West Coast midfielder Andrew Gaff has been suspended for eight weeks after pleading guilty to intentionally striking Andrew Brayshaw.
The panel, which comprised chair Ross Howie, Wayne Henwood, David Neitz and Shane Wakelin, determined that the action was “reprehensible” and that punching has no place in the game.
The AFL’s legal counsel, Jeff Gleeson QC, had asked for a penalty between eight to 12 weeks at AFL House on Tuesday evening.
“It is an historically significant penalty, but this is an historically significant offence,” Gleeson said.
“… Good people do bad things. It doesn’t make them bad people. But the jury’s responsibility is to punish the act by the person. Not just the person. And the act was very bad.”
Accompanied by manager Paul Connors and Eagles integrity boss Peter Staples, a distraught Gaff, 26, told the tribunal there was “absolutely no intention” to strike the first-year player in the head.
“I meant to hit him in the chest,” Gaff said.
“I feel sick that I hit Andrew in the face. Absolutely no intention to hit him where I hit him. I tried to do a similar hit to what I did about 10 seconds earlier with my right arm.”
Gaff said he had texted Brayshaw on Sunday night having obtained his details from his Eagles teammate and Brayshaw’s brother Hamish.
“I sent him a message saying how truly sorry I was for what happened and how sick I felt about it all,” he said.
Asked how he was feeling, the remorseful Gaff said he was devastated but felt more for Brayshaw than himself.
“I’m shattered. I’ve never been reported or fined before and really it has been a very, very difficult 48 hours. But the main person I feel for is Andrew,” Gaff said.
“He’s … a young guy making his way into the AFL and it’s something very out of character for me and it’s a very hard pill to swallow and it’s something that has really hit me hard.”
The panel heard that Brayshaw, 18, had suffered an alveolar fracture of his “badly displaced” jaw and that he would be unable to eat solid food for four weeks.
Fremantle’s club doctor Ken Withers said up to five of Brayshaw’s damaged teeth were “effectively dead” as they had lost their nerve supply.
A brace had been fitted for four weeks before a surgeon will remove it.
The Eagles’ defence counsel, David Grace QC, had argued that the incident was out of character for Gaff having never been fined, reprimanded or suspended in 270 matches.
He was third favourite in Brownlow Medal betting before the incident.