Wednesday Whinge – Duck Off

If it drops to the knees like a duck, leads with the head like a duck or throws it’s head back like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

Nothing frustrates AFL fans more than cheap free kicks given to a player who stages for high contact. We see it week after week. It is a terrible look for the sport and an even worse look for the player.

Lindsay Thomas is the most publicised of the AFL players who duck. However after having been down at Simonds Stadium on the weekend, Joel Selwood needs to be ridiculed for his shrugging and staging too. At almost every contest he tries to get a free for head high contact.

Ducking is bad for the game for so many reasons –

Umpires are drilled about protecting the head. If there is slight contact there, so often a free kick is paid. They rarely have enough time to judge whether a player is staging or not.

Secondly, someone will one day get seriously hurt. Tom Lynch fractured his neck leading into a tackle against Brisbane a few years ago. Selwood comes off every week with cuts to the head. A serious injury is only a matter of time away.

Thirdly it is just unsportsmanlike. Sure, some players are great at drawing the free kick, but this isn’t something to be celebrated. Drawing free kicks is not part of being a good footballer. Selwood is a prime example. It is a dirty part of the game that needs to be stamped out. It’s borderline cheating.

Stopping players from doing this act is a challenge.

I’m against changing more rules and I don’t think paying a free for ducking is the answer. This would just create more interpretation and confusion.

There is currently a rule that states that if a player leads with the head, that this is defined as prior opportunity – so if your tackled it’s holding the ball. This rule is not paid often enough and must be enforced more.

Sometimes it is clear that a player has ducked. In these circumstances either pay holding the ball or ball it up. As fans, we’d much rather an umpire ball it up then pay a free for high contact if there is even the slightest doubt about whether the player ducked or not.

Ultimately this is going to be something the players have to realise is wrong and stop doing themselves. But why stop doing something that is working and rewarding you with the ball? It is a big ask I know, but if enough people in the right places keep calling them out and umpires take a slightly different approach, it might have a big impact in reducing this blight.

If you look at some of the AFL’s most courageous players. Players like Rory Sloane or Isaac Heeney for example. They simply go into contests without fear and attempt to grab the ball. They don’t care if they get a free kick or not. They just wants the pill. You don’t see them throwing their head back. There is no time for that when your trying to be hard and tough.That’s football. Throwing heads back and shrugging. That’s soft and it sure as hell isn’t in the spirit of the game I was brought up watching.

Players need to realise that you can get free kicks for playing hard, in and under tough football. You are allowed to play like that. You’ll also get the bonus of being far more respected and not singled out for doing acts that are a poor look for the game.

So AFL players if you want more money out of the new collective bargaining agreement, perhaps show us why you deserve it. Stop being soft and start getting back to playing football the way it should be played.


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