LEADING player manager Paul Connors has been forced into a public apology after his strident criticism of an ''interfering'' AFL, as the fallout from the Chris Judd suspension swirled yesterday.
After AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson demanded a personal apology along with one for the tribunal and the match review panel, Connors issued a statement saying he withdrew his claims of interference in the case against Judd.
''I've since had contact from Adrian and I accept Adrian's word that he didn't speak with [match review panel chairman] Mark Fraser about the case and didn't direct him in any way. I jumped to incorrect conclusions and stated them as fact.
Adrian Anderson has forced Paul Connors to apologise for his allegations. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
''I accept that the MRP and the tribunal are independent bodies and I apologise to Adrian for suggesting that he would interfere and to Mark for suggesting that he would allow such interference. I didn't intend to undermine confidence in the MRP and tribunal system and hope I haven't done that.''
But Connors had made his point. An annoyed Anderson held a media conference at AFL House yesterday afternoon to rebut Connors' claims, voiced on morning radio. He said the comments were defamatory and threatened further action if Connors did not withdraw them.
''You can't believe where this stuff comes from,'' said Anderson. ''You shake your head. You feel for the people involved in the process who've been so diligent, and careful and considered, the way they've gone about their job.
''Your Wayne Schimmelbusch, your Wayne Henwood, your Richard Loveridge, Mark Fraser, David Jones, the former judge who oversees the process. Those sort of comments do no justice to the work and effort they put in to making sure we've got a world-class disciplinary system.''
Anderson said he had no influence on the Judd misconduct case being referred directly to the tribunal by the match review panel on Monday. Although Anderson has the power to refer incidents, he said he had not done so.
''I put the faith in these people to make the decisions. I think they should be congratulated for the way they've handled the Judd case under intense scrutiny. I think they've handled it fairly, appropriately, it was a just outcome and a fair hearing.
''I'd also say, by the same token, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Chris Judd's a great champion of the game and he's accepted responsibility for his action, and we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that over a number of years he has been a great champion of the game, and I expect he'll have learnt from this incident.''
Carlton formally announced yesterday that it would not appeal against the four-match suspension of its captain, although the Blues remain hostile about comments made on Monday night by Fraser regarding the case.
Speaking in a video segment on the AFL's website, Fraser said the Judd case was being referred because the match review panel considered his action in tackling North Melbourne's Leigh Adams constituted serious misconduct. He went on to list the AFL's criteria for a serious misconduct charge, which include that the action was ''unsportsmanlike'', and was likely to ''bring the game into disrepute''.
Carlton interpreted this as prejudicial to the tribunal case, and coach Brett Ratten said he anticipated the AFL would look at whether it was appropriate. ''That's up to the AFL to decide whether that is what you do or what you don't do - make the comments before the hearing, or do you just sit back like normal judges and make those calls?'' he said.
But Anderson said Fraser's video segment, which was started in round nine this year, was to provide information to the public about the match review panel process.
''The whole point of this program - and it's been going for weeks now, it's nothing new - is to provide an explanation for the public, what's charged, why, and, for example, with Jack Ziebell being a three-week sanction, that's then affected by his prior record'' Anderson said.