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  • Writer's pictureThe Chief

A Fine Whine About Ageing

You don't have to be Matthew Pavlich to know that sometimes in your pursuit of success you can overlook what is directly under your nose. All eyes can tend to focus on the next shiny, potential filled draft prospect that you hope will take your club to it’s stated strategic plan’s ultimate destination.

It is an understandable and necessary strategy in attempting to build a strong internal structure that stands the test of time but, ironically it can often be at the expense of a stabilising stalwart, a crucial influential element required to deliver that very same desired success.

Youth brings exuberance, excitement, a sense of inevitable success, but it brings no guarantees. And if your acquisitions don’t amount to their perceived potential or departures occur prior to it being realised, you can fall into a perpetual striving state, unintentionally adopting a middle of the road, revolving door existence.

Watching that wonderful grand final on the weekend, it got me thinking… and yes, I’ll admit, not only is that rare, it rarely delivers anything meaningful. (I think that’s a double negative… well, that doesn’t go well for this article)

When the premiership was on the line in that final quarter, who did the Pies turn to? A 35 year old Scott Pendlebury and a 32 year old Steel Sidebottom. In other terms, they went to their wise, old, stabilising stalwarts.

Now I know what you’re thinking…. The Chief is about to bang on about what potentially would have been had we retained our own stabilising stalwart and club legend, David Mundy. You'd be mistaken because it isn't how it sounds, it is the fact that…. oh wait a minute… yeah it kind of is how it sounds.

If recency bias is a crime, then lock me up and throw away the key! But the last two grand finals have relied upon and been won by influential, aging club rock stars.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the overall draft oriented direction our beloved Freo club has taken, and while the dent on the trend line was a little deeper than what we probably all envisaged this year, it was a regression we probably had to have.

Let me preface the following by suggesting that disagreeing with certain moves your club makes and being sceptical of reasons given, yet still supporting wholeheartedly, can all coexist.

I was disappointed when the great David Mundy departed and, despite the club’s assurances and David’s own words, I may never be convinced he didn’t get a tap on the shoulder. Personally, I think Mr. Mundy was too loyal and respectful to go out Lobb-like launching grenades.

Call me a crazy conspiracy theorist but when you say “I’ll be here until they kick me out” and then 40 days later you suddenly call your retirement…. something just isn’t quite cricket! It’s like politicians handing out “free stuff” and then saddling the recipients with the overwhelming state and national debt that "free stuff" cost. It keeps enough people onside but it just doesn’t add up.

I don’t want to be disrespectful to Jaegar O’Meara because he was more than serviceable, I believe he’ll improve and he had no part in the decision. But a David Mundy off a full preseason would have been that stabilisng stalwart that Jaegar couldn't quite be. A David Mundy believed he could have played that significant role, a role we probably needed filled more than we thought.

We can fall into the trap of complacency with aging champions. Because they lose a yard of speed, they don’t break the lines, don’t regularly get 30 touches or kick match winning goals, we look at their years on the planet and overlook the deeper significance of their performance. Sometimes it is simply 'you don’t know what you’ve lost until its gone'…. and something about paving paradise and parking lots!

You cannot replace or put a price on the value that the David Mundys, the Steele Sidebottoms, Scott Pendleburys, Luke Hodges and Joel Selwoods bring. They don’t need to move at lighting speed, they are a step ahead in the play.

You can’t fast track muscle memory. The subconscious asset of predictability comes only from years of purposeful practice and games experience.

They’re sharper, they’re clear and rapid thinkers, they read the game better than the lesser experienced and they have unrivalled on-field presence and undeniable leadership. But most of all when they get into this age bracket, they deliver the hand of guidance, they usher through and provide youngsters a degree of protection which allows them to develop, prior to having to adopt unrealistic responsibility.

Unless it’s a collective of pensioners that dons the hoops and wins premierships, there are many ways to skin a cat. Being able to put together a very talented young list, keep them together and bring them through is an incredibly difficult task, but one that potentially has high reward if you can manage it.

I realise list management couldn’t possibly be an easy assignment and I am aware that youngsters need developmental opportunity. However, when the whips are cracking and the heat is on late in a grand final that could still go either way… a muscle memory occupying, highly intelligent and hardened, 300+ game legend or two are who I’d like to be able to turn to.

No one can outrun the aging process and we know everyone’s time comes to an end, but special players the likes of those mentioned can do valuable and important things longer than most. They have the ability to evolve and adapt to positions and when chaos surrounds them, they produce calm game saving actions and deliver in ways that you only see when they're not there to do it.

It’s a fine line and you have to get the balance right but legends and champions, in the true sense of the terms, are needle in haystack stuff. You don’t get the opportunity to have them on your list too often and you're doing your cause a disservice if you're leaving any bit of their value unrealized.

There is a fair chance Collingwood wouldn’t have gotten over the line without Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom’s performances on Saturday.

The reality is, despite contemplating it, it’s pointless conversing about what may or may not have been, as we’ll obviously never know. However, we were two and a half wins away from finals this year. It would have been nice to find out.

If there is truth to my held conspiracy theory that the club did step in and say “Time to go, gentleman Dave” then, for mine, the action was akin to throwing out the vacuum cleaner because all it was doing was gathering dust.

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