Jude Bolton: Tagging in the AFL should not be a dying art

Bolton: Kelly has to be tagged (2:10)

Jude Bolton can't believe how much freedom Giants star Josh Kelly received from the Bombers on the weekend. (2:10)

It seems only yesterday taggers and run-with players were all the rage in the AFL.

Every side had a player or two who would look to perform a shutdown role each week in an effort to curtail the influence of the opposition's most damaging midfielder. As this tactic gathered momentum, coaches began to sacrifice a small forward somewhat by locking them down on a crafty half-back.

But for many clubs, this all seems to have gone out of fashion and lately I've found myself scratching my head when watching games where quality players are left alone in acres of space. Even when someone begins to single-handedly dominate a match, coaches still play the tagging card far too cautiously.

Take the Giants and Bombers match at Spotless Stadium last weekend.

Essendon coach John Worsfold refused to put any time into GWS midfielder Josh Kelly, who came into the match as arguably the most in-form player in the competition. Kelly amassed 38 disposals, laid 10 tackles and sent the ball inside 50 on 10 occasions in what was a complete performance that helped the Giants to a 16-point win.

It was unbelievable how much space Kelly had to operate in, and a player of that quality is going to hurt you every time. It's a big call, but had they restricted his influence it may have been the Bombers coming away with the four points.

One can only assume that Essendon didn't catch the Geelong-Adelaide match 24 hours earlier when Scott Selwood, somewhat of a forgotten man at the Cats, successfully shut down Rory Sloane. Surprise, surprise, Geelong won the match.

Selwood has been in scintillating form since returning to the side three weeks ago and I believe he's easily the most complete run-with player in the competition right now. Not only is he averaging a staggering 14 tackles a game in 2017, but unlike a traditional lock-down player, he is still finding his own ball. You could argue his recent influence on games has been close to that of his superstar brother Joel and 2016 Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield.

What happened at Simonds Stadium last Thursday night wasn't the first time this season a side has reaped the rewards of a hard tag. In Round 6, Collingwood's Levi Greenwood managed to frustrate Geelong skipper Joel Selwood, restricting him to just 17 touches and little influence. Again, no surprise the Magpies ran out winners in that clash.

Whether right or wrong, many will argue the lock-down player has become redundant for coaches with the primary focus now on 18-man defensive structures. Nevertheless, I still firmly believe every club should have a tagger in their ranks. It's not necessarily so you can send them to the opposition's best player from the opening bounce, but more as an option to cool someone down mid-match who's beginning to get off the leash.

I remember when the tagger was used to great effect as someone who could frustrate and make life as tough as possible for an opponent. They'd be knocked around, shadowed all day and really have to earn every touch of the Sherrin. Boy, did that separate the men from the boys.

It's time to shift back towards this lock-down mindset.

Every AFL coach will have his own tactics and theories but something they should all agree on is the importance of taggers in modern-day football.