The dust has settled. After 48 hours of outrage and some stirring back and forth debate, Andrew Gaff has been handed a suspension of eight weeks for knocking Andrew Brayshaw’s teeth into next season. Now that this is behind us, let’s focus on what happens next. And to do that, we must ask four basic questions.
Is it time to introduce a send off rule?
Has Andrew Gaff played his last game for West Coast?
How will this incident affect both players mentally?
What happens to West Coast’s premiership aspirations?
It was the punch that stopped the nation, and breathed life into what was turning into a placid, boring Western Derby 48. I commend both coaches for their handling of their respective players, particularly Ross Lyon, who could’ve easily incited his players into seeking retribution. Praise must also go to Adam Simpson, who understood the gravity of the situation while standing by his star player that committed a horrendous act. To Mark, Debra, Angus, Hamish, and the entire Brayshaw family, our thoughts are with you. Andrew Brayshaw, rest up, heal up, and from the wider football community, we hope that you can bounce back from this and come back in 2019, picking up right where you left off.
Is it time for the AFL to introduce a send off rule?
At the time of the incident (11 minutes into the 3rd quarter), Brayshaw had amassed 16 disposals. Given the time still left in the match, he was on his way to 20-25 touches, and a possible rising star nomination given his influence in the first half. It is completely unfair for Fremantle to have to play a man down for the majority of the second half, regardless of how the match was panning out. The argument against the send off rule, according to Gillon McLachlan at least, is that incidents worthy of being carded don’t happen often enough for it to be introduced.
But the question is, if someone is employed to review every score, why can’t that same person rule over whether a player deserves to be sent off? Of course there will always be debate over every potential red card incident, such as whether Jeremy Cameron should have been sent off for his elbow on Harris Andrews. Another factor is whether getting sent off immediately gives a player a suspension without going to the tribunal. A rule could be introduced that if Gaff was sent off, he is already given a suspension of six weeks, with no tribunal sitting. But what about mitigating factors? What about provocation? And what if his action is retaliatory? A blanket rule like that can leave more questions than answers.
Much like cricket’s sandpaper scandal, this incident may be the catalyst for change within the AFL. Players need to learn that punches to an opponent simply cannot be tolerated, regardless of the force. Whether just a simple little tap to an opponent’s back, or a full blooded Gaff/Bugg style hit, this is action that could be replicated by thousands of young footballers across the country only wanting to copy their heroes. The sooner this is stamped out of our game, the better.
Has Gaff played his last game for West Coast?
The general rule within the AFL is that if a free agent hasn’t declared his hand by round 16, he is leaving the club. We are now heading towards round 21, and Gaff is still yet to sign, with big offers being reportedly in the offing, particularly from St Kilda and North Melbourne. It would be a horrible way to end your time at a club, essentially abandoning (unintentionally) your team when they need you the most. I am of the belief that Gaff will leave the West Coast, and sign with the Saints. But he now must be feeling a sense of injustice for his current team, and this could factor into his decision of where he signs for next year.
And what of the contracts being offered to Gaff. Will they be reduced in any way? Clubs chasing him will be well aware that he could potentially miss the first 3 weeks of the football season, depending on how the Eagles fare in this years’ finals series. Looking at the worst case scenario, Gaff misses the first 4 weeks of season 2019. The most recent example of a player switching clubs with a suspension hanging over his head is Kurt Tippett, who was suspended by the AFL for 11 matches for draft tampering, and Sydney selected him in the 2013 pre-season draft despite this.
You’d expect that Gaff would not be signing a short term deal. Clubs will take short term pain in order to receive long term gain.
In case you missed it - THE NEXT STAGE OF ANDREW GAFF
How will this affect both players mentally?
You must feel for Mrs. Brayshaw, and indeed the entire Brayshaw family, who has had to endure Angus’ repeated concussions, and now being at the ground when Andrew’s mouth became a mangled, bloody mess. It has also been reported that the teeth affected by the punch will most likely be lost, as they have no nerve function. So, with that said, can Brayshaw return to the football field confident that his face won’t be caved in again? Will he be as aggressive when trying to curtail another player?
Another question that needs to be addressed is the mental state of Gaff, who was visibly distraught after the incident occurred. So many people have said, correctly, how far out of character this was for Gaff, so what will he be feeling when he next runs out onto a football field. I look back on the freak accident that claimed the life of Phil Hughes. Sean Abbott, the bowler who unintentionally delivered the fatal blow, had to go through counselling to deal with the situation. Though the outcome was much less significant for Gaff, the best thing may be for him to seek out a similar pathway.
What happens to West Coast’s premiership aspirations?
In a side already missing Naitanui, Kennedy and Schofield, losing Gaff for the season is a disaster for West Coast’s 2018 campaign. I have West Coast finishing 4th, which means a trip to the MCG to face the Tigers in the first week of the finals. However, should they lose all three of their remaining games, they should finish 6th, which according to my ladder predictor means a home final against the very hard to read Geelong. Win, and its back to Melbourne to face the Hawks. Worst case, they fall to 7th and an away elimination final awaits them. It could be argued that the injuries West Coast have already suffered were putting a dent in the Eagles flag hopes anyway, but losing their best midfielder is going to make an already uphill battle so much harder.
It was the punch that ended a teenager’s season, dashed a superstar’s chance at a Brownlow Medal, and overshadowed what was perhaps the greatest weekend of football the game had ever seen. But now we must all pick up the pieces and move on.
Andrew Gaff has been held accountable for his actions, and he will live with the outcome of his actions for long time. I don’t believe it was his intention to strike Brayshaw to the face, but he did. This is a 26 year old Rolls Royce of a footballer with a perfect tribunal record across 175 games. I must ask all those condemning him and questioning his character to take a step back and remind yourselves what a brilliant young man he is.
Once he is back on the park in 2019, irrespective of where he’s playing, Gaff will be giving some reminders of his own. Let's hope Andrew Brayshaw returns and continues to develop into a wonderful player as quickly as he had been before the incident, too.
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