Eddie McGuire has revealed the radical changes to AFL that Kerry Packer suggested decades ago which echo calls today from coaches to address the low-scoring arm wrestles in the modern game.
Earlier this week Hawthorn Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson and Geelong Cats coach Chris Scott expressed concern about the state of the game with fewer goals, more tackles and more congestion. It prompted a debate within the AFL world over whether 14 or 15-a-side contest would make for a more attractive brand of football.
On Nine’s Footy Classified, Collingwood Magpies president Eddie McGuire revealed he’d been reminded by racing identity Lloyd Williams this week of a conversation he once had with Packer on the very topic.
“When Kerry Packer got the football here at Channel Nine – Kerry Packer was a great understander [sic] of sports. He played footy at Geelong Grammar, and would often ring and talk about the tactics of the game,” McGuire said.
“And Lloyd reminded me of this – this is the way Kerry wanted things – he reckoned that football should go to 15-a-side.
“So you get rid of the forward pocket and the back pocket at either end, and you get rid of the ruck rover in the middle, so you keep your wings, because there’s no point shoving them all up the skinny end where it gets congested.
“Keep it through the midfield, get one person out of the centre, so that’s two players that come out of the centre bounce and two at each end to get it going.
“He was a bit different to what [Chris] Scott was saying – Scott is saying don’t have unlimited interchange, Kerry was up for no interchange but have reserves, go back to the old days and let them play and get the tactics going.
“He believed that that would open up [the game] and you’d get it fast-flowing, you’d get players getting fatigued, you’d kick the ball longer to positions and it’d open up the game.”
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AFL journalist Caroline Wilson encouraged the league to try and “experiment” with 16-a-side “at the very least”. And Essendon Bombers great Matthew Lloyd said he would “love to see it in pre-season next year.”
Former AFL coach Ross Lyon was open to the concept too, but conceded it would be hard to get the old-school footy tragics on board.
“As coaches, we have have practice games internally where those numbers are evident with 15-16 [players], and the congestion isn’t there and it does flow, but there are a few rusted on that aren’t prepared to play around with numbers on the field,” Lyon said.
“You never know unless you give it a go.
“When you have an intimate understanding how team defences work, and they work on a string, wingers connect the forwards and the backs. It’s a no-brainer to take out a link to open it up.
“I don’t care when you do it but I know it will help.
“At the moment you’ve got three big bulls inside, they’re 6-foot-4 those guys, and they’ve got fleet of foot on the outside, but if you have to make a choice and there’s only two well you might lose two insiders and keep your runners. Coaches will have to make a choice.”