The prospect of the Western Bulldogs’ captain, Katie Brennan missing the AFLW Grand Final is sure to raise the ire of quite a few supporters. Whether you’re a Dogs fans or not, the thought of her sitting on the sidelines due to a good, hard football act just doesn’t sit right. It’s not the suspension, as such, that’s the problem. It’s more what she has been suspended for that’s the issue.
It was a tackle - a hard tackle, a forceful tackle, but still just a tackle. It’s the same thing Patrick Dangerfield was suspended for in 2017, and cost him a chance at the Brownlow medal. It’s the same thing Brodie Grundy was suspended for as well; an action executed so well that earned him a free kick at the time. It’s a football act, a defensive play in the purest sense.
And now, it’s an illegal part of the game.
Talkback radio lit up in the wake of the news that Brennan would miss the Grand Final. Sentiment won out over sense. Emotion vaulted past objectivity and led the narrative. Callers spoke of how Trent Cotchin “got off” his charge of rough play to allow him to play in the 2017 AFL Grand Final, and made the comparison to Brennan. It was completely off-base.
Cotchin’s incident occured as the ball was in dispute. It was a contest to get to the ball, and disrupt the opponent taking possession. There was inadvertent contact made, and Shiel recoiled. Cotchin went harder. Cotchin won the duel. It cannot be argued that there is any similarity between the two incidents other than a) they’re both the captains of their respective clubs, and b) that the reports came in games leading to the Grand Final.
A better comparison to make, if required, is to either the Dangerfield or Grundy suspensions. Neither were malicious actions. Both were football acts. Both saw players miss the following week; Grundy missed two.
Still, misinformed people have stated that the Cotchin decision set a precedent. It didn’t, and even if it did, it’s irrelevant now. In the off-season, the Match Review Panel has been revamped. Out went the old, and with them whatever flawed decisions they’d made. In came the new, and the new is Michael Christian. He is now the one who views, assesses and interprets incidents. He does it on merit of each individual incident. He doesn’t make the rules – he just follows them.
Christian is not following a precedent. He is creating a precedent. It is a clear warning to all players, male and female; break the rules, and you’ll be punished. There is no room for sentiment when assessing infractions.
On this one, he got it right. Brennan’s tackle pinned the arms of Harriet Cordner and slammed her head into the ground. Whether she meant it or not is inconsequential. She did it. If you accidentally run someone over because you're speeding, you still get charged with culpable driving. If you do it on purpose, it’s murder. Brennan didn’t mean to hurt Cordner. It was a tackle meant to take her to the ground and dispossess her of the ball. She did that. Unfortunately, she also slammed her head into the turf, and she will cop a week off and miss the biggest game of her life as a result.
It’s not an ideal situation. Not by a long stretch. Personally, I do not think that a tackle, other than a deliberate spear tackle, should be punished the way Brennan’s effort is being punished. I also don’t think Dangerfield or Grundy should’ve been suspended last season for their tackles. Good tackles pin arms. Good tackles take opponents to the ground. Good tackles are meant to hurt a bit.
I love that footy is a contact sport and athletes put their bodies on the line each and every time they play. It’s thrilling and adds a gladiatorial aspect to our game. If there is a clash of bodies… play on! If there is a tackle… play on! A bump… play on! If the intent is to hurt someone, suspend them. If the intent is to make a contest and win the ball for your team, once again, play on! If Trent Cotchin crashes into Dylan Shiel in one of the biggest games of the year… BLOODY PLAY ON!
But I think I may now be in the minority on this now. Heads are sacrosanct, the phrase “duty of care” is often bandied around, and there are pending concussion-related lawsuits in the wings. It’s still footy. Just not the ‘good, hard footy’ I like.
It will be a real shame to see Katie Brennan watching the AFW Grand Final from the stands on Saturday. She has not had an easy run at it, and has worked hard to get back from her ankle injury. I will definitely feel for her, but rules are rules.
Katie Brennan deserves to miss a week. Grand Final or not, it’s the precedent the AFL wants to set, irrespective of feeling.