Some of the conversations had in grand final week are the toughest in footy. A team that seems settled one day, can be dramatically changed the next.
For the Dogs this fortnight, Alex Keath and Cody Weightman are fighting to return, while Laitham Vandermeer is pushing to overcome a hamstring injury.
For the Demons, Steven May is also hoping to prove his hamstring concern was nothing more than a scare. But they’re the selection questions we know.
Nathan Jones, pictured with his young son Remy.Credit:AFL Photos
Often, there can be unexpected injuries or setbacks, particularly as Melbourne weigh up how hard to train with their second week off this September.
A coach or selection committee can also have a simple change of heart. How the conversations that follow are delivered can impact people for the rest of their lives. We saw that with Kevin Sheedy and Derek Kickett, who was dropped from the 1993 grand final after playing every game that season. Kickett never played for the Bombers again and the pair only broke bread a few years ago.
In every campaign there are heartbreak stories, whether it be those who are injured, dropped, or already on the fringe hoping for a miracle, like Nathan Jones this year.
After everything he’d been through at Melbourne, Jones deserved a shot at a flag, but in footy you don’t always get what you deserve, and the Demons have made the tough, but correct selection call on their 300-game former skipper.
I remember back in 1996 at North Melbourne, Ross Smith was our Nathan Jones.
He hadn’t captained the club but was a heart and soul player after playing more than 200 games.
He played every game for us in 1995, but just three in ’96 and ultimately missed out on a premiership in what was his final year.
Ross knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier because he was still thereabouts at selection.
John Longmire, with the 1999 AFL premiershhip cup, sits on teammate Martin Pike’s shoulders.Credit:Sebastian Costanzo
John Longmire also missed out on the flag that year and he was emotional after the game, despite knowing for the entire season he’d play no part, due to a knee injury.
In a twist of fate, ‘Horse’ played in a premiership in the final game of his career in 1999, after overcoming an elbow problem.
Before Jason McCartney was suspended for that grand final, it was basically between Longmire and Cameron Mooney for the final spot in our team.
Denis Pagan asked me who I thought should get the nod, and after years as teammates I naturally said Horse. As it turned out, McCartney’s suspension meant they both played, but it got me wondering whether Simon Goodwin is having the same conversations with Max Gawn, or Luke Beveridge with Marcus Bontempelli.
A captain’s opinion can be important, but, at the same time, is that a burden too great to carry heading into the biggest game of the year – knowing a teammate’s fate is in your hands?
The Demons will no doubt consider Joel Smith and Jayden Hunt. Would you expect Gawn to have an opinion on who follows him into battle?
Coaches do form relationships with certain players and have their favourites – the guys they know they can rely on.
In the year Kickett was dropped at Essendon, Sheedy recalled Dean Wallis for the grand final, his first game since round 21.
In the Bombers’ all-conquering year of 2000, Wallis again came straight back in for a final, this time a qualifying final against us, despite his last game being round 16.
Wallis was one of Sheeds’ go-to men.
Do Goodwin or Beveridge have the same allegiance to anyone on their lists? We’ll soon see. The other question those coaches face is just when to tell the players involved.
In any normal grand final week, the week flies by. By the Wednesday night, it’s generally clear who’s fit and who isn’t, and the players who miss out are often told.
With a fortnight’s break, that balancing act is tougher. It does beg the question about who deserves a premiership medal.
Josh Bruce, who looms as another tough-luck story of 2021 after tearing his ACL, has suggested every player who plays a game should get a medal. For what it’s worth, I agree with him.
Beveridge also famously gave his medal to Bob Murphy after the Dogs’ drought-breaking premiership five years ago.
Murphy didn’t play, due to his own ACL injury, but you can’t say he hadn’t made a contribution. More than ever in these COVID times, where teams have been on the road for weeks or months, football has been a squad game.
Premierships aren’t won by 22 players, but by 30 or more. So why not recognise the contributions of everyone who’s played a game with a medal?
There might be pushback on that – the idea that we hand out medals like participation trophies. You’re never truly a ‘premiership player’ if you don’t play on the day, and I’m sure some players wouldn’t want a reminder of that.
But, for others, a medal for their efforts could be something they cherish for the remainder of their lives.
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