COMMENT

AFL umpiring standard at an all-time low

ROBBED: Cat Mark Blicavs should have been penalised for holding the ball close to Brisbane's goal. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

ROBBED: Cat Mark Blicavs should have been penalised for holding the ball close to Brisbane's goal. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

How often have you heard the tired argument over the years that umpires do not decide games? For evidence to the contrary, look no further than last Friday night's thriller at GMHBA Stadium.

Australian Football is a tough game to officiate and the AFL has made the job even harder with the constant rule changes. But the standard of umpiring at the elite level in the past few seasons has never been lower.

With Geelong leading by two points in the dying seconds, Cat Mark Blicavs should have been penalised for holding the ball close to Brisbane's goal.

Umpire Rob O'Gorman incorrectly called play on and the ball was rushed through for a Lions behind.

Everyone at the ground and watching on TV knew it was the wrong call - with the notable exception of Geelong coach Chris Scott, who told media post-game that he had not seen the incident.

The next day AFL umpires boss Dan Richardson admitted the bleeding obvious, but it was too late for the Lions.

In confirming the mistake, Richardson said O'Gorman would not be sanctioned.

Why not? His error cost the Lions their first victory of the season and four premiership points, which could be crucial by the end of the year.

In a bygone era, he would be banished to the bush. O'Gorman's massive blunder was not the only umpiring mistake that hurt the Lions.

Late in the third quarter, in about the same position, Geelong captain Joel Selwood snapped a goal after being "handed" the ball by teammate Cameron Guthrie, who should have penalised for incorrect disposal and the goal should have been disallowed.

The scrutiny on players and coaches has never been greater - and umpires should not be immune from criticism if they make mistakes.

Many umpires lack a genuine feel for the game and it appears they are not encouraged to exercise common sense in their decision-making.

Umpires are human and feel pressure, particularly when they hear the roar of a partisan crowd. With fans back in full voice around Australia, it is hardly surprising the home teams generally receive a favourable run in venues such as Optus Stadium, Adelaide Oval and GMHBA Stadium, where they have overwhelming support.

In this case, the lucky Cats were the beneficiaries and the Lions have every right to feel robbed after they were on the wrong end of poor umpiring.

Desired effect

Take a bow, AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking. It is only two rounds in, but already the controversial rule changes brought in this season appear to be having the desired effect.

Forcing players to remain stationary on the mark has encouraged teams to use the centre corridor more often and created quicker ball movement.

The reduction in interchange rotations means fatigue is a bigger factor late in games, opening up extra space.

Don't underestimate wily coaches finding ways to counteract these trends, but it is a more attractive game to watch live and on TV. There are fewer stoppages and tackles, with less congestion enabling taller forwards to thrive.

Adelaide's Taylor 'Tex' Walker is the League's leading goalkicker, with 11, after bagging six goals in a losing score against Sydney last Saturday. But most of the attention was at the other end of the ground, as Lance 'Buddy' Franklin played his first game in 581 days.

The veteran Swan booted three goals in an impressive comeback and it was great to see him strutting his stuff again.

But with his recent history of soft-tissue problems, it is highly unlikely Franklin, 34, will play every game this season.

The left-footer sits on 947 goals, 53 short of becoming only the sixth player in AFL/VFL to reach the magical 1000, and he deserves to be in that elite group.

Importantly the Swans don't rely as heavily on him as in the past, with several exciting youngsters leading the revival.

Academy players Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell have been most impressive, while the club's top draft pick from last year, Logan McDonald, shapes as Franklin's replacement when he retires.

CLASS: Dustin Martin's hard work in the off-season is paying off and he looks in superb condition. Photo: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

CLASS: Dustin Martin's hard work in the off-season is paying off and he looks in superb condition. Photo: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Dusty smoother than silk

How do you stop Dustin Martin? At least Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson went in with a plan, unlike Carlton's approach in the opening round to allow the Richmond champion to roam free and pick up possessions at will.

Clarkson assigned veteran Shaun Burgoyne to shadow Martin for much of the afternoon, but when the Tigers needed a lift, 'Dusty' did not let them down.

Martin is such a difficult match-up with his ability to go forward and become so potent. His ball use is outstanding and he hurts the opposition on the scoreboard.

As hard as Burgoyne tried with some help from his teammates, Martin put in another best-afield performance.

Martin's hard work in the off-season is paying off and he looks in superb condition.

Richmond remains the competition's benchmark and Martin its most inspirational player.

Restricting his influence is the No. 1 priority for opposition teams when they face the Tigers.

Email: howardkotton11@gmail.com; Twitter: @hpkotton59.

  • This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas