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Goalkicking: are clubs taking it seriously enough?

Cameron Mooney of Geelong looks dejected after the 2008 Toyota AFL Grand Final between the Geelong Cats and the Hawthorn Hawks at the MCG.
Cameron Mooney missed some easy chances in the 2008 Grand Final against Hawthorn
GOAKICKING is one of the oldest skills in football. It is the skill that fans can identify with most. The majority of us can't begin to comprehend the physical feats of players in games and in training, because we simply can't do it.

But almost everyone has had a shot at goal in his or her lifetime. So when a player misses a simple set shot, the familiar groans of, "I could've kicked that" echo throughout stadiums and loungerooms around the country.  

On Saturday night, for the second time in a week, West Coast lost after outscoring its opponents.

The Eagles had 29 scores to Port Adelaide's 24 and lost by five points, having led by 41 during the third term.  

Against Carlton in round four the Eagles had 30 scores to 29 but lost by 24 points.

On Sunday night, North Melbourne became the seventh team to lose this season after it either matched or bettered the number of scoring shots of their opponents.

If you think seven teams in five rounds is unusual, think again. It happened 29 times last season - including the Grand Final.

Clearly no two games are the same, and every situation is unique, But for it to happen 36 times in 252 matches when every game, we are told, is critical, then surely it is an issue worth addressing.

Yet West Coast forward Ashton Hams said after the loss to Carlton that not much would change at West Coast training.

"You might see the boys doing a bit more (goal kicking) this week, but nothing out of the ordinary," Hams said.
"A lot of the boys after training have five or 10 (shots), and go through their routine."

Hams doesn't speak for every player in the League or even every player in his team. He may also be understating things. But five to 10 extra shots at goal seems like a small number.

The world's best golfer Tiger Woods has had a routine he has used at various stages of his career, where at the end of each practice or playing day he would hole 100 consecutive putts from six-feet.

He doesn't walk off if he's holed 70 and missed 30. He walks off when he's made 100 in a row.

In his last win on the PGA Tour, in March, Woods holed 30 of 31 putts from 10-feet or closer in his final two rounds. He won the tournament by two strokes. If he only made 27 from 31, for an 87 per cent strike-rate, he would have finished second.

Some will argue that examples of other sports are irrelevant in the context of the AFL, and perhaps is a valid point. But the case study of Woods is an example of fanatical practice of a particular skill to ensure that the technique stands up when it matters most.

The AFL's greatest goal kicker Tony Lockett converted at 69.74 per cent across his 18-year career, the best percentage of any player to have kicked 400 goals or more.

So far in 2013, the team with the best goals to scores conversion rate is the Sydney Swans with 65.57 per cent. West Coast is second last with 53.03.

The Swans are 4-1, West Coast 1-4.

Although there is no direct correlation between accuracy and ladder position - with Melbourne the second most accurate team at 65.26 per cent - it highlights the importance of taking your opportunities.

Of the top five sides on the ladder after five rounds, only Geelong (56.25) is converting at less than 59 per cent.

So if 59 per cent is effectively the benchmark, and the greatest ever practitioner operated at 69 per cent, are teams putting enough focus on converting their chances?   

Because no matter the amount of running, weight-lifting, stoppage work, kick-in practise, two-minute drills, tackling and spoiling work, team meetings, opposition and internal analysis, goal-setting, and psychological evaluations a club may do, it all counts for nothing if a player can't kick the critical goal in a Grand Final.

In the last eight completed seasons, West Coast (2005), Geelong (2008), St Kilda (2009), and Hawthorn (2012) have all lost Grand Finals despite having more scoring shots than their opponents, and Collingwood escaped with a draw and a replay in 2010.

If that doesn't make goal kicking a priority, then nothing ever will.  
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs