Monthly Archives: May 2019

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Wickers no basket case

Memorable win: Creswick slammed on 10 goals in the last quarter to defeat Daylesford last Saturday. Photo: SuppliedThe Creswick footy club, which is located 20 kilometres north of Ballarat, spent more than two decades trying to move away from its much-maligned former home ground, Hammon Park.

”It was a bit of a dung heap, but I think the best way to describe it would be dated,” club president Peter Considine said. ”The fences weren’t far enough back from the playing surface and the rooms were tiny – no more than 10 feet across.

”The ground was too small as well. It was probably 20 metres shorter than most others around here. The 50-metre arcs were only 45, and they were almost on top of the centre square. And the ground was prone to flooding.

”A big problem was that the drains ran into the Creswick Creek. I remember matches getting called off in the ’70s and ’80s because the creek got up and therefore the oval wouldn’t drain.”

Although the idea was first considered in the 1980s, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the Hepburn Shire Council developed plans for a new football oval and community centre to be built at Creswick’s Doug Lindsay Reserve, which is on higher ground and was already home to netball courts and soccer pitches.

Still, many locals considered the plans a pipedream until the federal government announced in 2009 that it would commit $2.24 million in funding from its Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. Other funds were subsequently contributed by the ‘Wickers’, the Bendigo Bank and the local community, taking the total beyond $3 million.

Construction began in 2010, but when time came for the club to leave its old oval behind, the break-up was not as clean as had been hoped.

In August 2011, Creswick hosted what was supposed to be the last match at Hammon Park. The ground, on which games had been played since 1869, was given a low-key farewell. Six months later, in round two of the 2012 season, the ‘Wickers’ celebrated a milestone when they hosted their first game at the Doug Lindsay Reserve. But things turned sour when players began finding chunks of quartz scattered across the playing surface.

”The council just put the wrong materials on it,” Considine said. ”They got slack. They decided to use some topsoil from somewhere that wasn’t sieved properly.”

The oval was declared unsafe in July, so the ‘Wickers’ had to stage their last home fixture at Hammon Park. Such dramas overshadowed what was a remarkable 2012 campaign for Creswick’s senior team, which made the Central Highlands league finals for the first time since 1987. It was a particularly special achievement for stalwarts Tim Reiniets and Mick Griffin, who have spent their entire careers with the club, notching more than 200 games each, but had never previously played in a senior final. Although Creswick went down to Waubra by nine goals in week one of the finals, its performance gave many locals a reason to be hopeful about the club’s future.

Later that year the footballers found themselves at Hammon Park yet again for pre-season training, but things began falling into place when the new ground was resurfaced during December and January.

Creswick has played three games at the Doug Lindsay Reserve this year and has won them all. The most impressive performance by the ‘Wickers’ at home came last weekend when they trailed reigning premier Daylesford by 16 points at three-quarter time, then booted 10 goals to two in the final term.

The victory over the Bulldogs came a week after Creswick slumped to a five-point loss to Carngham-Linton. In the days after the defeat, the players and senior coach Len Watson had a heart-to-heart and pledged to turn things around.

One key change prior to the game against Daylesford was the return of Damian Lubeek. A Creswick local whose old man Laurence is a club legend, Lubeek played for North Ballarat in the VFL and Redan in the Ballarat league before returning to the ‘Wickers’ as coach for the 2011 season. He guided Creswick into the finals last year, then relinquished the coaching position due to work and family commitments.

Despite his lack of match-practice, Lubeek was listed as the ‘Wickers” third-best player in the big win over Daylesford. He was expected to suit-up again in Saturday’s game against Ballan, and if he plays most weeks Creswick will be well placed to make the finals for just the second time in 26 years.

”We’ve got a mostly young side, … but you never know what might be possible,” Considine said.

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Lads, it’s time for greater respect

When I was a schoolboy, the mums served afternoon tea at Friday afternoon footy games. The dads would file in, the ladies would hand out party pies and curry puffs and the captains would thank them in their speeches. Later, at club level, there were porn nights, footy trips and half-hearted initiations.

Some coaches banned girlfriends from after-match functions – others would hit on your sister given a five-second window of opportunity. There were always wives, student physios and canteen mums. But it was a belching, clamorous and decidedly male bubble.

For anyone that’s played football, Anna Krien’s Night Games, which follows the rape trial of a young Victorian footballer, is concussing. Personally, there were regular flashes of recognition and an unremitting unease, one that occasionally morphed into shame.

It elicited a certain defensiveness too. It’s tempting to channel your inner Sam Newman and say Krien picked low-lying fruit – that she took the biggest game in town and ran with a sure-fire bestseller. It’s easy to say that this is a man’s game and that men need space – to bond and to let off steam. It’s easy to point out that coded conversations and male hierarchies are everywhere, whether it’s on construction sites or in corporate corridors of power. But there’s nothing easy about this book.

Unlike the film Blinder, which sought safer ground and made a right royal hash of it, Night Games treads the grey zone between rape and treating women like dirt. Though football is central to the narrative, it is jock culture that stands accused. Whether you’re a bunk-bedding basketballer in the Olympic village or a leg spinner with strand-by-strand plugs and a giant inflatable penis, the same themes apply. For sportspeople, they’re questions of entitlement, groupthink and a self-indulgent, Peter Pan existence.

I grew up with footy and for better and probably worse, it helped define me as a man. It both stunted and elevated me. It propped up my strut. It introduced me to my closest friends and to total scumbugs. I played football with and against hundreds of guys like Krien’s blank, unremarkable protagonist. In the dark recesses of my mind, I know I have put myself in similar positions to him, navigated similar grey zones.

Growing up, footballers weren’t exactly role models but their cultural clout was greater than today. It was a curious time for AFL footballers – an era when players embraced full-time professionalism while persisting with their herculean social lives. The stars were far more visible and subject to greater adulation than those of today. They were given carte blanche to pretty much do as they pleased. Many are now inclined to preach from the puritanical pulpit whenever a scandal breaks. Back then, their currency was the drink card. Men like John Elliot ran clubs and the two biggest on-field names were ”God” and ”The King”. The brightest off-field star was Ricky Nixon. All three would soon be revealed as all too human and all too male.

Potential draftees are now more carefully screened, better educated and on a tighter leash. The stars are essentially unknowable but come across as far more humble and grounded.

As fans, we are nonetheless tougher on them than ever before. Commentary has become tart and cynical. Supporters are less star-struck and more inclined to sledge and vent via social media. The fan base has also changed markedly. Whether it was born of commercial necessity or courtesy of their obsession with PR and sanitising the game, attracting more women has been one of the AFL’s great triumphs.

Increasingly, men and women attend matches, watch at bars and discuss the game at water coolers as equals. But footy always sleepwalks its way back to sexism. Witness the way the chief football writer of this newspaper is pilloried, the indignation when a woman dared enter the commentary box and the casual contempt for females on panel shows. The dearth of women in meaningful roles persists. The Footy Show, with its sneering, leering patriarch, splutters into its third decade. On Brownlow night, WAGS have been spun around a lazy susan and scrutinised like they’re at a yearling sale. Football, by virtue of its heft, swagger and blokey brio, is an easy target but a deserving one. The game has come a long way but it was miles behind to begin with.

As it currently grapples with everything from homophobia to tanking, Krien poses a more pressing question – how does an often brutal and very male game find a place for women, one that doesn’t stink of servitude and goes beyond mere bums on seats?

Night Games explores what young men and women struggle to articulate, what the legal system still cannot comprehend and what the AFL could never assuage with a snappy advert or commemorative round. For every superstar, club CEO, boundary rider, bar-propper and park footballer, it should be mandatory reading.

Jonathan Horn is a freelance writer.

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Players fend off rants over drugs

When, in 2005, the AFL Players Association agreed to have its players randomly tested for illicit drugs, it was permitting the opening of a Pandora’s box. The depth of mischief lying therein continues to emerge.

At the time, there were strict limits to the process, the most fundamental being that – barring a third offence by a player within a four-year period – the identity of those returning positive tests would remain confidential.

Almost immediately there was outrage, much of it born of confusion. Other sports don’t conceal the identity of their drug offenders, went the stereotypical rant, why are AFL footballers being protected?

This, it’s now better – if not totally – understood, was to confuse the testing for illicit drugs with the global sporting practice of performance-enhancing drug-testing. But the three-strike aspect of the illicit drug code has continued to attract critics like bees to the proverbial honey pot. Jeff Kennett, as president of Hawthorn, trumpeted against it. He spoke of running any player found to have used illicit drugs out of his club.

Ironically, and sadly, it was Hawthorn’s Travis Tuck who was the first – and thus far only – player to record three strikes.

The then federal government of John Howard sought to smash the policy in 2007 but a pair of confused ministers, George Brandis and Christopher Pyne, were given short shrift at a meeting with AFL boss Andrew Demetriou. Beyond grandstanding politicians, World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey has described the three-strikes policy as soft and accused the AFL of setting a bad example. The prominent News Limited columnist, Patrick Smith, denounced from day one what he considers an overly liberal policy and is maintaining the rage eight years on.

The criticisms kept coming but, one by one, were stared down by the collective strength of the AFL and the players’ representative body. A deal was a deal – particularly one that permitted an invasion of individual privacy – and, as uncomfortable as the AFL may have been with the negative publicity, it couldn’t renege.

Lately the ante has again been raised. There have been suggestions of players abusing the self-reporting loophole, enabling them to avoid a strike by owning up before a positive test result was confirmed. Collingwood chief executive officer, Gary Pert, described the activity of some players during the off-season as ”volcanic”, thus adding a new word to football’s lexicon.

There was a summit, and – with the heat rising – the players’ association gave some ground. Curiously, given that Demetriou has said the self-reporting condition may have contributed to the saving of two lives, it has been tightened. It will now offer a player just one get-out-of-jail card in a career. Another modification allows for club CEOs to be given notification of the identity of players who appear to be behaving contrary to the spirit of the policy. Also, there will be more target testing and an increased level of hair testing of players during what is spoken of as the ”high risk” off-season.

As well as a three-strike policy the illicit drugs code has become a thin-end-of-the-wedge policy. With every passing year there comes pressure for the AFLPA to compromise further. There is no reciprocity in the deal and the politics are such that there is no escape. This makes it an evolving and recurring nightmare. Matt Finnis, the chief executive of the players’ body, must fear by now that the unceasing demands will only grow. And some he will have to accept.

His intractable problem is that the public’s understanding of the issue is limited and its response is emotional. It is based on revulsion towards one word and one issue: drugs. The widely held view is that any liberties granted to footballers, within a policy dedicated to the fight against drugs, is shameful. There is little, if any, recognition that the players made the code possible in the first place.

Season by season – and out of season too – the illicit drug code has been scrutinised and savaged. With Thursday’s release of figures showing a 400 per cent increase last year in positive tests (amplified by the previous year’s low base number), the rhetoric has again been ramped up. The recent joining of dots by Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner, Graham Ashton – of illicit drug use to organised crime to match-fixing – takes the pressure to a new level. Ashton’s view is that this link is a greater threat to the integrity of sport in Australia than the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.

If such a link was ever materially confirmed, the pressure on players to accept unqualified scrutiny on illicit drugs would be overwhelming. Given that the three-strike policy has never gained broad acceptance, imagine the problem if the public linked it to crime and the corruption of games.

That could conceivably be checkmate for Finnis and the players’ association . What was always a well-intentioned, but ill-considered, agreement may be nearing end game.

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Langford controls Rodan as Hawks down Casey

Will Langford has spent more time on the sidelines than on the footy field during his three seasons at Hawthorn but the father-son prospect became a notable improver during Box Hill’s rise in its 60-point win over the Casey Scorpions at Casey Fields on Saturday.

Langford, the son of former Hawthorn champion defender Chris, followed his father, playing in defence, but has changed it up as part of the on-ball brigade this season.

Langford’s role on Saturday in quelling the influence of Melbourne veteran David Rodan was one of the many reasons Box Hill got on top in the second quarter.

The Hawks kicked eight unanswered goals before Dom Barry finally gave Casey a reprieve on the scoreboard. It was Box Hill’s most damaging 20 minutes of footy this season with Jed Anderson getting two of those goals.

But Langford, who has had a terrible run with injuries since arriving at the Hawks as a rookie, appears to be finally on the cusp of senior selection after a fine start to the season, according to development coach Damian Carroll.

“I think he’s as close as he’s ever been,” Carroll said.

Meanwhile, Collingwood’s upset 13-point win over Geelong at Victoria Park wasn’t a magic performance, according to coach Dale Tapping.

The win perhaps was a surprise because of the different methods both stand-alone clubs use the VFL format for. The Pies admittedly say that development is their large focus, while the Cats focus more on winning. Former Werribee Tiger Ben Moloney has been one of the X-factors for Collingwood this season and again was best on ground along with Jackson Paine.

In other matches, Port Melbourne won by 12-points over Essendon with Chris Cain following up on last year’s best on ground performance for Victoria. Werribee smashed Coburg by 89 points with Ben Brown and Ben Warren kicking five goals each, Northern Blues won by 44-points over North Ballarat and Sandringham won by 76-points over Bendigo.

VFL Sunday: Frankston v Williamstown, 2pm at Frankston Oval

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Beams out another month


Collingwood star midfielder Dayne Beams’ return from a quad injury is expected to be delayed for at least a month, according to Pies development coach Dale Tapping.

Beams, who has spent the past two months recovering from a torn quad muscle, has only just returned to training. There had been speculation he would return next week.

“I’d probably think he’s [Beams] still about four or five weeks away,” Tapping said.

The extension of Beams’ time on the sidelines is a further blow for the Pies. Alex Fasolo has been ruled out for the season with a foot injury, while doubt surrounds Dale Thomas’ ankle injury.

In better news for the Pies on Saturday, defender Ben Johnson got through his return from a calf injury.

Tapping said the 32-year-old had 25 touches and played a stellar leadership role – along with Alan Didak and Ben Hudson – in Collingwood’s upset 13-point win over Geelong at Victoria Park.

Johnson had been a late withdrawal from the previous two VFL matches because of his calf.

“He’s just been a bit sore and like any of the older guys, you’ve just got to make sure they’re right to play,” Tapping said.

“It’s great to see him back playing and he did really well. Johnno, Dids and Huddo, being the three experienced guys we’ve got in the group … their leadership and influence among the group was really good.”

Didak, who was named as an emergency for Saturday night’s AFL match against the Cats, kicked three goals in the second half.

“Didak has been pretty good at VFL level, he’s got his body in good shape. I thought today he was good in the second half and he hit the scoreboard. He’s just a quality player,” Tapping said.

Geelong ruckman Nathan Vardy managed just one goal against the Pies, with defender Corey Gault playing impressively on him.

The return of Josh Walker from injury helped strengthen the Cats’ forward half.

Fellow tall forwards Mitch Brown and Shane Kersten kicked seven goals between them.

“I thought Nathan [Vardy] presented well at times but certainly some of our delivery into our forward line wasn’t too the best of our advantage,” the Cats’ VFL coach, Matthew Knights, said.

”I thought Corey did a good job because ‘Vards’ is a hard match-up.”

George Burbury played only the first half, acting as a carry-over player for the AFL clash.

■Hawthorn forward Jed Anderson was prolific for Box Hill in its 60-point win over the Casey Scorpions. Anderson made his return from a hamstring injury.

Hawthorn development coach Damian Carroll said: “He made an impact on the scoreboard, but just his energy around the ball and around the contest was terrific.

”He brought a lot of hardness and strength around the contest. He got through well.”

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