More Than A Headache

Two weeks into the AFL season and there has been a clear message from the Match Review Officer and the AFL tribunal that damage incurred as the result of a reportable offence takes precedence over any other factor.

It’s as simple as that… only, it’s not.

At the time of writing, we have had three notable suspensions handed out for “football acts” – with Kysaiah Pickett, Shane McAdam and Nathan Broad receiving two, three, and four-week suspensions, respectively. The biggest issue surfacing, as a result, is that the penalties are in order of severity of injury, and do not punish the act, itself.

Nobody can sit here and honestly say that Pickett’s leaping shot on Bailey Smith was half as severe as the act of the Nathan Broad tackle. Simon Goodwin came out and declared the bump dead, which is one of the stupidest timed takes in existence, because if Smith was knocked out – you could double Pickett’s sentence with ease.

In relation to the swinging tackle, as Broad was suspended for, in the split second you lay a tackle like that (on the proviso it is in one motion), there are many factors to account for in mere milliseconds.

  • Is there an arm pinned?
  • What direction is my opponent facing or travelling?
  • How fast and in what direction am I going?
  • Will he be off balance as he tried to dispose of the football?

So many factors to take into account for somebody executing a football act.

Pickett’s “act” of a bump stopped the second he decided to leave the ground against Smith, and the classification of “careless conduct” is just taking the piss.

Had Patrick Parnell got straight back up after being tackled, Nathan Broad likely would have gotten off with half the length of his eventual sentence, purely due to the lack of injury to the tackled player. Broad’s action was also indefensible due to the secondary unnecessary action in slamming an already locked-up Parnell.

In regard to Shane McAdam, I do not believe he attacked the contest intending to take out Jacob Wehr. The ball look to take an odd high bounce on the hop to Wehr, drawing his vision upwards. McAdam also slows down and takes a few reactionary slower steps to tread water and await the young Giant taking possession. Had McAdam charged full pace through Wehr and taken him in a tackle immediately, he likely gets pinged for a dangerous tackle, considering Wehr was off-balance and had eyes up vertically on the ball. McAdam kept his arm tucked in and his feet grounded, though he did decide to “load” his bump with a type of steadying step just before impact.

With the concussion lawsuit on the horizon, the perfect opportunity came up for the AFL to penalise “the action” rather than using the result as the primary factor. The AFL had the chance to set the example with Pickett – sit down and say “mate, that was dangerous as hell, take a month off’ while also sending an absolutely clear message that this type of crap will not be tolerated. If that shot was landed at local league level you can guarantee they would take action.

Of course, it didn’t do that, instead opting to stick to te system that has not worked to date – punishing the outcome.

As for Simon Goodwin – a classy, highly-respected but relatively bruise-free footballer – to state that he “has instructed his players not to bump” is a pathetic response and completely overlooks what his player has done.  For anybody else that says “the bump is dead” in relation to the Pickett shot, I invite you to take one and see how you go. Poor bloody Jacob Wehr was on the receiving end of a perfect bump from Liam Duggan this weekend just past. There may be still life in the old girl, yet.

You can see from week to week at the moment, there are very inconsistent umpiring decisions regarding physical clashes, I remember a very frustrating contest in Round One where Matt Rowell and Justin McInerney went shoulder to shoulder for a 50-50 ball. Rowell won the contest and just as he fed the ball out, a whistle blew and high contact free kick to McInerney was signalled – this, despite there being no high contact.

The focus seems to be that all high contact has to be called, yet it seems to be ignored that very incidental contact will inevitably happen and it should not affect play. If two players attack the ball side on and negligible contact happens, play should be permitted to continue, as any untoward act will be cited by the MRO after the fact.

If the AFL want to get serious, a reportable offence leading to a concussion should be punished significantly. Perhaps the suspension term should begin once the affected player is eligible to return from that injury? However, perhaps the offending player should also have to sit out the 12 day concussion protocol term as well.

Of course, significant change would require some decisive leadership and someone willing to shake things up, and as we’ve learnt over the years, the AFL is a largely reactive organisation, so I would not hold my breath


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