Feather touch ... Adelaide's Scott Thompson was penalised for a slight touch on Hawthorn's David Hale. Photo: Foxtel
A message from the AFL designed to clarify the issue of contact in marking contests has only served to further muddy the issue and confuse coaches, players and supporters.
Players can push an opponent in a marking contest but not if they fully extend their arm or use too much force.
Players are allowed to push if they only bend their arms halfway, or maybe three-quarters of the way, but not the whole way.
Geelong coach Chris Scott and Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley both expressed confusion over AFL umpires boss Jeff Gieschen's declarations on the level of permissible force in marking contests. ''All we need to know is how we need to coach it to our players, and right now, from what I gather, a half push is OK but a full push is not acceptable,'' Buckley said.
''I don't know what an 80 per cent push [looks like], how that's going to be adjudicated. To say that you can't block, bump, push or hold in a marking contest makes it very difficult to understand how you can make any contact at all.''
Scott said the greatest full-forwards the game has seen would have been ineffective if the rules, as described by Gieschen, had been applied.
''My personal view is that if we've been saying you can't bump, block, push or hold in a marking contest, then two of the greatest footballers of all time - Tony Lockett and Jason Dunstall - would've been ineffective,'' he said.
''It's not a great development in our game … the reality is that when two players are competing in a contest, they're both pushing against each other, so if one's stronger than the other, the push is going to become more obvious. I can understand that players are confused and I feel even more sorry for the umpires, because I think it's extremely difficult to adjudicate.''
The issue came acutely to focus after the AFL declared last week that two arm movements in a marking contest constituted a push, regardless of whether it was in the front or back, after a contentious free kick was awarded against Collingwood's Ben Reid to Essendon's Tom Bellchambers on Anzac Day.
When that ruling was strictly applied to a marking contest involving Adelaide's Scott Thompson and Hawthorn's David Hale last Saturday, Gieschen further moved to clarify that players could push as long as it was not with significant force or as long as the arms were not fully extended.
''For it to be a push-out, there needs to be a degree of force, and there needs to be a straightening of the arm, and we can see a visible push-out,'' Gieschen said on Fox Footy's On The Couch.
''You can use your forearm as a bumper bar, just to put it up if players are coming back on you, but you can't extend it out to push someone out of the way.''
Former Geelong premiership forward Cameron Mooney said the changing interpretations ''completely goes against everything we were taught as forwards''.
And former Richmond forward Matthew Richardson said he was ''bamboozled'' by the rule. ''I think we need to apply some common sense to what is a push, but the problem for that is, what is common sense to one person is not common sense to another. We don't want to see a show of strength disappear from the game.''
On the basis of no forceful pushing in a contest, a free kick should have been applied on Saturday night when Richmond's Dustin Martin shoved aside Geelong's Cameron Guthrie in the goal square to mark. The mark was - in the minds of most - correctly awarded and Martin goaled.
Gieschen admitted the rule was the most difficult for umpires to apply and said there had been a spike in the number of frees awarded this year for a push.
''That is un-umpirable … you can have half a push, three-quarters of a push and quarter of a push,'' said Sydney premiership coach Paul Roos.
Brownlow medallist Gerard Healy said that a five-metre arc should be introduced, whereby players were entitled to push - but not in the back - when the ball was within five metres.