Six Points: Channel 7’s commentary, the AFL’s most underrated coach, and what on earth is wrong with a draw?


Eight weeks is usually the point where the AFL ladder has taken its shape for the season – and thanks to Opening Round, that’s where we find ourselves.

We have our major players: Sydney and GWS have been the standouts from the get-go, while they’ve been joined in recent weeks by the irrepressible march of Geelong, undefeated atop the table and looking every inch the contender they’ve been for nearly all of the last 15 years.

We have our dark horses: Essendon continue to build in the wake of a draw against Collingwood that confirmed their status as a team in the hottest of form, while both Fremantle and Gold Coast showed that at home, they are formidable opponents.

Matt Rowell is an absolute beast ????#AFLSunsEagles

— AFL (@AFL) April 28, 2024

At the other end of the scale, we have our weaklings: North Melbourne and Hawthorn are once again reeling after yet more heavy punishment, Richmond players are dropping like flies, and West Coast came crashing back down to earth minus Harley Reid in a loss to the Suns that reminds us all they’ve still got plenty of work to do.

History suggests that from here on out, there will be one change to the top eight, two tops. So if your team finds itself in a finals spot at the moment, congratulations – but be wary, there’s still a looooot of water to go under this bridge.

Let’s begin.

1. Let’s talk about Channel 7’s broadcast

Just about every sports broadcast in the world has its commentators heavily criticised, so the feedback sent Channel 7’s way over the years for its AFL coverage is far from unique.

But over the last 12 months, it has become a mainstream opinion that Seven’s coverage of the footy is well below the standard expected of such a major competition, with every component of their broadcast on Anzac Day and throughout the weekend copping stick – from the camera work, to the interviews, and of course, the commentators themselves.

Some of the criticism is over the top – I disagree with anyone that claims James Brayshaw ruined Jamie Elliott’s extraordinary Anzac Day mark with his commentary. It’s a perfectly fine call of a moment that will stand the test of time, doesn’t detract from the mark at all, and anyone that claims Mike Williamson’s ‘Jesaulenko, you beauty!’ or Stephen Quartermain’s highly overrated ‘Leo Barry, you star!’ quips are outstanding pieces of dialogue is suffering from a serious case of nostalgia goggles.

Though admittedly, Gerard Whateley’s call of it on SEN was a belter.

A screamer that will last for generations on this day ????

Enjoy Jamie Elliott’s mark from the perspective of FIVE different commentary teams ????️

— Collingwood FC (@CollingwoodFC) April 26, 2024

Brayshaw’s call is certainly a million miles better than Brian Taylor’s of Shai Bolton’s hanger back in 2021, which very nearly cost him Mark of the Year with its blandness.

There is an issue with the camera work, however: whoever in the Seven operating team decided to change shots mid-mark has had a howler, and that really DOES take away from the spectacle of the mark.

There was a great article a few years ago that I can’t find anymore about how modern AFL broadcasts have failed to keep up with the times – the game looks very different from how it did in the 1990s and even the early 2000s, yet the same camera angles and focus on close-ups remain, giving an unclear picture of the play.

The AFL is a challengingly unique game to broadcast because of its 360 nature, and it’s noticeable when producers focus too heavily on close-in shots of players running with the ball without revealing what, if anything, they’re kicking too. It’s certainly frustrating to watch.

But of course, most of the criticism coming Seven’s way – as well as Fox Footy – is on the quality of their commentators. And it’s hard to argue with the feedback.

Taylor has long been an excellent radio commentator, where he got his start in broadcasting nearly 30 years ago, but TV accentuates the weaknesses in his calling, namely his tendency to get players’ names wrong, which happens for every commentator but more than most with him and which he can get away with on radio, and his penchant to segue away from covering the match and into random tangents to fill dead space.

Radio by nature requires callers to be more descriptive of the play, which suits Taylor well – but he’s also an acquired taste, and where people who disapprove of his bombastic commentary can simply switch to a different radio station, there’s no such option for people on Seven unless they want to set up the new SEN Sync.

????️ “That’s in play, that’s a good decision!”

– Luke Hodge on this call by the boundary umpire #AFLPowerSaints

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 26, 2024

The politest thing I can say about Taylor is that he’s clearly, in my opinion, from the Rex Hunt school of commentary – but with respect to BT, Hunt’s quick wit and carefully crafted style was far more entertaining than Taylor’s lesser copy. Compare ‘You would not hear a bigger roar if 1000 blokes in Broadmeadows won Tatts’ to ‘Danger danger danger danger Butler Butler Butler Butler’, for example.

Brayshaw, too, gets criticism – some of it for nothing more than the sound of his voice – while Luke Darcy is a fine special comments analyst but lacks the way with words needed to be a good caller, because there are only so many ways you can say you love the way Player X goes about it.

I think the key issue in their commentary, though, is that they seem to treat it – and are encouraged to do so by the Seven behind-the-scenes team – as their brand. It’s no longer the game that’s the focus, but the callers.

We’ve seen it for years with the advertising behind special comments people – Fox and Seven proudly spruik the former greats they’ve added to their stables, with Joel Selwood’s name and reputation as an all-time great prominent in everything from in-game coverage to their mid-week show even though I’m yet to hear him say anything remotely insightful.

It’s almost as if that’s affecting the commentators, too, with Taylor increasingly ‘Flanderising’ himself by becoming more outrageous, more over-the-top, and more inane with every passing week – his fixation on Friday night over whether or not a ball was out of bounds (spoiler alert: it wasn’t) rather than describing the play the most glaring example.

I can’t blame him solely, either, because he’s clearly getting directed this way – if Seven didn’t approve of his calling, they’d have done something about it.

The truth is, we’re not going to switch off just because the commentary annoys us, and Seven I doubt will care if we have SEN Sync on to listen to Gerard Whateley call on Thursday and Friday nights so long as our screens are on to catch the ads.

We’re stuck with these guys, for better or worse: but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Channel 7 commentators Matthew Richardson and Brian Taylor. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

2. The Lions are sinking fast

At some point, every fan faces a night where they’re forced to accept a crushing reality: their team’s premiership window has closed, the race has been run, and the slow rebuild back into contention is imminent. Except if you go for Geelong, it’s a part of football – nay, sporting – life.

It’ll take time to know for sure, but Brisbane may have faced such a night on Thursday in Canberra: a younger, hungrier, quicker and slicker GWS cut them to pieces after half time, comprehensively showing up their work rate and structure without the ball to leave the reigning grand finalists’ season in tatters.

The Lions are already two games and percentage outside the eight, but it’s by no means an unsalvageable situation: but we’ve had enough of a look at them over the first two months of the season to know that a premiership contender they ain’t. And barring a miraculous turnaround, it’s hard to see them doing what the Cats have done this year and surge back up the ladder after a year in the wilderness.

Brisbane aren’t the only team the Giants will dominate like that this year, and their first half against one of the premiership favourites was extremely encouraging. But as a collective, what happened after half time was clearly their most disappointing performance of the season, and Chris Fagan’s dejected, resigned look at his post-match media conference suggests he knows as well as anyone that the jig is up.

Classy goal by Harry Perryman ????

The Giants are on fire in the third quarter ???? #AFLGiantsLions

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 25, 2024

We shouldn’t be overly surprised – recent history suggests that one grand finalist always takes a plummet the year after, as rivals work out ways to curb their strengths, the fixture gets harder and another season of knocks and bruises goes through the legs. Indeed, the Lions’ run of five years as a genuine flag contender is a longer period up top than most get – Richmond’s three-flag dynasty spanned four years, with substantial drops on either side.

Father Time catches up with us all: Lachie Neale has been less impactful than at any time since coming to the Lions, Dayne Zorko is winning plenty of footy but is far from as damaging with it as in days gone by, and while Harris Andrews has been excellent in defence the lesser lights that fill the Lions’ backline haven’t come with him. And up forward, a gradual waning of supply has made Eric Hipwood and Joe Daniher’s shortcomings as key forwards stand out more prominently.

There is enough talent on the Lions’ list to remain in the hunt for finals right up until season’s end, but as it stands they’re some way off the top eight and even the top 10. Considering where they were last year – hell, where they’ve been since 2019 – that’s some fall from grace with an age profile that suggests the golden days are fast ending.

3. This is the way for Freo

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team change styles so utterly a week apart as Fremantle have done over the past seven days.

Slow, lifeless and boring in a humbling Derby loss to West Coast, the Dockers were spectacular against the Western Bulldogs, dazzling with their frenetic pressure, desire to take the game on from half-back with handballs, and newfound scoring power.

Admittedly, the Dogs’ defensive structure is embarrassing when teams put it under proper pressure, but this is still a sizeable step forward for the Dockers after weeks of sustained criticism over their defence-first approach – and proof that this is the way forward to try and achieve that elusive premiership.


A goal to add to his 28 disposals ????#AFLFreoDogs

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 27, 2024

111 handballs to 100 kicks at half time was a truly remarkable stat line, and epitomised Freo’s commitment to their new bit: it showcased their speed, an underrated quality of theirs, as well as what a Jy Amiss-less forward line could do with some extra space to work in. Josh Treacy was nearly best on ground, with his contested marking a highlight, but the service from further afield gave him every chance to dominate.

The Dockers hinted at being this team last year, going handball-happy for a patch midway through the year before teams worked it out and clamped down hard; up until Saturday night, they’d retreated back into their shells in 2024.

Come what may, though, what Freo produced to down the Dogs is the way premiership contenders are operating these days – punish turnovers, move the ball quickly, and make scoring a priority. Stick to that, and a season that looked like fizzling out a week ago will have plenty of life left in it.

4. The AFL’s most underrated coach

A week ago, after Essendon’s death-defying win over Adelaide, I wrote that it was time to show the Bombers some overdue respect.

The same is true of their coach, Brad Scott. Often derided across his stints at first North Melbourne and now the Dons, he is a far shrewder coach than most give him credit for.

At the Kangaroos, his efforts to drag a pretty unspectacular list to two consecutive preliminary finals in 2014 and 2015 – the Roos had just three All-Australian squad members and only one in the final team across those two years as proof – was nothing short of exceptional. And while he does share some measure of blame for starting the list cull that began the North downfall, it’s worth noting that they were very competitive right up until he was shown the door.

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At the Bombers, it has taken him just a year and a half to implement some major, positive changes. The Bombers are tougher at the contest than they have been in a decade, while defensively they are slowly growing sounder despite the absence of their biggest backline star in Jordan Ridley.

There’s a ferocity about Essendon, an ‘Edge’, if you will, that hasn’t been there probably since the days of Kevin Sheedy. This is an inconsistent club that under Scott has found some proper stability, and it has them well on track for finals this season – although we’ve seen the Bombers fade late in years before.

Brother Chris has at last received some well-deserved acclaim in recent years after being critiqued as a home-and-away specialist who inherited an all-time team at Geelong; Brad has never had a team or a club as good to work with, but his coaching over the years has been nearly as excellent.

And right now, he’s coaching better than ever.

Essendon coach Brad Scott. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

5. Optus Stadium’s disgraceful surface

The turf at Optus Stadium on Saturday night was unfit for professional sport. Plain and simple.

Not only was it patchy and hideous to look at, especially on the broadcast side, it constantly shifted underfoot, proved a nightmare for players, and only by the good grace of the footy gods did it not result in a serious injury. It was Marvel Stadium-esque, and I’m not entirely sure why.

West Coast and Fremantle fans have long bemoaned the hardness of the turf at Optus, and blamed it for the higher than usual number of leg and joint injuries among the Western Australian clubs.

“That’s the seventh or eighth time we’ve seen a player slip over.”

A scary-looking slip for Aaron Naughton – he’s not been the only one to lose his footing #AFLFreoDogs

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 27, 2024

Saturday night somehow went the other way, with the ground looking too soft and wet for elite athletes to maintain a consistent footing.

It was awful to watch, and the players, especially Dockers and Eagles players who have to play there regularly, deserve better. Sort it out.

6. What the hell is wrong with a draw?

As is always the way after a draw, particularly in a blockbuster game, no sooner had the final siren sounded on Anzac Day at the MCG than the debate began to rage.

Should there be extra time, or a golden goal period maybe? I even heard the suggestion that a goalkicking shootout, similar to penalties in European football, could be a good tie-breaker.

Let me nip this all in the bud: draws are fine. Actually, they’re not just fine, they’re awesome!

A draw is a unique part of footy, mostly because they’re so rare and yet always a possibility when a match goes down to the wire. When the margin is a solitary point, or six points even, murmurs go through the commentary box, as well as across the stands: a draw is on here.

Abbey Holmes: “We’ve got a draw here, how do you sum that up?”

Scott Pendlebury: “Extra time?” ????#AFLDonsPies

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 25, 2024

It’s the rarest of results, and by definition memorable: I’ve been to two of them in my lifetime, and vividly remember them both. I’m sure many reading this column will have had similar experiences, and nearly all of us will know that bizarre feeling leaving a match with two premiership points in check.

They enhance the experience of a close match far more than if there was an extra time period available: I doubt the Bombers and Magpies would have gone so frenetically in the last two minutes with scores tie looking for a single extra point if they had known there was another period in which to win. The risk would have been simply too great.

Logistics reasons make draws in the finals series unfeasible, but there’s simply no harm in a tie in a home-and-away match. It makes the ladder look more interesting, brings into play extra permutations in finals, and simply isn’t a broken part of footy to warrant fixing.

World Cup group stage matches don’t have extra time or penalty shootouts; neither should the regular season in the AFL.

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Random thoughts

– Good grief is Elliot Yeo having a year.

– In another grim Hawks loss, I loved Dylan Moore’s game on Sunday. One of the hardest-working players in the game.

– If North fans thought Harley Reid getting rested would spare them from discussion about players they missed out on at the draft, Logan McDonald’s game at the MCG might have put paid to that.

– I’m not sure Gryan Miers can possibly miss out again on All-Australian selection this year.

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