Reliving the inexplicable, mesmerising end of Andrew Gaff’s season

Jay Croucher Columnist

By Jay Croucher, Jay Croucher is a Roar Expert

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    As the Dockers broke from the three-quarter time huddle, Ross Lyon gave the last word to Hayden Ballantyne: “Sweep the leg”, or something to that effect, you’d imagine.

    But unlike young Johnny Lawrence, horrified by Sensei Kreese’s cold-blooded request to take out Daniel-san, Ballantyne was more than happy to go hunting. He did, from the opening bounce, awkwardly but not without a lack of at least some force, collapsing himself onto Andrew Gaff’s back.

    It was the first moment in a final quarter of football where kicks and handballs and goals suddenly became meaningless and the only interesting thing taking place on the field was retribution.

    The Dockers never entirely found it – the appetite for violence was satisfied with quality entrees but never a proper main course – although Michael Johnson got in a good one, and Stephen Hill hit Gaff flush too. But it wasn’t the ’80s, as Adam Simpson said, or even the ’90s, and when it became clear that Gaff was going to escape in one piece, the theatre became more subtle.

    How do you behave after you’ve done a horrible thing and the consequences immediately become clear to you? How do you process it all, especially when you still have to go through the motions of worrying about stoppage positioning and defensive structures against the Fremantle Dockers?

    Andrew Gaff

    Andrew Gaff of the Eagles. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    Immediately after he broke Andrew Brayshaw’s jaw, Gaff was a zombie. You could tell, watching him daze through the remainder of the third quarter, that he realised what he had done and what the repercussions would be.

    On the field, and then on the bench, you could see Gaff feeling it all. His eyes were flickering, blinking uncontrollably, his face twitching. He still had to play football, though, or at least pretend to. The start of the last quarter was as compelling as anything that happened in the best round of football of the year, for reasons that had nothing to do with football.

    Those first ten minutes were about justice. A chance for the Fremantle players to get payback, and for Gaff, who kept on putting his head over the ball and hunting it despite knowing what was coming every time, an odd but fitting way to start his sentence.

    The action slowly dissipated, the stage for human drama removed, giving way to what we assumed would be on tap – Nathan Vardy kicking goals from the goal-square, Brandon Matera grubbing kicks to Jeremy McGovern, Matthew Taberner’s continued struggle to become meaningful, and the other joys of irrelevant football.

    Gaff got back to playing. The shock wore off, all the stages of grief passed through and, in an accepting sort of fashion, he got back to just doing all the things that have made him West Coast’s best player this year. He ran tirelessly, won the ball on the inside and spread with it on the outside, hit targets lace out, connected handball chains, set up goals and finished one himself.

    Andrew Brayshaw

    Andrew Brayshaw after the incident (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    All that’s gone now, of course, along with Brayshaw’s three teeth. West Coast aren’t exactly finished, because they’re still in the driver’s seat for second. Even without Gaff and Nic Naitanui, the Eagles are formidable at home. But they’ve gone from being Richmond’s primary challenger, to just another name in the pack of challengers.

    By the siren on Sunday, Gaff seemed to have come to terms with what he’d done, recognising and accepting it as horrific. He will have to keep coming to terms with it for the rest of his career.

    Jay Croucher
    Jay Croucher

    From MSG in New York to the MCG in Melbourne, Jay has spent his adult life travelling the world, indulging in sport and approaching it from the angle of history and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter @CroucherJD

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    The Crowd Says (145)

    • Roar Guru

      August 8th 2018 @ 7:38am
      Peter the Scribe said | August 8th 2018 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      He has had a great season and will not see the reward of the finals like his teammates. He will forever be known for this incident and who is to say wasn’t leading the Brownlow when it happened. Time to move on. I wonder if he will either feels he “owes” the Eagles or if the temptation will be to start his retribution at a new club, a quiet club that mostly goes under the radar with small media coverage and small crowds. North perhaps?

      • August 8th 2018 @ 8:35am
        Nigel said | August 8th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

        If he does to leave i would have not ill feelings to towards him. He has given us 8 years and 175 games of top class service. Wish him all the best and i hope he can get over this. He is a good man that made a bad error in judgement

    • Roar Guru

      August 8th 2018 @ 7:57am
      Rick Disnick said | August 8th 2018 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      My opinion has changed somewhat since Sunday. The benefit of time to let things settle in my mind.

      This was the worst incident I’ve seen in AFL history (the outcome anyway); following quite possibly the best day of football I’ve witnessed.

      Mixed emotions galore from plenty, but last night, Andrew Gaff took his first steps in redeeming himself. He apologised with great remorse & accepted his severe punishment without question.

      I have no uncertainty Gaff is a good man. I doubt he can truly explain why he did it, so I certainly won’t try here for him. What I do know is I would play football alongside him with no issue.

      Finally, I wish Brayshaw all the best in his recovery and look forward to seeing this young man play some fine football for many years to come.

      • Roar Guru

        August 8th 2018 @ 10:04am
        DingoGray said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        I don’t think Gaff’s current Club has done him any favours with the way they’ve gone about this.

        First the CEO and then the QC…….

        But i agree with what your saying, there is genuine remorse from Gaff.

        I actually also like the response
        from Bradshaw’s Dad, not so much the brother in Melbourne (but even him I find it hard to hold against)

        It was a very unfortunate incident that I hope we don’t ever see again on a football field. The AFL needs to start
        to lead on these type of issues. If this is not a water shed moment on all the niggle and BS that goes on in the game
        I don’t know what it.

        • Roar Guru

          August 8th 2018 @ 10:51am
          Peter the Scribe said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          That QC saying to start at 3 weeks was a disgrace, shouldn’t be allowed to attend an AFL tribunal again. Nisbett was pretty bad too. These events are challenging for leadership at clubs but WCE did themselves no favours the way they handled it.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 8th 2018 @ 10:47am
        Mattician6x6 said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        Rick on Sunday I was hopeful but 8weeks is completely acceptable.
        Thankyou for taking the time to question your immediate response and view this with a reflective eye.

    • August 8th 2018 @ 8:17am
      Razzar said | August 8th 2018 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      This now is a great opportunity for the AFL to look at their rules around tagging scragging bumping blocking, and all other means of hampering your opponent, that’s beyond 5 metres from the general play.
      Because its actually a breach of the rules. Otherwise this situation can happen again, with another player snapping and causing serious injuries.
      It’s time for the AFL to step up and outlaw any contact with players that are beyond the context of the play.

      • Roar Guru

        August 8th 2018 @ 9:11am
        Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        Gaff wasn’t tagged, there’s no evidence that I’ve seen that he was scragged, bumped to any significant degree etc. Most of the game footage before the incident shows him afforded plenty of space. The check that he received prior to throwing his punch was minor and fairly easily got around.

        The check by Brayshaw was so minor in fact (and quite tricky to regulate effectively by the umpires to be honest), so massively out of proportion to Gaff’s act, that to link the two and does the cause no favours.

        • Roar Guru

          August 8th 2018 @ 9:23am
          Cat said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          Just to add more to what you are saying DC

          Gaff rejects the suggestion he was frustrated by being checked by Brayshaw. He says he only intended to push Brayshaw’s chest to get some space momentarily.

          I think one of the only points Gleeson made all night was:

          Gleeson says Gaff’s evidence that he wasn’t frustrated is “troubling”.

          He says: “The alternative isn’t very colouring. If it was a clear-headed, unfrustrated Andrew Gaff who threw this strike, it is a strike worthy of even more condemnation.”

          • August 8th 2018 @ 10:44am
            Matto said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:44am | ! Report

            Could you please provide the link to where you got Gaff saying he only intended to “push Brayshaws chest to get some space momentarily”.

            Or are you making things read how you want them to?

            • Roar Guru

              August 8th 2018 @ 10:52am
              Peter the Scribe said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

              It was in the AFL blog of the tribunal

            • Roar Guru

              August 8th 2018 @ 11:44am
              Cat said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:44am | ! Report

              • August 8th 2018 @ 12:10pm
                Matto said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

                Thanks for the link.
                I had only seen him saying he aimed a ‘punch’ at his chest not a push.

                You want an apology for asking for a link?
                Sorry mate.

              • Roar Guru

                August 8th 2018 @ 12:47pm
                Cat said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

                Had no issue at all asking for a source … its your insinuation that followed that request that was wide of the mark.

            • August 8th 2018 @ 11:54am
              Rob said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:54am | ! Report

              Have a look at the AFL websites live blog… its exactly what was said

        • Roar Rookie

          August 8th 2018 @ 6:55pm
          Chancho said | August 8th 2018 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

          this is ultimately what got me, his reaction was so over the top, even if he was aiming to hit him in the chest. Whether he had been tagged all game or there was that bit of niggle just prior to the incident, this is the way a guy with nigh in 200-games under his belt reacts to an 18-year old first year player, while they are 50 points in front

      • August 8th 2018 @ 9:26am
        MQ said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:26am | ! Report

        I’m always hopeful that we can eliminate all the off the ball rubbish: jumper grabbing, jumper punches, elbowing, bumps in the back, all that rubbish.

        Focus your energies on the ball. Make a bold statement by winning the footy. Make the footy the primary goal. Show your courage by winning the hardball, backing into the pack, etc.

        Plenty of opportunities to display your strength and courage, and jumper punches aren’t one of them.

        • August 8th 2018 @ 9:40am
          Razzar said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

          My point entirely MQ. This is about the AFL instructing the umpires to adhere stritckly to the rules.

          The balls in thier court. They have a responsibility, where possible in removing violent acts from the game.

          • August 8th 2018 @ 10:54am
            Aligee said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:54am | ! Report

            It has been let go to such a degree that umpiring the game at AFL level ATM would be a farce.

            Be interested to see what happens this weekend!

            Give an inch – players, coaches etc will take a mile.

            Whatsmore fans, coaches, commentators and players alike will squeal from the rooftops when some soft free kicks for off the ball misdemeanours are dished out.

          • Roar Guru

            August 8th 2018 @ 11:25am
            Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

            It’s a physical and combative game. It’s hard to take that out of the game when physical contact is at its core. Part of being an AFL footballer is to manage your physical and combative instincts to fit within the framework of the rules.

            It’s farcical to suggest that the actions of Brayshaw contributed to the degree of outcome in any way.

            How do the umpires pick it up, when they didn’t even pick up the swinging haymaker that broke a jaw and smashed teeth?

            • August 8th 2018 @ 7:55pm
              Razzar said | August 8th 2018 @ 7:55pm | ! Report

              DC, “ it’s a physical and competitive game”. Not all over the ground and away from the play it shouldn’t.

              AFL is played hard and attacking around the ball. Your comment is flippant and poorly thought through.

              Players on the fringe are preparing to engage in future play; they should not be subject to any actions by an opponent until they reach the contest, which is normally around 5 metres.

              😀

              • August 9th 2018 @ 12:15am
                Postman said | August 9th 2018 @ 12:15am | ! Report

                Spot on

      • Roar Guru

        August 8th 2018 @ 9:55am
        JamesH said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        As a general issue with the game, yes, I agree. But if you look at what Brayshaw was doing right before Gaff hit him, you’ll see he’s not exactly the poster-boy for this problem.

        Brayshaw wasn’t scragging or elbowing. He wasn’t even properly blocking Gaff’s run. It was just a bit of body on body contact – something that probably wouldn’t have been significant enough to warrant a free kick.

    • Roar Guru

      August 8th 2018 @ 8:52am
      Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      The weekend as a whole was rather inexplicable. It was like some tear in the fabric of the universe stopped over the AFL world and disrupted the usual laws that frame events. The 5 out of 6 less than goal finishes to start proceedings, before it lurched massively the other way on Sunday, but the weird and unusual kept coming, Valdosta as if it was some lingering rogue particles looking to cause havoc with the GWS carnage-carnage and of course Gaff’s brain snap.

      Of course our brains try to comprehend the seemingly nexplicable, like the hit on an unsuspecting Brayshaw. Things like he must’ve said something bad, Gaff was tagged or even people trying to piggyback their cause against “the niggle monster”. None of things have any real supporting evidence (in fact the contrary), but people will continue to cling to those sort of explanations tightly as our brains (especially the more rigid types) can’t stand to leave it hanging. Plus if we can explain it, we can control it.

    • August 8th 2018 @ 9:11am
      Christo the Daddyo said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      The suspension seems harsh, but it’s not really. Not when you compare it to the impact of the injury to Brayshaw. Which will affect him for the rest of his life. In the context of that, Gaff not playing football for a few weeks is a slap on the wrist.

      I would have liked to see criminal charges laid, but it seems we’ve already moved into the ‘let’s all feel sorry for poor Andrew Gaff, he must be hurting really bad now’ stage…

    • Roar Rookie

      August 8th 2018 @ 9:22am
      Dan said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      As the Dockers broke from the three-quarter time huddle, Ross Lyon gave the last word to Hayden Ballantyne: “Sweep the leg”, or something to that effect, you’d imagine.

      I’m no lip-reading expert, but it seemed to me he was telling Balla “No punches”

      • August 8th 2018 @ 10:40am
        dontknowmuchaboutfootball said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

        Decided to skip straight to the comments after reading that. Did the author end up saying anything that could (with great charity) suggest it was a terrible and terribly ill-aimed joke gone horribly awry?

        • August 8th 2018 @ 11:39am
          bilo said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          why don’t you try actually reading the article? Do you really need someone to summarise it for you?

          • August 8th 2018 @ 12:13pm
            dontknowmuchaboutfootball said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

            Because that opening doesn’t suggest to me that the article is going to consist of considered reflection and analysis, and so it didn’t entice me to read the rest.

            No, but I try to be charitable in these situations. If there’s anyone who’s thinks the substance makes up for the introduction, I’m open to hearing those arguments.

            If you have any other questions, please let me know.

      • Roar Guru

        August 8th 2018 @ 11:04am
        Peter the Scribe said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:04am | ! Report

        Ross Lyon did really well I thought, trying to diffuse his players and not bring their own character into question. A tough thing when the adrenalin was surging at their 18 year old teammate’s broken face. Those images of Brayshaw crying in shock like “what just happened” are so disturbing they should instigate change in the AFL judiciary. As Gary Lyon said last night when he implored the AFLPA to step in with their own code of conduct, the AFL, despite every opportunity, can’t get it right so it’s up to the players. As for Ross Lyon’s comments in the presser, they were fresh from seeing his Mum in tears at her son’s introduction to AFL football, who can blame him for what he said?

        • August 8th 2018 @ 11:42am
          Aligee said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:42am | ! Report

          Sorry, but IMO Lyon is very calculating, if it didn’t cross his mind that this fiasco was bound to hide his and his teams current performance fiasco – then you are not thinking it through.

          • Roar Guru

            August 8th 2018 @ 11:51am
            Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:51am | ! Report

            You’re overthinking it. That’s a story you’ve cooked up in your fevered imagination about a person you maintain a preconceived caricature.

            • August 8th 2018 @ 12:00pm
              Aligee said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

              I did say IMO.

              I don’t think I’m overthinking it at all, I think people use anything at their disposal to stay on top of things and stay on the gravy train.

              No real Mr nice guys coach at AFL level IMO, they don’t last.

              • Roar Guru

                August 8th 2018 @ 12:03pm
                Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

                That is a cynical IMO. I think you can balance out caring for others with having a capacity to roll with the punches.

                You could just take things on face value. You get to see more of what is actually going on.

              • August 8th 2018 @ 12:11pm
                Aligee said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

                The average player wage is $317,000, the average coach wage is …. Lyon is on …..

                It’s a gravy train and he will mask his and his clubs failings any way he can and whilst I have no doubt he feels bad for Brayshaw Lyons own career and longevity in the game is número uno.

                You call it cynicism I call it reality.

              • Roar Guru

                August 8th 2018 @ 12:46pm
                Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

                It’s not “reality”. It’s what you’re creating.

          • Roar Rookie

            August 8th 2018 @ 11:56am
            Mattician6x6 said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:56am | ! Report

            Two telling things was how large his change of behaviour in media was from post game Sunday to basil last night.
            Also mark brayshaw thanked the dockers, the staff and the president, small but to not verbalise thanks to the head coach a position that should be isolated not tied into the staff was odd

            • Roar Guru

              August 8th 2018 @ 12:04pm
              Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

              More fevered imaginings.

              • Roar Rookie

                August 8th 2018 @ 12:16pm
                Mattician6x6 said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

                Could also say that after Nisbett press conference it was interesting to see such a huge change from vitriolic (legally not good) to more circumspect
                If you don’t find it odd that considering the position held and with the weighted emotional response Sunday that the father of the player who was felled behind play did not isolate Ross Lyon or his position in his thankyou list then you and I obviously hold the position of head coach in a different light.

              • Roar Guru

                August 8th 2018 @ 12:40pm
                Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

                “Vitriol”? You really do place some loaded interpretations on things.

                You’re obviously joining all the dots to align with a picture you want to draw. There are plenty of other explanations for those events that are more likely and commonplace.

                For example, is it really so surprising that someone would express things differently immediately after a fairly traumatic event, to a few days later? It’s human nature really.

              • Roar Rookie

                August 8th 2018 @ 12:47pm
                Mattician6x6 said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

                After having the view of the families patriarch voiced to you especially as you’d expect the communication between parents and club was high then yes.
                Is it hard for you to get that the wafc would be liasing with both clubs and it was dictated as to how language regarding this situation would be delivered as it was verging on boiling over into a legal mess.

              • Roar Guru

                August 8th 2018 @ 12:58pm
                Dalgety Carrington said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

                Legal? How so? On what grounds? You’re imagining stuff to put it kindly.

              • Roar Rookie

                August 8th 2018 @ 1:36pm
                Mattician6x6 said | August 8th 2018 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

                Nisbett also went into a territory that could of led to legal recourse as well if that makes you a little happier, Ross and Trevor both walked the line, it may be beyond you to see that I’m not here to sing Swing low sweet chariot.

          • Roar Guru

            August 8th 2018 @ 12:55pm
            Peter the Scribe said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

            I’m sorry Aligee, you can at times make some really solid points but to think that Ross Lyon actually was calculated in defending his 18 year old player to mask his teams performance is right up with the most ridiculous comments I have read in The Roar ever.

            • August 8th 2018 @ 2:22pm
              Aligee said | August 8th 2018 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

              You have more faith in human nature than me, but i dont think its as ridiculous as you claim.

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