North Melbourne have endured yet more heartbreak in a horror week for the embattled club, with a rare interchange cap breach costing them a famous victory over Sydney.
Following on from coach Alastair Clarkson stepping away from the club due to mental health concerns amid the AFL’s ongoing racism investigation, an undermanned Kangaroos seemed on the verge of a stunning upset when they led the Swans by 16 points during the final term.
However, up by just three with under a minute to go, the umpires ruled the Kangaroos had exceeded the cap when they made a 76th rotation for the match, with the Swans awarded a free kick and 50m penalty that took Hayden McLean to the goal line, gifting a certain six points.
The AFL cap for interchange rotations has stood at 75 since 2021, when it was reduced from 90 per game.
This is the first cap breach ever seen in the AFL, though previous teams have been penalised for interchange infringements – most famously Hawthorn in a 2010 match against St Kilda, when Hawk Grant Birchall gave up a free and 50m penalty for incorrectly re-entering the playing field.
Coincidentally, it was a North Melbourne-Sydney match at Marvel Stadium in 2008 that instigated changes to the interchange process in the first place, with the Swans scoring a match-tying point in the dying minutes with 19 players on the field.
Details are still emerging as to exactly what occurred this time around, but according to AFL journalist Tom Morris after the Swans held on for a three-point win, a double change with Will Phillips and Liam Shiels coming off saw North exceed the cap.
Morris also Tweeted that the Roos had failed to notice that the number on the club’s AFL-appointed interchange steward had reached 75 and turned red.
Teams are only allowed to exceed the cap if a player is injured, though that player is not permitted to return. Clubs can only replace three players in this manner.
The controversial finish has sparked major debate over the severity of the penalty, with News Corp reporter Jon Ralph arguing the punishment didn’t fit the crime and suggesting clubs should be warned for exceeding the cap first.
Clubs, however, are warned when they have five and one rotation left – however, it is believed that the flurry of late activity on the Kangaroos bench prevented the steward from being able to make that warning in time.
Vision from Fox Footy would confirm this.