AFL media live in interesting times, but how can Steve Price
and Patrick Smith keep serving up such hypocritical nonsense? Sports
editor Patrick Fitzgerald critiques the latest Talking Footy and even
defends Eddie McGuire.

Friday night football is a triumph for Nine with or without the
Collingwood president calling his own club’s games or the northern TV
outposts requiring Nine free-to-air viewers keeping the sort of hours
that would do Dracula proud – or should that be Kevin Sheedy’s
favourite, ‘Vlad the Impaler’!

Amid much fanfare Nine last week
launched its temporarily imported Sky Cam which while showing a lot of
promise was also deeply flawed. Essendon and Freo got to be the Friday
night guinea pigs while they try to get it right when it should be
hitting its stride this Friday just in time for Collingwood. However,
AFL is probably far less suited to its strengths than its upcoming
State of Origin appearance where League’s more regulated movement
should really come up a treat!

But it’s Seven problem child
‘Taking Footy’ that takes the biscuits along with the late night coffee
necessary to keep you awake, but less for the show’s late night slot
than the snorefest provided by its present couch inhabitants. Clearly
the network is feeling the abuse rightly heaped on its doorstep over
the dismemberment of what used to be the AFL’s most informative TV hour
of topical discussion and analysis.

In fact that’s probably
unfair on Fox Footy Channel and it’s ‘On the Couch’ Monday night
talking heads which had probably already won the title last season but
now has no serious rival. Comparing the strengths of each is like
likening Hawthorn to Brisbane – so let’s call it a “no show”! It’s no
coincidence that in yesterday’s Age, Robert Walls offered a definitive
insight into what ails Hawthorn on and off the field, while he is also
the standout performer in ‘On the Couch’. But wait for it there’s more.
He’s also the outstanding special comments man in TV commentary in his
role with Ten, with probably only Gary Lyon offering him any
competition for his insight into what makes a game tick while in
progress.

But back to ‘Talking Footy’ savaged and bleeding from
a multitude of media cuts inflicted on it for weeks now. Last night the
Seven brains trust night in an obvious attempt to try and get the show
back on track, sent out an SOS to round up a triumvirate of senior AFL
coaches (Sheedy, Pagan and Malthouse), along with AFL boss Andrew
‘Vlad’ Demetriou, and his little footy operations lieutenant ‘Angry’
Anderson. The two AFL honchos played tag off the interchange bench as
they looked all sweetness and light in contributing to a special
football forum with the stellar cast in an extended 90 minute special.

But
try as hard as the show did to cash in on its good intentions we were
told little we didn’t already know. Then when it did revert to its
usual format of Tim Watson hosting, David Parkin as the elder guru,
along with the newsy tidbits from “Hutchy” – the show once more drifted
into anesthesia. And then there is the attempt at a credible AFL media
watch courtesy of the really angry ant – shocked jock Steve Price!

As
the anointed attack dog foaming at the mouth at media hypocrisy, Price
has some nerve. I don’t know what Eddie McGuire ever did to Price but
while Crikey also gives the ‘prez’ heaps, and we all know Nine is no
choir boy in AFL matters, to hear Price typify the network as a
“gorilla” and his constant carping on McGuire is tiresome as even
Crikey appreciates. This columnist for one does try to give credit to
McGuire and Nine where appropriate, but Price in this role rips them to
shreds. Hardly surprising when it’s coming from a paid Seven media
mouthpiece.

Even more interesting in last night’s
Price attack was his jackboot applied to The Australian’s columnist
Patrick Smith. Price, a dedicated Richmond supporter, took exception to
Smith having the gall to write off current Tigers captain Wayne
Campbell as massively ineffectual and requiring Patrick’s order of the
boot. Price rode stoutly to his skipper’s defence and savaged Smith as
a “dope” – and one universally recognised as such! But was the Price
thesis based on a flawed argument by the journalist or more motivated
by Smith putting his well trod boot into Richmond big time recently?
The Price defence of Campbell consisted of a declaration of the many
honours won in a distinguished career over many seasons. But does that
demolish Smith’s argument that Campbell in 2004, has well and truly
passed his leadership use by date? By applying the Price logic you
could probably retain every AFL coach in permanent employment unless
his name was Thomas?

What happened to Patrick Smith’s “Cornflakes”?

Yet if Price wanted to single out Smith in his media hatchet role,
he should wonder as what is surely one of the most remarkable U turns
by any sports journalist in the country for many years. For most of his
time as St Kilda coach, Smith exhibited such contempt for Grant Thomas
that he constantly referred to him as “Cornflakes” based on a rather
infamous quote if memory serves me right where Thomas claimed to “eat
pressure for breakfast”.

The AFL is replete with media (let
alone Magpies coach Mick Malthouse), who have taken huge umbrage with
Thomas on certain matters over time. My own mainly concerned his
perceived hypocrisy, but no one stood more firmly at the head of the
queue in denigrating Thomas until this season, than Smith. But almost
imperceptibly as the season has progressed into one of ultimate
vindication for Thomas at the helm of the unbeaten St Kilda, the
previously mandatory “Cornflakes” has disappeared from the Smith
vernacular, and along with it the attitude which is now so effusive as
to wonder if Smith hasn’t been hijacked by those pesky Martians?

But
the footy media is like that. Not so much fickle as quick to rush to
judgment. More often than not this has a lot to do with the print
media’s enthusiasm to be seen as the first to pass sentence on major
issues. Hence coaches are messiah’s one day and duds the next. Or as
with Thomas; precisely the reverse. Consider that just a few weeks into
the season that’s now all of 10 weeks old, some media declared Geelong
and Melbourne were gone; while Richmond’s Danny Frawley and Hawthorn’s
Peter Schwab were gone, then came back and are now gone again! Surely
as their clubs now threaten to explode into boardroom battles and heads
must be kicked, the eventual body count will confirm that both coaches
are currently dead men walking.

Yet Schwab rejects any notion of quitting before his contract
expires at the end of next year. I appreciate his obvious self-interest
in wanting to hang on by his finger nails for as long as possible for
the kind of salary he will never see again. But who is kidding
themselves when a coach talks in terms of a job still to be done as if
it’s some kind of selfless act? When was the last time an AFL coach
voluntarily put his club and its fans out of their misery by falling on
his sword and to their own financial disadvantage?

Could it
possibly be genial but stretched ‘Talking Footy’ host Tim Watson? I
suppose this would be lost on Steve Price, but AFL really is a funny
game!

Peter Fray

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