Everything old is new again and tagging is slowly making a comeback to football.
There was a time when tagging was an expected part of football. Ryan Crowley, Kane Cornes, Cameron Ling, Brett Kirk and Steven Baker were integral parts of their teams because they had the discipline to play on the opposition’s best midfielder and sacrifice their own game.
Taggers gradually started disappearing from AFL as coaches focused on team defence. But that has only played into the hands of the best midfielders.
In the past two weeks, Fremantle youngster Bailey Banfield has sent a clear reminder to everyone that taggers still have a huge role to play.
It is obvious that stopping certain midfielders will have a dramatic impact on the result.
Since the start of 2016, Geelong have a 14-2 record when Joel Selwood has at least 30 disposals. That success rate falls to 9-10 when he is restricted to 25 possessions or less.
Adelaide have won 93 per cent of their matches throughout the same period when Rory Sloane has 30 disposals. But they’ve won only 62 per cent when he has 25 or less.
Using the same metrics, Collingwood’s winning percentage falls by 25 per cent when Scott Pendlebury is contained, Fremantle’s drops by 28 per cent if Nat Fyfe is quelled and Richmond’s plummets by 38 per cent when Dustin Martin isn’t as prominent.
Different players have different impacts on their team’s winning chances when it comes to disposals alone.
The Tigers’ winning percentage falls by only four per cent when Trent Cotchin is contained and that makes it vastly more important to stop Martin.
The importance of a tagger was no more evident than on grand final day last year. Sloane entered half-time having collected 15 possessions, five clearances and kicked two goals. At that point, Richmond led by nine points.
The Tigers sent Jack Graham to quell Sloane and the Crow managed only six disposals, no clearances and no scores in the second half. Richmond won by 48 points.
Meanwhile, Martin kept running amok and won the Norm Smith Medal. The results are hard to ignore.
Good taggers aren’t easy to find. They’re a rare breed and need amazing discipline, fitness and concentration.
But team defence rarely prevents the opposition’s best midfielder from having an impact and that usually means the best players keep lifting their teams to victory.