Bumped into history
Watching Port’s man mountain Adrian Bonaddio charge through the centre square at the opening bounce of Saturday’s match against archrival Williamstown, you had to wonder whether he understood the ramifications of his actions. At full tilt the 195 centimetre and 112 kilos Bonaddio is a frightening prospect for any player trying to collect a loose ball. And what might Williamstown coach Brad Gotch had said if ‘Bonners’ had collected his 176 cm 74 kilos son, Xavier? When a big bloke downs a little bloke – Lloyd on Sewell and Franklin on Cousins – the shackles do rise!
Adrian Bonaddio isn’t a menacing or overly aggressive player. But sometimes when form is elusive the only way a player can find the compass is by throwing his body into the contest. On Saturday that’s what Bonaddio was trying to do. However, whether we like it or not the duty of care for players using the hip and shoulder has changed forever. No matter what traditionalists like Brian Taylor think about the shirtfront – he was defending it on TV – it and the headhigh contact that so often comes in its wake are over.
When I first began playing in the VFA it was a competition notorious for acts of violence. Contrary to the myths, I was wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the blokes who drew blood in that volatile era. But whilst the elbow, the coathanger and the king-hit were never a part of my repertoire, the hip and shoulder was. Sending Port’s Peter Wilkinson down for the count in the preliminary final at the Junction Oval in 1982 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlfESSIkIno - was one of the best I ever laid. The problem was that Wilkinson had no opportunity to protect himself and I had only one intention, to knock him over.
We can talk until the cows come home about a player having to make a split second decision and there being no malice in the shirtfront. But the potential for hurt that comes with a strong, super fit athlete smashing into an unsuspecting opponent is such that the shirtfront isn’t a glorious or courageous act. No TV replay can ever properly reflect the nature of such a collision. Sometimes you have to actually be alongside or near a player when it happens to properly grasp the gruesome nature and the injustice of a shirtfront. Whatever his sins, Campbell Brown wasn’t reporting as a journalist when he spoke belligerently on radio. He was team-mate and a friend, who saw at close quarters what had happened to his mate, Brad Sewell.
I’ve never forgotten seeing team-mate, Alan Mannix, collapse at Oakleigh after being smashed by a shirtfront in the mid-70s. It was sickening! A beautifully balanced player whose left and right foot drop kicks at training brought a smile to every face, Mannix was the consummate ball player and had come to Coburg from Footscray, where he’d debuted as a 17-year-old and played 112 games. Isn’t it always ball players who end up on the end of a shirtfront?
The message is simple. Like the fist and elbows of the old VFA, the shirtfront is dead, and we shouldn’t be unhappy about that.
Cats and Magpies to fire finals at Port
AFL clubs fielding their own teams in the VFL might not be everyone’s cup of tea but you’ll get no complaints from me about having Collingwood in the TV match from Port on Saturday and Geelong on Sunday. These two AFL clubs not only bring a crowd; they bring high emotion. And with Geelong playing on Saturday in the AFL and Collingwood on Sunday there’ll be no excuses for the faithful not flocking to TEAC Oval. Just as importantly, every AFL player in the Cats and Magpies VFL side will have an eye for a spot in the AFL team, which means they won’t be foxing. And tell me coaches Gavin Brown (Collingwood) and Dale Amos (Geelong) won’t be putting on a good show, given the lure of coaching in the AFL!