The AFL has no respect for coaches, players, or the AFLW as a competition

The AFL’s memo sent out to all clubs with AFLW teams, which outlines specific requirements aimed at reducing congestion, is further proof that the league has little to no respect for this competition, nor the patience to allow it to flourish.

AFL Women’s boss Nicole Livingstone, along with AFL executives Steve Hocking and Josh Vanderloo, had meetings or phone conversations with all eight AFLW clubs on Tuesday, and on Wednesday dispatched a memo which ‘strongly recommends’ the implementation of positional zones.

As reported by the Herald Sun’s Eliza Sewell, the memo asks for teams to adhere to the following laws:
– Start in a 5-6-5 formation in the three key zones at all centre bounces, with play not starting until the umpire is happy with the players’ positioning.
– Forwards must stay out of a 15m “protected area” around stoppages when it is in the centre zone or in their defence.
– Forwards must be seen to be making an effort to remove themselves from congestion to allow resets at stoppages.

The memo is a response to the defensive nature of Friday night’s AFLW match between Carlton and Collingwood which, ironically, was turned into a scrap in part due to the league’s own ‘last touch out of bounds’ rule.

Believe it or not, we hate having to write these articles at Girls Play Footy. We want to write about match-ups, tactics and growing the game around the world, not constantly slamming the league.

But this has become an attack on the players, an attack on the coaching staff, and an attack on the AFLW as a competitive league, and the fact that the head honchos do not realise that, is not acceptable.

The AFLW was launched in 2017, three years before the expected start. It was understood that the competition would begin in 2020, but the AFL showed ambition in bringing the league forward by three years.

That ambition has turned to quick-fixes as a result of anxiety over issues that aren’t really issues, and worst of all, the introduction of solutions that aren’t really solutions.

Women’s football was fine in 2016. Most leagues played 20 or 25-minute quarters, the play was open, and it was enjoyable to watch. The one knock was that the quality of players in the bottom 75 per cent were well below those in the top 25 per cent, but that comes with the nature of a sport that, while it has 100 years of history, is still budding at an elite level.

Women’s football didn’t need tweaking, it just needed time.

Enter the AFLW. The understanding was the AFLW would be a national platform for the country’s best female footballers to do what they do best, and use the elite training and player development facilities at AFL clubs to increase the quality of players, and reduce the gap between the top 25 per cent and the rest.

Then the AFL had to meddle.

Instead of the same game played at local level, we are provided with a bastardisation of football that features only 16 players on the field, 15-minute quarters and the ridiculous last touch out of bounds rule that hinders the quality of matches.

You’re damn right games are going to be defensive. This is a seven-round season with shortened matches – you are essentially asking teams to protect their leads.

The AFL’s answer is not to go back to what was working, but to keep on meddling until it does – or until it burns to the ground.

And to put the blame back onto the players and clubs is blatant disrespect.

More so, to ask clubs to completely alter the way they have prepared to play by issuing strongly-worded ‘guidelines’, which come AFTER the commencement of the season, shows zero regard for what teams are trying to achieve: winning football.

This is not WWE; it’s not entertainment first and competition second. The most important thing is and always will be winning games, and you can’t punish teams for doing what is required to win.

To be frank, the defensive game that we saw in the 2018 season opener was a result of the AFL’s own creation. By changing the nature of regular football, they have made it so the best way to achieve success in this shorter format is to get a lead and lock the game down.

The Adelaide Crows won the 2017 AFLW premiership by doing just that, and the league celebrated them for their success.

So what happened? Did the AFL executives only watch the one AFLW game from the opening round, listened to the morons on social media who want to take aim at the women’s game by any means necessary, and decide that the baby needs to be thrown out with the bathwater?

We will make no bones about it: the Carlton-Collingwood match was poor, and even Magpies assistant coach Daniel Harford admitted that his team was “rubbish”. You put two teams with ordinary midfields against each other, combined with the last touch out of bounds rule, and of course you’re going to get a knock-down-drag-out match

But guess what? Men have rubbish games, too. (Gasp.) As does any competition, men or women, in any sport around the world. It happens.

Sadly, the uninformed nature of first tier media is partially to blame for this being an issue. They don’t know good football from bad football, nor match-ups or really anything to do with the actual football involved in AFLW. If it’s not a puff-piece, human interest article or something covering an issue with the game, they don’t know what to write.

So of course they take the first game of the season and turn it into a bigger issue than it is, in turn putting pressure on the league to make more changes that will further screw up the competition.

The irony in all of this is that we were treated to the best game of AFLW to date less than 24 hours after the season opener, when Melbourne and GWS put on a classic contest that will stand the test of time.

But that’s not where the focus is. The league has allowed criticism of the competition, and is now buying into the ridiculous opinions of those who don’t have more than 30 minutes to spare for the women’s game.

Through all of this, we have to feel for the players who have become the subject of unnecessary criticism, bearing the brunt from everyone – including the AFL – for the AFL’s inadequacies.

On the back of receiving little to no promotion from league headquarters, this goes to show that the league has no respect for clubs trying to win games, or the players and coaches tasked with doing so.