Ross Lyon looks on during St Kilda's clash against Hawthorn in round nine, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THEY were first officially introduced by the VFL in 1955 when legendary coaches Norm Smith, Phonse Kyne and Reg Hickey were duelling tactically on the boundary – long before the coaches' box was introduced – but the runner is firmly back in the spotlight this week. 

Euro-Yroke coach Ross Lyon is the reason why after he said he was left feeling like a "neutered dog" at University of Tasmania Stadium in Launceston last Saturday. He was referring to restrictions on how often and when coaches can use the runner during games. 

The AFL has adjusted the rules around runners across the past five years to help ease on-ground congestion. 

Under the guidance of then-AFL operations boss Steve Hocking, who has since returned to Geelong as CEO, the League wanted to reduce the number of people on the field. 

Runners once had carte blanche in the 120 minutes of action, coming on and off as they pleased to deliver directions from the coaches' box. But that changed in 2019 when the AFL tweaked the rules, almost making the runner extinct. 

The League introduced interchange boards, first exploring LED technology before they discovered the challenges that presented in the sun. 

A sign is seen at the Greater Western Sydney bench during its elimination final against St Kilda on September 9, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

After consulting all the senior coaches and heads of football across the 18 clubs during the pre-season, AFL executive general manager of football Laura Kane made an amendment to the runners' guidelines on the eve of the 2024 season. 

Runners are permitted to access the playing surface four times per quarter for a maximum of 90 seconds each time, which is a rise from two times per quarter in 2023. The access periods are in addition to runners being allowed on the ground after each goal. 

The other change is runners are allowed access until the final two minutes of each quarter, increasing the access from last year when they were prevented from entering the field in the final three minutes of each quarter. 

While Champion Data tracks every possible statistic of the players, the AFL has kept its own data on runner usage this year. 

Melbourne runner Reece Conca gets instructions from Simon Goodwin against Fremantle in R11, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Clubs are averaging eight runner rotations (not including post-goal rotations) per match across the first 10 rounds, meaning each team is only utilising 50 per cent of its allowance per match. 

The use of the runner varies wildly from club to club, with the club using the runner the most averaging 13 rotations, compared to the least being only four.  

Only once has the full allocation of 16 been used in 2024, while clubs have used their runner 14 times on just seven occasions

The Saints are understood to only use the runner eight times per game outside of post-goal, but that wasn't Lyon's gripe in Launceston. Not having access to a runner in the closing 120 seconds can leave coaches pulling their hair out, disadvantaging inexperienced sides who aren't stacked with leaders.