Outgoing AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou says suspended Melbourne player Jack Viney is very unlucky.
The Demons will appeal the two-match suspension that Viney received at Tuesday night’s landmark tribunal hearing. Viney will go before the appeal panel on Thursday night.
Demetriou has strongly backed the league’s ongoing policy of protecting players’ heads, but says the latest rule revision might need another look.
Viney and Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe have received suspension so far this season under a tighter interpretation of head clashes. It was introduced following the furore last year over the Lindsay Thomas case, where the North Melbourne forward was not suspended for high contact with Collingwood defender Ben Reid.
Demetriou, who will hand over to Gill McLachlan early next month, was unusually candid about the issue – especially given the Demons will appeal the suspension.
“I understand the commentary – it’s a very complex and difficult issue, particularly the way the rule is structured,” he said. “He’s (Viney) very unlucky, there’s no doubt about that.
“It’s a legitimate issue to say he didn’t have much choice, but given it’s going before an appeal tomorrow night, we’ll wait and see the outcome of that. In relation to this particular rule about head clashes … I understand that it’s become very complex and it may have led to a situation in this particular case that may be unfortunate.”
Viney’s rough conduct charge is a test case, with the match review panel referring it directly to the tribunal. It has sparked renewed debate around the AFL about whether the bump is dead.
The incident last Saturday at Adelaide Oval left Crows player Tom Lynch with a broken jaw.
Demetriou said it would be for McLachlan and AFL football operations manager Mark Evans to decide whether the amended rule about high contact would need another look.
“I don’t think it’s become too governed, because … you won’t hear an apology about trying to protect the head,” Demetriou said. “We should remember there’s a young fellow who has a broken jaw, albeit you can argue it’s accidental.
“What it highlights is this rule was amended after the Lindsay Thomas incident and people can argue whether the rule has gone too far. That’s a legitimate argument and those will be issues for Mark Evans and Gill (McLachlan) to look at.
“The commentary around is sensible – I’m not critical of any of it because I think people are entitled to have that view.”
Players, coaches dumbfounded
Melbourne captain Jack Grimes is one of many in the AFL world dumbfounded by the suspension. “We have to be concerned for the look of our game when things like this happen,” he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
“We don’t want players like (Jack) to feel like he’s going to be constantly penalised or feeling like they have to change the way they play just to stay out on the field.”
On Twitter, the hashtag #FreeViney trended Australia-wide, and talkback radio switchboards lit up with callers eulogising the bump.
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said the AFL was trying to legislate against bad luck. “If you bump someone and they get an injury, you’re in strife … the same action without the injury would be cleared,” he told Fox Footy. “I can’t see how that works.”
On his 39th birthday, Essendon veteran Dustin Fletcher backed Viney’s hard approach to the game. “He’s a young kid and just going in for the footy. I’m not sure what you want him to do in that situation,” he said. “You want to see goals kicked, you want to see guys getting hit, you want to see guys getting the hard footy.”
Port Adelaide youngster Chad Wingard was one of the few player voices beating against the current. “The AFL is really just trying to look after every player and their welfare,” he said. “It’s not like they’re saying you can’t bump … if you hit someone’s head, you can’t do it. It’s pretty black and white.”
But Players Association general manager Ian Prendergast said the suspension had the potential to cause more injuries than it stopped. “Last night’s decision has caused uncertainty amongst players regarding their ability to brace and protect themselves from collisions,” he said.
“We are concerned that this uncertainly has the potential to send the wrong message to players, and may actually increase the risk of players receiving head injuries, if players don’t feel they can protect themselves.”
Prominent sports physician John Orchard, who has helped the AFL compile annual injury reports, neatly summarised the AFL’s conundrum.
“AFL bumps & head injuries: Choice is either blame player (suspend) blame style (ban bump) or accept head injuries (hard to do in 2010s)” he tweeted.