Young Lion playing by his own rules

WALKING HIS OWN PATH: Despite his larger than life personality and periodic outbursts, Jason Akermanis has won a legion of fans in the Sunshine State. Photo: GETTY IMAGES  
Friday, June 28

IT WOULD be embarrassingly hypocritical if any of those who bemoan the fact that the characters have long deserted Australian Rules Football were among the mob criticising Jason Akermanis for being his extroverted self.

From the moment Akermanis performed his first celebratory handstand, the fans have known he is a one-off, and they idolise him for it.

The Lions players have always known it. ``Different'' was the word Andrew Bews used to describe his team-mate way back in 1996 when Akermanis was relatively unknown.

Aker is Aker, Marcus Ashcroft said this week following Aker's comment that he would quit the Lions and play rugby union if Brisbane recruited Wayne Carey.

And ``Jason speaks for Jason'' was coach Leigh Matthews response to Akermanis' claim a fortnight ago that the Saints players who arrived in Brisbane to attend the thoroughbred races the day before their AFL clash at the Gabba were in town for a good time first and a game of football second.

There is definitely a tasty teaspoon of crazy in the Akermanis soup. He enjoys riding a high powered motorcycle to training when there are more conservative and far less risky ways to transport the million-dollar asset that is his body.

But in a world once in danger of being taken over by sporting clones and manufactured public images, it is refreshing and re-assuring to see someone being honest and being themselves.

No doubt his reported 50-minute chat with Matthews this week involved a speed course in diplomacy. But some footballers colour their hair, some wear white boots, and a few become regulars on the Footy Show as a way of displaying their individuality. Akermanis has decided to speak his mind, and not someone else's.

He has proven that he can walk the walk, after winning both a Brownlow and premiership medallion last year. Had Crow Andrew McLeod polled one more best-on-ground, vote as predicted, things may now be different. But no one can say Akermanis has not earned the right to talk the talk.

His comment, that the Lions are gunning for Carlton this week because some Blues claimed after their most recent thrashing of Brisbane that only Michael Voss is tough enough over the hard ball, was only his truth.

Akermanis is simply saying things that players have been too afraid to admit publicly.

Even more interesting was the response by Carlton champion Stephen Silvagni, who helped hand out the thrashing Akermanis spoke of, and is now a paid member of the Carlton coaching staff.

It is noteworthy that the AFL employs Silvagni to write a column on its website, and Silvagni used that website, and therefore the resources of the AFL, to attempt to put an AFL franchise, the Lions, off their game against Silvagni's Blues.

Silvagni said the Akermanis antics could be starting to bring Brisbane down, with one of his many observations being, ``I reckon they're the first sign that Brisbane's team ethic may be breaking down, that one member of the team has changed his focus to put himself first''.

Silvagni also said that the Blues did not claim Voss was the only tough Lion: ``I didn't hear anything or see anything that was disrespectful to the Lions that day''.

So either Silvagni was out of the room when the comments were made, or Akermanis has his facts wrong. The only other possibility is that one of them is lying, in which case it is up to us to guess, like always, which is telling the truth.