WA football's newest legend, Denis Marshall, has called on the AFL to raise the draft age to 19 or 20 to allow teenagers to develop into responsible young men before they faced the pressure of performing in Australia's toughest competition.
Marshall, last night elevated to the status of being the 15th legend in the WA football Hall of Fame, predicted the AFL would soon be forced to increase its draft age to help young players develop more.
"I think they should and they will be forced to," Marshall said.
"Unless they look after junior football across Australia you will be burning them out.
"I wouldn't be letting boys go to play a man's game. I know I played at 17 but times have changed.
"I think 19 or 20 should be the age so they have finished their apprenticeship, finished being at home under their mother and father's influence and just become a more complete person.
"Young men have got to learn how to play team football, sharing, growing up in a community."
Marshall said the draft age, and the modern trend of kicking backwards to set up attacks, were among the few things that irked him about the modern game.
"I don't like kicking backwards," he said.
"It is pretty simple, football. You get the ball and you do something with it.
"I think kicking backwards should be play on and woe be you if you make an error - you are in deep trouble."
Still a football enthusiast at 72, the former Claremont and Geelong champion attends Claremont home games and supports West Coast, Fremantle and Geelong.
"I really enjoy seeing gifted people do things that I know are hard to do but they make it look easy and I know it isn't easy," he said. "We have never stopped producing beautiful footballers."
Elevated to legend status as Tom Wilson, Frank Hopkins, Ray Richards, George Young, Chris Lewis and Peter Bell were inducted into the Hall of Fame, Marshall rated his 1961 national championship with WA's most famous State team, and a 1966 championship playing for Victoria, as his highest football honours.
His 285-game career included 84 matches for Geelong, 175 for Claremont, 18 for WA and eight for Victoria.
He was runner-up to Haydn Bunton Jr in the 1962 Sandover Medal and second to Bob Skilton in the 1968 Brownlow Medal.
He won a best and fairest at Geelong and four at Claremont before he finished his career with a captain-coaching stint at the Tigers, taking the role reluctantly after he was assured that his choice of coach, John O'Connell, would be his assistant.
He was the one that got away from the two powerful Fremantle clubs. Born at Mosman Park, he played juniors with both East and South Fremantle before a zoning change shifted him to Claremont.
He made his senior debut at the age of 17 in 1958, coming off the bench in a match against East Perth at Claremont Oval.
"I must have been OK because they gave me a game the next week," he said.
He made his interstate debut the following season aged 18 and by 1964 was one of the most sought after players in Australia, choosing Geelong as his VFL club, though he lived in Melbourne during his time in Victoria so his wife Wendy could pursue a modelling career and he could establish himself in real estate.
"Geelong was like Perth. Nice people, more of a relaxed atmosphere and I never regretted it although I got very homesick there for the first six or seven months and did toss up the idea of coming back to Perth," he said.
"Polly Farmer originally wanted to go to show them how he could play football and I had Bob Davis on the phone telling me that unless I went I would never be acknowledged as a champion.
"That was a bit of a bait."
Marshall said he took a short time to adjust to Victoria's muddy grounds and the ruthless nature of the VFL competition. "You had to run straight at it and they picked you off easier because you were in the line of fire all of the time," he said.
"Here you could just drop off left or right and step round someone, maybe two, maybe three.
"In Melbourne if you went round one, the second one had you lined up and went bang, you were gone.
"I copped a lot in my first 10 games at Geelong.
"I kept bobbing up when I should have been bobbing down.
"I think I had about 30 stitches in my face from my first 10 games. I soon got the swing of things."
Marshall said his legend status was a "very elevated honour".
"It is up there with the best accolades you can get to play professional or semi-professional football," he said.
Marshall was famous for skill and versatility, excelling at every position on the field with the exception of the ruck.
A Geelong newspaper poll 10 years ago rated him third on the list of the Cats' greatest players.He joins Bunton, Barry Cable, George Doig, Graham Farmer, Stan 'Pops' Heal, Phil Matson, Merv McIntosh, Steve Marsh, George Moloney, Graham Moss, Jack Sheedy, John Todd, WJ "Nipper" Truscott and Bill Walker.
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