bigfootyHere is the latest contributions from BigFooty, Australia’s largest and most popular AFL internet forum. Today “Catman Forever″ asks whether too much VFL is a bad thing for AFL players, especially in good teams.

BigFooty’s “Catman Forever”, a lifelong Geelong supporter, writes:

One thing that marks a good club is its depth of players. It’s great to have an A squad that can take on the world and win but if your A team begins to get a few injuries or form slumps then it is more often than not the quality of the B team players that get you through. Geelong is a good case in point. A stable top 22 list of players has contributed greatly to the clubs success in the last three years. The B team has boasted some potential stars at times and we have seen good players leave due to lack of opportunities to crack into the A team.

Players such such Shane Mumford, Brent Prismall, Scott Thompson, Jason Davenport, Charlie Gardiner, Steven King, and Henry Playfair have moved on due to better opportunities at other clubs to play regular AFL.

But there is another problem that I have often noted and again reared it’s head last Sunday against Fremantle at Subiaco.  Geelong had introduced several of the B team players into the squad (with two debuting) and it was fascinating to watch these players try and step up to the pace of AFL football. Podsiadly, Djerrkura, Gamble, and Simpson all were given a spot in the AFL squad to try their hand in the torrid match that unfolded on the day.

The average footy fan usually knows little about how players are going in the VFL squad. It is mostly by word of mouth that we hear so and so is “cutting it up” or “playing like a man possessed!”  So it is with quiet expectation that when we hear of these players getting selected into the AFL side that we wait and see how they will go. Obviously being selected into the A team seems enough to validate the whispers and rumors we are hearing about certain players.

Then the big day comes and what we notice most of the time is that these talents waiting to explode on the big stage usually fizzle and pop before fading away. Then the forums light up with arm chair critics stating that such and such a player is useless, lacks talent, too soft,  and so on.  This is the ever fickle world of footy forums who extol a player like a god one week and then declare they should be sacked the next. Emotions often run higher than actual football knowledge on football forums I am afraid to say.

But as my years of arm chair spectating goes on I have noticed one salient fact with these players. Stepping up from the intensity of VFL to that of AFL is a huge step. Playing well in the VFL is not a guarantee to play well in the AFL.

Case in point, I have seen young Aboriginal player Nathan Djerrkura play several games and I know he has tremendous ability and potential. Yet on Sunday he looked slow, hesitant, and had little impact on the game. When he was on the ground he did try his guts out it was obvious. But he just couldn’t get his hands on the ball.

I had a revelation watching him that what he was doing was probably fine in the VFL and would have seen him be an effective contributor. But in the AFL he completely lacked the intensity and hardness required to play. Is this his fault? Does this mean he is a dud and should be delisted?  No it means that too much VFL can actually be detrimental to trying to crack the big time. Nathan needs maybe three or four games in the seniors to find his feet.  But given the quality of players waiting to come back in this probably wont happen.

So unfortunately for him one game here and there is all he will get to prove himself at AFL level. That is going to be tough for him. I could say the same about Ryan Gamble too, and maybe Pods and Lonergan could turn out the same. But when most of your football life revolves around the B league I think players can begin to have that level and style of play being ingrained into them and therefore makes it harder for them to grab their chances at the higher level.

Of course players with remarkable talent will always rise to the top quickly. But a player with good football skills who say suffers a few injuries and setbacks early on in their careers can find themselves on the fringe very quickly and opportunities are rare for them.  So next time you feel like bagging a B Team player for their performance in the AFL remember that the less opportunities a player gets in the AFL (and therfore the more VFL games they play) the less likely they will be able to dazzle you with their abilities.

Regular players in the AFL are also match hardened as well. Being a fringe player in a great club is a very tough gig.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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