What got us talking: Umpires

It doesn’t matter what the umpires do, AFL supporters will always find a way to criticise them.

But last weekend, the fans had a reason to be fed up. Season-high free kick numbers took the round by storm, leaving players, coaches, fans and even the umpires chief scratching their heads.

The whistle-happy umps paid an average of 46.2 free kicks a game across the nine matches in round 17: this was 10 more than the previous round and up from the season average of 36 per game. In fact, it was only the fourth time that an average of more than 40 free kicks had been reached this season.

Previously criticised for putting the whistle away and letting some obvious free kicks slide, the umpires did a complete 180 and over-officiated. AFL umpires chief Wayne Campbell was just as stumped as everyone else.

“We weren’t expecting that spike from what we saw of the coaching on Tuesday and Thursday of last week,” Campbell said. “It was a little surprise to us.”

“We weren’t able to tell the clubs because we didn’t really see the spike coming.

“There has been some kind of miscommunication and the umpires have taken it a little bit further from certainly what [we] and the coaches thought it would go to.”

We can all understand how hard it is to umpire a game of AFL. These umps are only human after all and are bound to make mistakes or interpret split-second situations differently to the crowd. But there is a line between officiating the game fairly and being a bit too overzealous.

Take the Melbourne vs. St Kilda game last Sunday as an example. Prior to the match, Melbourne coach Paul Roos told his players there had been a “clear difference” in how the game was being umpired this round and to be wary of more free kicks being paid.

But the final total of 54 free kicks officiated in the match was just ridiculous. And it wasn’t just this game that bumped up the round average: 53 frees in the North vs. Lions game, 50 in the Adelaide vs. Gold Coast match and 47 in the Carlton vs. Hawthorn blow-out is staggering.

We don’t want to see this again. Yes, whether or not people want to admit it, the umpires are a key part to this great sport. They keep the game going and, for the most part, keep everyone fair and honest.

But the umpires are not what people go to the match to see. Don’t get me wrong: we want to see those fantastic tackles get rewarded by the umpires. That can be their moment to shine.

But what we really want to see is players taking that amazing mark or kicking that impossible goal. We don’t want to spend the entire match hearing the umpire’s whistle and the crowd’s distaste.

So please take a step back umps – for the sake of the fans and the game.

What we learnt from round 17

– Paddy Ryder showed the Bombers what they’re missing

Ryder’s four-goal haul was the difference against the Dons. Even though Hird sourly claimed he had a “lucky” performance against his old side, Ryder only emphasised to the Essendon what they had lost. Is Giles ever going to get a call-up?

– Ablett just can’t catch a break

It’s season over for the dual Brownlow Medallist after tearing his medial ligament in the loss to Adelaide. He managed only six matches for 2015 after entering the season with a shoulder injury. Let’s hope 2016 is a better year for the champ.

– Carlton never stood a chance but it was uglier than some expected

‘Biggest ever loss’ is never a great statistic to hear in conjunction with your team. It was never going to be a win against the destructive Hawks, but the Blues’ effort was strongly lacking in the 138-point defeat.

What can we expect from round 18

– The Swans will be too strong for the Crows at home

The recent large losses to premiership contenders Hawthorn and West Coast have been costly for the Swans. They now find themselves three games behind ladder-leaders Fremantle with a depleted percentage. But they’ll demonstrate their premiership credentials against Adelaide this weekend.

– Collingwood won’t make it six in a row

The last five rounds have not gone as the Pies would have liked. Some of those losses had to be expected, but they won’t let the ‘frustrating’ Dees make it nine for the season.

– Bachar Houli to take the first kick-in

Houli made an error of judgement last week when he cost Richmond the win against Fremantle. He won’t shy away from taking the first kick in this week against the Hawks: however, he just might reconsider the placement of his kick.