Every year when the E.J. Whitten Legends game rolls around, I can’t help but think the concept misses a serious opportunity to fill a void left in the competition since it nationalised.
State of Origin is dead and cannot be revived at the elite level: the stakes are too high for the clubs and the players will never be willing to risk injury and earnings on what amounts to an exhibition game, but what if the Legends game was taken a little more seriously?
The casual atmosphere of the current match is appealing on a certain level, but it also cheapens and reduces the spectacle, and obviously the result is contrived and inconsequential. So what if we gave it some meaning? It could be transformed into a short series with three or four teams (VIC, SA, WA and perhaps an Allies for the NEAFL states if there are enough players available). It could take the form of a round robin tournament and a final, or a finals series based on the previous year’s rankings.
As this year’s list of retirees attests, there is considerable talent still capable of top class football but perhaps not the rigours of another full AFL season. Let’s be honest, free of injuries, Nathan Buckley would still outperform half the players he coaches, although that may reveal more about Collingwood’s recruitment department than anything else.
Furthermore, there is the ever-present problem of footballer’s paddock whereby former world class athletes put out to pasture transform into… well… Billy Brownless. The chance to genuinely represent their state, an option that is no longer possible within the AFL system, could help prevent such outcomes and improve and promote men’s health in line with the goals of the E.J. Whitten Foundation.
All we need do is treat it seriously instead of vilifying the brief glimpses of effort. We could officially recognise the honour. Display the teams in the Hall of Fame. Count their stats towards their professional record. Keep the EJ Whitten medal for the best afield in the final and introduce another for the best player of the series. National coverage could even support generous payments if the concept is successful whilst increasing the earning potential for the E.J. Whitten Foundation.
To ensure interest the most important factor would be the selection table. Some criteria for selection would be necessary to raise the standards and enhance name recognition for even the most casual of fans. Restrict eligibility to:
- Premiership players
- Coleman, Brownlow and Norm Smith Medallists
- All Australians
- Club Best & Fairests
- Rising Stars
- 200+ game players (perhaps only 100+ if numbers are limited)
Remove the geriatrics and the obese, sub in the likes of Riewoldt, Montagna, Hodge, Mitchell, Gibson, Murphy, Boyd, Watson, Stanton, Stevie J, etc. (to name but a few from this year’s confirmed retirements thus far), do a little more training, and actually try to win.
Would you be more interested in the Legends game if it was taken seriously?