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Accidents do happen, and are often unavoidable


Greg Baum

Mitch Clark injures himself.

Mitch Clark injures himself. Photo: Joe Armao

THE match review panel has developed such a mania for finding not just cause, but also culpability in every heart-in-mouth happening on the football ground, it is a wonder it did not submit a charge of rough conduct against Melbourne's Mitch Clark this week.

Playing the Bulldogs, Clark hurled himself with reckless abandon into an aerial contest, precipitating what might easily have been grave injury, to the head, no less. His own.

Clark, fortunately, suffered no worse consequence from his headlong landing than a stiff neck. He will be playing again long before Sydney's Gary Rohan is even off crutches. But by any measure, Clark's pack-busting leap was far more dangerous to life and limb than Kangaroo Lindsay Thomas' dive at the feet of the unfortunate Rohan.

The least risk that Clark ran was of giving away a free kick. Thomas was PAID a free kick. Perversely, he was also given three matches.

Doubtlessly, the MRP acts only with good intentions. But there is a point at which vigilance becomes vigilantism. In two recent instances - the Whitecross case and the Thomas case - it appeared to refuse to accept that in a chaotic contact sport, played with a random-bouncing ball and at breakneck speed by players who are, by and large, too brave for their own good, not everything can be made to fit perfectly into a matrix of circumstance and responsibility. Accidents do happen.

The MRP's case was based on Adrian Anderson's memo to clubs last November, expressing concern at the emerging problem of players sliding in to take out opponents' legs.

An example was included in the AFL's preseason laws DVD, compulsory viewing for all players. In it, a North Melbourne player launches himself feet-first and at speed at a Port Adelaide player who has the ball but is stationary on the boundary.

''There is a distinct difference,'' the umpire on the spot, Andrew Mitchell, on Sunday told the tribunal.

Sliding conjures up images from soccer: the studs-first tackle, the knees-first goal celebration at the corner flag. Thomas, by his own description, was trying to trap a bobbling ball on a wet ground. He did not so much dive as skid into a turn.

What ensued was a tangle, ''one of those freak acts'', said Thomas. The footage verified it. ''Accidents are going to happen,'' said Thomas' advocate, Tony Burns. ''It's the sad reality of the game.''

Jeff Gleeson, for the AFL, reminded the tribunal an accident still could constitute an offence. Knowing this, the tribunal has been loath to overturn MRP decisions. It has been hardline.

The last thing anyone wants is for accident to become a catch-all alibi. But last night, for the second time in a fortnight, the tribunal did overrule.

A conundrum now applies: what is a player to lead with? His head? Protected by the rules but dangerous. His body? But woe betide if his opponent's head is down. His legs? Last night's verdict notwithstanding, warning has been served.

Thomas did little wrong. Rohan did nothing but emerged momentarily crippled. Perhaps that is the point of this case. The MRP and tribunal are independent but not oblivious of the AFL's imperatives. The sum of their work in this case is to demonstrate that accidents are unavoidable.

It was a kind of reverse show trial.


  • Every time a player slides into a tackle or contest they should be penalised. It would be tricky for umps when opposing players do it at the same time, but the practice would fade once frees were being paid consistently. The AFL does not have a choice here as they are liable and clearly can't rely on the MRP to help fix this urgent problem.

    Ken Grudge
    Date and time
    April 24, 2012, 11:51PM
    • That's quite right Greg, this was not a show trial. That happened last week when Adam Goodes slid and gave opponent a grass burn, but was suspended for not showing enough 'duty of care'. This week the slider in question broke the leg of his opponent, but was cleared of 'rough conduct'.

      I don't condone of condemn either player, but given the outcome of the first incident, the outcome of the second is ridiculous and utterly inconsistent.

      But then this whole match review / tribunal system appears totally inconsistent and even at odds with each other. Of course it can't hurt a Kangaroo's chances if Wayne Schimmelbusch is on the jury!

      BTW Greg, Gary Rohan is a lot more than "momentarily crippled" as you say. His foot was basically broken off at the ankle. There's nothing 'momentary' about his condition or upcoming rehab & recovery. You are making very light of an extremely serious injury.

      Bring the Noise
      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 12:36AM
      • The difference between Goodes and Thomas is that Thomas appears to only have eyes on the ball and was there first, turning his body away from Gary Rohan but Goodes was looking at the other player and directed his point of contact with his knees and legs into his opponent. The Goodes incident looked really, really bad as a precedent and I'm think the tribunal got it right in both cases. I'm a great admirer of Adam Goodes but he needs to remove that technique from his game.

        Northroy Mal
        North Yarra
        Date and time
        April 25, 2012, 9:20AM
    • Spot on, Greg.

      But personally, I think the MRP has been a failure.

      The AFL will argue it has cut down greatly on tribunal hearings - but that's the biggest furphy ever, because most times you get punished with an extra week if you lose at the tribunal now!!!

      With the current situation the player goes to the tribunal pre-judged as guilty. None of this "Innocent until proven guilty."

      The MRP's role should be nothing more than finding incidents that should go to the tribunal. It should have no other power to rule on the status of the alleged offence.

      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 3:17AM
      • Good to see Schimmelbusch looking after one of his own. So just to be clear you CAN slide into a contest with studs up as long as you aren't looking at your opponent. Goodes mistake was that he was looking in the direction of his opponent. Is there anyone in Football who isn't confused right now?

        Date and time
        April 25, 2012, 10:39AM
        • I assume that the next time there is a pack mark where a player gets clobbered from behind by a knee to the head, neck or back and happens to be badly hurt then the MRP will instantly suspend the "offending" player?

          Honestly, Australian Football is a contact sport with unfortunate outcomes on (very few) occasions, so I found it staggering that the MRP determined that this incident was worthy of a suspension.

          Date and time
          April 25, 2012, 11:19AM
          • Has anyone noticed that changes made by the AFL always become more and more draconian. This is because most administrators love to put their thumbprint on the game one was or another regardless whether it is for the game's betterment.
            I still can;t understand why there is a Rules Committee after playing for 150 years or more. Again; there will always be those who cannot resist the 'thumbprint' syndrome.

            Date and time
            April 25, 2012, 12:17PM
            • Has anyone noticed that changes made by the AFL become more and more draconian. This is because administrators love to put their thumbprint on some, or any, change to the game. Most simply cannot resist this 'thumbprint' syndrome whether is is for the betterment of the game or not. Anyway; why do we need a 'Rules Committee' or a 'Review Conmmittee' after 150 something years of football?

              Date and time
              April 25, 2012, 12:46PM
              • Northroy Mal - stop trying to justify why Adam Goodes should have been suspended - he should not have been and the MRP was forced to basically admit they were wrong to suspend him. Some of the ridiculous things said about Goodsey's tackle last week were quite amazing in their stupidity. It's quite simple - the MRP got it wrong with Goodsey's suspension, and rightfully let Thomas off. How anyone can say that Goodsey's challenge was in any way worse than the Thomas accident beggars belief...

                Oh and just remember that Garry Rohan is the victim in this sorry affair, not Thomas, as unfortunate the situation he was facing was. Get well soon Gazza!

                Date and time
                April 25, 2012, 2:31PM
                • The problem with the tribunal is that they tear apart the actions of players in such mind numbing detail that they look at everything a player does seemingly with the assumption that they have an eternity to weigh up a multitude of factors before going into a contest. It's a contact sport and accidents happen and even if it results in a serious injury it doesn't always mean someone is at fault or negligent.

                  Date and time
                  April 25, 2012, 4:53PM

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