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If there was any debate that Round 20 of the AFL was the most explosive in history, Andrew Gaff landed the knockout blow.
In one swing of the arm, five games decided by less than a goal over 24 hours were consigned to the outer edges of footy talk. Prior to that they were the centrepiece.
Nothing gets the blood of players, coaches and supporters pumping like a bit of violence on the footy field, a throwback to the good old days.
Footy is at its best when fuelled by spite, as if a Western Derby ever needed a higher intensity, but it was there for all to see. The great pity was that the contest between West Coast and Fremantle was long since over.
It is unlikely and highly improbable that Gaff thought, “I’m going to break a jaw here, and knock out some teeth” when taking a swing at Andrew Brayshaw. There has been nothing in his eight years at West Coast to indicate that sort of intent.
But break a jaw he did. Teeth were scattered. The penalty is going to be hefty. It can’t be any other way. Nor should it be. The vision of Brayshaw leaving the field with blood streaming from him and all that red soaking a white towel won’t be forgotten.
West Coast have a possible seven matches left this season. Three home-and-away games, and up to four finals. They won’t drop out of the top four, and a top-two finish is still the most likely scenario.
Winning their first final would see a preliminary final berth secured, with the grand final only one step away.
Tom Bugg received six weeks last year for a similar off-the-ball hit on Callum Mills. Mills played the next week, while Brayshaw is out for the season, but this is not necessarily relevant. Bugg could easily have done as much damage as Gaff did.
It feels as if society and the game itself has evolved even in the last 12 months. It’s statement time.
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The minimum penalty assigned to Gaff has to be seven matches. The time of year that this has happened works in the AFL’s favour. Symbolically, ending Gaff’s season is the right thing to do and the right message to send. At the very least, it’s a starting point.
There have been calls for up to 12 weeks, but eight to ten feels like the right wheelhouse.
These sorts of penalties, coupled with his status as an out-of-contract free agent beg the question, has Andrew Gaff played his last game for the Eagles?
If Gaff is genuinely undecided about where his future may lie, this incident may sway him to stay. He wouldn’t want to end his time at West Coast like this, and will feel he owes the club if they don’t go all the way to premiership glory this year.
Conversely, could he live in Perth for another two years, where every third person he sees on the street will be a Fremantle supporter eager to remind him of his actions? Being a player in a two-team town can take a heavy toll.
If he wants to be anonymous, St Kilda is a good place to be right now. The Saints’ drift into irrelevance under Alan Richardson could be perfect cover.
The other thing to come out of this incident is a revival of the red-card debate for the AFL. The conversation is a worthy one.
But the fact is this, does anyone in the country trust the AFL to get it right? It will start with the intention of only being used for Tom Bugg or Andrew Gaff incidents, but it is a mathematical certainty that it will be used beyond that, and wrongly.
AFL is a game of many, many, many, many grey areas. Areas that the administration has shown themselves ill-equipped to handle.
The constant addition of rules, usually to correct errors made by previous changes. Endless adjustments to interpretations, from week to week. Video review incompetence. Match review panel.
Inconsistency is their trademark.
No, the AFL cannot bring in a send-off rule, if only to be protected from themselves. It is not worth it for the one or two incidents a year that might be worthy of it.
Andrew Gaff will be hit with one of the heftiest suspensions in the history of the game. It is penalty enough.
The only questions left now, are how many weeks will be get, and what jumper will he be wearing when he next graces an AFL field.