Who are the real cowards of the AFL?
When Fox Sports went to footage of an incident that occurred during the Geelong-Collingwood clash on Friday night, the feeling was we were about to witness something atrocious.
Such were the solemn, almost haunted, expressions of panellists Gerard Whateley and Mark Robinson, and their guests Rodney Eade and Mark Thompson.
Expecting to see one of the real cowardly dog acts of the game we witness Josh Hunt sort of pull out of (or was it half mess up?) a mark. Shrunken in his chair with his hands clasped against his stomach, the maudlin Whateley states how Hunt has been “pilloried by senior members of the football community”.
Those “senior members”, namely Matthew Lloyd and Shane Crawford, were scathing in their criticism. Lloyd probably expressed the sentiments of most ex players when he stated “That’s one thing you don’t want to be labelled with. That you pull out of a contest.”.
Worse though was the insinuation that Hunt should be branded a coward: “That should be a moment that lives with him from now on because that hasn’t been the first time for Josh Hunt.”
It really is extraordinary considering the game’s lengthy catalogue of hideous scenes – some people include Lloyd’s infamous clean up of Brad Sewell in 2009 in that list - that this episode has attracted such scorn.
Of course, it’s a physical game and teammates expect each other to show courage but surely Hunt, who has played 170 AFL games and won two premierships, doesn’t lack courage.
As his former coach Mark Thompson remarked: “He’s done a lot of brave things in his time too that other players can’t do”.
Lloyd’s reference to Hunt’s history (apparently he pulled out of a contest in 2006) may suggest he does have a genuine fear of being hit which may be a result of previous collisions. Only the club, who have been very supportive of him, will know if he has a problem.
It is also ironic that the players’ code of physical courage does not match that of their union. In response to this slightly absurd saga ,the AFLPA’s Matt Finnis ridiculed the “pugilistic and irresponsible disregard for your safety in pursuit of the contest”.
What I find more intriguing are the attitudes to the cowardly acts of aggression. If older players have their way Hunt’s career will be tainted while others, famous for dangerous cheap shots, are enshrined in the game’s annals as “characters” and “hard men”.
One who lives in my memory, thanks to a spear tackle I still feel the effects of, is Denis Banks.
It’s often forgotten that the greatest player of the last century, Leigh Matthews, broke Neville Bruns’ jaw behind the play.
To his credit, he says he still feels guilty. Also, he took his punishment – a teammate of Bruns immediately broke his nose – without complaint.