Tackling the issue in the AFL

Justin Mitchell Roar Rookie

By , Justin Mitchell is a Roar Rookie New author!

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    In the wake of recent suspensions to Patrick Dangerfield and Brodie Grundy, penalised for tackles that 20 years ago would have been deemed close to perfect, there’s a growing concern in the greater AFL community that the crackdown on head impacts and concussions is having a detrimental effect on the toughness of the sport.

    The AFL has been unambiguous in their goal to reduce or remove concussions and head-related injuries, and the crackdown on tackling technique is just another step in the evolution of the sport.

    The spotlight has certainly been shone on the sport following the Brodie Grundy tackle on Ben Brown, who was feared at one point to have had a broken neck after being slung into the turf.

    Bizarrely Nathan Buckley, coach of Collingwood, declared it to be a perfect tackle, with the tackling player pinning both arms of Ben Brown, before slamming him into the ground.

    Grundy was charged with rough conduct by the match review panel and subsequently offered a two-week suspension, which the club begrudgingly accepted, but it has left former Collingwood player and media personality Brian Taylor fuming.

    “I am (worried about the future of tackling) if we’re going to jump at this and make rule changes because all of a sudden we’ve had a spate of these head knocks from sling tackles,” he said on Channel 7.

    “We’ve seen the bump all but disappear and you’ve got to have other options now, when you go in to bump you’ve got to tackle.

    “Now we’re being told yeah you can tackle but don’t pin the arms because if he falls over you might hurt him as well.

    “We’re at risk of taking out the element of tackling in our game, which is very, very important.

    “We’ve overreacted.”

    Jon Ralph for the Herald Sun disagrees with the arguments put forward by Buckley and Taylor, and instead points out that if these “perfect tackles” put players in hospital, and would be acceptable, the game would be in crisis.

    “If the “perfect tackle” were dumping of the game’s best players into the turf so hard he spent a night in hospital then our game would be in crisis.”

    Gillon McLachlan spoke to 3AW last Friday, and said that if a player’s arms are pinned, then the application of the rules and suspensions are probably justified.

    “This concept of being able to pin a bloke’s arms and drive their head into the turf and knock them out. I think the rule is right and was the application right? I think it was,” McLachlan said on 3AW.

    AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan

    (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

    Swans veteran, former captain Kieren Jack agrees, and says that there’s no confusion at the Swans over the tackling interpretations in the AFL.

    “There have been so many different rule changes with what you can and can’t do (when tackling),” he said on Tuesday.

    “I think that what players are aware of is that any sort of slinging (a player) to the ground or any dumping action, is going to be heavily scrutinised.

    “The tough part is when you want to pin an arm, sometimes you can’t see where the ball is, and whether they’ve disposed of it or not, and that’s the delicate issue.

    “Whether that takes away the physical element of the game, who knows?

    “There’s certainly an element where you can still tackle hard but you don’t have to dump and sling them to the ground.”

    It’s up to the club, and players, to keep abreast and informed of the latest trends, rules and interpretations of the AFL, and Jack says it’s something the Swans frequently do.

    “We do it all the time, (and talk about) what’s legal and what’s not,” he said.

    “In the end you get free kicks for and against you and it can cost you, so we’re constantly aware of that.

    “I think that’s been the key to come out of the weekend’s game, that any type of slinging or motion like that you’re going to get penalised for it.”

    The argument has always been to protect the physicality and integrity of the game, while protecting the welfare of the players.

    But the trade off often leads to once accepted practices and norms being abandoned, or significantly reigned in, such as the latest incidents involving Hawkins, Duncan, Bugg, Dangerfield and Grundy have shown.

    You’re always going to have players from different eras question the application of rules, the constant tinkering of the interpretations, and blast the AFLs gung-ho approach to protecting the head and preventing concussion.

    But with what we know now, and certainly learned from the NFL, it’s getting quite ridiculous to accuse the AFL of softening a tough and physical game, in the goal of ensuring professional players remain highly functional once their careers have ended.

    A number of players over the last 10-to-15 years have retired from concussion or head-related injuries, and you only have to look as far as Justin Koschitzke feinting on live television, as a warning for what may come from head injuries.