Nathan Fyfe did the AFL a favour when, in the opening minutes of Sunday’s Fremantle-Hawthorn clash, he whacked Jordan Lewis with a round arm behind play.
Fyfe has been ‘offered’ a two match penalty for his brain fade, which, if it stands, will spare the AFL the potential embarrassment of the midfielder polling the most votes in the Brownlow Medal but being ruled ineligible because of a contentious suspension earlier in the season.
Now, even if Fyfe were to top the polling, the AFL’s blushes will be spared.
That is because what he did on Sunday was “dirty” in the old fashioned sense, the sort of act that traditionally made a player ineligible to meet the “fairest and best” criteria for the Brownlow – and rightly so.
That is in stark contrast to the almost textbook bump on Michael Rischitelli early in the season that resulted in an accidental head clash, a two week spell for Fyfe, a bloodied head for Rischitelli and a headache for the AFL.
The AFL should thank its lucky stars and move quickly to change the Brownlow eligibility rules before next season.
That will not represent surrender to violence-loving neanderthals, but merely a recognition that the game and its policing have evolved with more enlightened times.
Players are now rubbed out for the consequences of their actions, regardless of intent. In this way, it is far more like the code applied in a sport such as soccer, where a clumsy tackle without sinister intent can earn a harsh sanction.
This has earned the ire of many in the AFL community, who believe penalty should be all about intent and nothing to do with consequences.
This is grossly unrealistic. Drive drunk off the road and into a power pole and you are in common or garden trouble; do the same thing and hit a kid on a bike and you are in deep schtuck. How could it be otherwise?
Nevertheless, intent must count for something, which is why football fans have been so bemused by the two weeks dished out to Fyfe earlier in the season, the same penalty Richmond’s Reece Conca received for pursuing Giant Devon Smith and belting him from behind.
Not only should intent be given greater consideration when determining penalty, it should be taken into account when determining Brownlow eligibility.
We don’t want players left sitting on the shelf on Brownlow night because of otherwise legitimate bumps gone wrong. Likewise, we don’t want Charlie going home with blokes who throw round arms behind play. Compare the two incidents in the videos below.
The sprit of the game must count for something.
The AFL has six months to get it right.