COLIN VICK­ERY

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Johnny Ruffo -

LEIGH Matthews, who was named Foot­baller of the Cen­tury in 1996, has the Mi­das touch.

Add suc­cess­ful race­horse owner to the eight pre­mier­ships as a player and coach, eight best and fairests, a Cole­man Medal and footy com­ments ex­pert to his im­pres­sive CV.

Matthews is part-owner of boom Queens­land colt Siz­zling, which was nar­rowly beaten in the re­cent Magic Mil­lions.

For Matthews, horserac­ing was a wel­come dis­trac­tion from the con­tro­ver­sies that plagued footy in the lead-up to the start of the sea­son.

There was the Mel­bourne tank­ing saga and then ac­cu­sa­tions Essendon play­ers used banned sup­ple­ments.

There was also ma­jor un­rest about the wi­den­ing gap be­tween the rich and poor clubs.

‘‘ The mess around the on­field game is quite dis­turb­ing, to be hon­est,’’ the Chan­nel 7 footy com­men­ta­tor dubbed ‘‘ Lethal Leigh’’ says.

‘‘ There seems to be an enor­mous amount of angst around the in­dus­try — the poor clubs ver­sus the rich clubs and the coaches ver­sus the rules.

‘‘ We are see­ing teething prob­lems around the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion’s growth.

‘‘ Just be­cause you’ve got big tele­vi­sion rights (money) doesn’t mean ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to be hunky-dory.’’

The grow­ing dis­par­ity be­tween rich and poor clubs is of ma­jor con­cern to the former Hawthorn cham­pion and Colling­wood and Bris­bane coach.

Richer clubs have poured mil­lions of dol­lars into other ar­eas in­clud­ing fa­cil­i­ties and sports sci­ence to gain an edge.

‘‘ How can you cap player pay­ments and not cap non­player pay­ments?,’’ Matthews says. ‘‘ Some­one has to say, ‘ We have got to stop this’.’’

Now the sea­son is un­der way, he hopes many of the is­sues will take a back seat to some on-field bril­liance.

‘‘ We have an in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing com­pe­ti­tion to come,’’ Matthews says.

‘‘ Any of the top 13 sides would have a lot of op­ti­mism about what they can do this year. (Hawthorn star Lance) ‘ Buddy’ Franklin is the most ex­cit­ing in­di­vid­ual player. You shake your head (when you see some of the things he does) and go, ‘ how did he do that?’.

‘‘ I think we should be cel­e­brat­ing the spec­ta­cle they (play­ers) are pro­vid­ing.’’ AFL, Chan­nel 7, Thurs­day, 7.30pm

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