Israel Folau has become the AFL’s latest whipping boy after a shocking couple of games. We all know this. The media from both the AFL and the NRL, as well as ex-players have all lined up to kick him while he’s down. This article comes after a war of words between Kevin Sheedy and Cam Mooney on twitter, where Sheedy (rightly, as I’ll detail below) pointed out Folau’s first year stats compared as well, if not better, when put next to Mooney’s first season.
Mooney took the jabs well, to his credit. The exchange went as follows.
Sheedy started out with these four, fired off in rapid succession:
“A little seagull dropped in with a few morsels re Cameron Mooney v Israel Folau. Had some interesting stats on Mooney’s first year in AFL,”
“Mooney’s average disposals in first year for NM in 1999 were 3.3 compared to Izzy 5.9 in his first year …
“Mooney had 29 hit-outs and took 14 marks in 1999. Izzy has had 61 hit-outs and taken 20 marks so far this year …
“All this in a side that has won two games as opposed to a premiership. By my calculations Izzy has had a better debut year than Mooney.”
To which Mooney responded:
“Love that @Kevin_sheedy hit back. Be disappointed if didn’t go into bat for his boy. But teaching him wrong in my opinion. That’s my point …
“If interested I’d be playing izzy down back on good fwds. I know he would learn more by playing on them taking him to the ball showing him the right running patterns and the work rate he needs to play our game …
“Our games to hard to learn it at CHF with less than 2years experience where he has to make the play. Be better off being taken to the ball …”
Now, this all seems fairly reasonable and level-headed (apart from the fact that Folau was indeed moved to defense against Melbourne, which you’d think someone calling the game would notice), but if you happened to hear the SEN call when Mooney said Folau was a “statue watching birds. Maybe he’s just not meant for our game”. It was hardly constructive and the issue is that Mooney isn’t the only one.
The AFL media have always acted like vultures, picking apart the corpse of whoever’s career seems to be going down the toilet at that point in time. In some cases it’s justified, but in this case it borders on the ridiculous.
Hounding Folau at this juncture isn’t like a dog chasing a fit hare that has a chance of escape. That’d be more like a first round draft pick who isn’t living up to potential, or a seasoned key forward who is struggling to clunk marks. No, this is more like a dog chasing a limping, ragged old hare that has no chance of fighting back.
It’s not just the AFL either. NRL caller Andrew Johns has weighed in on various occasions and he’s hardly the only one. Some of it seems to boil down to the so called ‘code wars’; the NRL wants him back (and with good reason) and the many in the AFL sector seem to think he doesn’t ‘belong’ in the game. You know, Aussie Rules, apparently the game for everyone.
For the unitiated, Israel Folau was an absolute revelation as an NRL player. He began his career with the Melbourne Storm and recorded a record for the most tries in a debut season. He was the Dally M rookie of the year in that season as well, the equivalent to our NAB Rising Star. He moved to Brisbane in 2009 for his third (and fourth, in 2010) season and became the youngest player to represent Australia in Rugby League as well as the youngest player to play State of Origin. He represented both his country and state 8 times apiece.
The thing is that he had played Rugby League his whole life. He represented Queensland in the Australian Under-15 Championships and it’s highly doubtful he’d ever held a red oval ball in his hands until 2010.
Lets look at his Australian football career so far. He started slow in the NEAFL, but improved all year and kicked bags of 6 and 4. He’s a fantastic build for a forward, standing 195cm and weighing in at 98kg (which has, or will, no doubt increase). His AFL career has been no doubt underwhelming, but it seems the media has been sharpening their knives all season. They’ve brought them out after recording 1 possession (a behind) against the Gold Coast suns, where he received a knock and was subbed off and his 3 possesion, 3 tackle game against Melbourne, which was abysmal.
But how many key forwards, unless they’re absolutely extraordinary and AFL ready, really make an impact in their first year? For mine, the biggest knock on Folau is his fitness (which Karmichael Hunt also struggled with heavily last year) and the fact he isn’t kicking goals. He had a solid game in their win against the Gold Coast, where he had 11 touches and applied great pressure in the forward line. But again, no goals, just two behinds.
He had a three round period from rounds 16-18 where he was solid relief for Jonathan Giles in the ruck, recording 13, 11 and 10 hitouts against strong opposition.
As mentioned above, and by Sheedy, he was comfortably better than Cameron Mooney in their respective debut seasons. Israel has played one more game this year than Cam did in his first season. Folau has three times as many disposals, twice as many hit-outs, five times more tackles and has kicked only one less goal (but four more behinds) despite being in a far worse side in his first year. Mooney may have been less built up physically, but he would have also had a whole junior career of experience behind him.
If you look at other key-forwards their stats are usually abysmal, but they tend to kick about 10 goals (for example, Michael Hurley and Tom Hawkins in their first seasons) which takes the spotlight off them. Then if they have an awful game the “they’re a developing KPF, give them time” line gets trotted out.
The sticking point with a lot of people seems to be either the money he’s getting paid or the lack of effort he’s applying. The former has led to him being dubbed ‘the six million dollar man’. There’s no doubting he is on obscene amounts of money, but to pay him that amount is the AFL’s perogative. Karmichael Hunt is on the same or a similar amount, and the amount they have done for the games exposure cannot be denied. I have met no rugby fans who do not even have a little interest on how these two are tracking in the AFL.
The lack of effort could be one of three things. He really isn’t trying, it’s a media beat-up or he’s absolutely cooked. My money is on the latter two.
It was only a year ago that people were calling for Karmichael Hunt’s head after a poor debut season where he was in and out of the team. This year he’s become an enforcer for the young Suns and provided one of the moments of the year when he kicked a goal after the season to give the Suns their first victory against Richmond. Hunt is a consumate professional, and whether Folau is remains to be seen, but it seems an unfair situation for somebody 12 games into an AFL career.
If we want to talk about statues watching birds, Cam Mooney had 0 touches in the 1999 Grand Final victory. Not a single stat whatsoever, in fact. He went on to be a very good player for Geelong and featured in two more premierships where he contributed a hell of a lot more.
I’m not saying he’ll be a superstar, just give him a chance.