Sam Gilbert (St Kilda) has the ability to create scoring opportunities from defense

Effective Backlines

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An effective backline is not just about shutting down the opposition forwards.  A team relies on the ‘back six’ to create scoring attacks and create turnovers. 

Modern football has seen the development of backlines that are determined to maintain their shape and structure regardless of the way their opposition set up. 

The modern backline is willing to double and triple team key forwards to ensure one-on-one contests are limited and when in attack dictate the speed of the game by moving the ball slowly or quickly depending on the momentum and state of the match.

There is a fine balance between defence and attack and an effective backline will have a combination of players striving to create turnovers and striving to create scoring opportunities. 

The top two sides from 2010 have a mix between defensive and attacking players in their backline. Collingwood use Nathan Brown in a more traditional defensive role and Heath Shaw and Ben Johnson play a more attacking role.  Similarly, Zac Dawson and Steven Baker fill traditional defensive roles for St Kilda whereas Sam Fisher, Brendan Goddard and Sam Gilbert play attacking roles.

Creating scores

Each team requires players in their backline who are able to create scoring opportunities. These players are transition players who can take the ball from defence to attack quickly and need to:

  • Have clean hands around the scrimmage
  • Have precise, long penetrating kicking
  • Be good decision makers
  • Break the lines with strong run from behind


  • Heath Shaw (Collingwood)
  • Sam Gilbert (St Kilda)
  • James Kelly (Geelong)
  • Lindsay Gilbee (Western Bulldogs)
Creating turnovers

Each team requires players in their backline who are able to create turnovers.  These players hold their structure and are not dictated to by the opposition.  They need to:

  • Have speed and agility
  • Read the play well and make good positioning to mark the ball in the defensive 50m
  • Have a more defensive mindset
  • Have versatility to play on different types of players
  • Have good game sense


  • Nick Maxwell (Collingwood)
  • Jason Blake (St Kilda)
  • Harry Taylor (Geelong)
  • Brian Lake/Dale Morris (Western Bulldogs)

An effective backline also relies on constant pressure on the ball carriers up the field. It is important that a midfield is able to ensure that forward entries are made under pressure to give defenders a much greater opportunity to win the ball back and create a scoring opportunity on the counter attack.

This article is based on the presentation made by Sean Wellman (Assistant Coach, Essendon Football Club) at the 2010 National Coaching Conference held at AAMI Stadium in Adelaide in January.


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