It’s Round 21, and 182-centimetre, 78-kilogram Callum Ah Chee lies concussed in the middle of the Gabba, having collided with 195-centimetre, 93-kilogram Patrick Cripps.
The incident is taken to the match review officer and a two-week ban is handed down to Cripps on the grounds of careless conduct, high contact, and high impact.
After an unsuccessful appeal at the tribunal, Carlton took the decision to the Appeals Board, who overturned the suspension at the 11th-hour, indirectly making Cripps eligible to win the Brownlow Medal.
A stroke of luck, yes, as it was a fault in the legal process that saw Cripps’ suspension overturned, not the grounds of the incident.
However one could argue the punishment didn’t fit the crime in the first place. While Cripps’ action was rightfully graded high contact and high impact by the MRO, it was considered careless conduct based on the fact that he elected to leave the ground and contest the footy.
Tribunal guidelines state that “unintentional conduct won’t be deemed as careless if the player was contesting the ball and it was reasonable for the player to contest the ball in that way”.
Cripps was contesting the ball, and it was reasonable for him to do so, as the alternative was to stand there and let his opponent win the footy. An action he’d be chastised for both internally and externally. An action that goes against his nature as a tough-as-nails midfield bull.
The threat of CTE is undeniable and protecting the head is paramount to the wellbeing of players and ensuring the longevity of our great game. But footy’s a contact sport; people will get hurt incidentally. Every concussion doesn’t have to result in a perpetrator being punished.
During Channel Seven’s broadcast of the game, 346-game player Luke Hodge summed up the incident: “As (Cripps) left the ground his eyes are on the ball, and he takes them off late as he’s about to make contact. Probably benefit of the doubt because he’s a 95-kilo midfielder.”
It’s worth noting the umpire didn’t even award a free kick for the incident.
Blues coach Michael Voss pointed out post-game, “I don’t think [Cripps] is there to cradle a person to the ground, is he?”
When the incident is slowed down to the nth degree it looks bad, but players don’t play the game in slow motion, they have milliseconds to make decisions.
In real time, Cripps tries to spoil the footy and make a contest, but arrives slightly late and subsequently braces for impact. He had no ill intentions, it was a footy incident.
If Cripps too weighed 78 kilograms the outcome may have been far less severe for Ah Chee, but weighing 15 kilograms more than your opponent isn’t a punishable offence.
Suspension debate aside, you can’t argue Cripps’ credentials as a deserving winner of the game’s most prestigious award.
It was a just reward for a man who shouldered bottom-four battlers for the best part of his career, for a man who fronted up belting after belting, and led from the front no matter what.
He put together a season every bit worthy of ‘Charlie’ in 2022. The vast majority of his three-vote games weren’t debatable, they were undeniable.
People will say he was lucky to poll three votes in a 29-point loss to Adelaide in Round 20 – after all, he only racked up 41 disposals, 21 contested possessions and 12 clearances. And let’s not forget he only polled one vote for a 30-disposal, three-goal performance in the Blues’ Round 1 triumph over Richmond.
At the end of the day, greatness attracts criticism.
The game had supposedly gone past Cripps this time last season, he was too big, too slow. Never mind the fact he’d been playing through what was essentially a broken back.
He’s still yet to taste finals footy after coming so agonisingly close in 2022, but Patrick Cripps has taken home the game’s highest individual honour.
His name etched in football history for eternity, and deservingly so.
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