Australian Rules football has never been more physical to play.
When GWS key forward Jeremy Cameron elbowed Brisbane’s key defender Harris Andrews in a marking contest last weekend, we felt confronted. Not only because it was a violent collision, but because we rarely see such an act happening in our game now.
We were quick to condemn Cameron before we reacted to how serious Andrews may have been injured.
With Andrews, we will not be sure how badly the knock may impact on him, but we can guess that Cameron could not feel much worse than he does for what he did.
When we look back on our game and, in my case looking back on when I played in the 1980’s, I can say the game was much more violent than it is now.
The Andrews hit would have been explained away as an unavoidable accident – part of a contact sport if you like.
Shirtfronts were frequent and often expected by players. Blindsiding players with a block of considerable force was allowed. Raising your elbow as an aggressor or in protection of yourself after you disposed of the ball was a form of pressure and act of safety.
Tackling was not done anywhere near the amount of times it is in games now, but back in my time coaches told players if you got the chance to wrap an opponent up then make sure you dumped them hard. In other words, hurt them.
If you are still one of the few who think the game has gotten soft over the years, then sit as close to ground level as you possibly can and watch and listen to just how much contact is happening out there.
The current player absorbs more physical pressure and more contact than ever before.
Unfortunately, some bad incidents will still occur in our game. But overall, they don’t happen often and they are rarely intentional.
My initial reaction to Cameron’s collision with Andrews was that it looked bad.
— 7AFL (@7AFL) June 23, 2018
Replays of it were damning, particularly when played slow. At normal speed, the contact was still harsh, but it also happened quickly.
We know the elbow is a lethal part of the body to strike with and Cameron had it raised and it connected to the head.
No matter how little time Cameron had to react to Andrews coming back with the flight of the ball, his action was bound to condemn him.
The game, more than ever, must protect its players from such contact.
The consequences of concussion and its potential long-term impact on players is only just starting to be fully understood.
One only has to observe someone like Liam Picken not playing this year after a pre-season knock.
Sometimes we argue the AFL does not own the game, but it needs to be commended for the way in which it protects its players and, as a consequence, this approach filters down to protect all players at all levels in our game.
We often bicker about match review panel decisions, but if we are reasonable, we understand the system and the laws which govern it are there to protect the players.
We have an obligation to make sure every player is protected from as much physical damage as is possible when playing our game.
Cameron reminds me a lot of a former teammate, Dermott Brereton. He combines athleticism and skill with a ruthless edge.
The game has sent a clear message to Jeremy Cameron. He knows he cannot do what he did, even if it happened quickly.
It was his action that was not good. Not him as a person.
Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager