversial decision proved costly for Melbourne late in their Thursday night loss to Carlton.

Deep into the last quarter, Jacob van Rooyen was pinged for a dangerous tackle after dispossessing Blue Brodie Kemp, only for the umpire to contentiously deem the Demon hadn’t executed correctly.

The moment denied the Dees a certain goal, with Bayley Fritsch taking what he believed to be the advantage and passing to Ed Langdon in the goalsquare – the incident would soon prove costly as the Demons went down by a solitary point.

Channel Seven commentator Brian Taylor claimed the incident was ‘a classic case of a player deliberately putting his head into the ground’, with the decision – and Kemp’s alleged dive – earning widespread condemnation from fans and pundits alike.

Speaking on SEN Breakfast, Cornes offered a solution ‘fine the fakes’.

Fellow caller David King agreed, saying players milking free kicks ensures umpires have ‘no chance of getting this stuff right’.

“It’s so hard on the umpires now,” King said.

“This is why I think we need to come up with fines system for the fakers… it was a big moment, it was late in game, a one-point result – it had all the hallmarks of being a significant call for the umpire.”

“I feel for the umpires at the moment. I reckon they’ve got not a chance of getting this stuff right.”



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‘Golden opportunity’: Billion-dollar backer confirms tilt to fund proposed Macquarie Point stadium

Billion-dollar investment and private capital firms will bid for the right to partner with the Tasmanian government and deliver the Macquarie Point precinct development — including a 23,000 seat roofed stadium — as part of a blockbuster public-private partnership agreement.

The government, in need of private capital to fund the precinct and stadium, will select a private partner as part of a competitive bid process — and one of the nation’s biggest private capital firms has confirmed to the ABC it will throw its hat in the ring.

The ABC can reveal Plenary Group, which was co-founded and chaired by Richmond football club president John O’Rourke, will bid for the right to deliver the broader Macquarie Point precinct, including the stadium.

Drone overview of the Macquarie Point site in Hobart, where the AFL wants the stadium built.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

Managing director Damien Augustinus told the ABC that the Tasmanian government had a “golden opportunity” to partner with the private sector to deliver the project.

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How rest and preparation dictate AFL performance

Sometimes truths in the sporting world are whispered quietly, and sometimes they are said aloud.

This week Craig McRae didn’t mince his words when on FoxFooty’s AFL360.

“There’s no way that you could look at the draw and say it’s fair anywhere. Everyone understands it. It’s just ‘which bit is yours (your advantage)’. That’s reality, isn’t it?”

For much of football’s long and storied history, the time of football was largely constant — Saturday afternoon.

The first midweek matches for premiership points happened in the league’s first season in 1897 on the date of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Public holidays were the main reasons for the early weekday games in the early decades.

This regular schedule made it easy to follow your team every week, aside from knowing what ground a game was being played at.

This significantly helped players in the semi-professional era when they still had day jobs.

After experimentation with midweek, and night-time football, media executives and the VFL started to experiment more with the fixturing of proper league games.

In 1980 regular standalone Sunday afternoon games were introduced via games held at the SCG. Playing in Sydney provided the VFL a convenient end-run around the VFA’s government-backed grip on Sunday fixturing.

Friday night footy, pioneered in 1983 by the Swans is now perhaps the most commercially coveted fixture available.

Friday was the last weekday to feature a league game, but has since become a core part of the footy week. By the late 1980s all teams were regularly playing footy on Fridays.

Thanks to roaming public holidays and invented occasions like Anzac Day Eve, no day of the week is fully off-limits.

In the 2024 AFL season football will be played on at least six of the seven days of the week across 21 different start times.

The introduction of all these time slots has introduced new considerations for footy staffers — condensed and elongated preparations. This season sees more short breaks than ever before. These include five and six-day turnarounds — think Sunday to Friday being two games in six days. They also include multiple six-day turnarounds and batches of condensed games.

This is how teams prepare for the short week, and the impact it has on your team’s chances.

The footballing week

To work out how a short week can affect the preparation of a team going into a game, a better idea of a normal footballing week is required.

Richard Little, a former Essendon staffer and current data intelligence manager at the Victorian Institute of Sport, is across how clubs usually prepare for a week of football.

“Depending on the club, a seven-day break schedule would potentially look something like this:”

“Some clubs flip the sessions three days prior to the game with the ones two days out.”

Little stresses that this is dependent on the game and training loads before that week and the week’s scheduled ahead.

“Because the fixture is known for the first 15 rounds, these loads will have been planned well in advance,” Little adds.

“The skill acquisition aspect of training is generally planned loosely with specific drills dropped into a template as needed. So, it might be that a three or four week block is focused on defence but other areas would still be included. This is dependant on the coaching philosophy but it could be that there’s more work done on maintaining strengths or fixing weaknesses.”

Earlier this season Collingwood struggled with their performance coming off consecutive six-day breaks.

“Well we started the season with six days (break), six days (break), six days (break). We didn’t realise parts of our game were so far off,” McRae explained.

“So when you actually get a deeper breath you get to work on those things. You get to train some habits and change those focus areas.”

This ability to adjust on the fly is key to football clubs being able to right the ship midway through the season. It’s often why teams struggle to adjust the game plans on a wholesale basis until the bye rounds.

Shorter time frames between the games also mean the ideal schedule is adjusted.

“A compressed schedule is going to mean lighter training loads overall as the games themselves will provide the majority of the physical load,” Little articulates.

“On a six-day break, one of the post sessions will likely be merged with another and the main session will have reduced load. On a five-day break, individual craft or recovery skills are likely dropped and the main session is drastically reduced. Sometimes that’s only a couple of drills in those situations.”

Surprisingly, shorter breaks on their own don’t have a direct impact on game results. Emerging football analyst Emlyn Breese of CreditToDuBois.com has researched how these short breaks have affected results in recent years.

“It’s hard to identify the performance impacts of a short break in isolation. The typical things you’d look at as indicators of effort and energy like tackles and pressure acts — teams aren’t performing noticeably below their season average off a short break,” Breese told ABC Sport this week.

Breese has analysed outcomes against predicted performance based on how strong a team is expected to perform. He has used the predicted match results as calculated by James Day, creator of the blog Plus Six One and co-creator of the football statistics package FitzRoy as a baseline.

“When a side has two days less rest than their opponent they are likely to perform just under a goal worse than expectation when they are the home team, and about half that when they are the away team. They’re not big numbers on the surface, but when you’re looking at hundreds or thousands of results it suggests there’s something there.”

There’s also more extreme breaks — often caused by byes. Usually they have minimal impacts, with one exception.

“Teams coming off a bye playing away against a home side without a bye have performed, on average, a goal below expectation. Coaches talk all the time about just how hard it is to win a game of footy — I think it’s an example of the cumulative effect of just one more thing that takes the team out of their normal routine.”

It must be wearing off

It’s not only one match of short turnarounds that matters. Often teams have several shorter breaks compounding on each other – especially when compared to their opponents.

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Footy Fix: The Pies might have embarrassed Port… but they’re still not back to their best. Yet

A little over 12 months ago, Collingwood demolished Port Adelaide on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the MCG in the first of many, many signs in 2023 that they were destined for a premiership.

For two quarters on Saturday against the same opponent, at the same venue, with even the same weather, the Magpies looked every bit back to their best, ripping the Power to shreds with a ferocity and a speed that few sides in the competition could hope to match.

The result was a 41-point win that will reaffirm in the eyes of many that the Pies, after a sluggish start to 2024, are back in business – and indeed, I’d have felt the same if I only looked at the margin and the quality of the opposition.

But for all their dominance, there are still some bugs in the Magpie machine that need fixing, most of them without the ball, and you can bet other teams that don’t turn up their toes the minute the heat goes up like the Power did at the MCG will be able to punish them without getting so comprehensively ripped apart the other way.

No doubt overturning a 31-point deficit so commandingly will give the Pies a huge confidence boost, as well as send a shiver down the spines of their foes; but any team that can give up a lead like that is still vulnerable, no matter what they have in reserve.

Part of the reason I’m still holding out on declaring the Pies back in business is also the manner with which that tore the Power up.

Having been exposed repeatedly on the outside throughout the opening term, Craig McRae’s solution was simple: simply deny Port as much ball as possible, take complete control of all stoppages, and surge the ball with pace and purpose forward to a backline outsized but with speed to burn on their bigger, slower defenders.

It was a game plan made for the rangy Will Hoskin-Elliott, often a whipping boy among Magpies fans, who had what might be the best game of his career: with 21 disposals and nine marks, all of the latter by half time, his superb second quarter was the catalyst to spark the Pies into life.

Just as impactful, though, was their completecontrol at the coalface: after losing the contested possession count by one in the first term, the Pies proceeded to win it by 17 in the second and 17 more in the third, ending up with a whopping 41-possession advantage.

Their eventual tally of 161 is their equal-most under McRae, tying at the top with what they mustered in a wet-weather scrap against Richmond last year; only once since the start of 2022 have they won the stat by more. That was, as it happens, in the corresponding match against Port in 2023, when they won it by a frankly outrageous 57 (155-98).

To do it in sunny conditions against an opposition with three of the most acclaimed midfielders in the game in Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Jason Horne-Francis is a commanding performance.

Butters’ gradual waning of influence summed up the change in mood: of his 15 first-quarter disposals that consistently punished the Pies going from inside stoppages to outside, not a single one was considered a clearance, with the number 9 playing a more peripheral role as the link man outside stoppages to capitalise on Jason Horne-Francis and Ollie Wines’ hard work over the footy.

When the Pies took over, those handballs out dried up, and Butters’ impact waned, with just six disposals in the next two quarters before building his numbers up again in the last with the contest all but decided.

There’s a caveat to it, though: this isn’t the way the Pies have historically won games of footy since Macrae took over, especially not in the dry. It’s just the 20th time since he took over that they’ve won the contested possession count, across 57 games.

If this is a sign of a new, hard-nosed Collingwood that wants to work teams over for the hard ball, then tremendous, especially with Jordan De Goey back to his explosive best after a rough start to the season.

But those numbers back up the eye test that the Power were shown up when the going got tough, be it a one-off shocker or a sign that this highly touted midfield of theirs has a glaring weakness. Which is enough to ask the Pies to show that sort of ferocity can be maintained, and – and this is key – that they can do it without sacrificing their one-wood of fast, silky outside play, before hailing them as a force once more.

The other factor to consider is just how vulnerable the Pies looked in that first quarter, with the Power piling on six of the game’s first seven goals before the reigning premiers could so much as blink.

What was concerningly apparent was the lack of trust that proved the cornerstone of the Magpies’ defensive structure from last year; often last year the defence and wingmen would hold their ground away from the contest, prevent as much overlap run as possible, and entrust whoever was at the ball and responsible for the opponent with it would stick doggedly to the task.

That’s a hard trait to maintain, especially when you start losing and desperately want to be the one to turn it around: that’s the only reason I can think of for why Patrick Lipinski would leave Butters all on his own and try to block Sam Powell-Pepper here, rather than entrust that job to Steele Sidebottom and Lachie Schultz.

Four of Port’s six goals essentially came from decisions just like Lipinski’s; some were obvious, while others, like Jeremy Howe abandoning Willie Rioli near the goalsquare to try and influence a contest he was never going to get to, were less so, with only Jackson Mead getting the job done himself preventing him from looking even sillier.

This has been a common problem for the Pies all season long, with GWS’ fleet of small forwards in particular shredding them in Opening Round. For it to remain such an issue in a match they won by 41 points makes it less pressing of an issue, but I’d be shocked if McRae didn’t make that a focus at training during the week.

There’s no denying Collingwood’s best on Saturday afternoon was breathtaking, and a stern reminder that they can still turn it on to a level few other teams can match.

But there will be teams to give them a much sterner contest for the hard ball than the Power managed; and when – and it is a when – that happens, the Pies might not look so comprehensively back as they do right now.



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AFL defends illicit drugs policy after claims of off-the-books drug tests by federal MP

The AFL says it is “unapologetic” about its illicit drugs policy amid claims by a federal MP that Melbourne Football Club conducted off-the-books drug testing of players to help them avoid failing tests on match days.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to make accusations of serious misconduct against the AFL and the Melbourne Demons. 

In federal parliament last night, Andrew Wilkie said the allegations were provided by former Melbourne football club president Glen Bartlett, former Melbourne football club doctor Zeeshan Arain and Shaun Smith, father of Melbourne player and now alleged drug trafficker Joel Smith.

Mr Wilkie aired allegations of prevalent drug abuse in the AFL and off-the-books drug testing of players at Dorevitch Pathology in Heidelberg, which he said was “facilitated by the former chief medical officer of the AFL, Peter Harcourt”.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie says the allegations were described to him by a whistleblower involved with the club.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Mr Wilkie said that players testing positive for illicit drugs were often asked to fake injuries to cover up their result.

“They are advised to lie about their condition, while the results of the off-the-book tests are kept secret and never shared with Sports Integrity Australia or WADA,” he said.

“In other words, hundreds of thousands of Australians will watch the game not knowing that the game has been secretly manipulated by the AFL.

“Thousands of Australians will also bet on that game not knowing that the game has been secretly manipulated by the AFL.”

No illicit drug problem in AFL, CEO says

AFL CEO Andrew Dillon did not refute Mr Wilkie’s claims, but said testing for illicit drugs by club doctors had been part of the AFL’s illicit drugs policy since 2005.

“What we have is testing under the clinical intervention model done by the doctors,” he said.

Andrew Dillon standing in front of microphones at a podium.

AFL CEO Andrew Dillon says doctor-patient confidentially is paramount.(AAP Image: Joel Carrett)

Mr Dillon did not directly address claims made by Mr Wilkie that players who had tested positive faked injuries to cover up test results.

“The private medical information of the players is private medical information and that’s what we prioritise above anything else,” he said.

“If there’s a chance that they may have something in their system, we don’t want them training and we don’t them taking part in matches for their health and welfare above anything else.”

The AFL is reviewing its illicit drugs policy and hopes to have a new model in place by the end of the year.

The AFL Player’s Association said it supported the AFL’s position and it was committed to reviewing the policy alongside the AFL to ensure it remains best practice. 

Mr Dillon denied that there was an illicit drug problem in the sport.

Former AFL player Shaun Smith stands with his hand on a bedside table in a workshop.

Former AFL player Shaun Smith says he hoped the allegations were taken seriously. (ABC News: Scott Jewell)

But former player Shaun Smith disagreed and said it was a “massive issue in the AFL”.

He accused the AFL of “covering up” the alleged use of drugs and that it created an unsafe workplace.

“I was pretty shocked that the AFL would go to that length to cover up cocaine use in the game,” he said.

“Covering up stuff and not dealing with issues firsthand really just reeks of an unsafe workplace.

“The employer, which is the AFL and the Melbourne Football Club or any other football club, have the duty of care to make it a safe working place.”

Allegations ‘news’ to Melbourne coach

Melbourne Football Club coach Simon Goodwin said he had no knowledge of any such behaviour at the club.

“It’s news to me. I think it’s a surprise to everyone in the industry because there’s no line of sight for me as a head coach,” he said.

“I think it’s a question you’ll have to ask the AFL, about what the policy looks like moving forward.

“I’ve got enormous trust in our doctor in terms of them being able to do their job so I’m not going to question how they go about their business.”

The shopfront of Dorevitch Pathology

The AFL has a contract with Dorevitch Pathology to conduct illicit drug testing of its players.(Supplied: Kennington Village)

Dr Arain was sacked by the club in 2020, after media reports claiming he had raised concerns about the club’s culture.

Mr Bartlett stood down as club president in 2021, and has launched legal action against the club in the Federal Court of Australia.

In his speech, Mr Wilkie claimed Mr Bartlett “was dumped by the AFL just eight weeks after a meeting with AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and AFL chair Richard Goyder where he suggested mandatory drug testing for AFL executives”.

On Wednesday, Mr Wilkie tried to reintroduce the issue and put statements and serious allegations on the parliamentary record for a second time.

He called on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to study the documents provided to him and to “do everything he can to restore and protect the reputation of our beloved game”.

Anthony Albanese speaking at parliament.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed Mr Wilkie’s comments during Question Time on Wednesday. (ABC News)

Mr Albanese responded to accusations that the government was participating in the cover up of an alleged drug problem within the AFL. 

“My job … isn’t the control of the Australian Football League. But if issues are raised, the Sport Integrity Australia is aware of the issue, and they have begun their assessment,” he said.

Sport Integrity Australia confirmed it had commenced an assessment of the allegations made by Mr Wilkie but would not comment further. 

Misconduct rife in the AFL, MP claims

Mr Wilkie alleged he was told the problem was widespread in the sport.

“Dr Arain also explains, this isn’t just a Melbourne problem; it’s an AFL problem, with multiple players coming to Melbourne from other teams with pre-existing cocaine dependencies, more than suggesting that drug testing workarounds are in fact commonplace elsewhere in the AFL,” he said.

“The documents in my possession also indicate a shocking unwillingness by senior AFL executives to address drug abuse by players and executives, particularly in relation to cocaine usage.”

Melbourne AFL fans sit in the stands at the MCG waving flags and floggers during a premiership celebration.

The former president and club doctor are among those making allegations of serious misconduct at the Melbourne Demons.(ABC News: Tom Maddocks)

AFL Doctors Association president Barry Rigby said the club doctors’ prime responsibility “is, and always will be, the health and wellbeing of the athletes”.

“The suggestion that this unique privilege has been somehow manipulated is simply not true,” Dr Rigby said.

“Such comments are disappointing, and represent a distortion of a process aimed at supporting player welfare.”

He said doctors “maintain transparent communication with the AFL, ensuring that any substance use concerns are managed with discretion and in accordance with medical ethics, the AFL’s guidelines, and WADA’s code”.

Under current AFL rules, players caught using illicit drugs are subject to a three-strike system.

On the first detection, a player will receive a $5,000 fine while also undergoing counselling and target testing.

Following the second strike, a player’s name is made public and they serve a four-match suspension.

A third strike incurs a 12-match suspension.

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