As a Fairfax soccer writer, I don’t get to the MCG all that often – only for very rare Socceroo appearances.
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So a visit to the great old ground on Sunday afternoon for the Melbourne v Bulldogs game was a real treat. It’s easy to forget just how big it is, how wide the expanses, how the wind swirls and the sun, obscured by the giant stands, casts shadows and shade bringing one moment heat, the other cool, and not always light.

I was also looking forward to seeing the man of the moment, Demons full forward Jesse Hogan, in action.

So much was being written and said about the youngster – how he could be the franchise player any number of clubs could be built upon, how he could command a salary of $1.5 million a year, how he could, it seemed, do just about anything.

I thought he, according to the hype, must be the footy equivalent of England’s young gun Harry Kane, the Tottenham striker who has just won his first Golden Boot in the English Premier League. Kane is 22 and is poised to lead England’s attack at the upcoming European Championships – a high pressure role in an unforgiving media environment.

Hogan might well turn out to be a superstar. And he might well, one day, do just about anything.

But what he clearly can’t do right now do is kick a ball. Or at least to the standard required.

And isn’t that one of the primary skills in a game that calls itself football? Particularly for a star frontman upon whose capabilities the fate of his team will so often rest?

This is not a “bag Jesse” rant by the way: he’s certainly not Robinson Crusoe in the AFL world.

Whenever I watch AFL footy – which is quite often, as its impossible to not be affected by it in Melbourne and it is a terrific sport after all – I am struck by how poor so many players are at what should be the most basic skill in the game.

They are magnificent athletes, brilliant endurance runners who can produce devastating sprints at the end of a gut-busting game. And there are wonderful jumpers who can soar and stay aloft in an act of levitation, pulling down sensational marks.

Some players seem to have a sixth sense of where their colleagues are and fire off brilliant handballs. Others can improvise, punching or knocking the ball into space for an onrushing teammate to pick the ball up and drive another attack forward.

But so many seem aberrant where the foot part of football comes in.

Now I know that its a contact sport, and that pressure, or implied pressure, comes into it. I know that its an oval shaped ball and certainly not as easy to strike as a round soccer ball. And I know that the pressure to play on at all costs means that sometimes kicks in play won’t always hit the target.

But I am not talking about Hogan and his mates’ ability to improvise, snap and kick on the run. I am talking about set shots inside the 50 metre arc, often from pretty straightforward angles and relatively close in.

There is no goalkeeper to worry about. No crossbar, so you can kick it as high as you like.

Rather like a penalty kick in soccer, the nearest player, the man on the mark, has to be some 10 metres away from the kicker.

How hard should it be for professional athletes, who are paid handsomely to do nothing but eat, sleep, train and prepare for one game a week, to deliver on a more regular basis than they do.

I lost count of the number of set shots the Demons tyro missed on Sunday, many from close in. Had he been more accurate his team might have got much closer at the final siren.

If Kane, for example, was to miss four penalties out of five, squander several chances from inside the six-yard box with only the goalkeeper to beat, he would not just be out of the England picture, he would be out of the Tottenham team also.

My colleagues, who watch a lot more footy live than I do, tell me that Hogan will come good. That he is young, that he is still growing, that big blokes like him don’t hit their straps until their mid-twenties.

Maybe. But in most sports that I know of – even the contact games like rugby with which AFL is more analogous – the star players have a huge impact even as youngsters and deliver despite the pressure.

James O’Connor – sadly a talent that appears to have dissipated – was kicking match-winning conversions for the Wallabies when he was a teenager. Wayne Rooney was tearing it up in the Premier League at 16 and leading the line for England at 18. Pele was a World Cup winner at 17, while Max Verstappen has just become the youngest ever Formula One winner at 18. And there are numerous jockeys on the honour board as group 1 winning riders at 16, 17 or 18.

As I said, I am not having a go at Hogan so much as using him as an exemplar, having watched him last week.

Just to make sure I wasn’t wrong in my view of footy players’ kicking skills, I checked with one of the greatest goalkickers ever, former Essendon full forward Matthew Lloyd.

He concurred, suggesting that while almost every other skill in the game had improved over the years, kicking for goal was the one that hadn’t. Park footballers were, in some cases, more reliable kickers than some players in the AFL.

Lloyd believes that much of it comes down to practise. With some good coaching thrown in.

So many promising young AFL players have never been told early in their careers that their kicking technique is wrong. They don’t kick the ball enough or have enough shots at goal in training.

They have, Lloyd says, often dominated junior leagues and at TAC Cup level and the fact they might be kicking at a rate of 50 per cent or less is overlooked if they are snaring four, five or six goals a game from a much bigger number of shots.

Perhaps that’s all it is. Ninety nine per cent perspiration, one per cent inspiration.

It worked for Jonny Wilkinson, perhaps rugby union’s greatest goalkicker, and David Beckham, a man who mastered the art of striking a dead ball.  It worked for Lloyd himself, who perfected a lengthy goalkicking routine which saw his concentration and accuracy rise to unprecedented levels. The former Essendon man’s career percentage of shots to goals is 68.59 – fractionally below the greatest kicker of them all, Tony Lockett, at  69.74.

So there you have it, lads. Forget the sports science, forget the work-loading, forget all the coaching mumbo jumbo.

Go out there and have a kick – again and again and again and again … you never know how good you might get.

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