Normally today I’d be discussing Round 12’s winners and losers. But the biggest winner was Lance Franklin, and the loser was the AFL judiciary’s credibility.
Given the league’s very public campaign against head injuries, I thought we were clear. Any player who chooses to bump, and in doing so hits an opponent’s head, gets suspended.
Not that you can’t bump, but that you have to do it precisely enough to avoid head contact, and the onus is on you to do so.
But apparently there’s a sub-clause: the rule doesn’t apply if you’re the league’s one-man celebrity TV show, and your club has a hugely hyped clash against the ladder leaders on the weekend.
I’m not saying there was a communiqué from AFL headquarters giving an order to free Buddy, as no doubt some of the conspiracy theorists languishing in moderation will state as fact. But I reckon the Match Review Panel and the Tribunal can be affected by sentiment and emotion.
The non-citation of Brownlow favourite Gary Ablett after an errant elbow a couple of weeks ago gave me the same feeling, though a better argument could be made for that decision. This one is based on nothing but not wanting to suspend Franklin.
With a white-hot Sydney set to play a white-hot Port Adelaide, the whole league has been looking forward to this game for weeks. It’s at the SCG, with the return fixture in Adelaide a tougher ask for Sydney. Fellow forward Kurt Tippett is a chance to miss with a knee injury.
Anyone in football would have been aware of these permutations, and would have known it would have been a damn shame for the spectacle if Franklin missed it. In a clash between the league’s form teams, you want their star players present and firing. If they’re not, it dampens excitement and expectation.
That’s exactly why Franklin’s hit on Gold Coast’s Clay Cameron last weekend was so disappointing: it was unnecessary, late, negligent and stupid, a Franklinesque move before a big game. It should have cost him that game. It was supposed to cost him that game. The fact that it didn’t is a scam.
When Jack Viney and Daniel Hannebery were cleared after bumps earlier this season, the decisions stirred debate but were correct. Both those players were foremost trying to win possession of the ball. Franklin was hitting a player who already had it.
As Cameron ran along the boundary line to kick, Franklin charged at him to put him off, and even when it was clear Cameron would get his kick away in time, decided to follow through with the hit on the smaller and lighter player to make him earn it.
Franklin had plenty of opportunities at his disposal: if he thought he would arrive in time, he could have dived for the smother or into a tackle. If he knew he was late he could have pulled up and prepared for the chance of an upfield turnover.
Instead he went for a hit, took no care to stay low against a shorter opponent, and gave him a shoulder to the head.
His let-off was all the more insulting given that in the same breath, Hayden Ballantyne of Fremantle was sent directly to the Tribunal for his hit on Adelaide’s Matthew Jaensch.
Ballantyne at least had the ball loose in front of him, and hit the taller man to clear a path to win possession. There was no malice, but an accidental head clash injured Jaensch. These cases get cited, and that’s known, but at least Ballantyne was contesting possession. Franklin was just throwing his weight around.
The call comes down to the panel’s assessment that Franklin’s contact was of “insufficient force” to warrant citation. Tell that to Cameron’s head, which shuddered from side to side as he fell to the ground.
Had Cameron been injured, Franklin would now be suspended. Because Cameron was fortunate, suddenly the same action is no longer an offence? It’s an absolute farce. Decisions should be made on the potential to injure an opponent, not applied and watered down based on who is and isn’t lucky.
Spare me the usual guff about how it’s a man’s game, teaspoon of cement, something about princesses, and whatever other unimaginative bon mots you can dredge from the corners of your mind stuffed with blokey crap, collecting like lint in the pockets of your jeans.
Having seen the odd game of football, I’m aware it’s a contact sport. I’m all for it. A fair bump is a great thing. But very simply, you’re not allowed to bump guys in the head. That’s the ruling from an administration concerned about former players who can’t remember their own premierships. The problem is real and it’s desperately sad.
If you bump, the onus is on you to do it low enough that you take the body. Franklin, despite his height, didn’t bother.
Yes, a free kick was paid downfield, but there’s a difference between getting clipped high in a marking contest, and copping an entire player’s body weight after the momentum of several metres’ run-up is laid in behind a shoulder the size of a Bertocchi ham.
A player shaping to kick has no chance to brace or protect himself against that contact. That’s part of the bravery of the game, getting a disposal away without letting fear make you flinch, but those players also deserve not to wear entire humans to the head.
The rules this year have been very clear, and have been ruthlessly applied. The league has been industrious about making sure that no one gets away with anything. Until now.
Now, we simply have confirmation that if you’re special enough, special treatment will be dished out in special cases. If Sydney were facing the Western Bulldogs this week, Franklin would have been out. If Franklin had been Sam Reid, he would have been out.
Instead, Franklin was Franklin, and so Franklin is in. As far as the spectacle of this week’s game is concerned, it’s a relief. As far as the integrity of the broader game is concerned, it’s a disgrace.