CrikeySports_markThere’s been a lot of coverage this week about drugs and the AFL. And, thanks to Aker, there’s also been other diversions.

Fremantle utility Michael Johnson was caught with cocaine. A police investigation is pending. Johnson has apologised and will face court on July 5. He has been suspended for six weeks and fined $5000.

I support Fremantle and there’s not much you can say except it was stupid and he deserves to be punished. He broke the law and failed the requirements of the AFL and the Fremantle Football Club.

Before Johnson, earlier this year, Geelong forward Mathew Stokes pleaded guilty to cocaine possession. He escaped conviction and served an eight week club imposed suspension. He returned last week to play his first game of the season.

Maybe it’s just the expected spin but both players are said to be decent enough blokes.

Last week the AFL released a report that disclosed that 12 players tested positives to illicit drug use in 2009. The failed test rate was a minute 0.89 per cent. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 13.4% of the Australian population aged 14 or older had used illicit drugs in 2007.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “AFL medical commissioner Dr Peter Harcourt also said cocaine was ’emerging’ as the illicit drug of choice for players.”

AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said, “Over the course of the last five years, the … drug policy has clearly shown changes in behaviour, with a drop in the numbers of failed tests despite a very large increase in the numbers of tests being conducted.”

Meanwhile I found this:

Cocaine has become a fixture on the sports scene.

That is the conclusion of many league and union officials who, after years of limited success in trying to eliminate its use among athletes, have come to believe that the drug has found something of a permanent niche in professional sports.

Interviews with executives, players, doctors, law enforcement officials and others who have dealt with cocaine use among athletes showed that the effort that began with missionary like zeal for total victory over the drug has evolved into a resignation that some athletes this year and in years to come will either admit their involvement or be caught up in criminal cases. Others, they believe, have used and will use cocaine without being detected.

There is, in short, a widespread feeling that for the immediate future, cocaine will continue to plague professional sports. Nobody likes it, but everybody accepts it.

I omitted one word. “American” in the opening line. How much that changes its context I’ll let you decide.

The extract was from an article in the New York Times. In 1987.

Just saying…

Collingwood vs. Geelong — 7.40pm Friday May 21, MCG

Match of the round and by a long way. How can one not get excited by this mouth watering contest? The biggest club in the AFL who are fit and firing versus one of the great modern day teams who are showing no signs of slowing down. There are elite AFL footballers on every line for both teams and this is a genuine blockbuster at every turn.

From Collingwood’s perspective this match has a little bit of Frazier vs. Ali (the “Fight of the Century”) about it. Collingwood (Ali) are the up and coming cocksure young buck pitted against the aging champion Geelong (Frazier). But from Geelong’s point of view this match could be redolent of Foreman vs. Ali, where the unstoppable young force that is Collingwood (Foreman) was taught a lesson by the battle hardened Geelong (Ali).

Whatever it is it won’t be a Mundine vs. a 47 year old one armed bus conductor.

Who will win? I’m tipping Geelong. Both teams had to endure long flights home from interstate last weekend — and it will be hard to gauge what effect that will have. This is Collingwood’s biggest test for season 2010 thus far. They are good — very good — but I think Geelong has the required nous and the stamina to make sure Collingwood don’t get up from the canvas.

Cats by 7

North Melbourne vs. Western Bulldogs — 2.10pm Saturday May 22, Etihad Stadium

North fans get to see the next of their kids unveiled as 193cm 19 year old forward Nathan O’Keefe debuts this week. Another rising star for the Kangaroos, Lachlan Hansen, has been in extremely promising form. And so has North’s midfield maestro Andrew Swallow. The question for coach Brad Scott will be who stops Barry Hall? Hansen or Scott Thompson? Shutting down Hall will go a long way to winning this game.

For the Bulldogs, midfield Xman Ryan Griffen and hard nut tagger Liam Picken are in at the expense of the injured Shaun Higgins and Robert Murphy. The Doggies had a great win against the Swans last week. Brian Lake and Hall in particular were outstanding. Are the Dogs finally clicking into gear? If so North Melbourne will find this a hard game to win.

Dogs by 24

Sydney vs. Fremantle — 2.10pm Saturday May 22, SCG

The Swans form has been nervy. Injuries and suspensions have hit hard, but the steel that the Bloods had shown as the start of the season is fading. Maybe sensing they needed a spark, Sydney warrior Brett Kirk — the AFL’s Chuck Norris — has announced this season will be his last. He’s been playing every game throughout his whole career as if it were his final battle and perhaps in recognition to this outstanding footballer his team mates will lift with him. Heath Campbell will debut for the Swans. Craig Bolton is his mentor. Heath has his hair.

For Fremantle, the Swan’s are next to impossible to beat at the SCG. However this season is one of breaking hoodoos for Mark Harvey and his men. The question for Sydney coach Paul Roos is how does he stop Aaron Sandilands. The Freo ruckman is the most dominant in his position in the AFL at the moment. His opponent this week will be Canadian Mike Pyke. It could get ugly.

And of course there’s the Michael Johnson saga that inevitably hangs over the head of the Fremantle Football Club. How will this affect the playing group? We’ll find out on Saturday.

Fremantle should win. Should.

Fremantle by 10

Essendon vs. Richmond — 7.45pm Saturday May 22, MCG

I love watching this game. The red sash vs. the yellow sash. One day when both these teams are good at the same time it will be a wonderful contest to watch.

The Bombers are the yoyos of 2010. They beat St Kilda last week, lost to Port the week before. It’s hard to get a read on the Bombers at the moment. Fullback Tayte Pears is a welcome inclusion for this game — but Essendon has lost key defender Cale Hooker to a hamstring. Which Bombers will show up?

Funnily enough, Bombers fans wouldn’t be confident against Richmond. The Tigers have a way of “getting up” to play Essendon. And even though they are winless, coach Damien Hardwick is instilling some belief into this young playing group. They lost to Hawthorn by three points last week, Hardwick’s cubs aren’t far away, but will it be this week?

For reassurance I turned to Crikey senior journalist Andrew Crook.

“We’ll kill ’em mate. Absolutely slaughter them,” said Bombers man Crook.

Good enough for me.

Bombers by 30

Melbourne vs. Port Adelaide — 7.10pm Saturday May 22, TIO Stadium

I also love watching any game in Darwin. For some reason the football is always good. It might be that the mostly indigenous crowd just love watching and playing footy and all that goodwill is soaked up by the players and they are subliminally forced to play fast, skilful attacking football. Let’s hope that’s the case.

Melbourne’s Jack Grimes has been outstanding this year. He wouldn’t be far away from All Australian selection and he is still a kid. But more importantly the Demons need this win. Melbourne supporters might be surprised to see Jake Spencer retained and Brad Miller included. My friend JP wrote a letter to the Melbourne Football Club earlier this year saying that if Miller wasn’t dropped he’d rip up his membership of 20 odd years. Miller was dropped and the Dees won three straight.

Port Adelaide has made no changes. Coach Mark Williams must be confident in the team he has assembled. Robbie Gray has signed on for a new contract, warding off the Gold Coast and Western Sydney hordes. I’m also enjoying watching Travis Boak ply his craft in Port Adelaide’s midfield — he’s a beauty. The Power have been very impressive this year. It’s games like this they need to win to be playing in September.

Port by 18

Adelaide vs. Brisbane — 12.40pm Sunday May 23, AAMI Stadium

How the mighty have fallen. Adelaide didn’t put up a fight for the first three quarters of the game against North Melbourne last week. They came home with a wet sail but it was all too late. Where’s the four quarter commitment? Crows fans must be pulling their hair out. And then Bernie Vince and Matthew Jaensch go and get a club suspension for breaking team rules. The automatons that once were the Crow-bots are breaking rank. Coach Neil Craig needs to win this.

The Lions are struggling. They have been hit hard by injury. Coach Michael Voss has challenged Brendan Fevola to improve. You do not let Voss down. It’s hard to see where the sudden improvement from the Lions will come from — but it has to. Matt Maguire has been superb for his new club and Simon Black is slowly getting into it again — he is so classy — such a wonderful footballer. A must win game for both teams.

Brisbane by 12

Carlton vs. Hawthorn — 2.10pm Sunday May 23, Etihad Stadium

Is the Carlton “strut” back? The Blues have been commendable on all counts so far. Beating good teams, home and away, the Blues have found a new lease on life. Kade Simpson has been in career best form — maybe knocking on the door of the All Australian selectors — and Jordan Russell has continued his meteoric rise from hack to genuine footballer. And Chris Judd .. a freak, pure and simple. There’s a lot to like about the boys from Princess Park at the moment.

Are the Hawks a happy team at the moment? John Lennon once sung that happiness is a warm gun, and the Hawks narrowly avoided one last week after beating Richmond by just three points. Carlton are a different assignment all together. Hawks fans much wake up each day and be thankful for Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell. These two bleed yellow and brown and do everything they can to get the Hawks over the line. They need another 20 men to step up and do the same if they are to win this.

I can’t see it happening.

Carlton by 28

West Coast vs. St Kilda — 2.40pm Sunday May 23, Subiaco Oval

As I was writing this I was sent this story and is it the funniest thing you’ve seen all week? I think so. A spectator moons a rally driver and he crashes. ROFL. Is there a metaphor for that and this week’s game between the Eagles and the Saints. I don’t think so.

The Eagles have somewhat come good. Josh Kennedy has been superb. Dean Cox is back. Brad Sheppard, the Eagles’ first round pick in last year’s draft, has now played two games and shown Eagles fans why they chose him instead of Lewis Jetta. Interestingly Eagles captain Darren Glass was omitted. West Coast consider Subiaco their fortress and hate conceding games there. At the start of the season they would have pencilled in the game against St Kilda as a sure loss. But now?

St Kilda coach Ross Lyon said his team has drawn confidence from their loss against Essendon last week. Now I’ll accept all sorts of bullshit deflections but this takes the cake. It’s good to see Ryhs Stanley be named by the Saints for his debut. I watched this kid in the NAB Cup and was impressed. I think he will turn out to be a special player — and lord knows St Kilda need more scoring options.

A tough one.

Eagles by 7

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