With West Coast Eagles Superboot, Shannon Hurn

SUMMARY: How should full backs kick out when faced with a man-on-man defence? Or what about a zone defence? Or playing on? Shannon Hurn from the West Coast Eagle recently shared his tips on the “Eagle Vision” show. The following is what he shared.


West Coast Eagles Captain - Shannon Hurn

West Coast Eagles Captain – Shannon Hurn

If there was a list of deadly sins in AFL football, giving your opposition a second shot at goal after they have just kicked a point would have to rank close to the top of the list.

That’s why the kick out from full back is so vital.

Not only does a good kick in clear the ball out of your defensive 50, it can also slingshot the ball back into your forward line when executed correctly.

So what should those charged with the responsibility of kicking out from full back do? Who better to ask than West Coast Eagles super-boot, Shannon Hurn.

About Shannon Hurn

Before being drafted to the West Coast Eagles, Shannon Hurn was a member of Central District’s 2004 and 2005 SANFL premiership sides and captained South Australia’s under 18 state team. Remarkably, he turned down a rookie contract to play state cricket for South Australia’s Southern Redback the same year he was drafted to play AFL for the Eagles.

Hurn consistently ranks top 10 in the AFL for both distance and kicking efficiency (accuracy). Not surprisingly, he takes the majority of the kicks ins for the Eagles. Hurn was recently pressed about his kick in strategies on West Coast’s ‘Eagle Vision’ show. The following is what he revealed.

Preparing For The Kick In

According to Hurn, the first thing a full back needs to do when preparing to kick out is assess how the opposition is setting up as this obviously affects your kick in strategy.

Opposition teams essentially use two main defensive set ups to defend a kick in, a man-on-man defence or a zone defence. We will discuss strategies for each shortly.

Once you’ve assessed the opposition’s set up, the next thing to do is plan on how much space you should give yourself.

As Hurn explains

Something that is very important is to give yourself a bit of distance. You don’t want to get too close to the line. A couple of times, I’ve over stepped the line, as has Will Schofield. So it’s really important you give yourself a bit of space.

A quick study of Hurn’s kicks outs reveals Hurn typically takes around three steps when kicking in, with the final step landing just before the goal square boundary. He also stands deeper back in the goal square when he plays on to allow more room from the man on the mark.

Kicking In To A Man on Man Defence

A man-on-man defence is simply where players from the defending team each pick up an opposing player during the kick in.

The Huddle

One of the advantages of a man on man defence is that every kick in player should be manned up by an opposition player so there should be no loose men.

The disadvantage is that the team kicking in can manipulate the set ups to create space for players to run into. This is precisely what Hurn and the Eagles try to do when faced with a man-on-man defence. They do this by using a ‘huddle’.

Ideally you want to get your players to a huddle in the middle of the ground. That way, there is a lot of space long towards the wings, there is a lot of space short and a lot of space out the back.

Use Your Best Runners

Once players are huddled in the middle of the ground, Hurn then recommends trying to free up your quicker players to run into and exploit the open space.

We sometimes use Beau Waters who is pretty quick, Andrew Gaff, Matt Rosa and Jacob Brennan. We try to use their speed by putting a block on for them to get them out and running.

The Huddle

In this set up, the team kicking out is huddled in the middle of the ground, freeing up open space on both sides of the ground against a man on man defence.

Man on Man defense

The Huddle – In this set up, the team kicking out is huddled in the middle of the ground, freeing up open space on both sides of the ground against a man on man defence.

Kicking In To A Zone Defence

A zone defence is where players from the defending team set up in and guard a predetermined zone. In other words, players defend space rather than a specific player.

A zone defence works well for the simple reason that it clogs up space and leaves little room for the team with the ball to lead into. The disadvantage is that you can lose control over some of the match ups during the kick out.

So how do you kick out to a zone? Hurn admits West Coast uses a number of different strategies. The big key of course is to try and use all of them at different stages of the game to make your kick ins less predictable.

A sample zone defence guarding a kick in. This eliminates open space but can leave you exposed with match ups.

Zone Defense Kick-In

A sample zone defence guarding a kick in. This eliminates open space but can leave you exposed with match ups.

Kick To The Pocket

The first option is to position players wide in the pockets. Kicking in to these players allows the team with the ball to gain an extra 15 to 20 meters. The marking player can then quickly turn and kick long over the zone if there is space out the back. Naturally it helps if the player receiving the ball in the pocket is also a long accurate kick.

Kick To Strong Marking Targets On The Flanks

The second option is to position your strong contested marks deep on the flanks. The Eagles tend to fall back to this option when they nothing else to kick out to.

[Our] long and wide [option] is to our ruckman in big Nick [Natanui] or Coxy [Dean Cox]. They take a very good contest mark. That’s the get out of jail kick for us.

Go Up The Middle of The Ground

This option obviously needs to be taken with caution as any spillage could result in a shot on goal by the opposition from directly in front. Having said that, Hurn likes to use this option if an opportunity presents to mix things up.

Sometimes we [West Coast] will kick wide a few times to drag the zone across a little bit and open the space up in the middle. If we can [then] hit that one up the middle [on the next kick in], then it can really open the game up.

Kick A Torpedo For Extra Distance

Hurn also likes to kick the occasional long torpedo to kick over the zone. This forces the opposition team to set up further back next time, which can open up space closer to the goals.

This should be avoided of course if your full back is unable to kick a torpedo consistently.

It’s a bit unpredictable, but you can get a lot of distance, especially if you are playing somewhere like the MCG, you can nearly get it into the centre circle.

Play On First, Then Kick

The other option is to simply play on to give yourself that extra 5 or 10 meters before you kick. This can be a safer alternative than a torpedo, especially for fullbacks who cannot kick one consistently.

If you play on, you need to recognise where the bloke is on the mark. If he’s really close, you need to stand right back near the goals, then play on and run straight to the pocket to get a bit of distance [between you and the player guarding the mark]. Sometimes you can [also] get a block on, which helps you to get that extra 5 meters of distance out longer and wider.


Having a kick in strategy is an important part of any team defence – yet how many coaches consistently practice this at training and have set strategies for it?

Your strategy will ultimately be determined by how your opposition sets up defensively during each kick in.

You can use a huddle or free up your better runners with a block to attack a man on man set up.

For a zone, try kicking to the pockets, to a long marking target on the flanks or playing on. And don’t be afraid to kick up the middle of the ground or to unleash a torpedo if an opportunity presents to make your kick ins less predictable.

Follow these tips and you will hopefully maintain possession of the ball, limit the opposition’s scoring shots and slingshot the ball back towards your forward line. Best of luck!
Title photo by Chris Brown via: freeforcommercialuse.org.

Posted by David Johnson

David “Johnno” Johnson is our chief football researcher and writer. With over 20 years of coaching experience in all grades of football David was also a prominent footballer himself, having played at Teal Cup level and was even recruited by the Essendon Football Club. The pinnacle of David's coaching experience saw him as the assistant coach of the East Fremantle Shark Football Club in the WAFL for a number of years.

Leave a reply