After months without a competitive match, football returned last week much to the relief of many fans. For some clubs, it was a chance to blood youngsters, for others, it was a great opportunity to tune up for the real competition in just a few weeks time. While many might want to see their newest recruits in action, this week saw “blooding youngsters” taken to the extreme when Brisbane named one of the most inexperienced lineups a team could possibly field when they took on the reigning premiers in Hawthorn.
There are plenty of reasons to play young draftees or players crossing from other clubs: Opportunity of game time; exposure to the fans; building excitement around the club for the future; or even just out of necessity due to injuries. However, surely there is a point in time where exposing young players can have a negative effect or at least no effect at all. This is what occurred when the Brisbane Lions decided to name a team consisting of just four players over 50 games against a near-full strength Hawthorn side.
There’s no beating around the bush, even with a full strength side, the Lions would struggle against Hawthorn. They are young, inexperienced and taking the long rebuilding road back to the finals. Last season the club saw its greatest ever player sacked as coach despite showing glimpses of improvement as the season wore on. There were plenty of positives to build on throughout season 2013 and one would think that a side such as Brisbane would want to keep the fans optimistic about the season ahead.
Before delving into the various issues and concerns with what they did last Thursday, I’ll present you with some statistics. Brisbane’s squad of 25 players consisted of only two 100 game players (Andrew Raines and Matt Maguire) and a whopping nine players of whom are yet to play an AFL game. Crunching the numbers, Brisbane’s squad of 25 had a total of 722 games of experience between them. This means they averaged just 29 games per player.
If you think that is pretty low, let’s remove the top three games played (Maguire, Raines and James Polkinghorne) to make it a squad of 22 like in a premiership match. That brings the total games played down to 357 at an average of 16 games per player. Regardless of how you look at it, that is a staggering statistic. One would find more AFL games played in a VFL team than one competing at the highest level.
Much admiration must be given to Brisbane to go “here is our future, this is what we’re building towards.” Well, unfortunately for Brisbane, the only thing the fans saw was a complete and utter bloodbath. It was like taking lambs to the slaughter and no-one associated with Brisbane could have been remotely proud of that performance. No doubt a lot of fans used the “well at least we saw a bunch of kids”. Doing what? Getting destroyed by a far superior team.
Young players are usually brought in to either gain in experience or exposure. Last Thursday, the Lions players received neither. One would understand if players had niggles or injuries that forced them to miss. Looking at the AFL injury list for Brisbane; Jonathan Brown, Jackson Paine and Darcy Gardiner are listed. Now there are others who are still recovering and will need more time such as Lewis Taylor, but there’s no way 15 or more players are all injured or incapacitated to take the field.
Before you argue that it’s the NAB Challenge and it means absolutely nothing, lets just remember that Brisbane’s first match is on March 22nd. That is just over a month away and there are only two competitive matches left between now and then. What makes it worse is the fact that they face Hawthorn, the team that used them as a personal punching bag.
There are many reasons why exposing no less than nine players with zero AFL experience in the one match is a bad idea, but here are just a few:
1. Brisbane fans gain absolutely zilch out of watching that match. Lets face it, they say ‘we played a bunch of kids, of course we were going to lose’. That’s true, but what’s worse is it was much more than a loss, it was a complete annihilation and all it proves is the fact that there’s no way Brisbane could play its reserves 22 against an AFL team. This should have been a no-brainer to begin with.
2. Brisbane youngsters gain absolutely zilch out of playing in that match. Young players want to be able to compete at the highest level and the way that they can do that is through learning on and off the field from experienced players. Throwing all those players in one team against a juggernaut such as Hawthorn is like telling an Auskick team with a few young potential stars to take on a local seniors outfit.
3. Brisbane give no indications to their fans about how far they have come. Usually over the pre-season clubs say “we’ve been working hard on our endurance, strength, speed etc.” and try and almost sell the club to the fans as to why they should either re-join as a member or encourage their friends to sign up. This performance blows anything they’ve tried over the pre-season to do out of the water.
4. It takes away vital game time from senior players. There are just two matches before the season starts. In previous years, clubs have typically played about four pre-season matches, sometimes more if they have advanced further or organised to face off against another club in a practice match. This pre-season is shorter due to club demands so therefore players are getting less competitive match time. Geelong captain Joel Selwood mentioned on the broadcast between Geelong and Collingwood that reduced competitive matches was a crucial reason why clubs such as Geelong and Hawthorn were fielding strong sides.
Finally, this is not meant to be an attack on the players or club itself. Many of those who played on Thursday night could very well forge solid careers with guys such as James Aish and Sam Mayes potentially becoming elite players. It is more of a ‘please explain’ towards the selection committee as to why they would allow such a young side to go into battle against the best team in the league.
One only has to look as far as Melbourne to see the massive difference between the sides. Most people would say Brisbane are the better side. Both teams are coming off seasons that were underwhelming, with Melbourne’s last few seasons being more of a nightmare. But on the back of some performances by young players such as Jay Kennedy-Harris, the Demons knocked over a reasonably strong Richmond outfit.
While Richmond are no Hawthorn, Melbourne showed that when you have on-field leaders and experienced heads to lead the young players, anything is possible. What the Brisbane selection committee did on Thursday night was nothing short of disasterous and the supporters should be disappointed. There’s a difference between not fielding your best side and throwing inexperienced players to the wolves.
With only two games remaining before the season, one would expect Brisbane might just bring back a number of experienced players. They weren’t the shambles that Melbourne were last year, but already the enthusiasm, excitement and belief is growing amongst Demons supporters. Meanwhile in the far north, Brisbane fans are left scratching their heads as to why their club let a potential morale booster turn into an absolute shellacking.