This weekend at least two AFL coaches went down experimental paths. One appeared to work well; the other backfired embarrassingly.

Mark Thompson turned the handball-happy Cats into the kick-conscious Cats on Friday night, seemingly a clear change of direction designed for the next time they meet Collingwood.

Mark Harvey went even further, opting to rest eight battle-weary Freo stars with soreness, leading to a farcical situation against Hawthorn in Tasmania, and a serious image problem for the AFL.

Thompson’s rationale is one he has followed since the club’s shock 2008 Grand Final loss to Hawthorn.

His theory these days is to qualify for the finals and then tinker with a few systems, experimenting with an eye on the finals matches that matter.

Why else would he have raised eyebrows at stages late last season when he had Jimmy Bartel thrown into a few tagging roles.

And it led to the most important move of last year’s Grand Final, when he switched the Brownlow medallist on to a white-hot Lenny Hayes with the desired impact.

On Friday, it appeared Thompson told the Cats to ditch the handball in favour of the kick. And it led to the club’s highest kick-to-handball ratio (232 to 165) since Round 8, 2008.

The plan is there to be brought out should the Magpies loom again.

But what the Dockers – and Harvey – did yesterday in resting so many stars to conserve them for Friday night’s match against Carlton was more stark.

It also would have been alarming for those at AFL headquarters who jealously guard the game’s image.

St Kilda used a similar tactics last year at the same venue against the same opponent, but that move achieved the desired result – resting a swag of players and winning the game.

At the start of the week, the Hawks were $1.30 to Freo’s $3.30 in betting. Heading into yesterday’s game it was $1.12 to $7, and that was before Paul Hasleby was a last-minute withdrawal.

There is no suggestion the Freo players who took the field yesterday were not trying. But the coaching staff clearly made a call that the Round 22 game was more important than Round 21.

That’s not a good look when football betting runs into millions.

Sure, Harvey declared his hand at the selection table on Thursday, but maybe he should have publicly flagged earlier in the week that there were going to be more than just a couple of changes.

We won’t know until the end of next round whether the Dockers did the right thing in the quest for a home final.

What is certain is that it was not a good look for the image of the AFL.

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