Melbourne midfielder Jack Viney beat the odds on Thursday and won his appeal against a landmark AFL bumping suspension.
After 48 hours of emotional debate about Viney’s case and the future of the bump in the game, the AFL appeals board took 14 minutes to rule against the two-game suspension.
It is only the second time in the past 15 appeals against tribunal verdicts that a player has been successful.
Few will disapprove of the appeals board ruling. Even outgoing AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said Viney was very unlucky to have been found guilty.
When board chairman Peter O’Callaghan QC announced Melbourne’s appeal was upheld, Viney looked uncertain.
But once Viney’s advocate, David Grace QC, quickly explained it was good news, the young Demons midfielder broke into a broad grin.
The successful appeal frees Viney to play in Saturday night’s match against the Western Bulldogs.
On Monday, the match review panel charged Viney with rough conduct for a collision with Tom Lynch that broke the Adelaide forward’s jaw.
It was an unusual incident where Lynch was sandwiched between Viney and fellow Melbourne player Alex Georgiou.
Thursday night’s appeals hearing lasted 90 minutes.
I always thought I was in the right and … there was nothing to lose
The Demons dramatically stepped up Viney’s representation for the appeal by bringing in Grace, one of Melbourne’s top lawyers.
They had used veteran player advocate Iain Findlay at Tuesday night’s unsuccessful tribunal hearing.
The case was so serious the match review panel took the unusual move of referring it directly to the tribunal.
Melbourne argued at the tribunal and again at the appeal that Viney had braced himself for impact, rather than bumped Lynch.
Even AFL advocate Jeff Gleeson had left it open for the tribunal to find Viney was trying to brace himself for contact.
The tribunal’s guilty verdict sparked widespread support for Viney and fierce debate about the AFL rules on head-high contact.
“I always thought I was in the right and … there was nothing to lose,” Viney said.
“Everyone has gone berserk about it and the support has just been so overwhelming.”
Melbourne’s sole ground for appeal was the guilty verdict was so unreasonable that no jury could reasonably have made that decision.
Gleeson argued in the appeal that the original verdict was correct.
“The bump is not dead, but it has grown up as the game has grown up,” Gleeson said.
“It is smarter and less dangerous.”
Melbourne football manager Josh Mahoney said the club supported the new stricter rule interpretation on head-high contact that led to Viney’s rough conduct charge.
But they were also adamant that Viney had braced himself, not bumped.
“We thought it was important – the stance that we took this week, not only for Jack and the footy club but for the good of the game,” Mahoney said.
“This was never about the bump – our argument was that Jack had no other option but to protect himself.
“The follow-up from this will be whether there has to be any rules changed or any wording changed.”