After coming so close, but so far, to a premiership in 2019, Geelong entered 2020 with surprisingly little hype for a reigning minor premier.
In most instances the opinions of the players are worthy of serious consideration. Tribunal testimonies are an obvious exception as are, strangely, issues concerning their own on-field safety.
Players can be strange creatures. One apologises for breaking another one’s jaw while another congratulates a bloke for flattening him with a shirtfront: “Good hit last night. Old fashioned shirt front”. “Thanks mate”, replies his assailant.
During the 1989 Grand Final, I’m sure if Dermott Brereton had been able to breath he would have congratulated Mark Yeates for breaking his ribs and then having a second shot at him while he was still on his knees.
It was no surprise to hear the human bulldozers Joel Selwood and Brad Sewell bemoaning James Kelly’s suspension for his hip and shoulder on Brendon Goddard and it was even less of a shock to read the ‘king of the raised elbow’ Cameron Mooney’s enraged tweets.
Mooney is an articulate and laconic commentator and so it’s easy to forget he suffered badly from white line fever.
Yesterday he was so intent on taking off the heads of the Tribunal members that his spelling and sense of proportion went straight out the window.
“So Goddard is a complete lier (sic) in the eyes of the Tribunal??”, tweeted Mooney. No, he’s not a complete liar. He was upholding the players’ code of toughness and honour.
Brendan Goddard’s testimony was “the best evidence we could have”, argued Kelly’s legal counsel at the hearing. The Tribunal members sitting in front of a big screen showing footage of the incident rightfully disagreed with the QC.
You see, the players can’t be trusted. None of them. The charged player obviously cannot be expected to give the whole truth but then neither can the alleged victim. The AFL Tribunal is one court where the victim does his best to get his assailant off.
Kelly was found guilty of rough conduct on account of him making contact with Goddard’s chin and jaw. It was shown to be the case on the video replays despite Goddard’s comically vague “recollections” of contact being made across his chest and shoulder. He now admits after viewing the tape that he also copped it on the chin and jaw but really who would not have recalled that?
Unless, of course, he was concussed by the incident, or the one just prior to that when the unfortunate Bomber’s head collided with a flying Cat.
Kelly’s recollections (gee this is not a turn of the last century murder trial; why doesn’t everyone forget about their recollections and just watch the video?) also include contact with Goddard’s chest and, to be fair, with his head turned away at the moment of impact, Kelly may not have known exactly where contact had been made.
He did, however, rather disingenuously claim he had attempted to “block” Goddard from the ball carrier Allen Christensen rather than lining him up with a hip and shoulder.
Interestingly, Mark Yeates has also chimed in, claiming the game has lost its physicality.
“There is an art to shepherding and blocking”, Yeates said. Yes, and the art is: not causing trauma to your opponent’s brain, and not doing it to an injured opponent already on his knees.
The bump can be one of the great spectacles of the game and – since its recent banning in the NRL – is now unique to the AFL. However it has to be performed correctly. When I first saw the Kelly bump I thought it was a malicious shot.
On subsequent viewings I changed by mind on the intent. Goddard was in the vicinity of Christensen who had the ball when Kelly prepared to bump him.
Also Goddard was side-on to Kelly when he approached him but a pale looking and possibly already concussed Goddard turned around at the last instant to be collected front-on. On getting up he was decidedly grey-faced.
I was a little surprised when the balletic AFLPA board member Bob Murphy expressed disappointment at the decision until I realised that he’s in a unique bind. As a union representative he is aware of promoting player safety but he’s also bound by the players’ code of toughness.
It took the Tribunal six minutes to find Kelly guilty. That was probably five and a half minutes too long.
Some players and coaches say they’re confused about the bumping rule. What’s there to be confused about?
Note to players: if you decide to perform a hip and shoulder and you connect with your opponent’s head you’re guilty of rough conduct.
If it was unintentional, as in Kelly’s case, you receive a lesser sentence. If the contact is deliberate (i.e. malicious) you get what you deserve; a harsher sentence.
Admittedly the MRP’s decisions not to cite high hits on Marc Murphy and Ben McGlynn do muddy the water somewhat but inconsistency wasn’t the reason for the complaints over Kelly’s suspension.
If you cannot perform a hip and shoulder without being sure that you won’t take your opponent’s head off, then don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.