Top AFL talent falling prey to the season-ending ACL

Taylor Walker of the Crows walks off on crutches after injuring his leg during the round five AFL match between the Carlton Blues and the Adelaide Crows at Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 27, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.
Taylor Walker of the Crows walks off on crutches after injuring his leg during the round five AFL match between the Carlton Blues and the Adelaide Crows at Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 27, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. Michael Dodge / Getty Images

IT SEEMS nobody is safe from the dreaded season-ending knee injury in 2013.

While the mounting list of players forced to endure knee reconstructions is one laden with talent, the officials haven't been exempt.

Let us not forget goal umpire Courtney Lai, who had to wave the white flag on his season after both his anterior cruciate and medial ligaments were left torn after Bulldog Liam Picken cannoned in to him during the round-two clash with Fremantle.

But, with all due respect to Lai, while his flourescent green shirt can be easily filled, teams are going to find replacing some of their fallen stars harder to manage.

Not the least is Adelaide which has lost spearhead Taylor Walker from an attack already reeling from the departure of Kurt Tippett to Sydney.

Big 'Tex' became the 13th player to be forced to go under the knife due to an ACL snap, following hot on the strained heels of Alan Toovey, who leaves a big hole in Collingwood's defence.

Also gone on the same weekend was the versatile Docker Kepler Bradley, while Hawthorn's Ryan Schoenmakers, Giants young gun Jon Patton and Geelong's Daniel Menzel went the week prior.

Although it has been absolute carnage, AFL medical officers association chief Dr Hugh Seward didn't seem overly concerned this week.

Seward pointed out to the media that this season's figures were only marginally ahead of 2012 when 11 players had been placed on the long-term injury list by round five due to serious knee injuries, and 2011 when there had been 12.

As in those years, Dr Seward wasn't expecting there to be many more additions as the season rolled on, primarily blaming the "hardness of the grounds" in the early part of year, which can make it more difficult for players to simply twist and turn and remain undamaged.

While giving the playing surfaces a little more watering might help, there has been talk clubs need to introduce the sort of training elite netballers undertake to prevent those knee injuries caused by awkward landings like the one Walker made.

Leading sports doctor and media personality Peter Larkins said this week: "We're never going to eliminate ACL injuries, but there is the possibility of reducing them by teaching players how to activate the core muscles, which start in the hip, and the rotary stabiliser muscles, before they actually land".

But, as we saw with Bradley, whose right leg felt the force of opponent David Astbury as the Tiger tried to smother his kick, or Patton, who was being tackled, injuries can simply be the result of a fast and brutal game - or a player may simply have a predisposition.

Fremantle's Anthony Morabito, 21, the No.4 pick in the 2009 draft, hasn't been able to add to his 23 games after tearing his ACL for a third time while training in January.

Young Cat Menzel, 21, suffered a fourth serious knee injury in the VFL. Lasting only two games, it was not a good advertisement for the LARS surgery he underwent in December.

While LARS posterboy Nick Malceski, from Sydney, was back on the field 86 days after undergoing the same treatment, which is based around the use of synthetic ligaments, in 2010, Melbourne-based surgeon Dr Cameron Norsworthy this week warned against the procedure.

He said, "it will always fail ... we just hope it fails further enough down the track that they have completed their career".

And for that reason, so far all players have avoided the quickfix approach.

Menzel has vowed this week to fight on and does have time on his side, but will be up against it coming back from four knee reconstructions - "That's all I can do, I guess," he said. "That's what you love doing, playing footy, so I've got to see how it turns out."

Ironically, as players were going down across the country, inspirational Hawk big man Max Bailey again showed anything is possible, his three goals in the first 20 minutes of his side's clash with North Melbourne matching his number of knee reconstructions.


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