The merits of natural ability

Nick Duigan has been an inspiration to all the young Blues over at Carlton.
Nick Duigan has been an inspiration to all the young Blues over at Carlton. Hamish Blair/Getty Images

THERE'S plenty of times I've overheard parents or onlookers at junior football games point out to a kid and say, "he's gonna make it."

Usually this is at a club-based level where anyone and everyone can come down on a Saturday morning or afternoon, kick the footy around with their mates and enjoy themselves in a competitive environment.

The 'kid' that gets pointed out is usually the biggest, the fastest and the most skilful player on the ground. He racks up kicks as he pleases. If he wants to take a mark in a pack, he'll take the mark. If he wants to go forward, he'll kick a bag.

It mirrors the old quote: "the big fish in a small pond."

In every competition around Australia (and I would include the AFL in this as well) there is usually a stand-out player; a young boy or man who simply dominates every other player on the ground with natural ability.

Natural ability can get you places, sometimes it gets you to the highest level whilst others fall short, exposed in other football and non-football related aspects.

At the moment, sitting at 0-11, it seems the Gold Coast Suns have a few too many players relying on their natural ability and, in the best competition the country has to offer, they are being shown up week in, week out.

Speaking on the AFL Footy Show on Thursday night, the Suns' CEO Travis Auld tried to clarify the position of the Gold Coast.

"In the first year we let them play their own instinctive game and in year two, we are now introducing structures," said Auld. "That was the plan."

Auld has come under criticism for his comments with many airing the fact that if this was to be the case, then year one had been a big waste of a year for the Gold Coast.

Now I'm no recruiter, but I do know that recruiters look for a lot of qualities within a player before even considering them as prospect to come onto their club's list.

Genuine ball-winners at Under 18 level are always in the spotlight, purely because possessions as a stat alone seems to matter most.

However, do these ball magnets necessarily flourish when drafted to an AFL club?

In my opinion, not necessarily. GWS's Toby Greene is possibly the only exception of a first-year player who has come in and consistently won high amounts of possession as a 19-year-old.

When draftees come to a club, pre-season is just as much about education of the game plans, structures and styles as it is the physical preparation for a 24-week season.

There can be many ways to look at it.

The saturated implementation of these structures can curb a young footballer's natural talent. These structures can cause a player to overthink every time he runs to a spot or receives the ball, very likely leading to a mistake, rather than just play on instinct like they had for the past how ever many years they had played at junior level.

However, where GWS and Gold Coast fall behind the rest of the competition, is the importance of having a core group of senior players, hardened by their experience of playing top-level football, as well as being in tune with the structures put in place by the club and showing leadership to direct younger players new to the system.

And I'm not taking about half-a-dozen players, more like 25 or so senior players.

Nick Duigan from Carlton is a perfect example of this.

Despite being at the age of 27 and in his second year as an AFL footballer, Nick is regarded highly as a leader at our club.

You'll be hard-pressed to find another bloke who talks as much on the field as Nick, constantly instructing his teammates into position or onto an opposition player, or encouraging his mate after a solid, individual effort.

Unfortunately for the Gold Coast Suns, with the exception of Gary Ablett and Nathan Bock, the recruitment of uncontracted players to their club with a 'senior' status, hasn't worked for them due to their individual form or inability to provide on-field leadership.

A lot was made of Gary Ablett's animated and direct attack on young Suns' ruckman Rory Thompson. For those who haven't seen it, Ablett was clearly frustrated at his young teammate's last effort and held his jersey whilst giving him a very direct message.

Whilst many observers might think that Ablett was out-of-line in doing such an act, believe me, there's a lot of more of a similar nature that goes on on-field that's not caught up on camera.

Ablett's attack on Thompson was not personal, it was to try and make him better and it's something that Gold Coast desperately need.

A big negative in AFL club circles is if a player goes into "self-preservation" mode in which players mightn't have gone in as a hard at contest or simply stop running. Team selection is often based on this characteristic.

Up at the Gold Coast at present, it seems there a more men content with playing for their own spot than the good of the team and was massively highlighted after their match against St Kilda last week.

This weekend they come up against North Melbourne, a club decimated by off-field controversy and on-field disappointment as they come off the bye.

After the weeks that both clubs have endured, will we see an almighty clash up at Metricon Stadium come Saturday night?

And will Gold Coast pull of their maiden win for 2012?

Twitter: @MatthewSLodge

Topics:  afl gold coast suns junior football

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