Shanks, shockers and set shots

Bad kicking is bad football.

While it may be an age-old cliché, it still rings true in the modern game.

There is no greater pressure cooker for an AFL player than the dreaded set shot.

The heart rate quickens as you pace backwards, searching for the perfect spot to begin your run-up. You look up, only to be met by a sea of eyes transfixed on your every move. A subtle move-it-on by the umpire and its down to business. The mouth-guard into the sock, the grass into the air and the Sherrin onto the boot.

The ball cuts through the frosty MCG air, careening off course and slams into the goal-post. Your head drops as a collective sign is cast over the ground. Living rooms across the country form a chorus of less than constructive criticism, while the old-timer chuckles and proclaims that back in his day they never missed their set shots.

It’s an all too familiar tale and the old-timer might be onto something.

In 2000, goalkicking accuracy was at 60.2 per cent. In 2016, the goal kicking accuracy across the competition was 58.6 per cent. In 2000, set shot accuracy was 64.2 per cent, in 2016 it had fallen to 60.9 per cent.

While the drop off is not shocking by any means, it is concerning when considering the rise of players wages and professionalism.

In 2000, the average listed player was earning $126,996. In 2017, that figure has jumped to $309,208.

We rave about the players being faster, stronger and better. Yet it seems to be the more we pay them, the worse they kick for goal.

Strip Australian Rules Football down to its core and scoring is the main object of the game. If you can’t score more points than the opposition you will never win a game, plain and simple.

Despite the modern player’s collective struggles, there are a few diamonds in the rough when it comes to set shot kicking.

The often-unheralded Bulldog, Tory Dickson, is one of the most accurate kicks for goal the league has ever seen.

Through his 79 career games, Dickson has a goalkicking accuracy of 73.8 per cent. That is third all time for players who have had 50 or more shots on goal, behind only Michael Murphy (76.8 per cent) and Matthew Capuano (74 per cent).

tory dickson

Dickson has booted 138.49 over his career, but more impressive is his 65.16 record from set shots.

When asked about the secret behind his success, Dickson stressed the importance of keeping the process as simple as possible.

“I wouldn’t say it comes easy to me, but I don’t have a total routine step wise…I bring my heart rate down with a few deep breaths, make sure my momentum is always going forward and just go through with it.”

Another exponent on the art of the set shot is former Saint, Ahmed Saad. Over his career, Saad averaged a conversion rate of 64 per cent in front of the big sticks, with a return of 48.27 over his 33-game career.

More impressive however was his set shot goal kicking. In 2012 Saad kicked 14.2 from his set shot opportunities, drawing attention due to his unique run-up style.

Saad paces back roughly 27-30 steps before beginning his run up, not cantering into a jog until his finals steps.

Despite the criticism, Saad stuck with the routine and still uses it today with his current club, West Preston Lakeside FC in the Northern Football League.

It’s clear that there is no perfect science to the set shot. It’s a unique part of our game, which will challenge player’s ability and fans nerves for years to come.

The fate of a game and even premierships can be decided by a team’s ability to convert their opportunities in front of goal.

In the 2013 Grand Final, Ross Lyon and the Dockers trudged to halftime after kicking 1.6 through the first two quarters. They would finish the game with a score line of 8.14 and fall to the more accurate Hawks (11.11) by 15 points.

In 2008, the Cats were left with a Saturday in September they desperately didn’t want to remember. Geelong came into the Grand Final as heavy favourites, but would butcher the ball in front of goal, finishing with a score line of 11.23 (89) to the Hawks 18.7 (115).

With quality shots on goal so hard to find in the pressure-packed modern game, set shots are one of the rare opportunities a player gets to take their time and make it count on the scoreboard.

The message from the experts and best set shot kicks in the league is clear. Take a moment to compose yourself, before falling back on a simple routine.

Then its once again down to business. The mouth-guard into the sock, the grass into the air and the Sherrin straight through the middle.

Just like the good old days.