How did AFL chief fare at the top?

“While his blunt and aggressive style has earned him a reputation as a bully among some clubs, he has at least as many admirers in the football industry for his political ability.” Caroline Wilson on Andrew Demetriou in The Age, May 3, 2003.
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The more things change…

When Andrew Demetriou assumed the mantle of top dog at the AFL in late July 2003, Carlton was playing underwhelmingly under a multiple premiership-winning coach, Richmond was flattering to deceive, and Paul Roos was winning rave reviews for lifting a rag-tag bunch of misfit footballers up the ladder.

As the man Kevin Sheedy labelled “Vlad” for his supposed dictatorial qualities exits stage left, it is worth travelling back to that innocent time – before anyone had heard of the MRP, GWS or AOD – and posing the question: Did Demetriou achieve what he set out to do?

A new 2IC

“My first priority is to find a new football operations manager,” the then 42-year-old declared, knowing the value of a capable second-in-command, having been one himself before taking over from Wayne Jackson.

It took Demetriou four months to find his man, a little-known media and sports lawyer named Adrian Anderson. Like the man who eventually replaced him as deputy, Gillon McLachlan, Anderson was a keen amateur football enthusiast. Arriving with little fanfare, he was at times derided for his staunch defence of the match review panel, but he provided doughty service for the best part of a decade. That’s a tick for Vlad.

Grow the game

His next stated aims were to maintain a 16-team competition and promote national growth. While the AFL is no longer a 16-club competition, it has been expansion rather than dreaded contraction that has prevailed. While financial and on-field turmoil inevitably pervade several clubs at any given time, none has ever seriously teetered on the brink of extinction under Demetriou’s watch. Further to this point, when he realised North Melbourne was too stubbornly resolute to be transplanted to the Gold Coast, Demetriou remained undeterred, and oversaw the foundation of 17th and 18th AFL entities. While their current fortunes differ, the Suns and Giants are truly Demetriou’s legacy, and the league has made abundantly clear its determination to promote the long game up north.

Put the fans first with scheduling

In 2003, Demetriou pushed the mantra of fan-first fixturing. “I think [it goes] a long way towards our relationship with our supporters, which is our most important relationship,” Demetriou said. In that respect the CEO leaves the game on a sour note. 2014 is preparing for a tantalising second half of the season, with as many as seven legitimate premiership contendersyet scheduling is a mess.

One of Demetriou’s proudest achievements is doubtless the glut of money he and and McLachlan acquired in the 2011 TV rights deal. Unfortunately though, the balance has not been struck, and even if Demetriou’s predecessor Wayne Jackson scoffed recently at the suggestion that football was becoming a “TV sport”, the end of Demetriou’s tenure has provided little evidence to the contrary.

Keep the bounce

A traditionalist at heart, Demetriou has stayed true to his word and ensured that the centre bounce remained sacrosanct, even if the footy is now tossed up elsewhere around the ground. The Demetriou era also brought about the sensible amendment whereby poor centre bounces are recalled.

Build a bridge with the MCC

It might seem a long time ago now, but back when he took over, one of the urgent issues Demetriou had to address was an impasse with the Melbourne Cricket Club over the contractual sticking point of an MCG final every week in September, even if a non-Victorian club had earned the right to host the game. While it took until 2005 to sort out and arguably cost the Brisbane Lions a fourth consecutive premiership, the issue was eventually sorted.

Fix the broadcasting “black hole” in NSW and Queensland

Back in 2003, footy devotees in the northern states almost invariably had to wait until 10.30 to watch Friday night footy on pay TV, and often even later on free-to-air television. The advent of secondary digital free-to-air channels and a deal with Foxtel ensured that diehards up north are no longer deprived.

To finish: Moments of humour

One thing you couldn’t accuse Demetriou of was not having a sense of humour. Our take on his top-three moments of levity:

1. The 2008 Brownlow night blunder of starting the count in unorthodox manner: by reading out the round two votes before the round one votes.

2. Meat Loaf’s grand final performance, possibly worse even than Port Adelaide’s effort in 2007.

3. Announcing Robin Nahas’ Brownlow votes by bellowing: “R. Naaaaaarhaaaaas.”

And one not so funny moment: Having a laughing fit live on Channel Seven after hearing that a dwarf entertainer had been set on fire by St Kilda players.

Farewell Vlad, we hardly knew ye.

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Does your club strive for success?

The relevance ladder.Bulldogs bite back
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When big AFL clubs are successful they appear even bigger again. When those clubs are not winning they somehow still seem to appear almost as big and interesting.

When small clubs are winning they become interesting. When they start losing they are prone to become invisible. When the team drops, the club falls off the cliff.

The Western Bulldogs have become invisible. St Kilda is fading. This is in part cyclical – they have stopped winning and they have become less relevant – which is why they have agitated successfully for those structural inequities to be addressed at a meeting on Wednesday of club presidents.

The presidents are expected to agree to a raft of measures that will improve equalisation funding arrangements for the poorer clubs.

The invisibility occurs because suddenly no one wants to watch them any more and they are hidden away in graveyard slots on pay TV. The invisibility also occurs when they cease contributing to the football conversation, to the conversation about them, about others, about the game. They stop telling any story let alone their own.

For the Western Bulldogs, the most prominent narrative about the club over the past year has been about the dry but important issue of equalisation. This is clearly a critical argument to have, but it is not the most engaging story to be told at the club. For fans interested in their team, the storyline has been only one of poor club fighting big club.

Plainly, with an articulate and intelligent president in Peter Gordon, who has been at the centre of equalisation negotiations on behalf of the smaller clubs, this was unavoidably the case. Gordon has given the Dogs a voice in the debate among presidents, and on radio slots and in the broad footy debate that they have needed.

The Dogs have a quiet and measured coach, a captain of a similar, understated approach, but no football manager to talk on football matters. Consequently, there is no one contributing to the conversation about the Bulldogs.

This is not said to criticise coach Brendan McCartney or captain Ryan Griffen, both of whom are good people doing good jobs. But as a club, one senior person in football must be comfortable to contribute to the football discussion to retain some traction in the market and give fans some reason to engage with the club. Bob Murphy, through his columns in The Age and on pay TV, is the most visible Dog.

The Saints have remained more prominent in a football conversation because of the change and unrest that has gone on there in the past 12 months. This, though, has not always been the narrative the club has liked, or needed, about itself.

The newspaper coverage of the Victorian clubs this season tells part of a tale. The Western Bulldogs have appeared on the back pages of The Age or the Herald Sun with a story or a picture fewer times than any other Victorian club. Indeed, if that is broadened to all clubs, Gold Coast has featured on the back pages more often (courtesy, admittedly, of having the best player in the game at the club). The Bulldogs obviously do not make those decisions, but it is neither conspiracy nor coincidence that it is the case.

The Sweeney Sports Report, the authoritative sports marketing analysis used by advertisers and sponsors to measure performance and market penetration of sports and clubs, uses Australian Bureau of Statistics-weighted market surveys to assess the market. It found that of people across Australia who admitted to following AFL as their preferred sport, the Bulldogs were ranked lower than the Gold Coast and above only Greater Western Sydney.

When that filter was refined to AFL followers in Victoria alone, North Melbourne was the least supported team below Melbourne, then the Bulldogs and the Saints. Collingwood and Geelong were equal on top, with Hawthorn next.

These figures are largely unsurprising as they reflect the structural issues that the presidents will be discussing on Wednesday. But sports marketing and communications company Team Epic said the clubs fluctuated in their level of awareness in the market separate to their on-field form, and that their levels of engagement with their members was important in this.

According to sports marketing expert Ben Crowe, who left sports marketing company Gemba this week to launch a new digital sports story website, Unscriptd, the failure to tell your own story was a slippery slope in the sports market.

”If your story does not get told you become irrelevant in the marketplace very quickly and that is the biggest fear any brand has,” said Crowe, who has written business plans for several AFL clubs..

“If you construct a business where you rely on the idea that winning games and on-field success is the only story you have to tell, that is a very fragile approach.”

Crowe said any football club had three stages: success, hope and despair. Only one club a year was able to win the flag, so the idea of selling the club on the basis of success was a wafer-thin approach. Hope was the market all clubs essentially wished to occupy. Despair was nobody’s idea of a place to be.

“Your story does not just have to be about on-field success,” he said. “In fact, you probably do not want to tie your story to what is happening on the field.”

Regardless, a club has to be the one telling that story and you can’t stop talking because your club is not winning.

“Great brands do not make you feel good about the brand, they make you feel good about yourself, and so you want to associate with that brand. That is what sporting clubs do,” Crowe said.

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TOPICS: Sabre Norris shows world how to flip script

SHARP: Olympic swimmer Justin Norris’s daughter Sabre is a hit on YouTube. Picture: Marina NeilWHETHER skating works out or not, nine-year-old prodigy Sabre Norris has a future in broadcasting.
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The daughter of Olympic swimming medallist Justin Norris made national news this week when YouTube footage emerged of her landing a 540 on a skate ramp.

Which makes her just the third female in the world to complete the trick. Topics could barely do it in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on Xbox.

Equally impressive is Sabre’s gift of the gab; she gives better quotes than your average NRL coach.

The pint-sized star told us she practised for a month and felt like giving up. But then . . .

“I could’ve taken the ordinary path and could’ve gave up. Or I could take the champion path, and that was to keep going.”

Blimey. Sabre hopes her sport makes the 2020 Olympics because her dad discovered that the athletes in Sydney got access to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

He got through 97 nuggets, falling ill just short of a sparkling hundred.

“He still ate the last three,” added Sabre.

The advice for skaters her age is to be positive and believe you can do it.

“But don’t get angry, or the rail will get you,” she warns.

“You’ll get hurt.”

The video of the 540 had nearly a million online views at the time of writing. Sabre’s next big trick is the “McTwist”, which is what she just did but upside down.

Snubbed Newcastle The Voice contestant Emily Rex.

ARE we just paranoid, or was The Voice’s snub of two Newcastle singers a kick in the guts?

The family of Cooranbong’s Emily Rex, 25, were fuming that her battle with fellow Team Will hopeful Chita Henneberry didn’t make Monday night’s episode.

Social media was onto it – one tweet, “Wtf? Where is Emily Rex?”, summed it up.

A family member, who asked not to be named, said the Nine show had ample opportunity to show the performances of Emily and Elise Baker, 20, also from Newcastle.

“The fact is the battle rounds were recorded in late February, so they’ve had three months to tweak the show to ensure all contestants are featured,” said the family member.

“Aren’t we good enough for national television? I feel it is not only a personal insult to the girls but an insult to the Hunter region in general, as if we’re just a pack of coalminers.”

The family said Rex and Baker, both eliminated, were bumped to make way for performances by pop starlet Katy Perry and country singer Keith Urban.

Voice executive producer Adrian Swift told Topics he’s lived in Newcastle, and the call to edit out Rex was “an arrow through the heart” for him.

“We make every attempt to show [contestants], but we don’t guarantee for exactly these reasons,” said Swift.

“These things happen in television, and it’s the nature of television.”

Rex’s family say they get the constraints of TV, but Emily was robbed of “her moment”.

Ashley Giles , Iberian overlord. (maybe)

WE never get sick of this story, and the sudden abdication of Spanish king Juan Carlos is just an excuse to retell it.

In the early 2000s, England cricketer Ashley Giles was honoured with a series of souvenir mugs.

“Ashley Giles: King of Spin,” they were meant to say.

And the mugs sold well. Too well. Turned out, a manufacturer’s typo had immortalised the spinner as the “King of Spain”.

Some observed, harshly, that the England left-armer had a better chance of turning out to be the Spanish monarch.

“Juan Carlos’ abdication at last means Ashley Giles formally recognised as King of Spain,” noted someone on our Twitter this week.

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Ex-bishop Michael Malone says evidence misinterpreted

Former Maitland-Newcastle bishop Michael Malone.FORMER Maitland-Newcastle bishop Michael Malone says the inquiry into the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse cases had misinterpreted some of his evidence.
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Bishop Malone, who served as the Hunter’s most senior Catholic figure from 1995 to 2011, was one of those criticised by Commissioner Margaret Cunneen, who handed down her findings on Friday.

In his evidence to the inquiry, Bishop Malone said that in 2002 the diocese had a file on paedophile priest Denis McAlinden ‘‘so big you couldn’t jump over it’’.

Ms Cunneen ruled that Bishop Malone failed to report McAlinden to police at any stage between 1995 and August 1999. When he handed information to police about allegations made by two victims that year, he withheld similar allegations from another two victims. He was also found to have altered a diary entry ‘‘with the intention of creating a false record to support his version of events’’.

In a statement yesterday, Bishop Malone said he was standing by his evidence and was ‘‘disappointed that the commission has chosen to interpret some matters differently from myself’’.

He said he learned of the diocese’s ‘‘troubled state’’ on his appointment as bishop.

‘‘Immediately on my appointment a priest was arrested, charged with child sexual abuse and jailed.

‘‘This was followed by a number of offenders, at least two of whom were sentenced to jail.

‘‘At the outset I was an inexperienced bishop who revealed his lack of experience in sometimes hesitant and indecisive ways. I felt torn between wanting to support the unfortunate victims of abuse and protecting the reputation of the Catholic Church.’’

He agreed, however, that the commission had rightly shone a light on the diocese’s ‘‘toxic’’ history.

‘‘I renew my deep regret and sorrow that too many innocent people were hurt in that time when we failed to effectively intervene and consequently allowed abuse to continue,’’ he said.

‘‘It takes a big effort to turn a culture around, but I am confident that change had begun in my time, is continuing under Bishop Wright and this report will continue that process.’’

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Catholic Bishop Bill Wright on Church’sshame, regret: poll

BURDEN: Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright carries the heavy weight of a shamed Church. Picture: Jonathan CarrollTHE Hunter’s most senior Catholic has spoken of the shame and ‘‘tremendous regret’’ created by some of his predecessors, but the Church is yet to take any disciplinary action against any of those still alive.
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Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright became a willing but heavily burdened face of the Church on Tuesdaywhen he issued a public response to the special commission of inquiry’s findings that during their time in the diocese, at least seven senior clergy had played a role in covering up the abuse by paedophile priests Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher.

Bishop Wright, who assumed his role only three years ago, acknowledged that his diocese carried a dark history, a ‘‘sad and sorry story of which we can only be ashamed’’.

The commission found that Monsignor Allan Hart and Father William Burston were ‘‘unsatisfactory’’ witnesses and provided ‘‘inconsistent’’ evidence. It also found that Bishop Leo Clarke (now deceased), Monsignor Patrick Cotter, Father Brian Lucas and most recent bishop Michael Malone knew of McAlinden and Fletcher’s offending but failed to notify police and, in some cases, covered up the crimes.

The commission has also referred a senior member of the Church to the Department of Public Prosecutions, but the Newcastle Herald is not yet able to identify the person.

Bishop Wright revealed yesterday that he had asked Monsignor Hart and Father Burston to stand aside from ‘‘any of the official structures of the diocese that advise me’’.

But they will remain in their parishes, he said, because they ‘‘are both very senior men and they are both very well regarded in most respects’’.

There has been no action taken by the broader Catholic Church.

Father Brian Lucas is the currentsecretary-general of theAustralian Bishops Conference.

Bishop Wright noted that his predecessor Malone was instrumental in establishing victim support network Zimmerman Services and was among the ‘‘good people … who give great strength to me’’.

– Bishop Bill Wright

The commission, however, found that while Bishop Malone was the first senior Hunter Catholic to co-operate with police investigations, he was selective in what information he gave them and had deliberately altered a diary entry ‘‘with the intention of creating a false record to support his version of events’’.

Bishop Wright, though, made no defence of ‘‘the failings of our diocese’s former leaders’’ and offered genuine concern for victims and their families.

‘‘It is an appalling story, first of all because many children have been abused, but secondly because it details senior figures in this Church … that were aware at least in part of the offending behaviour of McAlinden around their time, and yet he was never stopped,’’ Bishop Wright said.

‘‘Various efforts that were made to do something about him were ineffective to say the least and were driven by a concern to prevent scandal, or protect the Church’s reputation, and the needs of the victims often ran a very poor second to that.

‘‘Throughout all those decades it’s a sad and sorry story of which we can only be ashamed.’’

He also warned that investigations are ongoing and may reveal even darker days ahead for the Church. The royal commission, he said, ‘‘may in time take an interest in Maitland-Newcastle as well’’, while Strike Force Lantle, the police investigation launched after the Herald revealed the extent of child sexual abuse cover-ups within the Church, was ongoing.

He said the diocese will continue to analyse the commission’s findings for ways in which to improve practices as well as improve services to ‘‘survivors’’ of clergy abuse.

‘‘I also feel a sense of hope,’’ he said, ‘‘based on the fundamental goodness of people, the enduring strength of our Catholic faith and our capacity as a community to learn from our past failings and rise above them.

‘‘Our diocese continues to invest significant resources into systems and personnel designed to protect our children and work with those who have been harmed, to explore new pathways towards healing.’’

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