Fighter finally gives up – but is it pragmatism or exhaustion?

FINALLY, Lance Armstrong has stopped saying it ain’t so. There is, as yet, no admission of guilt. Probably never will be. Maybe there is not one to give.
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Surely it speaks volumes that the highly defiant and serially litigious Armstrong will not challenge a federal judge’s decision that the US Anti-Doping Agency had the authority to hold a hearing into the allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

”Enough is enough,” is how Armstrong defended his decision not to defend himself any more – thus forfeiting his seven Tour de France titles, and submitting to a life ban from his sport.

And, certainly, it is not beyond possibility that even a man as indefatigable as Armstrong could simply be exhausted by the legal process. Tired of having to defend himself, and his amazing record, against accusations that began with whispers that his deeds – in an age of drug cheats – simply defied belief. Against reports of tampered samples, generous donations that might have caused officials to turn a blind eye and, most damagingly, the mounting testimony of fellow riders and team officials.

Armstrong cast himself as a victim in the USADA’s star chamber. An innocent man unable to defend himself against the vast bureaucracy of the anti-drug crusaders. A mere struggler at the back of the legal peloton. An ”unconstitutional witch-hunt”, he called it.

”The toll that this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me, leads me to where I am today,” he said in a statement. ”Finished with this nonsense.”

Armstrong’s link between the drug accusations and the work of his foundation is telling. His accusers might say cunning.

Throughout the long, sad investigation of Armstrong’s legitimacy, it has been impossible for many to separate the rider from the charitable institution. This has in turn created a dilemma. If Armstrong is a cheat, then is the almost $US500 million ($479 million) he has raised for cancer research and treatment with those grammatically annoying yellow ”Livestrong” wrist bands somehow tainted? Or, given he might have been just one of dozens of cheating cyclists who rode the Tour, did the ends justify the means?

For many who idolised both the rider and benefactor, the easiest thing was to ignore the white noise of scandal. To accept the word of Armstrong, who defiantly tweeted last year when yet another investigation began: ”500 drug controls world-wide, never failed a test. I rest my case.”

In the absence of that tainted sample, or a confession, many will no doubt continue to plead his case. Some because they genuinely believe he deserves to be taken on his word given the evidence, or lack thereof. Others because they would never hear a word against St Lance, and wish to remain in their self-deluding cocoons.

However, patently, the ”no positive test” defence has weakened considerably in recent years. Once, the image of drug cheats was the ugly caricatures of bulging sprinters and bearded female shot-putters from behind the Iron Curtain whose samples turned test tubes purple. The BALCO case, particularly, demonstrated how nimbly the dopers now avoid detection.

Marion Jones? No positive samples. Just a confession and a jail term.

Armstrong has also found it increasingly difficult to destroy the credibility of his accusers. Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton were easily vilified because they cheated themselves. Yet it has become apparent in a sport where, at least for a time, doping was endemic, the old maxim about taking a thief to catch a thief rings true.

At the London Olympics, I spoke with a once staunch Armstrong defender who had just returned from the Tour de France. He talked sadly of the mounting body of evidence against the great rider. Of how, across the sport, it had become increasingly difficult to believe everyone was lying, except Lance.

For millions of good reasons, Armstrong will always be a superhero. Yet, now, he is without his yellow cape.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Toughness – it’s in the Bloods

IF YOU wanted a midfield to play for your life, you would be very happy to have this Sydney group represent you.
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Every time I watch them play, it is their unrelenting and uncompromising approach to the game that has me walking away, shaking my head.

I do the same thing when I watch Joel Selwood attack the footy. Or Lenny Hayes, Jobe Watson, Trent Cotchin, Daniel Kerr, Patrick Dangerfield, Rory Sloane, Andrew Swallow, Callan Ward or Matthew Boyd. Individually, these players are the game’s true warriors. They possess a ”competitive gene” that is overdeveloped and distinctly uncommon. It allows them to overcome fear and approach every contest with a wholeheartedness that wins them the ultimate respect among peers and fans alike.

If the club you support is lucky, you will have one such player you can go along and watch each week, content in the knowledge that, regardless of the result of the game, that particular player will emerge unbowed and provide the template, hopefully, for others in the side to attempt to follow.

I say attempt because they set a benchmark few can reach. But if it can inspire the rest of the group to discover the ”will” to elevate their own effort, improvement is assured.

It is rare, however, to bear witness to a side that has so many of this treasured sort of player running around in the midfield at the same time. Kieren Jack, Josh Kennedy, Jude Bolton, Jarrad McVeigh, Luke Parker, Daniel Hannebery and Ryan O’Keefe all qualify, in my eyes, as ultimate competitors.

People often wonder what it is about the Swans that enables them to take ordinary players from other clubs and transform them into very good, consistent footballers. I would suggest that you look no further than what takes place in the middle of the ground each week.

It would appear that this midfield group inspires, challenges and even dares each other to ”outgrunt” one another when the heat of a football game is at its fiercest.

The ferocity of the attack on the football from each of these players simply seems to fuel the competitiveness in them all. They appear to want to scramble over the top of each other for the privilege of putting their head on the line and wearing one for the team.

There appears to be a frenzy when it comes to contested football. Like a pack of wild lions descending on a carcass, every one of them is maniacally desperate to get their share of what’s on offer. That they are the No. 1 contested possession side in the competition should surprise no one.

The amount of times Bolton, Jack, McVeigh, Parker or O’Keefe have left the field sporting a head bandage or stitches, or spent time on the bench under the blood rule is testament to their attitude. You get the feeling that they would not be satisfied with their efforts if at least one of them didn’t have such an experience. And if, as in the case of Parker earlier this year, the damage is a little more serious than that, then that’s a consequence that they are happy to wear as well. It may even be a sign that you have truly earned your ”colours”, the colour of the Bloods, best championed by one of the great warriors of recent times, former Swan skipper, Brett Kirk.

The other thing about this group I find fascinating is where they have come from. Only Bolton and McVeigh emerged from the absolute elite of the draft pool, with Bolton pick eight in 1998 and McVeigh pick five in 2002.

The rest were all on offer for every other club in the competition. Kennedy, of course, started with the Hawks but was traded to the Swans for pick 39.

O’Keefe slid through to the fourth round of 1999 (pick 56), Hannebery (30) and Parker (40) were second-round picks, and Jack was an inspired rookie-list selection who was elevated to the senior list in 2007.

Complementing this group are two ruckmen who share a similar mentality. Shane Mumford’s ability and willingness to follow up his ruck work with a desperation not always seen in the big men, is inspiring. He arrived at the club via Geelong, which cost the Swans pick 28 in 2009. And Mike Pyke has joined in on the act. The former Canadian rugby player came off the rookie list in 2010 and continues to improve at a rate of knots that astounds. Their opponents this afternoon are no slouches in this area. Jordan Lewis, Brad Sewell and Luke Hodge all sit comfortably under this banner.

The pedigree of the Hawks’ midfield group looks a little different to that of the Swans, however, when we look at where they originated from. Hodge, Lewis, Cyril Rioli, Isaac Smith and Xavier Ellis were all first-round draft picks, Shaun Burgoyne cost two first-round choices, Jarryd Roughead, who has spent plenty of time in the ruck was a pick two, and Max Bailey, who they remain hopeful of getting back for some football this year, was taken in the first round in 2005.

Further examination of the midfields would have it that the Hawks are not as ”inside” as the Swans. Of course, at one stage earlier in the year, the criticism of the Hawks was that they were too one-paced and had too many similar types in at the centre square. As the year has rolled on, they have been able to introduce Liam Shiels into the centre square set-up, got an increased output from renowned gut runners Smith and Clinton Young, gave Bradley Hill his debut and last week recalled Chance Bateman.

The Hawks are much more satisfied with the ”mix” they are able to produce each week.

It will be put to the ultimate test today. The Swans’ No. 1 outside runner, Lewis Jetta, has had a marvellous season but he is beginning to feel the weight of opposition attention and you would imagine that Al Clarkson is not about to let him off the hook.

So, in a battle of the midfields, who will prevail today? The Swans’ ferocious inside competitors, who sacrifice body as a matter of course, or the highly credentialled Hawks who have prioritised outside run to complement their contested ball animals?

The fact that the biggest games of the year are played at the MCG is something to consider in the coming weeks. It has been a barren destination for the boys from Sydney for some time.

But for now, on the tighter confines of the SCG, I’m leaning towards the Swannies. With more room to spread and run on the MCG, I would go the other way. Either way, expect bandages and blood at some stage today.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Swans, Saints set for NZ

SYDNEY has emerged at the top of Wellington City Council’s wish-list to play St Kilda next season in what would be the AFL’s first match for premiership points outside Australia.
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AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan yesterday said a deal to stage the Anzac Day clash at Westpac Stadium had yet to be clinched, but Wellington City Council sports and events portfolio leader John Morrison told The Saturday Age he expected the fine print, such as advertising and beer rights, to be settled within three weeks.

Morrison also revealed his preference was for the Swans to take on the Saints. The Brisbane Lions had also been considered. ”It’s up to the AFL, of course, but we certainly believe the Sydney Swans are the hot favourites,” Morrison said. ”From our point of view, we would certainly like it because Sydney has good access to Wellington. From our bigger picture point of view, we hope we can get as many Australians as possible from St Kilda and the Sydney Swans and the AFL, and there are also many Australians that are in New Zealand, not just Wellington. We are aiming for a full house.”

The AFL had hoped to finalise an agreement with Wellington City Council by late July. ”It’s more likely than not, but the deal is not done,” McLachlan said. ”St Kilda are working with all the relevant parties over there. We are very supportive of it.”

In a letter to club members this week, Saints chief executive Michael Nettlefold, understood to have held talks with the Swans, said he hoped to formally announce details ”in the near future”.

Morrison said the Saints could play as many as three matches in Wellington in 2014. The match would be broadcast after the traditional clash between Collingwood and Essendon at the MCG. The AFL would be hopeful of attracting a capacity crowd of 35,000, having yesterday revealed attendances this season had slipped three per cent up to round 20, compared to the same time last season.

The analysis showed while attendances had fallen in Victoria, a rise had been recorded in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. ”This was always expected for us. I guess what we have to do now is [think] to what extent should we be recalibrating,” McLachlan said.

Comparing 2010, the final year of the 16-team competition, to now, the AFL identified four trends that had an impact on crowd figures.

There were fewer traditional fixtures, that is matches involving the 16 clubs before expansion, while average attendance had been ”on track” this season until Port Adelaide’s recent decline. The birth of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney had also affected the situation. The redevelopment of Simonds Stadium in Geelong and the SCG, reducing capacity, was another factor, while Brisbane had recorded a drop of 32 per cent in attendance from 2010 to 2011. But the Lions had worked to stabilise that figure. ”We have to define success under a new paradigm. We have two smaller teams going in,” McLachlan said.

”If we take all the Gold Coast and GWS games out, our average crowds are the same. Therefore, the strength of the existing 16 clubs is the same.”

McLachlan said there was a ”positive correlation” between live television broadcasts, the number of which has increased under the new broadcast rights deal, and attendance, and pointed to the marquee timeslot of Friday night. He said the average television audience on Channel Seven and Fox Sports on this night was up 43 per cent, while attendance had grown 16 per cent.

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Pies pair need to ruffle Eagles

DURING its past few years residing at or near the top of the AFL ladder, Collingwood has consistently shown the capacity to rise to a challenge. It won’t get many better opportunities to prove those credentials again than tonight at Patersons Stadium. On both a team and individual level.
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This is a big game for the Magpies, who will be overtaken by West Coast for that all-important top-four spot on the ladder with a loss to the Eagles.

To that end, their phenomenal and well-documented record on the road is a handy source of fortification – it stands at 10 straight wins interstate, and 16 of the past 17, a string of successes that goes back five years.

But it’s a big night for a couple of Magpie players, in particular. Travis Cloke has occupied more column centimetres and more air-time than probably any other player in the AFL this season, much of it less than glowing.

The other player might arguably have figured in less dialogue about season 2012 than just about any of his peers. But that doesn’t lessen the responsibility on his shoulders tonight.

Cameron Wood, despite the surname, is far from a Magpie favourite. But the big ruckman, with the absence of the Pies’ No. 1 man Darren Jolly, faces possibly the biggest test of his 63-game career up against West Coast’s star ruck tandem of Dean Cox and Nick Naitanui.

Wood has played just five games this season, four of them when Jolly was injured, and only one against a side with top-eight credentials, Carlton. That was in round three when the pair played as a duo, and Collingwood was smashed. This assignment looks a particularly daunting task.

But as good as the much-vaunted Cox-Naitanui combination has been for West Coast, there is some history and numbers to give both Wood, and ”the Woods”, some hope.

Wood has travelled this path before, in round 10 last year, when Collingwood comfortably defeated the rapidly emerging Eagles. He got belted for hitout numbers by the West Coast pair. But he did at least manage to remain competitive around the ground.

Jolly looked sore and tired last week against North Melbourne, and towards the end was ruthlessly exploited by the Roos’ Todd Goldstein. Against the Eagles pair, Wood, with a bit more help from the pinch-hitting Chris Dawes, might at least have the mobility required that Jolly patently lacked last week.

The bigger encouragement comes from current statistics. West Coast is a clear No. 1 on the differential rankings for hitouts (plus 20.3) and hitouts to advantage (plus 4.4). The Magpies’ equivalent rankings are 12th and seventh, which doesn’t appear to bode well.

Interestingly, though, when it comes to clearance differentials, the Eagles aren’t so hot. They’re ranked only 12th (minus 1.6). That’s one area in which Collingwood more than holds its own, the Pies ranked fourth (plus 3.6). Those figures should look a little better again for the return of their best stoppage winner in Dane Swan.

When the Pies just managed to outlast West Coast in round 13, even against Jolly, the Eagles dominated the hitouts 44-26, yet the final clearance tally was 36 apiece. Similarly, in the centre square, where Cox and Naitanui are often at their most effective – the hitout count going West Coast’s way 17-7 – the clearances were again even, with a dozen each.

That result might also give the beleaguered Cloke, defended again by coach Nathan Buckley this week, some badly needed encouragement. In clearly his most significant performance of the season, Cloke kicked five goals that afternoon, nearly half his team’s dozen for the game.

If Dawes is to share a bigger rucking load alongside Wood than he normally would in a pairing with Jolly, the Pies and Cloke will have fingers crossed for a repeat performance. He’ll certainly need better delivery than the unusually sloppy supply he and the other Collingwood forwards received from their teammates further afield in the North Melbourne loss.

Yet for all the hand-wringing over Cloke’s 2012 performance, he’s still averaging 2.2 goals a game, not an almighty tumble from last year’s return of 2.8, and while his marking has fallen away further on numbers than 2011, he remains the AFL’s No. 1 for contested marks at 2.7 a game, ahead even of Geelong star Tom Hawkins, who has had a year full of plaudits.

The turnaround for Cloke might not be as far away as many think. Wood, meanwhile, can help the Pies get the job done tonight simply by doing his job. They’re both big parts of the bigger picture.

And when it comes to that, as we’ve seen time and time again in these circumstances, Collingwood has an uncanny knack of painting an interstate masterpiece.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Izzy up to it?

IN A cleverly executed diversion this week, Kevin Sheedy thrust a rear vision mirror in the face of footballer-turned-football critic Cameron Mooney in a bid to shed a more positive light on the struggling code-hopper Israel Folau and his disappointing rookie AFL season.
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Mooney was reminded just how tough it was for his teenaged self back in those early days at North Melbourne before he became the ”big hairy Cat”. On paper, his early efforts flattered Folau. Mooney took it well and with good humour and for a few football moments the mammoth task facing Folau and his fledgling football club was forgotten.

The Greater Western Sydney coach’s tactic was classic Sheedy. He has done everything expected of him in his return to the big show this season and in the coming days or maybe weeks will be rewarded with a new senior coaching contract.

Selling the Giants was always going to prove the AFL’s toughest ongoing task, which is why Sheedy was recruited. There is a strong substance to the four-time premiership coach, but sometimes it is hard to find beneath the spin and, where Folau is concerned, the search is proving even more elusive. Certainly in terms of his credentials as an Australian rules footballer.

From the outset, Folau’s role was more about symbolism than reality and the reason he earns the same million-dollar wage as Chris Judd escapes no one.

That’s the nature of manufactured football clubs. Commercial decisions that seem to betray pure football are made without the slightest raising of an eyebrow and particularly so in Sydney where, according to the AFL and the Giants, the market dictates it.

But it takes years to build a brand and, interestingly, the Swans have refused to play that game. Their president, Richard Colless, made it clear when the two clubs met mid-season that his club would talk of a cross-city rivalry when one truly existed. The Giants were unimpressed.

It seems beyond doubt when you examine the promise of its brilliant young midfielders and key forwards, Jeremy Cameron and Jonathon Patton, that the rivalry will have arrived come the final year of the current AFL broadcast agreement, maybe sooner. But right now the club has major issues to review and Folau reflects them. Like the Gold Coast before them, the Giants have acknowledged they need to increase player development resources.

The player welfare work carried out behind the scenes by Craig Lambert and his wife, Melissa, has been remarkable but well-placed sources have GWS comfortably in the bottom four of the AFL where the ratio of development coach to player is concerned. Not ideal when the majority of your list is under 21.

The question of Folau’s football education – both quality and quantity – is a matter of major concern given his significance to the club and the code.

In what seemed another piece of marketing spin earlier this season, AFL great Dermott Brereton was recruited to work one-on-one with the 23-year-old former Broncos and Storm player whom NRL experts predict will end up at Canterbury or Parramatta before too long.

It has been a popular if cynical view that Brereton has enjoyed only a handful of sessions with Folau when the club proclaimed that the work would take place weekly. In fact, according to Brereton this week, he has worked with the Giants and Folau once a fortnight.

The club pointed out, too, that Peter Dean, who acts as club runner and something of an on-field mentor during games for Folau, also works with him weekly, quite apart from the intensive attention he receives from Mark Williams and forward coach Stewart Edge.

”I’m aware it’s not without its element of publicity appeal,” was Brereton’s honest assessment of his much-heralded first session with Folau, whose struggles last week led to him being lambasted on the AFL website and likened by Mooney to a statue watching seagulls fly past.

”But the origins of the job came from ‘Gubby’ [Graeme] Allan, who had me working with Jonathan Brown in the early days of his career, and Sav Rocca before that. But I’m not silly enough to say it wasn’t about marketing as well.

”I’m not going to say he’s a champion or he will be one, because he won’t. If you hold his performances and potential up to the money he receives then, no, he doesn’t justify it.

”But I do believe Israel has unique physical talents and a build that, if correctly harnessed and pushed in the right way, will make him a very valuable competitor in a team at the sharp end of the ladder.”

Brereton believed Folau sometimes hedged his bets playing forward, refusing to run flat out towards a contest, fearing a misjudgment could cost his team too heavily. He said he was trying to encourage him to take more risks.

The former champion Hawk hinted at Folau’s emotional make-up, which has provoked some doubts in the Giants camp. There is a view at the club that he may not possess the hunger and desire required to rebuild his football knowledge and improve his fitness to the point of succeeding in the AFL.

”He’s a very proud athlete,” said Brereton, ”but he’s not the type who strikes me as being completely shattered if he did finish up back in the NRL and not making a true success of this in the way someone like Wayne Carey would be if he had been recruited into rugby league.”

The coaching set-up at GWS remains intriguing. Sheedy is a glass half-full man and seems to have taken his sales skills to a new level at a club that has some work to do to become a truly united group. Williams, his deputy, has handled the bulk of traditional senior coaching duties and has struggled with some of his off-field relationships because of his tendency to see his glass as half-empty.

As good a teacher as Williams is, he has proved a negative figure at the club at times this season. His contract includes scope for a seamless succession plan, but that is far from a fait accompli. The job remains Williams’ to lose and he has some work to do to reclaim his role as Sheedy’s natural successor.

The Giants say they won’t change much where their coaching structure is concerned next year. That is, with the obvious exceptions of James McDonald, Luke Power and, potentially, Dean Brogan becoming full-time assistants. Surely they will also ramp up their investment in development.

It’s all very well launching a football revolution with some of the game’s most experienced and clever campaigners at the helm but the goal posts continue to change.

This week that change was seismic with the NRL becoming a much bigger player, leading one of the country’s most senior media bosses to declare war right back at the AFL and its invasion of southern Queensland and western Sydney.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Brisbane pushes for Hudson to play on

THE career that nearly didn’t happen seemingly refuses to end, with the Brisbane Lions in discussions with veteran ruckman Ben Hudson about putting a second retirement on hold and going around again in 2013.
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An unfashionable 25 when he played his first game for Adelaide in 2004, the 33-year-old has so exceeded expectations in what was billed as a sole year in maroon that he is likely to plough on into a 10th season with his third club. ”There’s no doubt we’d love to see him play on for another year,” Lions ruck coach Jamie Charman said. ”The coaching staff say just about every week, ‘Thank god we’ve had him along.’ He’s probably been our best recruit.”

The Lions this week trumpeted the re-signing of youngsters Claye Beams and Josh Green and star runner Jed Adcock, but a contract extension for Hudson would be as welcomed as it was not so long ago unexpected. Recruited effectively as back-up and educator to Matthew Leuenberger and Billy Longer, he has been, said Charman, ”our No. 1 man”.

Hudson played the last of his 88 games for the Western Bulldogs in round 24 last year, and returned to his native Queensland intent on raising a young family and resuming the physiotherapy career that was put on hold when Adelaide drafted him in 2003. His football plans amounted to plodding around in the QAFL.

Enticed to saddle up for a ninth season, he has thrived like a good beard, playing 16 games to take his career tally to 159 after Leuenberger tore his Achilles in round three, while Longer, 19, has managed five games amid his own injury trials. Charman says whether Hudson plays again will ultimately be his decision. ”You know every week what you’re going to get out of him, and that’s a consistent effort,” said Charman, noting the nous and desperation when the ball hits the ground that squares off the younger giants outjumping him at bounces. ”Because he’s so competitive he doesn’t get dominated. He’s a great character off the field, but he’s highly, highly competitive on it.”

After overcoming the embarrassment of being chaired off alongside Barry Hall last August then reappearing in a different jumper come round one, Hudson has enjoyed his lifeline immensely. ”It’s amazing how being scared of looking like an old codger can get you through,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Bluebloods through the ages

LEVI Casboult was a keen Carlton fan long before he joined the Blues, but he was unaware that he had a family connection to the club.
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During Carlton’s demolition of Essendon last Saturday the TV commentators came up with a statistical quirk. The half-time margin of 52 points equalled the record for the biggest mid-game lead Carlton has ever had over Essendon; the previous instance had been back in 1913, they added.

But there is an intriguing link between these two victorious Carlton sides a century apart. Among the Blues’ best last Saturday was emerging forward Casboult, and he has a family connection with an ill-fated former star who was prominent when Carlton defeated Essendon in 1913.

Casboult was unaware of the connection, although he has been a fan of the Blues from an early age, and was ecstatic when Carlton selected him as a rookie.

The former star was George Challis, a brilliant and popular wing/half-forward who had four splendid seasons with the Blues before he was killed at the Western Front in 1916. When The Australasian football columnist appraised Carlton’s victory over Essendon in June 1913, he observed that Challis had “passed cleverly and accurately, doing good work all day”.

The columnist was a well-credentialled analyst – he was none other than the then Essendon coach, Jack Worrall. He knew both teams well. Having coached Carlton to three consecutive premierships from 1906, he found himself embroiled in bitter internal strife at the club, and resigned. Snapped up by Essendon, he proceeded to coach the Dons to successive flags in 1911-12.

Worrall’s success at his new club reinforced the sadness and sourness associated with his departure from Carlton. Matches between these rivals took on an extra edge. A notorious clash in 1914 was especially violent.

Victory against the Dons became a priority for Carlton fans. “If we don’t win the flag we’re satisfied with beating Essendon,” an ardent Blues partisan told a reporter on July 13, 1912, which became a special Saturday for Challis, and his admirers.

Having started slowly in 1912, his first season with the Blues, Challis gradually found his form. The pace, grace and superb disposal that had attracted Carlton recruiters became increasingly evident. The culmination was his stunning virtuoso display in the victory over Essendon on July 13.

According to the 1912 Football Record, Carlton’s vociferous barrackers articulated their advocacy “in a voice like that of the man who has swallowed the claw of his crayfish in the boozers’ express at midnight”. Their boisterous intensity when Challis dazzled Essendon on that memorable afternoon was “extraordinary”, an eye-witness declared.

“Carlton simply wiped the floor with Essendon,” wrote Worrall, the vanquished coach. “Challis was the best performer on the ground, excelling in every department, the ease and grace of his movements exciting universal admiration. He was the fastest man on the ground, and his beautiful, accurate passing while going at his top was marvellous.”

Later that year, though, Essendon defeated Carlton in a thrilling final by four points – Worrall described it decades later as his most unforgettable final of all – and the Dons went on to win the premiership. Challis had announced himself spectacularly in the VFL, but he and his teammates had fallen short when it mattered most.

In 1913 Challis confirmed his ability, but the Blues missed the finals for the first time in more than a decade. In 1914 he had a fine year again, but ill-fortune struck at the worst possible time – he was out injured when his teammates won the grand final.

In 1915 it all came together for Challis. He capped off a superb season with a starring role in another Carlton premiership. If the Norm Smith Medal had been awarded back then, he might well have received it.

Identifying equivalents of Challis a century later is difficult because the game has changed so substantially. Challis stood out because of his exceptional pace, skill and disposal. He was, it seems, similar in style to Adam Cooney or Brent Harvey (though not as small as Harvey).

Another comparison concerns an earlier decade. Challis at his best could be likened to the dash and flair of a Western Australian who was awarded the Norm Smith in 1992 – Challis was perhaps the Peter Matera of his era.

What Challis did on the field ensured that he became popular. But the way he did it was also significant. He had an attractive personality and approach. His sunny nature was evident – during matches he was often seen smiling. Challis wanted to compete and succeed, but spectators could tell that he enjoyed himself doing it. Football reporters referred to him as “genial George” and “Cheerful Challis”.

The 1915 grand final was his last VFL match. He was 24 and in his prime, but he left Australia aboard a troop ship soon afterwards. Sergeant Challis ended up in the 58th Battalion. After months of training in Egypt, he was conveyed to France with his unit in June 1916.

Challis went forward with his battalion to the front line near the village of Fromelles during the night of July 10-11. It was supposed to be a quiet sector, but the Australians found themselves thrown into round-the-clock preparations for an imminent assault towards the trenches opposite (which was carried out, disastrously, on July 19).

The Germans, for their part, were not inactive, either. They launched a raid on July 15, supported by a severe bombardment, and inflicted 160 casualties in the 58th Battalion. Challis was killed by a direct hit.

The news of his death reached Melbourne shortly before the 1916 football season ended. It was officially confirmed in a defence casualty list published on the day before the grand final. The timing seemed uncanny. Hearing just before the grand final of the distressing death of a popular champion who had starred in the previous premiership decider symbolised for many the dreadful times they were enduring.

“Expressions of regret were heard yesterday all over Melbourne when it became known that George Challis had fallen in France,” the Adelaide Advertiser reported. In fact, he was widely mourned not just in Victoria.

Challis was born and raised at Cleveland in the Tasmanian midlands. Awarded a scholarship to Launceston High, he later became a popular teacher at the school. He had been recruited to Carlton after the 1911 interstate football carnival, when he was given a medal for being the best Tasmanian player.

In July 1915, when Challis returned to Tasmania for the last time before he went to war, he caught up with relatives and friends at Cleveland and Launceston. He paid a visit to the little school at Cleveland, and all 20 or so of its young students were assembled to hear him speak. Football inevitably featured in his remarks: “When I come back I’ll teach you boys the finer points of the game,” he said.

His death was deeply felt in Tasmania. Profound grief gripped the Cleveland community. Many homes in these districts retained a photo of Challis on a wall or mantelpiece for years.

He was the eldest of eight siblings. His brother Archie, who was also a talented footballer, settled at Scottsdale (north-east of Launceston), where he worked for the Commonwealth Bank. One of his daughters, Roberta (Bobbie), married Graeme Casboult in 1953. Graeme’s first cousin Lance Casboult was to become Levi Casboult’s grandfather.

Levi has inherited size and football ability from the Casboult clan.

Graeme, for example, was invited by Essendon recruiters to try out at Windy Hill. But he couldn’t see himself living in Melbourne and stayed at Scottsdale, where his family had a garage/petrol station business for decades. Bob Chitty, the legendary Carlton enforcer, lived nearby after becoming Scottsdale’s playing coach.

Charlie Casboult, Graeme’s brother, was pursued by Geelong, and did a pre-season there in 1965. But it was a tall order for an 18-year-old forward to usurp stars such as Doug Wade and Bill Ryan, especially when his opponents in the practice matches were classy defenders who represented Victoria, Peter Walker and Roy West. Getting injured didn’t help either. Charlie ended up playing for Geelong West, and lives at Corio today.

Levi Casboult, like Graeme and Charlie – and George Challis – was born and raised in Tasmania. His early allegiance to Carlton was influenced by relatives on his mother’s side. For years his preferred football code was soccer, and it was not until he was 16, after his family moved to Melbourne, that he found himself drawn to making Australian rules his priority. He has had to work hard to absorb what Challis referred to as the finer points, and ill-fortune with injury has at times delayed his development. But his rapid emergence in recent weeks has been a revelation.

While his contested marks and a freakish snap from the boundary have attracted attention, no doubt his coaches have also been highlighting his team involvements – the hit-outs to advantage, and the stirring chase and tackle that created a goal for a teammate.

Graeme and Charlie Casboult have enjoyed following Levi’s progress.

George Challis would have, too.

Ross McMullin’s biography of George Challis is included in his latest book Farewell, Dear People: Biographies of Australia’s Lost Generation. He is talking about the book today at the Melbourne Writers Festival (10am, BMW Edge).

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Goddard offered contract

ST KILDA has at last made Brendon Goddard a formal contract offer but coach Scott Watters says he respects the gifted footballer’s right to test his worth in the free agency market.
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Three weeks ago The Saturday Age revealed that the Saints had not made an official offer to Goddard as both parties kept their options open, and the offer Watters referred to yesterday is believed to be recent.

But Watters was adamant that the St Kilda captaincy would not be used as bait to keep Goddard at the club.

”What I think is really important for our members and supporters to know is that we have put a contract in front of Brendon and we certainly want him staying at this footy club,” Watters said.

He said St Kilda was in a ”sound” salary cap position but the new free agency rules empowered Goddard to field an offer from a rival club. The Saints can either match that or receive a first-round draft pick as compensation.

Goddard has said he wants to finish his career at St Kilda.

”Do we want Brendon here? Absolutely. But Brendon has a right through that agreement to test the market, that’s his choice, and I support that.

”He also has an opportunity … we’ve had three 300-game players at this club in 139 years of history. I’d like Brendon to be the fourth, so it’s a tough position to be in as a player,” Watters said.

”We will support him and keep dialogue open with his management but that is where it sits. We are comfortable with what we’ve put in front of Brendon.”

Captain Nick Riewoldt, whose season is over because of a knee tendon injury, last week said it would be best for the club’s development if he handed over the leadership next season and nominated Goddard as his ideal successor.

If Goddard does stay and becomes captain, it won’t be because the role is bundled into a contract offer as a sweetener.

”At no stage would captaincy be offered as cream on the cake for a contract. That would be disrespecting the privilege of being captain. Captaincy is earned and to me it shouldn’t be an incentive,” Watters said.

”Brendon has really strong leadership potential, he’s shown that internally this year, and he would be in strong contention for that type of role going forward. But it wouldn’t be a gift on top of a contract, not while I’m here.”

Meantime, Justin Koschitzke will have scans on his shoulder and hip to determine whether he’ll be booked in for season-ending surgery or play the last game. Watters said Koschitzke’s season had suffered from having to spend significant stints in the ruck because of injuries to other talls.

”People underestimate the impact that has on a player who really shouldn’t be rucking at all. But he has had some patches where his form also hasn’t been up to standard, so he needs to challenge to hold his place in the side again next year, as all players do.”

The Saints made five changes for today’s game against Greater Western Sydney at Etihad Stadium. Seb Ross, a ball-winning midfielder and cousin of Essendon captain Jobe Watson, will make his debut.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Smith’s winning attitude

WHEN Greg Smith first turned to wheelchair rugby after an outstanding wheelchair racing career, he could tell that he had a big task in front of him. The difficulty had nothing to do with whether he believed that he could make the Australian team; with the little experience that he had in the sport, he believed that he could and that was the problem.
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The national wheelchair rugby team of the mid-2000s was in trouble, according to Smith and Australia’s chef de mission for the London Paralympics team, Jason Hellwig.

Hellwig earlier this week told how there had been a bad attitude among some of the players and the Australian Paralympic Committee had demanded the team to right itself or the sport’s funding could be in danger.

Smith said he could see the flaws in the team. ”My competitive nature kicked in and I saw the team that was going to Athens and I thought, ‘I reckon I could get on the team with some of the boys who are going,’ so I trained hard and set that as a goal and four years later I was there in Beijing,” Smith said.

Hellwig credits the 45-year-old Smith, who has quadriplegia following a car accident when he was 19, for changing the attitudes within team, which has allowed it to transform into a world power.

Hellwig was so impressed by Smith that when it came time to appoint the flag bearer to lead the Australian team in the opening ceremony in London, he knew there was a top candidate. ”He transitioned his skills from one sport into another, but the leadership that he’s conveyed with that had just simply been remarkable and unique and stands him out from an outstanding group of people,” Hellwig said. Smith, who had been a physical trainer in the Australian army before the accident, competed at three Paralympic Games in wheelchair racing and cemented his standing as the world’s best in Sydney in 2000 by winning the 800, 1500 and 5000 metres with two world records.

He retired in 2001. But it was not long before he was invited to a social game of wheelchair rugby and, while sold on the game, was frustrated at questionable attitudes to training by some players.

”Sydney was the first Games where it was recognised as a Paralympic event,” Smith said. ”It probably didn’t have a professional attitude about it and particularly in Australia because it was so young. The athletes who were playing the game probably didn’t quite realise what it was to compete at the top level and the things you had to do … there was probably a little bit of disbelief at the things I was doing and professionals do to try and be the best. The guys started to take that on board [and realise] that if they wanted to compete at the top and try and take my position away from me that’s what they had to do and I think I helped breed a culture within the team that where we are is because of that.”

Superstar Ryley Batt has admitted that despite being part of the silver medal-winning team in Beijing, he had been disappointed with his fitness. ”Back in the day when they finished a game, guys would probably head off and have a cigarette or a pie or something like that,” Smith said. ”Those things don’t happen any more.”

Australia is one of the gold favourites in London after its silver performances in Beijing and the 2010 world championships, losing both times to the US.

As for leading the team at the opening ceremony, Smith said he was thrilled by the opportunity.

”I can’t wait to be out there with the flag flapping and 80,000 people cheering and clapping and hopefully the Queen will give me a nod and I’ll give her one back.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Pistorius the blade runner puts spotlight on Paralympics

EARLIER this month Oscar Pistorius was in unfamiliar surrounds – albeit for the fulfilment of a dream. The South African double leg amputee won a long battle to run at the Olympic Games and pit himself against the world’s best able-bodied athletes.
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This month he will again compete in that stadium, but it will be for the Paralympic Games where he is a proven champion and role model.

Pistorius, who required a double amputation below the knee before he was one, made history at the London Olympics when he ran in the 400 metres, where he finished last in the semi-finals, and was a member of South Africa’s 4 x 400-metre relay team that ran in the final.

It was an inspiring achievement made more difficult by the battle he had to get there. At one stage he was banned by world athletics body, the IAAF, and debate about whether the carbon fibre blades that he uses for running provided him with an advantage over able-bodied athletes.

At the Paralympic Games, Pistorius is to defend his titles in the 100, 200 and 400 metres. He had been concentrating on the 400 for the Olympics so his Paralympic preparation for the shorter events has been affected, which has him at a disadvantage for the 100 and 200.

But section manager for the Australian team Andrew Faichney said Pistorius’ reputation meant his influence on Paralympic sport was greater than just his results on the track.

”It’s an advertisement or promotion of Paralympic sport and the more we can have those role models who are out in the public eye, the greater it increases the focus and the public awareness of Paralympic sport and certainly Paralympic athletics,” Faichney said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.