The Roar
The Roar

AFL
Advertisement

Opinion

COMMENT: Angus Brayshaw's retirement isn't Brayden Maynard's fault - it's the AFL's

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Editor
22nd February, 2024
81
3224 Reads

The shock announcement that Melbourne premiership hero Angus Brayshaw would be retiring effectively immediately just days out from the start of the season was met with two very distinct reactions from the wider football world.

The first was the usual response to a player hanging up the boots, especially if the reason is medically forced: a celebration of the 28-year old’s career, appreciation of his crucial and selfless role in the Demons’ drought-breaking 2021 flag, and sympathy that a footy life with so much left to give is being cut short

The second was, of course, to bring Brayden Maynard into the conversation, with the Dees making no secret of the fact they believe it was his collision with Brayshaw in last year’s qualifying final, for which he was controversially and to the club’s unbridled fury cleared of all charges, that caused it.

If you’re tuned into footy Twitter at all, most likely you’ve seen Maynard labelled a ‘thug’ and a ‘grub’ in the last few hours, as well as calls – I presume in jest, but it’s quite hard to tell these days – for him to either be retroactively suspended or have his premiership medal stripped from him.

But here’s the thing: blaming Maynard for what happened on Thursday, September 8 last year is the most superficial, unhelpful response to that incident.

We don’t know enough about the brain to know whether one isolated head knock, however severe, to a player with a history of concussions, was the sole reason for his medical retirement, or an inevitable final straw to break the camel’s back for a player who, like Paddy McCartin, was always going to be susceptible to a concussion ending his career.

Angus Brayshaw was knocked unconscious in a collision with Brayden Maynard.

Angus Brayshaw was knocked unconscious in a collision with Brayden Maynard. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Advertisement

The threat of concussion, to both the AFL’s bank balance amid a swathe of lawsuits and to the wellbeing of players themselves, is never going to be addressed if we look at Maynard’s collision with Brayshaw – and yes, it was a ‘collision’, not a ‘cheap shot’, or a ‘late hit’, or even a ‘bump’ – as a lone dog act for which the only response necessary is to throw the book at him. (Though Cameron Rose may disagree with me on that assessment.)

Sure, if your only goal out of that incident is to apply vindictive, retributive justice to Maynard, an already polarising player at the most hated club in the land, then sure, making him the villain in this story works fine. The rest of us get to go on despising Collingwood, Maynard gets booed every time he plays the Demons for the rest of his career, and players continue to get concussed in all manner of ways for which the AFL is woefully unprepared to try and eradicate.

As I predicted – and lamented – last year, Maynard was cleared by the Tribunal (and by Match Review Officer Michael Christian before the AFL itself intervened and demanded an initial two-week suspension) because what he did wasn’t expressly forbidden in the league’s rules.

As of September 8 last year, a player could totally reasonably leap into the air, brace for contact and poleaxe an opponent with a shoulder to the head, and only give away a downfield free kick.

This is where the AFL stands alone: it has always deemed context the most important factor in matters of head contact, not the contact itself.

If a player’s main intent is judged to be going for the ball, then they essentially have open slather, as the footy world found out when Patrick Cripps was cleared after concussing Brisbane’s Callum Ah Chee in 2022 after leaping for the ball and ironing the Lion out with another shoulder to the head.

Advertisement

Countless times watching one of the rugby codes, union or league, I have been taken aback by how harshly any contact to the head, however incidental, however slight, has been treated both in-game and in doling out suspensions afterwards.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane was handed a red card in the literal Rugby World Cup final for this head-clipping tackle, for instance; and the reaction was, barring the occasional dissenting voice, that it was a tough but fair whack.

It’s surely time for the AFL to stop trying to reactively stamp out any incident which leads to a concussion, as they have done by tightening rules around the Cripps and Maynard incidents to ensure future examples are indeed suspendable, and make a broad rule stamping out any contact to the head whatsoever.

Barring the most extraordinary of circumstances – a player slipping and falling straight into the path of an oncoming knee in a marking contest, for example – any incident where a player makes contact with an opponent’s head, or leads to their head hitting the ground, is an automatic one-week suspension, with more severe incidents to duly receive further punishment.

Mitch Duncan ironing out Robbie Fox last year? Two weeks – no longer should Fox lowering his body height by going to ground be enough to clear the Cat. He chose to bump, and the consequence is on him.

Advertisement

Want an even harsher example? Dan Butler also gets a week for the chasedown tackle on Nick Blakey that caused so much controversy last year.

Yes, this will fundamentally change a key part of the game, but it would now be incumbent on any tackler to keep their feet or suffer the consequences. Just as it would be if a tackle like that slipped high, or the tackler fell into the tacklee’s back, there should be no leeway if a player’s head makes contact with the ground.

Sure, it’s harsh – but as we’ve seen with Brayshaw, players are retiring, many with long-term symptoms as with former West Coast player Dan Venables or Western Bulldogs flag hero Liam Picken.

Football has changed more than any other widely played sport over the last 100 years, with new rules frequently added and the game altering its style an aesthetic with every new generation. Harsher measures to protect the head will not be the death knell of the game.

And sure, some players may struggle to adjust quickly, and suspensions will increase as a result, just as red cards for head-high contact in rugby have exploded in frequency in recent years.

Sports opinion delivered daily 

   

Advertisement

But Rome wasn’t build in a day; players, and the league, will adjust their techniques and adapt to the new way. And if they don’t, well, they’ll be missing a lot of footy.

If Brayshaw’s retirement isn’t enough to convince the AFL that cracking down completely and utterly on all head-related incidents is the only solution, then nothing well.

Blaming Maynard won’t fix the problem – unless you have a widely different view of what the ‘problem’ is than the bitter truth.

close