Geelong's Steve Johnson pushes his knee into the midriff of North Melbourne's Scott Thompson. Photo: Channel Seven
That you don't generally take risks with a player as good as Steve Johnson is a given. In doing so on Tuesday night - despite privately fearing the tribunal might not share coach Chris Scott's view that a travesty of justice had occurred - Geelong effectively drew a high-stakes line in the sand.
Ultimately, the Cats were prepared to jeopardise a superstar's availability to fight a broader battle. AFL club chief executives are pushing for a review of the match review panel, and the sentiment being aired privately at Simonds Stadium on Tuesday morning was central to their frustration: "put all the bullshit aside, should a bloke miss a game for that?"
"The prevailing view across the competition at the moment if, I'm reading it accurately, is that given some of the other incidents across the weekend, the Steve one doesn't meet scrutiny," Scott said. He admitted to shock at the finding, but imagined that put him in concert with "most other reasoned people within the football industry".
Steve Johnson: Up for the challenge. Photo: Pat Scala
As he spoke, the decision to fight rather than take a week and move on was being debated by football manager Neil Balme and legal representatives. Scott said he'd put his view and stepped away to focus on preparing to meet Fremantle in what he termed his team's biggest game of the season. Much to-ing and fro-ing preceded the news that they would contest the finding.
"If we do decide to take it up - especially at this stage of the year with the stakes on offer - we would have to be absolutely sure that this incident didn't constitute a reportable offence," Scott said. He described Johnson's knee contacting Scott Thompson's midriff as "innocuous", and "in the way footy's played, absolutely inconsequential".
"We would have to be absolutely adamant that there's been a travesty of justice here, for us to even consider risking losing Steve for another game."
That Johnson has been careless, even reckless in the past is pertinent - his priors created the carryover points that, through the MRP's lens, demanded a suspension. Yet Scott said football isn't played in a vacuum, that the Johnson-Thompson incident demanded comparison to others (he refused to be specific, but Daniel Merrett's great escape was presumably on his mind) when arriving at a penalty befitting the crime.
The Cats have challenged MRP findings six times since 2009 for just two wins. Scott has been forthright in the past about Johnson needing to temper his approach, but on Tuesday said he was regarding this case in total isolation. "On viewing the incident and taking into consideration all the issues, anger towards Steve is not on my agenda at the moment."
Anger at the system clearly is, enough to prompt a premiership contender to risk losing a star playmaker - with one eye to clearing his name, and the other on making a point the Cats believe all in football agree with.