The jumper punch, the love tap, the ‘it-wasn’t-a-punch-it-was-an-open-palmed-shove’, the allegedly careless swing of the arm, the errant spoil, it’s back in vogue!
Won’t somebody think of the children?
Luckily for players with a pugilistic streak, the AFL isn’t overly interested in suspending you should you fall foul of the officiators.
Instead, the AFL are staging a long con that Danny Ocean would be proud of. That’s right folks, there’s gold in them there hills! And trust me, there’s some large lode deposits among frequent offenders.
The dark art of toeing the line – as acts mentioned above are often referred to – is often celebrated as guaranteeing success as a sporting organisation, and simultaneously keep media pundits like Garry Lyon in his happy place.
It is that magical place where players don’t experience joy doing what they love to do, and should at all times look to actively harm opposition players. Indeed, Jay Clark wrote in the Herald-Sun that the “unsociable Hawks” had become “friendly budgerigars” and needed to get their mean streak back.
No doubt the AFL’s accountants were licking their lips upon reading those sentiments.
I blame Bill Shankly. His famous creed – “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that” – has seemingly been taken to heart (and then some) by the likes of Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt in recent weeks, sparking an examination of the enthusiasm with which players hit other players.
In Richmond’s win over Gold Coast, Lynch was reported twice – with one of his strikes enabling him to mark the ball uncontested inside 50 and kick a goal – and was given a $1000 fine for each charge. This followed his fine for misconduct in shoving Alex Witherden’s cranium into the turf. Riewoldt for his part copped a $1000 fine for striking James Sicily in Round 3, copped $1500 for striking Tom Jonas in another match, and also received a $1500 fine for rough conduct against Tom Rockliff in that same game.
Geelong’s Tom Hawkins has also been under the microscope in recent weeks. He escaped suspension for an errant elbow on Fremantle’s Luke Ryan. For those not in the know, this was Hawkins’ seventh striking charge (and with five resulting suspensions) in less than five seasons, and his tenth overall charge.
Of course, these players aren’t alone.
Let’s not even get into Ben Cunnington’s absurd streak of striking in 2019…
A quick glance at MRP outcomes revealed the following list of players were suspended for striking up to Round 13: Jeremy McGovern, one week in Round 2, and Zach Merrett, one week in Round 4.
A slighter deeper examination then uncovered the list of players fined for striking: Liam Shiels ($1000), Joel Selwood ($500), Sam Frost ($500), Jy Simpkin ($1000), Jermaine Jones ($1000), Andrew McGrath ($750), Jack Redden ($750), Jy Simpkin ($1500), Rowan Marshall ($1000), Dustin Martin ($1000), Dylan Grimes ($1000), Jake Aarts ($1000), Harry Perryman ($1000), Mitch McGovern ($1000), Harley Bennell ($750), Ben Stratton ($1000), Oscar Allen ($1000), Dom Sheed ($1000), Tom Hawkins ($1000), Jack Riewoldt ($1500), Dustin Martin ($1750), Nick Coffield ($1000), Taylor Walker ($1000), Jay Lockhart ($750), Tom Lynch ($1000), Tom Lynch ($1000) and Caleb Graham ($1000).
It’s a pattern that the AFL are perfectly happy to continue. After all, there’s a steady income stream coming into their coffers in 2020, continuing their extremely successful long con.
Since 2017, striking in many of its forms was added to the list of fixed financial sanctions, for those actions with “insufficient impact to constitute a classifiable offence”, and the rule around a third low-level offence equating to a one-match suspension was abandoned in favour of simply a larger fine. Indeed, since 2018, the AFL has collected $315,000 in fixed financial sanctions, and $339,000 in low-level financial sanctions.
The logic seemingly is that financial sanctions are more effective than suspensions in persuading players to stop being naughty boys, and that fining the everlasting heck out of them over and over and over will see a reduction in the number of badly thrown jabs by players looking to score cheap alpha-male points.
However, boys will always be boys, as they say, and the AFL is perfectly happy with this. They’ll merrily collect fine money (don’t pass go, don’t collect $200), while still ensuring their top draw-card players can remain on the field. It’s fairly obvious that if you’re a player – and by extension the coach of that player’s club and the fan who supports that club, and even the body who governs that club – that a fine is an easy and desired outcome.
Of course, if you go ham on your opponents – or at the very least attempt to – the governing body will step in with claims that moral standards regarding “punches are never okay” are once again of utmost importance. Think Steven Baker, Barry Hall, Dean Solomon, or Andrew Gaff.
The rest of the time?
There’s prospecting to be done.