Vardy to boost Cats’ ruck ranks

Geelong’s ruck stocks are finally beginning to look healthier with the athletic Nathan Vardy set to return from a groin injury in Sunday’s VFL clash at Frankston.
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The reigning premier was forced to pluck a ruckman from outside of its core list – Port Fairy’s Sandy Robinson – last week after Andrew Banjanin was suspended for one match, adding to the injury woes of key personnel Vardy, Hamish McIntosh, Dawson Simpson and Josh Walker, all of whom are expected to return to VFL ranks over the next month.

Robinson battled hard and has been named on an extended interchange this week with Vardy and Banjanin returning.

“We introduced Sandy to a couple of our players [last week]. He’s done a bit of training with our VFL list,” Cats VFL coach Matthew Knights said on Friday. ”It requires drastic measures that we bring someone from outside our list onto our list.”

Vardy has been named at centre half-forward but could pinch-hit in the ruck alongside Banjanin against Frankston’s Russell Gabriel. He is likely to play about 70 per cent of game time.

Vardy is expected to play several matches in the VFL before being considered for a return to AFL ranks.

”He could have played the last couple of weeks, but we decided to be ultra-conservative with him and we’ll continue that through the next few weeks with his VFL program,” Cats coach Chris Scott said.

Vardy played just two matches last season – including the elimination final loss – after struggling with a hip complaint.

McIntosh and Simpson are expected to return in the VFL over the next fortnight.

VFL Round 4 (with tips in capitals)


WERRIBEE TIGERS v Sandringham, Avalon Airport Oval, 1.10pm.

BOX HILL HAWKS v Coburg Tigers, Box Hill City Oval, 2pm.

NORTH BALLARAT v Essendon, Eureka Stadium, 2pm.

CASEY SCORPIONS v Williamstown, Casey Fields, 6pm.


NORTHERN BLUES v Port Melbourne, Preston City Oval, 2pm.

Frankston v GEELONG, Frankston Oval, 2pm.

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New blood? Bite your tongue

Successful venture: but not by the looks on these faces. Coach Scott Watters and Saints players show their disappointment after the loss to Sydney in Wellington on Thursday. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoRebuilding can be a dirty word at football clubs. The same miserable Melbourne weekend that Mark Neeld declared his Demons were implementing ”a rebuild of a rebuild”, Scott Watters took many at his club by surprise when he commented that St Kilda was in rebuild mode.
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While you could argue the incremental merits of the comments by the dispirited Saints coach – his team had just opened its season with disappointing losses to Gold Coast and Richmond – it seems beyond doubt that few at the Linen House Centre had seen them coming. Not the board, not the executive and certainly not the senior players.

Sam Fisher, speaking in Canberra the following week, made it clear that rebuilding was not a popular term among older players, who saw it as a suggestion their careers were rolling to a close. Captain Nick Riewoldt, another passionate card-carrying member of the 2003 Saints players pact, was mildly more enthusiastic and spoke of the responsibility of all senior players at all clubs to help develop younger players. There is no doubt that the senior players had, at the very least, not bought in to the concept that the club, which narrowly missed finals last year, was in some form starting again.

Since the Richmond loss, the club has worked to rewrite its public philosophy. Football boss Chris Pelchen publicly hosed down the rebuild talk earlier this month in what seemed a strategic interview. Watters, like many St Kilda coaches before him, is being encouraged not to let the burdens of a relatively under-resourced club weigh too heavily upon him.

The obvious symbol of St Kilda’s position is Brendon Goddard. The Saints chose not to keep him last year and he chose not to stay.

Goddard, too, was part of the agreement during the Grant Thomas era that the group of young stars would stay together until they achieved the ultimate success – but the lure of success, an extra year of football, and an extra estimated $750,000 made him choose Essendon.

That, and the most compelling fact that he felt his old club had not worked as hard as possible to keep him. Only he knows why the pent-up emotion leading up to the Essendon-Saints clash caused him to shed tears after the game, but it seemed significant that he looked a little lost and alone after the siren sounded and was not exactly mobbed by former teammates.

Symbolically again, the club redesigned the Saints’ adornments in the Linen House gymnasium at the end of last year. Gone was the large poster of the players – including Goddard – walking onto the ground before one of their three grand finals over 2009 and 2010.

While some senior players raised their eyebrows, the philosophy behind the large new photographs placed around the walls spoke not of removing Goddard but of a new beginning and a refusal to dwell on the past. The sad fact for Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes, Fisher, Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna and Stephen Milne is that a Saints flag will not come for them.

St Kilda’s executive was emphatic that it was right not to match the Essendon offer, but the fact remains that some older players remain equally firm that the team was good enough to keep challenging. If the club had to work to regenerate Watters with a dose of optimism, then surely Watters’ tough task is to bring his senior group on board.

Dal Santo appeared on Friday to have cautiously signed on, after joking that the word rebuilding was a dangerous one. ”Whether it’s called rebuild or whether it’s called fresh blood, it’s needed, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. ”In the past we’ve had a pretty solid, set team for quite a while, and things have changed a little bit. That’s just the way footy goes. At some stage you do need new guys to come through and take some responsibility, and that’s happening a little bit.”

Certainly the state of St Kilda’s list, while uneven and ageing in terms of its stars, is not in a terminal state. Rhys Stanley, Nathan Wright and Brodie Murdoch stand out as future stars, while Ben McEvoy, the hot favourite to take over the captaincy from Riewoldt, and David Armitage have become obvious leaders. And if Riewoldt is nearing the end of his career, it is proving a more than impressive twilight. He starred again on Thursday night in New Zealand.

The Saints’ history-making foray into New Zealand was a success mitigated only by the result. In fact, the staging of a game in Wellington seemed such a perfect fit that you had to question why it hadn’t been achieved earlier, given the number of times practice games have been staged there in the past 15 years.

St Kilda was not the first club to suggest New Zealand, but it was the first club to pull it off and, as Andrew Demetriou said before the game, the Saints were a club that ”needed to be bold”.

The club will reap about $500,000 from the game and clearly the cautious long-term plan is to make Wellington a part-time home of four games a season. Two games a year seems likely from 2014, and with Anzac Day falling on a Friday next season, that fixture looms as a good fit embraced by AFL travelling fans and locals alike.

Having secured a healthy new major sponsor and having quietly but firmly transformed its board over the summer, St Kilda looks increasingly healthy off-field. The one rider on that is the vexed question of Seaford. This remains an inherited reality – a home with a frighteningly long lease that the players remain less than fond of. Just how the new board and AFL-endorsed executive can remedy the situation should they choose remains intriguing.

And then, of course, there’s the football team – a work in progress but not, according to everyone in it, a wreck in need of rebuilding.

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Shark Bites

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Caulfield Race 7 No. 13


David Hayes has in the last six months had remarkable success with horses deep into their preparations as the benefits of his Euroa training base kick in. Smart sprinter Rifleman could be the latest to benefit as he steps out for the sixth time this campaign in a very winnable race. The key to an improved showing is the return to 1000 metres. He has a fantastic record at the distance but has struggled out to 1200 in recent runs. The addition of leading rider Stephen Baster and a three-kilo weight drop are also important.

SUGGESTED BET Back Rifleman each-way.


Morphettville Race 6 No. 8


Patinack Farm may be on the market but it still has some quality horses racing at the highest level, and Transonic is one of them. Transonic is a proven filly at group level over staying distances and she looks really well placed in the Australasian Oaks on the strength of her last start. She sat behind a very fast tempo and still took the lead and kicked into the straight before tiring late.


Randwick Race 4 No. 2


Derby winner It’s A Dundeel will start a short-priced favourite but he is far from over the line thanks to the presence of French galloper Reliable Man, now in the care of Chris Waller. This is a seriously good racehorse, regarded as one of the best middle-distance performers in Europe. In his Australian debut he was a good fourth in the George Ryder behind Pierro.

SUGGESTED BET Back Reliable man to win, take the exacta 9/2 x $20 as insurance


Morphettville Daily Double

3, 6, 7, 8 / 1, 3, 8, 9 = $16

CAULFIELD QUADDIE $50 returns approx 46% of the dividend.

LEG 1: 6, 7, 10

LEG 2: 4, 11, 13, 14

LEG 3: 5, 7, 13

LEG 4: 4, 10, 13.

For all your Sydney Carnival form needs visit www.theshark南京夜网.au

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RV keen to revisit steroid rules

Racing Victoria will push for a re-examination of the Australian rules allowing horses to be treated with anabolic steroids while ”out of competition” after the shock revelations in England that one of the world’s biggest racing stables, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin, had been using steroids to boost their gallopers’ wellbeing and performance.
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Mahmood Al Zarooni, one of two Newmarket-based trainers working for the Emirati racing giant, was banned for eight years at a disciplinary hearing held overnight Friday Australian time, effectively destroying his career.

Tests by the British Racehorse Authority revealed that 11 of his horses had been injected with either ethylestrenol or stanozolol. Zarooni subsequently admitted that another four had been treated, bringing the total to 15. The horses – including 1000 Guineas pre-post favourite Certify – have been banned from racing for six months.

British racing has a zero tolerance policy to all drugs, but in Australia trainers are allowed to use steroids to help horses recover more quickly from their exertions or to enhance their wellbeing if they are spelling and not in training. They are not allowed to race with steroids in their system.

But, according to British reports, some steroids could be used close to race days, as ethylestrenol disappears from a horse’s system within days.

Bernard Saundry, the chief executive of Racing Victoria, said on Friday that the alarming disclosures from Britain were a wake-up call for racing jurisdictions around the world.

As a result, RV would seek to reignite debate on whether allowing the use of steroids at any time was the right thing for the sport.

”We will be asking the Australian Racing Board to re-open discussion on the therapeutic use of anabolic steroids in Australia and whether it is in the best interests of the industry to continue with the present policy,” he said.

”At present they are allowed to be treated with anabolics but are not allowed to compete with any traces in their system. There has not been a raceday positive test since the mid 1990s. I understand the concerns and that it’s a fine line. We do around 14,000 tests a year and we need to make sure the integrity of the sport is paramount.”

Al Zarooni has been employed as a principal trainer by Godolphin only since 2010, but he has had a number of big wins with horses regarded as outsiders, including last year’s shock St Leger winner Encke, whose victory prevented Coolmore’s Camelot from becoming the first horse in 42 years to win the English Triple Crown.

Evidence at the inquiry revealed that Zarooni had lied to a veterinary assistant at his stables, having ordered the assistant to inject the horses without saying what the syringes contained.

Australian Paul Bittar, a former senior RV official and now head of the BHA, said after the hearing that inquiries were continuing.

”I’m certainly not saying it’s the end of it – I would term it the end of the beginning in a way. It deals with the issues at hand and the 11 positive tests we had and where the liability sits, and it sits with the trainer. It’s not fair to say end of it, far from it,” Bittar said.

Godolphin also employs Newmarket-based Saeed bin Suroor, a frequent visitor to Victoria with Melbourne Cup raiders. In Australia, the sheikh’s horses run under the Darley banner, with Peter Snowden as head trainer. Many of the successful Australian gallopers are then transferred to Europe.

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Prince of spin ready to step up

Ashton Agar’s upbringing was typical enough. Evenings after school were spent in the backyard in suburban Melbourne, bowling to his younger brothers Will and Wesley, and making them bowl to him.
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Agar loved Shane Warne as much as any Australian boy who wanted to bowl spin, but he was also fascinated by spinners from distant places.

”I’ve always loved watching the Sri Lankans and Indians bowl the best, just because they are quite natural, they bowl a bit of a different pace. I have always wanted to be a bit like that so maybe, subconsciously, I have modelled myself on them,” says Agar, the teenager who has turned the heads of the national selectors with his lanky brand of left-arm orthodox spin.

”In regards to off-spin, I loved watching Harbhajan Singh, I thought he was a genius. And I love watching Rangana Herath from Sri Lanka, [Ravi] Ashwin from India. Those three.”

Agar, 19, is about to embark on a season-long stint in the UK that coincides with the Ashes, as one of six talented young cricketers granted Hampshire Academy scholarships. He will also play for Australia A in England, and won’t be far from an Ashes call if a second spinner is required, given Nathan Lyon is the only one in the initial squad.

It’s no surprise that Agar is attracted to a sub-continental style of spin. His mother, Sonia, emigrated to Australia from Colombo, Sri Lanka, when she was 12, though the family has not been back. His father, John, had a distinguished grade career with Prahran.

Neither stood in his way last year when the chance arose to avoid the queue of spinners in Victoria and sign with Western Australia.

From the moment WA teammate Michael Beer hurt his shoulder towards the end of the Sheffield Shield season, Agar was placed on the fast track.

Less than a month after his eye-catching debut against NSW, he had been dispatched to India for work experience with the Test squad and to make up the numbers in a tour match.

”Unfortunately for ‘Beery’ he hurt his shoulder, and he was probably next in line to play for Australia at the time. Ever since that happened, things have changed massively for me.”

For a surreal couple of days before the India tour spun out of control for Australia, Agar was in the mix for selection in the Chennai Test. It didn’t happen, but it made him think.

”I was aware that anything could happen. It was sort of put that way to me,” Agar said.

”I was there to keep learning, and I definitely took a lot out of it. I guess I’ve matured quickly from that. It was hard, because they [the Indian batsmen] just played me better,” he said.

”They used their feet extremely well and got up the wicket, then pushed back, they used the crease brilliantly. They were hitting good balls for four or six sometimes, so it’s like, ‘What more can I do?’ You just realise you have to find a way to get those players out, so it was really good for me to experience that.”

Agar is bright and articulate, and has placed on hold a law degree at Murdoch University in Perth. He has long, loose limbs and bowls from an awkward height for batsmen.

He says he tries to be patient, without being boring. ”I like fishing, I guess you have to be patient for that,” he says.

”I try to bowl different balls, but when I’m bowling well I’m quite accurate. But I try to attack at the same time, and be hungry for wickets.”

A note of caution is advisable; many a young spinner in the post-Warne age has suffered from being promoted too soon.

Still, observers from national selector John Inverarity down, have been captivated by his talent. Off-spinning elder Ashley Mallett thinks Agar will become ”very good, very soon”. And WA coach Justin Langer thinks his physical attributes and competitive temperament are unusual in one so young. Apart from gathering 22 wickets in his first six first-class games (including three lower-order scalps for 107 against India A), Agar made crucial runs for WA – his unbeaten 71 upsetting Tasmania.

”I remember him bowling in the nets at the MCG before a Boxing Day Test, he got ‘Punter’ [Ricky Ponting] out and gave himself a little fist-punch, so I love his competitive instinct,” Langer says.

”He’s such a natural athlete, unlike a lot of young players who seem to be so coached. He is so loose, he reminds me of how a lot of champion athletes move. You see that in his batting and fielding, as well.”

Should leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed rise to represent his adopted nation once he becomes eligible, emerging spinners like Agar and Victoria’s left-arm spinner Jon Holland might be afforded an extended first-class apprenticeship before they are thrust into Test cricket.

But when he’s asked whether he is ready, Agar doesn’t hesitate. ”Yeah, absolutely. I think I have experienced now some of the toughest conditions, and played against probably the best player of spin in [former Indian opener] Gautam Gambhir, so I think I would definitely be ready to play Test cricket,” he says. ”But whatever happens, happens … I’m just trying to play the best cricket I can and it’s out of my hands from there.”

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Harris sure he’ll be ready for Ashes tour

Ryan Harris is confident he will be fit well before the Ashes, but admitted Cricket Australia was nervous about him going to the Indian Premier League from which he has returned with a sore Achilles.
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Harris on Friday received encouraging results from a scan of his heel.

The soreness filled Harris with dread given his history of breaking down, but he hopes to be out of action for only a few weeks, and has not given up on playing during the Australia A tour of the UK that precedes the Test series.

“The scan showed nothing so it’s basically tendonitis of the Achilles and I just have to keep rehabbing and get it nice and strong and be ready to go by England hopefully,” Harris said.

“I’m still aiming to play a couple of Australia A games, definitely, then there’s two tour matches before the first Test. There’s going to be plenty of time to bowl, and if I have to bowl in the nets to get the workload up I will.”

Harris is the second fast bowler in a week to return injured from the IPL – Ben Hilfenhaus, who missed the Ashes squad, has knee tendonitis.

Cricket Australia would have preferred Harris to stay home for a few weeks after the domestic season because there had been a spike in his workload after his comeback from a shoulder injury. But because he was not injured, he was cleared to play in the IPL.

“They didn’t tell me not to go. Going over to another competition before a big series like England, of course they’re going to be nervous but it was very important for me to go and keep bowling. I’d had enough time off, and if I’d had this soreness before I went there’s no way I would have gone,” Harris said.

It’s exactly a year since Harris last played a Test, but the renewal of his Cricket Australia contract and inclusion in the Ashes squad speaks of the high regard in which he is held when he’s fit.

The selectors have been prepared to rest Harris between high-impact bursts at Test level in the past, but he has a more ambitious outlook.

“I will always say I will aim to play five Tests. It’s obviously very tough to play five especially with my history, but if I went over there aiming to play two out of five or three out of five, that’s not great thinking,” he said.

“If I’m feeling OK I’m sure they will let me play as much as I can. The other thing is I’ve got to get back in the team yet, there’s some pretty good bowlers in there at the moment.”

James Faulkner, the young allrounder who withstood a fierce performance from Harris to make 89 in last month’s Sheffield Shield final, said the Queensland quick would be enormously important to the Ashes campaign.

“Ryan has a very good record for Australia and he was quite tough to face in shield final,” Faulkner said. “He’s always at you, he’s relentless in the way he approaches his bowling.”

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Footy pearls – before Swine

Some years ago, somewhere in the month of September, the ABC had several sublime hours of spring-time radio.
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John Harms and Paul Daffey had the microphones and it was grand final day in country footy leagues around Australia. Harms is a great character – the spirit of geniality and a fine sportswriter in his own right, he is passionate about the idea of footy as an expression of community.

Daffey, a more taciturn character, is to grassroots footy what David Attenborough is to the natural world. His knowledge of it is encyclopaedic. And so, when people from all over Australia rang in with grand final results, they were met by Harms’ infectious pleasure at co-ordinating a festival of footy and Daffey’s unfailing expertise concerning the various clubs and competitions.

For the past 10 years or so, the pair have sought to defy media history – in which the drift is to the visual and the electronic – by producing The Footy Almanac in which every game of the AFL season is written up by a spectator. As an initiative, The Footy Almanac is bold, quixotic and wonderfully egalitarian, but I think Harms and Daffey have struck an even richer vein with their latest production, Footy Town.

Not all AFL games are interesting. Sport, even at the highest level, can be disappointing and even the most talented sportswriters can struggle to bring such occasions bubbling to life. Footy Town proceeds on a different assumption – 50 men and women from around Australia have been invited to dig into the rich loam of their memories and source their love of the game. In two words, what this book has that the general footy media doesn’t possess, despite all its glitzy posturing to the contrary, is humour and characters.

Murray Bird umpired in the Southern Queensland Australian Football Association with a character known simply as The Swine. “The Swine was bare-footed when I met him – at my first night at umpires’ training at Crosby’s Park. We were both struggling along at the back of the pack. I put out my hand to introduce myself. ‘What are you? Desperate for f—ing friends or something. I’m The Swine and no one likes me’.”

What made The Swine special was that he volunteered to umpire the lowest grades of the game – what he called “shit footy”. That was his mission and, in the words of the song, The Swine did it his way. Umpiring a game between the Moorooka Roosters and the Wynnum Vikings, The Swine copped one too many sprays from the Moorooka captain, known as Ivan the Terrible. When The Swine responded with the first 90-metre penalty in the history of the game and Ivan shouted that he would be writing a letter of complaint to the league, The Swine obliged by dictating the letter for him.

The Swine rarely lost control of those he called “the animals”, but once, in a match at Jindalee, a player ran amok, dropping opponents at will. Desperate times call for desperate measures and only the other umpire beheld what actually happened, how, running through the middle, The Swine caught the offender with a left elbow to the jaw which put him down and out.

This book overflows with characters and humour like a good glass of beer overflows with froth. David Enticott, the minister at the Rosanna Baptist Church, was seduced into playing veterans’ footy with the Southern Saints Football Club. For the minister, this meant entering a relationship with the coach, a fearless, wafer-thin defender known as Stripper.

The catch was that the games were on Sundays, as were the Rosanna Baptist Church’s weekly services. After being late for a couple of matches, the minister was pulled aside by the coach. Said Stripper: “Big Dave, love having you in the team, but if you can’t get to the game on time then I’ll have to start you on the bench. Can’t you get Mass to go faster? You’re the priest. Leave out a couple of prayers. No one will ever know.”

The stories flow like grog at the wedding of a publican’s daughter. Vin Maskell charts his relationship with his son through a shared passion for old scoreboards. Barry Dickins recalls the terrible anticipation of a kid waiting to hear the team announced and find out if you’re “in”: “If you were in, you felt immortal like a smile in the kind dark.” Damian Callinan played at Cabarlah in country Queensland. “The ground was rock hard and wore its few tufts of grass like an alopecia sufferer who is past caring.”

Mark Fine, from SEN radio, describes Footy Town brilliantly: “It’s like going to the local footy, chatting to the bloke on the gate and the girls in the canteen, then slipping over on your way to the bar.” This book, easily the best of its kind I’ve encountered, should be required reading for all AFL employees. The roots of the game are not to be found in sports administration degrees or marketing manuals but stories such as these.

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1 Everyone’s been calling Milney an idiot for years, but Scott Watters does it and it’s a big story. Typical bloody media.

2 If Collingwood is looking to give any more new contracts to blokes who haven’t played a game, I’d be happy to take a cheque, internet transfer, or even pop by and pick up a bag of cash.

3 It’s funny how when players say they want more free time in the pre-season to pursue “other meaningful activities besides football”, the first thing everyone thinks of is drugs.

4 Then again, there’s always the possibility they’d use the time creatively. Like by putting on balaclavas and staging a fake armed siege on a teammate’s house.

5 Brad Scott must be running out of people to have a fight with if he’s blueing with girls.


Finding it hard not to chuckle when you hear Melbourne players say Mark Neeld’s coaching better than ever? Laying awake at night pondering whether Jack Watts was a bigger whipping boy with or without the beard? Let the goal umpire review make a hash of it while you have a game of Armchair Footy Bingo! Rack up more points than there are New Zealanders who reckon they’d have less trouble with sets shots than Ahmed Saad, and you win.

This week’s targets:

Maintaining his reputation for innovation, GWS coach Kevin Sheedy asks the AFL for permission to embroil the club in a drugs scandal in a bid to start winning games like Melbourne and Essendon – 2 points.

Damien Hardwick’s wife takes over as coach of Richmond, immediately improving the Tigers’ performance, not to mention their tackle count. Fnarr, fnarr – 4 points.

Having admitted he’s not surprised people are saying he should be sacked, Michael Voss says he’s also not surprised it gets dark at night time or that children like ice cream. 6 points.

Scott Pendlebury’s radical claim that Collingwood players were cheating against Essendon sparks a revolutionary outpouring of honesty from within Magpie ranks, with coach Nathan Buckley saying he wishes he’d stayed at Brisbane, Eddie McGuire admitting Joffa’s a dickhead and the rest of the club’s fans are even worse, and Ben Hudson saying that in 37 clubs and 46 seasons in the game, he’s never come across such a bunch of dim-witted bogans in all his life – 10 points.


Six steps from Damien Hardwick to Henny Youngman:

1 Damien Hardwick is a football coach in charge of a sleeping giant that’s got feral fans who seem to be quite proud of being feral but just the same thank goodness Tagger doesn’t come with a picture byline, like the photos that were taken by …

2 Linda McCartney, who was married to Paul and part of Wings and didn’t eat meat and took lots of pictures but before that she was an Eastman although that story about her grandpa inventing Kodak film was a myth, a bit like the myth that Walt Disney drew …

3 Mickey Mouse, the cartoon character who looks nothing like a mouse and whose name is slang for something inconsequential which is a big word for Tagger who should stick to Mickey Mouse bits of trivia like the Mickey Mouse Club being the springboard to fame for …

4 Ryan Gosling, the actor who was in that movie where he drove really fast and whose name makes you think of geese, or maybe even Jim Goose from Mad Max, who certainly didn’t have goose bumps when he went up in flames, just like that song by …

5 Nicki Minaj, the rapper who doesn’t like Lil’ Kim, unless writing a song called Stupid Hoe is a compliment, or maybe it was about a dopey gardening tool that might even annoy that funny Costa bloke, who’s not as funny as …

6 Henny Youngman, the dead comedian who was born in Liverpool and moved to New York and learned the violin but became a star telling one-liners, and always made people laugh when he told that one about his wife, just like Damien Hardwick.


The weekly serve from the bloke who’d probably just get a haircut if he needed an alice band to keep his hair out of his eyes:

“The Rah Rahs were so happy after their biggest quarter ever they had a bugler and sang the song twice. Meanwhile, Sheeds was happy his mob had competed with an AFL team, which no one had called Melbourne for ages.”

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Games success a balancing act

Illustration: Jim PavlidisFINAL WORD
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Australia estimates that it will have to win between 14 and 17 gold medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics to fulfil its mission, and says it already knows, more or less, the identities of those prospective winners. But it also knows that it is unlikely to get more from the government for its cause in the interim years than the $120 million annuity announced this week.

It knows that commercial and philanthropic funding for sport has fallen from around 20 per cent of the total at the time of the 2000 Sydney Olympics to less than five per cent now, and that until sport has fully leached the Lance Armstrong effect from its system, that also is unlikely to grow. And it knows that Great Britain, still basking in the afterglow of London 2012, is likely to spend around three times as much as Australia in pursuit of more honour and glory in Rio.

”We know it’s not going to be easy,” Australian Sports Commission chief executive Simon Hollingsworth said this week. ”It’s going to be challenging. But we believe we can do it.”

The truth is that, in the three years between now and Rio, Australia has to make up its mind about its hitherto sacred Olympic sporting vocation. Since the euphoric high of Sydney, its Olympic spoils have steadily and inexorably declined. In Sydney, it was 58 medals, including 16 gold. In London, it was 35 medals, including a meagre seven gold. Measured by overall medals, Australia finished sixth, by gold medals 10th.

It knows already that the competition between sixth and 10th is fiercer even than the competition in the top five, which tends to have a natural order. Yet Australia’s bald ambition, reiterated this week, is to return to the top five. Further, incorporating paralympics, Commonwealth Games and world championships, it is intent on a ”decade of dominance”.

To this end, it is streamlining the Australian Institute of Sport, and more than ever, it is targeting winnable medals. In this round, there is more money for sailing, yachting, canoeing, rugby sevens, golf, triathlon and diving, but less for swimming and athletics. It is all a matter of scale; swimming is still more lavishly funded by government than any other sport, and athletics is in the top five. The ASC denies that it is putting all its eggs in one basket. ”But we do need to prioritise,” Hollingsworth said.

This business of picking winners inevitably poses philosophical questions. Viewed through one lens, it is cynical, a matter of identifying sports and events Australians can win at and trying to culture them: sailing, but not martial arts, for instance, and jumping, but not running.

Reflexively, it creates ”losers”, those in less winnable pursuits, who may feel disenfranchised. It is also entrenches the notion that Australia can only ever measure its sporting worth by its tally of Olympic medals, though the Olympics themselves comprise an arbitrary and ever-changing selection of sports, ranging from soccer to archaic.

Might-as-medals is shallow self-assessment. In a country that likes to think of itself as mature and a middle power, the punching-above-our-weight trope looks dated. All that is gold does not glister. But this is government money, doled out in beans, whose counters expect in return something that can be bitten into while the cameras flash, and entered in a ledger and flaunted in an annual report.

Alternately, it might be thought that Australia still is not concentrating its resources as it should. Professionalised sport is not quite coin-in-the-slot, but money does make a radical difference. Extravagances of scale make it certain that Australia will be out-spent by every other country in the top 10 in the prelude to Rio, so it can be argued that Australia’s focus should be narrower too.

The commission says that by its calculations, Australia will need to win medals in at least 14 different sports if it is achieve its goal, so it cannot close too many doors. But it will at least have to be more efficient, even ruthless. In London, Australia had the third largest team, behind only Great Britain and the US. The US’ return was a gold medal for every 11.5 athletes, Great Britain’s one for every 18, Australia one for every 60. In Rio, the South American countries will swamp the Games, further stiffening the task. Again, Australia will have to decide for itself what matters most as a country, to give as many as possible an Olympic experience, or as few as is economically prudent an enhanced medal chance.

Plainly, it is not the sports commission’s remit to think small. It makes no apology for this. ”The bar keeps getting higher,” commission chairman John Wylie said. ”We’re conscious that it is a tough target. But the only way to achieve success is to set yourself tough targets.”

Refreshingly, Wylie says the commission will not beg more government money, has schemes to raise funds independently – including a dedicated TV channel – will make no excuses if Australia falls short of its goals, and is happy to be held accountable. On your marks …

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Beyond the night

Off the leash: Bulldog Tom Liberatore has responded well to “tough love”. Photo: Ken IrwinTom Liberatore didn’t need to be told. He knew how worried and disappointed his family was, and that everyone at his football club would be feeling the same way. The last place he ever wants to be found again is on King Street, early on a Sunday morning, semi-conscious and drunk, with ecstasy pills in his pocket, in such a vulnerable way. “Definitely not. You don’t want to put yourself in that position, and you shouldn’t put yourself in that position. It’s not that difficult,” he said. “It wasn’t hard to figure out that people were going to be disappointed in me – it was pretty black and white. The most important thing to me was how it affected my family and how it affected the club, knowing I’d lost the respect of people. That’s what you lose control over and that’s what I wanted to gain back, their trust and respect.”
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He has made a good start. It is a little over 10 months since Liberatore made his big mistake, his only mistake. Since then he has had his third, and his best, pre-season. He is fitter than he was, arriving at stoppages earlier and with a less tired mind, able to think more clearly about what he wants to do there. He has won more hard balls than any other player in the competition.

Around the Western Bulldogs, he seems, if not happier, then more comfortable. “I think he’s figured out the sort of person he is, and how he can still be that person within footy, which is more intense and asks for more accountability every year,” said one of his teammates, Bob Murphy. “Everyone grapples with that, with finding their own space, but he just seems to be a bit more comfortable in his own skin this year. I don’t want to use the phrase ‘the footy world’ but I do think he’s starting to find that balance of doing the things that are part of the job, but still being himself within all that.”

Liberatore, 21, didn’t want to talk about that night, which left him dealing with some very adult things: an interview with police, a drug diversion program, a first strike under the AFL’s illicit drug policy and a place on the target-testing list. His club suspended him from its final four matches of last season, had him train in the mornings and at night, and put him to work on a building site. At the same time, the Bulldogs made sure he understood how much everyone cared about him, and was worried for him. The first thing his teammates wanted to know was: are you OK?

Liberatore never worried they would act any other way, because he had seen them deal with other things and it was how they had always made him feel, before anything happened. But it was what made him want to use his time away from them how they wanted him to use it: to realise what a good first job he had, and what he might be doing if he didn’t have it. It made him think about the words he wanted them to describe him with. “I suppose you come to understand how you want to be seen,” he said. “And you realise you want to be seen as someone who’s determined and who perseveres, someone who cares about their career and doesn’t want to give it up easily.”

So, most mornings, he would be at the club by 6am to train. He would do the same each night, heading back to the club, driving to a boxing gym in Richmond or meeting one of the assistant coaches somewhere. In between he would head to East Malvern, to work on a building site, at a job that allowed him plenty of time to think. “It was pretty basic labouring work, pretty standard work, just cleaning up around the site and doing what they needed me to do,” he said. “It was obviously mundane, but at the same time the other builders were really good blokes, they were all friendly to me from the first day and they made things comfortable for me, which they didn’t need to do. It did resonate with me, how lucky I am to come to a footy club, to do what we do, just around the corner from home, pretty flexible hours. It was the right thing to do, the right process to go through to be able put things in perspective and realise what the good things were in life and what I wanted do.”

It wasn’t something he spoke about much. Murphy imagines there was shock, and some fear, and remembers wanting to give his young teammate a hug, as much as anything else. “I wanted to put my arm around him. It was a mistake and I don’t know exactly how he felt, but we almost felt paternal about it. Most people in that situation only have to deal with the person standing in the room with them, but he had the whole world, the whole city on him. People will make their moral and ethic judgments about what happened, but it was like our little brother had made a blue and he needed protection. We were scared for him, but I know Tom. He’s a strong-willed person and once he decided he was going to make amends, he was going to make amends. He’s an independent person. He dresses differently to the other young guys, he listens to Hendrix, he actively seeks to avoid the mainstream. He makes up his own mind about things, and then he goes and does them.”

Liberatore did, but he was also conscious of what was being done for him. Tom Williams was in rehab at the time, and some mornings would get up to the club early so that Liberatore had company. Other teammates had him around for dinner. Every Friday morning, he had breakfast with development coach Chris Maple and Brett Goodes, then the club’s player wellbeing manager, before heading off to university. “They were probably the two biggest influences on me,” he said, “just with how much they cared.” This year he has sensed all of his teammates start to think of each other more – to fully absorb feedback, to feel losses more deeply and to try, when games are turning against them, to remember what they need to do, then do it. “We talk about it a lot, about being outspoken, being totally honest with each other, improving morale and improving the mateship around the club,” he said. “We speak about it and train it, and now we’ve got to do it more on match days. And that’s definitely something I felt last year, just how warm people were. I let them down but they were still wanting to know how I was, and caring, and wanting to help me through it.

“We have players here like Daniel Cross and Liam Picken and Dale Morris, even Matthew Boyd. And there’s more, the list goes on at this club of players who have fought tooth and nail to get where they are. A few times, working, you’d just draw the parallels between what you could be doing at that time, as opposed to shovelling bricks or whatever it was.

“I wasn’t sitting there thinking I was at rock-bottom and I’m not making some sort of heroic return, but it was a good reminder of what I get to do every day down here and that you can’t just fall back and rely on your talent to do it well.

“I’m still best mates with my friends here, and my friends outside the club as well. But you need to know what you want, what matters to you, and what you need to do to keep doing it. It was a one-off mistake and I’ve kept things in line and I’m approaching my footy how I think I did in the past anyway – pretty focused. This just gave me my right whack, to learn how to balance every part of my life and front up every week and do everything possible to be a consistent player. You have to tick every single box if you want to last in this league and I want to last in it for as long as I can.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.