Thinking man: Dennis Armfield is trying to keep things simple and help himself and his team.WHEN Dennis Armfield started playing in Carlton’s forward line he was certain of just one thing: he did not, unless absolutely necessary, want the ball to be in his hands, as he lined up a shot for goal. ”It sounds silly, but I didn’t think that was my duty,” he said. ”I went down there to play as a defensive forward and when you do that, you think, well, defensive is the word. I thought, if I’m not near it then my opponent won’t be near it, but now it’s turned into realising that if you’ve got it, he doesn’t. I’m getting used to it. It took a few weeks of Brett Ratten saying, ‘What are you doing? Try to attack!’ ”
It’s six or seven weeks since Armfield – at times a backman, at other times a wingman and often a bit of both – was shifted to a whole new part of the ground, asked to use his pace, to tackle, then do it all again. The move came at a time when the Carlton side had been stripped of several senior players through injury and needed those who were left to make sure the team somehow started to win. Armfield has done his part. But while his instructions have been simple from the start, his interpretation has needed to be adjusted.
For one thing, he needed to stop thinking, which hasn’t been easy, given it’s what he has always done too much of.
”I’ve always been a person who sort of looks for the negative side of things first. Then if that happens you’re prepared for it and you expect it, and if it doesn’t then you can feel happy and a bit relieved,” he said. ”I found that if I didn’t get into a game in the first quarter, I’d never get into it. If I missed a kick early or my opponent got the ball early I’d think about it all the time and by the end of the game I would have made more mistakes and they would have got a lot more kicks.
”I’ve had to do something about it and I’ve had to say to coaches, how do I stop this and just live more in the now? Nick Duigan told me that one of his mates who thought bad things would whack himself in the leg whenever he found himself doing it, to make himself forget about it and move on, and I’m not that extreme but I try to talk to a teammate or lay a block, little things that might help my teammates and just get me back into the game.
”I tend to hang on to things for days thinking, ‘Should I have done this? Should I have done that? Why didn’t I do this or that?’ but now I’m trying to just think about the moment and what I can do about it. Every week, I use the first training session to work on the things I didn’t think I did well, whether it’s kicking or just cracking in – as much as you can crack in at training at least, considering they’re your teammates. I’m working on it, but I know now that if I do my job and do what’s asked of me I’ll be OK. If I don’t, that’s my fault. It’s pretty basic that way.”
He has applied the same thinking to his new role. When Armfield first played forward his head was filled with a million things. ”I was over-analysing things again,” he said. ”I felt I had to get this many possessions, this many chases and this many tackles, and I was getting a bit caught up thinking, thinking and thinking, putting expectations on myself and trying to lock down on my player and not really thinking about the things I could bring to it, how I could make them play on me, too.”
The role has been complex, in some ways: doing enough research on his opponents that he knows which defenders like to go up in marking contests, who stays down, and which side of the play they run to.
”I’ve played on a few different types and if you focus on their strengths, you can try to take them away from that and get them to play to their weaknesses. So then if they beat me, they’re going to have to beat me at one of my strengths, or one of their weaknesses,” he said.
”Some players like to see the play in front of them, so you can try and make it so they have to run backwards or run around. It’s little things, but if you can take them away from the strengths three or four times a game, hopefully it helps us kick goals. So there’s that, but in the end, all I really have to do is crack in.
”My two strengths are my run and my tackle pressure and that’s what all the coaches say, if I bring that then the rest of my game will come with it. John Barker’s my forwards coach and he calls it the pit-bull attitude: if the ball’s there get it, and if the man’s there, tackle it. It’s been simplified for me and I know that sounds stupid – why can’t you simplify it yourself? – but sometimes you do get caught up thinking.
”Ratts was saying it week after week – that I didn’t just have to lock down – and finally you start to have confidence in it. Things are clearer now. I know what I have to bring, what I need to do to play good footy, and that’s all I’ve got to do, those few things.”
There are some things Armfield hasn’t got used to, just yet, though: if he can give off a pass or a handball, rather than shoot for goal, he’s much happier. ”I like that feeling of being the link man,” he said, ”and feeling like you’ve contributed to someone’s success if they run on and kick the goal.”
Still, that he’s kicked 16 goals for the season – six in the past three weeks – is no accident, and perhaps where Armfield’s worst-case scenario tendencies have worked in his favour.
”In previous years, I’ve run into goal and missed, so I’ve thought, ‘OK, I might only get 30 shots for the year, so I want to make sure that turns into 25 goals’,” he said. ”I work on that on the training track all the time, trying to make the most of my opportunities, but if I can give it off, that’s better. That gives me a lot more joy.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.