The Roar
The Roar


Dangerous tackles in AFL need to go

3rd September, 2015

Courtenay Dempsey’s reckless tackle on Brett Deledio in last weekend’s Essendon versus Richmond game at the MCG was one of the scariest things I’ve seen on a football field, and it is one I hope to never see again.

Dempsey’s four-game suspension was probably at the lighter end of what could be considered an acceptable penalty for such a dangerous tackle, but stiffer sanctions need to be applied to ensure that this type of action is completely stamped from the game.

Anyone who disagrees should watch the sickening footage of former rugby league player Alex McKinnon being lifted off his feet and driven head-first into the ground in a tackle that not only ended his career, but put him in a wheelchair.

If you still feel nonplussed about the issue after seeing that, you are not human.

Deledio was lucky. He escaped with minor concussion and a sore neck but it could have been so much more.

To recap, Dempsey tackled Deledio from behind, lifted him from the ground, and flipped him backwards and head-first into the turf. It was a move more often seen in the WWE than on a football field.

Dempsey is not a vicious or dirty player. Until last weekend he had been a tribunal cleanskin. He is a ball player who on his day can be as brilliant as anyone, but more often than not struggles to hold his place in the Essendon line-up. With his career on the line and in a game that was slipping away from his team, he applied an extra vigorous tackle that went severely wrong.

Dempsey did not set out to hurt Deledio. His concern for his Richmond opponent directly after the incident was heartening to see. But his act was dangerous and his punishment warranted.


The danger of these tackles is in the lifting. As soon as a player’s feet are off the ground they have no way of balancing or supporting themselves. If their body is then tilted past the horizontal so that they strike the ground head-first, the potential outcomes are horrifying.

While the sling tackle has become contentious, with interpretations seeming to differ from one incident to the next, adjudicating on potential spear-like tackles could be as simple as rewarding a free kick to any player who is lifted off his feet, regardless of the outcome.

Tackles are designed to bring an opponent to the ground. This can be achieved without physically lifting a player off the ground. A free kick for any act of lifting would soon stamp out any habits creeping into the game along those lines – and if there is no lifting, then there can be no spear tackles.

Footballers at all levels know they face the risk of injury every time they step onto an oval, whether it be in the country or at the MCG. They live with that knowledge and accept it so that they can play the game they love.

Being lifted off their feet and driven head first into the ground is not what they signed up for however. That sort of tackling has no place in our game.

Thankfully such incidents are rare, but they need to be non-existent.