The AFL released its annual
injury survey earlier this week and the response was muted because the only
real headline was: “Injury toll diminishing”, as The Age ran on Monday.

Injuries are down at the highest level for
the third straight year, and at their second lowest point in the 14 years the
survey has been completed, a point that AFL football operations
manager Adrian Anderson did his best Fred Astaire routine to point out to
concerned parents.

From where we sit, the truly astonishing
thing remains how few players are badly hurt playing AFL. For all the talk of
today’s less attractive keepings off, hard-running style of play, you only have
to sit near the boundary and hear the slap of muscle on muscle as players
collide to know how hard these guys hit and get hit. AFL players are generally
much bigger than in previous eras, run faster and collide regularly. How are
men not killed?

The survey found that the average number of
players missing through injury in an average week in 2005, was only six per
club, off a list of 40. And the majority of them are out with soft tissue
injuries like a hamstring tear or strain. Of course, “big knees” get the
headlines but even they are being addressed. Changes to the ruck rules appear
to have dramatically improved the long term health prospects of the big men.

Dr Peter Bruckner, the
omni-present medical face of Australian Rules, wrote
that clubs have become far smarter and individually focused in player
preparation and recovery to help avoid soft tissue and other non-collision
injuries. He also pointed to better clinical skills, accurate diagnosis of
injuries and improved technology as playing a role.

The only warning sign
for the AFL was an increase in shoulder injuries, but AFL studies also suggest there is more “collision
football” being played, which is at odds with the public perception of keepings
off, despite what Terry Wallace thinks.
No matter how strategic and negative tactics become, AFL is still a game for the fearless.