Is lack of scoring a cause for concern?

Carlton had a third quarter scoreline of 1.13 against Geelong. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Carlton had a third quarter scoreline of 1.13 against Geelong. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Few football fans would argue that the 2021 AFL season has generally been a more exciting affair than most of its recent predecessors.

We've had some terrific, thrilling games.

Plenty of unpredictability. And the surprising emergence of a couple of lower-order teams of last year in Melbourne and Sydney, both of whom right now boast genuine premiership aspirations.

The man on the mark rule has helped open play up, with fewer stoppages per game than we've seen since 2008, and we've had more end-to-end football than at any time over the last five or so years.

What continues to be an issue, however, is the lack of scoring. It was a point emphasised last weekend, when the average score per team came in at just 68.2 points, making round 17 the lowest-scoring round of the post-1990 AFL era (discounting last year's shortened quarters).

That pushed the average score per team this season down to just 79 points, the lowest since 1967 ... before the days of the out of bounds on the full penalty (introduced in 1969), when preventing scoring was a lot easier.

That, surely, must continue to worry the AFL, which has sought several times now to tweak rules and introduce others in so far fruitless attempts to have the scoreboards ticking over a lot more rapidly.

Worse still, we have an issue linked to those low scores which also appears to be taking more of a toll.

And if you'd watched even glimpses of a few games over the weekend, chances are you noticed.

It was pretty hard to miss scorelines like the 1.13 Carlton at one stage "boasted" during the third quarter against Geelong.

Or Adelaide's miserable final tally of 2.9 against Essendon, both inaccurate and its lowest ever.

Or the 3.12 West Coast had on the board at three-quarter time against North Melbourne on Monday night.

And that's all from the round just completed, one in which 11 of 18 teams couldn't manage to kick more goals than behinds. In fact, over the past month, scoring has officially been at its most inaccurate ever.

But really, it's been going on all season.

Here's a few other humdingers from the 2021 season. In round two, Adelaide had 11.22 against Sydney. Fremantle had 11.21 the same weekend. St Kilda posted 5.17 in round nine.

There was Richmond's 2.10 a couple of weeks ago. We've had 9.18, 8.16 (that was the Dockers again), a 9.16, 9.17 and an 8.15. Farcical stuff.

There's a firmly-held belief that while other facets of the game have got better, goalkicking has always stayed about the same.

But in recent times, it has actually got worse.

From the start of the VFL in 1897 right through until the 1970s, accuracy hovered around the 40-something per cent mark, which was hardly something to boast about.

But it did get better for a while.

During the 1990s, we crept up into the mid-50s. In fact, by 2000, we were up to an all-time high of 55.17. But it was all downhill from there.

Back to 54 point something, then 53, until by 2010, it was down to 52.5. And now, for the first time in 30 years, we've dropped under 52 per cent again, to a miserable 51.71.

There's been endless attempts to rationalise the deterioration in accuracy, seemingly spurred by the embarrassment of such a fundamental skill having gone backwards in an age of full professionalism.

The most frequent explanation is that forwards now have to do so much running they're too fatigued when they take their shots at goal. Another favourite is that defence is so good now we see more shots taken from difficult positions.

Maybe there's something in both of those theories. What remains a complete mystery, however, is players not being given the time they need to practice their kicking at goal.

AFL goalkicking specialists and the players they work with have complained for many years now that they have to battle with clubs' fitness men to be given the time they need to work on their craft.

But it doesn't seem to change. Perhaps it really is time for a few senior coaches to tell the conditioning guys to back off and let players whose core responsibility is kicking goals actually work sufficiently on doing so.

After all, what good is wrapping players' hamstrings and groins in cotton wool so they can run all day, if all that running just ends up with someone missing yet another sitter from 10 metres out?

Perhaps in order to justify their living out of the game, there's an army of AFL acolytes who spend considerable time trying to make it seem very high-tech and super-professional.

Yet here we are, with the attribute required beyond any other, the ability to kick the ball between the two biggest posts, actually getting worse. That doesn't sound too professional.

So now we're not only seeing fewer goals kicked, we're seeing a greater proportion of those opportunities squandered.

And that's a worry.

Because you can make the game as open and free-flowing as you like, but if the end goal of all that work isn't actual goals, it does beg the question: what's the point?

This story Is lack of scoring a cause for concern? | Rohan Connolly first appeared on The Canberra Times.