Six Points: Defending THAT time-wasting free, 2024’s coldest take, and can we stop saying the Dons aren’t that good?


Greetings from Florida!

If you’re reading this edition of Six Points right as it’s being published, then yours truly will be waiting patiently at Miami Airport for his connecting flight to Trinidad and Tobago, where I’ll be stationed for the next few days for the start of the T20 World Cup.

I won’t lie, the trip over has been an annoying one – I got stuck in Sydney for 12 hours when my flight out of Australia was delayed, giving me both the good fortune of being able to watch GWS’ thrilling win over Geelong in its entirety at the airport and the misfortune of having to slog through North Melbourne’s latest inept display against Port Adelaide.

A big thanks to Jono Baruch for stepping in for me on the daily Footy Fix column on Saturday – if you haven’t read his Dreamtime article yet, check it out.

From yet more umpiring debate, to another Essendon win, to a big and bizarre build-up during the week, there’s plenty to unpack as always – so arriverderci for now, and let’s dive in.

1. Can we stop saying Essendon aren’t actually that good?

I’ve watched and written enough about the Bombers this year to be confident of one thing – they’re as good an Essendon team as has been put out on the park for the best part of 20 years.

That’s why the growing rumblings that they’re actually not that good, that their percentage is a better indicator of their quality than the 8-1-2 record they currently hold nearly halfway through the season, and that they’ve had a great run and will get found out in the second part of 24, fills me with dread.

The Bombers were far from at their best against Richmond on Saturday night, just as they weren’t in scraping past West Coast a few weeks ago; yet in both cases, they never truly looked like losing despite having to fight it out right to the end. That’s simply un-Essendon-like in my lifetime, who have rarely failed to let their supporters down just when things seem to be getting good again.

The skipper ????#AFLTigersDons

— AFL (@AFL) May 25, 2024

In all honesty, it doesn’t even matter if they’re actually that good right at the moment: sitting second on the ladder, with a draw that makes their percentage considerably more irrelevant than it would be otherwise, and six premiership points clear inside the top three, the Bombers could not be better placed for a run at the top four.

You know who else we held doubts over at this time of the year? Richmond in 2017, who had had a similarly barren finals run for more than a decade prior, and who set up their season with a 5-0 start that allowed them to ride bumps, bruises and heartbreak for the rest of the season, finished entrenched in the top four, and kick-start a dynasty in September.

Imagine the smug, satisfied look on Bombers fans’ faces if we keep writing them off right throughout the year, even as they continue to win ugly, stockpile premiership points, and prime themselves for the first finals series in 20 years where they have a better than even chance of breaking that infamous drought.


Kyle Langford celebrates a goal. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

2. THAT Friday night call was the right one

That’s two weeks in a row now a free kick at a crucial late stage of a tight game has been lambasted around the footy world, despite being technically – and yes, that’s the best word for it – correct.

Substitute Izak Rankine for Lachie Sullivan, swap the MCG for Optus Stadium, and switch the transgression from running too far to failing to return the ball to the umpire for a ball-up: in both instances, a call was made by the umpire to howls of protests, and ended up playing a big part in proceedings.

I strongly defended the Rankine decision last week, and the Sullivan free kick to Fremantle on Friday night was only a greater example of how deep down, what we really want is vibes-based umpiring.

As much as everyone cries out for consistency in officiating from quarter to quarter and game to game, the last thing we want to see is ultra-harsh, letter of the law decisions that have a demonstrative impact on the game. Despite the fierce backlash the umpires genuinely putting the whistle away got for the last 10 minutes of the 2023 preliminary final between Collingwood and GWS, in the eyes of most of us fans – and the larger portion of the media, as well – we don’t want to see goals kicked because of ‘tiggy touchwood’ administrative frees.

I just don’t think we can have it both ways.

To the letter of the law, Sullivan giving the ball to Nick Daicos instead of umpire Matthew Nicholls is a free kick-worthy mistake: if we want the umpire in that situation to consider the spirit in which the law was enforced – that Sullivan probably wasn’t wasting time – then we can instantly give up on any consistency in the rules and it’ll be open season.

A bizarre moment as the umpire penalises Lachie Sullivan for handing the ball to Nick Daicos instead of the umpire!

???? Watch #AFLFreoPies LIVE on ch. 504 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) May 24, 2024

Cricket had a similar reckoning last year: you’ll struggle to find an Australia who doesn’t think Jonny Bairstow was fairly and squarely stumped by Alex Carey at Lord’s, even though that mode of dismissal was clearly not what the rulemakers had in mind when composing the laws of the game. Bairstow transgressed, and he paid the price. So did Sullivan.

Ultimately, the umpires are in a position where they can’t win: because if Collingwood did win that game by under a goal and that free kick wasn’t paid by Nicholls, you can be someone would have put that vision up on social media and accused the umps of costing Freo the game by not paying a free that was there, just as happened on On the Couch last week where an umpire’s mistaking in calling time-on extended the Port Adelaide-Hawthorn game by 19 crucial seconds.

In the case of Rankine, Sullivan and also Laitham Vandermeer on Thursday night in knocking the ball out of Sydney’s Hayden McLean’s hands for the game-sealing 50m penalty, the right decision was made in accordance with the AFL’s laws.


— outbreezy (@outbreezyWC) May 23, 2024

If umpires are expected to follow not just this set of rules, but also consider in the moment whether it really deserves a free kick – or, in all three cases, such a heavy consequence out of paying it – then our sport becomes all but impossible to officiate. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

3. The worst footy take of 2024

I genuinely don’t know what Nathan Buckley was thinking when he wrote this on X during the week:

Open question…

Luke Parker is a hardened AFL footballer playing against, with all due respect, amateur footballers (some more so than others)

Is he responsible for the lack of awareness of his opposition that contributes to the impact of the football action?#3weeks

— Nathan Buckley (@ncb_cfc) May 22, 2024

It’s been quite a while since I’ve come across a take this bad – and it’s especially galling coming from a footy legend whose opinions on the game are usually as sharp as anyone in the media industry.

I’m honestly not sure where to begin unpacking Buckley’s thoughts on Luke Parker’s bump on Josh Smith – but the idea that a footballer at any level should have anticipated being splattered by an unexpected bump well off the ball is laughable.

Why didn’t Smith expect to be poleaxed? Probably because he was five metres behind the footy at the time, as was Parker, and likely had his attention focussed on chasing his Swans opponent.

A single-minded determination to hunt the next contest is a cornerstone of footy, far more than ironing out a player – for Buckley to suggest that Parker’s right to bump supersedes that is honestly ridiculous. That’s like saying if you run a red light and T-bone a P-Plater it’s partly the P-Plater’s fault for not reacting to you coming fast enough and slamming on the brakes.

The AFL has made it clear for a decade now: if you choose to bump, and your bump hits an opponent in the head, then you will be suspended. If that bump also leaves them concussed, or with the sort of serious injuries Smith sustained, then you are going to be spending a significant time on the sidelines.

The six-week sanction is a seriously harsh one – in writing last week, I advocated for five – but let’s not kid around here: Smith is going to be sidelined for longer, and could potentially have lifelong ramifications out of a hit like that.

No doubt Parker didn’t mean to deal out such severe injuries. But he did mean to bump him, and that bump did considerable damage. No amount of nonsensical victim-blaming can make that any less his fault, and his fault entirely.

Sydney veteran Luke Parker will be unavailable for the next six games after he was handed a lengthy ban by the VFL Tribunal.

More details:

— AFL (@AFL) May 21, 2024

4. Pies’ ‘Gold Coast hub’ proposal makes zero sense

I can’t be the only one completely baffled by Collingwood’s mooted plan to ‘sell’ one of their home games up to the Gold Coast.

For starters, the notion of the Pies being able to stage-manage their fixture to ensure that ‘home’ game comes a week after an away game against the Suns, thereby allowing them to spend a fortnight in Queensland without the need for repeat travel, as well as designate a fellow Victorian club – almost certainly the Western Bulldogs, St Kilda or North Melbourne – as their opponents smacks of the sort of arrogance that has been mercifully absent at this club since Eddie McGuire’s departure as president.

If the Magpies want to sell a game to the Gold Coast, then fine: but they should be required to do it in a round of the AFL’s choosing, just like every other team that sells a game. And just like Richmond and the Western Bulldogs had happen when they too sold games north to Cairns, and Melbourne for their recent matches in Alice Springs and Darwin, their opponent should be a team designed to maximise crowd attendance. In this case, the only logical options would be the Suns themselves, or Brisbane.

It’s also telling that the Pies are only willing to part with one of their league-required Marvel Stadium home games, which their supporters have decried for years, rather than a beloved MCG match at which they are entitled to 14 matches per year – nine home and five away.

Spare me that the Magpies have a deal with the Melbourne Cricket Club requiring a set amount of games at the venue – if that’s the case, then the Pies either have no option to sell a game elsewhere, or should be negotiating with the MCC to have one of those home games taken from them.

But it’s more than that – why the Pies would even want to shift a Marvel game, which while not ideal is at least an accessible location for a majority of their fan base, to a venue most will not be able to travel to for financial, work or family reasons, is bewildering.

Collingwood already have a better deal than most other clubs in the league, including the other Victorian ones, when it comes to playing games in their home state. Why they would give up even one slice of that advantage is hard to fathom.

(Photo by Jono Searle/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

5. Feeling vindicated about the Hawks

My most controversial tip in my pre-season ‘AFL Oracle’ articles was backing in Hawthorn to make an unexpected run into the finals in 2024.

Safe to say that even a month ago, that was looking like a seriously grim tip, with the Hawks looking every inch a bottom-three or even bottom-two team in losing their first five games of the season.

But Sam Mitchell’s team are playing good footy right now – with four wins in their last six games, there can be no doubt. And their fifth consecutive victory over Brisbane on Sunday was quite clearly the most impressive of the bunch.

This is the Hawks I thought we’d be seeing more of in the pre-season, the Hawks that went on a tear late in the season to help bury the Western Bulldogs’ finals run, hand Collingwood and Brisbane shock blips en route to the grand final and prove a pain in the backside for every team in the game.

So I’m at least feeling a little bit better that my ‘Hawks for the eight’ tip is now unlikely to be remembered quite as famously as Robert Walls ‘Eagles for the spoon’ prediction in 2018.

The Hawks match up exceedingly well on the Lions, with their brigade of feisty on-ballers less high profile but more than a match for Josh Dunkley, Lachie Neale after a rough month, James Worpel was tireless at Marvei Stadium to lead the way with nine clearances, many of them in a second-term purple patch.

How about James Sicily pulling out the torp from the kick-in!

???? Watch #AFLHawksLions LIVE on ch. 504 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) May 26, 2024

Up forward, Jack Gunston is showing there’s still a little left in the tank, and is benefitting from some much improved ball movement further afield: beside him, Mabior Chol had probably his best game as a Hawk with three vital goals.

Lloyd Meek’s influence in the ruck can’t be overstated: a bullocking contested beast of a big man, he gets his hands as dirty as any ruck in the game, and while not as rangy as the lankier Ned Reeves, he’s exactly what the Hawks need to get the most out of a group of on-ballers that love busting tackles, laying even bigger ones and in general taking no prisoners.

Will it lead to a run to the finals? It’s still unlikely – a 4-7 record leaves them three games and a sizeable percentage gap outside the eight, and with so many teams in a sizeable logjam from fourth to 12th, their poor start to the season may end up costing them.

But just like in 2023, these Hawks have shown there’s a bright future ahead. More wins like their latest over the Lions, and that future will keep looming closer and closer until it’s upon us. And then… look out.

6. It’s up to clubs – not the league – to fix the injury toll

Whether it’s the extra fatigue of Opening Round, the extra week of footy due to Gather Round, simply the rigorous demands of modern footy or just the fact that we keep on talking about it of late, the amount of injured players sitting in each team’s casualty wards has received plenty of attention in the last few weeks.

With Richmond, Collingwood and Carlton in particular suffering from extended injury lists, little wonder the debate has been on the end of plenty of media airtime; Craig McRae in particular used his spot on SEN to advocate for shorter quarters, a concept that has been growing in traction among those who believe games go on for too long.

“There’s a lot of players out of the game. We want the best players playing for long periods,” McRae said.

“If you want my opinion, I just feel like the game itself, we’re asking a lot of our players. Is the game too long?”

Presumably, those of this view believe the heavy injury toll is primarily caused by fatigue – so soft-tissue injuries rather than unlucky or collision incidents such as concussions, broken bones and the like.

Here’s the thing, though: at what point should it be incumbent on individual teams and their medical departments to make changes to try and reduce said fatigue on their own terms, rather than trying to get the league to make a radical change to try and fix it?

The Tigers’ injury list in particular has been borne mostly of simple bad luck: things like Shai Bolton’s injury in the Dreamtime at the ‘G match, or Maurice Rioli’s sickening ankle injury from their loss to the Western Bulldogs, aren’t the sort of things that can be fixed with shorter games.

Shai Bolton has been subbed out following this incident.#AFLTigersDons

— AFL (@AFL) May 25, 2024

It’s also important to not that the AFL Players Association and the clubs ticked off the extra weekend of footy Gather Round would add to the fixture, presumably knowing full well the risks in doing so.

So maybe it’s time for teams to look inward to solve the problem, and get more creative with managing their players. Maybe it means more rest for players during the season, or reductions to their training workload, or just plain managing more players out of games, like Geelong did with Tom Hawkins for their trip to the Gold Coast.

As to McRae’s second point: I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to games to necessarily see the best players in action: I go to see my team win, and couldn’t particularly care less if they do so without good players in action.

And there are few things cooler than a young player getting an opportunity on the big stage and making the most of it, like Joe Richards and Harvey Harrison for Collingwood on Friday night, who mightn’t have been playing were it not for the Pies’ extensive casualty ward.

There are a lot of ideas for clubs on their own to trial to try and address a problem that, let’s face it, isn’t affecting every club – St Kilda, for example, have a tiny injury list, while the Bulldogs’ one is made to look worse than it is by the quality of the players sidelined – before we go to the extreme of cutting down games.

They might work better, too.

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Random thoughts

– Dead set loser behaviour this.

How much of an absolute loser do you have to be to message a footballer about missing your multi. Get a life you saddos

— Sam Mills (@BySamMills) May 24, 2024

– If North ever get good, I can absolutely see Paul Curtis becoming a serious player.

– Carlton getting two free kicks in three and a half quarters after weeks of opposition fans claiming they’re getting an armchair ride from the umps is extremely amusing.

– I reckon we’re deep into single-figure numbers of Dustin Martin ‘holy s–t’ moments, so we should appreciate them even more when they come.

DUSTY. This is what he does ????#AFLTigersDons

— AFL (@AFL) May 25, 2024

– It’s far from as egregious as Jude Bolton asking Jeremy Finlayson about his wife’s battle with cancer last year, and Abbey Holmes handled it as professionally and empathetically as possible, but I’m still not sure there was any need to ask Alex Pearce about Cam McCarthy straight after the game.

“I did think, I was like, ‘Cam (McCarthy) would kick this.'”

– Alex Pearce on his late goal #AFLFreoPies

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 24, 2024

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