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100 Goals in a Season: Will we ever see it again?

Centre bounce, banners, running onto the field when someone bags their 100th goal for the year – these are just some of the great traditions in AFL. Though the first two have remained a part of AFL and will do for years to come, the third has not been sighted in almost two decades.

A lot has been said about whether a player can ever kick 100 goals again in a season. Not since Buddy Franklin’s miraculous haul in 2008 has this been replicated – though the Hawks did stop Brendon Fevola from achieving this feat too in the same match – with hardly anyone ever coming close to this mark since. It begs multiple questions predicating around whether it will happen again. Football has changed dramatically in the last two decades in terms of rules, game styles, the abilities of the players, with these changes almost certainly playing a part in the 100-goal drought since Buddy in 2008.

Here, we will look at what has caused this shift in goal scoring output from forwards, and if the drought can and ever will be broken.

100 goals. Who has done it?

 

If you look at the goal charts throughout the 20th Century, it’s effectively a list of the greatest forwards to have ever played the game. Dunstall, Lockett, Blight, Ablett Snr and even as far back as Coleman and Titus, several legends have lent their names to this mythological achievement. 100-goal seasons were such a milestone, but such a feature of the breadth of forward talent during this period, that come the 1990s seven out of the ten Coleman medallists had bagged 100 for the year.

However, come the turn of the century everything began to change. Tony Lockett booted 107 in 1998, a mark that would hold untouched for ten years. It wasn’t until Franklin’s efforts in 2008 that saw it be repeated, and if you missed out on watching it live, then you may have missed out for a long time coming, as no one has since come close to a century of goals in a season. Fevola did hit 86 in 2009, but slowly the standards for goal scoring output began to dwindle, as the game changed accordingly.

Now, the question remains as to who will be the next to hit the ton, but this question may take some context to be answered.

 

Rule Changes.

The most obvious place to begin with the impacts on goal scoring output would have to be the rule changes. To create a faster, more free flowing game, the AFL has implemented several rule changes – particularly in the past decade – that have slowly turned it into what can be described as a ‘midfielder’s game’, taking away the dominance and attention from big key forwards.

Players are encouraged to take the game on and run, beginning from the backline, allowing for faster and more athletic players to dominate the state of play. For example, stricter interpretations over what constitutes a ‘play-on’ have forced teams to move swiftly and get the ball moving, placing greater importance on midfielders that can take games on and break the lines. Faster ball movement certainly doesn’t benefit big forwards, who now don’t necessarily have the time to set themselves up in positions to take marks and kick goals, as they once did in the 1990s during the height of 100-goal outputs.

Changes around the ‘man on the mark’ rule have also inhibited this ability for forwards to kick goals, due to them forcing the defending teams into being unable to contest kick ins and kicks from the field of play. This further allows speedy half backs and on-ballers to take the game on and create overloads into their attacking fifty, leading to more goals from midfield.

These examples of rule changes have led to less of the ‘kick and mark’ slower game styles, which lent themselves to big, key forwards to park themselves up top and bag goals, thus inhibiting their ability to score enough goals in a season to reach anything close to a century.

 

Game Styles.

Building on from the rule changes, players have now become faster and more athletic to take advantage of the encouragements to play on and break the games open. Players across all positions can and are expected to cover anywhere from 10km to 20km of distance per game, whilst maintaining their explosive power and strength that is expected of a footballer. Simply put, players are far more athletic now than they ever have been.

Midfielders and the like becoming quicker and more athletic has forced the forwards to adapt, with a greater expectation on them to be built much leaner than Lockett ever was, whilst covering distance up and down the ground. That movement throughout the field of play forces them away from goals, with their being no longer any room for an oversized key forward to park himself and kick goal after goal. In the modern game, forwards must move around the ground and contribute in ways other than just scoring goals, including setting up their teammates. Tom Hawkins is an example of this: a forward who can kick bags but is expected to cover the ground and bring his teammates into play, as much as he is expected to take big marks and nail his set shots.

Adding to this is the prevalence of the mid-forward, that is, the midfielder who is big enough and able enough to go forward and kick goals, essentially as a hybrid type. Dustin Martin and recently Marcus Bontempelli, are perfect examples of the star midfielders who can also be thrown forward to menace defenders.

Flooding has also been a prevalent problem for forwards, particularly in the last two decades. Teams have employed this tactic to either protect a narrow lead, or to hinder a dominant forward from killing their team. Contests and stoppages also are more seen than ever, in part due to the ferociousness in the midfield and the necessity for teams to win clearances, leading to less opportunities for forwards to win games from their own boot.

 

Who is getting drafted?

Given the speed of AFL growing every season, fitness levels and athletic ability are more required than ever. It’s been a growing trend that clubs will draft ‘athletes’ over ‘footballers’, choosing to pick up players with raw athletic ability, with the expectation that they can always be taught how to kick, but you cannot be taught to be tall, strong and able to jump high.

Joe Daniher, Eric Hipwood, Max King, Aaron Naughton and even Harry Mackay are all examples of freakish athletes with inconsistent goal kicking. Too often players of this ilk, as well as other modern day key forwards, will have wayward goal kicking due to the ability not being there once they enter the AFL as key forwards. Effectively, clubs will draft the player who can jump the highest and then hope to teach them how to kick straight, rather than just draft the forward who can kick straight, then putting them in the gym to improve their strength and physical abilities.

This trend in draftees has been demonstrated in the woeful kicking that has been on display in recent seasons, with it being further on notice in the public eye, due to the levels of inconsistency that players can reach. The Max King debacle with Matthew Lloyd’s services being turned down by St Kilda is just one example of how endemic poor kicking has been for young forwards, and though some such as Hipwood and Mackay have made strides to improve their accuracy, still they are plagued by moments of sheer shambles (like Mackay’s insistence on snapping most of his set shots, even from long distances).

It seems that the current crop of young forwards are mostly athletes more so than footballers, leaving them lagging regarding their skills. It may be a long time before we can see another Buddy Franklin – a freakish athlete who also had the skills and ability to back up his athletic talents.

 

Will it happen again and how can the AFL impact this outcome?

For our money, we do not think that a 100-goal season will ever happen again, for at least the next generation. Given the prevailing trends in rule changes, tactics and play styles, more and more the game is moving away from the big, dominant key forward who can kick goal after goal and carry a side to the promised land.

But what can the AFL do about it? To be perfectly honest, there isn’t much that they can do. Their rule changes have been implemented to create more scoring, but this has only led to more free kicks among stoppages and congested areas, which improves the output of midfielders rather than key forwards. As well, teams are changing their approaches to the faster style that emphasises speed and movement, which doesn’t lend itself well to the bigger forwards in consistently kicking bags of goals that would tally them up to a century.

Unfortunately, this miraculous milestone is something we still won’t be seeing for several years to come.

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