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Tactics That Succeeded in Games of Junior Australian Football
Queensland has always been regarded by the southern states of Australia as a “developmental” state in terms of Australian rules football. The impression one gets from southerners is that Queenslanders involved in our national game are “newbies” when it comes to coaching. A book has been written about the most successful coaches in the Australian Football League competition. As I read about the tactics they used, I kept saying to myself, I use that or have seen it used in Queensland. Our players may still be developing, but our experienced coaches are up there with the best. Our dilemma is that we are in the role of a developing coach, first of all, and the development of tactics is also in a greater developmental role than it is the case in the southern states where they grow up immersed in Australian football.
Below are some ideas I offer to young coaches who have worked for me for many years.
In the school grand final after half-time, I used a “fake” center, encouraging him to take away from our two talented halves to give them space to take the lead. It worked well, giving the half-forward more opportunities, but the lanky centre-forward had his best game ever. He was so excited at the prospect of playing centre-forward that his confidence soared and he played above his usual standard. The grand final, close to half time, ended up being an easy win.
Your full forward is usually a tall player. That means he had a good jump. So often in the last five minutes of the quarter, I would switch him to the ruck. Because he didn’t have to run as much as normal arms, his energy was such that he was able to break down an opposing player and give us our first use of the football.
Often good players want to play in their favorite position. In school and junior teams this is often not the best position for the team. It is important to place your best players where the ball is likely to be most of the time. This means that the team will get a bigger share of the football and the rest of the team will have more opportunities to get the football. In 1968, in my schoolboy team in the state of Queensland, we had the best fullback in the Australian schoolboy national championship. But, while the ball reached him, the opponent scored a goal. I was told by knowledgeable Victorian coaches after just two games that he was lost at fullback. It didn’t have much of an impact on the game. So I moved him to centre-back with an immediate positive impact. He stayed there until the end of the carnival. (This player went on to play many senior games for Queensland).
Another similar situation happened in my school A grade team. Here I had a player who had won many awards during his junior career. His understanding of the game was excellent. So much so that he tried to get other nearby players into the game by delivering the football to them. They were not up to it. So I told this player to continue the football with long kicks to the man in the best position to score. This helped the team, not only in winning, but showed the players how to make the most of football. This player went on to play VFL/AFL with two clubs.
In 1967, as a young 24-year-old, I was appointed coach of the Queensland schools team to play in the All-Australian Nationals in Hobart. In 1966, Victoria beat Queensland by twenty goals. I knew I had to do something to at least be competitive. So I chose to have only one ruckman in the center bounce off the two rovers. The second rover’s job was to rover to their ruckman. As a result, we were able to win most of the crosses.
To make matters even more confusing for the Victorian coaching panel, I had as many as five players rotating both on the ball as rovers, as well as four rotating as ruckmen. Traditionally, your two rovers rested in the front pocket, while your tap ruck man rested in the other front pocket, and the other ruckman or ruck-rover on the center bounce rested in the back pocket marking the opposing tap ruckman. I changed all these players to many different positions.
We lost the game as expected, but by only ten goals. The tactic was a victory of sorts for me, as the Victorian coach, a man in his fifties, later told me that he and his coaching staff couldn’t understand what I was doing. At this point, it is important to note that the exchange rule did not exist.
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