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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Wallabies turn to 1978 for inspiration

THE Wallabies brains trust could not have chosen a better former Test player to present the jerseys to the team in Auckland yesterday than Tony Shaw, who is uniquely qualified to remind them that all is not lost.
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The Wallabies are considered no chance of keeping the Bledisloe Cup series alive tonight by winning at Eden Park – where they last won in 1986.

It is a dire situation, but much like 1978 when the inspirational Shaw was the Wallabies captain, and the team somehow overcame everything to win in Auckland with the highest score tallied against the All Blacks.

After losing the first two Tests, coach Daryl Haberecht had a heart attack and the players had to take control for the third and final Test, with a depleted squad.

”We just took over,” Shaw told the Wallabies at Eden Park yesterday. ”Bob Templeton was here and we could have brought him in to coach us. But we thought: ‘No, f— it, we know what’s wrong, and we know how to fix it.’ Everyone in New Zealand thought we had no hope. It’s pretty similar to now. We were copping heaps from the Kiwis, and the press. There was some of the ‘Awful Aussie, Woeful Wallabies’ carry on that was still around from the 1972 Wallabies tour. But after that second Test, we picked the same team and kept it like that for the last five games of the tour.”

Before that Test the players also visited someone who knew New Zealand rugby backwards – former All Blacks coach J.J. Stewart. ”He just said to us: ‘I’ll beat any one of you over 10 metres.’ We were scratching our heads, thinking, ‘Who is this silly old fart?’ He added: ‘When I say go, you have to take a step backwards.’ The analogy was very clear to us. That was what we were doing to our backs. We weren’t winning ball going forward. We were on the back foot and were back pedalling before we started. It was like a light bulb had just gone on in our scones.

”So on the day, we knew we had to take it to them – demolish the lineout, [Wallabies prop] [Chris] ‘Buddha’ Handy was commissioned with the job of belting [All Blacks second rower] Andy Haden, which he reckoned he needed a step ladder to do, but he did it. Greg Cornelsen scores four tries and the rest is history. A 30-16 win.”

Shaw said there were so many comparisons between 1978 and tonight. ”This team has also been written off. They’re two skippers down and there’s lots of injuries. They know what they have to do – they just have to do it on the paddock.”

Quade Cooper is the key, he said. ”This is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful opportunity for Quade to shine, and get rid of the demons. And he will. I reckon he will be the difference … he’s matured enormously from last year.”

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The unruly making of rules

With a reduction from intentional to reckless, and a good record dropping the charge to below 100 points, this incident should resultin a reprimand rather than a suspension…FINAL WORD
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IN FOOTBALL’S year dot, Jerry Bryant, mine host of the Parade Hotel, arranged a scratch match on Richmond Paddock.

In the Sporting Globe years later, one player recalled that it was many games in a chaotic one. ”Englishmen, of course, played rugby, Scotchmen a nondescript game – the Association game [soccer] not having yet seen the light – while Irishmen for the most part contented themselves with punting the ball as straight as a die heavenwards.

”Each man played a lone hand, or rather foot, according to his lights, some guided by their own particular code of rules, other by no rules at all.

”Disputes, wrangling and utter confusion were the inevitable outcome … but we have to thank the football Babel for some of the best points in the game as now.”

This is a scratch on the surface of a history of Australian rules before the establishment of the VFL in 1897, written by art historian Mark Pennings, published by Connor Court and soon to be released.

It is, to say the least, comprehensive and compendious. It runs to four volumes! The last will contain the names of 6000-7000 players who appeared before football’s supposed nascence.

Few cities in the world can have mushroomed as Melbourne did following the discovery of gold. In little more than a decade from 1851, these sprung up: Parliament and its buildings, the town hall, the GPO, the state library, national gallery, museum, zoo, Melbourne university, Queen Victoria market, The Age, Australia’s first railway and the first Melbourne Cup.

Nearly half of Australia’s population lived in Victoria, and were considered to be the richest people in the world. The colony was feeling its oats.

Cricket was the sport, but variations of football began to manifest in parklands and schools. Counterintuitively, school football was more rugged. Hacking – the kicking of shins – was permitted for schoolboys, but not for men, for whom a broken bone might mean financial ruin.

Some, including historian Geoffrey Serle, have puzzled over why Victoria did not simply adopt Britain’s football games, as it did most other institutions. Pennings explains that soccer and rugby themselves still were evolving then, and had not been codified. One motive of the founders of ”Melbourne rules”, including Tom Wills, was to create a simpler game.

Rugby was the seminal influence. But rugby’s school code listed 33 rules, the new game just 10 (those were the days).

Pennings says one unique aspect of Australian rules is that its laws evolved on the field.

He also makes clear that the new game never saw itself merely as a derivative.

”There was considerable pride in the game, and a desire to spread it throughout the world,” he writes. In some quarters, there still is.

In July, 1858, Wills famously proposed the new code, to keep cricketers fit, but also cricket grounds, which would benefit from being ”trampled upon”.

In September, 27 ”gentlemen” of South Yarra -based at Fawkner Park and probably including some Melbourne Grammar schoolboys – challenged the Melbourne players north of the river – essentially Melbourne Cricket Club – to a match on Richmond paddock.

The South Yarra team brought its own set of rules, but, The Herald reported: ”They were more interested in the breach than the observance.” Melbourne scored the only goal, embellished by Punch as ”one triumphant joyous kick”, whereupon ”every motley-coloured kicker betook him to a special liquor”.

In the same month, Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College played a celebrated three-week match.

Eighty players roamed all over what is now Yarra Park, but one, an enterprising type, scuttled away with the ball inside the MCG fence, whereupon umpire Wills adjudged it out of bounds.

The idea was to become the first team to score two goals, but after three weeks, neither had, so a draw was declared.

The next year, Melbourne Football Club was formed and the new game’s laws set down. The signatories were Wills (then secretary of the MCC), Thomas Smith (a classics teacher at Scotch) and two journalists, and the venue was Bryant’s pub, the closest to the MCG. The MCG, schools, pubs and the press as forces in the game: has anything much changed?

Australian rules was at square one, though it was probably not yet recognisably today’s game. The stipulation to bounce the ball when running, for instance, was added later. It remained a game of the rough and ready.

Pennings writes of Alex Bruce, who had an artificial arm with an iron hook, and ”when he pushed from behind, always of course with the iron hook, it meant weeping and wailing to his unfortunate victim”.

Other clubs appeared, representing fast-growing suburbs, and from 1870 a premier recognised. In 1877, the VFA was formed.

In his introduction, Pennings writes that the game was revolutionised in the 1870s and ’80s by Geelong. ”Its scientific approach to the game put an emphasis on speed and accurate passing to players running into open spaces,” he writes. ”This marked a radical departure from a game previously reliant on big packs and nimble players who could run with the ball.”

Who says history does not repeat?

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Sprints open for Atomic

NEW South Wales trainers sometimes delight in the misery of their Victorian counterparts over a long and bleak winter, but not Newcastle trainer Darren Smith, who has headed south with his grand sprinter Atomic Force in the search of firmer tracks.
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Smith said yesterday that he sent the dual group 1-winning sprinter to Caulfield a few weeks ago to prepare for today’s listed Carlyon Stakes at Moonee Valley after a frustrating run at his Broadmeadow Racecourse base in Newcastle.

”The weather up here has been disgraceful and the tracks are waterlogged, so we put him on a float to get him ready down there,” Smith said. ”The facilities at Broadmeadow are being upgraded but we’ve had no Pro-Ride track and no grass tracks to work on, so we thought we’d make use of the facilities at Caulfield to get him up and going.”

In the absence of super sprinters Black Caviar and Hay List, a number of the big sprints in Melbourne this spring are up for grabs and few older or younger sprinters can rival the seven-year-old’s record, highlighted by group-1 wins in last year’s Galaxy, and last summer in New Zealand’s premier sprint, the Railway Stakes. ”He’s not yet at his top but he’s given me every indication that he’s exactly the same as he was last season,” Smith said. ”He’s a seven-year-old but he’s still fresh and keen as ever.”

Atomic Force worked at Moonee Valley on Tuesday morning under today’s rider, Craig Williams, and while Smith said the gelding was on track for a winning return, he would benefit from today’s outing. ”But he’s a good fresh horse and handles all ground, so you’d expect him to be right there,” he said.

Atomic Force has never missed a place first-up in five previous campaigns and at his only run over the 1000-metre course at Moonee Valley finished third, beaten by a nose behind group-1 winners Buffering and the ill-fated Crystal Lily.

A five-times wet track winner, he will be suited by today’s surface, which was last night rated a slow (6).

Smith figures he has only had about five runners in Melbourne since his first venture south in his early 20s. That day, in 1996, he saddled Pimpala Prince in the Ascot Vale Stakes. ”We had him ready to run the race of his life and he ran into a horse called Encosta de Lago,” he said.

Also making a raid on the early Melbourne sprints is Canberra trainer Matthew Dale, who saddles Unanimously in the $120,000 race. A Melbourne maiden in four previous attempts, Dale said the five-year-old was well placed to turn in his best run after experiencing the Moonee Valley track for the first time earlier this month when a game second to the in-form Freereturn.

”Saturday’s race is tougher than last start but he is better placed with the experience around Moonee Valley,” Dale said. ”He drew the outside nine [barrier] last time, so from barrier five and being third-up he should go well.”

It was at the same Moonee Valley meeting last year that two prominent spring horses emerged through the 1500-metre race, this year called the SAJ Catercare Group.

Finishing second in the race was subsequent Turnbull Stakes winner December Draw, while unplaced was eventual Caulfield Cup runner-up Green Moon. There are a number of stayers coming through today’s race. Last year’s Ebor winner Moyenne Corniche and last season’s group 2 Herbert Power Handicap winner Shewan run first-up, while owner Lloyd Williams will start two cups hopefuls second-up in Tanby and Excluded.

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

Shark Bites

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A few of the main runners in the last race on the program at Moonee Valley today are improving gallopers potentially destined for bigger and better races. Livigno is one, and while Tokugawa and Bombalatomba may have been more flashy, this fellow has plenty of scope in a race like this. He returned some impressive figures first-up at Flemington and should really improve as he tackles stronger opposition. A strong winning chance in an open race.

SUGGESTED BET Livigno each-way.




David Hayes is enduring a lean streak in city grade races but Valedictorian may be capable of breaking the run of outs early in the spring, especially at this venue. The horse simply loves racing at Moonee Valley, and if his strong first-up run here behind Tokugawa is anything to go by, he is not far away from another win. The step up to 1500 metres suits, as does an inside barrier, and a claim for gifted apprentice Chad Schofield allows him to take a position near the speed with a weight advantage on his rivals. A legitimate each-way option at double-figure odds.

SUGGESTED BET Valedictorian each-way



No. 4, Albrecht

Peter Snowden’s improving colt Albrecht certainly has the talent to win this group 3 contest, but it will come down to his mental state. The colt was most impressive on debut at Canterbury when he sat off the speed on a wet track and ploughed home to victory, but he was very green and wayward next time out at that track when running into third place. Albrecht’s immaturity may hold him back, but winkers will help his focus and could spark a winning run.

SUGGESTED BET Albrecht each-way


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1, 2, 3, 4, 8 / 2, 4, 12, 13 / 6, 10 / 1, 2, 5

A $24 Flexi Bet will return 20 per cent of the dividend

Moonee Valley quaddie

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LEG 1 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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LEG 3 6, 10, 11

LEG 4 6, 11, 13

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