“We’ve been too slow again with our ball movement. We’ve become a little bit protective of ourselves and we just got to be going after it a bit more.
“Turnovers will happen, every football club, every team no matter whether they’re Hawthorn or whether they’re us, they’re going to turn the ball over at some stage, it’s the pressure the opposition puts on you, you can’t let that frighten you enough and for us I reckon its put us back on the back foot too often.”
Those are the words of Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley pre-game on Triple M last Friday night.
Despite the ups and downs of the Power, the meteoric rise in 2014 and the stumbling of this last year and a half, his coaching ability has been unassailable.
So these comments could not be truer in a modern game where so many other elements are even, equalised and negated.
‘They who move the ball the fastest shall be first.’
The draft, trade and free agency structures and regulations negate any real advantage. The salary cap equalises the spread of talent and the tax on football department spend balances out resources.
Clubs who bottom out can now come from the clouds and launch up the ladder. Now, more than ever before, the gameplan of sides is not only the major difference but one of very few differences between any of the 18 clubs.
West Coast, the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood all have essentially the same list. Sure, there are nuances and everyone’s individual however they all spend roughly the same amount on their players in wages, they’ve all had access to the same pool of draftees and the same ability to trade with the rest of the competition.
Due to the streamlining of the modern game their list profile in age and experience won’t be awfully dissimilar either and trade practices in sport science are relatively uniform across the country.
So why have the Eagles soared from the bottom two years ago to a Grand Final last year, why have the Bulldogs launched from an off-field crisis to flag contention this year yet the Magpies have shown glimpses, winning streaks, competiveness against top four sides, but have shown nothing but bottom four form thus far?
It’s all about the gameplan, specifically the speed of ball movement.
The Eagles are notorious for their team defence and that’s where they excel and similarly the Pies are struggling. It’s from their backline they spring into all-out attack with such ease.
The style instigated by the current coaching team, led by ex-Hawthorn assistant Adam Simpson, sees even an undermanned, undesirably small team defend even they greatest of sides in closing space and thwarting any fluency in their opposition, almost as if they are all constantly wired up to ongoing directions from coaches.
Even when small players had to fill in and take key position matchups, it didn’t matter, the team defence worked often and well. They gave no space, no chinks in their armour, the team defending as one impenetrable whole.
In doing so it causes their opposition into uncomfortable football and a propensity for turnovers ensues. The Eagles thrive on such turnovers and blitz their opponents in facile counterattacking accordingly.
Collingwood, even with the same amount of players at their disposal, even with the inexperienced St.Kilda down to 19 fit players, could not stop the Saints effortlessly navigate their way around the hallowed turf of the MCG with such aplomb that the inevitable tiring of legs never occurred.
The St. Kilda coaching box would have been embarrassed by the prevailing riches before their eyes, the resistance was not there all because of a complete and utter gameplan disaster.
A sheer weight of numbers in terms of fresh legs would have seen the Maggies steal that game three to five years ago. Now, such is the reliance on effective gameplans, they were embarrassed.
Moreover, the Bulldogs had the reigning three-time premier on toast and lost due to misfortune if nothing else Sunday.
Their impressive form epitomises the speed of movement to which they fling the ball around, so much so that they can take it up to a Hawthorn side arguably more talented but definitely more seasoned.
Jason Johannisen would be a fringe player at best ten years ago but due to his skillset matching the role asked of him by ex-Hawthorn assistant Luke Beveridge, he excels to the point he would have lead the Brownlow count after two rounds.
Again, Saturday afternoon, in a rare moment the Magpies got possession, their movement was as slow as treacle and it allowed the Saints that precious time to thwart the potency of the attack we saw in the NAB Challenge.
The only time we’ve seen Collingwood move the ball in the first three weeks as quickly as they should was because they needed three goals in the last six minutes against Richmond.
And low and behold, what happened? It was exciting, exhilarating stuff from a team that’s clearly capable.
Call it confidence; call it just ‘one of those days’. Or call it coaching – call it the gameplan again failing to fulfil the brief necessary to win enough games of footy to make September. If you’re unsure at this point, go back up to the top and re-read Hinkley’s on-point remarks.
In reality, not too much separates these three sides, West Coast, the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood. All have gun players, emerging stars and well-credentialed lists.
But the coaching impact that Messrs Simpson and Beveridge have had with the same players compared to their predecessors cannot be underappreciated.
The Eagles and Bulldogs are in some ways unrightfully premiership threats because their respective coaches have cracked the code, quick ball movement wins premierships in the modern game, and have elevated their teams to do so magnificently.
Meanwhile, like Messrs Voss and Hird before him, Nathan Buckley may well be another hall of fame footballer who just doesn’t have the combination to crack that code.